MADDEN, Sir John (1844-1918)


MADDEN, Sir John (1844-1918)
chief-justice of Victoria
was the second son of John Madden, solicitor, of Cork, Ireland, and was born there on 16 May 1844. He was educated at a private school in London, his father had settled there in 1852, and at a college at Beauchamp in France, where he acquired complete proficiency in French. In later years he showed a good working knowledge of both German and Italian. His father decided to emigrate to Australia, and landed at Melbourne with his family in January 1857. After a period at St Patrick's college, the boy went on to the university of Melbourne, took his B.A. degree in 1864, LL.B. in 1865 and LL.D. in 1869. When J. F. James, registrar of the university, died in 1864, Madden carried on his duties for a short period and was an unsuccessful applicant for the vacant position. He was called to the bar on 14 September 1865, and was quickly recognized as one of the coming men, at first on the equity side and afterwards in criminal cases. In 1871 he attempted to enter parliament as the representative for West Bourke in the legislative assembly. He was defeated, but was returned at the next election. He joined the McCulloch (q.v.) ministry as minister for justice in October 1875 and, though he lost his seat on going before his constituents, he was retained in the ministry until 1876 when he was returned for Sandridge. McCulloch resigned in May 1877, but in March 1880 Madden became minister of justice in the Service (q.v.) ministry, which, however, lasted only five months. Madden's practice became so large that in 1883 he retired from politics. He was now one of the leaders of the bar and for many years was a rival to J. L. Purves (q.v.), though his methods were quite different. As an advocate, his good humour and unvarying courtesy was backed by a knowledge of the law and a complete grasp of the facts which were the results of great industry. He more than once declined a judgeship, but when Chief-justice Higinbotham (q.v.) died at the end of 1892, Madden was given his position in January 1893. It has been stated that he was earning about £8000 a year at this time, and the acceptance of this office meant a considerable monetary sacrifice.
Besides carrying out the duties of the chief-justice Madden did important work in other directions. He was vice-chancellor of the university of Melbourne from 1889 to 1897, and chancellor from 1897 until his death. He was a regular attendant at council meetings and public functions and an admirable chairman of committees. On special occasions he could always be relied upon to make dignified and eloquent speeches, and he never felt it was the duty of a chancellor to interfere in any way with the professors in the conduct of their departments. All this led to the smooth running of the institution and he earned the respect and affection of both the staff and the students. He administered the government of Victoria on several occasions from 1893 onwards, and was formally appointed lieutenant-governor in 1899. He carried out his duties with great success, associating himself with every movement likely to be for the good of the state, and showing himself to be equal to any constitutional problems which arose. He died suddenly on 10 March 1918. He married in 1872, Gertrude Frances Stephen, who survived him with one son and five daughters. He was knighted in 1893, made a K.C.M.G. in 1899, and G.C.M.G. in 1906.
Madden was interested in every form of sport and also in country life. He was neither a great lawyer nor a great judge, but he had a good knowledge of case law and was a master of practice. During his early years on the bench his decisions were fairly often upset on appeal. It has been said of him that at times he lacked that happy welding together of ascertained fact and appropriate law . . . which renders decisions practically unappealable" but he was generally a sound judge, independent and capable, whose rulings were always marked by common sense. He understood too how judicial kindliness could be backed by sufficient firmness. Before he became a judge he was a great advocate, with a fine voice, an engaging address and a deceptive good humour which masked a knowledge of the facts, and of human nature and its frailties. He had all the qualities needed for a good lieutenant-governor; good-humour without loss of dignity, an unforced hospitality, sufficient knowledge of constitutional practice, and much popularity with all classes of the community.
A younger brother, Sir Frank Madden (1847-1921), became a member of the Victorian legislative assembly in 1894 and was elected speaker in 1904. He held his position until he lost his seat in parliament at the 1917 election. He was an excellent speaker, courteous, impartial and firm, and had the respect of the house. He took a great interest in agriculture and irrigation and in 1895 published a pamphlet Grass Lands of Victoria. He died at Melbourne on 17 February 1921. He was knighted in June 1911. Another brother, Walter Madden (1848-1925), also entered parliament and represented the Wimmera for many years. He was president of the board of land and works in the O'Loghlan ministry from 1881 to 1883.
The Argus, 11 March 1918; The Cyclopaedia of Victoria, 1903; Sir Ernest Scott, A History of the University of Melbourne; Men of the Time in Australia, 1878; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography; personal knowledge; The Argus, 18 February 1921, 4 August 1925.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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