Fellows of Senate

The Hon Richard Edward (Dick) O'Connor, QC

An early graduate of the University of Sydney (BA 1871, MA 1873), Richard Edward (Dick) O'Connor was an elected Fellow of Senate from 1891 to 1892 and from 1893 to his death in 1912.


MA Sydney, QC
Fellow of Senate: 1891-92 and 1893-1912

His early years

Richard Edward (Dick) O'Connor was born on 4 August 1851 at Glebe, Sydney, third son of Richard O'Connor, Irish-born parliamentary librarian, and his wife Mary Anne, née Harnett. His father was for many years Clerk of Parliament in New South Wales and an authority on Australian Parliamentary law and practice; and his mother was a sister of Dr Harnett, who in very early days held the office of Colonial Surgeon in New South Wales and at Norfolk Island. His grandfather Arthur O'Connor was one of the leaders in the Irish troubles of 1798.

Brought up as a devout Roman Catholic, Dick was educated by the Benedictines at St Mary's College, Lyndhurst (1861-66), and at the non-denominational Sydney Grammar School in 1867.

His student days at the University of Sydney

O'Connor attended the University of Sydney from 1868 to 1876.

He won the Wentworth Medal for the English essay in 1870, and graduated BA in 1871 and MA in 1873.

His career

O'Connor was admitted to the Bar on 15 June 1876 and was appointed QC in 1896.

He entered the New South Wales Legislative Council in 1887 and held a number of influential positions including Solicitor-General. He was co-founder with close friend Edmund Barton (another early graduate of the University) of the Australasian Federation League of New South Wales (1893) and the Central Federation League (1896). He was a delegate to the People’s Federal Convention and the Australasian Federal Convention of 1897-98 and contributed to the drafting of Australia’s constitution through his involvement on the Constitutional Drafting Committee.

In March 1901 O’Connor was elected to represent New South Wales in the Senate at the first federal election, having been appointed a member of the first Commonwealth ministry in January 1901. He was the only Protectionist senator returned for New South Wales and joined Barton’s ministry as Vice-President of the Executive Council. As Leader of the Government in the Senate, O’Connor was particularly involved in securing the passage of the Customs Tariff Bill in 1902 and the Judiciary Bill (which established the High Court of Australia) in 1903. In September 1903 he resigned from the Senate and was appointed as one of three members of the High Court bench.

O’Connor was a committed and diligent senator and High Court judge, well respected in both legal and parliamentary circles and well known for his dedication to his family. Two of O’Connor’s four sons were killed in France during World War I.

He died of heart failure on 18 November 1912.

Information from the Australian Dictionary of Biography and the Parliament of Australia website


O'Connor was a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council from 1887 to 1898, image, Australian Town and Country Journal, 24 March 1888, National Library of Australia.


OConnor was appointed QC in 1896, photo, Australian Town and Country Journal, 5 December 1896, National Library of Australia.


A Premiers' conference c1896, one of a series which led to the formation of the Australian Commonwealth. The delegates include O'Connor (3rd from right), photo, The Mercury, 7 February 1951, National Library of Australia.


The Governor-General of Australia, Lord Tennyson, with members of the first Federal Cabinet. Senate O'Connor is standing, second from the left, photo, Singleton Argus, 3 January 1951, National Library of Australia.

High Court Judge

OConnor was a High Court Judge from 1903, photo, Freeman's Journal, 21 November 1912, National Library of Australia.

High Court Judge

Photo published on the death of Justice O'Connor in 1912, The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 November 1912, National Library of Australia.

His membership of Senate

O'Connor was an elected Fellow of the University Senate from December 1891 to the latter half of 1892 when his position lapsed through his official duties as Minister. He was re-elected in February 1893 and served on Senate until his death in 1912.

In addition he had been a Fellow of St John's College in 1874-87.

In its 1912 Report, Senate resolved: 'to place on record its sense of the loss sustained by the University and the community through the death of the Honourable Mr Justice R E O'Connor, MA, a distinguished graduate of the University, who rendered valuable service to the University as a Fellow of the Senate during a period of nineteen years, and to the community as a Minister of the Crown, as a judge of the High Court of Australia, and in other positions of public trust.'

Richard Edward (Dick) OConnor

1900s photo by Swiss Studios, nla pic-an23381771, courtesy National Library of Australia