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Allan Dalziel (1887–1956)

by Gerald Donaghy

This article was published:

Allan Dalziel (1887-1956), marine engineer and shipbuilder, was born on 22 July 1887 at Carronbridge, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, sixth of seven children of Hugh Dalziel, railway pointsman, and his wife Johnan, née Rae, a domestic servant. In 1890 the family moved to Kirn on the Firth of Clyde where Allan was introduced to shipbuilding. After leaving school he was apprenticed (1903-08) as a fitter to David Rowan & Co., Glasgow, builders of ships' engines. He joined Cayser, Irvine & Co. as a junior engineer and spent two years on trading voyages (mainly to India) before returning in 1911 to Glasgow where he obtained his Board of Trade second-class certificate. His next ship, the Clan Campbell, was sent to Australia under charter to the Adelaide Steamship Co. Ltd which bought the vessel and renamed her Camira; Dalziel remained with the Camira and settled in Melbourne.

At the Presbyterian Church, Yarraville, on 12 November 1913 he married Annie Jean Ross, a saleswoman. In 1917 he received his first-class engineer's certificate. Following further sea service, he briefly worked at the Newport power station and in 1919-23 assisted Thompson & Co. at Williamstown to install engines in D and E class vessels of the Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers. In 1923 three of these ships were sold to Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd and Dalziel became chief engineer of the company's Iron Master. Within two years he was promoted superintendent engineer of the firm's ships at Newcastle, New South Wales. B.H.P. had acquired a fleet to bring its various steelmaking components from around Australia and to transport the finished products, but these vessels were bought or chartered from other companies. By 1935 B.H.P. planned ships of its own, specifically suited to its needs. Dalziel supervised the construction of four of them in Scotland and came back to Australia in 1938.

The company's managing director Essington Lewis was keen to resuscitate Australian shipbuilding and responded before World War II to the British Admiralty's request for B.H.P. to build warships. Whyalla, South Australia, was chosen as the site: this port was less vulnerable than the eastern seaboard to naval or air attack, and had a recently-dredged harbour, ample space for a shipyard, a burgeoning township and other amenities. Dalziel was appointed superintendent of shipbuilding. He recruited from Scotland executives and artisans to train the shipyard workers, most of whom came from South Australia's farming districts and quickly mastered the craft. Dalziel admired the Australian working man. Big in stature and in mind, he led and did not drive; he knew most of his employees by name, listened to their troubles and counselled them in their personal problems. They thought the world of him and industrial unrest was rare under his stewardship. An advocate of immigration, he believed that the old world was finished and that his adopted land was the country of the future.

By 1942 four naval vessels of the minesweeper-corvette type had been completed at Whyalla. There followed a programme of merchant shipbuilding which, by Dalziel's retirement in 1952, comprised seventeen ships. The last of these, of the Yampi class, were—at 12 500 tons d.w.—the largest ships then built in Australia. The yard's workforce numbered more than nine hundred. Like many of his origin and generation, work was Dalziel's passion, though he enjoyed a rich family life, played bowls and golf, and was a Freemason. Survived by his wife, daughter and four of his six sons, he died of coronary vascular disease on 13 June 1956 at Whyalla and was buried in Brighton cemetery, Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Shipbuilders' Association, Shipbuilding in Australia (Canb, 1968)
  • G. Blainey, The Steel Master (Melb, 1971)
  • S. J. Butlin, War Economy 1939-42 (Canb, 1955)
  • A. Trengove, "What's Good for Australia...!': The Story of BHP (Melb, 1975)
  • M. Page, Fitted for the Voyage (Adel, 1975)
  • S. J. Butlin and C. B. Schedvin, War Economy 1942-1945 (Canb, 1977)
  • B. Pemberton, Australian Coastal Shipping (Melb, 1979)
  • Whyalla News, 15 June 1956
  • Nautical Association of Australia, Log, 1, no 5, 1968
  • private information.

Citation details

Gerald Donaghy, 'Dalziel, Allan (1887–1956)', 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]


22 July, 1887
Carronbridge, Dumfriesshire, Scotland


13 June, 1956 (aged 68)
Whyalla, South Australia, Australia

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