DUFFY, Sir Frank Gavan (1852-1936)


DUFFY, Sir Frank Gavan (1852-1936)
chief justice of the high court of Australia
was a son of Sir Charles Gavan Duffy (q.v.), and was born at Dublin, Ireland, on 29 February 1852. He arrived in Victoria with his parents early in 1856, and a few years later was sent to England to be educated at Stonyhurst College. Returning to Australia in 1869 he went to the university of Melbourne and graduated B.A. in 1872. He entered the public service, studied law and began to practise as a barrister in 1875. In 1879 the second edition of Casey's Justices Manual was published, and Duffy evidently took a full share in its preparation as the book is stated on the title-page to be "by James Joseph Casey and Frank Gavan Duffy". In the same year he founded the Australian Law Times and continued to be its editor until 1883. In 1882 The Insolvency Statute 1871 with rules, notes and index was published as the joint work of Duffy and H. B. Higgins (q.v.), and in 1886 appeared The Law Relating to the Property of Married Women, written with W. H. Irvine. He was practising successfully, at first in the county court and later in the supreme court, and early in the nineties he was ranked as one of the ablest men at the bar. Unfortunately he became involved in the financial crisis of 1893, but unlike many men of his period accepted his responsibilities, and over a long period of years gradually paid off every penny for which he was liable. In June 1893 he was senior counsel for Speight in the famous Speight versus Syme (q.v.) libel case, and in the same year published with A. McHugh The Insolvency Act 1890, practically a second edition of the previous work by Duffy and Higgins. Two years later appeared The Transfer of Land Act 1890 prepared in collaboration with J. G. Eagleson. When J. L. Purves (q.v.) died in 1910 Duffy became the acknowledged leader of the bar, he had become a Q.C. in 1900. From 1902 to 1910 he was lecturer on the law of contracts and personal property at the university of Melbourne, and in 1907 became editor of the Victorian law reports. He was elevated to the high court bench in 1913, and when Sir Isaac Isaacs was made governor-general in 1930, Duffy became chief justice. Early in 1936 he was invited to give a series of lectures on Australian Commonwealth law at the tercentenary of Harvard university, but was unable to accept the invitation on account of his advanced years. He died after a short illness on 29 July 1936. He married in 1880 Ellen Torr who survived him with three sons, one of whom Charles Gavan Duffy born in 1882 had become a judge of the supreme court of Victoria in 1933. Duffy was created K.C.M.G. in 1929, and was made a member of the privy council in 1932.
Duffy was an amiable man, widely read and with a great appreciation of the best literature. His wit and humour are both shown in his "A Dream of Fair judges" a delightful parody of the well-known poem by Tennyson, which appeared in the Summons in June 1892. He could even bring his humour into a cross-examination as he gently led an untrustworthy witness along the path that led to his undoing. In the criminal court he was second only to Purves but he was more than a mere advocate, he had a wide grasp of the law, and his memory for the facts of the case was remarkable. His acute logical mind and fine intellectual powers made him an excellent judge, who worthily upheld the honour and dignity of the court.
The Argus and The Age, Melbourne, 30 July 1936; Calendars of the university of Melbourne.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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