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George Henry Neighbour (1848–1915)

by H. A. Finlay

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George Henry Neighbour (1848-1915), teacher, lawyer and acting judge, was born on 4 June 1848 in London, son of Henry Thomas Neighbour, engineer, and his wife Mary, née Black. He received his early education in Sheffield, Yorkshire, passing the Cambridge local examinations with first-class honours at the age of 15, and came to Melbourne with his family in 1864 because of his father's indifferent health. Next year he entered the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1868; M.A., 1870; LL.B. 1871). He was admitted to the Bar in 1872. On 7 February 1877, at St Paul's Church, Neighbour married Mary James, eldest daughter of the university registrar.

Neighbour at first turned to coaching, then in January 1872 founded Carlton College (later Essendon Grammar School) in Cardigan Street, Carlton. He remained its headmaster until he commenced practice as a barrister in 1877, reading with Edward de Verdon, Q.C., and G. H. F. (later Mr Justice) Webb. He continued at the Bar for the next thirteen years, some of that time as an amalgam barrister and solicitor. While in practice he also lectured on the law of obligations, equity and insolvency at the University of Melbourne until he was appointed chief clerk (equivalent to master) of the Supreme Court (1900-15). In 1901 he was appointed K.C.

As chief clerk Neighbour also acted as commissioner of patents and trade marks and as master in Equity and lunacy. In 1901 he presided over the first interstate conference of commissioners of patents. His most important additional duties were those of an acting county court judge. He sat in the Insolvency Court and in General Sessions for periods totalling nearly four years in 1901-11. The appointment was popular, but the discharge of judicial duties concurrently with tenure as a permanent public servant attracted repeated protests from the legal profession and complaints by the Law Institute. The practice was discontinued in 1911.

In July 1906 Neighbour became involved in a minor scandal concerning John Wren and his Collingwood tote. An extensive anti-gambling campaign, led by W. H. Judkins, a zealous Methodist lay preacher, forced the Bent government to introduce an anti-gaming bill. Judkins alleged extensive corruption against Wren, including bribery of the police, and implicating the chief secretary, Sir Samuel Gillott. When Neighbour quashed on appeal the convictions against Wren and his associates, because of the unsatisfactory police evidence, Judkins suggested that he had been corruptly influenced by Wren. The allegations led Neighbour to make a public statement to the press, unprecedented in a member of the judiciary, justifying his decision and denying the charges.

Neighbour died of tuberculosis at his home on 19 December 1915 and was buried with Anglican rites in Boroondara cemetery; his wife, two sons and four daughters survived him. Described as a 'scholarly gentleman' he had wide interests and great dedication to his work. Neighbour held a commission as captain in the Victorian Militia and assisted with the design of military fortifications at Queenscliff and Point Nepean. He was a member of the Institute of Actuaries, London. He left no estate. His widow unsuccessfully petitioned the government for an ex gratia payment equivalent to two years salary, in recognition of his additional official duties. An illuminated address to him is in the principal's office at Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • A. Dean, A Multitude of Counsellors (Melb, 1968)
  • N. Brennan, John Wren (Melb, 1971)
  • R. Campbell, A History of the Melbourne Law School, 1857 to 1973 (Melb, 1977)
  • E. H. Buggy, The Real John Wren (Melb, 1977)
  • Journal of Religious History, 10 (1977-78), no 1
  • Argus (Melbourne), 16 Feb 1877, 18, 19 Sept 1906, 20 Dec 1915
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 17 May 1900, 13 Jan 1916
  • Bulletin, 2 June 1900
  • Age (Melbourne), 22, 24, 25 Sept 1906, 20 Dec 1915
  • Neighbour papers (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

H. A. Finlay, 'Neighbour, George Henry (1848–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 15 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]


4 June, 1848
London, Middlesex, England


19 December, 1915 (aged 67)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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