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Doolette, Sir George Philip (1840–1924)

by R. M. Gibbs and A. McLeary

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

This is a shared entry with Dorham Longford Doolette

Sir George Philip Doolette (1840-1924) and his son Dorham Longford Doolette (1872-1925), were mining entrepreneurs. George was born on 24 January 1840 at Sandford, near Dublin, son of George Dorham Doolette and his wife Eliza, née Raynard. The family migrated to South Australia in 1855 in the Nashwauk. Doolette, with some experience in the softgoods trade in Ireland, eventually joined the firm of A. Macgeorge & Co., Adelaide, later becoming sole proprietor. He was a foundation member of the South Australian Chamber of Manufactures in 1869 and from 1874 owner of a tailoring and outfitting business, briefly at Moonta, and then in King William Street, Adelaide.

Like other Adelaide businessmen, Doolette speculated in the 1880s in Broken Hill and other mining ventures. He also had interests in pastoral properties, establishing a partnership with Philip Charley. In 1893, with (Sir) George Brookman and others, he formed the Adelaide Prospecting Party, which dispatched W. G. Brookman and S. W. Pearce to Western Australia—their mineral claims were at the heart of the later Golden Mile at Kalgoorlie. The syndicate was reconstructed as the Coolgardie Gold Mining and Prospecting Co. (W.A.) Ltd, but a desperate need for finance forced it to send Doolette, a director, to London. Arriving in March 1894 during a temporary investing slump, he needed the help of the financier John Waddington to float off the Great Boulder and other claims. Doolette remained in London as mining promoter and administrator though his role was not without question in Australia. Chairman of the Western Australian Mine Owners' Association and of several companies, including the Great Boulder Proprietary Gold Mines Ltd and Oroya Brown Hill Co. Ltd, and director of the Sons of Gwalia Ltd, he dined regularly at the City Liberal Club with Lionel and W. S. Robinson and William Clark, the great promoters of Australian mines. He also financed various of his son's explorations. Doolette was received with acclaim in Kalgoorlie in 1907 but thereafter his contacts with Australia were less direct. During World War I he took an active interest in the Australian Red Cross Society and in hospital facilities for Australian soldiers, and was knighted in 1916.

In South Australia, Doolette had been a supporter of philanthropic causes. A justice of the peace from 1887, he was vice-president of the Young Men's Christian Association in 1884-85, treasurer of the London Missionary Society and in 1885-86 president of the Congregational Union. In England he became a fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute (1894) and of the Royal Geographical Society (1907). He owned a fine estate at Caterham, Surrey, where he was keenly interested in flower-growing. His first wife Mary Bartlett McEwin, whom he had married on 9 November 1865 with Presbyterian forms at Glen Ewin, Highercombe, South Australia, had died in 1890; she was survived by her son Dorham and a daughter. On 25 September 1895 in Birmingham Doolette married Fanny Lillie Robinson (d.1916), daughter of the noted Congregational clergyman R. W. Dale. Doolette died on 19 January 1924 at Caterham, leaving an estate valued for probate at £10,186. His ashes were taken to Adelaide for interment in North Road cemetery.

Dorham Doolette, born on 20 May 1872 in Adelaide, was an able student at Whinham College and at the University of Adelaide where in 1888 he began an arts and in 1893 a medical course. He abandoned his studies to follow the gold rush to Western Australia. As a working prospector 'Dorrie' became a fine bushman and gained extensive knowledge of practical gold-mining. He joined the disastrous Siberia and Kurnalpi rushes and several times saw friends die of typhoid. As a pioneer of Kalgoorlie he pegged out the rich Golden Horseshoe, Golden Link, Boulder Central and Chaffer's mines for the Adelaide syndicate. In 1895, prospecting with Charles Northmore in the Niagara district, he discovered the Challenge and Golden Monarch mines; the proceeds of their sale provided him with a trip to England.

On his return Doolette traversed the North Coolgardie field and the Collie coalfield; he made no important finds and in December 1897 was declared bankrupt. Next year he visited the Northern Territory Arltunga field but again returned to Western Australia where, for several years, he was field examiner for Great Boulder No.1 Ltd. In 1905 he became manager of the Never Never mine at Southern Cross and in 1908 manager of Great Boulder's St George Mine at Mount Magnet. He continued to finance prospectors to look for gold for him and in April 1910 one of them, Charles Jones, reported a promising find in the Yilgarn district, about 22 miles (35 km) from Southern Cross. The first crushing yielded 5½ ounces to the ton; three months later this had doubled and by November had reached 21 ounces to the ton. Doolette, owner with Vincent Shallcross, floated the mine in London as the Bullfinch Proprietary (W.A.) Ltd, with G. P. Doolette as chairman.

Now a rich man, Dorham Doolette enjoyed his wealth. He bought a string of racehorses for his stud at Broadford, Victoria. He was generous and gregarious and his friends appreciated his sense of humour. In England in 1911 to promote the Bullfinch he was welcomed as a man of charm and culture; his bush ballads had been published in the Bulletin and the Kalgoorlie Sun under the pen-name of 'The Prodigal'. But the Bullfinch, rich on the surface, failed to fulfil its early promise, and his prosperity began to decline. He also suffered a personal tragedy when his wife, Adeline Navera, née Weeks, whom he had married on 18 May 1910 at All Saints Church of England, Mount Magnet, Western Australia, died in 1917 aged 31. On 8 May 1920 at Claremont he married her sister, Edna Isabelle.

Doolette died of chronic renal disease on 1 December 1925 in Perth, survived by his wife and their son and by a son and daughter of the first marriage to whom he had been an excellent father. In an obituary the Bulletin described him as the promoter of the 'outrageously over-capitalized' Bullfinch; but a better measure of his influence may be gained from the claim of the Melbourne Argus that he had 'formed more prospecting syndicates than any other man' in the history of Western Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • W. B. Kimberly (ed), History of West Australia (Melb, 1897)
  • J. J. Pascoe (ed), History of Adelaide and Vicinity (Adel, 1901)
  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol 2 (Adel, 1913)
  • British Australasian, 3 Nov 1910, 12 Jan, 9 Feb, 2 Mar 1911
  • Western Mail (Perth), 5, 19 Nov 1910, 9 Dec 1911, 30 Mar 1912, 24 Jan 1924
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 29 Feb 1896, 22 Jan 1924
  • Observer (Adelaide), 28 Aug 1897, 5 Dec 1925
  • Register (Adelaide), 2 Sept 1899, 21, 22 Jan 1924
  • Western Argus (Kalgoorlie), 24 May 1900, 22 Jan, 5 Feb 1907, 5 Feb 1924
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 21 Jan 1924, p 13
  • West Australian, 21 Jan 1924
  • Argus (Melbourne), 3 Dec 1925
  • Bulletin, 10 Dec 1925
  • Countryman (Perth), 13 May 1965.

Citation details

R. M. Gibbs and A. McLeary, 'Doolette, Sir George Philip (1840–1924)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/doolette-sir-george-philip-5999/text10245, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 15 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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