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Sholl, Sir Reginald Richard (1902–1988)

by Laurence W. Maher

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Sir Reginald Richard Sholl (1902-1988), barrister, judge, diplomat and commentator, was born on 8 October 1902 in East Melbourne, eldest of six children of Reginald Frank Sholl, Hansard reporter, and his wife Alice Maud, née Mumby.  Educated at Queen’s College, St Kilda, Melbourne Church of England Grammar School (where he was head of the school in 1918) and the University of Melbourne (BA Hons, 1923; MA, 1925), he first displayed evidence of his active interest in public affairs by service as a volunteer constable during the Victoria Police strike (1923), and as a freelance contributor to the Argus.  His scholastic attainments and sporting prowess (Australian rules football, cricket, and lacrosse) led to a Rhodes scholarship (1924) at New College, Oxford (BA, 1926; BCL, 1927).

A resident fellow and tutor in law at Brasenose College, Sholl was called to the Bar of the Middle Temple in 1927.  On 27 July that year at the parish church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, he married Australian-born Hazel Ethel Bradshaw.  He was admitted to practise in Victoria in 1928 and signed the Bar roll next year.  From 1929 to 1938 he lectured in law at the University of Melbourne.  His academic record, scholarly legal writing, energetic and meticulous work habits and connections with leading solicitors’ firms contributed to a busy and wide-ranging practice, notably in commercial law and Equity.  Beginning full-time duty in the Citizen Military Forces on 14 July 1942 (Australian Imperial Force from October), he served as a staff captain at Allied Forces Land Headquarters, Melbourne (1942-43), and at headquarters, New Guinea Force, Port Moresby (1943-44), before transferring to the Reserve of Officers on 10 February 1944 in Melbourne.

Sholl returned to the Bar, appearing for the State Electricity Commission of Victoria in the royal commission on the Yallourn bushfires (1944).  He took silk in 1947, and successfully defended the Tasmanian premier (Sir) Robert Cosgrove at his bribery trial (1948).  As Cold War tensions began to escalate, he advised the Returned Sailors’, Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia on how to rid its ranks of suspected communists, and was leading counsel assisting the much-publicised royal commission into the Communist Party in Victoria (1949), chaired by Sir Charles Lowe.  His appointment to the Supreme Court of Victoria in 1950 prompted the Communist Party newspaper, the Guardian, to denounce him as a 'die-hard tory' who knew 'nothing of the lives of the people'.

As a judge Sholl was noted for his unfailing courtesy.  Among his judicial brethren he was sometimes seen as intellectually precocious, and yet his lengthy, erudite judgments were rarely interfered with on appeal and were later cited with approval.  Eschewing the conventional quasi-monastic life embraced by his colleagues, he made public statements ranging from dire predictions about the communist menace to the shortcomings of modern art.  His stinging attack on Victoria Police interrogation techniques (1965) supported the introduction of formal records of interview and subsequent enduring reforms.  Leaving the bench in 1966, almost a decade before the statutory retiring age, in his farewell remarks he referred to capital punishment as 'a counsel of despair'.

In 1962 Sholl had been knighted.  Following his wife’s death that year, he married Anna McLean, née Carpenter, on 8 October 1964 in Melbourne.  He accepted appointment as Australian consul-general in New York (1966-69).  In the United States of America he continued to make headlines.  He told a conference of judges that their criminal-justice system was over-legalistic and that defendants’ rights were over-elaborated by judges.  At a time when it was unheard of for former judges to resume active practice, he proposed returning to the Victorian Bar following his term in New York; this was resisted and instead he became a consultant to the Melbourne solicitors Russell Kennedy & Cook.  He delivered the Sir Richard Stawell Oration (1970) and conducted a royal commission into Western Australian airline services (1974-75).  As a public contrarian, he associated himself with the far-right League of Rights, and expressed himself controversially on topics ranging from community morals and homosexuality to the supposed perils of non-White immigration and declining media standards.  Near the end of his life he criticised the murder conviction of Lindy Chamberlain.

Active in Anglican diocesan affairs, Sir Reginald was also a trustee of the National Gallery of Victoria and a foundation member of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.  Survived by his wife and the two daughters and two sons of his first marriage, he died on 7 August 1988 at Southport, Queensland, and was buried with Anglican rites in Springvale cemetery, Victoria.  Paul Fitzgerald’s portrait of Sholl hangs in Owen Dixon Chambers, Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Law Journal, vol 62, no 10, 1988, p 825
  • Age (Melbourne), 10 August 1988, p 10
  • A. Martin, interview with R. R. Sholl (ts, 1985, National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Laurence W. Maher, 'Sholl, Sir Reginald Richard (1902–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sholl-sir-reginald-richard-15488/text26703, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 21 September 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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