Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

John Wentworth Shand (1897–1959)

by John Slee

This article was published:

John Wentworth Shand (1897-1959), barrister, was born on 4 September 1897 at Lewisham, Sydney, second child of native-born parents Alexander Barclay Shand, barrister, and his wife Florence Amelia, née Brierley. Jack was educated at Sydney Grammar School and St Andrew's College, University of Sydney (B.A., 1918; LL.B., 1921). In 1918, after training at the State Aviation School, Richmond, he sailed for Egypt where he was commissioned in the Royal Air Force on 25 October as a kite-balloon officer. He returned to the University of Sydney and was admitted to the Bar on 3 November 1921.

At St James's Church of England, King Street, on 9 February 1926 Shand married Enid Mary Holt; they were to have four children before being divorced in November 1939. He never lost his frolicsome ways and zest for life; he had a passion for fast cars and belonged to the Killara Lawn Tennis Club, where he met Judith D'Arcy Westgarth. She was aged 28 when they were married with Presbyterian forms on 20 December 1939 in her father's house at Pymble.

Shand became adept at compensation cases and an expert on laws of libel and contempt. He won against (Sir) Garfield Barwick in several important commercial suits and proved formidable in criminal cases. His reputation as a courtroom tactician rested not only on his many victories, but also on his willingness to accept difficult and often seemingly impossible briefs. Tenacity and a preparedness to take risks counted in his professional success. He was appointed K.C. in January 1943.

In 1946 Shand defended Major Charles Hughes Cousens, a popular radio announcer who had been compelled, while a prisoner of war, to make propaganda broadcasts for the Japanese and was subsequently charged with treason. Shand cast enough doubt at the committal hearing for the charge later to be dropped. Between 1947 and 1949 he reputedly earned £12,000 from assisting government investigations, including the Air Court of Inquiry (1948) into the crash of Australian National Airways Pty Ltd's airliner Lutana and the royal commission (1949) into certain transactions in relation to timber rights in the Territory of Papua-New Guinea.

At the 1951 royal commission into the case of the shearer Frederick Lincoln McDermott who had been sentenced to life imprisonment in 1947 for the murder (1936) of a Grenfell storekeeper, Shand reduced a detective-inspector to tears in cross-examination and persuaded the commission that the trial had miscarried. McDermott was freed in 1952. In other notable successes, Shand secured the acquittal in 1951 of Thomas Langhorne Fleming, a wealthy grazier accused on strong circumstantial evidence of murdering his wife by lacing her beer with cyanide, and in 1954 of Shirley Beiger, a model who shot her lover at point-blank range outside Chequers Restaurant, Sydney.

Even Shand's warmest admirers saw his courtroom demeanour as unprepossessing—his style was often contrasted with that of his tall and handsome father. Jack Shand was short and stout, red-faced and freckled. He sometimes seemed to mumble, and in later life became hard of hearing. Barwick observed that 'Shand had a thin-piped voice but great vigour as an advocate and the capacity of insinuation in tone which could annoy and bring a witness into antagonism'. Others heard him as shrill and piercing, with a slight lisp. Nevertheless, he was brisk to the point of rudeness when necessary and widely acknowledged as the most successful criminal barrister in Sydney.

By the time of his last big case Shand had only a few months to live. He appeared before the South Australian royal commission in regard to Rupert Max Stuart, an Aborigine convicted in April 1959 of the brutal murder of a 9-year-old girl. The commission was chaired by the chief justice Sir Mellis Napier who had earlier heard the unsuccessful appeal against Stuart's conviction. The case became a test of South Australia's criminal trial procedures and the retention of capital punishment. Shand clashed frequently with Napier. Eventually, after being stopped during cross-examination of a witness, he withdrew, in effect accusing Napier of making it impossible for a proper inquiry to be held under his chairmanship. Although Napier protested at this 'sabotage', Shand's tactics heightened public controversy and made it unfeasible for Stuart's execution to be carried out.

From 1947 Shand was a director of East-West Airlines Ltd, run by his cousin Donald Shand. In 1949 he became chairman of Air-Griculture Control Ltd. He died of cancer on 19 October 1959 at his St Ives home and was cremated with Anglican rites. His wife and their son and daughter survived him, as did the daughter and three sons of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • K. S. Inglis, The Stuart Case (Melb, 1961)
  • I. Chapman, Tokyo Calling (Syd, 1990)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Jan 1939, 1 Jan 1943, 4 Nov 1948, 21 May, 22 Nov 1949, 7 Sept 1951, 20, 22 Oct 1959, 6 Feb 1960
  • Nation (Sydney), 29 Aug 1959
  • Mirror (Sydney), 19, 21, 25 Oct 1959, 29 Oct 1973
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 20, 29 Oct 1959
  • Sun (Sydney), 5 Feb 1960
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Slee, 'Shand, John Wentworth (1897–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 19 May 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]


4 September, 1897
Lewisham, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


19 October, 1959 (aged 62)
St Ives, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Key Organisations