Thomas Rainsford Bavin

NSW State Archives Collection
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Sir Thomas Rainsford Bavin was born on 5 May 1874 at Kaiapoi, near Christchurch, New Zealand, the son of Reverend Rainsford Bavin, a Wesleyan Methodist Minister, and his wife Emma nee Buddle. He was educated at Auckland Grammar School. The 1888 Methodist General Conference transferred his father to Sydney. Reverend and Mrs Bavin, along with eight children, arrived in Sydney on board the Steamship 'Waihora' on 15 April 1889. Thomas's education continued at Newington College, Stanmore. He passed the matriculation examination for the University of Sydney in March 1891 and commenced studies as an evening student, while apparently teaching at Newington. (1)

Bavin completed his Bachelor of Arts degree as an evening student, graduating with First Class Honours in Logic and Mental Philosophy in 1894. He commenced law studies in 1894 and won the 1895 Wigram Allen Scholarship for general proficiency in the Intermediate Law Examination. Graduating with a Bachelor of Law degree with First Class Honours in 1897, he was awarded a University Medal. After graduating he continued his association with the University as an Examiner in Law from 1898-99 to 1900-01. He was active in University clubs: Sydney University Undergraduates Association (committee member 1896); Sydney University Union (committee member 1897) and the Sydney University Law Society (one of the vice-presidents 1902, 1906, 1908-17, and president 1907, 1922 to 1941). (2)

Bavin was called to the New South Wales Bar on 28 May 1897 and practised out of Wigram Chambers (1898-1899), 149 Phillip Street (1900-1909), Wigram Chambers (1910-1913) and University Chambers (1914-1935). He was also registered for the South and South-Western Circuit (1907-1924). After meeting Edmund Barton, he became interested in politics and the federation of the Australian states. Before the referendum of 3 June 1898, Bavin campaigned in support of the Constitution bill and at the election of 27 July stood for the New South Wales Parliamentary seat of Canterbury, representing Barton's National Federal Party. He was Acting Professor of Law at the University of Tasmania in 1900. In 1901 he became private secretary and speechwriter to Barton, the first Prime Minister of Australia. When Barton became a Justice of the High Court of Australia on 5 October 1903, Bavin remained his Associate while continuing to be private secretary to Alfred Deakin, the new Prime Minister. Returning to Sydney in 1904, Bavin specialised in industrial and constitutional law, while initially supplementing his income by tutoring and writing newspaper articles. His appointment as a King's Counsel was approved by the Executive Council on 4 March 1924. (3)

Bavin was Royal Commissioner in two related Commissions. He chaired the multi-member Royal Commission of Inquiry as to food supplies and fish, created by Letters Patent on 7 July 1911. It was established to look at the production, manufacture, transport, and distribution of Sydney's food supply, especially fish, meat, milk, bread, fruit, and vegetables, along with factors affecting pricing and quality. The Commission produced three reports: an interim report on fish on 25 March 1912, one on beef and mutton on 18 December 1912, and the final report on 29 January 1913 which stated that a smaller body was needed to finish the inquiry due to its scope and complexity. On 30 January 1913, Bavin was made the sole Commissioner to conduct the Royal Commission of Inquiry as to food supplies and prices with the same terms of reference as the earlier commission. He issued reports on milk, fruit, vegetables and bread, as well as a general summary report, on 30 July, 8 October and 29 November 1913. Finding standards in New South Wales to be generally low due to the role of middle men in the production and marketing, he recommended a single market authority for distribution and a central authority much like the statistical section of the British Board of Trade to supervise overall. (4)

