Professor Robin Lorimer Sharwood AM

The inaugural Robin Sharwood Lecture in Church Law will be held at Trinity College, Melbourne on 14 March, 2018. Ahead of this lecture, here is a tribute to Dr Sharwood and his contribution to the Anglican Church in Victoria.

By Ross Nankivell

February 19 2018Professor Robin Lorimer Sharwood AM, the Fourth Warden of Trinity College, is being remembered and honoured by the College in an Annual Lecture in Church Law – with characteristic generosity, funded in perpetuity from a bequest in Professor Sharwood’s Will.

Robin Lorimer Sharwood died peacefully in his sleep at home on the First Sunday after Easter 2015, a little short of his 84th birthday (22 June 1931 – 12 April 2015).

A Service of Thanksgiving for Robin Sharwood’s Life was held at St Paul’s Cathedral on 22 April, 2015. The Anglican Primate and Archbishop of Melbourne and the Dean of Melbourne presided. The Very Revd Dr John Shepherd, retired Dean of Perth, a close friend of Robin’s since his student days in Trinity under Robin’s Wardenship, preached. The Choir of Trinity College and the Cathedral Choir both sang.

Nearly a year later, on Palm Sunday, 20 March 2016, Bishop Philip Huggins dedicated a Plaque in memory of Professor Sharwood in the Trinity College Chapel.

Now, a year after that, the Inaugural Robin Sharwood Lecture in Church Law will be delivered by the Honourable Keith Mason AC, QC, President of the Appellate Tribunal of the Anglican Church of Australia, and formerly President of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of New South Wales at Trinity College in Melbourne on Wednesday 14 March 2018; and in Sydney, at St James’ Church, King Street, in conjunction with the St James’ Institute, on Thursday 19 April.

“[Robin] once wrote that life must be happily pursued, with unfailing integrity and intellectual endeavour, with all the talents we possess, and with elegance, wit and taste.  And so he did, unerringly and with great faith.” So concluded Professor Sandford Clark’s tribute at the Service of Thanksgiving in St Paul’s Cathedral. The Very Reverend John Shepherd added: “a profound and unflinching faith... firmly grounded in biblical and theological scholarship... a way of living.”

Robin was the first son of George and Esther (née Hicks) Sharwood. His younger brother John survives him. Their grandfather, William Henry Sharwood ISO, was Commonwealth Crown Solicitor (1927-36) and an Acting Judge of the Northern Territory Supreme Court.

Robin began his schooling at Surrey Hills Primary and Mont Albert Central. He won a scholarship to Wesley College, entering in 1944 the special class called “The Twenty” described as “an accelerator... introducing these boys to Latin and French, rarely taught in government schools”. Robin achieved Honours in Matriculation Latin (as well as in English Literature, English Expression and Modern History) and was proud of his schooling at Wesley. Robin’s father George before him (in 1916), and his brother John after him (in 1948), each entered Wesley in “The Twenty”.

At Wesley, Robin was the Student Librarian (under the legendary English Master and Librarian, A. A. Phillips) and a frequent and significant contributor to the school magazine.  He played the lead in the school play.

At the University of Melbourne, studying Arts/Law, he won the Turner Exhibition in Legal Method and was awarded a scholarship. Described as “clearly one of the most outstanding students of his generation”, he also won the Exhibitions in Torts, Crime, Property, Constitutional Law, Mercantile Law, Private International Law, Industrial Law and Comparative Law. Ranking first in the Final Honours List, he won the 1953 Supreme Court Prize.

Robin served Articles and was admitted to practice.  He had taken it for granted that he would go to the Bar. Professor Zelman Cowen, then Dean of the Melbourne Law School, intervened.

Straight out of Articles, Robin was appointed an Independent Lecturer in Constitutional Law; a Tutor in Legal Method; and Professor Cowen’s research assistant.

This was the turning point that took Robin into the Academy, rather than to the Bar – and, had he gone to the Bar, surely the Bench.

Robin went on a scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley and was awarded the Master of Laws degree. Another scholarship took him to the doctoral programme at the Harvard Law School.

In From Sea to Shining Sea:  A Young Australian Crosses America in the Summer of 1956, Robin tells the story of his nearly two months student concession train trip, zig-zagging the continent from Berkeley on the West to Harvard on the East Coast.

In 1956-57, Robin completed the residence and course requirements for his doctorate.

Two years of intense and stimulating research and study in the United States, were followed by a year as an Assistant Lecturer in Law at the London School of Economics.

In 1958, Robin returned to the University of Melbourne as a Senior Lecturer in Law. As Senior Tutor at Ormond College, he fell under “the lilting spell of the Master, Davis McCaughey”.

At the confrontingly young age of 30, Robin was appointed to a Chair in Law at the Australian National University. Robin was appointed in 1961. Because of doubts about his health, he did not take up his Chair until 1963.

In 1962, Robin completed his doctoral dissertation and, as a Fulbright Scholar, its oral defence. He was awarded the Harvard SJD – Doctor of Juridical Science.

Also in 1962, Cases on Torts, co-authored with W.L. Morison and Norval Morris was published.

At the ANU, Robin is remembered as an excellent teacher and generous mentor to individual faculty colleagues and students – also as a witty after-dinner speaker and singer of lively versifications of his own in the manner of W.S. Gilbert.

