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Patrick McMahon (Paddy) Glynn (1855–1931)

by Gerald O'Collins

This article was published:

Patrick McMahon Glynn (1855-1931), by unknown photographer

Patrick McMahon Glynn (1855-1931), by unknown photographer

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an21399820-17

Patrick McMahon (Paddy) Glynn (1855-1931), Federationist, politician and lawyer, was born on 25 August 1855 at Gort, Galway, Ireland, third of the eleven children of John McMahon Glynn (1824-1879), who ran a large general store in the town square, and his wife Ellen, née Wallsh (1835-1918). Glynn received his primary education at Gort from the Sisters of Mercy whose convent superior, Mother Mary Aloysius, had nursed with Florence Nightingale in the Crimea. From February 1869 he boarded for three and a half years at French (later Blackrock) College, conducted by the Holy Ghost Fathers on the outskirts of Dublin, and won prizes in French, Greek and Latin before being articled to James Blaquiere, a Dublin solicitor. In 1875 Glynn entered Trinity College, Dublin, and in 1876-77 was also enrolled at the King's Inns. After graduating B.A. from Trinity in July 1878, he studied law at the Middle Temple in London, and was called to the Irish Bar in April next year. But he confided to his diary: 'the good opinion' of many friends, 'the flattering hopes of others, and a not altogether empty brief bag during … sixteen months membership of the Irish Bar' did not prove 'a sufficient inducement to remain at home'. On 4 September 1880 he sailed from London to Melbourne where he obtained temporary admission to the Victorian Bar.

In Melbourne, however, attendance at the courts, the publication of a thirty-two page pamphlet (Irish State Trials) and speeches for political societies brought him not a single brief. 'Trying to get business here as a stranger', he wrote to his brother James, 'is like attacking the devil with an icicle'. In January 1882 he eventually got some work—as a travelling agent for the Mutual Life Assurance Society and Singer sewing-machines. Six months later the Adelaide law firm of Hardy & Davis brought him to South Australia to open a branch office at Kapunda. The chance came through Glynn's aunt, Grace Wallsh, who had migrated to Australia in the 1860s and was one of the first companions of Mother Mary MacKillop in founding the Sisters of St Joseph.

On 21 July 1883 Glynn was admitted as a practitioner of the South Australian Supreme Court (he took out his LL.B. from Trinity in December), and by 1886 had done well enough to buy the Kapunda practice for £155. He retained it when he moved to Adelaide in 1888 and opened a practice in Pirie Street. In 1883-91 he was also editor of the Kapunda Herald. Alongside his legal and editorial work, he entered quickly into the political life of the colony, and in 1884 helped to found the South Australian Land Nationalisation Society, for which he himself wrote a manifesto. The basic views, taken from Henry George, involved land nationalization, complete free trade, and a single tax, namely the land-tax. He became for many years president of the Irish National League in South Australia.

In April 1887 Glynn was elected to the House of Assembly as junior member for Light. During his first term, by advocating free trade he aligned himself with the conservatives; by supporting payment of members, female suffrage and reform of the Upper House, he found himself with the liberals and radicals; while his championing of land nationalization tended to isolate him. He lost his seat in 1890—partly through the farming community's dislike for his philosophy of land tenure. In 1893 he stood again for Light without success, but in 1895 he was returned in a by-election for North Adelaide. He was a close friend of the premier, Charles Kingston, though they differed on many political issues. Glynn lost his seat at the election next year, but won it back in a by-election of 1897 and, retaining it in 1899, became attorney-general in the short-lived Vaiben Solomon government.

In 1897 'Paddy' Glynn was elected as one of the ten South Australian delegates to the federal convention. At the first session in Adelaide he established a reputation for his knowledge of constitutional law, thorough research into the topic under discussion, rapid delivery, broad brogue and general learning. Alfred Deakin believed that 'if not the best-read man of the Convention', Glynn 'certainly carried more English prose and poetry in his memory than any three or four of his associates'. With Henry Bournes Higgins and (Sir) Josiah Henry Symon, Glynn led the judiciary committee, which together with the constitutional and finance committees prepared a draft bill. During the Sydney session of the convention in September he brightened proceedings by what the Bulletin called his 'meteor-like rush into matrimony'. Within a week he wrote a letter of proposal, was accepted by telegram, slipped down to Melbourne, married Abigail Dynon on 11 September at St Francis Church and returned to Sydney. King O'Malley was his best man. At the final session of the convention in Melbourne next year Glynn made his best-known contribution to the Constitution, a reference to God in the preamble ('humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God').