Bavin contributed to both local and state government. He was an alderman of Willoughby Council from 1911 to 1914. He unsuccessfully stood for pre-selection for the Liberal party for the State seats of East Sydney and Cook in 1910 and North Sydney in 1911. He was successful in gaining pre-selection for the Progressive Party for the seat of Albury in 1916, but the election was not held. Elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly on 31 March 1917 as the member for Gordon, he represented the Nationalist Party. From 20 March 1920 to 7 September 1927 he was one of the five members for the multi-member seat of Ryde. With the return to single member seats in 1927 he held Gordon from 8 October 1927 till his resignation on 14 October 1935. He was Attorney General and Minister for Justice in the 39th Fuller Ministry (20 December 1921), Attorney General in the 41st Fuller Ministry (13 April 1922-17 June 1925), Leader of the Opposition (24 September 1925-18 October 1927); Premier (18 October 1927-3 November 1930); and Colonial Treasurer (18 October 1927-15 April 1929) and Colonial Secretary (1 February 1929-15 April 1929). He was deputy leader of the Progressive party from October 1920, leader of the NSW Nationalist Party from 24 September 1925 to March 1932 and vice-president of the United Australia Party from 1932 to 1935. He resigned from Parliament due to his appointment to the Supreme Court. During the latter years of his political career his health declined, with two hospital stays and a serious operation in 1929. (5)

Bavin was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George on 3 June 1933 for his services as Premier of New South Wales. (6)

Bavin was first offered a judgeship in 1917, but declined it. In 1935, however, he accepted and was appointed a Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court on 16 October. He sat mainly in Causes and Chambers, and occasionally in the Full Court, until his death on 31 August 1941 due to cancer. The Chief Justice, Sir Frederick Richard Jordan, noted after his death that Bavin did not let his illness interfere with his work as a judge: 'he refused, until the end was approaching, to absent himself from the post of duty, and, though often obviously in pain, he insisted in remaining on the Bench to assist his colleagues in the disposal of legal business'. Bavin was survived by his wife Edyth Ellen nee Winchcombe, whom he married on 6 February 1901, and one son and three daughters. (7)

Bavin was active in the community, with an interest in national current affairs. He was a member of the National Defence League in 1906-1909 and joint secretary of the Universal Service League from 1915 to 1917. He served in the Royal Australian Naval Brigade reserve during World War I from 1916 to 1918, after being rejected as medically unfit for the permanent defence forces. He was a Lieutenant Commander on part-time intelligence work inquiring into reports of enemy action at sea and served on the Staff of the Captain-in-charge of Naval Establishments at Sydney 1917-1918. (8)

As well he was interested in international affairs. A foundation member of the New South Wales group of the Round Table in 1912, he helped prepare articles for its quarterly publication. He was first president of the League of Nations Union in 1920 and New South Wales president of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in 1924. From 1936 to 1940 he was president of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, and chaired the 1938 British Commonwealth Relations Committee at Lapstone in the Blue Mountains. His other interest included the Rotary movement, the Sydney Repertory Theatre Society, and the Bush Book Club of New South Wales. (9)

Bavin's publications covered many topics. From 1907 to 1911 he co-authored with Alfred Deakin the 'Australian correspondent' column for the London Morning Post. A selection of his speeches was published in 1933 under the title 'Thomas Rainsford Bavin extracts from his speeches 1923-1932'. His other publications include 'The Work and Aims of the Institute of International Affairs (1934) and he edited in 1940 'The Jubilee Book of the Law School of the University of Sydney 1910-1940'. His Macrossan lectures at the University of Queensland in 1940, which had to be read for him, were published as 'Sir Henry Parkes, his life and work' (1941). (10)

