McCAWLEY, Thomas William (1881-1925)

McCAWLEY, Thomas William (1881-1925)
chief justice of Queensland
son of James McCawley, was born at Toowoomba Queensland, on 24 July 1881. Educated at St Patrick's boys' school, Toowoomba, McCawley at 14 years of age began working as a teacher, but shortly afterwards entered a solicitor's office. He studied shorthand and became so proficient that he taught it to evening students at the Toowoomba technical college. He passed the public service examination, entered the service of the Queensland government savings bank, and was successively transferred to the offices of the public service board and the department of justice. Studying after office hours, he passed the prescribed examinations and was admitted to the Queensland bar in the beginning of 1907. In the same year he was appointed certifying barrister under the friendly societies and trade union acts, and as first clerk in the department of justice he earned the complete confidence of the successive ministerial heads of the department. In 1910, when only 28 years of age, he was appointed crown solicitor, and soon established a remarkable reputation. At one sitting of the high court at Brisbane the state of Queensland was concerned in six appeals, and the court upheld McCawley's opinion in each case. In the Eastern case argued by T. J. Ryan (q.v.) before the privy council in England, McCawley as crown solicitor instructed Ryan and accompanied him to England. Their contentions were upheld by the privy council, and the immediate consequential saving to Queensland was in the neighbourhood of £70,000. In 1915 McCawley was appointed under-secretary for justice.
McCawley had always been interested in industrial arbitration, and so far back as 1906 had collaborated with (Sir) J. W. Blair and T. Macleod in the preparation of a work on The Workers' Compensation Act of 1905. In January 1917 McCawley was appointed president of the court of industrial arbitration, and a few months later he was made a judge of the supreme court. There was much opposition to these appointments, and technical objections were raised by some members of the Queensland bar and some of the judges of the supreme court. A majority of the Queensland full court upheld these objections, and on an appeal being made to the high court of Australia there was again a majority verdict against McCawley. The privy council, however, reversed both these decisions. McCawley found that the work of the arbitration court was both heavy and difficult, but he had never been afraid of work. On 1 April 1922 he was made chief-justice of Queensland on the retirement of Sir Pope Cooper (q.v.). McCawley carried on his offices until 16 April 1925, when he died suddenly at Brisbane in his forty-fourth year. He married in 1911 Margaret Mary, daughter of Thomas O'Hogan, who survived him with three sons and a daughter.
McCawley started with no advantages and by sheer force of ability and character reached one of the highest positions in the land. He easily wore down the feeling that arose when he was made a judge and earned the respect and affection of all his associates. He never lost his simple and unassuming manner, he remained a student all his life, and he gained a remarkable knowledge of law. His earnestness, courtesy and acuteness made him a great arbitration judge. His too early death was lamented by all classes in Queensland.
The Brisbane Courier, 17 and 18 April 1925; Who's Who, 1925.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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