Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Humble (1835–1917)

by George Parsons

This article was published:

William Humble (1835-1917), manufacturer, was born on 9 April 1835 in Thornton Steward, Yorkshire, England, son of Thomas Humble, farmer, and his wife Jane, née Bland. He was apprenticed in his native town and then worked for Hornsby & Sons, agricultural implement makers at Grantham and also for Bates & Vaughan, Middlesbrough. He arrived at Melbourne in the Electric in 1858 and joined Thomas Fulton's foundry as a journeyman. In 1860 he moved to Geelong where he was employed at the Corio Foundry, chiefly in casting postal pillar boxes. In 1861 with John Simmons and Ward Nicholson he bought the Western Foundry in Geelong. Business was good. Simmons died in 1863 and next year Humble and Nicholson decided to control the business themselves. Their partnership lasted until Nicholson retired in 1900.

By 1866 Humble & Nicholson were able to buy the Vulcan Foundry in Geelong. Their success continued through the 1870s and 1880s as Victorian manufacturers benefited from the large government contracts that resulted from the policy of protection. By 1888 Humble & Nicholson had won £60,000 in government contracts, their main source of profits; they built the £5000 bridge at Cressy, the hydraulic crane at Echuca and boilers, tanks and pumps for several public authorities. They also had an extensive private market linked to the agricultural economy around Geelong. The firm made the Ferrier woolpress, began building reaping and binding machines in 1872 and was one of the first Australian companies to manufacture refrigerating machines on the absorption principle. From 1900 Humble was in partnership with three of his four sons: Thomas Strong and William Henry were practical engineers and George Bland was an accountant who had worked for the Commercial Bank for fourteen years.

Humble was active in community affairs. A councillor from 1869, he ended his municipal career as mayor of Geelong in 1888-89. He was the first treasurer of the Gordon Technological Institute and one of its original three trustees. He was also a trustee of the Geelong Free Library and a member of the board of the Geelong Hospital. As a zealous Methodist he staunchly supported temperance and was a director of the short-lived Geelong Coffee Palace Co. Ltd in 1888-89. He was closely associated with James Munro and Sir Matthew Davies but never extreme in his views. He helped to form the short-lived Chilwell Gold Mining Co. and was a director in 1878-79. In politics he was a protectionist but his evidence to the royal commission on the tariff in 1883 suggests that this allegiance was more a matter of profit than principle. His great sustaining interest was his business and he was always a keen inventor. In 1869 he began to manufacture velocipedes and later built the first car made in Geelong. The chassis and body were made in the foundry and a De Dion engine was added to the car which his family used for many years. Humble died at Geelong on 27 February 1917, survived by his wife Emma, née Strong, whom he had married on 22 July 1865, and by three sons and one daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 2 (Melb, 1904)
  • W. R. Brownhill, The History of Geelong and Corio Bay (Melb, 1955)
  • Geelong Advertiser, 28 Feb 1917.

Citation details

George Parsons, 'Humble, William (1835–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 21 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


9 April, 1835
Thornton-Steward, Yorkshire, England


27 February, 1917 (aged 81)
Geelong, Victoria, Australia

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