Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Frank Bottrill (1871–1953)

by F. J. Kendall

This article was published:

Frank Bottrill (1871-1953), blacksmith and inventor, was born on 1 April 1871 at Sturt, Adelaide, son of John Lucas Bottrill, market gardener, and his wife Eliza, née Macklin. Frank was brought up as a Methodist and probably attended Payneham School before serving an apprenticeship as a blacksmith. Later he worked in the mines at Moonta and Wallaroo where he obtained his certificate as an engine driver (steam). About 1889 he went to Broken Hill, New South Wales, but by 1896 was working as a blacksmith at East Payneham; in September he applied for a patent for improvements in windmills.

In the early 1900s Bottrill and his brother Reuben were employed by the Triumph Plough Co. of Adelaide to clear scrub in the Tintinara district, in the south-east of the State. The major problem of using conventional tractors was loss of traction in sandy soil and wet ground through skidding. Bottrill invented an improved road wheel in which a series of flat bearers rotated with the wheel and provided a track for it to run on. This device, analogous to the later caterpillar tread, was patented on 6 September 1907.

In 1908 Bottrill moved to Victoria and in Ballarat he became a Seventh Day Adventist. He met Margaret Young, a Bible-worker for the church, and on 31 March 1909 at North Fitzroy they were married.

Living in South Melbourne, Bottrill worked as a blacksmith and engineer in close association with A. H. MacDonald & Co. of Richmond. In 1911 an engine and wagon to his design was built by MacDonald's and Austral Otis Engineering Co. for delivery to the Mount Gunson copper-mine in South Australia. Tractors using his patent wheels were used on the Cloncurry mines in Queensland and in the construction of the transcontinental railway. However the most famous use of his device, known variously as 'Dreadnought wheel' or 'Pedorail', was on 'Big Lizzie', an enormous traction engine designed by Bottrill and built by MacDonald's in 1915: 34 feet (10.4 m) long, weighing 45 tons (46 tonnes), with two trailers attached it could carry almost twice that weight. Bottrill had hoped to use it in Broken Hill but the huge vehicle only got as far as Mildura. He settled at Red Cliffs and under his direction 'Big Lizzie' was used for extensive land-clearing operations in the Mallee. In 1926-28 the engine was used at Glendinning near Balmoral and was then abandoned until 1971.

In 1926 Bottrill set up as an engineer at Vasey near Glendinning. In 1931 he moved to Lismore near Camperdown, working as a mechanic, and in 1934 became a blacksmith at Dareton, New South Wales, not far from Mildura. Independent, modest, of strong build and unusual endurance, Bottrill was a vegetarian and teetotaller; he had a rich bass singing voice. His favourite book was the Bible. In 1919-24 he had been a founder, an elder and treasurer of the Mildura Seventh Day Adventist Church. He was elder and treasurer of the Dareton church until his death in hospital at Mildura on 7 January 1953. Childless, he was survived by his wife.

Bottrill's 'Big Lizzie' is preserved at Red Cliffs. His invention was important in the mechanical clearing of sandy country but had no long-term impact on the development of the traction engine.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Wheelhouse, Digging Stick to Rotary Hoe (Melb, 1966)
  • A. S. Kenyon, ‘Clearing by traction engine’, Journal of Agriculture (Victoria), 8 (1908)
  • Queensland Government Mining Journal, 14 June, 15 Aug 1913
  • Sunraysia Daily, 9 Jan 1953
  • Canberra Times, 30 June 1964
  • private information.

Citation details

F. J. Kendall, 'Bottrill, Frank (1871–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 21 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]


1 April, 1871
Sturt, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


7 January, 1953 (aged 81)
Mildura, 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.