HAM Wilbur Lincoln

Barrister, Victoria
Years active


Wilbur Lincoln Ham was born on 14 November 1883 at Armadale, Victoria. He was the third son and tenth child of English-born auctioneer and estate agent Cornelius Job Ham and his wife Hattie White, née Latham, the sister of General George Latham who was United States Consul in Melbourne from 1867 to 1870. A Melbourne City Councillor from 1870, Cornelius Ham was Mayor of Melbourne from 1881 until the following year when he was elected to the Victorian Legislative Council, serving there until 1904. With his paternal grandfather the first Baptist minister in Melbourne and his father a very active member of the church, Wilbur Ham was raised in this faith. He attended the Melbourne Church of England Grammar School in 1895 and 1896, and then Toorak Grammar School.

Living in Ormond College, he studied at the University of Melbourne from 1901. Awarded the Supreme Court prize in 1904, he graduated with a Bachelor of Laws in 1905 and a Master of Laws in 1906. Articled to James Cooper Stewart of Malleson, England and Stewart in June 1905 and admitted as a barrister and solicitor on 1 August 1906, Ham opted to practise exclusively as a barrister, signing the roll of the Victorian Bar on 11 February 1907.

His career interrupted by the First World War, Ham enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in March 1915 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 13th Australian Light Horse Regiment. He served in Egypt, at Gallipoli and in France – where his horse slipped on ice, injuring Ham's knee and leaving him with a permanent limp. Promoted to Major in November 1916, just days before the accident, in 1917 Ham was mentioned in dispatches for meritorious action. Returning to Australia in May 1918, he resumed practice at the Bar. On 30 November that year he and Aileen Marjorie Wren were married by the Presbyterian Chaplain General at the English, Scottish and Australian Bank House in Queen Street, Melbourne – the bride's father, Charles Wren, was Australasian General Manager of the Bank.

Appointed King's Counsel (KC) in February 1927, Ham was renowned for his conscientious and capable work. A leading advocate in the High Court during the 1930s and 1940s, his cases often related to taxation or constitutional law. Among the most significant cases in which he was involved were Australian Knitting Mills v Grant, relating to consumer law in 1933; Clements v Ellis, concerning land ownership in 1934; and the First Uniform Tax Case in 1942. Chairman of the Committee of Counsel for most of the period between 1930 and 1946, and president of the Medico-Legal Society of Victoria in 1933-34, Ham was said to have refused appointment to the Supreme Court in 1934. His cultured tones, refined manner and sharp wit belied a kind heart and a robust sense of humour. He was described by fellow barrister Robert Menzies as 'a master of polished profanity'.

As private counsel, between 1931 and 1945 Ham made several contributions to the Opinion Book. Some were signed jointly with other authors – Wilfred Fullagar KCJohn Spicer, and Sir William Harrison Moore. Three of Ham's opinions – including two relating to national health and pensions insurance – were selected for publication in Volume 3.

Suffering poor eyesight for many years and from pernicious anaemia, Ham retired due to poor health in 1947. Predeceased by his 16-year-old son who drowned in Port Phillip Bay in January 1940 – and by his wife in 1946 – Wilbur Lincoln Ham died from broncho-pneumonia in Richmond, Victoria on 30 January 1948 at the age of 64. A funeral service at Sleight's Chapel on St Kilda Road preceded cremation at Springvale Crematorium. Ham was survived by two sons and a daughter, who carried the surname 'Wilbur-Ham'.

  1. Biography written by Carmel Meiklejohn with reference to
    • Peter Balmford, 'Ham, Wilbur Lincoln (1883–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ham-wilbur-lincoln-6535/text11227, accessed 23 April 2012.
    • Tony Blackshield, Michael Coper and George Williams (editors), The Oxford Companion to the High Court of Australia, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, 2001.
    • National Archives of Australia, military service records – NAA: B2455, HAM W L.

Opinions by this author

Opinion Number Subject Opinion Date
Opinion Number. 1629

National Health and Pensions Insurance…

Opinion Number. 1632

national health and pensions insurance…

Opinion Number. 1725