H. V. Evatt

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The Right Honourable Dr
Herbert Vere Evatt
Herbert V. Evatt.jpg
Justice of the High Court of Australia
In office
19 December 1930 – 2 September 1940
Nominated by James Scullin
Preceded by Sir Charles Powers
Succeeded by Sir Dudley Williams
Chief Justice of New South Wales
In office
15 February 1960 – 24 October 1962
Preceded by Sir Kenneth Street
Succeeded by Sir Leslie Herron
Leader of the Opposition
Elections: 1954, 1955, 1958
In office
20 June 1951 – 9 February 1960
Monarch George VI
Elizabeth II
Governor-General Sir William McKell
Sir William Slim
Prime Minister Robert Menzies
Deputy Arthur Calwell
Preceded by Ben Chifley
Succeeded by Arthur Calwell
Leader of the Labor Party
In office
20 June 1951 – 9 February 1960
Deputy Arthur Calwell
Preceded by Ben Chifley
Succeeded by Arthur Calwell
Attorney-General of Australia
In office
7 October 1941 – 19 December 1949
Prime Minister John Curtin
Frank Forde
Ben Chifley
Preceded by Billy Hughes
Succeeded by John Spicer
Minister for External Affairs
In office
7 October 1941 – 19 December 1949
Prime Minister John Curtin
Frank Forde
Ben Chifley
Preceded by Sir Frederick Stewart
Succeeded by Percy Spender
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Barton
In office
21 September 1940 – 22 November 1958
Preceded by Albert Lane
Succeeded by Len Reynolds
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Hunter
In office
22 November 1958 – 10 February 1960
Preceded by Rowley James
Succeeded by Bert James
Personal details
Born Herbert Vere Evatt
(1894-04-30)30 April 1894
Maitland, New South Wales, British Empire
Died 2 November 1965(1965-11-02) (aged 71)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia
Political party Labor
Spouse(s) Mary Sheffer
(m. 1920; wid. 1965)
Relations Clive Evatt (brother)
Elizabeth Evatt (niece)
Penelope Seidler (niece)
Children 2
Education Fort Street High School
Alma mater University of Sydney
Occupation Trade union executive
(University of Sydney Union)
Trade union lawyer
(Transport Workers Union
Profession Trade Unionist

Herbert Vere Evatt, QC KStJ (30 April 1894 – 2 November 1965), usually known as H. V. Evatt or Bert Evatt, and often as "Doc" Evatt on account of his Doctor of Laws (LLD) degree,[1] was an Australian judge, lawyer, parliamentarian and writer.

Evatt was a Justice of the High Court of Australia from 1930 to 1940; Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs from 1941 to 1949; the third President of the United Nations General Assembly from 1948 to 1949, when he helped to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Leader of the Australian Labor Party (and Leader of the Opposition) from 1951 to 1960; and Chief Justice of New South Wales from 1960 to 1962.

Early life and education[edit]

Evatt was born in Maitland, New South Wales, the fifth of eight sons of John Ashmore Evatt, an English publican from British India, and Sydney-born Irish-Australian Jane "Jeanie" Sophia (née Gray). His younger brother was the politician and lawyer Clive Evatt. Their father died when Bert was seven years old, and his mother shouldered the task of encouraging an intellectually gifted family. (He was never known as Herbert, as his family called him "Bert".)

He attended local public schools of East Maitland Superior Public School and then Fort Street High School in Sydney, winning scholarships to the University of Sydney, where he was a resident of St Andrew's College. He graduated in 1919 with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics, Logic, Philosophy and English with (Triple)[2] First-Class Honours and the University Medal in Philosophy in 1915, a Master of Arts in 1916, and a Bachelor of Laws with First-Class Honours and the University Medal in 1918.[3]

Evatt played cricket, rugby league football, hockey and baseball.[4] He was also the Editor of Hermes, the annual student literary journal, was a Tutor at St Andrew's College, and the President of the University of Sydney Union from 1916–17. He graduated Legum Doctor (LLD) in 1924 from the University of Sydney with a thesis on the royal prerogative.[1][5]

Professional career[edit]

Because of poor eyesight, Evatt was unable to serve in the First World War, in which two of his brothers were killed. He became a prominent industrial lawyer in Sydney, working mainly for trade union clients. In 1925 Evatt was elected as an Australian Labor Party member for Balmain in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. Re-elected as an "Independent Labor" candidate in 1927, Evatt served in the Legislative Assembly until 1930.[3]

Evatt in 1925

Justice of the High Court of Australia[edit]

