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Henry Christian Winneke (1874–1943)

by Charles Francis

This article was published:

Henry Christian Winneke (1874-1943), judge, was born on 23 April 1874 at Talbot, Victoria, youngest son of Christian Winneke, miner, and his wife Auguste, late Müller, née Runge, both from Hanover, Germany. Educated locally at Prince Alfred State School, Henry won scholarships to Dookie Agricultural College, and Scotch College, Melbourne, where he excelled at football and rowing, and was dux in 1892 and 1893. Entering Ormond College, University of Melbourne (B.A., 1897; LL.B., 1898; LL.M., 1899), with a scholarship in 1894, he was awarded first-class honours in classics, philosophy and law, as well as the Supreme Court prize.

He was articled to Walter Rylah in 1900, admitted to the Victorian Bar in 1902 and commenced practice in Selborne Chambers. For some years Winneke continued to play football for the Fitzroy Seconds and was an active member of the Clifton Parliamentary Debating Society. On 2 July 1907 at St Paul's Independent Church, North Fitzroy, he married Ethel Janet O'Neill. They settled at Fitzroy where Winneke was elected to the municipal council in 1912. He represented the council on the Melbourne Tramways Trust.

At the Bar Winneke gradually developed a wide general practice. His reputation was established by his appearance as counsel at the long inquiry into the Sunshine railway accident of 1908 and by his subsequent successful defence of the engine driver in the Richmond rail disaster of 1910. While his colleagues predicted eventual elevation to the Supreme Court bench, Winneke accepted appointment to the Victorian County Court and Court of Mines in June 1913. An early pioneer in using the motor car, he frequently drove from Ballarat, where he was located, to sit at other circuit towns in western and north-western Victoria. In 1919 he returned to Melbourne to sit as a county court judge and as chairman of the Railways Classification Board and the State Coal Mine Industrial Tribunal.

As a judge, Winneke was well liked and widely respected, though the manner in which he conducted proceedings was initially regarded as a little unorthodox. He was a cultured man of considerable personal charm who combined the common sense of his rural background with legal knowledge and judicial wisdom. Goodnatured and friendly, with a dry wit, he encouraged barristers to argue the issues fully before him. While shrewd in his judgements of people, he demonstrated an affinity with most litigants. Winneke's sentences were never harsh and he was more willing than his brother judges to release the accused on a good behaviour bond. Some of his witticisms passed into legal lore. A witness who proclaimed virtuously that he did not drink, smoke or go to the races was asked by His Honour: 'Do you eat grass?' When the witness replied 'No', Winneke commented that he did not seem to be 'fit company for either man or beast'.

In his later judicial years much of Winneke's time was spent in the industrial field where he gained the respect both of the railways' commissioners and of the unions. During the Depression the relative freedom of the Victorian coal industry from industrial unrest was largely due to his fairness, tact and geniality. Survived by his wife and two sons, Winneke died of cancer on 9 December 1943 in East Melbourne and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at £13,057.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Dean, A Multitude of Counsellors (Melb, 1968)
  • R. Coleman, Above Renown (Melb, 1988)
  • Australian Law Journal, 21 Jan 1944
  • Argus (Melbourne), 11, 14 Dec 1943
  • Herald (Melbourne), 13 Dec 1943.

Citation details

Charles Francis, 'Winneke, Henry Christian (1874–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 15 July 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

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