Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Reginald Heath Innes (1869–1947)

by Peter Hohnen

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Reginald Heath Long Innes (1869-1947), barrister and judge, was born on 17 November 1869 at Double Bay, Sydney, third son of (Sir) Joseph George Long Innes and his wife Emily Jane(t), daughter of John Smith, pastoralist. In 1882 he was sent to Malvern College, Worcestershire, England, where he excelled in scholarship and sport, winning the Lea Shakespeare and Chance prizes and representing the school at cricket, boxing and rifle-shooting. In 1888 he went up to New College, Oxford (B.A., 1891; B.C.L. 1893). Like his father he entered Lincoln's Inn in 1889 and in 1892 read with W. M. Cann, a notable equity pleader. He was called to the Bar on 26 January 1893 and in July appeared before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as junior counsel for the respondent in the appeal case, Makin v. Attorney-General of New South Wales.

Upon his return to Sydney, Innes was admitted to the New South Wales Bar on 21 September and later joined Denman Chambers in Phillip Street. He was associate to his father, a Supreme Court justice, and from 1896 to Mr Justice A. H. Simpson. At St James Anglican Church, Sydney, he married Mary Louise McCartie on 18 December 1905.

After an early struggle Innes built up a flourishing practice, predominantly in the equity and bankruptcy jurisdictions, and was appointed K.C. in 1916. 'In Court his attitude was dogmatic to the point of arrogance'. Grave and rather austere, he had 'a proper sense' of his own dignity. He was a founder in 1923 and first honorary secretary and treasurer of the Barristers' Benevolent Association and donated many books to the Bar library. He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Australian Military Forces and, too old to go overseas, served on the home front in 1916-19. A firm believer in the maxim mens sana in corpore sano, he was a good batsman, playing for I Zingari for many years, a keen tennis-player and a foundation member of Royal Sydney Golf Club. He also belonged to the Union Club from 1908.

On 10 February 1925 Innes was appointed to the Supreme Court bench and judge in bankruptcy. Recognized as a sound lawyer and a hard-working judge, he became chief judge in equity in 1935. He found 'in Equity, while every case is difficult, every case is different, and every case is interesting: and … some are amusing'. Innes regretted that age compelled him to retire in November 1939 and described his years on the bench as 'the happiest part of my life'.

Soon after retiring, Innes moved from Darling Point to the family holiday-home, Woodlands, at Medlow Bath in the Blue Mountains. During World War II he served as chairman of No.1 Aliens Tribunal from 12 December 1940. His last years were tragically marred by the loss of his only son George Selwyn over Western Europe while serving with Royal Air Force Bomber Command. Innes died at Medlow Bath on 26 May 1947 and was cremated with Anglican rites. He was survived by his wife and three daughters, of whom Patricia had been his associate in 1929-35. His estate was sworn for probate at £15,484.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • J. M. Bennett (ed), A History of the New South Wales Bar (Syd, 1969)
  • Law Reports, Appeal Cases, 1894
  • New South Wales State Reports, 1939, 1947
  • Punch (Melbourne), 19 Mar 1925
  • information from Malvern College, Worcestershire, England
  • family papers.

Citation details

Peter Hohnen, 'Innes, Reginald Heath (1869–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 26 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]


17 November, 1869
Double Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


26 May, 1947 (aged 77)
Medlow Bath, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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