CULLEN, Sir William Portus (1855-1935)

CULLEN, Sir William Portus (1855-1935)
chief-justice of New South Wales
son of John Cullen, was born at Mt Johnston, Jamberoo, New South Wales, on 28 May 1855. He was educated at country state schools and the university of Sydney, where he graduated B.A. with a first class in classics in 1880, M.A. in 1882, LL.B. in 1885 and LL.D. in 1887. During his university career he won the University, Lithgow, Barker, and Renwick scholarships, and the John Smith prize. He was called to the bar in 1883 and his progress at first was slow; but he eventually took high rank at the equity bar, and argued with much success before the supreme court of New South Wales and the high court of Australia. He became a K.C. in 1905. He entered politics in 1891 when he was elected a member of the legislative assembly for Camden. He was defeated at the 1894 election, and in 1895 was nominated to the legislative council. Though not a strong party man, or even a politician by temperament, he was a useful member of the house who never spoke unless he could contribute something constructive to the debate. In January 1910 he was appointed chief justice of New South Wales in succession to Sir Frederick Darley (q.v.), and in March was appointed lieutenant-governor. He found much business awaiting him at the supreme court, but his great capacity for work soon cleared up the arrears. His chief interest from his undergraduate days was the university of Sydney, of which he was elected a member of the senate in 1896, vice-chancellor in 1908, and chancellor in 1914. In his early days in the legislative council he had introduced a bill embodying important reforms in the conduct of the university, though some of these were not brought into force until many years after. He was elected term after term as chancellor, and when he resigned on account of his health and his advanced age in December 1934, he had been in office for a longer period than any previous chancellor, during a time of great expansion.
Cullen retired from the chief justiceship in January 1925 but retained the position of lieutenant-governor until September 1930. He several times acted as governor during the absence of governors from the State or between appointments. He died at Leura on 6 April 1935. He married in 1891 Lily, eldest daughter of the Hon. R. H. D. White, who died in 1931. He was survived by two sons and a daughter. He was knighted in 1911 and created K.C.M.G. in 1912.
Cullen was a simple, rather shy man, much interested in literature, in the Australian flora, and in social and philanthropic movements. He was a very sound equity and constitutional lawyer who as chief justice worthily upheld the traditions of his court. He was courteous and considerate to juniors appearing before him, and could hold his own with the most experienced barristers. He had great conscientiousness, excellent knowledge of the law and sound judgment, and consequently his judgments were seldom upset. As administrator of the government he was always dignified, courteous and competent.
The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 April 1935; The Times, 8 April 1935; The Australian Law Journal, 15 May 1935; The Daily Telegraph, Sydney, 8 April 1935; The Bulletin, 10 April 1935; Burke's Peerage, etc., 1935; Calendar of the University of Sydney, 1936, p. 932.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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  • William Portus Cullen — KCMG, LL.D (28 May 1855 – 6 April 1935) was Chief Justice of New South Wales, Australia. NOTOC Early lifeCullen was born at Mt Johnston, near Jamberoo, New South Wales, the seventh son of John and Rebecca Cullen née Clinton. A brother Joseph… …   Wikipedia

  • Cullen — /ˈkʌlən/ (say kuluhn) noun 1. Cul (Fred Cullen), 1934–82, Australian film and television actor, and screenwriter. 2. his brother, Max, born 1940, Australian film, television and theatre actor. 3. Sir William Portus, 1855–1935, Australian judge… …  

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