In 1930 the Labor government headed by James Scullin appointed Evatt as the youngest-ever justice of the High Court of Australia. Regarded by some as a brilliant and innovative judge, he delivered a number of minority judgments, several of which were adopted by High Court majorities decades later. Evatt could, however, be partial on the bench. Sir Owen Dixon noted in Australian Woollen Mills Ltd v F.S. Walton & Co. Ltd (1937 58 CLR 641) that Evatt was on that occasion "full of antagonism to the respondent ... Most unjudicial."[6] Whenever Evatt was not particularly interested in a case he appears to have generally gone along with Dixon.[7]

Evatt was one of six justices of the High Court who had served in the Parliament of New South Wales, along with Edmund Barton, Richard O'Connor, Adrian Knox, Albert Piddington and Edward McTiernan. In 1934 Evatt played an important part in the Egon Kisch exclusion when he ruled that the Lyons Government's ban on Kisch entering Australia had been incorrectly executed and that Kisch was free to enter the country.[8]

Evatt (left) and Ben Chifley (middle) with Clement Attlee (right) at the Dominion and British Leaders Conference, London, 1946

Member of the House of Representatives[edit]

In 1940 Evatt resigned from the High Court to return to politics, and was elected federal MP for the Sydney seat of Barton in the House of Representatives.[citation needed]. When Labor came to power under John Curtin in 1941, Evatt became Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs (Foreign Minister). He became deputy leader of the Labor Party after the 1946 election, under the leadership of Ben Chifley.[citation needed]

President of the United Nations General Assembly[edit]

Evatt joined the diplomatic councils of the allies during World War II. In 1945, he played a leading role in the founding of the UN. He was President of the United Nations General Assembly from 1948 to 1949, and was prominent in the negotiations that led to the creation of Israel. He wrote in his memoirs: "I regard the establishment of Israel as a great victory of the United Nations." He helped draft the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[9]

Spokesperson of the Australian Cricket Board[edit]

While in London Evatt acted as the spokesperson for the Australian Board of Control for International Cricket and made personal representations to the Marylebone Cricket Club who were reluctant to send a cricket team to tour Australia so soon after the war. He put forward convincing arguments as to the need to re-establish sporting relations and the financial benefits of the tour and the MCC agreed to the 1946–47 Ashes series.[10][11] Don Bradman would later aver that the "quick resumption of Anglo-Australian Tests had justified itself in every way, psychologically, technically, financially".[12]

Federal Leader of the Opposition[edit]

In the 1949 election, Labor was defeated by Menzies' new Liberal Party. At this election, Evatt faced war hero Nancy Wake and suffered a massive swing in his own electorate, seeing his majority reduced from a very safe 66.9 percent to an extremely marginal 53.2 percent. He faced Wake again in the double dissolution election of 1951 and was nearly defeated, seeing her off by only 243 votes (out of more than 41,600 cast). When Ben Chifley (still Labor leader) suddenly died several months later, Evatt was elected unopposed as his successor. At first his leadership went well. He campaigned successfully against Menzies' attempt to amend the Constitution to ban the Communist Party. Many convinced anti-Communists in the Labor Party believed this was both bad politics and bad policy because of the active Communist infiltration of numerous trade unions, and because of the threat to national security posed by Communism. None of the anti-Communists, aside from Stan Keon, openly censured Evatt's stance.[citation needed]

Evatt's failure to win the 1954 election led him to blame the Catholic-dominated "Groupers" in the party for sabotaging his campaign. He reportedly believed Menzies had conspired with the security services to bring about the defection of a Soviet diplomat (see Petrov Affair), and to do so with the specific purpose of discrediting Evatt. Documents shown to the commission members were alleged to provide evidence of an extensive Soviet spy ring in Australia, and named (among many others), two of Evatt's staff members. Evatt appeared before the Royal Commission as attorney for his staff members. His cross-examination of the key ASIO operative Michael Bialoguski transformed the commission's hearings and greatly perturbed the government. The Royal Commission quickly withdrew Evatt's leave to appear. Evatt claimed this denial was because of judicial bias in favour of the Menzies government.[citation needed]

Evatt's loss of the election and his belief that Menzies had conspired with ASIO to contrive Petrov's defection led to criticism within the Labor Party of his decision to appear before the Royal Commission. He compounded this by writing to the Soviet Foreign Minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, asking if allegations of Soviet espionage in Australia were true. When Molotov replied, naturally denying the allegations, Evatt read the letter out in Parliament, bringing the House into silence momentarily before both sides of Parliament began laughing.[13]

Evatt later publicly attacked "The Groupers", who had infiltrated the Victorian Labor Party, thus precipitating a split in the party, with most of the "Groupers" leaving or being expelled. The disaffected formed the Democratic Labor Party, which directed its preferences against Labor at subsequent elections. This, together with an obsessive hatred of Menzies, led Evatt into a number of unforced errors.[14] Due to these factors, Labor was roundly defeated in the 1955 election, suffering an 11-seat swing. Evatt himself was nearly defeated in Barton after almost three-quarters of independents' preferences flowed to his Liberal opponent. For the 1958 election, he transferred to Hunter, one of the few safe country seats for Labor. He offered to resign as leader if the DLP would return to the party. The offer was rejected and Labor was soundly defeated again.[citation needed]

