Heritage Talk: The life and achievements of Sir John William Salmond, a little-known son of North Shields

 George Aitchison, a new speaker to the Old Low Light, will talk about the life and achievements of a former North Shields resident who made a major contribution to New Zealand’s legal system.

George will explain how Sir John William Salmond, who was born in North Shields in 1862, the eldest son of William Salmond, a minister at the Square Presbyterian Church in Northumberland Square, emigrated with his family to Dunedin, New Zealand, aged 14.

After being awarded a scholarship to study at University College, London, where he graduated in law, Sir John returned to New Zealand where he became a lawyer, university lecturer, Solicitor-General and judge of the Supreme Court, gaining an international reputation for his legal expertise.

George came across the story of Sir John after hearing about the successful legal career of another North Shields man, David McGee, who was a pupil at the Western Board Junior School at the same time as George, and who also emigrated to New Zealand, later becoming Clerk to the Leader of the House of Representatives and the country’s third Ombudsman.

George said: “It was through my contact with David that I found out about Sir John William Salmond. Sir John grew up in North Shields, but little is known about him. He had a profound impact on the establishment of the legal system in New Zealand and his expertise was recognised internationally.”

After emigrating, Sir John was educated at the high school in Otago, before graduating from the University of Otago in 1882 with a Bachelor of Arts degree and later a Master of Arts. He was then awarded a scholarship to University College, London, where he graduated in law.

Returning to New Zealand in 1887, he was admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court. He was later appointed professor of law at the University of Adelaide, South Australia then returned to New Zealand to take up the Founding Chair in Law at Victoria University CollegeWellington.

He became Counsel to the Law Drafting Office where he remained for four years, until his appointment as Solicitor-General. He was made a King’s Counsel then knighted in 1918, and appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of New Zealand. He represented New Zealand at the Washington Naval Conference in 1921 and on his return to New Zealand resumed his judicial duties. He died in 1924.

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