Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John McKenzie Corby (1857–1927)

by Ann R. Shorten

This article was published:

John McKenzie Corby (1857?-1927), marine engineer, was born in Mauritius, son of John Corby, engineer, and his wife Janet, née McKenzie. He came to Australia probably not long before his marriage on 31 March 1883 at Pyrmont, Sydney, to 18-year-old Grace Wilson. His name first appeared in the list of members of the Sydney district of the Australasian Institute of Marine Engineers in 1884. At this time he held a first-class marine engineer's certificate and was employed by William Howard Smith & Sons Ltd as chief engineer of the Derwent. He was chief engineer of the company's Burwah in 1889-90 and of the Leura in 1890-96.

Corby was prominent in the organization of marine engineers from 1889 when he was elected president of the Sydney district of the A.I.M.E.; in 1890-96 he represented Brisbane on its executive council. In 1896 he was elected secretary of the Victorian district of the A.I.M.E., holding this position unchallenged until his retirement on 30 June 1926. In his capacity as a leader of the profession, he was a member of the Marine Board of Victoria and the Court of Marine Inquiry from December 1900.

In that year the A.I.M.E. formed a federal council with the head office located in Melbourne, and Corby was elected general secretary. He remained in his two positions until 1919, when the federal office was moved to Sydney. After September 1924, when the New Zealand branches separated from the Australian organization (henceforth the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers), the head office was relocated in Melbourne and Corby again became federal secretary.

As a senior administrator of the institute's affairs, Corby helped to resolve disputes between marine engineers and shipowners. As Victorian delegate to conferences held between 1899 and 1924, he took a leading part in developing the rules and traditions of the institute. He had a long record of zealous endeavour to advance the status of the Australian marine engineer. With other colleagues he fought against the Federal government's efforts to introduce a third-class engineer certificate, which would allow advancement to the imperially valid second and first-class certificates without prerequisite completion of apprenticeship. Corby argued unsuccessfully against the move in evidence to the royal commission on the navigation bill (1906). However, he later pointed out to colleagues that the engineer manning scales which he had helped to prepare and which had been accepted by the royal commission, would virtually wipe out any possibility of third-class engineers becoming a threat to holders of imperially valid certificates. Although a firm believer in the importance of apprenticeship, as a member of the Victorian Marine Board Corby was involved in negotiations to establish certificate and diploma courses in marine engineering at the Working Men's College in 1907.

Corby was a well-known yachtsman, and in 1908-09 and 1915-16 was commodore of the Royal Brighton Yacht Club. His first wife died on 28 August 1907; on 8 June 1908 at Mosman Presbyterian Church, Sydney, he married her younger sister Hannah, aged 26. There were no children of either marriage. Corby died aged 70 at Toorak on 15 July 1927.

Select Bibliography

  • Register of Australian and New Zealand Shipping (Melb, 1879-89, copy at University of Melbourne Archives)
  • Royal Commission on the Navigation Bill, Evidence, Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1906, vol 3, Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers, Annual Report, 1881-1928 (A.I.M.P.E. Archives, Sydney), and correspondence T19/23, T19/25 (Australian National University Archives), and minute books, 1887-1933 (Victorian Branch Archives, South Melbourne)
  • Board minutes, 1900-25 (Victorian Marine Board, Melbourne)
  • private information.

Citation details

Ann R. Shorten, 'Corby, John McKenzie (1857–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 22 May 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




15 July, 1927 (aged ~ 70)
Toorak, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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