Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Robert Macintosh Isaacs (1814–1876)

by John R. Forbes

This article was published:

Robert Macintosh Isaacs (1814-1876), barrister and politician, was born at Tortola, Virgin Islands, West Indies, the youngest son of Robert Glover Isaacs. Educated in England, he entered the Middle Temple, was called to the Bar on 12 January 1839 and practised in London. On 27 July 1841 at St Pancras he married Barberina Rogers-Harrison. In 1843 Isaacs migrated to Sydney and was admitted to the Bar of New South Wales on 24 November. By the end of 1854 he was sufficiently prosperous to afford a visit to England. He returned to Sydney in December 1855, after surviving shipwreck at Cape Otway.

In 1856 Isaacs refused appointment as attorney-general in the first ministry in the new parliament as he preferred to concentrate on his developing practice. In Reminiscences of Thirty Years' Residence in New South Wales and Victoria (1863) Roger Therry classed him among the leading Sydney counsel. In February 1857 he was appointed to the Legislative Council, but resigned in May 1861 in support of Sir William Burton. A Conservative, Isaacs had served on the general committee of the New South Wales Constitutional Association in 1860. In November 1865 he won the Yass Plains seat in the Legislative Assembly and in January 1866 became solicitor-general under James Martin. A verbose and plodding orator, Isaacs probably fulfilled his potential and his ambitions in the honourable but unspectacular position as second legal officer of the Crown. In 1868 he attacked the governor's refusal to grant Martin a dissolution after the ministry had been defeated. His distant electors were caustic about his brief appearances amongst them and he lost his seat in November 1869.

Harassed by ill health Isaacs moved in 1871 to Hobart where he practised as a barrister and acted as chancellor of the Anglican archdiocese. He returned to Sydney in 1872 and became crown prosecutor in the western districts, with a modest financial security but much exhausting travel. He was a member of the Philosophical Society of New South Wales. Weakened by typhoid fever, he died aged 61 at his home in Darlinghurst Road, Sydney, on 26 March 1876. He was buried in the Anglican section of Balmain cemetery. He was survived by his wife, two sons and four daughters, leaving an estate valued at £6250.

Select Bibliography

  • Church News (Hobart), 1 Apr 1876
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20, 31 Jan 1866, 27 Mar 1876
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 31 Mar 1876
  • CO 201/548.

Citation details

John R. Forbes, 'Isaacs, Robert Macintosh (1814–1876)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 15 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Tortola, British Virgin Islands


26 March, 1876 (aged ~ 62)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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