1. Fred Johns, Who's Who in the Commonwealth of Australia, various, 1922, pp.17-18; 1927-8, pp.16-17; Who's Who in Australia, Melbourne, Herald Press, 1933-34, p.50; 1935, p.60; 1938, p.61; 1941, p.100; 'Bavin, Sir Thomas Rainsford (1874-1941) in Percival Serle, Dictionary of Australian Biography, Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1949, (cited 16 April 2009); John McCarthy, 'Bavin, Sir Thomas Rainsford (1874-1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online Edition, (cited 11 January 2008); JB Paul, 'Thomas (later Sir Thomas) Rainsford Bavin' in David Clunes and Ken Turner (eds), The Premiers of New South Wales 1856-2005, Sydney, Federation Press, 2006, Vol.2, 1901-2005, pp.201-214; Shipping Master's Office; NRS 13278, Passengers arriving 1855-1922; [X146-147] Reel 441; SS Waihora, 15 April 1889, (cited 17 April 2009); University of Sydney Calendar, 1891, pp.268, 320, (cited 12 May 2008).
2. University of Sydney Calendar, op.cit., 1892, pp.296, 346; 1893, pp.296-7, 351; 1894, pp.166, 177-8, 206, 218; 1895, pp.143, 181, 222, 248, 250; 1896, pp.230, 260, 280, 285; 1897, pp.164, 174, 190, 227, 286; 1898, pp.272-3; 1899, p.222; 1900, p.286; 1901, p.259; 1902, p.373; 1906, p.429; 1907, p.456; 1908, p.462; 1921, p.790; 1923, p.817; 1930, p.974; John McCarthy, op.cit.
3. Barristers Admission Board; NRS 13665, Roll of Barristers, 15 June 1876 - 1 December 1926; Reel 2147, p.11; New South Wales Law Almanac, Sydney, NSW Government Printer, 1898, p.36; 1900, p.36; 1907, pp.47, 51; 1910, pp.48, 53; 1914, pp.57, 65; 1924, pp.61, 71; 1925, p.61; 1935, p.71; Percival Serle, op.cit.; John McCarthy, op.cit.; JM Bennett (ed.), A History of the New South Wales Bar, Sydney, Law Book Company Ltd and NSW Bar Association, 1969, p.130; Index to Candidates Bartley to Benedek, New South Wales Election results 1856-2007, (cited 17 April 2009); JB Paul, op.cit., p.202; Attorney General's Department [III]; NRS 333, Letters received - Special Bundles, 1874-1984; [10/42918] Correspondence re appointment of King's Counsels, 1898-1941; NSW Government Gazette No.37, 14 March 1924, p.1530.
4. D H Borchardt, Checklist of Royal Commissions Select Committees of Parliament and Boards of Inquiry, Part IV New South Wales 1855-1960, Bundoora, La Trobe University Library, 1975, pp.249-50, 261.
5. 'Sir Thomas Rainsford [Former Member]', New South Wales Parliament website (cited 24 March 2009); Index to Candidates Bartley to Benedek, New South Wales Election results 1856-2007, op.cit.; John McCarthy, op.cit.; JM Bennett, op.cit.; JB Paul, op.cit., p.208, 211.
6. It's an honour website (cited 23 January 2008).
7. Percival Serle, op.cit.; JB Paul, op.cit., p.212; State Reports New South Wales, Sydney, Law Book Company of Australasia Ltd, Vol.35 (1935); Vol.41 (1941), Memoranda (n.p.); NSW Government Gazette No.112, 1 September 1941, p.3113; John McCarthy, op.cit.; Who's Who in Australia, op.cit.
8. Who's Who in Australia, op.cit.; 'Sir Thomas Rainsford [Former Member]', New South Wales Parliament website, op.cit.; John McCarthy, op.cit.
9. ibid.
10. ibid; Percival Serle, op.cit.


Secretary to Prime Minister of Australia, 1901 - 1904
Commissioner, Royal Commission of Inquiry as to food supplies and fish, 07/07/1911 - 29/01/1913
Commissioner, Royal Commission of Inquiry as to food supplies and prices, 30/01/1913 - 29/11/1913
Member of Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, 31/05/1917 - 14/10/1935
Attorney General and Minister for Justice, 20/12/1921
Attorney General, 13/04/1922 - 17/06/1925
Leader of Opposition, 24/09/1925 - 18/10/1927
Premier, 18/10/1927 - 03/11/1930
Colonial Treasurer, 18/10/1927 - 15/04/1929
Colonial Secretary, 01/02/1929 - 15/04/1929
Leader of Opposition, 04/11/1930 - 16/05/1932
Judge, Supreme Court of New South Wales, 16/10/1935 - 31/08/1941

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