Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Arthur Hargreaves (1866–1959)

by Lyndsay Farrall

This article was published:

William Arthur Hargreaves (1866-1959), chemist and government analyst, was born on 29 October 1866 at Ipswich, Queensland, son of Ebenezer Watson Hargreaves, ironmonger, and his wife Sarah, née Horne. He was educated at Ipswich Grammar School and the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1890; B.C.E., 1891; M.A., 1892) where he won the university prize in natural sciences. A part-time instructor in geology and mineralogy at the Working Men's College, Melbourne, in 1889-91, he was director of the Gordon Technical College, Geelong, from 1891. Two years later he returned to Queensland to teach science at Brisbane Grammar School but found science held in low esteem: he discovered that he 'was the lowest paid master on the staff, and held no hope of advancement in status'. So in 1897 he left to became assistant government analyst in the Queensland Mines Department. While working in Brisbane he taught courses in science at the Pharmacy College and the Technical College, and as an extension lecturer for the University of Sydney. On 27 June 1894 in Melbourne he had married Camilla Maude Nicholls; they had one daughter.

In 1899 Hargreaves moved to South Australia as government analyst and chief inspector of explosives. In 1916 he became director of the State's new Department of Chemistry, established by R. P. Blundell. While continuing routine chemical analyses the department performed tasks recommended to the government by a State advisory committee on scientific research as part of a nation-wide attempt to harness science more efficiently during World War I. An important aim was to link industry and pure science; investigations would be commercially based and provide research assistance for smaller manufacturers. In a 1917 public lecture Hargreaves emphasized that universities should train scientists more practically so that they could be employed in industry rather than pure science: he outlined a curriculum for such a technologically oriented course. Hargreaves published the results of his chemical investigations into foodstuffs, drinks, and explosives in official South Australian series and chemical and engineering journals; he also submitted some results of his research to the University of Adelaide (D.Sc., 1916). From 1916 until 1940 he was a member of the State committee of first the Commonwealth Advisory Council of Science and Industry and then the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

Hargreaves was a foundation member of the (Royal) Australian Chemical Institute in 1917 and of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, in 1920. From 1927 he sat on the Australian National Research Council and he was a member of the science faculty of the university (1918-49) and of the council of the South Australian School of Mines and Industries (1936-50). The proud holder of the first driver's licence issued in South Australia (30 August 1906), he studied the problem of alternative fuels during both world wars and drove his car on a mixture of molasses and petrol at the end of World War I.

Hargreaves retired in 1931, but continued to practise as a chemical analyst. He was an Anglican. Predeceased by his wife and daughter, he died on 31 March 1959 at his St Peters home and was buried in North Road cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • H. T. Burgess (ed), Cyclopedia of South Australia, vol 1 (1907)
  • D. C. Winterbottom, Weevil in Wheat and Storage of Grain in Bags (Adel, 1922)
  • Public Service Review (South Australia), 23 Mar 1934
  • South Australian Motor, Apr-May 1959
  • Royal Australian Chemical Institute, Proceedings, 26, 1959, no 5
  • Hargreaves personal papers (PRG 64, State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Lyndsay Farrall, 'Hargreaves, William Arthur (1866–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 20 June 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]


29 October, 1866
Ipswich, Queensland, Australia


31 March, 1959 (aged 92)
St Peters, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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.