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Lyster, Fleury James (Jim) (1872–1948)

by D. F. Fairweather

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Fleury James (Jim) Lyster (1872-1948), metallurgist, was born on 24 February 1872 at Kilmore, Victoria, sixth child of Irish-born parents John Lyster, carpenter, and his wife Mary Ann, née Fleury. Orphaned when he was about 11 years old, Jim finished his schooling and learned the trade of carpenter with his uncle, a builder and undertaker at Seymour. During the depressed 1890s Lyster travelled to Denmark, Western Australia. He married his childhood sweetheart Mary Hannah Byrne on 13 July 1897 at St Joseph's Catholic Church, Albany; she had arrived by ship, chaperoned by her brother. The young couple went to the Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie goldfields, and then to Leonora where Lyster worked in the Sons of Gwalia Ltd's mine which was managed by Herbert Hoover, a young engineer who later became president of the United States of America. Moving to New South Wales, in May 1907 Lyster began work at the Broken Hill South Blocks mine, constructing a new mineral processing mill of which he was appointed foreman. He worked directly for the Zinc Corporation Ltd (founded by Hoover in 1905 to buy and treat zinc-rich tailings at Broken Hill) which had absorbed the South Blocks company in 1911.

Flotation, an important mineral separation process, was pioneered at Broken Hill. By 1912 the Delprat-Potter method was in use at several of the mines, but the problem remained of floating the lead or the zinc mineral independently from the ore mixture. Lyster was again associated with Hoover who was a director and responsible for the elusive metallurgical success critical to the survival of the company. Noting that particles of the lead mineral floated naturally in froth in his gravity ore-treatment plant, Lyster began experiments which culminated in his application for patent no.5040 on 21 May 1912. By September that year the Zinc Corporation was operating the first commercial selective flotation plant in the world, using Lyster's process.

In August 1913 Minerals Separation Ltd negotiated an agreement with the Zinc Corporation and Lyster for the rights to the process: Lyster received £2375, at a time when unskilled labourers in the mines earned about nine shillings a day. Luck, as well as keen observation and intelligent experimenting, had contributed to his success. The ore he used was fresh and finely ground, and the mine water was alkaline which prevented the naturally contained copper sulphate from activating the zinc.

Tall and of medium build, Lyster had blue eyes, dark hair and a generous moustache. He read widely and was interested in sport. In all he did his aim was perfection. After serving many years as mill superintendent, he retired to Vaucluse, Sydney, in 1935. He received from the Zinc Corporation's directors a letter of gratitude, four months paid leave and a cheque for £1000. At Broken Hill the corporation established the annual James Lyster scholarship. Survived by his daughter and three of his four sons, he died on 14 October 1948 at Lewisham Hospital and was buried in South Head cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • O. H. Woodward, A Review of the Broken Hill Lead-Silver-Zinc Industry (Melb, 1952, Syd, 1965)
  • G. Blainey, The Rush that Never Ended (Melb, 1963)
  • W. S. Robinson, If I Remember Rightly, G. Blainey ed (Melb, 1967)
  • G. Blainey, The Rise of Broken Hill (Melb, 1968)
  • A. Lynch, Leslie Bradford Golden Jubilee Oration, J. Burns ed (Melb, 1987)
  • R. J. Solomon, The Richest Lode (Syd, 1988)
  • Barrier Daily Truth, 15 Oct 1948
  • Barrier Miner, 16 Oct 1948
  • Sun (Sydney), 16 Oct 1948
  • University of Melbourne Archives
  • Lyster family records (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

D. F. Fairweather, 'Lyster, Fleury James (Jim) (1872–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lyster-fleury-james-jim-10883/text19323, published in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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