It is not often that an Australian Postcard uncovers two talented Australian men, both of whom were knighted. This printed to private order postcard with the green 1d KGV head stamp is postmarked with a roller cancel ADELAIDE/ 14 JU 12 11.15 A.M./ STH. AUST with the slogan BRITISH EMPIRE EXHIBITION/ ALWAYS ASK FOR/ AUSTRALIAN PRODUCTS. It was addressed to Sir G.J.R. Murray, Supreme Court, Adelaide (Figure 1).
The printed reverse showed that it was sent from the Commonwealth Club of Adelaide, advertising a meeting as follows: A Luncheon will be held at the Town Hall, Adelaide on Wednesday 18 th June, at 1 p.m. Guest: Senator R.V. Wilson. Tickets, 2s. 6d each, may be obtained at Rundle Street up to 5 p.m. on Tuesday 17 th Inst. (Signed) Eric Harvey, Hon. Secretary, 24 Davenport Chambers, Currie Street, Adelaide (Figure 2).
Sir George John Robert Murray, judge, was born on 27 September 1863 at Murray Park, Magill, Adelaide, second surviving son of Alexander Borthwick Murray, a Scots pastoralist and politician, and his second wife Margaret. He largely took charge of the family’s business concerns on his father’s death. His family was wealthy by colonial standards and in 1874-75 he attended the High School, Edinburgh. On his return from Scotland, at the Collegiate School of St Peter he demonstrated outstanding academic attainments and prowess in sport. He matriculated to the University of Adelaide in 1880, winning an entrance scholarship and taking an arts degree in 1883. That year he was awarded the South Australian scholarship, which enabled him to read law at Trinity College, Cambridge.
At Cambridge Murray represented his college in cricket and rowing, and was equal first in the law tripos examinations for the bachelor of laws degree in 1887. However, with financial assistance from his family and an Inns of Court scholarship, Murray completed the requirements for admission to the Bar and was called to the Inner Temple in 1888. Returning to Adelaide next year, he was admitted to legal practice in South Australia. By 1900 Murray had established a firm position for himself in legal and academic life. He began his long-standing professional relationship with Sir Samuel Way when he served as his associate on the Supreme Court in 1889-91. In appearances in court as a barrister he was not a forceful advocate, but developed a solid reputation for logic and clarity of argument and he was appointed K.C. in 1906. By then he was also involved deeply in the affairs of the University of Adelaide. He was elected to the university council that year, beginning a direct, active association which was to continue for fifty years
In 1912, pressed strongly by Way he accepted appointment as a puisne judge. Murray was then promoted to be Way’s successor. A ‘long lean man’, who often seemed reserved, even austere, Murray was a dominant influence on the Supreme Court for the remainder of his life. Appointed K.C.M.G. in 1917, Murray on elevation to the chief justiceship also became lieutenant-governor. The university also claimed his continuing attention; six times elected chancellor from 1916 to 1942, he presided regularly over council meetings, concerning himself quite strongly at times in the conduct of the university’s affairs.
After Way’s death in 1916, Murray often seemed to remain in the shadow of his formidable predecessor. The similarities between them were based on shared beliefs in conservative values relating to the law and the conduct of public affairs. Murray did not marry and lived at Murray Park with his unmarried sister Margaret; he remained, personally, something of an enigma. He was a trustee of the Adelaide Club. An avid stamp collector from his youth, he had a fine collection of the stamps of the Australian colonies which, with his Australian paintings, he bequeathed to the Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery of South Australia. On his death on 18 February 1942 Murray was buried privately beside his sister in St George’s Church of England cemetery, Magill. A photo of Sir George Murray is seen in Figure 3.
Sir Reginald Victor Wilson, businessman and politician, was born on 30 June 1877 in Adelaide, son of James Wilson, commercial traveller, and his wife Elizabeth Ann. Educated at Riverton and Whinham College, North Adelaide, he worked briefly in a store at Happy Valley, then for six years with H. A. and W. Goode at Port Pirie. In 1898 he bought a store at Broken Hill, New South Wales. On 12 February 1901 he married Lily May Suckling at Holy Trinity Church, Riverton. Poor health brought him to Adelaide in 1903, but he returned in 1906 to Broken Hill where he purchased a grocery business. Becoming a Freemason, Wilson joined the Chamber of Commerce and was treasurer of the Silver City Show Committee. In 1908 he was elected an alderman, but in November 1909 transferred his business to Adelaide where he was mayor of St Peters in 1916-17. He unsuccessfully contested the Legislative Assembly seats of Torrens (1912) and East Torrens (1918).
Chosen by the Farmers and Settlers’ Association as a candidate in a composite National Party team, Wilson was elected to the Senate in 1919. In parliament he soon came to the attention of Stanley (Viscount) Bruce. As a member of the royal commission inquiring into Cockatoo Island dockyard (1921), Wilson was conspicuous for his tough questioning and his thoroughness was confirmed by his work on the wireless agreement committee (1921-22). An honorary minister (1923-25) in the Bruce-Page government with some responsibility for health and immigration, in March 1923 Wilson was nominated by Bruce as chairman of the commission responsible for organizing an Australian pavilion for the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, London: an integral part of the ‘men, money and markets’ programme, the pavilion aimed to stimulate immigration, promote foreign investment and extend and open up markets. Wilson’s handling of his task drew lavish praise and marked the turning-point of his career. He accompanied Bruce to London in September where he added his voice to the pressure for preference for Australian produce, and was described as ‘one of the most capable and business-like ministers who had ever visited England’. In Britain he also discussed a proposed migration agreement and reorganized Australia House ‘from top to bottom’. Those who met him warmed to his bluff and breezy personality, valued his candour and forcefulness, and—according to Bruce—regarded him very much as ‘a typical Australian’. Wilson subsequently negotiated a reciprocal trade agreement in Canada, visited New York and attended the opening of the Wembley exhibition. He returned to Australia in June 1924.
His meteoric political career continued when Bruce appointed him minister for markets and migration on 16 January 1925. The new portfolio made him ex officio deputy president of the Commonwealth Board of Trade. Although he had joined the Country Party, Wilson did not identify with either the Country or Nationalist groupings; nor did he attend meetings of either parliamentary party. As a minister, he believed that he should not have to seek party pre-selection. Angered by his attitude, the South Australian Country Party omitted him from its Senate team; not even Page’s intervention induced it to relent. Wilson had fourth place on the non-Labor ticket for the Senate at the general election in December 1925 and was defeated. Bruce asked him to remain until his term expired (June 1926). Wilson was widely tipped to succeed Sir Joseph Cook as high commissioner in London. Instead, in January 1926, he was appointed K.B.E.
Sir Victor remained very much a public figure, and in the late 1920s he moved to Sydney. As president (1927-39) of the Motion Picture Distributors’ Association, he was periodically accused of preferring American to Australian and British film interests—an allegation he flatly rejected. A director of the Australian General Insurance Co. from 1938, he was senior vice-chairman (1938-57) of the Royal North Shore Hospital board, a member (1938-46) of the National Health Research Council and chairman (1939-57) of National Press Pty Ltd. He owned a pastoral property at Mudgee and was part-owner of another near Kingoonya, South Australia.
Wilson was a tireless and cool-headed fighter. Popular and unpretentious, he remained ‘just his natural self’—a knight who liked to be called ‘Vic’. Predeceased by his wife and son, he died at his Neutral Bay home on 13 July 1957 and was cremated. Two daughters survived him. A photo of Sir Reginald Wilson is seen in Figure 4.
The information for both subjects was extracted from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.