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Richard Windeyer (1868–1959)

by J. M. Bennett

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with William Archibald Windeyer

Richard Windeyer (1868-1959), barrister, and William Archibald Windeyer (1871-1943), solicitor, were born on 9 September 1868 and on 9 April 1871 at Darlinghurst, Sydney, eldest and second sons of (Sir) William Charles Windeyer, barrister, and his wife Mary Elizabeth, née Bolton. The brothers were educated at Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney: Richard was a resident of St Paul's College, edited Hermes and graduated B.A. in 1891; William (B.A., 1893) was a member of the Australian Rifle team in 1891. They later belonged to the Australian and University clubs.

A committee-member (1893) of the Articled Clerks' Association, from 1892 Richard was judge's associate to his father before being admitted to the Bar on 10 August 1894. He built up a solid practice, beginning on the Hunter River and Northern circuits; in Sydney he practised at Denman Chambers. On 23 December 1891 at All Saints Church, Petersham, he married Mabel Fuller Robinson (d.1957).

His skill as an advocate brought him a leading practice, particularly in common law, criminal law and divorce. Windeyer took silk in 1917 and was an acting Supreme Court judge from November 1936 to February 1937. He was counsel in the much-publicized Ezra Norton and Field divorces; he appeared for Percival Brookfield, Thomas Mutch and Ernie Judd who claimed before a royal commission in 1918 that police had procured false evidence in the 1916 conspiracy trials of Donald Grant and other members of the Industrial Workers of the World; and he acted for the Australian Newspaper Proprietors' Association in their successful press censorship contest with Arthur Calwell in World War II (1944). Windeyer retired in 1946. Sir Garfield Barwick later testified to his courage and resource as counsel, and described him as belonging to 'a generation of advocates who were pre-eminent in the strategy and tactics of the courtroom and who brought to the conduct of the case a great deal of personality and wit'. Another observer noted that Windeyer's clients in criminal cases owed 'much to the emotional appeal of his advocacy'; some likened him to the English barrister Marshall Hall.

A staunch supporter of (Sir) Edmund Barton, Windeyer toiled to attain Australian Federation and throughout his life actively proposed constitutional reform. He was interested in politics, but was considered 'too unpredictable to be a good party man or to gain party selection'. Eventually, in 1929 he stood for the Australian People's Party and nearly unseated (Sir) Robert Parkhill for the Federal seat of Warringah.

Windeyer lectured at the University of Sydney (1935-44), served on its senate (1934-44) and helped to establish the university archives. As patron of the Sydney Repertory Theatre Society, he worked closely with Evelyn Tildesley. He was a fellow of the Royal Economic Society, London, councillor of the Prisoners' Aid Association of New South Wales and a committee-member for the Food for Britain Appeal. Managing Tomago, the family's country estate, he learned about farming and preferred 'growing vegetables to flowers' at his Lindfield home. His recreations were motoring and yachting, and he was vice-commodore of Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club. He was a gifted conversationalist and relished congenial company. Of middle height, he had 'a face like wrinkled canvas, thin white hair which juts in front, a big mouth and eyes like a highly intelligent bird', with 'a rather harsh, high pitched inquisitional voice'.

His wife, who had served from 1914 with the Voluntary Aid Detachment in England, France and Belgium, petitioned for divorce on her return in 1919, but consented to a modus vivendi. Richard Windeyer died on 8 November 1959 at Gordon and was cremated with Anglican rites. Four sons and two daughters survived him; his eldest son Charles had been killed in action in World War I.

Articled to Robert Smith of Norton Smith & Co., solicitors, William Windeyer was admitted as a solicitor on 22 August 1896, began practice in Sydney on his own and eventually established a law firm that continues to bear his name. He came to have many large corporate clients, including insurance companies and newspaper publishers. On 4 October 1899 at Christ Church, Gladesville, he married Ruby Millicent, second daughter of John Le Gay Brereton. On the night of 18 May 1902 Windeyer took the main part in rescuing young people from a rowing boat capsized in Fern Bay, near his Hunters Hill home, and was awarded a silver medal by the Royal Shipwreck Relief and Humane Society of New South Wales.

Elected an alderman of Hunters Hill Municipal Council in 1904, Windeyer served for twenty-three years and was mayor in 1915-24; the W. A. Windeyer Memorial Reserve was named after him. He was a director of Standard Life Association Ltd and Bain's White Ant Exterminator Co. Ltd, president of the Hunters Hill branch of the Liberal Association, a council-member of the Kindergarten Union of New South Wales, chairman of the Boy Scouts' Association from 1943, and director of and honorary solicitor to the Sydney Homoeopathic Hospital. He was appointed M.B.E. in 1920. His work for returned servicemen was recognized in 1936 by the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia.

As president of the Suburban and Country Golf Association, and secretary of the New South Wales Golf Council and of the New South Wales Golf Club, he pressed for uniform handicapping and wrote a booklet on the rules of golf. Like his brother, William enjoyed gardening, boating and fishing. He died in St Luke's Hospital, Darlinghurst, on 25 March 1943 and was cremated with Anglican rites. His wife, daughter and two sons survived him; his youngest son Henry had died in 1941 of wounds received at Tobruk, North Africa.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • Newspaper Cartoonists' Association of New South Wales, Sydneyites As We See 'Em 1913-15 (Syd, 1915?)
  • G. E. Hall and A. Cousins (eds), Book of Remembrance of the University of Sydney in the War 1914-18 (Syd, 1939)
  • I. Brodsky, Hunters Hill 1861-1961 (Syd, 1961)
  • J. M. Bennett (ed), A History of the New South Wales Bar (Syd, 1969)
  • J. M. Bennett A History of Solicitors in New South Wales (Syd, 1984)
  • L. F. Fitzhardinge, The Little Digger (Syd, 1979)
  • University of Sydney, Gazette, Apr 1960, p 280
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Oct 1920, 29 May 1936, 26 Mar 1943, 10 Nov 1959
  • M. D. Hay, Some Reminiscences of the N.S.W. Bar (typescript, Law School, University of Sydney)
  • Piddington papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Windeyer papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • newsclippings (State Library of Victoria)
  • Royal Humane Society of New South Wales records
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

J. M. Bennett, 'Windeyer, Richard (1868–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


9 September, 1868
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


8 November, 1959 (aged 91)
Gordon, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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