Founding Fathers of Federation

Sir John William Downer (1844-1915)

John Downer was born and educated in Adelaide, where he was admitted to the Bar in 1867. He was a member for Barossa in the South Australian House of Assembly 1878-1901. In that time he held many high ranking positions, including Premier, Attorney General and Treasurer. Downer became Queen's Counsel in 1878 and was knighted in 1887.

An ardent supporter of Federation, Downer represented South Australia at the Federal conventions in 1878 and 1897-1898. He advocated a strong Senate as a guardian  of states rights and, as a member of the Constitutional Drafting Committee in 1897, assisting Barton and O'Connor in producing a final draft of the Constitutional Bill.

John Downer was elected to represent South Australia in the Senate at the first Federal election in 1901. He supported the Barton Ministry in the first Parliament and took a particular interest in the establishment of the High Court of Australia.

After his retirement from the Senate in 1903, Downer continued to practice as a lawyer in Adelaide. In 1905 he was elected to the South Australian Legislative Council, and he remained a representative of the Southern Districts in that chamber until his death in 1915. Sir John William Downer was the father of Sir Alexander Downer MP (1910-1981) and grandfather to the current High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Alexander Downer, both of whom were appointed ministers in Federal Liberal Governments.

John William Downer is buried in VLT ED, Path 6 South. 


James Henderson Howe (1839-1920)

Scottish born James Howe had a reputation as a hard worker and capable administrator who had a genuine concern for the plight of the poor and the aged. As a member of the finance committee, he persuaded the 1897-98 Federation Convention that the provision of pensions be included in the Constitution as a federal responsibility.

On arrival in South Australia in 1856 he joined the police force and served in many country towns. A competent horseman, he retired from the police to breed Clydesdales. As Mayor of Gawler he promoted the eight-hour day. Howe was elected to the House of Assembly (South Australia) where he effectively represented rural interests for thirty years. His longstanding service earned him the reputation of “Father of the House.”

James Henderson Howe is buried in Plot 3031, Path 17 North.


Sir John Hannah Gordon (1850-1923)

Although his father wanted him to go into the church, John Gordon studied law and rose to become a Supreme Court Judge.  He was knighted in 1908 for his contributions to the law.

Gordon was Mayor of Strathalbyn, and South Australia’s Minister of Education and Attorney General. He supported the view that the Murray River should be fairly shared. During the 1897 Federation Convention debates, he objected to the inclusion of lunacy as a federal responsibility.

He resigned political positions twice; once because unfortunate investments took him close to bankruptcy, and later to defend himself against Kingston’s accusation that he had used his position to have his sister promoted at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. 

Hohn Hannah Gordon is buried in Plot 2225, Path 7 North.


Sir Richard Chaffey Baker (1841-1911)

Richard Baker was born in North Adelaide, and educated in England. On his return from England in 1864 he practices as a barrister. He was a member of the South Australian House of Assembly (1868-1875) and the Legislative Council (1877-1901). In each house he was the first native born member to be elected.

A strong advocate ofd Federation, Baker was an active member of the Federation Conventions of 1891 and 1897-1898.

Baker was elected to the Senate to represent South Australia in 1901 and was the first President of the Senate from 1901 until his retirement due to ill health in 1906.

Baker was knighted in 1895 and appointed Queen's Counsel in 1900.

After leaving political life, he concentrated on his various mining and pastoral interests.

Richard Chaffey Baker is buried in Plot 658, Path 9 South.


Sir Josiah Henry Symon (1846-1934)

Josiah Symon was born at Wick, Caithness, Scotland and migrated to South Australia in 1866. He had a distinguished legal career in South Australia, during which he became the colony's leading advocate and head of its most prominent legal firm. He was made Queen's Counsel in 1881. He was a member of the South Australian Legislative Assembly 1881-1887.

Symon was leader of the Federation Movement in South Australia. He was President of the South Australian branch of the Australasian Federation League, and played an active role at the Australasian Federation Convention of 1897-1898, where he chaired the Judiciary Committee, and argued in debate for equal representation of the states in the Senate. He was knighted in 1901 for his services to the cause of Federation.

A freetrader, Symon topped the poll for the Senate for South Australia in the first Federal elections. As leader of the Freetraders in the first Senate, he was unofficial Leader of the Opposition in that House until 1904, but was more concerned to facilitate the passage of Foundation legislation than to simply oppose the Government. He was Attorney General in the Reid-McClean government of 1904-1905. Symon was defeated as an independent in the 1913 election after refusing to join the Liberal Union.

After leaving federal politics, Symon continued his legal career in South Australia. Highly respected in political, legal and social circles, he was renowned for his generosity to many worthy causes.

Josiah Henry Simon is buried in Plot 857, Path 7 South.