History of West Australia/Richard William Pennefather

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Richard William Pennefather HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

THE Western Australia population is essentially cosmopolitan in character; a mikrokosmos—a small world gathering. With such a class of inhabitants, mostly men of good intelligence, the contest is keen and decisive. In the race some stumble, some fall, some falter in the rear, and the fittest emerge victorious.

And let the egoist remember that there are races among the champions of the public good, where, also, the best survive the struggle. This second race cannot be termed selfish, for it not infrequently happens that, in a measure, it sacrifices its own interests to the public good. Into the ranks of the latter, Mr. R. W. Pennefather has entered in Western Australia. He is another of the comparatively young men who have come from the Eastern colonies to make his home in the West. On this point, in declaring the Government programme at Bunbury on 16th March, 1897, Sir John Forrest said:—" A large population has been attracted to these shores, and I can speak for all old Western Australians in saying that we welcome these newcomers to this land. We ask them to come here and throw in their lot with us, and take a share in the government of the country, and to be in all respects equal to us. All we want is that they will go shoulder to shoulder with us in trying to advance the permanent interests of this great country." Mr. Pennefather has, in a literal sense, taken the Premier's words.

Richard William Pennefather was born in Tipperary, Ireland, and is a son of Mr. Frederick Pennefather, of Holy Cross Abbey, one of the most charming country seats in the county. While yet young he was taken to Melbourne, Victoria, where he received private tuition, afterwards finishing at the Melbourne University. In 1878 he took the degrees of LL.B. and B.A., and was called to the Victorian Bar, and practised his profession for a couple of years, after which he went to Sydney, and was admitted to the New South Wales Bar, and practised in the metropolis with success. Eventually he returned to Victoria, and resumed his old legal connection. As an advocate in the Criminal Court, as counsel in the Civil Courts, as a cross-examiner in involved Equity suits, or in reducing complicated issues, he could dive into the depths of the sea of legal lore and bring out conclusive points in favour of his clients. In all he practised for fifteen years at the Victorian bar, and had an honourable career in his profession.

In March, 1896, Mr. Pennefather came to Western Australia, but under the provisions of the Legal Practitioners Act it was necessary for him to reside in the colony for six months before he was qualified for admission to the Western Australian Bar. He spent this period, travelling over the colony in examining the mineral, pastoral, agricultural, and woodland resources. Especially did he devote attention to the auriferous areas, and he returned to Perth in November, 1896, thoroughly satisfied with the stability and prospects of the colony. Mr. Pennefather was admitted to practice at the end of 1896, and entered into partnership with Mr. John Horgan, a well-known member of the legal profession in Perth. The partnership has been mutually advantageous, and a large practice accrues to the firm.

At the general elections for the House of Assembly, in 1897, Mr. Pennefather stood for the Greenough constituency, and gained the seat by a substantial majority. He promised adherence to the Forrest policy, and with his sound intelligence, and excellent debating abilities, was looked upon as a rising member of the House. When in October, 1897, Mr. S. Burt, Q.C., retired, Sir John Forrest proved the sincerity of his Bunbury speech by offering Mr. Pennefather the Attorney-General's portfolio in the Cabinet. The offer was accepted, and Mr. Pennefather now performs the important duties attached to the office. For so new a Parliamentarian this was a distinguished step.

Mr. Pennefather is a fluent speaker, is at times eloquent, and is always courteous and ready to give ear to the views of others.