The Info List - Isaac Isaacs

--- Advertisement ---

Sir Isaac Alfred Isaacs GCB, GCMG, PC, KC (6 August 1855 – 11 February 1948) was an Australian lawyer, politician, and judge who served as the ninth Governor-General of Australia, in office from 1931 to 1936. He had previously served on the High Court of Australia
High Court of Australia
from 1906 to 1931, including as Chief Justice from 1930. Isaacs was born in Melbourne
and grew up in Yackandandah
and Beechworth
(in country Victoria). He began working as a schoolteacher at the age of 15, and later moved to Melbourne
to work as a clerk and studied law part-time at the University of Melbourne. Isaacs was admitted to the bar in 1880, and soon became one of Melbourne's best-known barristers. He was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly in 1892, and subsequently served as solicitor-general under James Patterson and attorney-general under George Turner and Alexander Peacock. Isaacs entered the new federal parliament at the 1901 election, representing the Protectionist Party. He became Attorney-General of Australia in 1905, under Alfred Deakin, but the following year left politics in order to become an associate justice of the High Court. Isaacs was often in the minority in his early years on the court, particularly with regard to federalism, where he advocated the supremacy of the Commonwealth Government. The balance of the court eventually shifted, and he famously authored the majority opinion in the Engineers case of 1920, which abolished the reserved powers doctrine and fully established the paramountcy of Commonwealth law. In 1930, Prime Minister James Scullin
James Scullin
appointed Isaacs as Chief Justice, in succession to Sir Adrian Knox. Later that year, Scullin nominated Isaacs as his preferred choice for governor-general. The selection of an Australian (rather than the usual British aristocrat) was unprecedented and highly controversial. King George V
George V
was opposed to the idea but eventually consented, and Isaacs took office in January 1931 as the first Australian-born holder of the office. He was the first governor-general to live full-time at Yarralumla, and throughout his five-year term was popular among the public for his frugality during the Depression. Isaacs was also Australia's first Jewish governor-general, and in retirement became known for his strident anti-Zionism.


1 Early life 2 Legal career 3 Political career

3.1 Victorian MP, 1892–1901 3.2 Federal MP, 1901–1906

4 High Court, 1906–1931 5 Governor-General, 1931–1936 6 Later life 7 Death 8 Honours 9 Bibliography

9.1 Works by Isaacs 9.2 Works about Isaacs

10 Notes 11 References 12 External links

Early life[edit]

Isaacs in the 1898 Australasian Federal Convention album.

