The Info List - Samuel Griffith

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Sir Samuel Walker Griffith GCMG, KC (21 June 1845 – 9 August 1920) was an Australian judge and politician who served as the inaugural Chief Justice of Australia, in office from 1903 to 1919. He also served a term as Chief Justice of Queensland and two terms as Premier of Queensland, and played a key role in the drafting of the Australian constitution. Griffith was born in Wales, arriving in the Colony of Queensland
at the age of eight. He attended the University of Sydney, and after further legal training was called to the bar in 1867. Griffith was elected to the Queensland Legislative Assembly
Queensland Legislative Assembly
in 1872. He served as Attorney-General from 1874 to 1878, and subsequently became the leader of the parliament's liberal faction. Griffith's terms as premier ran from 1883 to 1888 and from 1890 to 1893. He led the Australian delegation to the 1887 Colonial Conference, and took a keen interest in external affairs, giving financial and administrative support to the newly annexed Territory of Papua
Territory of Papua
and establishing the Queensland Maritime Defence Force. Domestically, he had a reputation as a radical and was initially seen as an ally of the labour movement; this changed after his government's intervention in the 1891 shearers' strike. In 1893, Griffith retired from politics to head the Supreme Court of Queensland. He was frequently asked to assist in drafting legislation, and the Queensland
criminal code – the first in Australia – was mostly his creation. Griffith was an ardent federationist, and with Andrew Inglis Clark
Andrew Inglis Clark
wrote the draft constitution that was presented to the 1891 constitutional convention. Many of his contributions were preserved in the final constitution enacted in 1900. Griffith was involved in the drafting of the federal Judiciary Act 1903, which established the High Court of Australia, and was subsequently nominated by Alfred Deakin to become the inaugural Chief Justice. He presided over a number of constitutional cases, though some of his interpretations were rejected by later courts. He was also called on to advise Governors-General during political instability. Griffith University is named in his honour.


1 Early life 2 Political career 3 Chief Justice of Queensland 4 Chief Justice of Australia 5 Honours 6 See also 7 Notes 8 Further reading 9 External links

Early life[edit] Griffith was born in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, the younger son of the Rev. Edward Griffith, a Congregational minister and his wife, Mary, second daughter of Peter Walker.[1] His sister was the philanthropist Mary Harriett Griffith. Although of Welsh extraction, his forebears for at least three generations had lived in England. The family migrated to Queensland
(then the Moreton Bay district of New South Wales)[2] when Samuel was eight. He was educated at schools in Ipswich, Sydney, Maitland and Brisbane
(from 1860), towns where his father was a minister, then at the University of Sydney, where he graduated B.A. in 1863, with first-class honours in classics, mathematics and natural science.[1] During his course he was awarded the Cooper and Barker scholarships and other prizes.[1] In 1865, he gained the T. S. Mort Travelling Fellowship. Travelling to Europe, he spent some of his time in Italy, and became much attached to the Italian people and their literature. Many years after, he was to become the first Australian translator of Dante
(The Inferno of Dante
Alighieri in 1908).[1] On his return to Brisbane, Griffith studied law and was articled to Arthur Macalister, in one of whose ministries Griffith afterwards had his first portfolio. Griffith was called to the bar in 1867.[1] In 1870, Griffith returned to Sydney
to complete an M.A..[1] In the same year, he married Julia Janet Thomson.[1] Political career[edit] In 1872 Griffith was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Queensland,[3] for East Moreton.[2] Throughout his career he saw himself as a lawyer first and a politician second, and continued to appear at the Bar even when he was in office. Griffith took silk in 1876 as a Queen's Counsel.[1] In Parliament he gained a reputation as a liberal reformer. He was Attorney-General, Minister for Education and Minister for Works, and became leader of the liberal party in 1879. His great enemy was the conservative leader Sir Thomas McIlwraith, whom he accused (correctly) of corruption. Griffith became Premier in November 1883[1] displacing McIlwraith. Griffith's election as Premier was assisted by auditor-general William Leworthy Goode Drew's report on the colony's loans having reached over £13 million.[4] Griffith won the next election largely on his policy of preventing the importation of Kanaka labour from the islands. He passed an act for this purpose,[3] but it was found that the danger of the destruction of the sugar industry was so great that the measure was never made operative. Recruiting was, however, placed under regulations and some of the worst abuses were swept away. Griffith took a special interest in British New Guinea, and was eventually responsible for the sending of Sir William MacGregor
William MacGregor
there in 1888.[1]

