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Jamieson, William (1853–1926)

by B. E. Kennedy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

William Jamieson (1853-1926), surveyor and businessman, was born in 1853 at Aberdeen, Scotland, son of George Jamieson, minister of the Church of Scotland, and his wife Jane, née Wallace. Educated at Aberdeen, he arrived in Adelaide in 1869 as an apprentice on a sailing-ship and made his way to the Victorian goldfields. As a protégé of his father's friend (Sir) John Hay he later worked in New South Wales as a jackeroo at Thurrulgoona station near Bourke and Grangle station in the Lachlan district, and studied surveying. In 1881 he joined the New South Wales public service as a surveyor and in 1883 was in charge of the Bourke district. He was tenacious and resourceful, but severe drought brought work to a standstill and he left for a visit to New Zealand, returning next year to survey the Barrier silver-mining region.

Jamieson arrived at Silverton just as the long drought broke: one story tells how his bushcraft and canny sense of danger saved his party from a flash flood. An early visit to the Broken Hill lease, held by George McCulloch, Charles Rasp and five others, aroused his interest and soon after the shares were divided into fourteen he bought three for £320, though he was forced to sell two of them. His entry into the Broken Hill Mining Co. preceded by a few months that of W. R. Wilson, the manager of the Barrier Ranges Silver Mining Association, Harvey Patterson and Bowes Kelly, all of whom were to play an important part in the development of the 'big mine'.

Jamieson probably provided the first serious opposition McCulloch encountered in running the mine. One rather dramatic story accepted by Roy Bridges has it that McCulloch was about to persuade a meeting of shareholders to sell half the mine when Jamieson announced discoveries of rich chlorides of silver. Unfortunately no records of this meeting (11 April 1885) exist; but Jamieson must have done something to impress shareholders because on 25 April 1885 they offered him the management of the mine at a salary of £500. He accepted their offer and promptly resigned from his government post. Within a month the decision was taken to attract capital by registering the company in Melbourne as the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd. J. S. Reid of the Silver Age printed the first prospectus and Jamieson, wearing a new suit borrowed for the occasion, travelled by coach to Adelaide taking copies with him. After a revision of the prospectus the company was floated in August.

During the following months Jamieson felt himself increasingly inadequate as manager. 'The fact is old boy', he confided to William Knox 'I am … a new chum at the game of mining generally and feel that the Company … would very likely have to pay dearly for my inexperience'. However in spite of limited experience and occasional ill health, he carried out the early developmental work, visited the only other silver mine in Australia at Sunny Corner, New South Wales, and began the erection of smelters along the line of lode. With the government surveyor T. H. N. Goodwin, Jamieson selected the site of the town of Broken Hill and the first house erected was his; he also became a director of the Barrier Ranges and Broken Hill Water Supply Co.

At the end of 1885 he resigned as manager and returned to his native Scotland but the 'roaming spirit' and business interests drew the six feet (183 cm) tall 'moralising ruffian' back to Melbourne. In England again in 1890, he married Helene Matilda Meyer on 10 July at Little Chesterford, Essex, and served as chairman of the London board of B.H.P. until 1892. A director on the Melbourne board in 1906-26, he and his fellow 'Broken Hillionaires' played two-up with gold sovereigns after meetings.

Persuaded by Bowes Kelly to invest in Mount Lyell, Tasmania, Jamieson sat on the board of the Mount Lyell Mining & Railway Co. Ltd in 1893-1926 and was chairman in 1911-14. In 1897 he and Kelly became directors of the controversial Emu Bay Railway Co. which, if it had proceeded according to its prospectus, would have been in direct competition with the Mount Lyell railway. Jamieson was also a director of the Broken Hill Proprietary Block 10 Co. and the Blythe River Iron Co., Tasmania, and had pastoral interests in New South Wales. He died of cancer at St Kilda, Melbourne, on 8 May 1926, survived by his wife and son. His estate was valued for probate at £25,194.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Bridges, From Silver to Steel (Melb, 1920)
  • G. Blainey, The Peaks of Lyell (Melb, 1954), and The Rise of Broken Hill (Melb, 1968)
  • BHP Recreation Review, Feb, Apr 1926, Oct 1932
  • B. Kennedy, ‘Regionalism and nationalism: Broken Hill in the 1880's’, Australian Economic History Review, 21 (1980), no 1
  • Punch (Melbourne), 29 Aug 1918
  • BHP Billiton Ltd Archives, Melbourne.

Citation details

B. E. Kennedy, 'Jamieson, William (1853–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/jamieson-william-6827/text11815, published in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 30 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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