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The Rt. Hon Sir Edmund Barton GCMG KC PC

1849 – 1920

Sir Edmund Barton GCMG KC PC (1849-1920), Australia’s first prime minister, was the youngest of nine children of a well-educated woman. Captain of Sydney Grammar two years running and an outstanding student of classics at the University of Sydney, he worked as a solicitor and barrister for ten years before being elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 1879. Over the next twenty years he represented four different seats, becoming speaker and attorney general in turn. Through the mid-1890s Barton was the prime mover for the federation of the Australian colonies into one Commonwealth, passionately explaining and promoting the process to the people and later, in 1900, to the British parliament. He became prime minister in 1901. During his single term in office, the Immigration Restriction Act passed, the first Australian soldiers went to the Boer War, Edward VII succeeded Queen Victoria and the High Court was established. On the way home from representing Australia at the Colonial Conference of British Empire prime ministers in 1902, he met the Pope and conversed with him in Latin - to the horror of Australian protestants. He gained honorary doctorates from Cambridge and Oxford and honorary memberships of twelve London clubs. Barton resigned from politics in 1903, to spend the rest of his life as a judge on the High Court.

Updated 2018