Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bernard Blomfield Riley (1912–1978)

by Jonathan W. De B. Persse

This article was published:

Bernard Blomfield Riley (1912-1978), barrister and judge, was born on 21 July 1912 at Cairns, Queensland, second child of Australian-born parents Bernard Rocks Riley, manager of the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd's Hambledon Mill, and his wife Isabella Marion, née Murphy. Bernard was a fifth-generation Australian, through his great-great-grandfather Richard Brooks. He attended Kersworth Preparatory School, Rose Bay, then boarded at The King's School, Parramatta. A fine middle-distance runner and school captain (1930), he won the Broughton and Forrest exhibition. He graduated from Keble College, Oxford (B.A., 1934; M.A., 1951), with second-class honours in jurisprudence, and was called to the Bar at Gray's Inn, London, on 3 July 1935. Back in Sydney, he was associate, successively, to Chief Justice (Sir) Frederick Jordan and (Sir) Colin Davidson. On 4 May 1936 he was admitted to the New South Wales Bar. He built up a practice (mainly in Equity) from chambers in Phillip Street.

On 21 July 1941 Riley was commissioned in the Militia and posted to the artillery. At St Martin's Anglican Church, Killara, on 15 December that year he married Stephanie Marguerite Cooper Day. He joined the Australian Imperial Force on 17 July 1942. Transferred to the Australian Army Legal Corps as captain, he served in Darwin and New Britain. At Rabaul in December 1945 he prosecuted at the trial of suspected Japanese war criminals. He was placed on the Reserve of Officers in Sydney on 30 May 1946.

Resuming his practice at the Bar, Riley appeared in the Bank nationalization case, and was a junior counsel to (Sir) Victor Windeyer, Q.C., who assisted the (Petrov) royal commission into espionage (1954-55). Riley published The Law Relating to Bills of Exchange in Australia (1953), which was used as a textbook for many years, and lectured occasionally at the University of Sydney. Taking silk in New South Wales on 3 August 1960 and in Victoria on 9 October 1962, he presided (1967-69) over the New South Wales Bar Association. In 1968 he was elected to the Legislative Council.

Riley was a director of C.S.R. (1958-73) and the Australian Mutual Provident Society (1963-73), chancellor of the diocese of Bathurst, a member of the Walter and Eliza Hall Trust, a governor (1948-62) of King's and honorary secretary (1958-62) of the school council. Widely read, he had a love of spoken and written English: the annual Bernard Riley English language prize at King's was named after him. With his lucid mind, nice turn of phrase and ready wit, he was popular as a guest speaker. He belonged to the Australian Club and the Royal Australian Historical Society.

Appointed a judge of the Federal Court of Bankruptcy from 22 October 1973, Riley was elevated in January 1977 to the bench of the new Federal Court of Australia. His work was largely in the bankruptcy jurisdiction. He also became deputy-president of the Trade Practices Tribunal, where his background in commercial law was valued. As a barrister and as a judge, he treated everyone with tact and good manners. Fearless independence and a high sense of propriety characterized both his professional and private life. Sir Nigel Bowen, his colleague and friend, thought him 'kind, gentle and honourable'.

Riley died of coronary thrombosis on 4 August 1978 in Royal North Shore Hospital and was cremated; his wife, son and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol 46, 1960, p 206
  • Australian Law Journal, vol 52, Nov 1978, p 653
  • Australian Law Reports, vol 19, 1978, p ix
  • The King's School Magazine, Dec 1978, p 105
  • The King's School, Parramatta, Sydney, Archives
  • Trade Practices Tribunal, typescript of proceedings, 8 Aug 1978 (National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

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Citation details

Jonathan W. De B. Persse, 'Riley, Bernard Blomfield (1912–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 July, 1912
Cairns, Queensland, Australia


4 August, 1978 (aged 66)
North Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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