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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Griffiths, Walter (1867–1900)

by J. C. Bannon

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Walter Griffiths (1867-1900), mining investor and politician, was born on 4 July 1867 at Kent Town, Adelaide, son of Frederick Griffiths, a well-to-do ironmonger, and his wife Helen, née Giles. After attending St Aloysius College, Sevenhills, and the Collegiate School of Saint Peter, Adelaide, at 15 Walter joined his uncle William K. Griffiths, a storekeeper with interests in mining, at Yam Creek in the Northern Territory. Walter was a protégé of mining investor and importer V. L. Solomon, becoming his partner in mining ventures in the territory, and in the Kimberley, Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie goldfields, Western Australia. They owned the Northern Territory Times and he helped Solomon to produce an influential Guide to the W.A. Goldfields, becoming a prominent member of the Kalgoorlie Chamber of Mines.

On his uncle's death in 1892, Walter took over the business, retaining his association with Solomon, who in 1890, had become one of the two members for the Northern Territory in the South Australian House of Assembly. In 1893 Griffiths successfully stood with Solomon, at the age of 25 becoming the youngest member. He held the seat until his death. As member for the territory he was famous for his travels, twice overlanding from the railhead at Marree to Palmerston, and visiting other remote areas by camel and horse. He also travelled to Hong Kong and Japan and published a pamphlet, The Empires of the East (Adelaide, 1895).

Griffiths achieved a moment of national fame in the Federation cause following the agitation on the goldfields for Western Australia to join the Commonwealth. He worked with South Australian Federationists, including P. M. Glynn, C. C. Kingston and (Sir) Josiah Symon, to advise and encourage the Eastern Goldfields Reform League, formed in December 1899 following the Western Australian government's refusal to hold a referendum. The league gathered signatures for a giant petition to be presented to Queen Victoria seeking 'separation for federation'—the creation of a State, 'Auralia', which would join the federation. Griffiths was elected to the league's executive and chosen to take the petition to London in early 1900, to support the Australian delegates and lobby the British government to either agree to separation or force Western Australia to join.

Although the British colonial secretary Joseph Chamberlain refused to see him, Griffiths generated a persistent and strongly-worded correspondence claiming that the petitioners were 'justly incensed' at being prevented from presenting their case. (Sir) Edmund Barton, Alfred Deakin and Kingston publicly expressed their gratitude for the support he gave to their efforts to prevent the British government from amending the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution bill. Kingston congratulated him 'on the courageous and tactful manner in which you represented the interest of Westralian Federationists and Separationists'. Griffiths left London only after Chamberlain had advised him that Sir John Forrest had conceded and Western Australians would vote on the question of entry into the Commonwealth. While in Britain he had also made representations to the War Office on fortifications at Darwin and military horse-breeding opportunities in the territory.

Arriving home in late June, Griffiths reported that 'the petition of separation had achieved all that was desired'. But a few weeks after his return he was diagnosed with typhoid fever. He was in Wakefield Hospital for some weeks during the parliamentary sittings, and although described as having great 'strength and splendid physique', a shocked House was told on 4 September 1900 that he had died that day. A bachelor and an active and convivial member, he was praised by obituarists for his 'genial character' and 'true patriotism'. There were many dignitaries at his funeral and representatives from the Darwin-Adelaide overland telegraph operators and the Stragglers Cricket Club, for whom he had played.

Select Bibliography

  • J. L. Parsons (ed), History of Adelaide and Vicinity (Adel, 1901)
  • H. Coxon et. al., The Biographical Register of the South Australian Parliament 1857-1957 (Adel, 1985)
  • Parliamentary Debates (House of Assembly, South Australia), 5 Sept 1900, p 449
  • Register (Adelaide), 23 June 1900, 5 Sept 1900, p 6
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 5 Sept 1900, p 6
  • Observer (Adelaide), 8 Sept 1900, p 16
  • Western Argus, 13 Sept 1900, p 37.

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Citation details

J. C. Bannon, 'Griffiths, Walter (1867–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 23 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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