Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edward Jenks (1861–1939)

by Ruth Campbell

This article was published:

Edward Jenks (1861-1939), professor of law, was born on 20 February 1861 at Lambeth, London, son of Robert Jenks, upholsterer, and his wife Frances Sarah, née Jones. He was educated at Dulwich College (1874-77) and King's College, Cambridge (B.A., LL.B., 1886; M.A., 1890) where he was scholar (1886) and in 1889-95, fellow. He gained the Le Bas and Thirwall prizes and was chancellor's medallist. In 1887 he was called to the Bar and for the next two years lectured at Pembroke and Jesus colleges, Cambridge.

In March 1889 Jenks was appointed first professor of law at the University of Melbourne and successor to W. E. Hearn as dean of the faculty of law. But he soon felt his position at the university untenable and resigned early in 1892 after sharp confrontations with leading members of the administration, particularly the vice-chancellor (Sir) John Madden and Dr T. P. McInerney. In an article 'The government of universities', published in the Centennial Magazine in May 1890, Jenks arraigned the university council for being lax, interfering, suspicious and irritating to the teachers, who were not represented on it.

Jenks's intransigence has sometimes been blamed for the disputes; but he was not the only university teacher at loggerheads with the authorities and many of the desired changes were recommended by the investigating royal commission of 1902-04. Brilliant, sincere and fearless, in articles and public lectures he had been a vehement social critic in a time of unprecedented stress.

Though in Melbourne so briefly, Jenks left his mark. He was the first secretary, and the mainstay, of the University Extension Board. Within the faculty of law he introduced the moot. 1891 saw the publication of his book The Government of Victoria, one of the first legal text-books in Australia to be specifically produced for students, and that year Jenks won the Yorke prize from Cambridge for his essay 'The history of the doctrine of consideration in English law'. On 14 June 1890 in Queen's College Chapel he married Annie Ingham who had followed him from England; she died after childbirth in May next year leaving a son subsequently killed in action 1917.

On returning to England in 1892 Jenks held distinguished posts successively at University College, Liverpool, Oxford University, the Law Society, London, and the University of London. He achieved renown as a prolific writer of legal works of distinction and great diversity and as one of England's most significant legal educators. He published in 1895 A History of the Australasian Colonies. In 1927 in the Cambridge Law Journal he argued that appointment of a governor-general of a British dominion should be on the advice of the relevant prime minister. With historical as well as legal talent Jenks was a notable researcher into the English Civil War, although his most provocative essay, in the Independent Review 1904-05, challenged the interpretation of Magna Carta. He was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1930 and received many other academic honours.

Jenks died at Bishop's Tawton, Devonshire, on 10 November 1939, survived by his second wife Dorothy Mary, née Forwood, whom he had married in 1898, and by their son and daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Scott, A History of the University of Melbourne (Melb, 1936)
  • G. Blainey, A Centenary History of the University of Melbourne (Melb, 1957)
  • R. Campbell, A History of the Melbourne Law School, 1857 to 1973 (Melb, 1977)
  • Independent Review, 4 (1904-05)
  • Society of Public Teachers of Law, Journal, 1947-51, 1959-61
  • Melbourne University Law Review, May 1973
  • Argus (Melbourne), 12 Apr 1890, 8 Dec 1891
  • records, University of Melbourne
  • private information.

Citation details

Ruth Campbell, 'Jenks, Edward (1861–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 24 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]


20 February, 1861
London, Middlesex, England


10 November, 1939 (aged 78)
Bishop's Tawnton, Devon, England

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