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About Clark home

Clark's family
Clark's career
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Clark Exhibition



Tasmanian and family background

Andrew Inglis Clark was born in Hobart in 1848. His father, Alexander Clark, was a Scottish engineer who arrived in the colony in 1832, and was responsible for the design and construction of a flour mill at Port Arthur. Though transportation came to an end in 1853, Clark grew up in a community which had by no means shaken off its origins as a penal colony.

Educated at Hobart High School, he at first seemed destined to work in the family firm. Though he disappointed his father’s expectations by embarking, at the age of twenty-four, on a legal career, Clark drew deeply on the influences of a sober, industrious, civic-minded and God-fearing family. In 1878 he married Grace Ross, and had five sons and two daughters. He was very much a family man. In later years the door of his study was always open for his children. See also illustrated version.

Making his way in the world culturally and politically

Clark had to make his own way in the world. He trained for the law, taking his articles with R. P. Adams, but his broader education depended very much on his own initiative. He read widely, participated enthusiastically in local literary societies, and edited 'Quadrilateral', a literary, philosophical and political journal.

Clark was radical for his times, a firm democrat and republican. He was inspired by the Italian Risorgimento, and Joseph Mazzini was a special hero. A member of the American Club, he celebrated with friends the centenary of the Declaration of American Independence in 1876 with a rousing speech in favour of the principles of the American Revolution and their applicability to Australia.

Despite his reputation as an ‘extreme ultra-republican’, Clark was elected to the House of Assembly in 1878, largely through the influence of the midlands landowner Thomas Reiby. He was an active politician and campaigner for liberal causes. He was a leading light of the Southern Tasmanian Political Reform Association (1885) which lobbied for manhood suffrage, fixed term parliaments and electoral reform. His political career culminated as Attorney-General in the P.O. Fysh and E. M. Braddon ministries, 1887-92 and 1894-7.
See also illustrated version.

Clark and Federation

Clark was closely associated with the Federation movement in its early years. The Tasmanian Parliament elected Clark as a delegate on the Federal Council in 1888, 1889, 1891, and 1894 and the Australasian Federation Conference in 1890. At the Federation Convention of 1891 his draft Constitution, which systematized provisions drawn from the American Constitution and the Federal Council Act, was warmly received by delegates from the other colonies.

Although tending to be too literary and verbose, Clark described how the organs of central government would work and proposed a separate federal judiciary, which would replace the Privy Council as the highest court of appeal on Australian law. A bout of influenza prevented Clark from initially joining fellow drafters on the steamship Lucinda, where his draft was tinkered with but not fundamentally changed: eighty-six of his ninety-six sections found their way into the 1900 Australian Constitution.

By then Clark's support of union waned and had turned into opposition. He apparently thought that financial clauses would act deleteriously on small States like Tasmania and withdrew from the Federation movement. Although this meant that his contribution to Australia's foundation document was not fully recognized, the order, form, substance, and American flavour of the Australian Constitution owed more to Andrew Inglis Clark than any other single individual. Sir William Deane, the former Governor-General, has fairly dubbed him 'the primary architect of our constitution'. See also illustrated version.

Clark as law maker and jurist

While Attorney-General in the Fysh and Braddon Governments, Clark became the most productive and progressive Tasmanian Attorney-General of the nineteenth century. He introduced 228 Bills into the House of Assembly and, displaying superlative drafting skills, modernised and consolidated the law on a wide range of subjects.

As a democrat and a representative of the working man, Clark sought to break the power of property in Tasmanian politics. He believed in 'the rights of man' and advocated participation of working men, women and minorities in the electoral process. His legislative programme sought to remove inequalities in social and economic affairs, and ensure all citizens reached their full potential.

Clark's best known achievement was the introduction of the Hare-Clark system of proportional representation based on the concept of the single transferable vote. He failed to secure manhood suffrage and womanhood suffrage, but did secure the passage of social and industrial laws, such as amending the licensing acts, protecting children from neglect and abuse, legalising trade unions, preventing cruelty to animals, and updating the marriage, defamation, trustee and companies laws.

