Thomas McCawley

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Thomas McCawley
Judge Thomas McCawley.jpg
Judge Thomas McCawley
5th Chief Justice of Queensland
In office
1 April 1922 – 24 April 1925
Preceded byPope Cooper
Succeeded byJames Blair
Personal details
Born(1881-07-24)24 July 1881
Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia
Died16 April 1925(1925-04-16) (aged 43)
Brisbane, Australia
Resting placeToowong cemetery, Brisbane
Spouse(s)Margaret Mary O'Hagan
ChildrenFive (four sons and a daughter)
Known forRole as a leading judge in Queensland

Thomas William McCawley (24 July 1881 – 16 April 1925) was a chief justice of Queensland.


McCawley was born in Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia. He was of Irish-Catholic background, his father having been born in County Leitrim, Ireland. On his mother's side he had German ancestry, his mother coming from Darmstadt, Germany. He was educated at the Sisters of Mercy's Hibernian Hall and a state school in Toowoomba. At the age of 14 he took a job for three years as a clerk in the Toowoomba firm of solicitors, Hamilton & Wonderley.[1] Later, McCawley was employed by the Queensland Government Savings Bank, and was successively transferred to the offices of the public service board and the Department of Justice. Studying after hours, he passed the prescribed examinations and was admitted to the Queensland bar on 7 May 1907. In November 1910, at the age of 29 he was appointed crown solicitor, an appointment which was controversial at the time.[2]

McCawley was a staunch Catholic.[2][3] This, and his links with the Labor Party in Queensland, attracted criticism from some parts of the legal profession in Queensland when he was appointed to a number of senior legal positions in the state[4] There were objections from some quarters, both on political grounds and on the grounds of his lack of experience as practising barrister, when he was appointed as the first president of the Queensland Court of Industrial Arbitration in January 1917, and then puisne judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland in October 1917. Challenges to his appointment in the Supreme Court of Queensland,[5] and in the High Court of Australia,[6] were successful but were overturned by the Privy Council in London.[7][8] During the next few years, until his premature death, he made a significant contribution to industrial relations law.[9]

McCawley made contributions to industrial law and relations, and framed an award for railway employees. McCawley was made chief justice of Queensland on the retirement of Sir Pope Cooper on 1 April 1922 when, aged 41, he became the youngest chief justice in the British Empire. McCawley held office until 16 April 1925 when he died suddenly of a heart attack at Roma Street railway station in Brisbane while running to catch a train to Ipswich to attend to legal affairs.[10] He was survived by his wife, four sons and one daughter.

McCawley was given a State funeral at St Stephen's Cathedral and buried at Toowong Cemetery.[11]


On 13 December 1927 a bronze bust of McCawley was unveiled at the Board of Arbitration in Brisbane.

McCawley Street in the Brisbane suburb of Stafford is named after him. In September 1961, McCawley Street in the suburb of Watson in Canberra was named after him in recognition, among other things, of his contributions in the field of industrial law and industrial arbitration.[12]

On 22 November 2018, Professor Nicholas Aroney from the University of Queensland delivered the fifth lecture in the 2018 Selden Society lecture series on Law and politics in McCawley's case in the Banco Court in the Supreme Court of Queensland.

See also[edit]


  • Serle, Percival (1949). "McCawley, Thomas". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.
  • Murphy, D.J (1975). T. J. Ryan: A political biography. Brisbane: University of Queensland Press.
  • M. Cope (1976). "The Political Appointment of T.W. McCawley as President of the Court of Industrial Arbitration, Justice of the Supreme Court and Chief Justice of Queensland", The University of Queensland Law Journal, Vol. 9, No. 2 (1976), pp 224-242.
  • Malcolm Cope (1986). 'McCawley, Thomas William (1881 - 1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10.
  • Nicholas Aroney (2006). 'Politics, Law and the Constitution in McCawley's Case', 30(3), Melbourne University Law Review, 605.
  • Nicolas Aroney (2018). Fifth lecture in the 2018 Selden Society lecture series on Law and politics in McCawley's case, 22 November 2018.


  1. ^ 'The Honourable Thomas W McCawley', Supreme Court Library of Queensland.
  2. ^ a b Murphy, D.J (1978), p. 109.
  3. ^ Murphy, D.J (1978) also discusses in detail the political and social issues surrounding the role of the Australian Labor Party and the Catholic community in Queensland at the time. The context is also discussed in considerable detail in Nicholas Aroney, 'Politics, Law and the Constitution in McCawley's Case', (2006) 30(3) Melbourne University Law Review 605.
  4. ^ Scott Guy, Kanchana Kariyawsam and Barbara Hocking, 'The philosophical ideals and political orientation of Thomas McCawley: A social democrat or a pragmatist?', (2007) 19(2) Bond Law Review 58.
  5. ^ In re McCawley [1918] St R Qd 62, (22 August 1918), Supreme Court (Full Court) (Qld).
  6. ^ McCawley v R [1918] HCA 55, (1918) 26 CLR 9 (27 September 1918), High Court (Australia).
  7. ^ McCawley v The King [1920] UKPC 22, [1920] AC 691; (1920) 28 CLR 106 (8 March 1920), Privy Council (on appeal from Australia).
  8. ^ Murphy, D.J (1978), pp. 346, 358, 373, 391, 477 & 478.
  9. ^ Paul de Jersey, Chief Justice of Queensland, My Younger Predecessors, Paper from the Supreme Court of Queensland Library, Wednesday 19 August 1998.
  10. ^ "NOTABLE CAREER CLOSED". The Brisbane Courier. 17 April 1925. p. 7. Retrieved 14 December 2015 – via National Library of Australia.
  11. ^ McCawley Thomas William — Brisbane City Council Grave Location Search. Retrieved 22 September 2012.
  12. ^ Street names, ACT Government, accessed 2 January 2019. Streets in Watson are named after Australian judges and other leading members of the legal profession.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Pope Alexander Cooper
Chief Justice of Queensland
Succeeded by
James Blair