Andrew Inglis Clark

Andrew Inglis Clark (AOT, PH30/1/9968)

Andrew Inglis Clark (1848–1907), engineer, poet, lawyer, judge, legal scholar, principal architect of the Australian Constitution, was born in Hobart. His parents were Scottish, and his father an engineer. He was educated at Hobart High School, then worked in the family engineering business, but in 1872 commenced legal studies. He was admitted to practice in 1878.

By the 1870s Clark was widely read in literature, poetry, political philosophy and jurisprudence, and ambitious as a poet. Combative by disposition, he was formidable on the chess-board and in debate. During 1874 Clark and like-minded friends published a monthly journal, the Quadrilateral. Clark was editor, contributing poems, literary criticism, and essays on proportional representation, responsible government and federalism. The journal lasted only one year, but was survived by a heterodox discussion circle, the Minerva Club. Papers were solemnly read and discussed. Many of Clark's essays survive. Religiously, Clark was a Baptist to the early 1870s, thereafter Unitarian. The Minerva did not outlast the 1880s, but a discussion group in Clark's home, Rosebank, continued in the 1890s. Clark strongly supported establishment of the University of Tasmania, lectured in Law occasionally, and from 1901–03 was Vice-Chancellor.

Politically ambitious, Clark was a member of the House of Assembly in 1878–82 and 1887–98. In 1887–92 and 1894–97 he was Attorney-General. A radical nationalist and democrat, he favoured republicanism and Australian federation, each on the United States model; manhood suffrage; votes for women and strict separation of religion and state. In 1896 he persuaded Parliament to implement what is now called the Hare–Clark system of proportional representation in Hobart and Launceston Lower House electorates. In 1907 this system was extended to the entire state.

Clark was a Tasmanian delegate to the Australasian Federation Conference in 1890, and the National Australasian Convention in 1891. For the latter, he prepared the draft of a federal constitution. This formed the principal basis for the draft constitution eventually recommended by the 1891 convention. The substance of that draft was enacted by the British Parliament, in 1900, as the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia. Clark has been called 'primary architect' of the federal constitution (by Sir William Deane), and is conventionally considered a 'Father of Federation'.

In 1897 the Braddon Government rejected advice Clark tendered, as Attorney-General, that ministerial approval of railway leases was unlawful. Clark resigned in protest, briefly becoming Leader of the Opposition. In 1898 he accepted appointment to the Tasmanian Supreme Court.

Clark achieved great distinction as a judge and legal thinker. In 1901 he published Studies in Australian Constitutional Law (second edition 1905), still highly esteemed by legal scholars. In 1903 he was seriously considered for the bench of the High Court of Australia, but missed out when appointments were reduced from five to three. In 1906 the bench was expanded to five, but Clark was once more passed over. Some poems in the Clark Papers reflect his bitterness.

Further reading: M Haward & J Warden (eds), An Australian democrat, Hobart, 1995; F Neasey & L Neasey, Andrew Inglis Clark, Hobart, 2001; R Ely et al (eds), A living force, Hobart, 2001.

See also: University of Tasmania - Andrew Inglis Clark website

Richard Ely