Griffith as premier

Griffith held the office of premier until 1888, and was made a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1886, before receiving an advancement to Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1895.[5] Griffith was regarded as a close ally of the labour movement. He introduced a bill to legalise trade unions, and declared that "the great problem of this age is not how to accumulate wealth but how to secure its more equitable distribution". In 1888 his government was defeated. In opposition he wrote radical articles for The Boomerang, William Lane's socialist newspaper.[1] But in 1890 Griffith suddenly betrayed his radical friends and became Premier again at the head of an unlikely alliance with McIlwraith, the so-called "Griffilwraith". The following year his government used the military to break the great shearers' strike, and he earned the nickname "Oily Sam".[1] Griffith had had a distinguished career in Queensland
politics. Included in the legislation for which he was responsible were an offenders' probation act, and an act which codified the law relating to the duties and powers of justices of the peace. He also succeeded in passing an eight hours bill through the assembly which was, however, thrown out by the Queensland
Legislative Council.[2] Chief Justice of Queensland[edit] On 13 March 1893, the Governor accepted Griffith's resignation from Vice-President and Member of the Executive Council and Chief Secretary and Attorney General and appointed Griffith to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Queensland
where he served until 4 October 1903.[6] He was therefore not a delegate to the 1897 conventions which produced the final draft of the Constitution, but he acted as a behind-the-scenes advisor to Sir Robert Garran, secretary of the Drafting Committee, which followed the structure he had laid out in 1891. In 1899 he campaigned publicly for a 'yes' vote in the federation referendum in Queensland.[1] During his term as Chief Justice Griffith drafted Queensland's Criminal Code,[7] a successful codification of the entire English criminal law, which was adopted in 1899, and later in Western Australia, Papua New Guinea, substantially in Tasmania, and other imperial territories including Nigeria.[8] At May 2006 the Queensland Criminal Code remains largely unchanged. Chief Justice of Australia[edit]

Griffith later in life

When the federal parliament passed the Judiciary Act 1903, which created the High Court of Australia, Griffith was the natural choice as the first Chief Justice. Griffith's appointment as one of the first three judges of the High Court was approved by the Governor-General on 5 October 1903.[9] During his sixteen years on the bench Griffith sat on some 950 reported cases. In 1913 he visited England and sat on the Privy Council. Like Sir Edmund Barton, Griffith was several times consulted by Governors-General of Australia on the exercise of the reserve powers.[10] Griffith was the first of two justices of the High Court of Australia to have previously served in the Parliament of Queensland, along with Charles Powers. He was also one of three justices to have previously served on the Supreme Court of Queensland, along with William Webb and Harry Gibbs.

Headstone of Sir Samuel Griffith
Samuel Griffith
at Brisbane's Toowong Cemetery.

After 1910 Griffith's health declined, and in 1917 he suffered a stroke. He published a translation of Dante’s Divina Commedia
Divina Commedia
in 1912.[7] He retired from the Court in 1919 and died at his home in Brisbane
on 9 August 1920.[1] Griffith is buried in Toowong Cemetery, Brisbane,[1] together with his wife, Julia, and their son, Llewellyn. Cemetery records indicate that their plot adjoins that of Griffith's dear friend Charles Mein
Charles Mein
(1841–1890) (barrister, politician and judge), the pair having met during their undergraduate studies at the University of Sydney.[11] Honours[edit] Griffith is commemorated by the naming of Griffith University, with campuses throughout South East Queensland, the suburb of Griffith in Canberra, the federal electoral division of Griffith, Sir Samuel Griffith Drive on Mount Coot-tha in Brisbane,[12] and the S.W. Griffith building of Brisbane
Grammar School, which was the former Mathematics building and is now part of the Harlin House boarding precinct. The Samuel Griffith Society is a conservative organisation dedicated to defending what it sees as the principles of the Constitution – particularly, the principle of states' rights. His portrait, by Richard Godfrey Rivers, hangs in the Brisbane
Supreme Court. Griffith was appointed a vice-president of the Royal Colonial Institute in 1909 and an honorary fellow of the British Academy
British Academy
in 1916.[1] Although demolished in 1963, his home Merthyr, named after his birthplace, gives its name to the neighbourhood of Merthyr in New Farm. Griffith Street and Merthyr Street in New Farm are also named after the man and his house.[13] See also[edit]

List of Judges of the High Court of Australia List of Judges of the Supreme Court of Queensland


