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Louis Francis Heydon (1848–1918)

by Martha Rutledge and J. M. Bennett

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Charles Gilbert Heydon

Charles Gilbert Heydon (1845-1932) and Louis Francis Heydon (1848-1918), lawyers and politicians, were born on 25 August 1845 and on 23 April 1848 in Sydney, sons of English parents Jabez King Heydon, a recently converted Catholic printer and publisher, and his wife Sophia, née Hayes. Charles's godfather was Archbishop Polding. Both boys were educated at St Mary's school, Sydney, Charles going on to Rev. Thomas Aitken's school at Ryde and Louis to Sydney Grammar School.

In 1860 Charles joined the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney and became a branch manager. In his late twenties he resigned to prepare for the Bar and supplemented his income by journalism. After reading in the chambers of Gateward Coleridge Davis he was admitted to the Bar on 25 September 1875. His early work was largely in the country, but he later built up a robust commercial and common law practice in Sydney. He took silk in 1896. At the Villa Maria chapel, Hunters Hill, on 8 September 1880 he married Miriam Josepha (d.1896), daughter of T. C. Makinson.

Heydon twice unsuccessfully contested Legislative Assembly seats. After the resignation of (Sir) Edmund Barton, he accepted the attorney-generalship in the Dibbs ministry and was appointed to the Legislative Council on 15 December 1893. He remained in the council until 1900, except for a few months in 1898.

In 1896 Heydon had volunteered as sole royal commissioner to consolidate the statute law of New South Wales, a prodigious task that had earlier defied the exertions of several royal commissions. He reviewed nearly 1400 Acts, proposing the repeal of those that were obsolete, and the simplification of, and consolidation of amendments to the remainder. He had the assistance of draftsmen, but was not paid for his efforts that were said to distinguish him as 'the most inveterate worker that ever wore a wig'. He completed the project in 1902 while conducting his practice and acting at times as a Supreme Court judge, and notwithstanding his appointment as a judge of the District Court on 1 March 1900. He sat in the Northern District but, disliking cold weather, organized winter sittings in Sydney.

Heydon became president of the Court of Arbitration in July 1905, the judge of the Industrial Court from 1909 and president of the State Board of Trade in 1918. In 1905, in the Sawmillers' case, he cautiously outlined a consistent basis for a minimum wage to enable 'every worker however humble … to lead a human life, to marry and bring up a family and maintain them and himself with at any rate some small degree of comfort'. However his 'living wage' was governed by the degree of prosperity in the industry involved. He was an ardent patriot and in World War I accused striking coal-lumpers of 'fighting against the Empire and for the Germans' and later similarly castigated striking coalminers. By 1918, as wages failed to rise with inflation and fell below those in other States, he was responsible for much of the frustration and disillusionment in New South Wales, despite Governor Davidson's comment, when unsuccessfully recommending him for a knighthood, that he 'possessed the entire confidence of both employer and employee'.

A prominent Catholic layman and a fellow of St John's College, University of Sydney, Heydon in a long letter to the Sydney Morning Herald on 19 November 1917 attacked Archbishop Mannix's anti-conscription stand and claimed that for 'a Catholic Archbishop to lead his flock along the paths of sedition is to disobey the clearest teachings of the Catholic Church'. Next year he became a vice-president of the 'King's Men', who aimed at promoting loyalty to 'our country and the Empire'.

Obliged by the Judges Retirement Act, 1918, to stand down from the Bench, Heydon abhorred the enforced idleness: 'it was not my doing and I never consented'. He was a member of the Australian Club. In his youth he had been joint honorary secretary of the New South Wales Chess Association and later was a vice-president of the Sydney Amateur Orchestral Society and the Royal Philharmonic Society of Sydney. On 8 November 1909 at Mosman he had married a 28-year-old art student Sybil Russell.

Heydon died at his home at Potts Point on 6 March 1932 and was buried in the Field of Mars cemetery. He was survived by his second wife and by his son George who served with the Australian Army Medical Corps and won the Military Cross.

Louis was articled to E. G. Ellis in 1868 and was admitted a solicitor on 20 December 1873; he practised at Bathurst until 1881, when he returned to Sydney. On 15 August at Lithgow he married Mary Josephine Gell. A single-minded Protectionist, Heydon was elected to the Legislative Assembly for Yass Plains in 1882 and, with the support of the Catholic vote and local free selectors' association, represented the seat until he resigned in November 1886. With E. W. O'Sullivan he was a founder, and later president, of the Land and Industrial Alliance of New South Wales, which aimed at uniting workingmen, farmers and selectors. In December 1885 he became minister of justice in Sir John Robertson's last ministry, but resigned on 4 February next year when the government suggested a property tax of a halfpenny in the pound: the government fell three weeks later. Nominated to the Legislative Council in February 1889, he bitterly opposed Federation and Sir Alfred Stephen's divorce bills. He withdrew from political activity after Fusion in 1909 but later supported the National Party.

In 1901 the Incorporated Law Institute reported Heydon to the Supreme Court for misconduct. Retained in an administration suit (Moss v. Moss) by the plaintiffs, he had also been asked to act for five defendants. Having declined, he arranged for their representation by solicitors who agreed to pay him a percentage of the costs they received. The agreement, although a long-standing practice among some solicitors, was unethical and was condemned by Chief Justice Darley as 'vicious' and 'wholly indefensible'. He was heavily fined and penalized in costs and his professional standing suffered.

Heydon was president of St Joseph's Investment and Building Society from 1892 and the Society of St Vincent de Paul in Australia from 1897, a director of the Mutual Life Association of Australasia and a committee-member of the United Charities Fund. He served on the State Children Relief Board in 1892-1918. Associated with the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts debating club in his youth, he was later a member of the Shakespeare Society of New South Wales.

Heydon died suddenly at his home at Hunters Hill on 17 May 1918 and was buried in the Field of Mars cemetery. His son and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Blacket, May It Please Your Honour (Syd, 1927)
  • B. E. Mansfield, Australian Democrat
  • the Career of Edward William O'Sullivan, 1846-1910 (Syd, 1965)
  • J. M. Bennett (ed), A History of the New South Wales Bar (Syd, 1969)
  • H. T. E. Holt, A Court Rises (Syd, 1976)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1902, 2, p 39
  • A. W. Martin, ‘Electoral contests in Yass and Queanbeyan in the “seventies” and “eighties”’, JRAHS, 43 (1957), pt 3, p 126
  • Industrial Arbitration Report (New South Wales), 4, 1905, p 308-9
  • Sydney Mail, 10 Feb 1904
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19, 21 Nov 1917, 18 May, 25 Sept, 21 Dec 1918, 7, 8 Mar 1932
  • I. Grant, Employers, Unions and Arbitration, New South Wales, 1918-1929 (Ph.D. thesis, University of Sydney, 1979)
  • CO 448/18.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Martha Rutledge and J. M. Bennett, 'Heydon, Louis Francis (1848–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 28 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


23 April, 1848
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


17 May, 1918 (aged 70)
Hunters Hill, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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