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Dwyer, Sir John Patrick (1879–1966)

by Jeremy Birman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

John Patrick Dwyer (1879-1966), by unknown photographer, 1946-59

John Patrick Dwyer (1879-1966), by unknown photographer, 1946-59

State Library of Western Australia, 011258D

Sir John Patrick Dwyer (1879-1966), chief justice, was born on 24 June 1879 at Aberfeldy, Victoria, son of Thomas Dwyer, a butcher from Ireland, and his Melbourne-born wife Elizabeth, née Donaldson. John was educated at Geelong College (dux 1893) where he played football for the first XVIII and cricket for the first XI. In 1897 he began an articled clerks' course through the University of Melbourne. Called to the Victorian Bar on 1 August 1902 and to the Western Australian Bar on 19 December 1904, he practised with M. L. Moss at Fremantle. On 28 December 1908 at St John's Anglican Church, Fremantle, he married Emily Louise Munro (Irgens) (d.1950). He was employed by Haynes & Robinson at Albany from 1908, before forming a partnership with Moss in 1911.

Five ft 9½ ins (177 cm) tall, slightly built, with blue eyes and a fair complexion, Dwyer enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 30 May 1916 and was commissioned on 16 May 1917. He arrived in France in August 1918, served with the 44th Battalion and rose to lieutenant. His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Australia on 23 July 1919. A senior partner (1918-22) in Moss, Dwyer, Unmack & Thomas, in 1922 he was one of three representatives from the Barristers' Board who sat on a committee which considered the establishment of a law school at the University of Western Australia. He became a foundation lecturer of the newly created law faculty in 1928. Next year Dwyer succeeded R. B. Burnside as a puisne judge of the Supreme Court; he was appointed chief justice on 1 January 1946, following the retirement of Sir John Northmore. Dwyer was knighted that year and elevated to K.C.M.G. in 1949.

Highly regarded as a classical lawyer, he had 'one of the finest, most incisive minds' the State had known. He was more concerned with applying legal principles rigorously and impartially than with interpreting them to achieve social or legislative objectives. Dwyer abhorred verbosity. As an advocate, he once told a jury that he would not insult their intelligence with the customary closing address supporting his client's case. As a judge, he was intolerant of obfuscating witnesses and also of ill-prepared barristers, some of whom reputedly abandoned advocacy as a career because of his attacks.

Dwyer was administrator of the State from 1 July to 6 August and from 28 August to 5 November 1951. Next year he was appointed honorary lieutenant-governor for life, the last such life appointment in Western Australia. He retired as chief justice on 28 February 1959. Taking his civic duties seriously, on one occasion he presided over an Executive Council meeting from his hospital bed. He was chief scout (1942) of Western Australia and knight commander (1947) of the commandery of the Order of St John; he was also chairman of trustees (1947-54) of the public library, museum and art gallery, and chairman (1948) of the State electoral commission. In private he was pleasant, even charming. A member of Royal Perth Golf and the Weld clubs, he played golf until he was 78 and lawn bowls until he was 82. Sir John died on 25 August 1966 at Shenton Park. Accorded a state funeral, he was buried in Karrakatta cemetery; his estate was sworn for probate at $106,023; he had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Alexander, Campus at Crawley (Melb, 1963)
  • West Australian, 6 Dec 1945, 6 Mar, 1 June 1946, 1 Jan, 21 Sept 1949, 12, 13 Feb 1959, 26, 29, 30 Aug, 27, 28 Oct 1966
  • private information.

Citation details

Jeremy Birman, 'Dwyer, Sir John Patrick (1879–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dwyer-sir-john-patrick-10082/text17789, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 22 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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