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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Andrews, Roland Stuart (1897–1961)

by Ray Proudley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Roland Stuart Andrews (1897-1961), industrial chemist and administrator, was born on 20 September 1897 at Granville, Sydney, eldest son of native-born parents Thomas Joseph Andrews, draper, and his wife Margaret Elizabeth, née Cormack. Roland attended Sydney Technical High School and, after being rejected for military service, studied chemistry at the University of Sydney (B.Sc., 1919). He began work as a shift chemist with Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd at Newcastle. The sheltered and genteel background provided by his Quaker mother had not prepared him for the harsh working conditions then prevailing in heavy industry which were to affect him profoundly: although he had no formal training in management, he proved a successful 'shift boss' in the coke-oven plant, mainly because of his empathy with the workforce.

In 1925 Andrews left B.H.P. and became head chemistry teacher at Sydney Technical College. He took leave to study the treatment of coal in the United States of America. On 28 August 1926 he married Kathleen May Foster Waitt at the Methodist Church, Lindfield, Sydney. Next year he was appointed chief chemist to the Metropolitan Gas Co. in Melbourne, the largest and probably the most conservative gas company in Australia.

The first qualified scientist to be employed by the company, Andrews initially addressed the prevailing issues of gas quality and gas production. He then turned his attention to a problem which had plagued the Victorian industry since its formation in the 1850s: how to make gas from Victorian brown coal and avoid dependence on the unsettled coal industry of the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. In the 1930s Andrews attempted to modify existing black-coal carbonizing plant to gasify brown coal or brown-coal briquettes, but eventually acknowledged its technical impossibility. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, assisted by researchers at the University of Melbourne, he investigated two German processes for the gasification of brown coal before concluding that neither was suitable for use with Victorian brown-coal briquettes.

On the outbreak of World War II Andrews and his team were called upon to conduct war-related research for the Ministry of Munitions and the Director of Explosives Supply. The 1940s provided no respite from strikes and by the end of the war the Metropolitan Gas Co. and the Victorian government were desperate to use the State's brown coal for gas production. With a company engineer, R. J. Bennie, he was sent to England in 1946. To gain entry to Germany, Andrews was temporarily appointed colonel in the British Army. There he contacted Dr F. S. H. Danulat and E. A. Brüggemann who had both been involved in the development of the Lurgi brown-coal gasification process. On his recommendation, in 1947 the two Germans were brought to Australia; in July 1948 they reported that the Lurgi process was suitable for Victorian brown coal.

With the primary objective of building a Lurgi plant at Morwell, the Gas and Fuel Corporation of Victoria was formed in December 1950; Andrews was its chief technical officer. On 1 January 1952 he became chairman and managing director of the corporation. The demands of administering the construction, and of commissioning the technically advanced plant, were considerable. Labour was scarce and relatively unskilled, and the industrial climate turbulent. Andrews, however, had retained his respect for the workforce and the Gas and Fuel Corporation remained virtually free from strikes throughout the ten years of his leadership. Officially opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in November 1956, the Morwell plant cost some £10-12 million; it marked the culmination of more than twenty-five years work by Andrews, and was a tribute to his qualities as scientist and administrator.

A quiet, unassuming Christian, Andrews was an excellent public speaker and a dedicated scientist who contributed extensively to the literature on fuel. In 1948 he had graduated D.Sc. from the University of Melbourne. A member of the Institute of Chemical Engineers and the Institute of Gas Engineers, and a fellow of the Institute of Metals and the Australian Academy of Science, he was appointed C.M.G. in 1957. His hobbies included tennis, stamp-collecting, and bushwalking with an eye to geological specimens. Andrews died of hypertensive coronary disease on 14 October 1961 at his Glen Iris home and was cremated. Two sons survived him, as did his wife who had been foundation president (1955) of the Women's Gas Association.

Select Bibliography

  • R. C. Proudley, Circle of Influence (Melb, 1987)
  • Gascor News, Sept-Oct 1961
  • National Gas Bulletin, Oct 1961
  • Royal Australian Chemical Institute, Proceedings, Jan 1962
  • Herald (Melbourne), 24 Dec 1955, 16 Oct 1961
  • Age (Melbourne), 16 Oct 1961
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 16 Oct 1961
  • private information.

Citation details

Ray Proudley, 'Andrews, Roland Stuart (1897–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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