Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Goldsmith, Herbert Stephen (1884–1956)

by John D. Kerr

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Herbert Stephen Goldsmith (1884-1956), engineer, was born on 15 August 1884 at Maryborough, Queensland, sixth child of English-born parents Alfred Joseph Goldsmith (1848-1928), engineer, and his wife Sarah (1846-1940), née Forster. In 1884 Alfred joined W. F. Harrington, T. Braddock and J. F. Wood to float the engineering company, John Walker & Co. Ltd (Walkers Ltd from 1888), at Maryborough. The Goldsmith family moved to Brisbane in 1891. Alfred developed the firm's manufacture of sugar and mining-industry equipment, then expanded into shipbuilding and the construction of dredges for the State government. A contract to build ocean-going cargo vessels was negotiated with the Federal government in 1918. Walkers Ltd supplied locomotives for most of Australia's railway systems during Alfred's term on the board, from 1904 until his death on 4 June 1928.

Sarah had been born on 11 February 1846 at Gateshead, Durham, England, daughter of Stephen Forster, chain manufacturer and later foundry proprietor, and his wife Isabella, née Bainbridge. In 1853 the family emigrated to Sydney where Stephen established Forster & Sons, a manufacturing business. In her parents' home at Harrington Street on 7 June 1873 Sarah married Alfred Goldsmith with Congregational forms. Soon after the family moved to Brisbane she became active on the committee of the Lady Musgrave Lodge, an organization which provided low-cost, non-sectarian Christian accommodation for single women, especially immigrants. Mrs Goldsmith met most of the immigrant ships and personally interviewed many of the girls. In 1892 the lodge erected its own building in central Brisbane. As president (1903-31) of the committee, Mrs Goldsmith organized bands of volunteers to help eliminate a £4000 mortgage on the building. From 1931 she continued to serve as honorary president. Survived by three of her six sons and one of her two daughters, she died on 21 January 1940 at Sherwood and was buried in Toowong cemetery.

Educated at Brisbane Grammar School, Herbert completed an apprenticeship with Walkers Ltd and carried out hydrographic survey-work for the Rockhampton Harbour Board. On 21 September 1908 he joined the dockyards and workshops branch of the New South Wales Department of Public Works as a draftsman and was based at Cockatoo Island, Sydney. At St Paul's Anglican Church, Maryborough, on 6 February 1911 he married Mary Hope Jean Henty. On 4 December 1915 Goldsmith was appointed designing engineer for the State government's new dockyard at Walsh Island, Newcastle; in 1919 he was promoted principal designing engineer. He returned to Walkers at Maryborough as general manager in May 1921. At the onset of the Depression (during which the firm's labour force fell from the hundreds to sixty-four, and half-time work was introduced) he travelled to England where he negotiated a contract to produce diesel engines, under licence to a British company, but with the right to incorporate local design improvements. This plan to become a substantial manufacturer of large engines was frustrated when tariff protection was modified by the Ottawa Agreement (1932).

Throughout World War II Goldsmith guided a massive recovery. His company's employees soared to over one thousand, most of whom were engaged in shipbuilding, especially in the construction of frigates and corvettes for the Royal Australian Navy. In the buoyant postwar expansion Camerons Ltd, an iron-foundry at Mackay, was acquired, and new premises were built for Walkers at Maryborough where one of Goldsmith's sons became manager.

Herbert Goldsmith was an associate (1919) and member (1926) of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, London. Respected by his staff, he was popularly known as 'The Chief'. He inspected each of the firm's workshops regularly, but did not interfere in management, although he often made suggestions to drafting staff and his works manager. After thirty-one years as general manager, he retired to Brisbane in 1952 and continued to serve as a director of the firm. He enjoyed boating. Survived by his wife, daughter and three sons, he died on 12 June 1956 at Yeronga and was cremated with Methodist forms.

Select Bibliography

  • Walkers Ltd, Annual Report, 1885-1908
  • Australian Railway Historical Society, Bulletin, no 19, 1968, p 229
  • Maryborough Chronicle, 15 Apr 1884, 22 Nov 1887, 13 Feb, 8 Nov 1888, 1 May 1946, 14 June 1956
  • Wide Bay News, 31 July 1886
  • Queenslander, 14 May 1921
  • Daily Mail (Brisbane), 7 July 1921
  • Brisbane Courier, 23 Jan 1940
  • Lady Musgrave Lodge, Annual Report, 1906-40 (State Library of Queensland).

Citation details

John D. Kerr, 'Goldsmith, Herbert Stephen (1884–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/goldsmith-herbert-stephen-10321/text18267, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 21 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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