Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kenneth Owen Shatwell (1909–1988)

by Bohdan Bilinsky

This article was published:

Kenneth Owen Shatwell (1909-1988), professor of law, was born on 16 October 1909 at Poynton-with-Worth, Chester, England, younger son of Evan Owen Shatwell (d.1914), railway-goods clerk, and his wife Ellen, née Needham.  Ken attended Macclesfield Grammar (later the King’s) School and won a scholarship to Lincoln College, Oxford (BA, 1931; BCL, 1933; MA, 1953); he achieved first-class honours in both bachelor degrees.  His recreations included rowing, rugby union and boxing.  He was a tutor in law at Lincoln College prior to becoming assistant law lecturer at University College, Hull.

Appointed professor and dean of law at the University of Tasmania in 1933, Shatwell modernised the faculty which until then had been staffed only by part-time lecturers from the legal profession.  He was active in the staff association, serving on its committee and as president (1946).  On 16 May 1936 at Christ College Chapel, Hobart, he married with Church of England rites Betty Hogarth, a commerce graduate and secretary to the department of commerce and tutorial classes.  She was an early aviatrix who competed in air races.  He continued to play rugby and to box, supposedly under the name of 'K. O. Wells'.

In 1940-45 Shatwell was a sub-lieutenant and (from 1941) a lieutenant in the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve.  After training in Britain and service in HMS Duchess of Rothesay in the North Sea, he commanded the minesweeper, HMS Tewera, in the Atlantic in 1942.  He then commanded the storeship, HMAS Coolebar (1943-44), and the minesweeper, HMAS Coombar (1944-45), in the South-West Pacific Area.  His naval record contains favourable comments on his conduct and efficiency, interspersed with two instances of disciplinary action against him.  He became the light-heavyweight boxing champion of the RAN.

Shatwell was appointed Challis professor of law at the University of Sydney in 1947 and almost immediately was elected, unanimously, dean of the faculty; he stayed in that office, with occasional breaks, until December 1973, becoming a 'virtual institution'.  His administrative skill and tenacity led to major changes in the law school.  He transformed the faculty from one with two full-time lecturers and many part-time staff from the profession to one primarily dependent on full-time academics.  By 1974, when he relinquished the chair, the faculty had more than fifty full-time teachers.  Articles of clerkship for intending solicitors had been gradually discontinued, a change he favoured, and in 1969 a new law school was built opposite the Supreme Court House.  The building owed much to his ability as an administrator and shrewd negotiator.  He was a fellow of the university’s senate in 1950-61 and 1969-71.

Influenced by similar initiatives elsewhere, in 1959 Shatwell founded, and became first director of, the University of Sydney’s Institute of Criminology, a multi-disciplinary body, most lecturers being non-lawyers.  His diverse duties, including being variously president of and an examiner for the Barristers’ and Solicitors’ Admission boards and the Supreme Court’s Joint Examinations Board, severely restricted his scholarly output.  He lectured on contracts, publishing articles on the doctrines of consideration and mistake in contract.  As a lecturer he was competent, if sometimes seeming distracted from his theme.  In the comparative law of contract Shatwell collaborated with Professor Gino Gorla of Italy.  He did much to preserve humanities courses, particularly Roman law and legal history, and was actively involved with the law extension committee.

Shatwell was a member (1950-52) of the South Pacific Commission; a visiting professor at Queen’s University, Belfast (1951), and Temple University, Philadelphia, United States of America (1968); a recipient of a Carnegie Corporation grant to study legal education in the USA and Canada (1954); a member of the Society of Public Teachers of Law, England; and he served on the Permanent Court of Arbitration under the Hague Convention.  A member from 1948 of the Social Science Research Committee, he was a founding member (1952) of the Social Science Research Council of Australia.  He was on the State government’s Corrective Services Advisory Council (1971-79).

Shatwell’s interests included Sydney Legacy, gentlemen’s clubs—the Athenaeum (London), the Tasmanian (Hobart) and the Imperial Service Club (Sydney)—and gardening.  He died on 24 March 1988 in his home at Warrawee and was cremated.  Predeceased (1953) by his younger daughter, he was survived by his wife and their son and elder daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • J. and J. Mackinolty (eds), A Century Down Town (1991)
  • University of Sydney News, 12 April 1988, p 50
  • Sydney Law Review, vol 12, no 1, 1989, p vii
  • A3978, item Shatwell K O, A6769, item Shatwell K O, A471, item 27127 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Senate, minutes, 1947, faculty of law, minutes, 9 December 1974 (University of Sydney archives)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Bohdan Bilinsky, 'Shatwell, Kenneth Owen (1909–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


16 October, 1909
Poynton-with-Worth, Cheshire, England


24 March, 1988 (aged 78)
Warrawee, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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