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Somerset, Henry St John (1875–1952)

by D. F. Fairweather

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Henry St John Somerset (1875-1952), metallurgist, was born on 28 February 1875 at Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, third child of Henry Saint John Somerset, civil service clerk, and his wife Sarah Walker, née Forbes. He attended Brisbane Grammar School where he studied mineralogy and chemistry under J. B. Henderson. On leaving school, Henry studied in Brisbane for a year with analyst Joseph Fletcher and for a further sixteen months with analyst and assayer G. K. Irvine. In 1894 Somerset joined the Mount Morgan Gold Mining Co. as assistant assayer and analyst, rising to the position of chief assayer in 1896 and later to chief metallurgist; due to some disagreement with the management, he resigned in 1912 and spent the next two years in Sydney as an investor, living at Hunters Hill.

Great Cobar Ltd, which operated an important copper mine and smelter at Cobar, New South Wales, engaged him as chief metallurgist in 1914, but in 1916 he was attracted to Broken Hill Associated Smelters Pty Ltd at Port Pirie, South Australia. There he became plant superintendent and general superintendent (1917-25). His son recalled their departure when the 'whole town turned out to say farewell, brass band, detonators on the railway line, the lot'. In 1926 Somerset moved to Melbourne as general manager of the Electrolytic Zinc Co. of Australasia Ltd. He was appointed managing director in 1945 and retired in 1947. Somerset held a founding directorship in Associated Pulp & Paper Mills Ltd and was a director of Australian Fertilizers Pty Ltd. A member (1898) and senior member (1949) of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, he was a councillor in 1926-47, vice-president in 1927-30 and president in 1931. He was a member of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy, London, and fellow of the Australian Chemical Institute. In 1944 he was president of the Australian Mines and Metals Association Inc.

Somerset's contributions to the mining, metallurgical, papermaking and fertiliser industries lay in his inspiring leadership of research, operating and business teams. He was highly respected, in particular by Sir Alexander Stewart and Sir Colin Fraser. Somerset's short but comfortably ample stature accompanied a strong but pleasant and likeable personality. His clubs included the Australian and Athenaeum in Melbourne, and the Tasmanian; he belonged to the Metropolitan and the Peninsula golf clubs, and lived at Toorak. He died on 30 September 1952 in a private hospital in East Melbourne and was cremated; his estate was sworn for probate at £53,173. On 23 February 1905 at All Saints Anglican Church, Hunters Hill, Sydney, he had married Jessie Bowie, daughter of J. B. Wilson; she survived her husband with two sons, one of whom (Sir) Henry Beaufort Somerset also had a distinguished career in the papermaking and mining industries.

Select Bibliography

  • Argus (Melbourne), 27 May 1947
  • Age (Melbourne), 2 Oct 1952
  • Associated Pulp and Paper Mills Ltd collection (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • Broken Hill Associated Smelters Pty Ltd collection (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • Electrolytic Zinc Co of Australasia Ltd collection, including address of chairman of directors, Nov 1947, and Annual Report, 1947 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

D. F. Fairweather, 'Somerset, Henry St John (1875–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/somerset-henry-st-john-8579/text14977, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 20 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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