Sir Isaac Isaacs Sworn In: Son of Jewish Immigrant Talior Becomes Governor-general of Australia: Dri
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Sir Isaac Isaacs Sworn In: Son of Jewish Immigrant Talior Becomes Governor-general of Australia: Dri

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Sir Isaac Alfred Isaacs was sworn into office to-day as Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia. His commission was signed by the Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. J. H. Scullin, by authority of the King, without any other departure from precedent in the swearing-in ceremony, which was carried through with traditional pomp and circumstance.

The new Governor-General drove to the State Parliament in a State carriage with military escort.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency was the first to forecast the possibility of Sir Isaac being appointed Governor-General, carrying a report in the J.T.A. Bulletin of April 4th from its Melbourne representative to the effect that Sir Isaac, who had that same week been appointed Chief Justice of Australia, had been nominated for the post by the Australian Prime Minister, Mr. Scullin, following the declared policy of the Labour Government to have an Australian appointed as Governor-General in succession to Lord Stonehaven, and that the recommendation had already been forwarded to the Colonial Office.

The Nationalist Party, which is in opposition, strenuously opposed the appointment, on the ground that it would sever an important link with the Mother Land by depriving the British Government of the right it had hitherto of appointing the Governor-General as the personal representative of the King. Several eminent legal authorities in Australia argued that Sir Isaac’s appointment was constitutionally invalid, and that any legislative bills to which he gives his assent as Governor-General would also be invalid.

Mr. Soullin, on his return from England last week, replied to these objections that Sir Isaac is as qualified to interpret the law with regard to his appointment as any other authority, and a statement was issued that the arrangements for the swearing-in ceremony were being proceeded with, and that if the King’s Commission arrived by next mail, as was expected, it would take place on Thursday, January 22nd.

The Jewish communal leaders in Australia, while delighted at the high honour accorded to a Jew, felt uncomfortable, however, that a Jew should be figuring as the centre of the acute political controversy started by Sir Isaac’s appointment.

All parties, even those most opposed to the break with tradition involved by the appointment of a Governor-General other than from London, agreed, however, that if an Australian was to be appointed, Sir Isaac is the most suitable and the most highly qualified man for the position.


Sir Isaac was born in 1855 in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, his father who was a tailor and clothier having his shop in the same house. When he was a boy his parents moved to Beechworth, a mining and farming town in the north-eastern uplands of Victoria. At the age of 13 he became a pupil teacher at a salary of ten shillings a week. He started privately studying law, and a number of prominent Beechworth citizens who had faith in his abilities obtained a small grant for him and enabled him to study law at Melbourne University. He won his way upward by means of successive scholarships. After graduating, he set up in Melbourne as a barrister. He was also a journalist for a time, and when he became a Judge of the High Court, he gave the Australian Journalists Association its first award. While in Melbourne he wrote, telephoned or telegraphed to his mother every day until she died in 1913. He ascribes most of his success to her. She gave him a copy of the Old Testament, which he still keeps, and she taught him Hebrew. He is an excellent linguist, knowing also German, French, Italian and Chinese. A year before his mother’s death he preserved the tones of her voice by means of a gramophone record.

Sir Isaac’s career parallels to a remarkable degree that of another distinguished Jew of the same name, Lord Reading (Sir Rufus Isaacs) who, too, left the Chief Justiceship to govern one of the great territories of the British Empire as Viceroy of India. Like Lord Reading, he was for many years a member of Parliament, belonging to the Labour Party, and in 1897 he was Acting Prime Minister of the State of Victoria. He was a member of the Australian Federal Convention, which in 1897-1899 framed the Australian Commonwealth Constitution, and in 1924 he was a member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the highest Court of the British Empire. He was knighted in June 1928, his name appearing in the same Birthday Honours List in which the late Lord Melchett’s peerage was announced.

75 years of age last August, Sir Isaac is of slight build and short of stature, clean-shaven except for a small moustache, and dapper and alert in appearance. He keeps himself fit by early rising and long walks. He is a non-smoker and total abstainer. Lady Isaacs was before her marriage Miss Daisy Jacobs and their two daughters, Mrs. David Cohen and Mrs. Sefton Cohen, have both acted as Judge’s associates to their father.

His parents found refuge in Australia from the harsh conditions of ghetto life in Eastern Europe, and were always in modest circumstances, Sir Frank Fox, the well known journalist, who nearly 40 years ago was editor of the “Australian Workman” in the early days of the Australian Labour Party with which Sir Isaac was also connected, has written. Their clever, fiercely industrious son won his way to the Victorian Bar with the aid of scholarships, and to the Bar brought intense application and a subtle legal mind. Not for him any of the distractions or anodynes of life.

Mr. Scullin, as he has told me himself, another writer has stated, is a fervent personal admirer of Sir Isaac, but even he cannot disguise from himself that the appointment of a Jew to the highest office in the Commonwealth will arouse mixed feelings. This attitude, he added, is unreasonable, but there is no doubt that it exists strongly in Australia. Sir Isaac undoubtedly possesses the most brilliant intellect in the Commonwealth. He was born with no silver spoon in his mouth. Only an idiot would assert that all Governor-Generals from outside the Commonwealth have approached Sir Isaac’s mental stature, he concluded.

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