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William Henry Corbould (1866–1949)

by K. H. Kennedy

This article was published:

William Henry Corbould (1866-1949), mining engineer, was born on 4 November 1866 at Ballarat, Victoria, son of William Corbould, tailor, and his wife Julia Augusta, née Signall. An unenthusiastic student, Corbould left home at 12 but later returned and attended the Ballarat School of Mines where he obtained a certificate in practical chemistry. In 1885 he became an assayer and chemist at the Central mine, Broken Hill, New South Wales.

Around 1891 Corbould went to the United States of America, working both in and out of the mining industry. He moved on to England, the Continent and South Africa, then returned to Adelaide and Broken Hill. He was in Western Australia in 1895 as manager of Patrick Hannan's Reward mine; he was a foundation member of the Chamber of Mines of Western Australia. In 1896 Corbould went back to England and married Una Robina Dodds on 5 August at Folkestone, Kent. He returned to Kalgoorlie and about 1899 was managing Hannan's Reward again. He took charge of his first copper mine at Burraga near Bathurst, New South Wales, about 1902.

In 1909 Corbould became general manager of the Mt Elliott mines near Cloncurry, Queensland, which soon turned into one of the most profitable operations in the Commonwealth. Under its energetic but unconventional manager, the enterprise returned over £400,000 in dividends between 1910 and 1913. He methodically tackled the many problems that arose during the wartime copper boom and in return was appointed managing director of Mt Elliott Ltd. The post-war slump in metal prices retarded his efforts. Corbould retained his faith in Cloncurry but by 1920 only Mt Elliott was still working. Despite falling prices, strikes and the exhaustion of the rich surface ore bodies, he argued that improved smelting processes, and railways to outlying mines would restore profits. Failure to attract additional capital from shareholders dashed his hopes and he resigned in 1922.

As a private engineering consultant, Corbould toured the Mount Isa field at the urging of Douglas MacGilvray who held options on a number of leases. Convinced by Mt Elliott that the future of mining in north-west Queensland lay in large-scale operations, he returned to Cloncurry brimming with enthusiasm. Noting that the ore bodies of Mount Isa resembled the silver-lead lodes of Broken Hill, Corbould secured an option on 400 acres (162 ha) and hurried to Sydney to float Mount Isa Mines Ltd in January 1924. As director and general manager, he was responsible for much of the exploratory work and the raising of capital. When additional funds for exploration were not forthcoming, he invested his own money. Almost single-handed, he removed competition by manipulating the acquisition of Randolph Bedford's Mount Isa Proprietary Ltd and, more importantly, persuaded the Queensland government to extend the railway from Duchess to the mines in late 1925; his case was supported by ministers with shares in his company.

Corbould succeeded in attracting overseas capital from J. L. Urquhart's Russo-Asiatic Consolidated group which secured the large-scale development of the field. It was the first major capital input into Queensland mining for nearly twenty years. Corbould resigned in 1927 and departed overseas but his faith in the area was not vindicated until 1947 when the first dividend was declared; ironically it was copper, not silver-lead, that made Mount Isa's name.

Corbould retained his interest in mining, working at Edie Creek in New Guinea, Java and Japan and in Europe where his reputation was considerable. His services to mining were acknowledged in 1919 when he was admitted as an associate of the Australian Chemical Institute, and later by an award of the Legion of Honour of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers for fifty years service to the industry. Copies of a manuscript autobiography 'The life of Alias Jimmy' are held in both the Mitchell and Oxley libraries.

Although Corbould had four children, his marriage was impeded by his life-style and he and his wife lived together only intermittently. She died at Moss Vale, New South Wales, in 1948. Corbould died at Nice, France, on 16 March 1949. Beneficiaries of his Australian estate of £21,448 included the Australian Club, Sydney, the Weld Club, Perth, the Queensland Club, the Institute of Mining and Metallurgy and the Australian Chemical Institute. To the Ballarat School of Mines, he left £6000 for a scholarship in honour of his old teacher Alfred Mica Smith.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Blainey, Mines in the Spinifex (Syd, 1960), and The Rush that Never Ended (Melb, 1963)
  • School of Mines (Ballarat), Annual Report, 1883-86
  • Chamber of Mines of Western Australia, Monthly Report, 1902-03
  • Queensland Government Mining Journal, 50 (1949), 51 (1950), 478
  • Western Argus (Kalgoorlie), 16 Feb 1895
  • Kalgoorlie Miner, 1 Oct 1895, 3 July 1896
  • private information.

Citation details

K. H. Kennedy, 'Corbould, William Henry (1866–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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