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News > Alumni Stories > Enduring Freehill Legacy

Enduring Freehill Legacy

22 November 1854-12 March 1908 (SJC 1871, Fellow 1883-1908)
Francis Bede Freehill
Francis Bede Freehill

Francis Bede Freehill was born on 22 November 1854 to Patrick and Margaret Freehill, Irish immigrants who arrived in Australia in 1844.  The family maintained strong links to their Irish heritage with both father and son advocating for Irish rule.  Freehill later became the president of the Irish National League in 1885 as well as being instrumental in the creation of the Irish Volunteer Rifles in 1895; he was involved in the volunteer corps until 1906 where he rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel.  Freehill was also a federationist who promoted the formation of the Commonwealth; he lived just long enough to see this become a reality in 1901.

Freehill obtained his BA (1874) and MA (1876) from the University of Sydney and was a resident of St John’s College in 1871.  He was later made a fellow of the College in 1883.  He qualified as a solicitor and began his career in 1877 in Cowra and Bathurst before taking over his brother’s Sydney firm which forms part of the foundation of the international law firm Herbert Smith Freehills.

Freehill pursued other interests outside his legal career. He was an accomplished linguist, being fluent in French, Italian and Spanish, with the latter serving him well on his appointment as Spanish consul in 1896.  The University of Sydney benefitted from his significant collection of books which he’d bequeathed to them.  He was accorded one of the highest honours for a lay person by being appointed papal chamberlain in 1903.  He also founded Catholic Press, the precursor to The Catholic Freeman’s Journal which later became The Catholic Weekly, apart from being director of the Australian Newspaper Co Ltd which produced the Australian Star and Sunday Sun. 

Freehill and Eileen Marie Molony married in 1888 and had no children.  He died at Lewisham Hospital on 12 March 1908, an institution he helped establish some years back.  He left £1,000 in his Will to St John’s to establish a scholarship.  Eileen Freehill herself was central to the construction of the Freehill Tower (1938) in her husband’s memory in addition to financing several important College Chapel furnishings and many other worthy Catholic causes.  She was given the title of papal countess in recognition of her good works, and today St John’s College awards the Countess Eileen Freehill Medal for Academic Excellence in her honour.

Despite many decades having passed, the enduring legacy of the Freehills cannot be underestimated.  Thanks to their philanthropy, our students have benefitted from their financial support and continue to enjoy the gifts they’ve left behind.  The Freehill Legacy Society honours those who’ve had the foresight to leave a gift in their Will to St John’s College for the benefit of its community. 

If you are considering leaving a similar legacy to St John’s, please contact the Associate Director, Philanthropy & Alumni Relations for a confidential, obligation-free discussion on 02 9394 5024 or email  Such gifts make a significant, positive impact on the future of many.

If you have already left a gift in your Will to St John’s, please consider letting us know as we would ideally like to be able to acknowledge your generosity during your lifetime.

I have always been very grateful for the many opportunities which I received as a resident of St John’s College in the 1980s, and the numerous friendships I have enjoyed as a member of the College family in the years since graduating.

In giving back to the College over the last thirty-five years, I have tried to support the St John’s College Foundation in a small way whenever possible, but I now wish to make a more lasting contribution by leaving a bequest to the College in my will.

I encourage all my fellow Johnsmen from the 1980s to consider doing likewise as a way of thanking the College for the advantages that we received as a result of our time as residents. 
Peter Cunich (SJC 1985-1987)

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