Elected to the House of Representatives as a Free Trader in 1901, Glynn began two decades of service in the Commonwealth parliament. He was returned unopposed for the division of Angas in 1903, won easily against a Labor candidate in 1906, was unopposed again in 1910, 1913 and 1914, just got home against a Labor candidate in 1917, and lost his seat to Labor in December 1919. Glynn served as attorney-general in Deakin's Fusion government (1909-10), minister for external affairs in the Cook (Liberal) administration (1913-14), and minister for home and territories in Billy Hughes's Nationalist government from 1917.

The control and use of Australia's inland rivers proved Glynn's most enduring political interest. He doggedly contributed to that cause from his membership in 1889-94 of the South Australian royal commission on the Murray waters through to the Commonwealth River Murray Waters Act (1915). In 1905 he prepared for the South Australian government two volumes of legal opinion on the Murray riparian rights. He was appointed K.C. in July 1913. Glynn vigorously supported Australia's role in World War I; Home Rule for Ireland (in the mitigated form of a local parliament with limited powers); the welfare of the New Hebrideans under the Anglo-French Condominium; (Sir) Hubert Murray's policies in Papua; fair treatment of enemy aliens during and after World War I; the proper administration and development of the Northern Territory under Commonwealth control; and decimal coinage. In 1918-19 he had the unhappy task of handling the Darwin rebellion. At the invitation of the Empire Parliamentary Association he had visited France and the United Kingdom in 1916.

After his defeat in 1919 Glynn resumed full-time legal work. He had taken (Sir) Herbert Angas Parsons as partner in 1897 and George McEwin and (Sir) Mellis Napier later joined the firm. He was the last of the 'founding fathers' to sit in the Commonwealth parliament and in 1927 attended the opening of the new parliament house in Canberra as one of the survivors of the 1901 session.

A non-smoker and from 1883 a teetotaller, Glynn was a dapper man about 5 ft 4 ins (163 cm) tall who wore a bushy moustache. At hunts he was a fearless rider and his reputation as a sportsman contributed to his political success. A person of extraordinary integrity and industry, his oratorical powers, humour and learning made him a consistently popular speaker for literary and national societies. The more eloquent his speech, the thicker became his brogue. He could quote Shakespeare to illuminate any political, legal, business or social occasion. His letters to his family, edited by G. O'Collins and including a bibliography of his published works, were published in 1974.

He died of pneumonia on 28 October 1931 at North Adelaide and was buried in West Terrace cemetery; he was survived by two sons and four daughters, his wife having predeceased him in 1930. His estate was valued for probate at £30,022. Two brothers, Eugene and Robert, had migrated to South Australia and practised as doctors at Kapunda and Riverton. Another brother, Sir Joseph, was chairman of the Irish insurance commissioners in Dublin, 1911-33.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Deakin, The Federal Story, H. Brookes ed (Melb, 1944)
  • G. O'Collins, Patrick McMahon Glynn, a Founder of Australian Federation (Melb, 1965)
  • R. G. Ely, Unto God and Caesar (Melb, 1976)
  • Bulletin, 25 Sept 1897, 22 Mar 1961
  • Punch (Melbourne), 31 Aug 1905, 2 Dec 1909, 12 Dec 1912
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 Oct 1931
  • Glynn papers, MS 4653 (National Library of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Gerald O'Collins, 'Glynn, Patrick McMahon (Paddy) (1855–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 16 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Patrick McMahon Glynn (1855-1931), by unknown photographer

Patrick McMahon Glynn (1855-1931), by unknown photographer

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an21399820-17

Life Summary [details]


25 August, 1855
Gort, Galway, Ireland


28 October, 1931 (aged 76)
North Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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Religious Influence

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