Philip Whistler Street

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The Honourable
Sir Philip Whistler Street
Sir Philip Whistler Street in 1918.png
8th Chief Justice of New South Wales
In office
Appointed by Sir Dudley de Chair
Preceded by William Portus Cullen
Succeeded by Frederick Richard Jordan
13th Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales
In office
Preceded by William Portus Cullen
Succeeded by Frederick Richard Jordan
Personal details
Born (1863-08-09)9 August 1863
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Died 11 September 1938(1938-09-11) (aged 75)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Nationality  Australia
Children Sir Kenneth Whistler Street
Father John Rendell Street, MLC
Relatives Street family
Alma mater Sydney Law School

Sir Philip Whistler Street, KCMG (9 August 1863 – 11 September 1938) was the eighth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales and Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales. He was the first of three consecutive generations of the Street family to serve New South Wales in both of these vice-regal roles; followed by his son Sir Kenneth Whistler Street, KCMG, KStJ, and his grandson Sir Laurence Whistler Street, AC, KCMG, KStJ, QC. Biographer Percival Serle states "Street had the culture, dignity and temperament suitable for his position. He had a wide knowledge of law and the ability to quickly reach the heart of the matter; however complicated a case might seem on the surface, the real issue involved soon became apparent to him. Though he had a keen sense of humour his court never lost its dignity and decorum, and though he would not allow himself to be fettered by mere technicalities, he insisted on the maintenance of the basic principles of law. His courtesy was universal and he never lost the affection and respect of the members of his profession".[1]

Early years[edit]

Street was born in Sydney on 9 August 1863, the second son of John Rendell Street, MLC and Susanna Caroline Street (née Lawson). His father was a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly between 1887 and 1891 and his mother was the granddaughter of William Lawson, of “Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth” fame (1813 crossing of the Blue Mountains).[2] Street attended Sydney Grammar School and Sydney Law School. He obtained a Bachelor's degree in 1883 and was admitted to the New South Wales Bar Association on 25 August 1886.[3] He married Belinda Maud Poolman at St John’s Anglican Church in Toorak, Melbourne on 1 February 1888.[2] On 24 July 1906 he was appointed an acting judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales.[4]

Juridicial career[edit]

He was appointed a full judge of the Supreme Court on 11 February 1907 following the resignation of Mr Justice W. G. Walker in February of that year.[4] Street principally presided in bankruptcy, divorce and probate cases. He was also deputy president of the now abolished Court of Arbitration which dealt with industrial disputes between employer and employee, as well as setting minimum wage standards in the State. Street also sat in the now abolished Vice-Admiralty Court, first established in New South Wales during the time of Governor Arthur Phillip to deal with maritime disputes. In 1915, one of his sons, Lieutenant Lawrence Whistler Street, after whom Sir Laurence Street was named, was killed in action in Gallipoli serving the Allied forces in World War One. Lawrence had volunteered for national service in August 1914, making him one of the earliest of his generation to do so. In 1918, Street was appointed the Chief Judge in Equity.

John Bennett notes that at Street’s swearing in ceremony (when the oath of office is administered) as Chief Justice, the Sydney Morning Herald observed: "An Australian of the fourth generation, Sir Philip stood for the finest qualities in our national life. His career confirmed that public confidence in the integrity of our judiciary which is so strong a foundation for a stable and civilized society... His temperament was splendidly judicial, remarkably free from any possible bias of opinion or emotion, apt to see any issue in board perspective, and quick to penetrate to its essentials. These qualifications, combined with wide experience of various jurisdictions, especially that of Equity, made particularly acceptable his succession to Sir William Cullen as Chief Justice".[5] The appointment of Street marked a new beginning for the Australian legal system in the appointment of the senior judge of the court and a wholly Australian-trained lawyer as Chief Justice of Australia’s first Supreme Court. Street was also appointed a Royal Commissioner on many occasions. The most significant of these were concerning the administration of the Returned Soldiers' Settlement Branch of the Department of Lands in 1921 and the case against the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1918.[3] In the latter commission, IWW was an organisation that promoted the concept of one big union. In Australia, they were active in campaigning against World War I. One campaign led to a police officer being shot and killed for which two members were found guilty and hung. At the time of the royal commission, twelve members were still in jail for offenses such as sedition. Street’s commission concluded that some men were guilty and some were not. Most were subsequently released.[6] Street's elder son, Kenneth Whistler Street, became a judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales while he was himself. According to biographer Percival Serle, this is possibly the first time that a father and son sat have together on the same Supreme Court bench.

