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Sir Frederick Wollaston Mann (1869–1958)

by Elise B. Histed

This article was published:

Sir Frederick Wollaston Mann (1869-1958), chief justice, was born on 2 May 1869 at Mount Gambier, South Australia, son of Gilbert Hill Cheke Mann, chief telegraphist, and his wife Sophia Charlotte, daughter of Rev. John Ramsden Wollaston. Edward Mann was his younger brother. After attending Christ Church Grammar School and the state school at Mount Gambier, Mann studied at home before moving to Melbourne in 1887. That year he worked as a tally clerk and also matriculated to pursue degrees in arts and law at the University of Melbourne. While at the university he worked as a clerk in the Crown Law Department. He graduated B.A. in 1894, M.A., LL.B. in 1896 and LL.M. in 1898 but, although admitted to the Bar in 1896, remained with the department until 1900.

During the South African War Mann was commissioned as lieutenant in the 4th Victorian (Australian Imperial Regiment) Contingent and saw sixteen months active service; he was wounded in the shoulder at Hartbeesfontein on 16 February 1901. He returned to Melbourne on 1 November and, having lost his departmental seniority, next year set up as a barrister in Selborne Chambers.

Mann quickly built up a large practice, undertaking both common law and Equity cases and specializing to some extent in patent law. He became known for his careful cross-examination technique, later likened by (Sir) Robert Menzies to the actions of a man picking his way across a swamp. In these years he was also a well-known yachtsman and an enthusiastic member of the Melbourne Hunt Club. On 8 April 1911 at All Saints Church of England, East St Kilda, he married Adeline Mary Raleigh; they made their home at South Yarra and had five children.

On 22 July 1919 Mann was appointed to the bench of the Victorian Supreme Court. Chairman of the Court of Industrial Appeals in 1931-33, he was knighted in June 1933. On various occasions between 1923 and 1934 he was acting chief justice and when Sir William Irvine retired on 1 October 1935 Mann succeeded him.

Nicknamed the 'Little Gentleman' (he was 5 ft 6 ins (168 cm) tall), Mann was unfailingly courteous in court and helpful to young barristers. He had a reputation for deep learning and was remembered as a patient, careful judge with a strong sense of what the justice of a case required. His pronouncements, always delivered with entire confidence, were invariably clear and precise. On 12 May 1936 he became lieutenant-governor of Victoria, the office imposing a heavy burden of social duties in addition to his legal work. On his appointment the Melbourne Sun described him as 'lucid, fearless, cold, crisp, alert, analytical, unostentatious and retiring … dignified and decorous'. He was appointed K.C.M.G. in 1937.

In 1941 Mann suffered a great personal loss when his elder son, James Gilbert, was killed in action in Crete. Having been chosen as Victorian Rhodes Scholar for 1935, James won brilliant firsts and the Vinerian Scholarship at Oxford, and was regarded as the outstanding young lawyer of his generation. He was a lieutenant in the Royal Australian Artillery when he gave up his life raft to an exhausted man after the ship evacuating his men was bombed. Rather than overload other rafts, he swam out to sea.

Sir Frederick carried on as chief justice until January 1944 when he decided to retire while his faculties were still at their best. At his farewell, tributes were paid by Wilbur Ham, Edmund Piesse and Sir James Macfarlan. He retired as lieutenant-governor in May 1945.

Always a lover of Nature, Mann in his later years found great pleasure in the study of Australian plant and bird life and was a trustee of the Melbourne Botanical Gardens Maud Gibson Trust. With this interest and his attendance at the Melbourne Club, of which he had been president in 1935-36, he spent an otherwise quiet retirement at South Yarra. He died there on 29 May 1958, and was cremated. His wife had died the previous year and he was survived by three daughters and a son. A portrait by Charles Wheeler hangs in the Supreme Court of Victoria.

Select Bibliography

  • F. M. Bradshaw, Selborne Chambers Memories (Melb, 1962)
  • A. Dean, A Multitude of Counsellors (Melb, 1968)
  • Australian Law Journal, 15 Oct 1935, p 240
  • Law Institute Journal, July 1958, p 184
  • Herald (Melbourne), 27 Oct 1933
  • Age (Melbourne), 16 Nov 1934, 18 Sept 1935, 30 May 1958
  • Sun-News Pictorial (Melbourne), 13 May 1936.

Citation details

Elise B. Histed, 'Mann, Sir Frederick Wollaston (1869–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 21 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


2 May, 1869
Mount Gambier, South Australia, Australia


29 May, 1958 (aged 89)
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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