Challis Lecturer in the Law of Real Property and Equity, University of Sydney, 01/03/1890 - 1894
Fellow of the Senate, University of Sydney, 20/06/1896 - 30/11/1934
Vice-Chancellor, University of Sydney, April 1908 - March 1911
Chancellor, University of Sydney, 11/09/1914 - 30/11/1934
Member of the Legislative Assembly (New South Wales), 20/06/1891 - 25/06/1894
Member of the Legislative Council (New South Wales), 13/08/1895 - 25/01/1910
Chief Justice, Supreme Court of New South Wales, 28/01/1910 - 27/01/1925
Judge Commissary, Vice-Admiralty Court, 28/10/1910 - 30/06/1911
Judge in Admiralty, Supreme Court of New South Wales, 01/07/1911 - 27/01/1925
Lieutenant- Governor of New South Wales, 30/03/1910 - 30/09/1930
Trustee, Public Library of New South Wales, 1914 - 1935
Sir William Portus Cullen was born on 28 May 1855 at Mount Johnston, near Jamberoo, New South Wales, the son of John Cullen and his wife Rebecca nee Clinton. He was educated at Kiama Public School and the University of Sydney (BA 1st class Honours 1880, MA 1882, LLB 1885, LLD 1887). (1)
Cullen was an award winning student. Moving to Sydney at age 20 allowed him to further his education. Encouraged by the Rev Charles Badham, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, he entered the University of Sydney aged 22. He was awarded the University Scholarship for 1877 (shared with SJ Wright), the Lithgow Scholarship for 1878, the Professor Smith's Prize in Chemistry and Experimental Physics in 1878, the Barker Scholarship for 1879 in Mathematics, and the Renwick Scholarship for 1879 in Natural Science. When he graduated in 1880 he achieved First Class Honours in Classics and Second Class Honours in Mathematics. (2) After completing his degree, he was a lecturer/coach in mathematics at St Andrew's College and at St Paul's College. Graduating as a Master of Arts in 1882, he was also an examiner for the Faculty of Arts from 1882/3 to 1883/4 and again in 1889/90. (3)
Cullen was called to the New South Wales Bar on 30 April 1883. He practised primarily in Equity, out of Victoria Chambers, Phillip Street, Sydney (1885), Lyndhurst Chambers (1887-1889), Lyndon Chambers (1890-1893), Northfield Chambers (1894-1897) and 145 Phillip Street (1898-1910). He gained the degrees of Bachelor of Laws in 1885 and Doctor of Laws in 1887. After the High Court of Australia began in 1903, he was recognised as one of Australia's leading constitutional lawyers. He was appointed a King's Counsel in February 1905. (4)
Cullen continued to be involved with the University of Sydney: in lecturing, administration and social clubs. He was Challis Lecturer in the Law of Real Property and Equity from 1 March 1890 to 1894. He also delivered a lecture for the University of Sydney Extension Board in 1892 and was an unofficial Member of the Board, definitely in 1893/94, and possibly in other years. (5) He was an Examiner for the Faculty of Law in 1902/03. Twice he was Acting Dean of the Faculty of Law while Professor Pitt Cobbett was on leave of absence. The first period was from 7 March to 20 August 1898 and the second from 6 March to 19 August 1905. (6)
Elected a Fellow of the University Senate on 20 June 1896 for a seat vacated by Justice Charles James Manning due to ill health, Cullen served until November 1934. He represented the Senate as a Council member of the Women's College from at least 1897 to 1908 and he continued his association with the University Extension Board as a Senate representative from at least 1898 to 1908. From April 1908 to April 1911 he was Vice-Chancellor of the University, re-elected in 1909 and 1910. On 11 September 1914 he was elected Chancellor of the University following the death of Sir Normand MacLaurin, a position he held until November 1934. Although re-elected as Chancellor in April 1934, he did not seek re-election to the Senate when his term expired in November 1934 and therefore resigned as Chancellor. (7)
Cullen was one of the vice-presidents of the Sydney University Union from 1885-1888. He was president of the Sydney University Law Society from 1908/9 to 1909/10. He was president of the Classical Association of New South Wales from 1910/11 to 1914/15. He was president of the University Club from 1909 to 1934. (8)
On 20 June 1891 Cullen, like his brother Joseph Francis Cullen before him, entered the New South Wales Parliament as a Member of the Legislative Assembly. William was the third member for the multi-member seat of Camden. He represented the Free Trade Party. Defeated at the election of 17 July 1894 when single member seats were re-introduced, he was appointed on 8 August 1895 to the Legislative Council for life under the Constitution Act. His main activities in the Council were the drafting of bills and amendments and proposing legal reform. A strong supporter of Australian Federalism both in Parliament and at public meetings, Cullen was an adviser to Sir George Reid during the Premier's Conference at Melbourne from 29 January to 2 February 1899. Cullen resigned from Parliament on 25 January 1910. (9)
