CASTLE Gordon Harwood

Crown Solicitor
Years active
Portrait of Gordon Castle - From the AGS collection of former Crown Solicitors.


Born in Hackham, South Australia on 16 June 1860, Gordon Harwood Castle was one of eleven children of pioneering parents. His father, English-born pastoralist, magistrate and illustrator, Edward Castle, and mother Kate, née Borrow, were prominent early settlers in the local area. At that time the centre of an agricultural district, Hackham eventually became a suburb of Adelaide. Privately educated to begin with, Gordon Castle later attended the Hahndorf Academy.2 On leaving school, he was appointed as a cadet in the office of the Supreme Court of South Australia on 18 August 1876.

Serving in various roles in the Court, Castle was appointed second associate to the judges and clerk of arraigns on 1 May 1882. Judges he worked to included Justice (Sir) William Bundey and Chief Justice (Sir) Samuel Way. Studying law part-time, Castle was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of South Australia on 24 July 1886. Promoted to Crown Law Clerk and Parliamentary Draftsman in the Crown Law Department on 2 November 1888, Castle provided legal and drafting support to the colony's Premier and Attorney-General, vigorous federation campaigner Charles Cameron Kingston, during the 1897-98 Australasian Federal Convention. In the course of sessions held consecutively in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne, the South Australian delegation earned a reputation for its vocal representation and drafting expertise.3 The secretary to the constitutional drafting committee throughout this Convention was Robert Garran.

After Federation on 1 January 1901 – when Garran was appointed as the inaugural head of the Attorney-General's Department, and Kingston became the first Minister for Trade and Customs – Castle followed them to the Commonwealth jurisdiction and moved to the seat of government in Melbourne. In the initial gazettal of staff to the Attorney-General's Department on 12 July, Castle was appointed Chief Clerk and Assistant Parliamentary Draftsman, with effect from 1 June 1901. Instructed by Kingston, Castle drafted the Customs Act 1901 which set the standard for a clearer, more straightforward drafting style in Commonwealth legislation, despite the extreme complexity of the issues being dealt with. Described by Garran as a skilful, experienced and 'admirable draftsman'4 with an 'instinctive knowledge' of diverse complex subjects,5 Castle also achieved a particularly memorable drafting feat a decade later. Given an overnight deadline and drafting instructions which read simply 'A Bill is required for the establishment of a Commonwealth Bank', Castle (working with a junior drafter) met both targets. Successfully constituting the bank, the Commonwealth Bank Act 1911 stood the test of time until the 1950s, when new policies and functions required substantial change.

In the early years, legal staff of the Attorney-General's Department carried out multiple roles, providing advice and opinions as well as drafting and performing administrative functions. Castle held the appointment of Industrial Registrar, under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904, from 26 January 1905 until 1907. For almost a decade he was also the first Principal Registrar of the High Court. He was appointed on 2 October 1903, following passage of the Judiciary Act 1903, and on 5 October was entered on the High Court Register of Practitioners as a barrister and solicitor in the South Australian Registry.6 Both registrar positions were on a 'during pleasure and without salary' basis, although some financial compensation for the High Court role was paid on occasion. Castle resigned as Principal Registrar after he was appointed as the Commonwealth's second Crown Solicitor, succeeding Charles Powers, on 16 April 1913, having previously acted in the position for some months.

Grateful for his colleague's help and counsel over many years, Garran noted that Castle was a man of 'kindly human sympathies and friendliness, with no aloofness about him'. A 'confirmed bachelor', he regarded his staff as family, helping them whenever he could and trusting them with responsibility. Garran commented that Castle 'applied himself particularly to opinion work, and as he was a master of legal principle his advice was very helpful to all departments'.7 Also praised in Parliament for his industry, ability, loyalty and breadth of knowledge,8 Castle contributed numerous advices on wide-ranging subjects to the Opinion Book during his career – on behalf of or acting for the Secretary, or as Crown Solicitor. Those selected for publication in Volume 1 included issues pertaining to Senate elections, electoral boundaries, the Northern Territory, and to Commonwealth Bank premises in Sydney. After the establishment of the Prime Minister's Department on 1 July 1911, Castle gave his opinion that it was 'necessary that a Commission should be issued by the Governor-General appointing [the Prime Minister] Mr Fisher to administer the Prime Minister's Department.'9

During the First World War, Castle was appointed by the British Government to institute and carry on proceedings relating to prize courts. As the 'Proper Officer of the Crown' he was responsible for the Australian operation of the system governing claims against enemy ships and their cargoes, and the release of any consignments to British subjects who owned them. Without any personal pecuniary reward, Castle handled both the unfamiliar administration and litigation effectively, having the rules amended where possible to bring about more efficient procedures. In October 1920 he was made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) for 'special war services'.

Crown Solicitor during the 1920s, Castle supervised the legal work which was required in preparation for the government's move to the new federal capital. By then in his 60s, he relied on the support of his deputy, William Sharwood, in the administration of the office, and apparently had no plans to move to Canberra himself. On 2 May 1927 – just one week before Federal Parliament's inaugural sitting in Canberra – Gordon Castle died at St. Andrew's Private Hospital in Brighton, Victoria. Past the usual retiring age, he was aged just over 66, but still in office. Survived by two of his sisters, he was buried in Box Hill Cemetery, Melbourne, two days after his death.

  1. Biography written by Carmel Meiklejohn with reference to:
    • Robert Garran, Prosper the Commonwealth, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1958.
    • HFE Whitlam, 'Biographical Notes. Commonwealth Crown Solicitors. Gordon Harwood Castle, O.B.E. (1913-1927)', Monthly Bulletin for Legal Officers, Attorney-General's Department, 1955, pp. 283-285.
    • Suzanne Edgar, 'Boehm, Traugott Wilhelm (1836–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 September 2013.
  2. Founded by TW Boehm in 1857, the Hahndorf Academy was sold to the Lutheran Church in 1877 (after Castle's time there) and was then renamed Hahndorf College.
  3. Helen Irvine (editor), The Centenary Companion to Australian Federation, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1999, p.167.
  4. Robert Garran, 'My Most Vivid Memories', The Adelaide Mail, Saturday 28 May 1932, p. 3.
  5. Prosper the Commonwealth, p. 153.
  6. Admission dates courtesy of the National Registry Manager, High Court of Australia, 15 October 2013.
  7. Prosper the Commonwealth, p. 153.
  8. Australia, House of Representatives, Official Hansard, No. 46, 1912, 12 November 1912, pp. 5308-5309.
  9. Opinion No. 441

Opinions by this author

Opinion Number Subject Opinion Date
Opinion Number. 292


Opinion Number. 296


Opinion Number. 297


Opinion Number. 298


Opinion Number. 441


Opinion Number. 453


Opinion Number. 492