GLYNN Patrick McMahon

Years active
2 June 1909 – 29 April 1910
Portrait of Patrick McMahon Glynn - National Library of Australia


Patrick McMahon (Paddy) Glynn was born on 25 August 1855 at Gort in County Galway, Ireland. He was third of the 11 children of the town's general store keeper, John McMahon Glynn, and his wife Ellen, née Wallsh. Taught initially by the Sisters of Mercy at the local convent primary school, from February 1869 Glynn boarded at a college run by the French missionary Holy Ghost Fathers at Blackrock, on the outskirts of Dublin, winning prizes for French, Greek and Latin during his three-and-a-half years there.

Articled to a Dublin solicitor, Glynn entered Trinity College, Dublin, in 1875. Also enrolled at the King's Inns in 1876 and 1877, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Trinity in July 1878 and went on to study law at the Middle Temple in London. Called to the Irish Bar in April 1879, he won the medal for oratory at the Irish Law Students' Debating Society the following year. Despite a promising start to his legal career in Dublin, he decided to emigrate.

On 4 September 1880 Glynn sailed from London on the SS Orient, arriving in Melbourne in October. Gaining temporary admission to the Victorian Bar, he attended the local courts, published a substantial pamphlet on trials relating to the Irish nationalist movement, and made political speeches without securing a single brief. Eventually obtaining work as a travelling agent selling life insurance and sewing-machines in January 1882, he was given the opportunity to get back into legal work six months later. Through the auspices of an aunt – a founding member of Mother Mary MacKillop's Sisters of St Joseph – Glynn was invited to open a branch of an Adelaide-based law firm in Kapunda, South Australia.

Admitted as a practitioner of the South Australian Supreme Court on 21 July 1883, Glynn was awarded his Bachelor of Laws from Trinity College in Dublin in December that year. Successful enough to buy the Kapunda practice by 1886, he retained it when he moved to Adelaide in 1888 to open another in Pirie Street. From 1883 to 1891 he was also editor of the Kapunda Herald. Entering wholeheartedly in the colony's political life, in 1884 he helped found, and wrote a manifesto for, the South Australian Land Nationalisation Society. For many years he was president of the Irish National League in South Australia.

Elected to the House of Assembly as junior member for Light in April 1887, Glynn supported wide-ranging causes. Aligned with the conservatives advocating free trade, he sided with the liberals and radicals in his support for payment of members, female suffrage and reform of the Upper House, but was somewhat isolated in championing land nationalisation. Unsuccessful in holding or regaining his rural seat at the next two elections, Glynn was returned to parliament in a by-election for North Adelaide in 1895. He lost that seat in 1896, won it back in another by-election in 1897, and held it in 1899, afterwards serving for a short time as the colony's Attorney-General.

One of South Australia's delegates to the Australasian Federal Convention, held in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne in 1897 and 1898, Glynn became renowned as an erudite, thoroughly researched debater who spoke rapidly in a broad Irish brogue. Particularly respected for his knowledge of constitutional law he was appointed to the judiciary committee which, together with the constitutional and finance committees, prepared the draft Constitution bill. Glynn's best-known contribution to the Constitution was made during the convention's final session in Melbourne, when he was successful in having a reference to God inserted in the preamble.2 He also memorably enlivened the Sydney session with his sudden marriage – within a week writing a letter of proposal, being accepted by telegram and travelling to Melbourne for his wedding before returning to work in Sydney on the Monday. Glynn and Abigail Dynon were married at St Francis' Church in Melbourne on Saturday, 11 September 1897.

A founding member of the Free Trade Party, Glynn acted as its deputy leader and, with George Reid, managed a nation-wide election campaign prior to the inaugural federal elections in March 1901 – at a time when candidates relied on pamphlets, posters, newspaper reports and speeches made in front of live audiences to get political messages across. Elected with six others to represent South Australia in the first House of Representatives, Glynn held his seat in what later became the division of Angas for almost two decades. Attorney-General from 2 June 1909 until 29 April 1910 in the 'Fusion' government led by Alfred Deakin, Glynn was Minister for External Affairs under Liberal leader Joseph Cook in 1913-14, and Minister for Home and Territories in the Nationalist government under Billy Hughes from 1917. Glynn was appointed King's Counsel (KC) in July 1913.

As Attorney-General, Glynn contributed over 70 advices to the Opinion Book. Two of those published in Volume 1 related to the Commonwealth's acquisition of territory for the seat of government, in preparation for the establishment of a federal capital. During his time in parliament Glynn maintained an avid interest in the control and use of Australia's inland rivers, and in Irish nationalism, and was an early advocate for the adoption of decimal coinage. Supportive of Australia's role in the First World War, he visited France and the United Kingdom as a dominion delegate of the Empire Parliamentary Association in 1916, and encouraged fair treatment of enemy aliens during and after the war. In 1914, as the minister responsible for the Northern Territory – which had been taken over by the Commonwealth from South Australia in 1911 – Glynn put forward ambitious plans for its administration and development. Shelving of these in the face of wartime expenditure contributed to extreme dissatisfaction in the Territory concerning political representation, unemployment and taxation. On 17 December 1918 around 1000 demonstrators marched on Government House in Darwin, demanding the resignation of the first Administrator of the Northern TerritoryJohn Gilruth. A Royal Commission on Northern Territory Administration, part of the government's response to the 'Darwin Rebellion', was appointed in November 1919, just before Glynn lost his seat, to Labor, in the 13 December general election.

Resuming full-time legal work, Glynn was renowned for his integrity and diligence. Intelligent, knowledgeable and humorous – and able to quote Shakespeare to suit any occasion – he remained popular as a public speaker, and published numerous papers on legal, political and literary subjects. The last of the federation convention delegates to leave the Commonwealth parliament, in 1927 he was one of the survivors of the first parliamentary session who attended the opening of the provisional parliament house in the new national capital in Canberra. His wife, who had been notable for her many charitable and community activities, including long service as the foundation president of the Catholic Women's League in South Australia, died in 1930.

Aged 76, Glynn died of pneumonia on 28 October 1931 at North Adelaide. He was survived by two sons and four daughters. Following requiem mass at St Laurence's Catholic Church North Adelaide, he was buried in West Terrace Cemetery. A collection of his letters to his family, incorporating a bibliography of his published works, was published in 1974.3

  1. Biography written by Carmel Meiklejohn with reference to
    • Gerald O'Collins, 'Glynn, Patrick McMahon (Paddy) (1855–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 May 2012.
    • Parliamentary Library, Department of Parliamentary Services, 43rd Parliament: Parliamentary Handbook of the Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2011.
  2. The words 'humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God' were inserted.
  3. Gerald O'Collins (editor), Patrick McMahon Glynn, Letters to his Family (18741927), Polding Press, 1974.

Opinions by this author

Opinion Number Subject Opinion Date
Opinion Number. 337


Opinion Number. 341


Opinion Number. 343


Opinion Number. 344


Opinion Number. 345


Opinion Number. 346


Opinion Number. 348


Opinion Number. 349


Opinion Number. 351


Opinion Number. 352