Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Henry Sharwood (1872–1944)

by Matthew Dicker

This article was published:

William Henry Sharwood (1872-1944), Commonwealth crown solicitor, was born on 29 December 1872 at Ballarat, Victoria, son of William Sharwood, native-born blacksmith, and his Scottish wife Agnes, née Lorimer. Educated at Ballarat State School and Ballarat School of Mines, he entered the Victorian Public Service in December 1889, being employed in the Crown Law Department, Melbourne. On 14 January 1896 he married Emily Brown (d.1931) at Abbotsford.

In 1905, following Federation and the creation of the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department, Sharwood transferred to the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor's Office as chief clerk. He studied law part-time and passed with distinction the examinations conducted by the University of Melbourne for admission to practise. Professor (Sir) Harrison Moore said that the examination of Sharwood's papers on constitutional law was to him 'a liberal education'. Sharwood was admitted to practise in the High Court of Australia in September 1916.

He was appointed assistant Commonwealth crown solicitor in July 1917 and crown solicitor in May 1927, when he moved to Canberra. Sharwood was commissioned on several occasions as an acting judge of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory. During his years in the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor's Office, he was involved in all aspects of legal practice. He travelled twice (1923, 1926) to London to instruct senior counsel on behalf of the Commonwealth in successful litigation before the judicial committee of the Privy Council involving the Australian Wool Realization Scheme. One of Sharwood's specialities was the drafting of detailed and complex agreements to which the Commonwealth was a party. An enduring and major achievement was the Financial Agreement (1928) between the Commonwealth and the States, which provided for the Commonwealth taking over the States' public debts and managing overseas borrowings. Another was for the establishment of the Loan Council: Sharwood represented the Commonwealth in negotiations between the States settling the terms of agreement. This agreement was drafted with his friend, the Commonwealth attorney-general, (Sir) John Latham.

Frequently described as a person with an outstanding capacity for careful, accurate and logical work, Sharwood excelled in the practical application of the law to concrete problems. These qualities, together with his thoroughness and ability to explain a problem and provide a legal solution with succinctness and precision, gained him an enviable reputation among his contemporaries. In 1935 he was appointed I.S.O.

Following his retirement as crown solicitor in 1936, Sharwood returned to Melbourne. He remained out of the public arena until World War II when he served as chairman of an aliens tribunal in Melbourne. He was president of Canberra and Melbourne Rotary and of the Canberra City and Surrey Hills (Melbourne) Bowling clubs, and had strong musical interests. Sharwood died of Paget's disease on 8 November 1944 at Richmond, Melbourne, and was cremated with Methodist forms. A son and a daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • H. F. E. Whitlam, ‘William Henry Sharwood, I.S.O. (1927-1936)’, in Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department, Biographical Notes: Commonwealth Crown Solicitors (Canb, 1955)
  • R. R. Garran, Prosper the Commonwealth (Syd, 1958)
  • H. E. Renfree, History of the Crown Solicitor's Office (Canb, 1970)
  • Canberra Historical Journal, 16, Sept 1985
  • Canberra Times, 10 Nov 1944.

Citation details

Matthew Dicker, 'Sharwood, William Henry (1872–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


29 December, 1872
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia


8 November, 1944 (aged 71)
Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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