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Wardell, Vincent (Aloysius) Andrew (1903–1990)

by Glenn Mitchell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Vincent Wardell, by Edward Wardell, 1923

Vincent Wardell, by Edward Wardell, 1923

State Library of Victoria, H2008.2/​352

Vincent (Aloysius) Andrew Wardell (1903-1990), manufacturer and company director, was born on 13 May 1903 at St Kilda, Melbourne, ninth of ten children of English-born Edward Stanfield Wardell, civil servant, and his Queensland-born wife Georgina Mary, née Brady. His younger brother, Gerard Stanislaus (1904-1992), was born on 24 October 1904 at the Royal Mint, Melbourne, where their father was deputy-master. William Wilkinson Wardell was their grandfather. They attended Christian Brothers’ College, North Melbourne, and Castlemaine High School. Vincent studied at the University of Melbourne (B.Sc., 1926) and Gerard completed an engineering diploma at Castlemaine Technical School. Both served in the Citizen Military Forces, Gerard rising to captain in the 7th battalion.

Vincent and Gerard worked for the Electrolytic Zinc Co. of Australasia Ltd in Tasmania, at Burnie, Rosebery and Zeehan, in 1930. Vincent left to manage a distillery in Melbourne and Gerard worked on sheep stations in western Victoria after various jobs were cancelled because of the Depression. In 1931 Vincent moved to New South Wales and joined Lysaght’s Newcastle Works Pty Ltd as a research superintendent. One of his first tasks was the establishment of its technical department. In 1934 Gerard worked for Cock’s Pioneer Gold & Tin Mines at Eldorado, Victoria, as a surveyor and engineer.

Vincent married Phyllis Sydney Wansey on 10 March 1933 in her parents’ home at Newcastle; they divorced in 1952. On 7 November 1955 at the district registrar’s office, Paddington, he married Margaret Florence Lord, an interior designer. Gerard married Millicent Eliza Martin, a nurse, on 20 January 1940 at St Michael’s Church of England, Wollongong.

By 1939, when Vincent was appointed assistant general manager of Lysaght’s Newcastle Works, he had impressed superiors as a quiet but confident achiever. That year Gerard joined Lysaght’s Port Kembla as the chief engineer. When Philip Parbury, the works manager, volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force, Vincent became the acting manager at Port Kembla. This confluence of family ties and corporate and technical skills brought unexpected results.

When Vincent Wardell and Evelyn Owen, the inventor of the Owen submachine gun, met in 1940, Vincent’s calm, persistent diplomacy and his strategic contacts in government combined with Gerard’s technical expertise to see Owen’s gun through to production and military use. While the board of John Lysaght Ltd in London knew little of this development, Vincent had the support of the Newcastle works, especially Richard Parry Okeden, its chairman and managing director. Lysaght’s, which had commenced production at Port Kembla in 1936, produced galvanised and black sheet-metal. The company was not then an arms manufacturer. Vincent, with his quiet and dedicated approach, and Gerard, the more flamboyant brother, set up an annexe at Port Kembla to manufacture the gun. This required more than technical expertise and machinery.

Sections of the Australian army delayed and obstructed the development of the gun but Vincent drew on his considerable management skills. He met variously with Essington Lewis, the director-general of munitions whom he had encountered in Newcastle, (Sir) Percy Spender, (Sir) Arthur Fadden and Frank Forde to see the project through. When the army cancelled the order for production in March 1943 in favour of another weapon, the Austen, Vincent wrote to the prime minister, John Curtin. At their subsequent meeting, Vincent was at his convincing and persuasive best. The Owen gun was reliable, even in muddy conditions. The order was restored and the gun continued to be made at Port Kembla until production ceased in 1944, by which time more than 45,000 had been manufactured.

Vincent was appointed manager and a director of Lysaght’s Newcastle Works (soon to be Lysaght’s Works Pty Ltd) in 1944. A director of John Lysaght (Australia) Pty Ltd from 1953, he was production director and director responsible for research and development from 1957 to 1970. He served as chairman of Nettlefold’s Pty Ltd (1964-67) and with Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds (Aust.) Pty Ltd as chairman and as a member of its international board. His interests included art, music and literature, and, especially, Australian flora.

Gerard remained at Port Kembla, where he developed the cold strip plant (1950-55) and was chief engineer, development, until his retirement in 1965. He published The Development and Manufacture of the Owen Gun in 1982. A member of the Rotary Club of Wollongong between 1943 and 1977, he served as president in 1953-54. He was made a life councillor of the State branch of the Scout Association of Australia in 1985 and was awarded the OAM in 1987 for his contribution to this organisation.

Predeceased by his wife (d.1976) and survived by the daughter of his first marriage, Vincent died on 17 July 1990 at Merewether, Newcastle, and was cremated. Gerard died on 27 October 1992 at Figtree, Wollongong, and was buried in St Luke’s Anglican cemetery, Dapto. His wife had died in 1989; their daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Lysaght’s Silver Jubilee 1921-1946 (1946)
  • D. P. Mellor, The Role of Science and Industry (1958)
  • W. Wardman, The Owen Gun (1991)
  • Sheet & Coil Products News/ BHP Steel, Aug 1990, p 4
  • Royal Historical Society of Queensland Journal, vol XV, no 13, 1995, p 601
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 July 1990, p 9, 30 Oct 1992, p 4
  • Wardell papers (Wollongong Central Library)
  • private information.

Citation details

Glenn Mitchell, 'Wardell, Vincent (Aloysius) Andrew (1903–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wardell-vincent-aloysius-andrew-15866/text27067, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 25 May 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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