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McBride, William John (1879–1970)

by D. F. Branagan

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

William John McBride (1879-1970), metallurgist, was born on 18 February 1879 at Glenelg, Adelaide, son of English-born William John McBride, teacher of music, and his wife Teresa Lucy, née Harman. Educated at Christian Brothers' College and at the University of Adelaide (B.Sc., 1898) where he studied metallurgy and geology, he began work with the Reedy Creek Gold-Copper Co.

In 1900 McBride joined Broken Hill South Ltd as metallurgist, chief assayer and mill superintendent under W. E. Wainwright. During his first year he enlarged and modified the milling plant; the increased efficiency and reduced costs that resulted helped the company to ride out a four-year decline in metal prices. He then carried out experiments on selective lead and zinc flotation methods, apparatus and reagents, training Thomas Andrew Read who soon took over much of the assaying. Between 1905 and 1908 McBride planned and constructed (with many technical modifications) a bigger mill which provided a high-grade lead concentrate in its first year of operation.

A controversy arose in 1908 about possible harmful effects of new explosives in use underground. McBride supervised much of the analytical work and design of apparatus, and tested and ultimately vindicated the product. Perhaps more important was his design and construction of equipment to measure suspended dust levels in underground mine air (the subject of several health surveys). To treat slime dumps containing valuable lead, silver and zinc, McBride and the engineer J. C. Cunningham devised in 1913 a sub-aeration flotation cell for T. M. Owen's mineral separation process. Their design was adopted by other Broken Hill mines and used until the 1970s.

On 17 April 1907 McBride had married Kathleen Ann Murphy (d.1952) at St Laurence's Catholic Church, North Adelaide; they were to remain childless. An efficient rifleman, mentioned as likely to represent South Australia in competitions, he was secretary of the Broken Hill Rifle Club for five years. When World War I interrupted the export of metals, he was sent to Port Pirie, South Australia, to represent the combined Broken Hill mining interests while a joint company, Broken Hill Associated Smelters Pty Ltd, was formed.

Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 14 August 1915, McBride was commissioned in November and reached France in May 1916. He was posted to the 1st Tunnelling Company and promoted temporary captain (substantive in 1917). On the night of 9 April 1917 he organized the defence of the deep-mine system at Hill 60, near Ypres, Belgium, and arranged for parties to rescue men who had been gassed. For these actions he was awarded the Military Cross. He returned to Australia in 1919, having travelled through the United States of America where he visited mines and treatment works. His A.I.F. appointment terminated on 16 December.

Mining investors in Melbourne—W. S. Robinson, (Sir) Herbert Gepp and (Sir) Colin Fraser—had noticed McBride's abilities. Gepp considered that McBride's training and temperament fitted him to act as liaison officer, linking the Broken Hill, Port Pirie and Risdon (Tasmania) operations, particularly the zinc roasting techniques then being developed. In the following five years his main tasks were the construction and operation of blende roasters at Broken Hill, Port Pirie, Wallaroo (South Australia) and Risdon, and of acid plants at Cockle Creek, New South Wales. He also advised Robinson and the Burma Corporation Ltd in 1920 on its Namtu gravity and flotation mill in Burma. In 1925 McBride went to Britain. There he worked as consulting metallurgist for the National Smelting Co. (Swansea and Avonmouth). He published only one paper (jointly with Wainwright) on his research, being content to see the results applied. At various times he was a member of the Australasian Institute of Mining Engineers (later Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy), the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy, England, and the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers.

Back in Adelaide as a consultant in the mid-1930s, McBride experienced financial difficulties. By 1938 he had returned to England without his wife and re-established himself. In 1943 he was appointed works manager of Fullers' Earth Union Ltd, Redhill, Surrey. He lived at Highstead Farmhouse, Horan, East Sussex. In 1951 he retired to Eastbourne. On 3 December 1953 he married 62-year-old Alice Marjorie Mansfield at the local register office. Survived by his wife, he died on 27 July 1970 at Eastbourne. A plaque at Broken Hill commemorates him.

Select Bibliography

  • W. S. Robinson, If I Remember Rightly, G. Blainey ed (Melb, 1967)
  • B. Carroll, Built on Silver (Melb, 1986)
  • W. Hodder, History of the South Mines (transcript, Broken Hill Archives)
  • Broken Hill Associated Smelters papers and C. Fraser papers (University of Melbourne Library)
  • Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (London), membership applications and W. McBride file.

Citation details

D. F. Branagan, 'McBride, William John (1879–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mcbride-william-john-10897/text19349, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 17 November 2018.

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

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