Chief Justice of New South Wales[edit]

In 1960, the Labor government in New South Wales appointed Evatt the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, an appointment that was widely seen as a means of giving him a dignified exit from politics.[15] Tom Hughes, a leading Sydney barrister and former Liberal Attorney-General, averred that all the judgements issued by Evatt during this period were co-authored with a judicial colleague.[16]

Personal life[edit]

Two years after being admitted to the New South Wales Bar, Evatt, an Anglican,[17] married Mary Alice Sheffer at the Congregational Church in Mosman, New South Wales on 27 November 1920. Even with his sometimes turbulent nature, the relationship was one of devotion.[17] The couple had two children, Peter and Rosalind, whom they adopted due to Mary Alice's serious gynaeocological issues.[18]

Peter Evatt became an Olympic rower, who was 1953 national sculling champion and represented Australia in rowing at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne.[19] Peter was a member of the ALP, like his father, and stood for the seat of Bennelong at the 1969 federal elections.

In 1972, aged 50, Peter died by accidental electrocution while trying to repair a faulty electric toaster. He was survived by his six children. His death was reported by The Age on 27 December 1972.[20]

In 1953, Rosalind Evatt married Peter Carrodus, the assistant manager of a Canberra radio station, 2CA.[21]


Recent biographies of Evatt agree that his behaviour became more eccentric from the late 1950s. Pat Fiske and David McKnight, in their 1995 television documentary Doc, attributed what they described as Evatt's "deteriorating mental functioning" to arteriosclerosis.[22]


Evatt's niece, Penelope Seidler, married famous architect Harry Seidler in 1958.

Evatt's niece, Elizabeth Evatt was a famous lawyer.[23]


In 1962, Evatt was suffering from stress and was persuaded to retire from the bench. He also suffered from arteriosclerosis which led to his death. He died in Canberra on 2 November 1965, aged 71.[24]

Literary works[edit]

During his life, Evatt had a varied career as a writer, covering such topics as law and labour history. His book on the politics of the Rum Rebellion is still considered relevant, although others disagree with Evatt's view. Evatt contributed an article on "Cricket and the British Commonwealth" to the 1949 edition of the Wisden Cricketer's Almanack.[25]

His publications include:

  • H. V. Evatt, Australian Labour Leader: The Story Of W.A. Holman and the Labour Movement, 1954
  • H. V. Evatt, The King and His Dominion Governors, 1936
  • H. V. Evatt, Injustice within the Law. A study of the case of the Dorsetshire Labourers, 1937
  • H. V. Evatt, The Royal Prerogative, 1930 (this was his LLD thesis)
  • H. V. Evatt, Rum Rebellion: A Study of the Overthrow of Governor Bligh by John Macarthur and the New South Wales Corps, 1943


  • In 1924 Evatt was awarded the degree LLD, for his dissertation on prerogative powers of Governors in the British legal system.[citation needed][26]
  • The Evatt Foundation,[27] a research institute for the labour movement, is named in his honour.
  • The suburb of Evatt, which lies in the Belconnen district of Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, is also named in his honour.
  • One of the high schools (Maitland Boys High School) in his home town of Maitland was briefly renamed Evatt High School in his honour, before being renamed Maitland High School when it became unisex some years later.
  • In November 1965, the NSW State Government opened Evatt Park in Lugarno, which is still used frequently for recreation.
  • United Nations Youth Australia runs an annual national high schools Model United Nations Security Council competition, the Evatt Competition, which has rounds in every state and territory.

In popular culture[edit]

Evatt was portrayed by Peter Whitford in the TV mini-series The Last Bastion (1984), and by Simon Chilvers in the mini-series True Believers (1988).