On 28 January 1910 Cullen was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales and, as such, Judge Commissary of the Vice-Admiralty Court. The British Colonial Courts of Admiralty Act 1890 abolished Courts of Vice-Admiralty as Imperial courts separate from a colony's civil court system. Instead it allowed for the creation of Courts of Admiralty integrated into the colony's existing Supreme Court. This Act took effect in New South Wales on 1 July 1911. Thus the Supreme Court of New South Wales acquired the powers of a 'Colonial Court of Admiralty' under the 1890 Act with the Chief Justice or his nominee in charge. On 1 July 1911 Cullen ceased to be Judge Commissary of the Vice-Admiralty Court and became a Judge in Admiralty of the Supreme Court. Granted six months leave of absence from the position of Chief Justice and Judge in Admiralty on 28 July 1924, Cullen retired due to ill health on 27 January 1925. (10)
Created a Knight Bachelor on 24 February 1911 for his services as Lieutenant Governor and Chief Justice of New South Wales, he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George on 14 June 1912. He was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws by the University of Adelaide in 1926. (11)
Cullen was appointed Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales on 30 March 1910. He was acting Governor on six occasions: 26 April to 12 November 1911, 11 to 14 March 1913, 30 April 1917 to 18 February 1918, 14 September 1923 to 27 February 1924, 24 August 1928 to 2 February 1929 and 9 April to 28 May 1930. He resigned from the position in September 1930. (12)
Both Cullen and his wife, Eliza Jane (Lily) nee White, were active in the community. They married on 17 December 1891 at Carrington, Port Stephens. As well as his involvement with University activities and clubs, he was president of the Boy Scouts' Association and Boy's Brigade, a trustee of the Public Library of New South Wales (1914-1935), and a director of Prince Alfred Hospital (1915-1935). Lily Cullen was president of the Sydney University Women's Society/Settlement from 1909 to 1913 and patroness of the Sydney University Women's Union from 1916/17. She was also a foundation vice-president of the New South Wales division of the Red Cross in 1914 and in 1916-17 president of the Australian Red Cross. She was president of the Victoria League and chief commissioner of the New South Wales Girl Guides' Association. (13)
Cullen was a keen gardener with a deep interest in the preservation of Australian flora. A species of North Queensland eucalyptus, Eucalyptus cullenii (Cullen's ironbark), was named in his honour. (14)
Sir William Portus Cullen died on 6 April 1935 at Leura, survived by his two sons and one of his two daughters. Lady Cullen died on 10 June 1931. (15)
1. Fred Johns, Johns's Notable Australians and Who's Who in Australasia, various, the Author, and Melb, Herald Press, 1906, p.54; 1908, p.111; 1912, p.9; 1913, p.34; 1914, pp.46-7; 1922, p.68; 1927-8, pp.64-5; 1933-4, p.102; 1935, p.138; Australian Law Journal, Vol.9, pp.24-5 (15 May 1935); 'Cullen, Sir William Portus (1855-1935)', Percival Serle, Dictionary of Australian Biography, originally published Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1949, http://gutenberg.net.au/dictbiog/0-dict-biogCl-Cu.html (cited 9 March 2009); JM Bennett, 'Cullen, Sir William Portus (1855-1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online Edition, http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A080186b.htm (cited 11 January 2008); JM Bennett, 'The Honourable Sir William Portus Cullen, K.C.M.G., LL.D', in Portraits of the Chief Justices of New South Wales 1824-1977, St. Ives, Sydney, John Ferguson Pty Ltd, 1977, pp.35-7; University of Sydney Calendar, 1878-79, p.103; 1879-80, p.105; 1881-82, pp.57, 95-6; 134-5; 1882-3, p.67; 1885, p.153, 1886, p.294; 1887, pp.157, 215; 1888, p.331, http://calendararchive.usyd.edu.au/index.php (cited 18 March 2009).
2. JM Bennett 'Cullen, Sir William Portus (1855-1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, op.cit.; 'Chancellors - Senate - The University of Sydney', http://www.usyd.edu.au/senate/history/Cullen.shtml cited 9 March 2009; University of Sydney Calendar, op.cit., 1878-79, pp.110, 115, 125, 168; 1879-80, pp.118, 121, 170; 1880-81, pp.179; 1881-82, pp.72, 74, 77.
