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John Alfred Griffiths (1848–1933)

by H. J. Gibbney

This article was published:

John Alfred Griffiths (1848-1933), engineer, was born on 26 January 1848 at Bethnal Green, London, son of Thomas Griffiths, accountant, and his wife Elizabeth, née Hawkins. He was a younger brother of George Washington Griffiths. Educated at Owens College, Manchester, in 1865-68, he sat for the examinations of the Royal College of Chemistry, completing the practical part of his training with Gregson, Brown & Son, toolmakers, of Middleton, Lancashire. He took further examinations in mining and metallurgy from the Royal School of Mines in 1872-73 and obtained associateships of both institutions which gave him the right to a B.Sc. Winning a Whitworth scholarship in mechanical engineering in 1872, he worked with the London & North Western Railway till 1873 when he went to Queensland to join his brother in establishing the foundry of Griffiths Bros & Co. at Toowoomba. A partner in 1873-76, he was probably responsible for the design of the company's famous 'Southern Cross' windmill.

Griffiths left the firm in 1876 but remained a shareholder till 1884. He worked as a draughtsman and engineer for the Queensland Government Railways, then briefly in Western Australia on railway construction, leaving for England in December 1879. After a short engagement as a lecturer at Owens College, he managed the plant of the Waste Water Meter Co. at Liverpool in 1881-84. At Blackley, Lancashire, on 14 February 1884, he married Caroline Alexandra Brooks; two daughters survived them.

After manufacturing bicycles at Coventry in 1885-87, Griffiths returned to Australia in 1888. He worked on water-supply in Victoria, then in North Queensland on the Normanton-Croydon railway. In 1895 he entered the Queensland Public Service as an inspector of bores in the water-supply branch of the Public Works Department engaged on a survey of the artesian basin. In 1900 he transferred to the Queensland Patent Office as an examiner and, when the function of registering patents was transferred to the Commonwealth in 1904, became a Commonwealth public servant. He remained in the Brisbane office until he was promoted to Melbourne about 1909. He retired at the beginning of 1913, worked briefly as acting engineer for the Glenelg Shire Council, then returned to Brisbane. He died on 30 March 1933 and was buried in Bulimba cemetery with Methodist forms.

Griffiths was an authority on wind power and won both the James Watt medal and the Crampton prize of the Institution of Engineers, London, which he had joined in 1873. A paper by him on windmills is quoted in the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. He was also a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, London, and joined the Victorian Institute of Engineers in 1910.

Select Bibliography

  • T. G. Chambers, Register of the Associates and Old Students of the Royal College of Chemistry, the Royal School of Mines, and the Royal College of Science: With Historical Introduction and Biographical Notices and Portraits of Past and Present Professors (Lond, 1896)
  • Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers, 1884-1900, vol 15 (Cambridge, UK, 1916)
  • Institute of Mechanical Engineers, Proceedings, June 1933
  • Government Gazette (Commonwealth), 1 Feb 1933
  • Queenslander, 1 Feb 1913.

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'Griffiths, John Alfred (1848–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 13 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


26 January, 1848
London, Middlesex, England


30 March, 1933 (aged 85)
Queensland, Australia

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