Robin was on the Board of Fellows and, at one stage, Deputy Acting Master of University House (originally the residential college for ANU faculty and graduate students) – and was also affiliated with Bruce Hall, the undergraduate hall of residence.

On 1 June 1965, Robin was installed as Fourth Warden of Trinity College within the University of Melbourne.

As Warden, Robin’s clear emphasis was on the academic life of the College.  He recognised commonalities with the Oxford and Cambridge Colleges but saw Trinity as sui generis – “a serious academic society in its own right... a new kind of college which would be sensitive to its context and contribute positively to the community within which it was to grow – an indigenous product rather than an imported one”.

Robin was re-appointed to the Faculty of Law – and taught Torts in the University every year of his Wardenship. Within the College, he saw close personal relationships as foundational to academic and pastoral care.

He conducted a serious review of theological education at Trinity; he strengthened the administrative infrastructure, appointing the first Bursar; he raised funds for, and undertook renovations to, the older buildings – Clarke’s, Bishops’ and Behan; and he raised funds for the 1972 centenary.

Robin identified as “probably the most significant achievement of [his] Wardenship” the College Council decision to admit women students into co-residency. Robin’s strongly-held view was that “an institution which did not admit the company of women could not claim to be truly civilised”.

Robin resigned the Wardenship at the end of 1973 to become the first Executive Director of the Victoria Law Foundation.

The Victoria Law Foundation was established by statute in 1967. It had a slow start. The first part-time Acting Secretary was only appointed in 1969. In 1974, Robin set it up from scratch as a working organisation with a full-time Executive Director (himself) and Staff.

The Law Foundation was funded from the income of the Solicitors’ Guarantee Fund.  In 1975, the misappropriation of some $7 million wiped out the Fund. For some 18 months the Law Foundation had no income – and it was substantially funding the Leo Cussen Institute for Continuing Legal Education. Operating on reserves, Robin hung on – he became, for some time, the sole employee.

As Executive Director, Robin was actively engaged with other bodies.  He was an ex officio member of the governing bodies of the two Law Schools – Melbourne and Monash. He was also Chairman of the Victorian Committee on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation; and a member of the Victorian Attorney-General’s Advisory Committee on the Criminal Justice System (1979-82). 

After some years with the Law Foundation, Robin began teaching Legal History at the Melbourne Law School as an Independent Lecturer. He was wooed by the Law School Dean to come back full-time, and to teach another course – International Law. He did so in 1984.

Robin was such an inspired teacher that Faculty colleagues came to hear him – and not just for the occasional lecture. In 1984, Professors Sandford Clark and Michael Crommelin “bemused an entire year of students by assiduously attending Robin’s course of lectures on Constitutional History”.

Since 1989 Robin Sharwood was a Professorial Associate and Fellow. He had served on the Council of the University and as President of the Graduates. He was a Fellow of Trinity College.

On Australia Day 2000, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia; and in 2003, the University of Melbourne conferred its highest honour, the degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa).

Robin Sharwood was a devout Churchman. He was a Lay Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne for nearly 35 years; Chancellor of the Diocese of Wangaratta for 25 years; and Chancellor of the Diocese of Ballarat for 8 years.

In the entire history of the Melbourne College of Divinity, from 1910 to its 2012 transition to become the MCD University of Divinity, Robin Sharwood was the only President who was not an ordained minister, priest or bishop. The Very Reverend Dr Austin Cooper, Robin’s Vice-President who succeeded him as President, saw Robin’s Presidency as “witness[ing] his love for the Church in its broadest connotation and his skill as a leader”. Robin was a Foundation Fellow of the MCD.

Robin was a founding Trustee and sometime Chairman of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne Trust Fund for 25 years; President of the Friends of the Gallery, Library of the National Gallery of Victoria, for 9 years; and a member of the NGV Foundation and the Felton Society. He was a member of the Executive of the Arts Council of Australia (Victorian Branch) and a member of the State Advisory Committee of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Even close friends forgot whatever they’d heard of the medical condition Robin lived with for over half a century. Robin’s joy in life – in the life of the mind and in the warmth of human friendship – was all one saw and felt. His home, the Warden’s Lodge, and finally Romney in Chatsworth Road, radiated his friendship and warmth and intellectual engagement – closely attentive, gently inquisitive, genuinely engaging, and unfailingly courteous. With the rest of the family, he enjoyed many happy holidays at Four Winds at Portarlington. Robin loved his family and was a treasured brother, uncle and cousin – also a devoted godfather to many.

In the last year, a couple of falls put Robin in hospital and rehabilitation for weeks. But his spirit was indomitable. Just two weeks before his death, on a gorgeous sunny day, his slight figure, in cloth cap – walking with a little more deliberation and with the assistance of a frame – was to be seen, walking to Frou Frou’s in the Hawksburn Village for lunch.

In the University of Melbourne Sesquicentennial Celebrations the citation for Robin’s LL D concluded that, in those 150 years, “Few people have made such a significant contribution over such an extensive period of time to the Faculty of Law, to the University of Melbourne and to the broader community as Robin Sharwood”.

Ross Nankivell was a student at Trinity College when Robin Sharwood came as Warden in 1965. Sometime Joseph B Kelly Lawyering Skills Professor at the Pennsylvania State University Dickinson College of Law, he became a friend and colleague.