Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Charles McLean (1889–1978)

by W. J. Cuthill

This article was published:

Charles McLean (1889-1978), police magistrate, was born on 5 December 1889 at Goornong, Victoria, second of six children of Charles McLean, a schoolteacher from Scotland, and his Victorian-born wife Mary Louisa, née Hay. Educated (from the age of 3½) at his father's schools, first at Goornong and then at Mortlake, young Charles proceeded to Grenville College, Ballarat. He entered the clerical division of the State public service in 1906 and began work in the Department of Public Instruction. In 1909 McLean joined the courts branch of the Crown Law Department and was appointed to the Melbourne City Court. The derelict building was draughty and the coir-matting on the floors stank of tobacco-spittle. Having passed the clerk of courts' examination, he transferred in 1910 to South Melbourne, where he was responsible for the Court of Petty Sessions at St Kilda and at Port Melbourne. In August 1913 he was appointed clerk of courts at Rushworth.

Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 27 July 1915, McLean served with the 24th Battalion on the Western Front from September 1916. He was commissioned in May 1917 and twice wounded in action (May 1917 and August 1918). His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Melbourne on 9 November 1919. On his demobilization he returned to the Crown Law Department. After a year in relieving positions, he took over the court at Beechworth. He was promoted by seniority to Hamilton (1923), Melbourne (1924), and Prahran and Richmond (1928). In 1930 he was made a police magistrate and posted to Warrnambool. He was appointed an examiner for the clerk of courts' examination in 1935 and for the police magistrates' examination in 1937.

In June 1936 McLean commenced his eighteen-year career as metropolitan police magistrate at the Melbourne City Court. There he presided with a 'stern' sense of duty. Promoted to senior metropolitan police magistrate in 1939, he later supervised country police magistrates in addition to their metropolitan counterparts. In 1948 his title became chief stipendiary magistrate. The Western Australian government appointed him a royal commissioner to inquire into trotting (1946) and betting (1948). Back in Melbourne, he sat (from 1950) on the Metropolitan Fire Brigades Appeal Tribunal.

Following his retirement as chief stipendiary magistrate in 1954, the Federal government invited McLean to chair the Commonwealth Public Service Appeals Board for Victoria and Tasmania. The State government used his services as a justice of the peace (1954), as chairman of the Indeterminate Sentences Board (1955-57) and as a member of its successor, the Adult Parole Board (1957-66); as a one-man board of inquiry, he investigated the break-out from Pentridge gaol in 1955, the living conditions of Aborigines in Victoria (1955-57) and alleged bribery on the Richmond City Council (1957). He was appointed C.B.E. in 1956.

A member of the Naval and Military Club and of the Kingston Heath Golf Club (president 1938-43, club captain 1943-45, life member 1960), McLean accompanied the Australian Amateur Golf Team which toured Britain in 1954. He died, unmarried, on 14 January 1978 at Armadale and was cremated; his estate was sworn for probate at $302,816.

Select Bibliography

  • W. J. Harvey, The Red and White Diamond (Melb, 1920)
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 26 Mar, 2 Dec 1954
  • Herald (Melbourne), 8, 9 Apr 1954, 1 Feb 1956
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 Oct, 17 Dec 1955, 2 Jan 1956, 31 Jan 1957
  • W. J. Cuthill, taped interview with C. McLean (c1970, held by author).

Citation details

W. J. Cuthill, 'McLean, Charles (1889–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 18 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

Life Summary [details]


5 December, 1889
Goornong, Victoria, Australia


14 January, 1978 (aged 88)
Armadale, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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