GORDON, Sir John Hannah (1850-1923)


GORDON, Sir John Hannah (1850-1923)
politician and judge
was born at Kilmalcolm, Scotland, on 26 July 1850, the son of the Rev. James Gordon. His father went to South Australia in 1859 to take charge of the Presbyterian church at Mount Barker, and was afterwards stationed at Gawler. Gordon was educated at Mount Barker under James Clezy, M.A., and at Gawler under the Rev. J. Leonard and W. L. S. Burton. On leaving school he studied theology and classics for two years, and was then for some years in the offices of W. Duffield and Company of Gawler, and Dunn and Company, Port Adelaide. He took up the study of law and was admitted to the South Australian bar in 1876, but practised for 11 years at Strathalbyn as a successful solicitor. He did not become a Q.C. until 1900. In 1888 he was elected to the legislative council for the Southern District and held the seat for 15 years. He was minister of education in the Cockburn (q.v.) ministry from June 1889 to August 1890, and held the same position in the first Holder (q.v.) ministry from June to October 1892. He became chief secretary in the Kingston (q.v.) ministry in June 1893 but resigned on 15 February 1896. He was attorney-general in Holder's second ministry from December 1899 to May 1901 and from May 1901 to December 1903 in the Jenkins (q.v.) ministry. He was then raised to the supreme court bench. He had shown himself to be a great leader of the legislative council and a good administrator. Always a strong federalist he was a representative of South Australia at the 1891 convention, was elected fifth out of 33 candidates in 1897, and sat on the constitutional committee. He would probably have had no difficulty in winning a seat had he elected to enter federal politics, but decided to stay in South Australia.
As a judge Gordon was industrious and conscientious, quick in understanding, rapid and logical in his conclusions. He was helpful to timid witnesses and a friend to young barristers. It was generally believed that he could have become a high court judge had he desired it, but his health was imperfect, and the same reason probably prevented consideration of his claims to be chief justice of South Australia when Way (q.v.) died. He was an excellent lecturer on literary subjects, with a fine knowledge of the Elizabethan period, and his occasional articles in the Adelaide press showed great journalistic ability. He died at Adelaide on 23 December 1923. He married in 1876 Ann Rogers who survived him with a daughter. He was knighted in 1908.
Gordon was of athletic build, a charming companion with a brilliant mind. He was excellent both as an after-dinner speaker and in parliament, and always had a complete grip of the details of the bills he was bringing before parliament. No South Australian ever excelled his management of the upper house.
The Register and The Advertiser, Adelaide, 24 December 1923; J. Quick and R. R. Garran, The Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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