Skip to main content
Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


CALLAN, John Bartholomew, K.C.


Justice of the Supreme Court.

A new biography of Callan, John Bartholomew appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

John Bartholomew Callan was the son of John Bartholomew Callan, the founder of the Dunedin legal firm of Callan and Gallaway, and spent practically the whole of his professional life at the Bar in Dunedin. He was born on 15 August 1882, five years after his family's arrival in New Zealand from Australia. The Callans were kinsmen of a notable Australian legal family, the Gavan Duffys, with whom John Bartholomew Callan, senior, emigrated to Victoria in 1859, the departure being not unconnected with the Young Ireland troubles of 1848. In fact, Charles Gavan Duffy, from whom Mr Justice Callan was descended, was tried for sedition and treason-felony as a result of his part in the Young Ireland movement. But he lived to be knighted K.C.M.G. by Her Majesty, to become Premier of Victoria and an eminent Australian statesman. His son became Chief Justice of Australia and his grandson, a cousin of Mr Justice Callan, is at present a puisne Judge in Victoria. Callan was educated at the Christian Brothers School in Dunedin and commenced his law studies before the Law Faculty came into being. His principal coach was the late Professor Garrow, author of some of the best-known legal textbooks published in New Zealand. After graduating B.A. and LL.B. at the University of Otago, he entered his father's office and became a partner in the firm when his father was appointed to the Legislative Council in 1907. He continued to practise in Dunedin until he took silk in 1933, when he moved on to Wellington. In the following year he was appointed to the Supreme Court Bench. By general consent he was regarded as one of the leaders of a strong Bar in Dunedin, and his elevation to the Bench was considered by many to be a tardy recognition of his fitness and qualification for judicial work.

Callan was eminently suited to hold a judgeship – he had deep scholarship, a keen intellect, and a profound knowledge of the law. He was thoroughly schooled in legal principles and, as a man of the world, was equipped by nature and character to deal with the affairs of men of the world. Yet, withal he was of a gentle, kindly, and considerate temperament. The courageous independence of thought and action which he displayed at the Bar stood him in good stead on the Bench, where he attracted immediate attention by the masterly control he always exercised over his Court, by the apt and lucid language of his judgments, and by his skill in dealing with and directing the course of business in Chambers – the Cinderella of judicial procedure. Moreover, throughout his career he was a leader among members of his profession. For 10 years he was Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Otago and a member of the Council of Legal Education, and in the last years of his life his judicial detachment was relieved by the ease with which he could move among and mix with his fellow men, both lay and professional. As he arrested the attention of the Bench when at the Bar, so he compelled the admiration of the Bar and the public from the Bench. He died in Auckland on 21 February 1951 at the age of 69, an outstanding Judge of the New Zealand Bench.

On 10 July 1913, at the North-East Valley Roman Catholic Church, Dunedin, Callan married Margaret Elizabeth, daughter of James Dugald Mowatt, a Dunedin stationer, and they had one son.

by Ronald Jones, Journalist and Script Writer, New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, Wellington.

  • New Zealand Herald, 16 Feb 1951 (Obit)
  • Auckland Star, 15 Feb 1951 (Obit).


Ronald Jones, Journalist and Script Writer, New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, Wellington.