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William Gordon Brookman (1859–1910)

by R. O. Giles

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William Gordon Brookman (1859-1910), mining speculator, was born on 8 August 1859 at Prospect, South Australia, third son of Benjamin Brookman, government stamp-printer, and his wife Jane, née Wilson. Educated at Whinham College, he was a public servant in 1875-80 before joining his elder brother (Sir) George in a general merchant and agency business. By 1889 he was principal of Chance & Co., jam and pickle manufacturers, which failed in 1890 in the financial depression and maritime strikes following the collapse of the Victorian land boom. In June 1892 he was an undischarged bankrupt with liabilities of £31,000, members of his family being the principal creditors.

In 1893 George, inspired by the arrival of gold ore samples from Coolgardie, Western Australia, organized a syndicate to send Will and a prospector acquaintance Sam Pearce to Coolgardie to secure mining leases. The pair shared a one-third interest in the syndicate. They walked 300 miles (483 km) from York to Kalgoorlie, arriving on 28 June 1893, within a week of P. Hannan reporting his find. Avoiding prospectors at work round Hannan's hill, they camped four miles (6.4 km) south on the 'Golden Mile' where thereafter they pegged over twenty mine leases. The syndicate took up nineteen, and floated three companies in Australia and others in London later. Hannan and Brookman were also among several early members of the exclusive Hannan’s Club to have major streets in Kalgoorlie named after them; the club itself was located at the corner of Brookman and Maritana Streets.

In 1894 exemptions from costly development conditions were authorized, giving leaseholders opportunity to obtain overseas capital. Brookman acquired control of some 2000 acres (809 ha) of mining leases. On 7 September 1895 he sailed for London, after going to Adelaide to make settlement in full in discharge of his bankruptcy. He arrived in London with his wife Anne Kinder, née Flynn, a widow with four children, who had joined her mother, a Boulder hotelkeeper, in 1894.

Lionized in financial circles, Brookman adopted lavish standards common to other wealthy Australian mining men already in London. He arrived in Perth on 31 December 1896, by private train from Fremantle. Director of some thirty mining companies and reputedly a millionaire, he was to develop a score of mines into dividend-paying investments for a fee of £10,000, and had decided to live permanently in Perth. He bought much land, acquired a country estate, a seaside cottage, a private yacht, and a motor car, and lived in a town mansion with a suite of liveried servants. His opulence was the delight of gold-rush immigrants and the envy of the old families. However, elaborate ceremonial openings of new mine treatment plants stopped suddenly when he was stripped of many English directorships, allegedly for absence without leave. He lost the resultant legal battle in London.

Brookman returned to Perth to find himself acknowledged as a leader by gold-rush migrants hostile to the Sir John Forrest government. Twice petitioned to displace the incumbent mayor of Perth, Alexander Forrest, Brookman agreed to nominate when he vacated the office. He knew from Forrest that, although the latter was ineligible to serve a fourth successive term, the government proposed to remove the disqualification in order to leave Forrest in office during a royal visit in 1901, for which Forrest had been nominated to an honours list. Brookman sailed for the Paris Exposition of 1900 leaving nominations for the mayoralty and for a newly created seat in the Legislative Council. His supporters won him the council seat, but the government was defeated over the mayoral office. Advised by cable that his nomination for mayor had been lodged, Brookman returned to contest a bitter four-way mayoral election in which his Adelaide bankruptcy figured and his marriage with Anne Kinder was questioned.

Triumphantly elected, Brookman took a neutral stance between city council factions and was thereby left with insufficient support to enforce order in a series of turbulent and well-publicized wrangles at council meetings. Press hostility turned from the councillors to the mayor, and to the public behaviour of the mayoress. It was noted that Brookman was the only capital city mayor omitted from the honours list on the opening of the Federal parliament; the Perth award was a C.M.G. to Alexander Forrest. A few weeks before the royal visit Brookman resigned and retired to Mandurah to live. He had lost heavily in the London stock exchange collapse and his last major venture—to smelt ores at South Fremantle—had failed. The resulting composition with his creditors made him ineligible for office.

He lived at Mandurah while selling assets to meet his debts until 1904. His wife deserted him. He made his last appearance in the Legislative Council on 29 September 1903, and in December his seat was declared vacant. In failing health he travelled to Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and New Zealand, accompanied by his widowed sister Mrs Ragless and by a nurse on his last journeys. He died in his father's home in Adelaide of pulmonary tuberculosis on 5 January 1910. His estate in South Australia was valued for probate at £7 10s., and in Western Australia at £127. Brookman had claimed proudly that he had secured the investment of £35 million in Western Australia and had established fifty-two mines.

Select Bibliography

  • J. J. Pascoe (ed). History of Adelaide and Vicinity (Adel, 1901)
  • P. W. H. Thiel & Co., Twentieth Century Impressions of Western Australia (Perth, 1901)
  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vols 1-2 (Adel, 1912, 1913)
  • E. O. G. Shann, The Boom of 1890—and Now (Syd, 1927)
  • V. Courtney, All I May Tell (Syd, 1956)
  • G. C. Bolton, Alexander Forrest (Melb, 1958)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, Western Australia), 1903-04, 1, 217
  • W. E. Bold, ‘Looking backwards’, JRWAHS (Early Days), Dec 1946
  • J. W. McCarty, ‘British investment in Western Australian gold mining, 1894-1914’, University Studies in History, 1961-62
  • British Australasian, 31 Oct 1895, 4 Aug 1898
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 24 Dec 1892
  • Morning Herald (Perth), 31 Dec 1896, 5 Jan 1897, 14-23 Jan 1900
  • West Australian, 30 Oct, 19 Nov 1900, 27, 28 June 1901
  • Western Argus (Kalgoorlie), 2 July 1901, 11, 18 Jan 1910
  • W. G. Brookman estate papers (privately held)
  • H. C. De Rose estate papers (held by R. J. Trott, Adel)
  • Supreme Court (South Australia), no 143 of 1897 (Adelaide)
  • bankruptcy file GRG 66/5, no 6002 (State Records of South Australia)

Citation details

R. O. Giles, 'Brookman, William Gordon (1859–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 21 April 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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