Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Frank Tenison Brennan (1884–1949)

by Malcolm Cope

This article was published:

Frank Tenison Brennan (1884-1949), politician and judge, was born on 6 December 1884 at Maryborough, Queensland, son of Martin Brennan, grocer, and his wife Annie, née Byrne. Educated at the Maryborough Christian Brothers' College and the Boys' Grammar School, he entered the family business briefly and was then articled to his brother, a Warwick solicitor. He practised at Toowoomba in 1913-20, entered the Legislative Assembly as Labor member for Warwick in 1918, and became assistant home secretary and minister in charge of health and local authorities from 2 July 1923 until 14 July 1924, when he was appointed secretary for public instruction. A lively, active, aggressive politician with a genuine passion for social justice and great skill in managing his constituency, he was completely at home in Labor politics, but strong Catholic religious principles kept him always on the far right wing.

As one of the few lawyers who joined the Labor Party, Brennan supported the changes to the judicial and court structure introduced by the Labor government in 1921. To enable the poor to obtain quick and cheap relief from the courts, he urged amalgamation of the two branches of the profession; in 1921 he supported an amendment to the Supreme Court Act which allowed solicitors of five-years standing to be admitted as barristers. The amendment became known as 'the Brennan Clause' when, in 1924, he himself took advantage of it.

In 1922 he reported an attempt to bribe him into voting with the Opposition on a no confidence motion. Two men were subsequently convicted in the 'Brennan bribery case'. Appointed to the Supreme Court bench in March 1925, he was forced to fight for the position when the Queensland Bar Association argued that the high standards usually required for judges were being disregarded. Since he had been a barrister for too short a period, he was briefly readmitted as a solicitor to gain the necessary standing, and his elevation was upheld by the Full Court. Critics continued to assert that the appointment repaid his caucus vote which had made W. N. Gillies premier.

Brennan served in 1925-47 at Rockhampton on the central bench of the Supreme Court. He dealt mainly with routine matters arising in the circuit courts and made no great contribution to Australian jurisprudence. He was criticized for his short prison sentences, for dispensing with counsel's arguments to provide quick relief for litigants, and for his extra-judicial and political comments from the bench. His habit of interrupting counsel was no doubt due to his long-held belief that justice should be available to all and should not be hindered by lawyers. In 1934 he wrote a novel about public life called 'Your obedient servant', which was not published because of possible libel proceedings.

Transferred to Brisbane in 1947, Brennan died there on 6 August 1949 and was buried in Nudgee cemetery after a state funeral. On 19 July 1922 he had married Hanna Maria Gertrude Koenig; a son and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. A. Bernays, Queensland—Our Seventh Political Decade 1920-1930 (Syd, 1931)
  • P. S. Cleary, Australia's Debt to Irish Nation Builders (Syd, 1933)
  • Court Privileges Abused in Red-Baiting Attack on F. W. Patterson MLA (Brisb, 1945, copy Oxley Library, Brisbane)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1921, 1258-82
  • Brisbane Courier, 29 Aug, 26 Sept 1922, 10, 12-14, 19 Mar 1925
  • Daily Standard (Brisbane), 25 Feb 1925
  • M. Cope, A Study of Labour Government and the Law in Queensland, 1915-1922 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Queensland, 1972)
  • K. H. Kennedy, Bribery and Political Crisis 1922 (privately held).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Malcolm Cope, 'Brennan, Frank Tenison (1884–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Frank Brennan, n.d.

Frank Brennan, n.d.

State Library of Queensland, 68268

Life Summary [details]


6 December, 1884
Maryborough, Queensland, Australia


6 August, 1949 (aged 64)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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