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Read, Thomas Andrew (1886–1972)

by D. F. Branagan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Thomas Andrew Read (1886-1972), metallurgist, was born on 16 February 1886 at Dean, Victoria, son of William Tennyson Read, a farmer from England, and his Scottish-born wife Elizabeth, née Scott. Thomas moved with his parents to Broken Hill, New South Wales, and attended the Church of England and Broken Hill Superior Public schools. Completing his formal education at Broken Hill Technical College, he gained a diploma and associateship in assaying (1906), a diploma in chemistry (1910) and a fellowship in metallurgy (1925) from Sydney Technical College.

In 1901 Read began work in the general store at Broken Hill South Ltd's mine. Because of his interest in and aptitude for chemistry, he was transferred to the assay office in 1905. His enthusiasm and dedication to duty marked him for rapid promotion, from assayer's boy to assayer's assistant and to chief assayer. At St Paul's Anglican Church, Chatswood, Sydney, on 11 April 1912 he married Ivy Viola Grace Dunstan (d.1959); they were to remain childless. When William McBride enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in August 1915, Read took over his duties as metallurgist and mill superintendent. In 1922 he was appointed chief metallurgist.

During World War I Read carried out a considerable amount of laboratory and plant experimentation, concentrating on selective lead and zinc flotation methods, the use of compressed air, and ways of improving apparatus and reagents. He put into operation a De Spirlet zinc-concentrate roaster to produce sulphuric acid for the flotation process. His first major success came in 1917 with the introduction of the use of ferric salts in the differential flotation process.

Like McBride, Read was involved in the measurement of suspended dust and in finding methods to prevent its occurrence: his research led to significant improvements in mining conditions. He also experimented (1917-18) with mechanical methods of dust-allaying, and continued this work in the 1920s. Accompanied by the underground superintendent H. H. Carroll, he spent nine months in 1926 visiting mines and mills in South Africa, Europe and North America. In July 1927 Read and his assistants found that the addition of potassium ethyl xanthate and a frothing oil before flotation led to a marked increase in the recovery of lead and silver. This technique was quickly taken up by other mines on the field. Read was largely responsible for the design and construction of the new Broken Hill South concentrating plant, the first in Broken Hill to be built of concrete and steel. Work began in 1928, the gravity section was opened in 1929 and the flotation section commenced operations in 1934. The plant incorporated a sub-aeration flotation machine developed by Read and G. B. Game.

A keen member (from 1918) of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Read was a stalwart of the Broken Hill branch (chairman 1933-36 and 1942), commenting on standards and encouraging presentations by his colleagues. He was a councillor for New South Wales (1935-52) and a vice-president (1944) of the A.I.M.M. The local branch meetings provided a fruitful field for the promulgation of ideas; discussion of the results of research crossed company boundaries and ensured that the Broken Hill field remained at the forefront of technological development in metallurgy. Between 1921 and 1935 Read published a number of papers in the institute's Proceedings: the first—in association with his superintendent W. E. Wainwright—was on the concentration practices of Broken Hill South. He was for many years a member of Broken Hill Technical College's advisory committee.

Read's loyalty and devotion to the Broken Hill South operations were such that he did not seek wider recognition or more lucrative positions, though he received many offers. In the late 1930s the company agreed to release him as a consultant to North Broken Hill Ltd for the design and erection of a new concentrating plant. His protégés came to hold important assay and metallurgical posts on various Australian mining fields.

After he retired as chief metallurgist in March 1955, Read and his wife moved to Balwyn, Melbourne. He died on 2 February 1972 at Camberwell and was buried in Springvale cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • O. H. Woodward, A Review of the Broken Hill Lead-Silver-Zinc Industry (Melb, 1962)
  • B. Carroll, Built on Silver (Melb, 1986)
  • Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Proceedings, 1918, 1920-21, 1925-30, 1933, 1935, 1938, 1941 and 1943
  • Barrier Daily Truth, 16 Mar 1955
  • W. Hodder, History of the South Mines (typescript, 1965, Charles Rasp Library, Broken Hill Archives).

Citation details

D. F. Branagan, 'Read, Thomas Andrew (1886–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/read-thomas-andrew-11494/text20499, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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