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Sir Samuel Griffith

Sir Samuel Griffith

Early Life and Education

Samuel Griffith was born at Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, on June 21, 1845. His father's name was Edward Griffith, a Congregational minister. His mother's name was Mary Walker Griffith. In 1854, Edward Griffith migrated with his family to Queensland. Finally, the family settled in Brisbane in 1860. He was educated at different schools located in Ipswich, Sydney, Maitland and Brisbane.

In 1863, he completed his Bachelor of Arts with first-class honours in classics, mathematics and natural science at the University of Sydney. He travelled to Europe and was very much impressed with the Italian people, culture and literature.

After many years, he became famous in the world because he was the first Australian translator of Dante (The Inferno of Dante Alighieri in 1908). Samuel Griffith had a happy marriage with Julia Janet Thomsonand had six children. After completion of his law course, he applied for the headmastership of Ipswich Grammar School.

Under Arthur Macalister, he became an articled clerk at Ipswich dated 11th May 1863. Earlier, Sir Samuel Griffith chose his career in politics and government. He attended the debates in the Queensland parliament. In 1862, he brought out a series of 25 critical articles on its members in the Queensland Guardian.

He was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Queensland, for East Moreton in 1872. He was an out and out lawyer, politician and liberal reformer. As a liberal reformer, his name can't be wiped out from Australian history. He worked as an Attorney-General, Minister for Education and Minister for Works. He also became leader of the liberal party in 1879. The year 1883 witnessed him as a Premier by displacing McIlwraith.

He wanted to prevent the initiation of Kanaka labour from the Islands. So for that reason he won the next election with thumping majority. He had expertise in many languages including Italy, English and French.


In his life time, he had received many awards including the Cooper and Barker scholarships and the T. S. Mort Travelling Fellowship. The University of Queenslad awarded him honorary doctorates of law in 1912. The University of Wales also awarded him honorary doctorates of law in 1913.

Legal Career

As a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Queensland, Samuel Griffith served until 4 October 1903. The 1897 convention which produced the final draft constitution, he was not delegated to that convention. He acted as an advisor to Sir Robert Garran, secretary of the Drafting Committee. The committee follows the structure which he had laid out in 1891. He also campaigned publicly for a 'yes' vote in the federation referendum in Queensland in 1899.

Queensland's Criminal Code was drafted by him was considered to be the first successful codification in the history of English criminal law, adopted in 1899 and later in Western Australia, Papua New Guinea, substantially in Tasmania, and other imperial territories including Nigeria.

In 1903, the federal Parliament passed the Judiciary act, which created the highest Court of Australia. Griffith was the natural choice as the first Chief Justice. During his sixteen years service (1903-1919) on the bench, he had given many landmark decisions. Sir Samuel Griffith visited England in the year 1913 and sat on the Privi Council. In case of appointment of judges, he never wanted to be much impressed by the law lords. He was aware of the old insular doctrine of the essential difference in quality between English and Colonial persons. He was several times consulted by Governor-Generals of Australia on the exercise of the reserve powers.

Griffith was one of two justices of the High Court of Australia to have previously served in the Parliament of Queensland, along with Charles Powers. Like William Webb and Harry Gibbs, his tenure as a judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland can never be undermined.

His contribution in codifying the Queensland criminal law was noteworthy and it had great impact on the judiciary system of Australia. He also revised the Supreme Court rules and those for matrimonial and probate cases.

For several times, he served as a deputy and lieutenant-governor. He was head of the trustees of both Brisbane grammar schools and a trustee of the Queensland Art Gallery. He was also involved with the university extension movement and with various intellectual and financial societies. From 1904 to 1917, he was an active member of the Senate of the University of Sydney. In 1909, he was also appointed as a vice-president of the Royal Colonial Institute. He was also appointed as an honorary fellow of the British Academy in 1916.

Griffith set a new trend to establish the practice of extensive circuits of the High Court with regular sittings in every capital city. In the field of law and justice, his intellectual brilliance and achievements are really unchallengeable.

He died on 9th August 1920, at the age of 75 and was survived by his wife, a son and four daughters. He was buried in Toowong cemetery. As a politician, Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, Premier of Queensland and a principal author of the Constitution of Australia, he had left no stone unturned.

9th Premier of Queensland
In office 13 November 1883 – 13 June 1888
Preceded by Thomas McIlwraith
Succeeded by Thomas McIlwraith
In office 12 August 1890 – 27 March 1893
Preceded by Boyd Dunlop Morehead
Succeeded by Thomas McIlwraith
1st Chief Justice of Australia
In office 5 October 1903– 17 October 1919
Nominated by Alfred Deakin
Appointed by Henry Northcote, 1st Baron Northcote
Preceded by New office
Succeeded by Sir Adrian Knox
Personal details
Born 21 June 1845 Merthyr Tydfil, Wales
Died 9 August 1920 (aged 75) Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Nationality Welsh
Spouse(s) Julia Janet Thomson
Alma mater University of Sydney

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