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Ambrose William Freeman (1873–1930)

by Arthur Corbett and G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with William Addison Freeman

Ambrose William Freeman (1873-1930), mining engineer, and William Addison Freeman (1874-1956), solicitor and businessman, were born on 13 February 1873 and on 6 October 1874 in Sydney, second and third sons of native-born parents William Freeman, draftsman in the Surveyor-General's Office and later president of the Land Court, and his wife Lucy Rose, née Fisher. They were educated at Newington College and William also at Sydney Boys' High School. Ambrose was a clerk with James Moir & Co., stock and station agents, in 1889-92 and on the staff of the Australian Mutual Provident Society Ltd until 1895, while studying as an evening student from 1893 at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1896). William was articled to solicitors C. J. Ross at Tamworth and D. W. Roxburgh of Norton, Smith & Co., Sydney.

In 1896 the brothers went to the Western Australian goldfields at Coolgardie. Ambrose become part-owner with T. W. Horton of the Lancefield mine which they later sold through the agency of Herbert Hoover. Back in Sydney, William was admitted solicitor in the Supreme Court on 3 March 1900 and, on 28 August 1901 at St Andrew's Cathedral, he married Edith Hannah Palmer. They had no children. In 1903 he set up his own practice, specializing in company law.

After five years in the west, Ambrose returned to the university to study mining and metallurgy; he graduated bachelor of engineering in 1904. He had become an associate member of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy, London, in 1903 (member, 1912). After visiting Britain, Europe and the United States of America in 1904-05, in September 1905, with Horton and William, he was a director and general manager of the Harden Gold Mine Ltd in New South Wales and from 1907 all three were directors of the Lobb's Hole Copper Mine (N.L.), near Kiandra, which William managed. At the same time Ambrose ran an office in Sydney as a mining consultant. On 22 June 1915 at Potts Point he married Dr Jessie Strahorn Aspinall.

In 1911 the brothers with H. E. Pratten, A. W. Palfreyman and Robert Cran had formed the Malaysian Syndicate to obtain tin-mining concessions in the Federated Malay States and Burma. Next year Ambrose become chairman and managing director of Austral Malay Tin Ltd; William and Pratten were the other directors. Ambrose devoted his energies henceforward to tin-mining in Malaya and Burma, and divided his time between his office in Challis House, Sydney, and Taiping, Perak. His wife accompanied him on several visits. In an industry of which investors generally were wary, his loyalty and devotion to his companies reflected his energy, determination, probity and strict sense of justice. He provided career opportunities for Australian graduates. Until 1930 he remained chairman and managing director of Austral Malay Tin Ltd and four subsidiary tin dredging companies in the Federated Malay States and Burma, including Thabawleik Tin Dredging Ltd. He enjoyed golf and was a member of the Australian Club, Sydney.

Returning to Sydney from Penang, Ambrose Freeman died from heart failure in the Nieuw Holland on 1 October 1930 and was buried at sea with Anglican rites. He was survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters. His estate was valued for probate at £18,464.

In April 1918 William had enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force, in 'Carmichael's Thousand'; he attended a non-commissioned officers' school in September and was discharged in November. Already a director of Austral Malay Tin Ltd and its subsidiaries, he took over as chairman after his brother's death and successfully guided them through World War II. In 1928 he and C. A. Banks, a New Zealander, had founded the versatile international mining group, Placer Development Ltd in Canada; for many years Freeman was its president and also chairman of its first big offshoot, Bulolo Gold Dredging Ltd. In 1931 he made a six-month tour of Canada, the United States and Britain.

Freeman was active from the 1930s in the search for minerals, oil and natural gas in Australia and New Guinea. He was chairman of Drillers Ltd, Gas Drillers Ltd, Kamilaroi Oil Co. Ltd, and Oil Search Ltd, which was working in Papua and New Guinea in partnership with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. Ltd and the Standard-Vacuum Oil Co. He was also chairman of Jantzen (Australia) Ltd, and a director of the Australasian Petroleum Co. Pty Ltd and Ready Mixed Concrete Ltd. An innovator with a rare blend of adventurousness, sagacity and integrity, he firmly believed that Australia should use her managerial and financial expertise to establish successful overseas enterprises. Not all his speculations were successful (like the search for natural gas near Sydney), but he took his failures philosophically. He was expert in company law and insisted on correct English usage in commercial documents.

Outside business his chief interests were the turf and golf. Freeman was owner and part-owner of many racehorses including Silver Standard (second in the Melbourne Cup, Caulfield Cup and Metropolitan in 1936), a member of the Royal Sydney Golf Club and founder of the Lakes Golf Club and the Australian Club in Sydney and the Athenaeum Club in Melbourne.

He died at his home in Kent Road, Rose Bay, Sydney on 2 April 1956 and was buried from St Michael's, Vaucluse, in the Anglican section of South Head cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at £640,194.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (London), Transactions, 40 (1930-31), p 450
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 May 1916, 25 Mar 1925, 1, 9 Oct 1930, 22 Jan, 18 July 1931, 14 Jan, 22 Dec 1933, 6 Feb 1934, 8 Feb, 19 Dec 1935, 11 Sept, 1 Oct 1937, 20 Dec 1946, 4 Apr, 4 Sept 1956
  • Daily Telegraph, 4 Apr 1956
  • Bulletin, 11 Apr 1956.

Citation details

Arthur Corbett and G. P. Walsh, 'Freeman, Ambrose William (1873–1930)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 18 June 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]


13 February, 1873
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


1 October, 1930 (aged 57)
at sea

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.