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Sir Herbert Mayo (1885–1972)

by Howard Zelling

This article was published:

Herbert Mayo (1885-1972), by Clyde Duryea, 1950

Herbert Mayo (1885-1972), by Clyde Duryea, 1950

State Library of South Australia, B 12245

Sir Herbert Mayo (1885-1972), judge, was born on 3 June 1885 in Morphett Street, Adelaide, fourth child of George Gibbes Mayo, a South Australian-born civil engineer, and his Scottish-born wife Henrietta Mary, née Donaldson. George and Helen Mayo were his eldest brother and eldest sister. Herbert was educated at the Collegiate School of St Peter, Trinity College, University of Melbourne, and the University of Adelaide (LL.B., 1909). He was admitted to the South Australian Bar on 17 December 1909. At her father's Aldgate home on 17 May 1911 he married Clarice Gwendoline Thomson Melrose (d.1957); they were to have five children. Mayo practised as a solicitor at Lameroo and Pinnaroo before co-founding (1914) Mayo, [(Sir) Stanley] Murray & Cudmore; he maintained practices in the city and the country until 1919 when he settled in Adelaide. Sir Josiah Symon later entered the partnership. In 1929 Mayo became a partner in Magarey, Finlayson, Mayo & Astley. He took silk in the following year.

A council-member (1924-41) of the Law Society of South Australia, Mayo served as president in 1932-33, 1934-35 and 1939-41, and sat on many of its committees. He worked tirelessly for the creation of a national body to represent the legal profession. His advocacy led to the formation (1933) of the Australian Council, of which he was foundation president (1933-34); after it became the Law Council of Australia, he was vice-president (1940-42) of that body. He was joint-editor for South Australia of the Australian Law Journal. At the University of Adelaide he examined (1919-24) in the law of contracts, and lectured in jurisprudence (1925 and 1927-37) and commercial law (1929-34)—a heavy load for a busy practitioner. His material was very good and he was one of the first to issue printed notes, but he spoke in a monotone which impaired the concentration of his students.

On 30 March 1942 Mayo was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of South Australia, replacing (Sir) Mellis Napier on his becoming chief justice. Mayo's appointment preceded the institution (1944) of a retiring age and he continued to serve until 30 June 1966. Knighted in 1948, he acted as chief justice from 18 May to 10 December 1957 and deputized for the governor on twenty-five occasions. A fine equity lawyer, he was courteous and pleasant to appear before, although he customarily inserted in most of his written judgements at least one word not in common usage, which sent counsel scurrying for their dictionaries.

On 3 June 1958 at the Presbyterian Church, Tusmore, Mayo married Gwen Alister Brookes, née McInnes, a 49-year-old widow. He was president of numerous religious, charitable and learned organizations, including the British and Foreign Bible Society and the State branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia. In addition, he was chancellor of the Anglican dioceses of Adelaide and Willochra. Survived by his wife, and by the three daughters and a son of his first marriage, Sir Herbert died on 1 October 1972 at his Hyde Park home and was cremated. His other son Lieutenant Eric Mayo was killed when H.M.A.S. Sydney was sunk in 1941.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Law Journal, 15, 13 Mar 1942
  • News (Adelaide), 30 June 1966
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 2 Mar 1942, 10 June 1948, 13 Aug, 22 Dec 1965
  • Law Society of South Australia Archives
  • Supreme Court of South Australia Archives, Adelaide
  • University of Adelaide Archives
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

Howard Zelling, 'Mayo, Sir Herbert (1885–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Herbert Mayo (1885-1972), by Clyde Duryea, 1950

Herbert Mayo (1885-1972), by Clyde Duryea, 1950

State Library of South Australia, B 12245

Life Summary [details]


3 June, 1885
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


1 October, 1972 (aged 87)
Hyde Park, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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