Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

David William Brisbane (1888–1960)

by Bryce Moore

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Hugh Lancelot Brisbane

David William Brisbane (1888-1960), engineer, and Sir Hugh Lancelot Brisbane (1893-1966), businessman, were born on 20 January 1888 and 16 March 1893 at Fitzroy, Melbourne, second and third sons of Victorian-born parents Hugh Brisbane, ironmonger, and his wife Charlotte, née Fithie. The family moved to Western Australia in 1894.

Lance was educated at Fremantle Boys' School and Perth Technical School. In 1909 he began an apprenticeship as a draughtsman with the Perth branch of the building materials manufacturer, Wunderlich Ltd, and rose rapidly through the ranks. On 2 August 1915 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He served in Australian and British units in the Middle East, was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Egyptian Order of the Nile. Promoted temporary major in February 1919, he returned to Australia where his A.I.F. appointment terminated on 14 October. Lance rejoined Wunderlich and in 1920 managed the company's clay-roofing tile plant in East Perth; moved into marketing next year, he eventually became State sales manager. Five feet 11 ins (180.3 cm) tall, with blue eyes and fair hair, he married Frances Leonard Hoyle on 21 September 1921 at St Mary's Anglican Church, West Perth.

In 1927 the business entrepreneur Reginald Long bought a controlling interest in Westralian Potteries Ltd and in 1929 recruited Brisbane as general manager. Although Lance was not a major shareholder, the firm's name was changed to H. L. Brisbane & Co. Ltd. Despite the Depression, he managed to expand the company until it challenged Wunderlich as market leader. In 1938 Wunderlich agreed to merge its Western Australian operation with H. L. Brisbane & Co., in return for an undertaking that Lance would not attempt to expand his business interstate. H. L. Brisbane & Wunderlich Ltd became the State's largest clay-tile producer, securing a virtual monopoly in the industry.

Over the next twenty-eight years Lance built the company into a large and diversified manufacturing enterprise, moving into stainless-steel products, clay sewer-pipes, porcelain, refractory bricks, aluminium fabrication, building cladding and plastics. An industrialist of the old school, with a thoroughgoing knowledge of all aspects of the business, he placed great importance on the loyalty and enthusiasm of his employees; his paternalistic management and manner of handling industrial relations had been largely responsible for his firm's survival through the Depression. Most of his company's postwar success resulted from capital investment in new products and processes rather than from acquiring other firms.

Believing that a strong manufacturing sector was essential to Western Australia's economic future, Lance enthusiastically promoted industrial development. As chairman during World War II of the local board of area management, Commonwealth Department of Munitions, he was sometimes criticized for placing his State's interests ahead of a co-ordinated national war effort. Knighted in 1961, Brisbane was appointed that year by the Brand government to its Industries Advisory Committee, a body composed of leading businessmen. He also served on such charitable institutions as the National Heart Foundation of Australia and the Princess Margaret Hospital for Children. Politically conservative but pragmatic, Brisbane was a friend of Labor's Albert Hawke and the Liberal (Sir) Charles Court; both of the major political parties encouraged his business ventures and supported his vision for the State's progress. Survived by his wife and two daughters, Sir Lance Brisbane died on 4 February 1966 in Bethesda Hospital, Claremont, and was cremated; his estate was sworn for probate in Western Australia at $178,442.

David was educated at Scotch College and Perth Technical School. In 1908 he joined the State Department of Public Works as an engineering cadet and by 1912 was an assistant-engineer. He married Myra Gladys Richardson on 10 December 1913 at the Katanning Baptist Church. Having accepted a position in 1919 as divisional engineer for the Federated Malay States railways, in 1923 he was made managing director of Fogden, Brisbane & Co., Singapore, consulting engineers, a firm which was to execute a range of major public works throughout Asia and the Middle East for the British Admiralty, War Office and Air Ministry. Returning to Perth in early 1942 following the Japanese attack on Singapore, on 28 July David became a skipper (sub lieutenant) in the Royal Australian Naval Auxiliary Patrol.

During World War II he was appointed managing director of the Midland Railway Co. of Western Australia Ltd, the State's last privately-owned railway. He also worked with (Sir) Russell Dumas on the establishment of the Anglo-Iranian oil refinery at Kwinana, chaired the board of West Australian Newspapers Ltd and was appointed C.B.E. in 1958. Survived by his wife, son and three daughters, David Brisbane died in Royal Perth Hospital on 2 August 1960 and was cremated with Presbyterian forms; his estate was sworn for probate in Western Australia at £68,416.

Select Bibliography

  • V. Colless, Men of Western Australia (Perth, 1937)
  • B. Moore, From the Ground Up (Perth, 1987)
  • West Australian, 3 Aug 1960, 5 Feb 1966.

Citation details

Bryce Moore, 'Brisbane, David William (1888–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


20 January, 1888
Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


2 August, 1960 (aged 72)
Perth, Western Australia, 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.