Clark resigned as Attorney-General after his Cabinet colleagues did not seek his advice over the legality of leasing Crown land to a private company. After a period as Leader of the Opposition, Clark left politics to become a Judge of the Tasmanian Supreme Court in June 1898.

Although his forte was constitutional law, as a Judge Clark's time was divided between presiding in jury trials in civil and criminal jurisdictions, hearing civil cases as the sole Judge, and receiving appeals from lower courts. One of his most celebrated cases, Pedder v. D'Emden involved constitutional law and the doctrine of intergovernmental immunities.

This was the first important constitutional law case heard by the High Court, which supported Clark's dissenting judgment and established the principle that the judiciary had authority under the Constitution to determine the limits of the powers of the Commonwealth and State Parliaments and to invalidate legislation which exceeded those powers.

Clark's judgments were detached and fair and gave no hint that he allowed himself to be influenced by the strong political, moral, and social values which he privately held.

While a Supreme Court Judge, Clark published his Studies in Constitutional Law in 1901, which confirmed his reputation as a leading constitutional lawyer. This strengthened his claim to a position on the High Court, but he was denied this much desired prize. In 1903 the chance of a seat evaporated when the Commonwealth Parliament cut the number of High Court Judges from five to three. In 1906 when the bench was enlarged he was again passed over and this soured relations with his Federation colleague Prime Minister Alfred Deakin. Clark remained on the Tasmanian Supreme Court until his death in 1907.
See also illustrated version.

'Rosebank', Clark and his coterie

At ‘Rosebank’, his home in Battery Point, Clark amassed a considerable library, and on Saturday evenings there gathered in the room many of the best minds of Hobart to discuss the latest ideas and issues. His coterie was known for its free-thinking and its radicalism, and acknowledged his intellectual leadership by referring to him as ‘padre’.

Despite his onerous professional engagements, Clark remained an avid reader and from his pen flowed poems, reviews and essays, including items privately circulated, on a surprising range of subjects. He corresponded with overseas luminaries, visited the United States of America in 1891 and 1897, and was a member of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.

Clark naturally supported the establishment of the University in Tasmania in 1889, and played a critical role in parliament in fending off a cost-cutting measure that would have stifled it at birth. From 1901 to 1903 he served as Vice-Chancellor.See also illustrated version.

Commemorating Clark

Clark has long had admirers, nationally and locally, among democrats and republicans. The recent debate over the Republic refocused attention on his conception of the legally independent Commonwealth, and his constitutional thinking has become more rather than less influential in federal jurisprudence.

There is now broad agreement that his role in Federation more than justifies Sir William Deane’s description of him ‘as the primary architect of our constitution’. Still, he deserves to be better known and appropriately commemorated in his home-state. The unassuming headstone which once marked his grave stands at the corner of Nelson Rd and Peel St as his only tangible memorial.

In 1991 a conference on Clark’s contribution to Australian democracy was organised by Marcus Haward and James Warden, and the papers were published as An Australian Democrat. The Life, Work and Consequences of Andrew Inglis Clark by the Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies in 1995.

For the Centenary of Federation (2001), the University of Tasmania has made Clark the focus of its celebrations. A public lecture and symposium were held in the university on 27-28 September2001, and two major new books have been published by the Schools of Law and History and Classics: Frank and Lawrence Neasey, Andrew Inglis Clark, and Richard Ely (ed.), A Living Force. Andrew Inglis Clark and the Ideal of the Commonwealth. Proceeds from the sale of these books will go into university scholarships and prizes.
See also illustrated version.

The illustrated version of this biographical information is in the Clark Exhibition. For more detailed biographical information go to Clark's Biography. See also Obituaries: Two remembrances of Clark.



Last Modified: 27-Oct-2003