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William Longworth (1846–1928)

by John Atchison

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This is a shared entry with Thomas Longworth

William Longworth (1846-1928) and Thomas Longworth (1857-1927), mine managers and industrial entrepreneurs, were the eldest and third sons of Thomas Longworth, coalminer, and his wife Rose, née Gardiner, from Guernsey, Channel Islands. William was born on 22 December 1846 at Worsley, Lancashire, England. His father, under contract to the Australian Agricultural Co., migrated to New South Wales with his wife and son, reaching Port Stephens in the Artemisia on 28 December 1849. Thomas was born on 5 April 1857 at Newcastle. The boys, noted for their sprinting ability, worked with their father in coal-mines around Newcastle.

In 1878 the family opened a small coal-mine at Rixs Creek, near Singleton. At All Saints Anglican Church, Singleton, Thomas married Frances Nowlan on 14 April 1884. The deaths of Thomas senior and George West in a roof collapse on 30 September profoundly influenced the brothers and forged them into a close working relationship. They combined with their brother-in-law W. W. Robinson and (Sir) Albert Gould, both Singleton solicitors, and another local collier Dr Richard Reed, to produce coal suitable for the railways and installed extensive coking ovens at Rixs Creek. Finding insufficient outlet for coking coal, the partners in 1890 engaged an authority on copper mining and smelting who drew their attention to the Great Cobar copper mine, idle since 1889. They began negotiations to operate the mine on tribute and with the addition of A. A. Dangar formed the Great Cobar Mining Syndicate in 1894. Thomas Longworth moved to Cobar to take charge of operations, while William managed the Singleton Coal & Coke Co.

With copper prices low, Thomas introduced coke-fired blast furnaces, fitted with crucible water jackets, that lowered the reduction cost of the rich ores, which had a high gold content. By 1898 five blast furnaces were in use and electric lighting was installed in the works. Next year, improved furnaces using a hot blast were operating. The main shaft was deepened and connected to other workings by cross-cutting. With the price of copper at £70 a ton by 1899 of which £15 was paid as tribute, the syndicate purchased the mine outright in 1900.

At Lithgow, under William's direction, a refinery and electrolytic plant with an associated colliery were opened. By the electrolytic method he extracted gold worth over £20 a ton, leaving pure copper. From 1900 William and Thomas alternated as manager at Cobar. They persuaded the railway commissioners to supply water trains from Warren during the worst seven months of the 1902 drought to prevent closure of the mine and the dismissal of 600 men, and to reduce freight rates when copper prices fell in 1903. After rebuffing approaches from the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Co. Ltd, in 1906 the syndicate sold to an English firm, Great Cobar Ltd, all their mines, smelters, refineries, collieries and coke works for £1,006,000 of which £800,000 was paid in cash to the six principals.

The same members of the syndicate founded Australian Woollen Mills Ltd at Marrickville in 1908, with William as a director and Thomas chairman in 1908-27. Under the latter's direction the factory expanded and contained the most efficient machinery available internationally. By early 1914 judicious management had made it possible to double the plant for carding, combing and spinning operations. During World War I the mill produced enormous quantities of khaki for the Australian Imperial Force as well as adequate supplies of khaki knitting wools for regimental comforts' funds. By 1927 A.W.M. operated 200 looms, employed 700 persons and manufactured only high-grade worsted serges.

The brothers also operated a brickworks, potteries and timber-mills at Thornton and had pastoral interests; William bred racehorses at Dulwich, near Nundah. As 'W. T. Nowlan' they jointly owned and raced such winners as Blue Metal (Summer Cup 1899 and 1900, and Australian Cup 1902) and Satin Bird (Epsom Handicap 1917). At his Sydney home, Rockleigh, Point Piper, William married a 59-year-old widow Margaret Thornton, née Howard, on 1 June 1901. He soon bought Glenroy at Karuah, Port Stephens, remodelling the house and building aviaries, gardens and boatsheds. Among other benefactions, he distributed £12,000 among hospitals in the Newcastle area, built, equipped and endowed a hospital for children at Waratah at a cost of £15,000, and presented a historic building in Newcastle to the Australian Society of Patriots. After his wife died, he married a widow Mary Ellen New, née Gilligan, on 5 April 1916.

Sturdy in build, William had hooded eyes and a long spade-beard. Survived by his wife he died on 5 December 1928 at Karuah and was buried in the Anglican cemetery at Singleton. He left his estate, valued for probate at £363,363, to his sisters, nieces and nephews.

Thomas moved to Lithgow in 1902 but in 1905 bought a mansion, Woollahra House, Point Piper, from the Cooper estate and built a steam yacht, Cobar, for use on Sydney Harbour. He died at Woollahra on 5 February 1927 and was buried in the Anglican section of South Head cemetery. Predeceased by his wife, he was survived by seven sons, including William and two daughters. His children inherited his estate, valued for probate at £305,582.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1887-88, 6, p 683
  • Textile Journal of Australia, 15 Jan 1929, p 674
  • Newcastle School of Arts Journal, Apr 1937
  • Australian Railway Historical Society, Bulletin, 22 (Sept 1969), no 383, p 190
  • Maitland Mercury, 2 Oct 1884
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Feb 1927, 6 Dec 1928
  • Bulletin, 10 Feb 1927
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 6 Dec 1928
  • private information.

Citation details

John Atchison, 'Longworth, William (1846–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


22 December, 1846
Worsely, Lancashire, England


5 December, 1928 (aged 81)
Karuah, New South Wales, Australia

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