Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George Ernest Flannery (1872–1945)

by John Kennedy McLaughlin

This article was published:

George Ernest Flannery (1872-1945), barrister, was born on 13 March 1872 at Albury, New South Wales, fifth son of Irish parents Edmund Hayes Flannery, inspector of schools, and his wife Ellen, née MacSweeney. He was educated at Sydney Boys High School and from 1886 at St Ignatius College, Riverview, where he won many prizes. At the University of Sydney he graduated B.A. in 1892, winning the (Sir G.) Wigram Allen scholarship for law, and LL.B in 1894, with first-class honours and the university medal. Professor Pitt Cobbett urged other students to emulate Flannery's industry and mental clarity, but Flannery recalled that Cobbett served all students 'with a large dose of brimstone and a minimum of treacle'. Admitted to the Bar on 23 July 1894, he read with A. G. Ralston.

One of the bright young men surrounding (Sir) Edmund Barton, Flannery campaigned energetically for Federation. Much influenced by Senator R. E. O'Connor, he became his private secretary in 1901. Next year he accompanied Barton to England for the coronation of Edward VII; he met many prominent people, visited Ireland and returned through North America. In 1903, when O'Connor was appointed to the High Court of Australia, he became his associate.

Returning to the Bar in 1904, Flannery acquired a large, varied practice especially in appeals before the Full Bench of the Supreme Court and the High Court. He combined a mastery of legal principle with an orderly mind and the gift of lucid argument. His early High Court cases dealt mainly with patents, land tax and arbitration. He was increasingly briefed by the Commonwealth and New South Wales governments in cases involving constitutional law. He recognized the need for amendments to the Constitution. In 1916 under the War Precautions Act he was appointed by the Commonwealth government chairman of a board to try to determine issues relating to the coal strike. On 5 May 1920 he took silk. He kept abreast of the 'changing face of litigation' brought about by the financial development of the State, new commercial relations and the growing importance of constitutional law and taxation, which resulted in a more restrained class of advocacy. In 1931 he was retained by the Incorporated Law Institute of New South Wales to address the Legislative Assembly on the demerits of a controversial bill to reconstitute the legal profession; the bill was dropped. He retired in 1937; Mr Justice F. S. Boyce observed that he had 'resisted all endeavours to lift him to a more serene atmosphere [the bench]'.

With great affection for his old school, Flannery was a foundation member of the Old Ignatians' Union and its second president. In 1901-41 he was a fellow of St John's College, within the university. He found his recreation following the turf and regularly attended Randwick racecourse.

Flannery lived at Centennial Park, and later nearby at Ocean Street, Woollahra, where he died from coronary occlusion on 28 January 1945; he was buried in the Catholic section of Waverley cemetery. He was survived by his wife Susan Teresa, née O'Donnell, whom he had married at St Joseph's Church, Woollahra, on 17 January 1914, and by one of their two sons. His estate was valued for probate at £44,335.

Select Bibliography

  • T. R. Bavin (ed), The Jubilee Book of the Law School of the University of Sydney (Syd, 1940)
  • J. M. Bennett (ed), A History of the New South Wales Bar (Syd, 1969)
  • St Ignatius College, Riverview (Sydney), Our Alma Mater, 1893, Christmas 1896, 1900, July 1904, July 1905, 1920, 1945
  • Australian Law Journal, 18 (1945)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Apr 1937
  • A27, Boys' Ledger 1885-89 (St Ignatius College, Riverview, Sydney, Archives).

Citation details

John Kennedy McLaughlin, 'Flannery, George Ernest (1872–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 21 February 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


13 March, 1872
Albury, New South Wales, Australia


28 January, 1945 (aged 72)
Woollahra, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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