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Louis Reginald Benjamin (1892–1970)

by J. L. Somerville

This article was published:

Louis Reginald Samuel Benjamin (1892-1970), chemist and technologist, was born on 30 April 1892 at Ayr, Queensland, son of Benjamin (Harry) Benjamin, licensed victualler, and his wife Caroline, née Barnett. Educated at Scotch College, Claremont, Western Australia, and the School of Mines, Kalgoorlie, he worked for a time on the eastern goldfields as a metallurgist. On 6 December 1917 he married Florence May McManaway at Sandstone.

Benjamin was introduced to the field of wood-pulping in 1918 by I. H. Boas at the Technical School, Perth; they examined the novel possibility of making paper from eucalypt wood when it was only thought possible to use conifers. He was employed by the newly formed Institute of Science and Industry and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research until 1928, in charge of eucalypt wood-pulp and cellulose research in Perth and Melbourne. In 1924 he and David Avery attempted unsuccessfully to make newsprint from eucalypts in a paper-mill in Holland. By 1927 Benjamin and his colleagues had examined the soda, sulphite and mechanical processes of pulping eucalypt woods. He had shown in a small trial at Fyansford mill that the soda process was suitable for making printing papers, a result availed of by other hands to establish, in 1938, the Burnie mill of Associated Pulp and Paper Mills Ltd. The sulphite and mechanical processes were then examined in an experimental pulp and paper-mill operated by Tasmanian Paper Pty Ltd at Kermandie in 1928-30, with Benjamin as technical superintendent. Mechanical pulping was proven valuable for newsprint manufacture, but then the Depression halted progress.

Benjamin was superintendent of research and technical control for Australian Paper Manufacturers Ltd, Melbourne, from 1930 to 1932 when he joined (Sir) Keith Murdoch's Derwent Valley Paper Co. Pty Ltd in Hobart. He remained for twenty-four years with this firm, which in 1938 formed Australian Newsprint Mills Pty Ltd, being partnered in this by most of the leading Australian newspapers. In 1934 at Ocean Falls, British Columbia, Benjamin and staff had carried out a large mill-scale test, using 1000 tons (1016 tonnes) of Tasmanian eucalypt, in which the problem of using this wood for making newsprint was largely solved. This assurance led to the erection of A.N.M.'s mill at Boyer near New Norfolk in 1938, with Benjamin as general superintendent. In 1941, the first to do so in the world, they produced newsprint from hardwood, and within a few months were manufacturing at the rate of about 20,000 tons (20,320 tonnes) a year. This was valuable to Australia during World War II; at its close the firm bought bigger machinery and almost doubled output.

In 1956 when Benjamin retired and was appointed C.B.E., it was said that he 'had had the satisfaction, rare to a scientist, of managing the industry he had created in the laboratory'. He continued to act for overseas firms, to work as a consultant to existing mills, and to advise the Tasmanian government on the promotion of aluminium at Bell Bay. He received a concession in 1957 over forests in the south-east and interested capital in establishing a pulp-mill at Kermandie. Before his death he was investigating the economics of wood-chip export to Japan from Weipa, North Queensland. A fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, he was vice-chairman of the Australian Aluminium Production Commission in 1945-60 and president of the Australian Pulp and Paper Industry Technical Association in 1950. Much of his outlook is summed up in his article, 'The challenge of the Eucalypts', Appita, November 1959. Benjamin's success in life was largely due to his possession of the common touch, whether with bushman or premier, and his passion for technical exploitation of a natural resource, be it an ore body or a forest. He died in Hobart on 14 March 1970, survived by his wife and two daughters. His estate was sworn for probate at $121,417.

Select Bibliography

  • Jobson's Investment Digest Year Book, 1956
  • Newspaper News, 2 July 1956
  • Appita, 23 (1970), no 6
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 May 1941, supplement
  • Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization records (Canberra).

Citation details

J. L. Somerville, 'Benjamin, Louis Reginald (1892–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 14 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

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