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Biographical entry Menzies, Sir Robert Gordon (1894 - 1978)

Kt 1963; AK 1976; CH 1951; Hon FRCS 1965; LLM Melbourne 1917; FRS 1965.

20 December 1894
Jeparit, Victoria, Australia
15 May 1978
Lawyer and Politician


Sir Robert Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia for eighteen years and a Commonwealth statesman of acknowledged world status, was born of humble origin on 20 December 1894 at Jeparit, Victoria. He was of Scottish-Cornish ancestry, his father being a general store keeper. He was educated at Grenville College Ballarat, Wesley College Melbourne and Melbourne University. A brilliant scholar, he graduated LLM in 1917 with first class honours and the Supreme Court Judges' Prize. He was called to the Victoria Bar in 1918 and rapidly established a wide reputation, becoming King's Counsel in 1929 at the exceptionally early age of 34.

He entered politics in 1928 when elected to the Victoria Legislative Council and was appointed Minister without Portfolio. In 1929 he entered the Legislative Assembly and in 1932 became Attorney General, Minister for Railways and Deputy Prime Minister. He was appointed Commonwealth Attorney General in 1935 and became Prime Minister for his first term of office in 1939 at the age of 44. He held this position for two years before resigning when he felt he had lost the confidence of his colleagues.

He returned to office in December 1949 and remained Prime Minister for sixteen consecutive years before resigning in January 1966. During this time he became one of the best known Premiers, travelling widely and being a great supporter of the Commonwealth and a firm friend of Britain. An account of his distinguished political career must be sought elsewhere.

A man of imposing presence with great verbal fluency, a conversationalist, mimic and wit, he was a personal friend of the Royal Family and was a guest at the Queen's Coronation in 1953. Two years earlier he had been made a Companion of Honour and in 1963 the Queen conferred upon him the rare distinction of a Knighthood of the Order of the Thistle. In 1965 he was made Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and in 1976 he was created a Knight of the Order of Australia. He was pall bearer at Sir Winston Churchill's funeral. Sir Robert was admitted an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England by the President, Lord Brock, on 28 June 1965, Sir Arthur Porritt (later Lord Porritt) gave the citation.

His relaxations were walking and cricket; he was a member of the MCC and President of the Lords Taverners in 1962 and President of the Kent County Cricket Club in 1968. When he died the Sydney Bulletin referred to his death under the caption 'The long innings is over'. He died on 15 May 1978, aged 83, and was survived by his wife, Dame Patty Menzies, whom he married in 1920 and by his son and daughter, one son having predeceased him in 1974.

Sir Barry Jackson

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 16 May 1978; Biog Mem Roy Soc 1979, 25, 445-475].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England