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Harold Alfred Rush Snelling (1904–1979)

by J. M. Bennett

This article was published:

Harold Alfred Rush Snelling (1904-1979), by unknown photographer, 1966

Harold Alfred Rush Snelling (1904-1979), by unknown photographer, 1966

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 2 - 33668

Harold Alfred Rush Snelling (1904-1979), solicitor-general, was born on 12 September 1904 at Petersham, Sydney, son of Alfred John Snelling, a compositor from England, and his wife May Martha, née Rush, who was born in New South Wales. Educated at Fort Street Boys' High School and the University of Sydney (LL.B., 1926), Harold graduated with first-class honours. He was admitted to practice as a solicitor on 26 August 1927 and entered into partnership with Alexander Stanley Gourlay as Gourlay & Snelling.

At St Thomas's Church of England, North Sydney, on 19 November 1932 Snelling married Ruth Neilley. More ambitious than Gourlay, he transferred to the Bar on 19 December 1933 and took chambers successively at 170, 167 and 148 Phillip Street. He was an imperturbable advocate, with a relaxed, engaging manner, who built up a successful practice.

Mobilized in the Militia on 22 August 1940, Snelling suspended his practice in 1942 and transferred to the Australian Imperial Force on 25 February 1944. He served in Australia and Papua in the Ordnance Corps, of which, as lieutenant colonel, he became deputy director. Following his demobilization on 1 May 1945, he soon expanded his diverse practice. He took silk on 4 May 1952. On the retirement of C. E. Weigall as solicitor-general, Snelling was appointed to the vacancy in August 1953. He brought to the office not only great ability, but also his individual style, being invariably attired in morning dress and, out of doors, a homburg hat. Almost half of Snelling's tenure coincided with that of his contemporary Robert Reginald Downing as State attorney-general. Downing, an able lawyer, himself conducted in court many State constitutional and public law cases. Snelling's particular forte was in crown fiscal matters, in which he appeared frequently in the Supreme Court, the High Court of Australia and the Privy Council (he habitually took mid-year cruises to England).

When Chief Justice Sir Kenneth Street retired in 1960, it was an open secret in the legal profession that Snelling was favourably considered—and supported by ancient Crown Law Office convention—as his successor. Political considerations, however, attended the installation of the ailing Herbert Vere Evatt in the high judicial office for which Snelling was so well fitted.

Snelling lived at Vaucluse and found recreation in gardening at his Leura retreat, and in swimming. He was president of the Australian branch of the International Law Association, a leader in the Australian Academy of Forensic Sciences, president of the Nielsen-Vaucluse Park Trust and a vice-president of the Millions (Sydney from 1963) Club.

On attaining statutory retiring age in 1974, Snelling relinquished the solicitor-generalship, having advised governments of contrary political persuasions with unvarying distinction and professionalism. In 1975 he was appointed C.B.E. He did not long enjoy retirement, being afflicted with Parkinson's disease. Survived by his wife and their three daughters, he died on 26 April 1979 in the Scottish Hospital, Paddington, and was cremated. Sir Kenneth McCaw, a former attorney-general, judged him to have been 'a gentle and good man of deep humility, patience and compassion'. Snelling's daughter Mrs Priscilla Flemming became the first woman to practise privately as a Q.C. in New South Wales.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Law Journal, 53, Aug 1979
  • Bar News (New South Wales), 22, 1988
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 May 1952, 19 Mar 1953, 3 Oct 1967, 30 Apr 1979
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

J. M. Bennett, 'Snelling, Harold Alfred Rush (1904–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 14 April 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

Harold Alfred Rush Snelling (1904-1979), by unknown photographer, 1966

Harold Alfred Rush Snelling (1904-1979), by unknown photographer, 1966

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 2 - 33668

Life Summary [details]


12 September, 1904
Petersham, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


26 April, 1979 (aged 74)
Paddington, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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