3. Hermes, Vol.2, No.3, New Issue, 17 July 1896, pp.2-3; University of Sydney Calendar, op.cit., 1882/83, p.60; 1883-84, p.130; 1884, p.137; 1890, p.277; JM Bennett, 'The Honourable Sir William Portus Cullen, K.C.M.G., LL.D.', in Portraits of the Chief Justices of New South Wales 1824-1977, op.cit., p.36.
4. Barristers Admission Board; NRS 13665, Roll of Barristers, 15 June 1876 - 1 December 1926; Reel 2147, p.2; New South Wales Law Almanac, Sydney, NSW Government Printer, 1884, p.25; 1885, p.26; 1887, p.24; 1890, p.34; 1894, p.36; 1898, p.37; 1910, p.49; Australian Law Journal, op.cit; Attorney General's Department [III]; NRS 333, Letters received - Special Bundles, 1874-1984; [10/42918] Correspondence re appointment of King's Counsels, 1898-1941; New South Wales Government Gazette, No.136, 14 March 1905, p.1809; State Report New South Wales, Vol.5, 1905, Sydney, Law Book Company of Australasia Ltd, 1905, memoranda.
5. University of Sydney Calendar, op.cit., 1890, p.210; 1892, p.313; 1894, p.255; 1895, p.257; Hermes, op.cit.
6. University of Sydney Calendar, op.cit., 1882-83, p.60; 1883-84, p.130; 1884, p.137; 1890, p.277; 1898, p.281; 1903, p. 283; 1905, p.397.
7. University of Sydney Calendar, op.cit., 1897, pp.201, 269; 1898, pp.52, 282; 1908, pp.80, 409, 439; 1909, p.438; 1910, p.496; 1911, p.491; 1912, p.516; 1915, p.570; 1934, p.590; 1935, pp.867, 871.
8. University of Sydney Calendar, op.cit., 1885, p.312; 1886, p.304; 1887, p.331; 1888, p.344; 1908, p.461; 1909, pp.469, 472; 1911, p.538; 1915, p.655; 1934, p.926.
9. 'Mr Joseph Francis Cullen, M.P.' and 'Sir William Portus Cullen, MLC', New South Wales Parliament website http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/members.nsf/V3ListFormerMembers (cited 6 March 2009); 'NSW Elections - 1891 Results' and 'NSW Elections - 1894 Results', New South Wales Election results 1856-2007, http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/resources/nswelectionsanalysis/ElectionIndexes/ElectionIndex.htm (cited 19 March 2009); JM Bennett, 'Cullen, Sir William Portus (1855-1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, op.cit.
10. State Reports New South Wales, Sydney, Law Book Company of Australasia Ltd, Vol.9, 1909, memoranda; Vol.24, 1924; Vol.25, 1925, p.iii; New South Wales Law Almanac for 1932, Sydney, NSW Government Printer, 1932, p.25; JM Bennett, A History of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Sydney, Law Book Company Ltd, 1974, pp.163-4.
11. It's an honour website http://www.itsanhonour.gov.au (cited 23 January 2008); Calendar of the University of Adelaide for the year 1927, p.58, GoogleBook, http://books.google.com/books?lr=&id=KUU4AAAAMAAJ&q=cullen&pgis=1 (cited 24 March 2009).
12. Joint Volume of Papers presented to the Legislative Council and Legislative Assembly, Sydney, NSW Government Printer, 1910, Vol.1, p.5; New South Wales Parliamentary Record, 12th edition, Sydney, NSW Government Printer, 1936, p.3; Percival Serle, Dictionary of Australian Biography, op.cit.
13. JM Bennett, 'Cullen, Sir William Portus (1855-1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, op.cit.; 'Sir William Portus Cullen, MLC', New South Wales Parliament website, op.cit.; University of Sydney Calendar, op.cit., 1909, p.473; 1910, p.528; 1911, p.535; 1912, p.557; 1913, p.558; 1917, p.667.
14. 'Critical revision of the genus eucalyptus Volume 5: parts 41-50', Part 48, p.233, CCLXXV E. Culleni RH Cambage, http://setis.library.usyd.edu.au/pubotbin/toccer-new?id=mai.p00109v5.sgml&images=acdp/gifs&data=/usr/ot&tag=botany&part=75&division=div1 (cited 9 March 2009).
15. J.M. Bennett, 'Cullen, Sir William Portus (1855-1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, op.cit.