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Hannan, Albert James (1887–1965)

by John Playford

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

Albert James Hannan (1887-1965), by unknown photographer, c1941

Albert James Hannan (1887-1965), by unknown photographer, c1941

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 10885

Albert James Hannan (1887-1965), crown solicitor and Catholic layman, was born on 27 July 1887 at Lower Broughton, South Australia, and registered as James Garrett Hannan, son of Francis Augustus Hannan, a native-born farmer, and his wife Mary Ellen, née Flynn. Educated at Port Pirie West and Solomontown public schools, at Sacred Heart College, Largs Bay, and at the University of Adelaide (B.A., 1909; LL.B., 1912; M.A., 1914), he graduated with first-class honours in classics. He taught briefly at Unley High School, then enrolled in law at the university, and won two Stow prizes and the David Murray scholarship. Known to his friends as 'Tacky' because of the admonition, 'Tace, Hannan' (Be silent, Hannan), that followed his frequent interruptions in Professor H. D. Naylor's classics lectures, he was articled to George McEwin and admitted to the Bar on 23 April 1913. He immediately joined the Attorney-General and Crown Solicitor's Department as assistant parliamentary draftsman, becoming parliamentary draftsman in 1916 and assistant crown solicitor in 1917.

Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 2 July 1918, Hannan was not called up for duty and was discharged one week after the Armistice. At St Francis Xavier's Cathedral, Adelaide, on 22 February 1919 he married Elizabeth Mary Catherine Rzeszkowski (d.1922). In the archbishop's house, West Terrace, on 7 March 1927 he married Una Victoria Measday, a 33-year-old clerk. Between 1917 and 1925 Hannan taught law part time at the university. He was promoted crown solicitor in 1927 and held the post until his retirement in 1952. Appointed K.C. in 1935, he was president (1937-39) of the Law Society of South Australia. He fervently believed in States rights and was suspicious of any move towards centralism; these views gave a particular zest to his pleadings in constitutional cases. In 1946 he was appointed C.M.G. He successfully represented the South Australian and Western Australian governments in appeals to the High Court of Australia (1948) and the Privy Council (1949) against the Chifley government's Banking Act (1947). Premier (Sir) Thomas Playford was determined to see Hannan elevated to the Supreme Court bench, but met resistance from the chief justice Sir Mellis Napier. Eventually Napier relented and agreed to Hannan's appointment as an acting-judge on three occasions in 1954-57.

Hannan was a deeply religious man and persistently sought the establishment of a residential college for Catholics at the university; Aquinas College was affiliated in 1947 and a wing of the college was named after him. He was awarded the Cross of Honour Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (1946) and appointed knight of the Order of St Sylvester (1955). In 1953 he registered his change of Christian names to Albert James by deed poll. During World War II he had opposed the Common Cause movement in which prominent communists were involved; he was a key figure in 'A Call to the People of Australia' (1951).

Summary Procedure of Justices in South Australia (Melbourne, 1922), The Practice of the Local Court in South Australia (Melbourne, 1934) and the adulatory Life of Chief Justice Way (Sydney, 1960) were Hannan's major publications. He was a council-member (1939-61) of the university, warden (1960) of the senate and a council-member (1949-65) of St Ann's College. A well-known character around Adelaide, he was a likeable and garrulous man, with a fine sense of humour and touches of eccentricity. He belonged to the Adelaide (from 1936) and Modern Pickwick clubs, and was president (1957) of the Commonwealth Club of Adelaide. Survived by his wife and their two daughters, he died on 1 January 1965 in North Adelaide; he was accorded a state funeral and was buried in Centennial Park cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • C. C. Martindale, The Risen Sun (Lond, 1929)
  • K. Bullock, Port Pirie, the Friendly City (Adel, 1988)
  • S. Cockburn, Playford (Adel, 1991)
  • M. M. Press, Colour and Shadow (Adel, 1991)
  • Australian Law Journal, 30 Apr 1965
  • Aquinian, 9, 1965
  • Australian Journal of Politics and History, 12, no 3, Dec 1966
  • Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia, 16, 1988
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Aug 1944, 26 Feb 1948, 10 May 1949
  • Sunday Mail (Adelaide), 10 June 1959
  • Southern Cross (Adelaide), 1 Aug 1952, 8 Jan 1965
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 2 Jan 1965.

Citation details

John Playford, 'Hannan, Albert James (1887–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hannan-albert-james-10415/text18459, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 19 August 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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