Isaacs was the son of Alfred Isaacs, a tailor of Jewish ancestry from the town of Mława, Poland. Seeking better prospects, Alfred left Poland and worked his way across what is now Germany, spending some months in Berlin and Frankfurt. By 1845 he had passed through Paris and arrived to work in London, where he met Rebecca Abrahams; the two married in 1849. After news of the 1851 Victorian gold rush
Victorian gold rush
reached England, Australia became a very popular destination and the Isaacs decided to emigrate. By 1854 they had saved enough for the fare, departing from Liverpool
in June 1854 and arriving in Melbourne
in September.[1] Some time after arriving the Isaacs moved into a cottage and shopfront in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, where Alfred continued his tailoring. Isaac Alfred Isaacs was born in this cottage on 6 August 1855.[2] His family moved to various locations around Melbourne while he was young, then in 1859 moved to Yackandandah
in northern Victoria, close to family friends.[3] At this time Yackandandah
was a gold mining settlement of 3,000 people. Isaacs had siblings born in Melbourne
and Yackandandah: John, who later became a solicitor and Victorian Member of Parliament, and sisters Carolyn and Hannah were all born in Yackandandah. A brother was born in Melbourne, and another sister was born in Yackandandah, but both died very young.[4] His first formal schooling was from sometime after 1860 at a small private establishment. At eight he won the school arithmetic prize, winning his photograph by the schoolmaster, who was also a photographer and bootmaker. Yackandandah state school was opened in 1863 and Isaacs enrolled as a pupil. Here he excelled academically, particularly in arithmetic and languages, though he was a frequent truant, walking off to spend time in the nearby mining camps. To help Isaacs gain a better quality education, in 1867, his family moved to nearby Beechworth
first enrolling him in the Common school then in the Beechworth
Grammar School.[5] He excelled at the Grammar School, becoming dux in his first year and winning many academic prizes.[6] In his second year he was employed part-time as an assistant teacher at the school, and took up after school tutoring of fellow students. In September 1870, when Isaacs was just 15 years old, he passed his examination as a pupil teacher and taught at the school from then until 1873. Isaacs was next employed as an assistant teacher at the Beechworth
State School, the successor to the Common school.[7] While employed at the State School, Isaacs had his first experience of the law, as an unsuccessful litigant in an 1875 County Court case. He disputed a payment arrangement with the headmaster of his school, resigning as part of the dispute. After returning to teaching, now back at the Grammar School, he expanded his interest in the law; reading law books and attending court sittings.[8] As a child Isaacs became fluent in Russian, which his parents spoke frequently, as well as English and some German. Isaacs later gained varying degrees of proficiency in Italian, French, Greek, Hindustani and Chinese.[9] Legal career[edit] In 1875, he moved to Melbourne
and found work at the Prothonotary's Office of the Law Department. In 1876, while still working full-time, he studied law at the University of Melbourne. He graduated in 1880 with a Master of Laws
Master of Laws
degree in 1883. He married Deborah 'Daisy' Jacobs, daughter of a tobacco merchant, at her parents' home in St Kilda on 18 July 1888. They had two daughters, one born in 1890 and the other in 1892. The daughters were Marjorie Isaacs Cohen who died in 1968 and was survived by a son (Thomas B. Cohen), and Nancy Isaacs Cullen.[10] Lady Isaacs died at Bowral, New South Wales in 1960.[11] Political career[edit] Victorian MP, 1892–1901[edit] In 1892 Isaacs was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly
Victorian Legislative Assembly
as a liberal. He was the member for Bogong from May 1892 until May 1893 and between June 1893 and May 1901. In 1893 he became Solicitor-General in the Patterson ministry. From 1894 to 1899 he was Attorney-General in the Turner ministry, and served as acting Premier on some occasions. In 1897 he was elected to the Convention that drafted the Australian Constitution, where he supported those arguing for a more democratic draft. He took silk as a Queen's Counsel
Queen's Counsel
in 1899.[12] Federal MP, 1901–1906[edit]

This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (January 2018) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

Isaacs was elected to the first federal Parliament in 1901 to the seat of Indi as a critical supporter of Edmund Barton
Edmund Barton
and his Protectionist government. He was one of a group of backbenchers pushing for more radical policies and he earned the dislike of many of his colleagues through what they saw as his aloofness and rather self-righteous attitude to politics. Alfred Deakin appointed Isaacs Attorney-General in 1905 but he was a difficult colleague and in 1906 Deakin was keen to get him out of politics by appointing him to the High Court bench. He was the first serving minister to resign from the parliament. High Court, 1906–1931[edit]

Isaacs as a High Court judge

On the High Court, Isaacs joined H. B. Higgins
H. B. Higgins
as a radical minority on the court in opposition to the chief justice, Sir Samuel Griffith. He served on the court for 24 years, acquiring a reputation as a learned and radical but uncollegial justice.[citation needed] Isaacs was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in the King's Birthday Honours of 1928 for his service on the High Court.[13] Isaacs is one of only eight justices of the High Court to have served in the Parliament of Australia
Parliament of Australia
prior to his appointment to the court; the others were Edmund Barton, Richard O'Connor, H. B. Higgins, Edward McTiernan, John Latham, Garfield Barwick, and Lionel Murphy. He was also one of two to have served in the Parliament of Victoria, along with Higgins. In April 1930, the Labor Prime Minister, James Scullin, appointed the 75-year-old Isaacs as chief justice, succeeding Sir Adrian Knox. Governor-General, 1931–1936[edit]

