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Walter Madden (1848–1925)

by S. M. Ingham

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Frank Madden

Sir Frank Madden (1847-1921) and Walter Madden (1848-1925), politicians, were born on 29 November 1847 and 16 December 1848 at Cork, Ireland, third and fourth sons of John Madden, solicitor, and his wife Margaret Eloise, née Macoboy, and younger brothers of (Sir) John Madden. The brothers were educated in London, where their father set up practice in 1850, and at Beauchamps, Normandy, France. In January 1857 the family arrived in Melbourne where the brothers continued their education at St Patrick's College, East Melbourne.

After a stint as a jackeroo at St Enoch's station near Skipton, Frank Madden prepared for a career as a solicitor. He attended law lectures at the University of Melbourne as a non-matriculated student in 1865-67 and was admitted as attorney in 1869. Practising in Collins Street, he supplemented his early income by selling pen-and-ink sketches, particularly of horses for which he and Walter both had a lifelong passion. Founder of the legal firm of Madden & Butler, he served a term as president of the Law Institute in 1886-87 and also as chairman of the board of examiners for attorneys. On 10 October 1874 at St Peter's, Eastern Hill, he married Annie Eliza, daughter of James Goodall Francis.

Walter Madden, who was intended for the navy, served as a midshipman in the man-of-war, Victoria, and studied marine surveying. In 1866 he joined the survey department of the Lands Office, becoming in 1873 district surveyor for Horsham. He returned to Melbourne in 1879 to set up in business as a surveyor, valuer and financial agent. Elected to the Legislative Assembly for Wimmera in 1880, he was president of the board of land and works and commissioner of crown lands and survey in the O'Loghlen ministry of 1881-83. Representing the concern of his constituents at the rabbit plague and the 'desolation' of the Mallee, he carried the Land Acts Continuation and Amendment Act to facilitate prompt occupation of the Mallee country. For the remainder of his parliamentary career until his defeat in 1894 he was a conservative back-bencher and a leader of one of the country groups in the assembly. He spoke on issues affecting his constituency (after 1889 Horsham), especially irrigation, land settlement, railways, rabbits and agricultural education. He served as a member of royal commissions on land titles and surveys (1884), water supply (1885) and the extension of Melbourne westward (1887), and was vice-president of the vegetable products commission (1885), set up at his instigation.

In May 1894, a few months before the close of Walter's parliamentary career, Frank Madden entered the Legislative Assembly as member for Eastern Suburbs (after 1904 Boroondara). He had unsuccessfully contested a Mornington by-election as a Constitutionalist in 1886. Forthright, angular, tactless and pugnacious, he soon earned a reputation, even in his 'Corner', as 'impossible'. Frock-coated and waistcoated, his 'sturdy, deep-chested figure, his full, round head and firm jaw told of his fighting spirit'. His opinions were extremely conservative and laissez-faire: he believed that the state was bound to impart only the 'rudiments of education'; he opposed women's suffrage on the grounds that female voters would support the minimum wage and the eight-hour day, and abolish 'soldiers and war', 'racing, hunting, football, cricket and all such manly games'.

Frank Madden's extremism helps to explain why he never held ministerial office and why, perhaps, some of his conservative colleagues sought to escape political embarrassment by acquiescing in his long term as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly (1904-17). As Speaker he was regarded as 'firm, impartial and urbane', but his combative personality ensured that the traditional Speaker's detachment did not muzzle entirely his forthright opinions. In 1915 Punch observed that Madden 'does not woo his electors. He tells them to vote for him or not, but not to mistake his views'. Liberal-minded candidates sought to unseat him; he survived the 1908 election by a mere eleven votes and there were bitter recriminations at the declaration of the poll. To many of his opponents he was a renegade who had repudiated his Catholic heritage and opposed Irish nationalism. An outspoken supporter of conscription, Madden commented after the Easter uprising of 1916 that 'it was a pity that the authorities could not shoot a few [Sinn Feiners] in Australia', and he urged the deportation of Archbishop Mannix. He paid dearly for his hysterical outbursts: his parliamentary career ended in 1917 when he was defeated at the polls.

Like his brother Walter, Frank Madden took a keen interest in the land. For some years he owned properties in the Curdie's River district where he experimented in growing grasses, and in 1895 he published a pamphlet, Grass Lands of Victoria. An enthusiastic hunter, he followed, with his wife, the Waldock and Melbourne hounds. Although opposed to the totalizator and not himself a betting man, he served for many years on the Victoria Racing Club committee. A member of the Field Naturalists' Club from 1902 and foundation president of the (Royal) Historical Society of Victoria, he was knighted in 1911. Sir Frank Madden died at his mansion home on the heights of Kew on 17 February 1921 and was buried in Boroondara cemetery with Anglican rites. His wife, son and five daughters survived him; his estate was valued for probate at £10,464.

After his parliamentary defeat in 1894 Walter Madden continued as managing director of National Trustees, Executors & Agency Co. to which he had been appointed in 1889, and was a board-member of the National Mutual Life Association of Australasia Ltd from 1897. Genial and phlegmatic, a man of strict integrity, he had few enemies and many friends. He had remained a loyal Catholic. He died unmarried at his brother Henry's home, Travancore, at Flemington on 3 August 1925 and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery; his estate was valued at £6358.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • A. Henderson (ed), Australian Families, vol I (Melb, 1941)
  • E. Dunsdorfs, The Australian Wheat-Growing Industry 1788-1948 (Melb, 1956)
  • N. Brennan, Dr. Mannix (Adel, 1964)
  • N. Brennan, John Wren, Gambler (Melb, 1976)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1891, 1 (4)
  • Victorian Naturalist, 37, no 11 (Mar 1921)
  • Victorian Historical Magazine, 3, no 2 (May 1921)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 7 July 1869, 16 Aug 1888, 18 Feb 1921, 4 Aug 1925
  • Punch (Melbourne), 25 May 1905, 20 July 1911, 22 Aug 1915
  • Age (Melbourne), 18 Feb 1921, 4 Aug 1925
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 26 Feb 1921
  • Bulletin, 13 Aug 1925.

Citation details

S. M. Ingham, 'Madden, Walter (1848–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


16 December, 1848
Cork, Ireland


3 August, 1925 (aged 76)
Flemington, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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