Guide to the Papers of Sir Isaac Isaacs


MS 2755

National Library of Australia View Catalogue Record

Collection Summary

Sir Isaac Isaacs
Papers of Sir Isaac Isaacs
Date Range
Collection Number
MS 2755
1.3 metres
Language of Materials
National Library of Australia


Scope and Content

The collection is small but includes family correspondence, articles and addresses, papers concerning Jewish affairs between 1942 and 1944, notebooks written whilst a student, script-books, newspaper cuttings, photographs, a Government House visitor's book, regalia, certificates and illuminated addresses. The papers document Isaacs' career as a State and federal politician, judge and as Governor-General of Australia.

Conditions Governing Access

Please refer to the collection's catalogue record for the access conditions (

Conditions Governing Use

Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions. For such material, written permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s). Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.

Preferred Citation

Items from this collection should be cited as '[Title or description of manuscript item], Papers of Sir Isaac Isaacs, National Library of Australia, MS 2755, [series/file/item number]'.


The papers of Sir Isaac Isaacs received by the National Library in three parts. The major portion was deposited by Lady Isaacs in 1950. In 1968, after the death of Isaacs' daughter Mrs Marjorie Cohen, a second group of papers was received from her son Thomas B. Cohen. A further collection, used by Sir Zelman Cowen for his biography Isaac Isaacs, was deposited in April 1970.

Existence and Location of Originals

Xerox copies of letters written in 1903 and 1913 from Sir Edmund Barton to Sir Samuel Griffith are included; the originals are contained in the Griffith Papers (ML MSS 363), Mitchell Library, Sydney.


COWEN, Zelman Isaac Isaacs. Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1962. GORDON, Max Sir Isaac Isaacs: a life of service. Melbourne, Heineman, 1963.

Biographical Note

Isaac Isaacs was born in Melbourne on 6 August 1855. His parents Alfred and Rebecca Isaacs had arrived in Victoria from England the previous year. Isaacs attended school in Yackandandah and Beechworth, where his parents lived between 1859 and 1886. He became a pupil-teacher in Beechworth before joining the Prothonotary's Office, Law Department, Melbourne, in 1875 when he commenced part-time study at the University of Melbourne. He graduated as a Bachelor of Laws in 1880 and a Master of Laws in 1883. In 1882 Isaacs was called to the Bar; he took silk in 1899 and practised until 1906.

From 1892 until 1901 he represented Bogong in the Victorian Legislative Assembly and was Attorney-General in the Conservative Ministry of J.B. Patterson. He was Attorney-General in the Liberal Ministries of Sir George Turner (1894-1899, 1900-1901) and in Alexander Peacock's Government (February-June 1901).

Isaacs was a member of the Victorian delegation at the Federal Convention in 1897-1898, and entered the first Commonwealth Parliament as the Member for the Victorian electorate of Indi. He was Attorney-General in the second Deakin Ministry between July 1905 and October 1906, when he was appointed to the High Court. In 1921 he became a Privy Councillor, and in 1924 was a member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. After acting as Chief Justice of Australia during 1925 and 1927, he was appointed to the position in 1930. The following year, on the recommendation of Prime Minister J.H. Scullin, he was appointed the first Australian-born Governor-General.

Immediately after retirement in January 1937, the Isaacs visited Europe before settling in the Melbourne suburb of South Yarra.

In 1928 Isaacs was created a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (K.C.M.G.) and in 1932 a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (G.C.MG.). In 1938 he received the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (G.C.B.) in the Coronation Honours List. He married Deborah Jacobs of Melbourne in 1888 and their two daughters were Marjorie (Mrs David Cohen) and Nancy (Mrs Sefton Cullen).

Sir Isaac Isaacs died in Melbourne on 12 February 1948. Lady Isaacs lived in Bowral until her death in 1960.

Item Descriptions

Series 1. Family Correspondence

The series, which is arranged chronologically, contains a small amount of correspondence during the years from 1883 until 1913 between Isaacs and his mother, wife and children. The bulk of the letters date from the period 1930-1947 and were written by Isaac and Deborah Isaacs to their daughter Marjorie. They discuss family matters, events during Isaacs' term as Governor-General, their trip to Europe in 1937, world politics and Jewish affairs.

