Sir Samuel W Griffith GCMG., BA (Hons), MA., Hon LL.D (Qld)., Hon LL.D (Wales)., QC

Share this


  • William McIntyre's School, Maitland (1856-1859)
  • Private School, Wooloomooloo, Sydney (1855-1856)
  • Ipswich (1854-1855)

University Education

  • MA, Sydney University (1870)
  • BA Hons, Sydney University (1862)


  • Honorary Doctor of Laws, Wales (1913)
  • Honorary Doctor of Laws, University of Queensland (1912)
  • Knight Grand Cross of St Michael and St George (1895)
  • Knight Commander of St Michael and St George (1886)


  • T.S.Mort Travelling scholar to Europe (1865)
  • (Sir Daniel) Cooper Scholarship in Classics (1862)
  • (Thomas) Barker Scholarship in Mathematics

Judicial Career

  • Chief Justice, High Court of Australia (1903-1919)
  • Chief Justice of Queensland, Supreme Court of Queensland (1893-1903)

Pre-judicial Career

  • Premier, Chief Secretary and Attorney-general (1890-1893)
  • Colonial Treasurer (1887-1888)
  • Premier and Chief Secretary (1886-1888)
  • Premier and Colonial Secretary (1883-1886)
  • Secretary for Public Instruction (1883-1885)
  • Leader of the Opposition (1879-1883)
  • MLA (Brisbane) (1878-1893)
  • Secretary for Public Works (1878-1879)
  • Secretary for Public Instruction (1876-1879)
  • Attorney-General, Queensland (1874-1878)
  • MLA (Oxley) (1873-1878)
  • MLA (East Moreton) (1872-1873)
  • Articled to Arthur McAlister, Ipswich (1863-1865)
  • Vice-President, Australian National Convention (1891)
  • Delegate, London Colonial Council (1887)
  • Chairman, Standing Committee of Federal Council (1886)
  • Postmaster-General (1885)
  • Delegate, Intercolonial Convention (1883)
  • Member, Barristers’ Board of Examiners (1880)
  • Member, Barristers’ Board of Examiners (1876)
  • Appointed Queen's Counsel (1876)
  • Trustee, Brisbane Grammar School (1873)
  • Treasurer, Freemasons (1868)
  • Auditor, Freemasons (1867)
  • Admitted as a Barrister of the Supreme Court of Queensland (1867)
  • Grand Master, Freemasons

Extra Judicial Positions

  • Member of the University of Sydney Senate (1904-1917)
  • Lieutenant-governor of Queensland (1901-1902)
  • Honorary Fellow of the British Academy (1916)
  • Vice-President, Royal Colonial Institute (1909)
  • Privy Councillor (1901)

Biographical Notes

Samuel Walker Griffith was born on 21 June 1845 at Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorganshire, Wales, to Reverend Edward Griffith, congregational minister, and his wife Mary (née Walker). Griffith’s family migrated to Queensland in 1853. He attended John Scott’s School, Ipswich (1854–55), Horniman’s School, Sydney (1855–56), and Reverend William McIntyre’s School, Maitland (1856–59), before studying at the University of Sydney. He graduated Bachelor of Arts with first class honours in classics, mathematics and natural science (1863), which after the requisite period was elevated to Master of Arts (1870). Griffith returned to Brisbane to undertake his legal training, under articles of clerkship with Arthur Macalister (1863–67).

On 14 October 1867, Griffith was admitted as a barrister of the Supreme Court of Queensland. He commenced a period of 25 years of practice at the private bar. He married Julia Janet Thomson on 5 July 1870. They had four daughters – Mary, Helen, Edith and Alice – and two sons, Edward and Llewellyn. Griffith was appointed to the rank of Queen’s Counsel on 11 May 1876.

Griffith was first elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1872 and continued to serve in parliament until 1893. During this period, he rose to the positions of attorney-general (1874-78) and premier (1883-88, 1890-93). Griffith figured prominently in the drafting and promotion of almost all the major law reforms enacted during his parliamentary career. He was one of the leaders of the movement towards federation, and one of the principal draftsmen of the proposed constitution for a Commonwealth of Australia. He was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1886.

On 13 March 1893, Griffith was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court and the third chief justice of Queensland. During his tenure on the court, Griffith drafted the Criminal Code of Queensland and new Rules of the Supreme Court. In 1895, he was elevated to a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George. In 1901, he was made a Privy Councillor. Griffith resigned from the Supreme Court upon his appointment to the High Court of Australia as its first chief justice on 5 October 1903. After suffering a stroke in 1917, Griffith resigned from the High Court on 17 October 1919 at the age of 74, and died on 9 August 1920. In 1971, Queensland’s third university, Griffith University, was named in his honour.

Griffith was featured in 'Queensland Judges on the High Court', published by the Supreme Court Library in 2003.

Complete this request to check if the library contains further biographical details.

Judicial Papers

View papers by, and related to Sir Samuel W Griffith GCMG., BA (Hons), MA., Hon LL.D (Qld)., Hon LL.D (Wales)., QC