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John Garland (1862–1921)

by Stewart J. Woodman

This article was published:

John Garland (1862-1921), by unknown photographer

John Garland (1862-1921), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 17660

John Garland (1862-1921), barrister and politician was born on 17 September 1862 at Cowhythe near Fordyce, Banffshire, Scotland, son of Robert Garland, farmer, and his wife Isabella Whyte, née Neill. He was educated at Fordyce Academy and the University of Aberdeen (M.A., 1882) and received his legal training at the University of Edinburgh (LL.B., 1886).

Garland arrived in Australia in 1887, was admitted as a student-at-law in July and to practice at the Colonial Bar on 30 November 1888. Within a few years he had established a large junior Crown practice, particularly at common law, and was retained in important land law cases. He was a founder and elected member of the Council of the Bar of New South Wales and its legislation committee in 1902-05. He became a K.C. in 1910.

Elected to the Legislative Assembly for Woollahra in July 1898, Garland was a loyal and active supporter of (Sir) George Reid. He strongly advocated Federation and diligently scrutinized proposed legislation for technical defects. Defeated in June 1901, he won a by-election for Tamworth in April 1903 but lost again in July next year and failed in a bid to win Phillip in 1907. Garland was a prominent member of the Liberal and Reform Association, and was among twelve members appointed to the Legislative Council by (Sir) Charles Gregory Wade in July 1908. He served as minister of justice and solicitor-general from December 1909 until October 1910.

In Opposition at the beginning of World War I, Garland strongly criticized Labor's approach to the war effort and the restrictions which this placed on his friend, the premier W. A. Holman. In 1915 and 1916 he served on the executive of the Universal Service League. When Labor split over conscription in 1916, Garland energetically promoted the formation of the National Party. He became minister of justice and solicitor-general in Holman's new National ministry on 16 November 1916. In office Garland vigorously supported every facet of the war effort and accused the Labor movement and, particularly, the Industrial Workers of the World, who opposed conscription and encouraged strikes, of treason. He also acted as leader of the government in the council and displayed considerable ability in guiding legislation through that chamber. In July 1919 he succeeded D. R. Hall as attorney-general, a post he held until the resignation of the ministry in April 1920.

As a politician, Garland won respect from all sides for his conviction that the national interest must override party considerations. He was described by the Bulletin as 'a most lovable little man; and though he hit trenchantly both at the Bar and in politics—he had the stentorian declamatory manner of the Edmund Burke school—he never made a real enemy'.

An active Presbyterian, Garland was procurator of the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales from 1894, of the Presbyterian Church of Australia from 1901, and for many years lecturer on ecclesiastical law and procedure and in 1898-1920, a council-member of St Andrew's College, University of Sydney. He was a fellow of the senate of the university in 1915-21 and a director of Sydney Hospital in 1910-21. He 'cared little for sport and less for Society, and had most frugal tastes', but was a member of the Australian Club and active in the Highland Society of New South Wales.

Garland died at his Bellevue Hill home on 23 February 1921 following a strenuous term in parliament. He was survived by his wife Isobel, née Chisholm, whom he had married in Sydney on 21 December 1896, and by their only daughter. His intestate estate was valued for probate at £5451.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Cameron, Centenary History of the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales (Syd, 1905)
  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • Newspaper Cartoonists' Association of New South Wales, Sydneyites as We See 'Em 1913-14-15 (Syd, 1915?)
  • J. M. Bennett (ed), A History of the New South Wales Bar (Syd, 1969)
  • Scottish Australasian, Aug 1913, 14 Mar 1921
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Nov 1916, 23 Mar, 16 July, 23 Nov 1917, 7 June 1918, 23 July 1919, 25 Feb 1920, 24 Feb 1921
  • Fighting Line, 24 Feb 1921
  • Bulletin, 3 Mar 1921
  • Council of the Bar of New South Wales, Annual Statement, and minute books (held by Bar Assn of New South Wales).

Citation details

Stewart J. Woodman, 'Garland, John (1862–1921)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 28 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

John Garland (1862-1921), by unknown photographer

John Garland (1862-1921), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 17660

Life Summary [details]


17 September, 1862
Fordyce, Banffshire, Scotland


23 February, 1921 (aged 58)
Bellevue Hill, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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