Isaacs in his viceregal uniform, standing with his wife

Shortly after appointing him as Chief Justice, Scullin decided to appoint an Australian as Governor-General and offered the post to Isaacs. Scullin personally advised King George V
George V
to make the appointment during his 1930 trip to Europe. The King reluctantly agreed to his advice,[14] although his own preferred appointee was Field Marshal Sir William Birdwood, who had commanded the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War. Isaacs' appointment was announced in December 1930, and he was sworn in on 22 January 1931. He was not only the first Australian-born governor-general, but also the first non-British governor-general in any dominion. Thus Isaacs agreed to a reduction in salary and conducted the office with great frugality. He gave up his official residences in Sydney and Melbourne and most official entertaining. Although he was sworn into office in the chamber of the Victorian Legislative Council
Victorian Legislative Council
in Melbourne, rather than in Parliament House in Canberra, he was the first Governor-General to live permanently at Government House, Canberra. This was well-received with the public, as was Isaacs's image of rather austere dignity. Isaacs was promoted to a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George in April 1932.[15] His term as Governor-General concluded on 23 January 1936, and he retired to Victoria.[6] In 1937, he was further honoured with the award of Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath.[16] Later life[edit] Isaacs was 81 when his term ended in 1936, but his public life was far from over. He remained active in various causes for another decade and wrote frequently on matters of constitutional law. In the 1940s he became embroiled in controversy with the Jewish community both in Australia and internationally through his outspoken opposition to Zionism. His principal critic was Julius Stone.[17] Isaacs was supported by Rabbi Jacob Danglow (1880–1962) and Harold Boas. Isaacs insisted that Judaism was a religious identity and not a national or ethnic one. He opposed the notion of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Isaacs said "[p]olitical Zionism
to which I am irrevocably opposed for the reasons which will be found clearly stated, must be sharply distinguished from religious and cultural Zionism
to which I am strongly attached."[18] Isaacs opposed Zionism
partly because he disliked nationalism of all kinds and saw Zionism
as a form of Jewish national chauvinism—and partly because he saw the Zionist agitation in Palestine as disloyalty to the British Empire
British Empire
to which he was devoted. Following the King David Hotel bombing in 1946, he wrote that "the honour of Jews throughout the world demands the renunciation of political Zionism". Isaacs' main objections to Political Zionism

"A negation of Democracy, and an attempt to revert to the Church-State of bygone ages. Provocative anti-Semitism. Unwarranted by the Balfour Declaration, the Mandate, or any other right; contrary to Zionist assurances to Britain and to the Arabs and in present conditions unjust to other Palestinians politically and to other religions. As regards unrestricted immigration, a discriminatory and an undemocratic camouflage for a Jewish State. An obstruction to the consent of the Arabs to the peaceful and prosperous settlement in Palestine of hundreds of thousands of suffering European Jews, the victims of Nazi atrocities; and provocative of Moslem antagonism within and beyond the Empire, and consequently a danger to its integrity and safety. Inconsistent in demanding on one hand, on a basis of a separate Jewish nationality everywhere Jews are found, Jewish domination in Palestine, and at the same time claiming complete Jewish equality elsewhere than in Palestine, on the basis of a nationality common to the citizens of every faith."[19]

