Portraits of Chief Justices and the first bench

  • Court 1
  • Percy FS Spence
  • (1868–1933)
  • Mr Justice O'Connor
  • 1913
  • oil on canvas
  • High Court of Australia Historic Memorials Collection

The Rt Hon Justice Richard Edward O’Connor (1851–1912) was the first President of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration (1905–07), and sat on the High Court from October 1903 until November 1912. He was educated at St Mary's College Lyndhurst and Sydney Grammar School before graduating with a Master of Arts from the University of Sydney. He was admitted to the NSW Bar in 1876, and appointed a Queen's Counsel (QC) in 1896. He was nominated to the NSW Legislative Council on 30 December 1887 and served as the Minister for Justice (1891–93) and NSW Solicitor-General (1893). In the first post-federation Barton Government, he served as a Protectionist Party Senator, Leader of the Senate and Vice-President of the Federal Executive Council (1901–03). Like Barton, a lifelong friend, O'Connor had been prominent in the federation movement. Justice O'Connor was appointed to the first High Court Bench on 5 October 1903, along with Edmund Barton and Samuel Griffith.

Former Chief Justices (further information)

About the artist

  • Percy Frederick Seaton Spence was born in Sydney in 1868 but grew up in Fiji where his father held a public service position. By the end of the 1880s Percy was back in Sydney working as an illustrator for the Daily Telegraph, Illustrated Sydney News and The Bulletin. He was also engaged in other aspects of art practice and in 1892 his oil painting ‘The Ploughman’ was acquired by the Art Gallery of New South Wales. It was in the 1890s he began to be in demand for his portraits and in 1893 he executed a drawing of the writer Robert Louis Stevenson which is held in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London. Like many other artists, Percy Spence felt the pull of England and he spent much of his early career travelling back and forth. Later England became his main home. He worked as an illustrator for various newspapers and journals and from 1899 exhibited with the Royal Academy of Arts. He had a studio in Kensington, London from 1915 to the mid 1920s. During World War 1 he served in the Royal Medical Army Corps. Percy Spence was admired for his illustrations but was best known for his portraiture. The portrait of the Hon Justice O’Connor is one of a number of portraits of dignitaries by Percy Spence held in public collections.