The Rt Hon Sir Edmund Barton, KC, GCMG

Born in Glebe (New South Wales), Edmund (Toby) Barton entered colonial politics in 1877, after a successful career at the Bar. A member, at different times, of both houses of the New South Wales Parliament, he served as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly (1883–87), Attorney-General (1889 and 1891–93), and Leader of the Opposition (1898–99).

In the 1890s Barton became the heralded champion of the Federal movement and one of the draftsmen of Australia’s Constitution, earning the epithet ‘Australia’s noblest son’. Barton was commissioned Prime Minister on 1 January 1901 and was subsequently elected to the federal House of Representatives for the seat of Hunter in the inaugural federal election of 1901. Barton held the fledgling government together ‘by force of a capacity for attracting personal affection and trust such as few men possess’. His ministry proved one of the most enduring in the tumultuous first decade of the new nation—its length (two years, 10 months) being more than double the average length of the next seven governments.

Barton resigned as Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs on 24 September 1903 (and from the Parliament on 30 September 1903) to take up an appointment to the first bench of the High Court, serving alongside Samuel Griffith (Chief Justice) and Richard O'Connor.  He remained on the High Court bench until his death in 1920.

artwork portrait of Edmund Barton by alison alder jpg

No 001 Barton by Alison Alder.


Further Portraiture

Edmund (Toby) Barton by Norman St Clair Carter, Historic Memorials Collection, Parliament House Art Collection


Sir Edmund Barton Exhibition Lecture [MP4]
Dr David Headon—Parliamentary Library Fellow, Australian National University


Edmund Barton – his own particular harvest: Australia’s 1st prime minister [PDF 18.5 MB] by Dr. David Headon

Edmund Barton - 100 years on by Dr Nathan Church, FlagPost, Parliamentary Library blog

First Sitting of the Commonwealth Parliament by Dr Dianne Heriot, FlagPost, Parliamentary Library blog

Australia’s first federal election–29 and 30 March 1901 by Dr Dianne Heriot, FlagPost, Parliamentary Library blog