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John Salmond

John Salmond
John Salmond

John Salmond was a lawyer, university lecturer, solicitor general and judge of the Supreme Court. His contributions to many branches of the law in New Zealand and his international reputation as a legal theorist made him New Zealand's most eminent jurist.

Born in Northumberland, England, Salmond emigrated to Dunedin with his family in 1875. Having gained an MA at Otago University in 1882, he studied law at the University of London, returning to New Zealand in 1887.

After conducting a successful country legal practice in Temuka, Salmond took a position as professor of law at the University of Adelaide, South Australia, in 1887. During this time, he produced the seminal text Jurisprudence: or the theory of law (1902), which would influence generations of young lawyers around the English-speaking world.

In 1906 Robert Stout, New Zealand’s chief justice, encouraged Salmond to become the chair of law at Victoria College in Wellington. It was during this time that he wrote The law of torts, another critical legal education tool. 

John Salmond’s time at Victoria College came to an end in 1907, when he joined the Office of Law Drafting. Significant work there included drafting the Native Land Act alongside Apirana Ngata.

In 1910 Salmond became head of the Crown Law Office as solicitor-general. He served in this role during the First World War, and was often called upon to assess the scope of the powers of the government during wartime. In 1920 New Zealand was given a mandate for the administration of Western Samoa, and it fell upon Salmond to draft the necessary documents through which New Zealand would manage the former German colony.

In May 1920 Salmond was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of New Zealand. His approach to judicial punishment stressed the importance of deterrence, although he also regarded retribution as legitimate. Unfortunately, his career on the bench would only last until September 1924, ending in his death.

John Salmond was knighted in 1918, while still acting as solicitor-general. His legal texts received international honours, including the Ames Prize from Harvard University, awarded to The law of torts in 1911.

Adapted by Patrick Whatman from the DNZB biography by Alex Frame

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John Salmond, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated