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Sir William Hill Irvine (1858–1943)

Sir William Hill Irvine, GCMG, KC, former Lieutenant-Governor, Federal Attorney-General, Premier of Victoria, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who died at his home in Toorak early yesterday morning, was one of the most eminent and widely respected men who have ever graced the public life of this State and the Commonwealth. He was 85.

There will be a State funeral on Monday.

Upon Sir William Irvine's retirement the King commanded that there should be conveyed to him an expression of His Majesty's appreciation of his services.

Sir William Irvine was born at Newry County Down, Ireland, on July 6, 1858. One of his townsmen was Lord Russell of Killowen, a former Chief Justice of England. After the death of his father, who suffered in the historic failure of the Irish linen trade, young Irvine came with the family to Victoria in 1879. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he took his arts degree, and in Melbourne he read law with the late Mr Justice Hodges. At Melbourne University he took his LLB degree and won the Law Scholarship. Prior to that he had taught at Geelong College. He was admitted to the Victorian Bar on July 6, 1884 and rapidly established a wide practice. In 1894 he began his political career by winning Lowan seat in the Victorian Legislative Assembly. He became Attorney-General in the McLean Ministry in 1899, and later was leader of the Opposition to the Ministry led by Sir Alexander Peacock from 1901 until the following year. Upon the defeat of the Peacock Ministry in 1902 Sir William Irvine became Premier, and during his term had the task of guiding the State through critical and lean years which followed the depression caused by drought conditions, although the effects of the commercial crash of the early nineties were still being felt in addition. The sensational but short lived railway strike of 1903 occurred during his Premiership. In 1906 he withdrew from State politics to enter the Federal Parliament as member for Flinders, which he represented continuously until 1918, when he retired to take his place on the Supreme Court Bench.

He reached Ministerial rank in the Federal Parliament in 1913 as Attorney-General in the Cook Ministry.

Upon the death of Sir John Madden in 1918 Sir William Irvine was appointed Chief Justice, a position from which he retired in 1935. His long service on the Supreme Court Bench was frequently broken by periods in which, as Lieutenant Governor, he assumed office in the absence of the Governor. Ill-health caused him to retire from public life at the beginning of 1936.

Sir William Irvine was one of Victoria's pioneer motorists, and was a member of the RACV for 34 years, joining in Aug, 1909. He was a patron of the club from 1918 until his death.

Lady Irvine, whom Sir William Irvine married in 1891, is a daughter of the late Mr T. D. Wanliss MLC, of Ballarat. There is one son, Lt-Col William Irvine, who is a member of the Legal Corps, AIF, and there are 2 daughters, Mrs James Morrison, of Eltham, and Mrs Ian Hayward, of Adelaide.

On Monday Sir William Irvine's body will lie in state at the Scots Church from 11am to 12.30pm. At 2.30pm a service will be conducted at Scots Church, Melbourne, by Rev J. Golder Burns. The address will be given by Very Rev Dr John McKenzie, and at 3pm the funeral will leave for Eltham Cemetery, where a private service will be held. It is the desire of the family that no floral tributes be sent.

Mr Dunstan, Premier, said yesterday that in the deep sorrow felt at the passing of Sir William Irvine there was, at the same time, the remembrance that not only this State, but the whole Commonwealth, had benefited greatly through the splendid work performed by this great Australian.

Sir Frederick Mann, Chief Justice ot the Supreme Court, said that this country had been deprived of a great and noble citizen. He had earned the deep esteem and affection of his fellow judges.

Mr Wilbur Ham, KC, on behalf of the Victorian Bar, said that he wished to express his sincere tribute to the memory of Sir William Irvine. Sir William had been a great, just, and courteous judge. Mr R. G. Menzies, KC, said that the death of Sir William Irvine was a great loss to Australia. He doubted very much whether his record, both in his political and legal life, had been excelled in this country.

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Citation details

'Irvine, Sir William Hill (1858–1943)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


6 July, 1858
Newry, Down, Ireland


20 August, 1943 (aged 85)
Toorak, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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