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Alfred Bower Ainsworth (1827–1920)

by Brian Lloyd and Margaret Sharpe

This article was published:

Alfred Bower Ainsworth (1827-1920), civil engineer and public servant, was born probably in Brussels, only son of Thomas Hargreaves Ainsworth (1795-1841) and his wife Jane, née Bower. His grandfather was a prominent Lancashire cotton industrialist. His father moved to Holland in the 1830s and there established a weaving school and bleachworks important in the history of the modern Dutch textile industry. After schooling in France and Germany, Ainsworth attended the University of Liège, Belgium, in 1845-48, served articles in Brussels and then joined a London firm of consulting engineers.

On 6 November 1851 at Hornsey, Middlesex, he married Elizabeth, daughter of William Sugden; they migrated in the Caroline Agnes and arrived in South Australia on 6 May 1852. Ainsworth briefly conducted a grammar school in Adelaide before moving to Victoria where in 1854 he was in Geelong. In November he was appointed a temporary assistant surveyor at a salary of £250. By 1856 his position was confirmed and he carried out extensive survey work in the Western District; in 1860 his salary was £500. His wife accompanied him, bearing children at Lake Terang, Hexham and Warrnambool.

In 1863 the family moved to Melbourne and late in the year Ainsworth went to the new remote goldfield of Wood's Point. At a salary of £70, in January 1864 he became mining surveyor and registrar of the North Jordan subdivision of the Beechworth mining district; he took his family in on horseback two years later. Seven further children were born there. As mining declined after 1864 his area of responsibility was extended. In 1866 he was appointed acting mining surveyor for Jericho and by 1869 covered the divisions of Gaffney's Creek and Big River. He retained all but Jericho till 1879 and from 1873 was also inspector of mines. Alexandra was added to his territory when by 1879 he was forced by financial difficulties to move to that town, and in 1886 he became mining surveyor for Yea. He was surveyor for the Borough of Wood's Point for periods from 1870 to 1891, and shire engineer of Alexandra in 1881 and of Howqua at Jamieson in 1891-98. Ainsworth was an expert horseman, but many of the early reefs in the more rugged areas were accessible only on foot; when roads were built his one concession to age was to drive his one-horse buggy, even in the winter snows of Wood's Point. His endurance became a local legend. From Alexandra he continued his tireless travel to carry out surveys and gather statistics which were published in the quarterly reports of mining surveyors and in the local press. His fine map of Wood's Point (1866) was lithographed, published by the Mining Department and widely circulated.

R. B. Smyth's The Gold Fields and Mineral Districts of Victoria (Melbourne, 1869) contained a ten-page contribution by Ainsworth on the discovery of the Wood's Point reefs. When diamond drilling began there in 1886, he fixed the sites for the first bores for the Department of Mines. Although drilling was suspended in 1890, his choices were vindicated by later successes at the Morning Star reefs. His evidence to the royal commission on gold-mining (1891) advocated the latest technical advances and was highly practical. He was well aware of health hazards to miners and recommended dissemination of mining education by lectures at mechanics' institutes in smaller gold towns. In a generation not noted for conservation, he condemned the ruthless cutting of timber for the mines and advocated establishment of reserves and plantations.

Ainsworth was fiercely loyal to the mountain districts and the men with whom he worked. His writings, maps and drawings confirm that he was highly literate; his work has a ring of sincerity and conscientiousness, and in practical mining matters his advice was dependably accurate. Unlike many of his professional contemporaries, he was not listed as shareholder in any mining company.

Ainsworth's excellent eyesight enabled him to use survey instruments into old age. He held most of his mining appointments until he was about 90, and lived at his home, Summerlands, Alexandra, to within six months of his death, aged 92, on 29 May 1920 at Murrumbeena. He was buried at his beloved Alexandra, predeceased by his wife and survived by eight of his fifteen children.

Select Bibliography

  • Wood's Point Times, 28 Feb, 16 May, 30 June 1866
  • Alexandra Times, 25 Aug 1868
  • Jamieson and Wood's Point Chronicle, 29 May 1886, 11 June 1887, 22 May 1892
  • Alexandra and Yea Standard, 18 June 1920
  • Mansfield Courier, 26 June 1920
  • R. B. Smyth papers (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

Brian Lloyd and Margaret Sharpe, 'Ainsworth, Alfred Bower (1827–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 20 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Brussels, Belgium


29 May, 1920 (aged ~ 93)
Murrumbeena, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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