  1. ^ "Doc Evatt". Evatt Foundation. 2015. Retrieved 22 November 2015. 
  2. ^ Evatt biodata, Flinders University website
  3. ^ a b Bolton, G. C. (1996). "Evatt, Herbert Vere (Bert) (1894–1965)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. 14. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 10 January 2015. 
  4. ^ Evatt biodata, trove.nla.gov.au (19 December 1930)
  5. ^ K.H. Bailey, "Introduction to the First Edition" in Herbert Vere Evatt, The King and His Australian Governors (Melbourne, F.W. Cheshire, 1936, 2nd edn 1967), p xxxvi.
  6. ^ Owen Dixon Diary, 29 April 1937, found in Dixon's personal papers.
  7. ^ Ayres, Philip (2003). Owen Dixon profile. The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne University. ISBN 0-522-85045-6.  p 62.
  8. ^ Carolyn Rasmussen (2006). "Kisch, Egon Erwin (1885–1948) profile at". Australian Dictionary of Biography Online. Retrieved 20 July 2008. 
  9. ^ William Roger Louis, The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945–1951, pp. 19–20. Oxford: Clarendon Press (1984).
  10. ^ Clif Cary, Cricket Controversy, Test matches in Australia 1946–47, T. Werner Laurie Ltd, 1948, pp 3–4.
  11. ^ Ray Robinson and Mike Coward. England vs Australia 1932–1985, p. 292, in E.W. Swanton (ed), Barclay's World of Cricket, Willow, 1986.
  12. ^ E.W. Swanton, Swanton in Australia with MCC 1946–1975, Fontana/Collins, 1975, pg. 68.
  13. ^ Report on Petrov Affair, moadoph.gov.au
  14. ^ Robert Menzies profile, National Archives of Australia
  15. ^ Sir William Francis Langer Owen profile profile, Australian Dictionary of Biography
  16. ^ T.E.F. Hughes QC, "As Time Goes By", New South Wales Bar News (Winter 2006), pp 58–63 at page 59
  17. ^ a b G.C. Bolton. "Evatt, Herbert Vere (Bert) (1894–1965)" profile in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 14, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne (1996).
  18. ^ Michael Kirby. "Independence of the Judiciary: Basic Principles, New Challenges"
  19. ^ "Peter Evatt Wins Sculling Title", The Canberra Times (16 February 1953).
  20. ^ "Peter Evatt Found Dead", The Age (27 December 1972).
  21. ^ "Notable Canberra Wedding", The Age (30 November 1953).
  22. ^ Gerard Henderson. "Labor in denial about Evatt, its flawed hero", The Age, 12 April 2005.
  23. ^ https://www.google.com.au/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&rlz=1C1GGGE_en-gbAU638AU638&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=Elizabeth+Evatt&stick=H4sIAAAAAAAAAONgFuLUz9U3MCwrtChXAjPTjXMNDbT4AlKLivPzgjNTUssTK4sB9PLQdygAAAA
  24. ^ Andrew Campbell. (2007.) "Dr. H. V. Evatt, Part One: A Question of Sanity", National Observer, 73: 25–39.
  25. ^ Michael Duffy. Proof of history's rum deal Sydney Morning Herald, 27 January 2006.
  26. ^ "Herbert Vere Evatt". Retrieved 2016-10-22. 
  27. ^ "Evatt Foundation". Evatt.labor.net.au. Archived from the original on 2 November 2011. Retrieved 4 November 2011. 


  • Wake, Valdemar Robert. No Ribbons or Medals: the story of "Hereward" an Australian counter espionage officer (2004), Jacobyte Books.

Further reading[edit]

  • Murphy, John, Evatt: A Life, NewSouth Publishing, Sydney (2016) {ISBN: 9781742234465}
  • Buckley, Ken; Dale, Barbara and Reynolds, Wayne. Doc Evatt, Cheshire, Melbourne (1994); ISBN 0-582-87498-X
  • Crockett, Peter. Evatt: A Life, Oxford University Press, Melbourne (1993); ISBN 0-19-553558-8
  • Dalziel, Allan. Evatt. The Enigma, Lansdowne Press, Melbourne (1967).
  • Makin, Norman. Federal Labour Leaders, Union Printing, Sydney, New South Wales (1961), pp. 140–145.
  • Renouf, Alan. Let Justice Be Done. The Foreign Policy of Dr H.V. Evatt, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Queensland (1983); ISBN 0-7022-1893-6
  • Tennant, Kylie. Evatt. Politics and Justice, Angus and Robertson, Sydney (1970); ISBN 0-207-12533-3

External links[edit]

Parliament of New South Wales
Preceded by
Robert Stopford
Member for Balmain
Served alongside: Keegan, Lane, Quirk, Stuart-Robertson
Succeeded by
H. V. Evatt
Preceded by
H. V. Evatt
Tom Keegan
Albert Lane
John Quirk
Robert Stuart-Robertson
Member for Balmain
Succeeded by
John Quirk
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Albert Lane
Member for Barton
Succeeded by
Len Reynolds
Preceded by
Rowley James
Member for Hunter
Succeeded by
Bert James
Political offices
Preceded by
Ben Chifley
Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
Arthur Calwell
Preceded by
Sir Frederick Stewart
Minister for External Affairs
Succeeded by
Percy Spender
Preceded by
Billy Hughes
Attorney-General of Australia
Succeeded by
John Spicer
Party political offices
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Frank Forde
Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party
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Arthur Calwell
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Ben Chifley
Leader of the Australian Labor Party
Diplomatic posts
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President of the United Nations General Assembly
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Legal offices
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Chief Justice of New South Wales
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