Letters and correspondence, 1883-1913, 1930-1947 (Item 1-1110) - Box 1, 2, 3

Series 2. General Correspondence

The letters date from 1888 until 1966 and include Isaacs' correspondence with Joseph Tarrant and the legal firm Curtis and Barry concerning a legal fee; photocopies of letters from Sir Edmund Barton to Sir Samuel Griffith in 1903 and again in 1913 when Griffith was in England; a letter in 1931 from the Attorney-General Frank Brennan accepting Isaacs' resignation as Chief Justice of the High Court; a letter of appreciation from the Duke of Gloucester in 1934, after his Australian tour; letters from Lord Wigram concerning the Isaacs' trip to England in 1937; correspondence with J.H. Scullin and Sir Kenneth Bailey in 1947 concerning his pension; and letters from Mrs Tulla Brown (nee Keating) of Canberra to Zelman Cowen in 1962 relating to his biography of Isaacs.

General correspondence (Item 1-138) - Box 3

Series 3. Notebooks

There are 17 small books containing notes on legal subjects; they were compiled during the years 1875 to 1881, when Isaacs was a student. A large book and two smaller ones contain notes and cuttings from his period on the Bench of the High Court. A book listing his retainers for the years 1901 to 1906 is also included.

Notebooks 1875-1881, 1901-1906 (Item 1-241) - Box 4, 5

Series 4. Jewish Affairs

The series contains notes and an annotated typescript for Professor Julius Stone's open letter to Isaacs entitled Stand up and be counted. This was written in 1944 on the occasion of the twenty-sixth anniversary of the Jewish National Home. The series also includes Isaacs' booklet Palestine … political Zionism (1946); two copies, one annotated by Stone, of a memorandum, Immigration to Australia, a document prepared by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry for the Australian Government; documents of the United Emergency Committee for European Jewry on Mauritius internees in 1942; minutes taken by Isaacs at two committee meetings in 1882 of the Melbourne Jewish Young Men's Russian Relief Fund; and other articles by Isaacs written between 1938 and 1947.

Jewish affairs (Item 1-350) - Box 5

Series 5. The Australian Constitution - Box 5

Isaacs was a strong advocate of federation and a member of the Victorian delegation at the Federal Convention of 1897-1898. He was a member of its finance committee and drew upon his legal training to suggest many revisions of the recommendations of the drafting committee. The papers contain Isaacs' annotated Draft of a bill to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia adopted by the National Australasian Convention 1891, two annotated copies of Draft of a bill to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia approved by the Australasian Federal Convention in 1897, an article by Isaacs 'A modernised constitution : a conspicuous example of its necessity', and an annotated printed and typescript copy of Australasian Federal Constitution 1897, American decisions and references.

Comprises Items 1-82.

Series 6. Addresses and Articles

This series contains an article on the English language, dated 1877; a typescript copy of notes used when Isaacs introduced the Usury Prevention Bill in the Victorian Legislative Assembly in 1898; a typescript of his address entitled the Monash Oration delivered in 1937 to the Victorian Jewish Graduates and Undergraduates; 'The Constitutional compromise of Section 74 departed from by the 1936 judgment', an address Isaacs gave to the International Law Society c. 1940; 'Hitler and civilization', an article written during World War II; and 'World Peace' written in June 1947.

Articles, speeches and typescripts (Item 1-207) - Box 6

Series 7. Honours, Certificates and Illuminated Addresses

The documents in this series relate to Isaacs' membership of the Privy Council, his appointment as Chief Justice and Governor-General, and his K.C.M.G., G.C.M.G. and G.C.B. There are also a Bible, fourteen illuminated addresses, and a souvenir book of the 145th anniversary of Parramatta in 1933.

Honours, certificates and illuminated addresses (Item 1-66) - Box 6

Bible (Item [unnumbered])

Series 8. General Press Cuttings

There are two scrap-books for the period 1893-1897, two for 1900 and many loose cuttings covering the years 1897-1963.

Press cuttings (Item 1-168)

Series 9. Governor-General, 1931-1937

This series contains notes written by Isaacs after a discussion with J.H. Scullin in July 1931, concerning his appointment as Governor-General; a visitor's book from Government House, Canberra 1931-1935, a typescript article by Keith Moss of the Evening News (London) entitled 'His Excellency of Canberra'; a scrapbook for 1937; and a trunk containing the uniform used by Isaacs on Vice-Regal occasions.

Governor-General (Item 1-11) - Box 9

Governor-General (folio item) (Item 12)

Series 10. Biographical Material - Box 9

Included here is material deposited by Sir Zelman Cowen after the publication of his biography Isaac Isaacs. There are notes compiled by Cowen and a typescript article, 'The family tree,' by P. A Jacobs, brother of Lady Isaacs.

Comprises Items 1-120.