^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Joyce, R. B. "Griffith, Sir Samuel Walker (1845–1920)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 13 December 2013.  ^ a b c Mennell, Philip (1892). " Griffith, Hon. Sir Samuel Walker". The Dictionary of Australasian Biography. London: Hutchinson & Co. Wikisource  ^ a b Roberts, Beryl (1991). Stories of the Southside. Archerfield, Queensland: Aussie Books. p. 6. ISBN 0-947336-01-X.  ^ Longhurst, Robert I. "Drew, William Leworthy (1826–1898)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 13 December 2013.  ^ "Portraits of Chief Justices and the first bench". High Court of Australia. Retrieved 4 October 2017.  ^ Queensland
Government Gazette Extraordinary Vol. LVIII No.63 Monday 13 March 1893 p777 ^ a b  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Griffith, Sir Samuel Walker". Encyclopædia Britannica. 31 (12th ed.). London & New York. p. 321.  ^ Bruce McPherson, Supreme Court of Queensland, Butterworths, 1984 ^ "Documenting a Democracy Judiciary Act 1903
Judiciary Act 1903
(Cth)". Museum of Australian Democracy. Retrieved 4 October 2017.  ^ Donald Markwell, "Griffith, Barton and the early governor-generals: aspects of Australia's constitutional development", Public Law Review, 1999. ^ Carter, M., Morrison, A. A. "Mein, Charles Stuart (1841–1890)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 4 October 2017.  ^ "Drive renamed". The Courier-Mail. Brisbane: National Library of Australia. 5 January 1951. p. 3. Retrieved 5 March 2011.  ^ "Santa Barbara, New Farm". Your Brisbane: Past and Present. Archived from the original on 25 February 2018. Retrieved 25 February 2018. 

Further reading[edit]

Serle, Percival (1949). "Griffith, Samuel Walker". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Retrieved 28 December 2008.  Joyce, Roger B: Samuel Walker Griffith, St Lucia (University of Queensland
Press), 1984. Joyce R.B. & Murphy, D.J.(Ed.): Queensland
Political Portraits, St Lucia (University of Queensland
Press), 1978.

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Samuel Griffith.

Criminal Code The Australian Constitution Griffith University, Brisbane Samuel Griffith
Samuel Griffith
Society Griffith, Samuel Walker — Brisbane
City Council Grave Location Search

Political offices

Preceded by Sir Thomas McIlwraith Premier of Queensland 1883–1888 Succeeded by Sir Thomas McIlwraith

Preceded by Boyd Dunlop Morehead Premier of Queensland 1890–1893 Succeeded by Sir Thomas McIlwraith

Parliament of Queensland

Preceded by Robert Travers Atkin Member for East Moreton 1872–1873 Served alongside: William Hemmant Succeeded by William Fryar

New seat Member for Oxley 1873–1878 Succeeded by Samuel Grimes

New seat Member for North Brisbane 1878–1888 Served alongside: Arthur Palmer, William Brookes Abolished

New seat Member for Brisbane
North 1888–1893 Served alongside: Thomas McIlwraith Succeeded by John James Kingsbury

Legal offices

New office Chief Justice of Australia 1903–1919 Succeeded by Sir Adrian Knox

Preceded by Charles Lilley Chief Justice of Queensland 1893–1903 Succeeded by Pope Alexander Cooper

v t e

Premiers of Queensland

Herbert Macalister Mackenzie Lilley Palmer Thorn Douglas McIlwraith Griffith Morehead Nelson Byrnes Dickson Dawson Philp Morgan Kidston Denham Ryan Theodore Gillies McCormack Moore Smith F. Cooper Hanlon Gair Nicklin Pizzey Chalk Bjelke-Petersen Ahern R. Cooper Goss Borbidge Beattie Bligh Newman Palaszczuk

v t e

Treasurers of Queensland

Robert Mackenzie Thomas Moffatt Joshua Bell John McLean John Douglas Thomas Stephens Thomas Fitzgerald Robert Ramsay William Hemmant James Dickson Thomas McIlwraith Archibald Archer James Garrick Samuel Griffith William Pattison John Donaldson Hugh Nelson Robert Philp William Kidston Thomas Cribb Peter Airey Arthur Hawthorn Walter Barnes Ted Theodore John Fihelly William Gillies William McCormack William Smith Frank Cooper Ned Hanlon James Larcombe Vince Gair Ted Walsh Thomas Hiley Gordon Chalk William Knox Llewellyn Edwards Joh Bjelke-Petersen Mike Ahern Russell Cooper Keith De Lacy Joan Sheldon David Hamill Terry Mackenroth Peter Beattie Anna Bligh Andrew Fraser Tim Nicholls Curtis Pitt Jackie Trad

v t e

Justices of the High Court of Australia

Chief Justices


Griffith Knox Isaacs Gavan Duffy Latham Dixon Barwick Gibbs Mason Brennan Gleeson French





Barton O'Connor Higgins Powers Piddington Rich Starke Evatt McTiernan Williams Webb Fullagar Kitto Taylor Menzies Windeyer Owen Walsh Stephen Jacobs Murphy Aickin Wilson Deane Dawson Toohey Gaudron McHugh Gummow Kirby Hayne Callinan Heydon Crennan


Bell Gageler Keane Nettle Gordon Edelman

Justices shown in order of appointment

Authority control

WorldCat Identities VIAF: 8278374 LCCN: n82231360 ISNI: 0000 0000 8087 9238 GND: 122809408 BNF: cb120034546 (da