Street was acting Chief Justice in 1924 as he was the senior judge of the court at that time. He became Chief Justice on 28 January 1925, succeeding Sir William Cullen. Sir Philip occupied that office until his seventieth birthday in 1933. According to the Supreme Court, he resigned his commission although Percival Serle notes that he actually retired. Whatever is correct, he was the second longest serving judge in New South Wales.[2] He was appointed lieutenant-governor in 1930, and administered the government in the absence of the governor from May to October 1934, January to February 1935, and January to August 1936.


Members of the Street family have been prominent in politics and law, especially in Australia and the state of New South Wales, since the 19th Century. Various ancestral lines of the family were prominent throughout the second millennium in the United Kingdom as members of the Berkeley family. The Street family is the only dynasty in Australian judicial appointments with three consecutive vice-regal appointments to their name; men of the 2nd through 4th generations of the family having become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales and Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales. The patriarch of the family’s legal tradition is Sir Thomas Street, an English Chief Justice and Baron of the Exchequer whose ancestors were well-established in Worcester, his father having been the mayor of the city. Thomas was Chief Justice for Brecknock, Glamorgan and Radnor from 1677 to 1681, and a Baron of the Exchequer from April 1681 to 1684. Sir Thomas had his children by Lady Penelope Berkeley, by whom the successive generations of the Streets descend from William the Conqueror, via the Berkeley family, whose ancestor Sir Maurice de Berkeley bore his progeny by Isabella FitzRoy (married 1247), daughter of Richard FitzRoy, a feudal baron of Chilham in Kent and a son of King John of England.

Further details[edit]

Street was chairman of the Trustees of the Sydney Grammar School from 1912 to 1929. He was a member of the Senate of the University of Sydney from 1915 to 1934, and was its deputy Chancellor in 1926. Street was also a trustee of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales (now the Art Gallery of New South Wales) from 1923 and was its chairman from 1934 to 1938. He was also a trustee of the Australian Museum.[2]

Sir Philip was also president of the New South Wales division of the Boy Scouts Association, of the Boys' Brigade, the New South Wales Home for Incurables, the St John Ambulance Association, and of the Institute of Public Administration Australia. He was patron in New South Wales of the Victoria League, English-Speaking Union, Japan-Australia Society and the Royal Zoological Society. He was in 1934 appointed American non-national member of the international commission provided for by the treaty between the United States of America and Greece.[2] Street was created KCMG in 1928. He died on 11 September 1938 and he was buried after a state funeral.


  1. ^ Serle, Percival. "Street, Sir Philip Whistler (1863 - 1938)". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Project Gutenberg Australia. Retrieved 2007-04-29. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Bennett, J. M. (1990). "Street, Sir Philip Whistler (1863 - 1938)". 12. Melbourne: Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press. 
  3. ^ a b "Archives Investigator". Government of New South Wales. Archived from the original on 2007-09-05. Retrieved 2007-04-29. 
  4. ^ Bennett, John (1974). A History of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. Sydney: Law Book Company Ltd. p. 323. ISBN 0-455-19240-5.  P49
  5. ^ "Ross's monthly of protest, personality and progress. (Melbourne : Robert Samuel Ross, 1916-[1923])". Monash University Library. Retrieved 2007-04-29. 
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir William Cullen
Chief Justice of New South Wales
1925 - 1934
Succeeded by
Sir Frederick Jordan
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir William Cullen
Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales
1930 - 1938
Succeeded by
Sir Frederick Jordan