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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Black, William Robert (1859–1930)

by Margery Brier-Mills

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

William Robert Black (1859-1930), mine-owner and philanthropist, was born on 3 March 1859 at Kildress, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, son of Robert Black, farmer, and his wife Margaret, née McNeece. He arrived in Queensland on 17 May 1880 in the Silver Light, worked around Maryborough as a farm-labourer, timber-cutter and fencer, then moved to Brisbane and delivered coal with a hand-cart for a merchant named Lindsay. By 1885 he was in business for himself, delivering coal with a horse and dray. He extended his interests to coal-transport on the Brisbane and Bremer rivers, and soon controlled a fleet of six launches and twenty lighters.

Continuing good fortune and increasing wealth enabled Black to buy 700 acres (283 ha) of coal-deposits at Bundamba near Ipswich. There he established the Blackheath Colliery and with electric haulage and advanced machinery was soon able to cut 600 tons (tonnes) a day — a State record. When he later bought the Caledonian Colliery at Walloon, he raised its output to 300 tons (tonnes) daily. His purchase of the Abermain Colliery at North Ipswich cost him an additional £8000 for a railway-siding and £40,000 for a new shaft and machinery.

Black retired from business in 1920. For some years he had been busily dispersing his fortune. Small, dark, reserved and a devout Presbyterian anxious to maintain the link between religion and education, he gave mainly to church institutions. He saw his wealth as a trust and believed that 'much had been given that by him much might be done'; all gifts were carefully considered and were usually conditional on others agreeing to make donations. In 1917 he helped to establish Fairholme, the Presbyterian girls' school at Toowoomba, and in 1919 Scots College for boys at Warwick. From 1918 he served on the councils of both the Brisbane Boys' College and Somerville House for girls, a united educational venture by the Presbyterian and Methodist churches. He also assisted in founding Emmanuel College, University of Queensland. Black's donations to the Presbyterian Church in 1919-20 enabled it to employ both a director and a kindergarten and primary supervisor of Sunday schools. Further gifts led to establishment of the Blackheath Home for Children at Oxley in 1923, a children's home at Chelmer in 1927 and old people's homes in both suburbs in 1929. Many other smaller donations to individual congregations enabled the Presbyterian Church in Queensland to expand.

Black died of coronary thrombosis on 2 October 1930 at St Martin's Hospital, Brisbane. He had never married and, after various bequests to relations in the Channel Islands, the residue of an estate valued for probate at nearly £180,000 was left in trust for the Presbyterian Church in Queensland. His black-marble tombstone, erected by the Church in Toowong cemetery, bears only the red hand of Ulster, a cross and two inscriptions: 'Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord' and 'The righteous showeth mercy and giveth'.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Bardon, Centenary History of the Presbyterian Church of Queensland 1849-1949 (Brisb, 1949)
  • R. Goodman, Secondary Education in Queensland, 1860-1960 (Canb, 1968)
  • Presbyterian Church in Queensland, historical records (Church Archives, Brisbane).

Citation details

Margery Brier-Mills, 'Black, William Robert (1859–1930)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 19 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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