Guide to the Papers of Sir John Kirwan


MS 277

National Library of Australia View Catalogue Record

Collection Summary

John Kirwan
Papers of Sir John Kirwan
Date Range
Collection Number
MS 277
0.16 metres (11 folders)
Language of Materials
National Library of Australia


Scope and Contents

The papers include personal correspondence, manuscripts of Kirwan's books and articles, publications, invitations, newspaper clippings and photographs. Of special interest is the correspondence dealing with the conflict in Western Australia concerning federation and the Western Australian secessionmovement. Correspondents include Sir Isaac Isaacs, W.M. Hughes, Andrew Fisher, Sir Joseph Cook, Sir John Quick, Alfred Deakin, Lord Hopetoun, Sir Earle Page, C.C. Kingston, Sir George Pearce, Sir George Reid, Sir Walter James, Sir Charles Dilke, George Leake, H.B. Higgins, S.M. Bruce, E.J. Harding, Malcolm MacDonald, James MacCallum Smith, J.J. Astor, Lord De La Warr, Sir Arthur Pearson, Lord Novar, Lord Salisbury and Sir Austin Chamberlain.

Conditions Governing Access

Access conditions may apply to this collection, please refer to the collection's catalogue record for further information (

Conditions Governing Use

Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions. For such material, written permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s). Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.

Preferred Citation

Items from this collection should be cited as '[Title or description of manuscript item], Papers of Sir John Kirwan, National Library of Australia, MS 277, [box number and series and/or file number]'.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were received in 1951 as part of a co-operative agreement with the Public Library of Western Australia. Negotiations for the acquisition of his papers had taken place with Sir John Kirwan by both institutions, and after his death in 1949 it was decided to divide his papers, those of Federal importance being held in the National Library, with photocopies in Western Australia, those of local interest within the Public Library of Western Australia. The original “Separate to Federate” letters are in the Western Australian collection, with photographic copies in Canberra.

Biographical Note

John Waters Kirwan was born in Liverpool, England, on 2 December 1869. He worked as a writer in Dublin and London before his arrival in Australia in 1890. In Australia he tried work as a journalist in various cities before settling on the Western Australian goldfields at Kalgoorlie, where he was made editor-in-chief of the daily Kalgoorlie Miner and weekly Western Argus, a position he held from 1895 until 1926.

After taking a leading part in advocating that Western Australia join the Commonwealth, Kirwan was elected to represent Kalgoorlie in the House of Representatives of the first Federal Parliament. He was deputy Chairman of Committees, but was defeated at the 1903 election. In 1908 he was elected to the Legislative Council of Western Australia where he sat until 1946, being its President from 1926 to 1946. He represented Western Australia at Imperial Press Conferences in London (1909), Ottawa (1920), Melbourne (1925), and Rome (1933). The author of many articles on the history of Western Australia, he published several books including Anempty land: pioneers and pioneering in Australia (1934) and My Life's adventures (1936). He was knighted in 1930.

Kirwan died at Subiaco, W.A. on 9 September 1949.

Item Descriptions

Series 1. Correspondence, 1899-1939


This series contains letters written between 1899 and 1939. Most of them are from the early years of the century, dealing particularly with the issue of federation, goldfield agitation in favour of federation, and its relation to the building of the transcontinental railway. Later letters deal with matters of journalism, with Kirwan's attendance at Imperial Press Conferences and with his published material.

Series 2. Publications


These publications are written by, or collected by, Kirwan. They include details of the visit in 1902 of parliamentarians to the proposed sites for a national capital, the celebrations of the Western Australian goldfields and also Kirwan's own works on the Imperial Press Conferences and on the history of the Western Australian Legislative Council.

Series 3. Manuscripts of books and articles


The manuscripts demonstrate Kirwan's interest in Western Australian history. They discuss the early years of the colony, the history of Kalgoorlie and of the Kalgoorlie Miner, and the movement for federation in Western Australia. In addition there is an article comparing the British with the Australian Parliament and another concerned with the imperial parliamentary conferences.

Series 4. Other papers

The series comprises photographs (items 1-19), invitations (items 20-41) and newspaper clippings (items 42-78). The committee and petition of the “separation for federation” movement of 1899 are represented among the photographs. There are several pictures of Kalgoorlie. Both official and unofficial photographs taken at the Imperial Press Conference in Ottawa in 1919 are included, as are those of the delegates to the International Parliamentary Commercial Conferences in Prague (1931) and Rome (1933).