Australian Dictionary of Biography

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David Avery (1871–1956)

by Joan T. Radford

This article was published:

David Avery (1871-1956), chemical consultant, was born on 22 February 1871 at Bungaree, Victoria, eldest son of David Avery and his wife Elizabeth, née Kiel, pioneering farmers. He was educated at Mount Pleasant State School, the Ballarat School of Mines and Grenville College; he qualified for matriculation in 1887 and in 1889 entered the University of Melbourne where he was a resident at Queen's College. Wyselaskie scholar in natural science in 1890, he specialized in chemistry and technical chemistry, taking the honours examination for B.Sc. in March 1892 and winning the Kernot Research Scholarship for Chemistry. His research under Professor (Sir) David Masson was mainly on the chemistry of hyponitrites; he graduated M.Sc., the second on the university's roll, in March 1894. He tutored at Queen's, Ormond and Trinity colleges and contributed actively to the University Science Club and to college sport.

In 1897, after two years of study towards a medical degree, Avery married Gertrude Elizabeth Hall (M.A., 1897), a specialist in modern languages and half-sister of the scientist Thomas Sergeant Hall. That year Avery began his career in industrial chemistry, managing a cyanide process for extracting gold from low-grade ores for a mining company at Mount Egerton. He returned to Melbourne as head of the chemistry department at the Working Men's College in 1899-1911. He later entered private practice and in 1915, with Valentine Anderson as partner, established the firm known as Avery & Anderson. Among organizations consulting Avery were the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, Amalgamated Zinc (de Bavay's) Ltd and the Electrolytic Zinc Co. of Australasia Ltd. He advised Amalgamated Zinc on aspects of flotation processes for the separation and extraction of zinc and lead from the tailings of mines at Broken Hill; after 1916 he was also consultant to Electrolytic Zinc on electrolytic extraction of lead, zinc and aluminium, being joint-holder of several patents. He served from 1916 on the executive and special chemicals committees of the newly formed Commonwealth Advisory Council of Science and Industry and in 1919 (when he suffered a severe attack of encephalitis) was appointed for two years to the executive of the Institute of Science and Industry.

In 1923 Avery persuaded Amalgamated Zinc to consider the manufacture of pulp and paper from Australian hardwoods by extending the successful laboratory investigations sponsored by the Institute of Science and Industry. He and Louis Benjamin visited England and Holland in 1924; they met with little success in persuading British papermakers to undertake commercial tests on Australian eucalypts by sulphite-pulp processes, but trials in Holland produced paper, though of poor quality. Avery, now a director of Amalgamated Zinc, took an option on forest land in the Huon Valley, Tasmania, in 1926 and there Amalgamated Zinc, through its subsidiary, Tasmanian Paper Pty Ltd, financed a pilot pulp and paper mill at Kermandie. Benjamin joined Avery in 1927 and two and a half years later, after overcoming numerous technical difficulties, they produced newsprint from Eucalyptus regnans. The crash of the New York Stock Exchange ended plans for commercial expansion.

Avery gave valuable service to education. In Britain and Europe in 1908-09 he studied developments in technical education. He was a matriculation examiner in chemistry for the University of Melbourne and an external examiner for higher degrees. A vice-president of the Working Men's College, he also sat on the councils of technical schools. In 1922 he chaired an apprenticeship conference convened by the Victorian minister of labour, and in 1931 served on a board of inquiry into the administration of the Victorian Education Department.

Avery was a foundation member and office-bearer of the Society of Chemical Industry of Victoria (founded 1901), the Melbourne University Chemical Society (1904) and the Australian Chemical Institute (1918), and a member of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy in 1920-29. He urged the Society of Chemical Industry of Victoria to sponsor and finance research at technical colleges. He was an executive member of the Victorian business and excursion subcommittees organizing the 1914 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1924 he was elected president of the Rotary Club of Melbourne.

Avery was a man of principle, kindly, trusted and well liked. His general philosophy and religious faith are revealed in his twenty-five pages of verse, The Quest of Man (Melbourne, 1938). From 1933 he virtually retired to his property, Greenacres, at Harkaway, Berwick, where he died on 27 October 1956; he was cremated with Methodist rites. He was survived by his only daughter, who practised medicine. His estate was valued for probate at £30,283.

Select Bibliography

  • L. J. Blake (ed), Vision and Realisation, vol 1 (Melb, 1973)
  • L. R. East, The Kiel Family and Related Scottish Pioneers (Nunawading, 1974)
  • Alma Mater (University of Melbourne), vol 1 (1896), 3 (1898), 5 (1900)
  • L. R. Benjamin, ‘The challenge of the eucalypts’, Appita, 13 (1959)
  • Science and Industry, June 1920
  • J. A. Rawson, A History of the Australian Paper Making Industry, 1818-1951 (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1953)
  • Council minutes, 1901, 1903, 1905, 1910, 1913 (Society of the Chemical Industry of Victoria).

Citation details

Joan T. Radford, 'Avery, David (1871–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 20 July 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]


22 February, 1871
Bungaree, Victoria, Australia


27 October, 1956 (aged 85)
Berwick, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.