Philip Whistler Street

Philip Whistler Street

Sir Philip Whistler Street (1863-1938) was the eighth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. Street was a distinguished lawyer, patron of many benevolent institutions and also the lieutenant governor of New South Wales. 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".cite web
title =Street, Sir Philip Whistler (1863 - 1938)
publisher =Project Gutenberg Australia
work=Dictionary of Australian Biography
url =
accessdate = 2007-04-29

Early years

Street was born in Sydney on 9 August 1863, the second son of John Rendell Street and Susanna Caroline Street (nee 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 (explorers who found the first crossing across the Blue Mountains to the west of Sydney).Citation
last =Bennett
first =J. M.
title =Street, Sir Philip Whistler (1863 - 1938)
publisher =Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press
year =1990
location =Melbourne
volume =12
url =
] Street attended Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts in 1883 and was admitted to the New South Wales bar on 25 August 1886.cite web
title =Archives Investigator
work =
publisher =Government of New South Wales
url =
accessdate =2007-04-29
] He married Belinda Maud Poolman at St John’s Anglican Church in Toorak, Melbourne on 1 February 1888. In 24 July 1906 he was appointed an acting judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales.cite web
title =The Honourable Sir Philip Whistler Street, K.C.M.G., K.St.J
work =
publisher =Lawlink NSW
url =
accessdate =2007-04-29
] He was later appointed a full judge of the Court on 11 February 1907 following the resignation of Mr Justice W. G. Walker in February of that year. 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. [ [ Court of Arbitration, New South Wales - Australian Trade Union Archives Government Agency entry ] ] Street also sat in the now abolished Vice-Admiralty Court, first established in the New South Wales during th time of Governor Arthur Phillip to deal with maritime disputes.

In 1918, Street was appointed the Chief Judge in Equity.

Appointment as chief justice

John Bennett notes that at Street’s swearing in ceremony (when the oath of office is administered), 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". [cite book
last =Bennett
first =John
title =A History of the Supreme Court of New South Wales
publisher =Law Book Company Ltd
date =1974
location =Sydney
pages =323
id = ISBN 0455192405
] 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. In the latter commission, IWW was an organisation that promoted the concept of one big union. In Australia, they were active in compaigning against World War I. Their campaign left a lot to be desired, as they resorted to arson and counterfeiting. 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 gaol for offences such as sedition. Street’s commission concluded that some men were guilty and some were not. Most were subsequently released.cite web
title =Ross's monthly of protest, personality and progress. (Melbourne : Robert Samuel Ross, 1916- [1923] )
work =
publisher =Monash University Library
url =
accessdate =2007-04-29

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. He was appointed lieutenant-governor in 1930, and administered the government from May to October 1934, January to February 1935, and January to August 1936. The lieutenant-governor administers New South Wales in the absence of the governor.

Community associations

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.

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. 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.

Later years

Street was created K.C.M.G. in 1928. He died on 11 September 1938 and he was buried in South Head cemetery after a state funeral at St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney.


Street's elder son, Kenneth Whistler Street, became a judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, and according to biographer Percival Serle, it is possibly the first time that a father and son sat together on a supreme court bench. His son was to also become Chief Justice of New South Wales as well.In a further extension of his family's influence in the NSW legal system, Sir Philip’s grandson, Sir Laurence Street, also became Chief Justice of New South Wales.


*Dictionary of Australian Biography|First=Philip Whistler|Last=Street|Link=

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