Robert Johnston Douglas, 1883-1972


 Portrait of Robert Johnstone Douglas  (1883 - 1972)
DOUGLAS, EDWARD ARCHIBALD (1877-1947) and ROBERT JOHNSTONE (1883-1972), judges, were born on 2 November 1877 at Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, and on 13 April 1883 at Sandgate, first and fourth sons of London-born John Douglas, premier (1877-79) of Queensland, and his second wife Sarah, née Hickey, from Ireland. Educated at various Queensland schools, in 1892 Edward and Robert journeyed with their brothers to Scotland to attend St Benedict's College, Fort Augustus. On his return in 1895, Edward entered the pearling industry based on Thursday Island where his father was government resident. In December 1901 Edward was admitted to the Queensland Bar, having been an associate from 1897 to Sir Samuel Griffith and then to Justice Virgil Power whose daughter Annette Eileen he married on 9 January 1907 at St Joseph's Catholic Church, Rockhampton. In Brisbane his practice grew steadily. Specializing in taxation and company law, he appeared as counsel in leading commercial, revenue and constitutional cases.

After returning from Scotland, Robert completed his schooling at St Ignatius' College, Riverview, and graduated from the University of Sydney (B.A., 1905). Admitted to the Queensland Bar in September 1906, he served briefly as an associate of Justice Real, commenced practice in 1907 at Townsville, and soon acquired a reputation as a persuasive and successful advocate. On 15 January 1912 he married Annie Alice May Ball (d.1952) at St Joseph's Catholic Church, Townsville. He made a special study of arbitration and in 1915 T. J. Ryan's Labor government appointed him a judge of the Industrial Court of Queensland. His duties entailed extensive travel in the north where he sometimes worked in shanties. Prominent in civic and social activities, he was also an alderman (1907) of the City of Townsville. He was tall and upright, with a resonant voice, and precise, factual and direct in the courtroom. In 1923, when 'R.J.' became a judge of the Supreme Court, sitting at Townsville, northerners hailed his elevation as a triumph for the region. His reciprocated loyalty later led him to decline an invitation to join the court in Brisbane.

In 1929 Edward was appointed to the Supreme Court in Brisbane. A hard-working, scholarly and erudite judge, with an 'impressively austere' manner, he attracted little public attention until 1938. That year a campaign for the seat of Ithaca was marred on both sides by sectarian bitterness. Sitting as Elections Tribunal judge, Edward found irregularities sufficient to justify setting aside the return of Labor minister E. M. Hanlon to the Legislative Assembly. The decision against Hanlon (who did not give evidence at the hearing) was reversed on appeal by a majority of the Full Court—one of whom was Edward's brother Robert.

Following the resolution of the Ithaca case, 'E.A.' found himself being passed over for offices or honours which he might reasonably have expected. In 1944 another disagreement between Edward and the government over failure to restore judicial pensions, abolished in 1921, attracted further publicity in the press and parliament. Survived by his wife, two of his three daughters and five of his eight sons, Edward Douglas died of a coronary occlusion on 27 August 1947 at Ascot and was buried in Toowong cemetery after a requiem Mass presided over by Archbishop (Sir) James Duhig. Speaking on behalf of the profession, A. D. McGill—who had represented Hanlon in the Ithaca case—stressed the esteem and admiration which the judge's conduct in that matter had earned for him among all those who 'look for a fearless and independent Judiciary'. Two of Edward's sons, (Sir) Edward Sholto and Andrew Brice, became active members of the Queensland Law Society.

Robert Douglas with his family
Robert Douglas with his family, c. 1940
Robert Douglas retired in 1953. Survived by his three sons and two daughters, he died on 24 December 1972 at Townsville and was buried in Belgian Gardens cemetery. One son, James Archibald, was also a Supreme Court judge.

Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography


This page was last updated on 30 September 2021

Click here to 
Print this page

Biography finder





























Index of first names

Errors and Omissions

The Forum

What's new?

We are looking for your help to improve the accuracy of The Douglas Archives.

If you spot errors, or omissions, then please do let us know


Many articles are stubs which would benefit from re-writing. Can you help?


You are not authorized to add this page or any images from this page to (or its subsidiaries) or other fee-paying sites without our express permission and then, if given, only by including our copyright and a URL link to the web site.


If you have met a brick wall with your research, then posting a notice in the Douglas Archives Forum may be the answer. Or, it may help you find the answer!

You may also be able to help others answer their queries.

Visit the Douglas Archives Forum.


2 Minute Survey

To provide feedback on the website, please take a couple of minutes to complete our survey.


We try to keep everyone up to date with new entries, via our What's New section on the home page.

We also use the Community Network to keep researchers abreast of developments in the Douglas Archives.

Help with costs

Maintaining the three sections of the site has its costs.  Any contribution the defray them is very welcome



If you would like to receive a very occasional newsletter - Sign up!