Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Frederick Harrington (1840–1918)

by W. Ross Johnston

This article was published:

William Frederick Harrington (1840-1918), company manager, was born about 16 April 1840 at Kingland, Roscommon, Ireland, son of Thomas Harrington, farmer, and his wife Eleanor, née Cullinan. Educated at a private school, he was employed at 15 in the counting-house of a large firm of merchants in western Ireland. Arriving in Melbourne in September 1864 in the Great Victoria, he worked as an accountant with a Ballarat mining agency and in August 1865 became accountant and financial manager in the Union Foundry of John Walker & Co. When a branch of the firm opened in 1868 at Maryborough, Queensland, appeared shaky, Harrington was sent to inspect it in 1870. Impressed by the potential of Wide Bay in particular and Queensland in general, he urged that the branch be given more time to settle down.

The Maryborough foundry, established to make mining machinery for Gympie, now turned to sugar-milling plant. On a second visit in 1872 Harrington sought orders as far north as Mackay. In December he became the firm's fourth partner and in 1873 went to England for new tools and equipment to improve the capacity at Maryborough. On his return he arranged the sale of a half-share in the Ballarat business. The proceeds were used to expand at Maryborough and Harrington settled there. The remainder of the Ballarat business was sold in 1879 and the other partners also moved to Maryborough. In 1884 the business became a public company under the name John Walker & Co. Ltd with Harrington as chairman and managing director, which he remained until his death.

A centre of engineering in Queensland, the company kept diversifying its activities and eventually began ship-building. A. J. Goldsmith, an engineer with the Harbours and Rivers Department, was recruited in 1881 and numerous ships were built in the 1880s under his management. A locomotive-building section turned out its hundredth unit in 1909 and by 1912-13 averaged more than one a week. Meanwhile, the production of mining and sugar-milling equipment for Australia, New Zealand, Borneo and the Straits Settlements continued steadily. In 1912 the company began producing its own steel.

Harrington several times refused nomination for a seat in parliament. He was a member of the Maryborough Municipal Council in 1876-79, an active member and president of the chamber of commerce, and took part in such movements as the resuscitation of the School of Arts and the erection of new buildings for the Wide Bay Pastoral and Agricultural Society. The Albert State School, created principally for the benefit of company employees, owed much to him and he was both a founder and long-term trustee of the Maryborough Boys' and Girls' Grammar schools.

Harrington died at Maryborough on 8 March 1918 leaving two children of his marriage to Jemima Ross at Heidelberg, Victoria, on 11 April 1874. A grandson, Vice Admiral Sir Wilfred Hastings Harrington, was chief of the Australian Naval Staff in 1962-65.

Select Bibliography

  • Alcazar Press, Queensland, 1900 (Brisb, no date)
  • A. J. Goldsmith, Reminiscences of an Old Engineer (Syd, 1926)
  • R. S. Maynard, Sugar, Ships, Locomotives (Syd, 1946)
  • Australasian Hardware and Machinery, 1 Apr 1918, p 86
  • Royal Society of Queensland, Proceedings, 67 (1955)
  • Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin, Oct 1968
  • Brisbane Courier, 28 July 1924
  • John Walker & Co., Annual Report and Balance Sheet, 1884-88 (State Library of Queensland).

Citation details

W. Ross Johnston, 'Harrington, William Frederick (1840–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 15 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]


16 April, 1840
Kingland, Roscommon, Ireland


8 March, 1918 (aged 77)
Maryborough, Queensland, Australia

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