Humphrey O'Leary

The Right Honourable
Sir Humphrey O'Leary
7th Chief Justice of New Zealand
In office
12 August 1946  16 October 1953
Nominated by Peter Fraser
Appointed by Lord Freyberg
Preceded by Michael Myers
Succeeded by Harold Barrowclough
Personal details
Born Humphrey Francis O'Leary
12 February 1886
Blenheim, New Zealand
Died 16 October 1953(1953-10-16) (aged 67)
Auckland, New Zealand

Sir Humphrey Francis O'Leary KCMG KC (12 February 1886 – 16 October 1953) was the seventh Chief Justice of New Zealand, from 1946 to 1953.

Early life and family

Born in Redwoodtown in the Wairau Valley, Marlborough, in 1886, his father, an Irish immigrant, was a blacksmith who had migrated to Masterton. When his father heard that one of his sons was not doing well at the local Catholic school, he sent his son to Masterton Public. From that time, although he remained faithful to the Catholic religion, Humphrey O'Leary attended state schools. He gained a Wellington Education Board scholarship and Queen's Scholarship in 1899, which enabled him to attend Wellington College. There his academic ability, outgoing personality and sporting prowess made him a popular student. The Queen's Scholarship also paid for three years at university and he enrolled in 1902 to study law at Victoria College.[1]

Law career

Humphrey O'Leary was awarded an LLB degree in 1908, and from 1908 to 1909 he was a New Zealand University rugby representative. He first worked for Wilford and Levi, a law firm, then went into partnership with a university friend Frank Kelly as O'Leary and Kelly. In 1919 he was invited to join the Wellington legal firm that would become known as Bell Gully.

O'Leary was President of the Wellington Law Society 1921-22, and the New Zealand Law Society 1935-46, and on the Victoria University College Council and the University of New Zealand Senate.

He was the Chief Justice of New Zealand from 1946 to his death in 1953.


He was made a King's Counsel in 1935, a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in the 1947 New Year Honours,[2] and Honourable Master of the Bench of the Inner Temple, London in 1948.


O'Leary married Lillian Gallagher in 1912. They had one son.


Sir Humphrey O'Leary died in Auckland in 1953, aged 67.


  1. Millen, Julia. "O'Leary, Humphrey Francis 1886 - 1953". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 8 January 2010.
  2. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37836. p. 31. 1 January 1947. Retrieved 8 March 2015.


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