Isaacs said "the Zionist movement as a whole...now places its own unwarranted interpretation on the Balfour Declaration, and makes demands that are arousing the antagonism of the Moslem world of nearly 400 millions, thereby menacing the safety of our Empire, endangering world peace and imperiling some of the most sacred associations of the Jewish, Christian, and Moslem faiths. Besides their inherent injustice to others these demands would, I believe, seriously and detrimentally affect the general position of Jews throughout the world".[20] In his later years, Isaacs became embroiled in legal battles with Edna Davis, the wife of his brother John. He forced her out of the family home, reclaimed her wedding ring, and finally had her declared a vexatious litigant.[21] Death[edit] Isaacs died at his home in South Yarra, Victoria, in the early hours of 11 February 1948, at the age of 92. He was the last surviving member of Alfred Deakin's 1905–1906 Cabinet. The Commonwealth government accorded him a state funeral, held on 13 February, and he was buried in Melbourne
General Cemetery after a synagogue service.[22][23] Honours[edit] In May 1949 he was honoured with the naming of the Australian Electoral Division of Isaacs
Division of Isaacs
in the outer southern suburbs of Melbourne. At a redistribution in November 1968, the electorate was abolished and a separate Division of Isaacs
Division of Isaacs
was created in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. It exists to this day. The Canberra
suburb of Isaacs was named after him in 1966. In 1973 Isaacs was honoured on a postage stamp bearing his portrait issued by Australia Post.[24] Bibliography[edit] Works by Isaacs[edit]

The new agriculture, 1901, Melbourne : Department of Agriculture Opinion of the Hon. Isaac A. Isaacs, K.C., M.P., re the case of Lieutenant Witton, 1902, Melbourne : [s.n.] The Riverina Transport case, 1938, Melbourne : Australian Natives' Association, Victorian Board of Directors Australian democracy and our constitutional system, 1939, Melbourne : Horticultural Press An appeal for a greater Australia : the nation must itself take power for its post-war reconstruction; the constitutional issue stated; dynamic democracy, 1943, Melbourne : Horticultural Press Referendum powers : :a stepping stone to greater freedom, 1946, Melbourne : [s.n.] Palestine : peace and prosperity or war and destruction? Political Zionism : undemocratic, unjust, dangerous, 1946, Melbourne : Ramsey Ware Publishing

Works about Isaacs[edit]

Cowen, Sir Zelman. Isaac Isaacs
Isaac Isaacs
(Oxford University Press) 1967; (University of Queensland Press) new ed. 1993. Gordon, Max. Sir Isaac Isaacs: a Life of Service (Heinemann: Melbourne) 1963. Lee, Godfrey S. The battle of the scholars: the debate between Sir Isaac Isaacs
Isaac Isaacs
and Julius Stone over Zionism
during World War II, Australian Journal of Politics and History, v.31, no.1, 1985, pp. 128–134 Kirby, Michael (Dec 2005). "Sir Isaac Isaacs
Isaac Isaacs
– a sesquicentenary reflection" (PDF). Melbourne
University Law Review. 29 (3): 880–904. [permanent dead link]


^ Gordon (1963), pp.1–5 ^ Gordon (1963), pp.9–10 ^ Gordon (1963), pp.12–14 ^ Gordon (1963), pp.13,18 ^ Gordon (1963), pp.19–20 ^ a b Cowen, Zelman (1983). "Isaacs, Sir Isaac Alfred (1855–1948)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 11 November 2008.  ^ Gordon (1963), p.23 ^ Gordon (1963), pp.23–25 ^ Gordon (1963), pp.12–13,17 ^ Biography – Sir Isaac Isaacs
Isaac Isaacs
Australian Dictionary of Biography. anu.edu.au. Retrieved on 2013-12-06. ^ Colin Choat (2001). "Obituary – Lady Deborah (Daisy) Isaacs – Obituaries Australia". Obituaries Australia. Retrieved 2014-05-19.  ^ Sir Isaac Isaacs, Contribution and significance of an individual in the 1930s, Australia between the wars: 1930s, History Year 9, NSW Online Education Home Schooling Skwirk Australia. Skwirk.com.au. Retrieved on 2011-06-06. ^ "No. 33390". The London Gazette
The London Gazette
(Supplement). 4 June 1928. p. 3849.  ^ Gavin Souter, Acts of Parliament, p. 268 ^ "No. 33819". The London Gazette. 22 April 1932. p. 2633.  ^ "No. 34396". The London Gazette
The London Gazette
(Supplement). 11 May 1937. p. 3079.  ^ Julius Stone, "Stand up and be counted!" An open letter to the Rt Hon Sir Isaac Isaacs
Isaac Isaacs
on the occasion of the 26th anniversary of the Jewish National Home, 1944. ^ Isaacs, pp. 7–8. ^ Isaacs ^ Isaacs, pp. 8–9. ^ Mason, Keith (2012). Lawyers then and now. Federation Press. p. 157.  ^ "Death of Sir Isaac Isaacs
Isaac Isaacs
in Melbourne". The Canberra
Times. 12 February 1948. p. 1. Retrieved 19 May 2014 – via National Library of Australia.  ^ Cowen, Zelman (1993). Isaac Isaacs. St Lucia, Queensland: U Queensland P. p. 257.  ^ Australian stamp. None. Retrieved on 2011-06-06.


