Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Henville Burford (1807–1895)

by Herbert R. Taylor

This article was published:

William Henville Burford (1807-1895), manufacturer, was born on 24 January 1807 at St Catherine's, Middlesex, England, the youngest son of Benjamin Burford, butcher, and his wife Anne. After some schooling he was apprenticed to a local butcher for seven years, and later learned the trade of candle-making. In May 1833 he married Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of Samuel Messent. Seeking better opportunities for a successful business career in South Australia, where also he could find religious freedom, he was granted a free passage and, with his wife and two daughters, arrived in Adelaide in the Pestonjee Bomanjee in October 1838.

On arrival Burford had one shilling and sixpence in his pocket, but what he lacked in cash he made up in courage, enterprise and hard work. He first worked in a lime kiln and then excavated cellars in Hindley Street. Dissatisfied with this type of work, he became a painter and glazier and soon an employer of labour. When this business failed, he became a manufacturer of candles and soap, commodities which had hitherto been imported from Van Diemen's Land at great cost. Burford had little capital and in 1844 his utensils had to be sold. Friends helped him to start again and when copper mines opened at Kapunda and Burra he obtained contracts to supply candles to the mining companies. He failed again in 1859 but the opening of Moonta mines set him on his feet. From these difficult beginnings, the business of W. H. Burford & Sons eventually won modest wealth for the founder and his family, and proved of great economic value to South Australia.

His wife died in 1859 and Burford married her younger sister, Mary Anne Messent, two years later. After her death he married the widow of J. H. M. Hawkes in 1880. There were seven children by his first wife, of whom Benjamin and William entered into partnership with him in 1878. Eight years afterwards William took over the business.

Burford became a member of the Municipal Corporation of Adelaide in 1841, and in 1857 he was elected one of six members to represent the city in the first House of Assembly. He resigned in 1859. As a legislator his masterful mind and sound common sense won the respect of his fellow members. During one vital debate on the real property bill, he mustered reluctant members from the dining room to make a quorum and, in recognition of this and his help throughout the debate, (Sir) Robert Torrens gave him the first copy of his book on Law Reform.

Burford had a fine voice and a passion for music. He was a zealous Mason and held strong religious views. He worshipped with the Independents until the Scotch Baptists formed a church. Later he became a leading figure in the Churches of Christ as a generous donor and business adviser, and as a local preacher and choir director. He also served as an elder of the Grote Street and Kermode Street churches. At his death on 23 October 1895 he was in membership with the Unley Church of Christ. His whole life was affected by a deep religious fervour. He had a favourite saying: 'A candle-maker, of all persons in the world, though he might not be a great luminary, ought to burn with no uncertain light'.

Select Bibliography

  • G. C. Morphett (compiler), W. H. Burford: A Pioneer Manufacturer (Adel, 1942)
  • H. R. Taylor, The History of Churches of Christ in South Australia (Adel, 1959)
  • Register (Adelaide), 24 Oct 1895
  • Observer (Adelaide), 26 Oct 1895.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Herbert R. Taylor, 'Burford, William Henville (1807–1895)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

William Burford, 1890

William Burford, 1890

State Library of South Australia, B 7109

Life Summary [details]


24 January, 1807
London, Middlesex, England


23 October, 1895 (aged 88)
Mitcham, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.

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