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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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McGill, Alec Douglas (1886–1952)

by J. C. H. Gill

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Alec Douglas McGill (1886-1952), barrister, was born on 2 January 1886 at Newtown, Ipswich, Queensland, twin son of James McGill, an ironmonger from Scotland, and his Irish wife Elizabeth, née Watson. He was educated at Newtown State School and, by scholarship, at Ipswich Grammar School. Dux in 1904, he won the Lewis Thomas exhibition to the University of Sydney (St Andrew's College), where he graduated (B.A., 1907) with honours in classics. He then became resident classics master at Cooerwull Academy, Bowenfels. Returning to Queensland in 1910, he read for the Bar in the chambers of P. B. McGregor and was admitted on 6 June 1911. On 26 September 1914 he married Eva Minnie Grace Hardwicke at Bald Hills Presbyterian Church near Brisbane.

McGill's practice grew, but he was also attracted by politics. President of the Country and Progressive National Party from 1925 until its demise in 1935, he contested unsuccessfully the South Brisbane State seat in 1926. With the advent of the Moore government in 1929, he received much crown work—too much in the eyes of the Labor Opposition. McGill prepared the crown submission for the royal commission of 1930 on the Mungana-Chillagoe mines. On 15 June 1934 he was appointed K.C. Active in the Law Council of Australia, in 1939 he presided over the 4th Australian Law Convention in Brisbane. That year he was offered a judgeship, but declined it.

Figuring in many notable cases, McGill appeared for Hancock & Gore Ltd during the Commonwealth royal commission (1948-49) into timber rights in Papua-New Guinea. He defended Rylance Collieries Pty Ltd when the Queensland government sued civilly for the refund of moneys paid for coal short-delivered under a contract to supply the railways. He appeared for Archbishop (Sir) James Duhig in the Holy Name Cathedral case in which the architect J. F. Hennessy sued for professional fees, and for Golden Investment Pty Ltd during the royal commission into alleged malpractices in the conduct of the lottery. McGill's tenacity and adroitness in the 1950 Bulimba election appeal on behalf of the defeated Liberal candidate J. Hamilton were largely responsible for exposing forged votes, which resulted in a fresh election.

From 1935 until his death McGill was a member of the University of Queensland law faculty and of the university senate, and became deputy chancellor from 1946. In the immediate post-war period he was acting professor of law and dean of the faculty. A member of the Queensland Turf Club, the Queensland Club (from 1929) and the Johnsonian Club, he held directorships with the Roseberry Sawmilling Co., the Timber Corporation Ltd and Hancock & Gore Ltd.

McGill died suddenly from hypertensive heart disease on 6 July 1952 in a bus at South Brisbane and was cremated after a Presbyterian service. His wife and two daughters survived him; his son John had been killed in 1944 on active service with the Royal Australian Air Force.

McGill had a powerful, resonant voice. Courteous to witnesses, he distinguished himself at the Bar by his ability to maintain a broad strategic plan of conduct of a case. His cross-examination of notable figures like Randolph Bedford and C. G. Fallon in two celebrated defamation cases in Queensland was an education to any young lawyer.

Select Bibliography

  • K. H. Kennedy, The Mungana Affair (Brisb, 1978)
  • R. Johnston, History of the Queensland Bar (Brisb, 1979)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1948-49, 4, p 1153
  • University of Queensland Gazette 1945, p 2, 1952, p 7
  • Australian Law Journal, 26 (Aug 1952), no 4, p 211
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 7 July 1952.

Citation details

J. C. H. Gill, 'McGill, Alec Douglas (1886–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 30 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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