Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Sir David Maughan (1873–1955)

by Anthony Fisher

This article was published:

Sir David Maughan (1873-1955), barrister, was born on 5 February 1873 at Paddington, Sydney, elder son of John Maughan, Scottish-born bank clerk, and his Sydney-born wife Bertha Windeyer, née Thompson, granddaughter of Charles Windeyer. Educated at The King's School, Parramatta, he was school captain and won the Broughton and Forrest exhibition. On 20 October 1891 he matriculated at Balliol College, Oxford (B.A., 1895; M.A., 1912; B.C.L., 1912). He gained first-class honours in the B.C.L. examination in 1896 ahead of F. E. Smith (Lord Birkenhead) and (Sir) William Holdsworth. (Viscount) Simon and L. S. Amery were also fellow students. That year he tutored in law at Balliol.

Called to the Bar of Lincoln's Inn on 17 June 1896, Maughan returned to Sydney, was admitted to the New South Wales Bar on 18 November and read with (Sir) Langer Owen. His income rose rapidly from £42 in his first year of practice to over £300 two years later. At St Mark's Church, Darling Point, he married Jean Alice, daughter of Sir Edmund Barton, on 30 March 1909. They lived at Woollahra.

Although at first practising almost entirely in Equity, Maughan became expert in constitutional law and in 1919 was appointed K.C. He was an acting justice of the Supreme Court in 1924 and 1936-37. On 27 January 1926 he wrote to Amery, secretary of state for the dominions, asking him to intervene in the 'extraordinary and revolutionary' attempt by Premier J. T. Lang to abolish the Legislative Council. Amery refused; however, this effort by Lang failed. When in 1930 the council passed Lang's bills to abolish it, Maughan offered his services gratis to the anti-abolition councillors led by (Sir) Arthur Trethowan; he obtained a declaration by the Supreme Court that the bills could not lawfully be presented for assent until approved at a referendum. He was counsel for Trethowan in appeals to the High Court of Australia and Privy Council, successfully defending the Legislative Council, and in 1934, before the Privy Council, the insertion into the Constitution of a new procedure for settling deadlocks between the Houses.

Long opposed to proposals to fuse law and equity and to amalgamate the two branches of the legal profession, Maughan publicly attacked the administration of justice bill in 1931. He often wrote to and for the Sydney Morning Herald. A council-member of the State branch of the Australian Institute of International Affairs in 1933-41, he consistently opposed adoption of the Statute of Westminster. Owen had interested him in the corporate organization of the Bar: he served on the Council of the Bar of New South Wales in 1914-19 and in 1936, and was a foundation council-member of the Bar Association and several times a member of the Barristers' Admission Board.

As president of the Law Council of Australia from 1941, Maughan described the use of the regulation-making power under the National Security Act as 'Star Chamber laws'. Strongly committed to civil and States' rights, he consistently opposed big government, even during World War II. He appeared before the High Court in important constitutional cases, including the uniform tax case in 1942 and the airlines case in 1945, but, although holding a retainer from the Bank of New South Wales, he stood aside in 1947 for (Sir) Garfield Barwick to lead the fight against the nationalization of the trading banks. He was knighted in 1951.

Maughan was a keen cross-country walker, mountaineer, surfer and golfer. He was a vice-president of the New South Wales Rowing Association and of the Rugby Union, and a member of Royal Sydney Golf Club. He was also a governor of The King's School, chairman of the Free Library Council and the Big Brother Movement, a director of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and a member of the Australian Club.

Survived by his wife, son and daughter, Maughan died in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital on 3 November 1955 and was cremated with Anglican rites. His estate was valued for probate at £31,365.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of New South Wales (Syd, 1907)
  • J. M. Bennett (ed), A History of the New South Wales Bar (Syd, 1969)
  • D. Marr, Barwick (Syd, 1980)
  • Australian Law Journal, vol 29, 17 Nov 1955
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 May, 28, 29 July, 9 Aug 1931, 12 May 1941, 4 May 1943, 1, 19 May 1944, 30 Apr, 2 June 1945, 15 Mar, 29 Apr 1946, 1 Jan 1951, 8 Feb, 4 Nov 1955
  • Maughan fee books and papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Anthony Fisher, 'Maughan, Sir David (1873–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 13 June 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]


5 February, 1873
Paddington, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


3 November, 1955 (aged 82)
Camperdown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.

Key Organisations