Sir Frederick Jordan, 1947
Oil on canvas
Supreme Court of New South Wales
© New South Wales Bar Association
Photo by Darren Covell 2017
This is the first biography of Sir Frederick Jordan KCMG who was the Chief Justice of New South Wales between 1934 and 1949. Jordan was the pre-eminent New South Wales jurist of the twentieth century. He declined appointment to the High Court in 1940, but his judgments in civil and criminal law have had an enduring influence second to none due to their scholarship, pithy language, didactic tone and their continuing endorsement by the High Court.
This biography examines the life and times of the man against the backdrop of legal and political events in Australia in the years surrounding the Second World War. As acting Governor, Jordan bore the brunt of a lengthy dispute between conservative interests, including “the palace”, and Labor’s Premier McKell, who was pushing to see the appointment of New South Wales’ first Australian-born Governor. The book brings to light hitherto unpublished correspondence involving former Governor Wakehurst and the Dominions Secretary, revealing some extraordinary machinations.
Jordan was fluent in six languages and deeply conversant with English and European literature. Such knowledge permeated his judgments. His private correspondence with Lionel Lindsay and a book called Appreciations published after his death discuss everything from cinema to children’s books, from Proust to pornography, from Shakespeare to the sociology of religion, from jazz to the “degeneracy” of modern art. This was truly a renaissance man. And under the frosty exterior that earned him the nickname “Frigidaire Freddie”, there was a passionate advocate for civil liberties whose excoriating rhetoric occasionally drew fire from the High Court.