Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Herbert William Gartrell (1882–1945)

by E. D. J. Stewart

This article was published:

Herbert William Gartrell (1882-1945), professor of mining and metallurgy, was born on 14 August 1882 at Maitland, South Australia, son of English-born parents William Pascoe Gartrell, blacksmith, and his wife Martha, née Finch. Educated at the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide, on a scholarship, and at the University of Adelaide (B.A., B.Sc., 1902), in 1903 Herbert won the Tate memorial medal for his field-work in geology. Two years later he was awarded an Angas engineering scholarship which enabled him to travel to North America. He worked for mining companies in Idaho, United States of America, and British Columbia, Canada, and studied mining at Columbia University, New York (M.A., 1905). In 1910 he was the first lecturer to be appointed in mining engineering at the University of Adelaide, where he was to teach for the rest of his life. At St David's Anglican Church, Burnside, on 8 December 1910 he married Evangeline Murphy.

On 11 December 1916 Gartrell enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He served in France in 1918 in the 1st Tunnelling Company, Royal Australian Engineers, and the 257th Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers; he was commissioned in August that year and promoted lieutenant in January 1919; his A.I.F. appointment terminated in Adelaide on 10 August. Gartrell published An Introduction to Mining Finance (1923), as well as several papers in the Proceedings of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1934 he took on the additional posts of director of the Bonython laboratories, South Australian School of Mines and Industries, and of consultant to the Commonwealth Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. He achieved considerable support from the Australian mining industry as his courses won growing national and international recognition. In 1939 he was appointed professor and in 1943 the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd made a gift of £15,000 to endow his chair.

Gartrell was an active member of the A.I.M.M. and its president in 1941. Believing that 'It is good for a lecture to provide a student with food (for thought), better if it provide him with an appetite . . . all education is self education', he defined the degree in mining engineering as 'a licence to go out and learn'. He was an outstanding teacher who followed with fatherly care the careers of his students. They knew him affectionately as 'Spog'. He and his wife belonged to the Luhrs Road Congregational Church, South Payneham, and gave generously to deserving causes, among them the Adelaide Legacy Club. Gartrell had a clear vision of the nature of the world and of the role he could best play in it. He also had a wry and sometimes caustic manner of expression, especially when he was debunking hypocrisy or humbug: 'Mining prospectuses are frequently obviously fraudulent, since experience has shown no bait is too crude for large sections of the public'.

Survived by his wife and adopted son, Gartrell died of a dissecting aneurism of the aorta on 8 June 1945 at Parkwynd Private Hospital, Adelaide, and was buried in Centennial Park cemetery. In 1985 a number of his former students established the Gartrell School of Mining, Metallurgy and Applied Geology at the South Australian Institute of Technology.

Select Bibliography

  • V. A. Edgeloe, Engineering Education in the University of Adelaide (Adel, 1989)
  • D. A. Cumming and G. C. Moxham, They Built South Australia (Adel, 1986)
  • A. Aeuckens, The People's University (Adel, 1989)
  • University of Adelaide, Calendar, 1910-15
  • Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Proceedings, no 124, 1941, July 1945
  • information from a number of Gartrell's former students.

Citation details

E. D. J. Stewart, 'Gartrell, Herbert William (1882–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


14 August, 1882
Maitland, South Australia, Australia


8 June, 1945 (aged 62)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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