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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Richard Edward (Dick) O'Connor (1851–1912)

News of the death of Mr Justice Richard Edward O Connor, a prominent member of the Federal High Court Bench which took place at midnight last night, at St Vincent's Private Hospital, Darlinghurst, will come as a shock to the community generally, for though to his intimate friends it was known that since his return from his trip to England his health was not satisfactory no notification had been published until a couple of months ago which would lead the public to suppose that the late Judge suffered from any complaint of a serious nature. For a considerable time he had suffered from pernicious anaemia and eventually his condition became so critical that he was removed to the hospital. He, however, rallied for a while, but heart trouble supervened, and three days ago it was realised that the end was fast approaching. Mr Justice O'Connor, who was conscious almost to the last, passed away very peacefully in the presence of his family.

As far as the Bar of New South Wales is concerned the following tribute from one of its brightest members will, no doubt, voice the genuine sentiments of the entire legal fraternity of both branches: - "By Mr Justice O'Connor’s death Australia has lost a great public servant. At the Bar, where the late Judge early won his way to the front by his abilities and industry, he was esteemed by all with whom he came into contact for his kindly courtesy and fine manliness. The whole Bar today will deeply mourn his death. In the making of the Federal Constitution he played a great and important part and as a leader in the first Senate he displayed conspicuous tact and ability. His subsequent selection as one of the first three members of the High Court of Australia was hailed with universal approval, and was felt to be a well deserved honour for great services loyally rendered to his native country. His career on the Judicial Bench has more than fulfilled the highest expectations of his friends but they felt that, while Australia had gained by the honour conferred upon him, New South Wales had lost much by being deprived of the judicial services of one of her ablest sons. It may be added that such was the opinion held in legal circles of the late Mr Justice O’Connor's capacity that after the death of Sir Frederick Darley the propriety of offering him the position of State Chief Justice was pretty freely discussed.

Mr. Justice O'Connor was a son of the late Richard O’Connor, who was at one time first clerk of the Assembly, and afterwards Clerk of Parliaments from January 1860 to March 1871. He was born in Sydney on August 4, 1851 and received his early education at Lyndhurst College and the Sydney Grammar School. The late Judge subsequently went to the Sydney University, where as a student he had a brilliant career, securing the degree of B.A. in 1871 and M.A. two years later. For some time he occupied the position of fourth clerk of the Legislative Council, and during his occupancy of that modest office the deceased probably had no idea that he would at some future period hold the distinguished position in that chamber which he was destined to occupy. Mr. Justice O’Connor early developed a taste for literary pursuits and contributed to the leading columns of the Sydney Echo. He was also connected with the Freeman’s Journal, which at that time was the only newspaper published in the interests of the Roman Catholic community. He, however, eventually forsook literature for law and studied assiduously; and in 1876 he was called to the Bar. If not a brilliant barrister, he soon attracted attention by the earnest care with which he read up his briefs, his sound knowledge of common laws and practice, and his faculty for placing before the Court or Jury the facts upon which relied, and incidentally the weak point in the joints of an opponent’s armour. His position at the Bar was quickly established, and in 1896 he was raised to the dignity of Q.C. When the agitation for and against Australian federation had reached an acute stage Mr. O’Connor sought to become a member of the New South Wales Assembly, in order to help on the cause but he was defeated.

On February 8, 1888, however, he took his seat as a member of the Legislative Council of this State, and rendered valuable service there until July, 1898, when he resigned. He was an able, painstaking, and at times eloquent debater, and it is generally conceded that his clear insight into the merits and demerits of any measure sent up from the Assembly proved of great assistance to members in arriving at a decision. He was Minister for Justice in the Dibbs government from 1891 to 1893. He took a prominent part in the movement in favour of Australian Federal Union and was a member of the first Convention which framed the Commonwealth Constitution of 1897-8. He was also one of the committee of three that drew up the bill for consideration by the Convention. He was returned as a member of the Federal Senate for New South Wales in 1901, and in September, 1903 he was elevated to the High Court Bench. In 1879 the late Judge married Sarah Hensleigh daughter of the late John S. Hensleigh of Bendoc (Victoria).

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'O'Connor, Richard Edward (Dick) (1851–1912)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 23 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Richard O'Connor, c1910

Richard O'Connor, c1910

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an24152745

Life Summary [details]


4 August, 1851
Glebe, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


18 November, 1912 (aged 61)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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