Cowen, Zelman (1993). Isaac Isaacs. St Lucia, Queensland: U Queensland P.  Gordon, Max (1963). Sir Isaac Isaacs. Adelaide: Heinemann.  Isaacs, Sir Isaac. ‘Palestine: Peace and Prosperity or War and Destruction? Political Zionism: Undemocratic, Unjust, Dangerous’ (Ramsay Ware Publishing) 14 January 1946

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Isaac Isaacs.

University of Melbourne: Isaac Alfred Isaacs includes photograph (1898). Australian Dictionary of Biography: Isaac Alfred Isaacs includes portrait as Chief Justice National Library of Australia: Papers of Sir Isaac Isaacs Isaac Isaacs
Isaac Isaacs
Victorian Parliamentary Profile Indi Election Results 1901 Hail to the Chief Isaacs ("per the medium of" Tony Blackshield) interviewed by Keith Mason in 2011. Retrieved 24 May 2014

Government offices

Preceded by Josiah Symon Attorney-General of Australia 1905–1906 Succeeded by Littleton Groom

Preceded by Lord Stonehaven Governor-General of Australia 1931–1936 Succeeded by Lord Gowrie

Parliament of Australia

New division Member for Indi 1901–1906 Succeeded by Joseph Brown

Legal offices

Preceded by Sir Adrian Knox Chief Justice of Australia 1930–1931 Succeeded by Sir Frank Gavan Duffy

v t e

Governors-General of Australia

Hopetoun Tennyson Northcote Dudley Denman Munro Ferguson Forster Stonehaven Isaacs Gowrie Gloucester McKell Slim Dunrossil De L'Isle Casey Hasluck Kerr Cowen Stephen Hayden Deane Hollingworth Jeffery Bryce Cosgrove

v t e

Justices of the High Court of Australia

Chief Justices


Griffith Knox Isaacs Gavan Duffy Latham Dixon Barwick Gibbs Mason Brennan Gleeson French





Barton O'Connor Higgins Powers Piddington Rich Starke Evatt McTiernan Williams Webb Fullagar Kitto Taylor Menzies Windeyer Owen Walsh Stephen Jacobs Murphy Aickin Wilson Deane Dawson Toohey Gaudron McHugh Gummow Kirby Hayne Callinan Heydon Crennan


Bell Gageler Keane Nettle Gordon Edelman

Justices shown in order of appointment

v t e

Second Deakin Cabinet (1905–06)

Prime Minister: Alfred Deakin

Austin Chapman Thomas Ewing John Forrest Littleton Groom Isaac Isaacs John Keating William Lyne Samuel Mauger Thomas Playford II

Authority control

WorldCat Identities VIAF: 21156091 LCCN: n86024991 ISNI: 0000 0000 6699 0239 GND: 1055492119 BNF: cb16643536z (data) NLA: 36148