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Arthur James Arnot (1865–1946)

by Noel Goss and Sally O'Neill

This article was published:

Arthur James Arnot (1865-1946), electrical engineer, was born on 26 August 1865 at Hamilton, Scotland, son of William Arnot, commercial agent, and his wife Elizabeth Helen, née Macdonald. After a grammar school education, he attended the West of Scotland Technical College, Glasgow, and then entered the London workshop of an Anglo-American electrical engineering company, while studying part time. In 1885 he was appointed assistant engineer of the Grosvenor Gallery power station where he worked with S. Z. de Ferranti, pioneer of the transmission of electrical power at high voltage.

In 1889 Arnot arrived in Melbourne under a two-year contract to erect a large alternating-current plant for the Union Electric Co. In March 1891 he was appointed first electrical engineer for the city council; in August he married Cornelia Ann (d.1947), daughter of Councillor C. J. Ham. Arnot installed a comprehensive system of street lighting for Melbourne city in 1891-92; designed and managed in 1894-1901 the council's Spencer Street power station; helped to draft the Victorian Electric Light and Power Act of 1896; and extended the council's supply to private lighting in 1895 and to traction in 1899. He was described in 1896 as a man of 'considerable enterprise … versatile, determined, hard-working'. In 1892 and 1899 he studied developments in electrical engineering in Britain, Europe and the United States of America.

Arnot was elected a member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, London, in 1899 but let his membership lapse in 1906; he held office in the Victorian branch of the institution and later became a member and president of the Electrical Association of New South Wales. He was examiner in electrical technology for technical schools in Victoria, and in 1897-1901 was a councillor of the Working Men's College.

In September 1901 Arnot resigned from the Melbourne City Council to become Australasian manager of the British company, Babcock & Wilcox Ltd; he visited the head office in London before taking up his post in Sydney in June 1902. In the next few years the firm supplied plant for Sydney's tramways and electric light, for the electric tramway systems of Christchurch and Auckland, New Zealand, and for power generation on the Western Australian goldfields. From a head office staff of four in 1901, under Arnot's managership the firm grew to an organization in 1929 which included large boiler-making works, and branch offices in Newcastle and all mainland State capitals.

On the outbreak of war in 1914 Arnot had volunteered for service abroad but was detained in Australia. He had been a lieutenant in the Submarine Company, Victorian Engineers, from 1894, transferring to the reserve of officers in 1900; he resigned his commission in 1912. In July 1915 he was recommissioned into the Australian Engineers, Australian Military Forces; next month he was promoted captain and in October 1916 major. From June 1918 to April 1919 he was director of works in the Department of the Chief of Ordnance. He transferred to the reserve again in 1920 and retired in 1925 with the rank of major.

From 1910 Arnot had also taken an active interest in farming. He had bought a property at Batlow in southern New South Wales for his two sons, planting 100 acres (40 ha) of it in apple and pear trees. When the sons turned to sheep-farming about 1924 he took over the running of the orchard from them. He was a keen fisherman and after the war was a member of the Union and the Royal Sydney Golf clubs.

In 1928 Arnot became a key witness in a scandal which involved allegations of corrupt dealings between the former Sydney Municipal Council and the firm of Babcock & Wilcox, over the letting of a contract in May 1926 to instal plant at the Bunnerong power station. During a royal commission of inquiry set up in June 1928 Arnot, who had negotiated the deal on behalf of his firm, alleged that S. J. Maling, a former alderman, had demanded £10,000 to secure the contract. In his report, Mr Justice Harvey censured Arnot but decided that pressure for the bribe had come from Maling, who was later sentenced to six months imprisonment; Babcock & Wilcox were ordered to pay a substantial fine.

Arnot retired from the firm in September 1929, making his home at Batlow where he was active in local organization of the fruit industry. About 1940 he moved to Camden and later to Castle Hill, where he died on 15 October 1946. He was survived by his second wife Dora Christine, née Shewan, whom he had married in Los Angeles in 1927, by their two children (the younger aged 6) and by four children of the first marriage. He was cremated with Presbyterian rites.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • J. T. Lang, I Remember (Syd, 1956)
  • Batlow Historical Society, Batlow, E. Herring ed (Syd, 1975)
  • Scientific Australian, 20 June 1896
  • Table Talk, 7 July 1893
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 May, 6, 23 June 1928
  • Argus (Melbourne), 25 July, 1 Aug, 11 Dec 1928, 2 Mar 1929
  • private information.

Citation details

Noel Goss and Sally O'Neill, 'Arnot, Arthur James (1865–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 23 May 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]


26 August, 1865
Hamilton, Lanarkshire, Scotland


15 October, 1946 (aged 81)
Castle Hill, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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