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Sir John Latham

Sir John Latham

Personal Life and Education

Sir John Latham was born on 26 August 1877 at Ascot Vale, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia. He was the eldest of five children of Thomas Latham and Janet, née Scott. Latham’s father was well-known for his accomplishments as Secretary for the Society for the Protection of Animals.

Throughout his career, Latham was a very good student. When he was in George Street State School, Fitzroy, he won a scholarship till completion of his study at Scotch College. In 1896 he studied logic and philosophy in B.A. at the University of Melbourne. From 1897 to 1898, he worked as a teacher at the Hamilton Academy and returned to the university in 1899 to study law.

To support his expenses, Latham worked as a resident tutor at Ormond College. In November 1902, Latham became the first secretary of the Boobook Society, a group of Melbourne’s scholastic and professional people.

He was awarded with the Supreme Court Judges' Prize and got admitted to the Victorian Bar in 1904. He also made his way to Selborne Chambers. First few years of Latham’s work did not bring him enough financial return.

He got married to Eleanor Mary (Ella) Tobin, an arts graduate, on 19 December 1907. Lathom worked hard and tried to make some extra money by teaching and writing for newspapers and magazines, giving lecturers at the university in logic and, in contracts and personal property.

At the time of World War I, Latham was holding a rank of a lieutenant-commander in Royal Australian Navy in 1917.

In 1918, Latham became advisor to Sir Joseph Cook, Minister for the navy and went to London with him. There he was part of the Australian delegation to the Imperial War Conference and Imperial War Cabinet. Later, at the Versailles Peace Conference Latham played a major role in determining the Czechoslovakian borders and most likely originated the definition of 'C class' mandates that allowed Australia to make safe control over German New Guinea. Latham was appointed Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) during New Year Honors in 1920.

Latham as a Politician

Latham’s political career can be presented in a brief as follows:

 1922: Latham elected to the Australian House of Representatives. His differences with Prime Minister Hughes did not allow him to work for Hughes' Nationalist Party. He at the outset, got associated with the Liberal Union, a group of conservatives working against Hughes. Latham’s slogan was 'Get Rid of Hughes'.

1923: Hughes was removed and Latham joined Nationalist Party. However, Latham officially belonged to Liberal till 1925.

1925 to 1929: In the Bruce–Page administration, Latham became the Commonwealth Attorney-General.

1929: After Bruce’s loss in the election, Latham became leader of the Nationalist Party.

1931: He was against the approval of the Statute of Westminster and tried hard to prevent it. United Australia Party (UAP) was formed and Latham became Deputy Leader of the Opposition under Joseph Lyons. The UAP won the elections and once again Latham became Attorney-General.

1931 to 1934: Latham served the Australian government as Minister for External Affairs and (off the record) the Deputy Prime Minister. Then he took retirement from the Commonwealth Parliament.

Latham as a Judge

On 11 October 1935, Latham was made Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia. He had to leave for Japan as First Minister of Australia from 1940 to 1941. He took leave from the court and visited Japan.

After seventeen years of his service as Chief Justice of Australian High Court, Latham retired from court in 1952.

Other Posts held by Latham

Latham also took charge of other important posts as follows:

 1939 to 1941: Chancellor of the University of Melbourne

1951 to 1964: Foundation president of the Australian Congress for Cultural Freedom and president of the Australian-American Association

1937 to 1948: President of the Free Library Movement of Victoria

1954 to 1961: President of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust

1943 to 1956: President of the Victorian Amateur Athletic Association

He was also made director of Humes Ltd and some other companies.


Latham died in Richmond, a suburb of Melbourne in 1962. He had three children. Two of his children and his wife Ella predeceased Latham.

Later in 1971, a suburb in Canberra was named after Latham. A lecture theatre at the University of Melbourne is also named after him.

5th Chief Justice of Australia
In office 11 October 1935– 7 April 1952
Nominated by Joseph Lyons
Appointed by Sir Isaac Isaacs
Preceded by Sir Frank Gavan Duffy
Succeeded by Sir Owen Dixon
Member of the Australian Parliament for Kooyong
In office 16 December 1922– 15 September 1934
Preceded by Robert Best
Succeeded by Robert Menzies
Personal details
Born 26 August 1877 Ascot Vale, Victoria
Died 25 July 1964 (aged-86) Richmond
Nationality Australian
Political party Liberal Union (1922–1925) Nationalist (1925–1931) UAP (1931–1934)
Alma mater University of Melbourne
Religion None (Atheist)

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