Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Richard Bainton (1867–1924)

by Merrilyn Lincoln

This article was published:

John Richard Bainton (1867-1924), electrical engineer, was born on 10 September 1867 at Geneva, Switzerland, son of Richard Bainton, British master mariner, and his wife Anna Marie, née Dénériaz. Brought up in Kent, he received little formal education and at 13 left home to work for a shipbuilding company in London. He was later apprenticed to the Gulcher Electric Light & Power Co. of Battersea and, on qualifying as an electrical engineer, worked at Earle's Shipyards, Hull.

Bainton came to Australia in 1889 as the agent for Woodhouse & Rawson, a London engineering firm. Seven years later, having decided to settle, he became managing engineer for Edge & Edge, a Sydney firm of electrical contractors. Always keenly interested in innovative engineering, he visited the United States of America in 1898 to study the Bell automatic telephone system and was partly responsible for its later introduction into Australia in the early 1900s. In 1900, while still employed by Edge & Edge, Bainton converted to electric power T. Saywell's steam tramway linking Brighton-le-Sands and Rockdale: this was Sydney's pioneer electric tramway. That year he became president of the Electrical Association of New South Wales and served for two successive terms.

In 1903 Bainton secured the Australian agency for Dick, Kerr & Co. of London and within a year had fulfilled its contract to supply the generating plant for Sydney's original electric lighting scheme. In the same year he also set up in business with James Nicholson, managing director of Sydney's Waygood Elevator Co. They established the Standard Electric Elevator Co. and over the next few years introduced the electric lift into Australia; their firm became known as Standard Waygood early in 1909.

On 23 April 1910, on one of his frequent trips to England, Bainton married Mabel Beatrice Maria Vernon at St Mary's Anglican Church, Shortlands, Kent. They lived at Point Piper until 1922 when, for the sake of Bainton's health, they moved to the Blue Mountains. By the end of World War I the Bainton-Nicholson firm, then called the English Electric Co. of Australia, was among the largest engineering concerns in the country. One of Bainton's last projects was preparing an unsuccessful tender for the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1924.

Bainton was tall and slightly built with pleasant features; his appearance and quiet personal charm belied the sterner qualities of relentless drive, determination, and astuteness in negotiation that made him so successful in business. He was a member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, London, and of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. He was a keen motorist and his De Dion-Bouton was among the first private cars in Sydney; in 1897 he had introduced the motor cycle to Melbourne, alarming pedestrians and horses alike as he rode along St Kilda Esplanade. He also took an active interest in photography and wireless technology; he rose to the rank of captain in the Corps of Australian Engineers. He was a Freemason from 1894.

A long-term sufferer from asthma, Bainton died suddenly of cardio-respiratory disease at his Wentworth Falls home on 13 June 1924 and was buried in the local Anglican cemetery. He was survived by his wife, a son and a daughter. The J. R. Bainton Prize, which he endowed, is awarded annually by the Institution of Engineers, Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • English Electric Company of Australia, Tender for the Sydney Harbour Bridge (Syd, 1924)
  • Electrical Association of New South Wales, Proceedings, 1906-14
  • Institute of Engineers (Australia), Transactions, 5 (1924)
  • and Quarterly Bulletin, July 1924
  • Commonwealth Engineer, 1 July 1924
  • Argus (Melbourne), 31 May 1897
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14, 16 June 1924
  • private information.

Citation details

Merrilyn Lincoln, 'Bainton, John Richard (1867–1924)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 18 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]


10 September, 1867
Geneva, Switzerland


13 June, 1924 (aged 56)
Wentworth Falls, New South Wales, Australia

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