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Mansergh Shaw (1910–1993)

by Klaus Bremhorst

This article was published:

Mansergh Shaw (1910–1993), professor of mechanical engineering and woodcarver, was born on 8 January 1910 in Liverpool, England, younger of two sons of Mansergh Shaw, schoolteacher, and his wife Maud Bury, née Maitland. His family lived in South Africa until his father’s death in 1912, subsequently moving to Sheffield, England, where his mother became a teacher. As a child he learned woodcarving from his grandfather, a master carver. Educated at Firth Park Grammar School, in 1925 he was apprenticed to Davy Brothers Ltd as a fitter and turner. He subsequently worked for two years as a draughtsman while attending night classes at Sheffield Technical School.

Awarded a Whitworth Scholarship in 1932, Shaw studied mechanical and electrical engineering at the University of Sheffield (BEng Hons, 1935; MEng, 1936). He received the Mappin medal in 1935 and was appointed an assistant lecturer, conducting research on fluid flow through nozzles. In 1937 he embarked on an exchange lectureship at the University of Melbourne (MEng, 1943), where he was soon appointed a senior lecturer. He was followed to Australia by his fiancée, Charlotte Gordon Georgeson, a Scottish-born teacher, whom he married on 17 December 1938 at St Mark’s Church of England, Camberwell.

During World War II Shaw organised the University of Melbourne’s workshops for research on new methods of production and precision manufacture of optical and other instruments required by the Australian defence forces. His research included studies of transient cutting forces and factors affecting surface finish. In 1947 he returned to Britain for study leave, and cycled through France, Switzerland, and Germany, to observe production techniques. The next year he extended his leave and was appointed the first Tube Investments Research Fellow in engineering production at the University of Birmingham, for which he investigated the production methods of the automotive and aerospace components company Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds Ltd.

In 1949 the University of Queensland appointed Shaw the inaugural professor of mechanical engineering. During his twenty six-year tenure the number of final-year engineering students majoring in mechanical engineering grew from four to thirty and postgraduate studies flourished. He established a world-class sugar milling research facility, and a metrology laboratory (registered by the National Association of Testing Authorities) in which he developed tools for scientific measurement and for the education of the blind. He fostered studies into solar energy and directed an extensive research program into the stability and safety of agricultural tractors. ‘An innovator, and a mentor, with a receptive open mind’ (Grigg 1993), he successfully expanded both the staff and research facilities of his department. He supervised the design and construction of new mechanical engineering buildings at the St Lucia campus, which were later named in his honour.

Shaw was closely associated with various technical colleges and institutes in Queensland and was a fellow of many professional organisations, including the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, of which he was Australian branch chairman for many years; the Institution of Engineers, Australia (Queensland division chairman, 1957); and the Australian Institute of Management. He was also a member of the Institution of Production Engineers, for which in 1974 he delivered the (Sir) James N. Kirby paper, titled The University and Industry. He was appointed OBE in 1975, the year he retired.

Profoundly deaf in one ear due to a childhood illness, Shaw would indicate his displeasure at the direction of a discussion by calmly but conspicuously turning off his hearing aid. According to a colleague ‘he could convey his expectations, encourage or chastise in a forceful, and effective, but non-emotional manner’ (Grigg 1993). A gifted woodcarver, he produced a shield displaying the coat of arms of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers for permanent display in the foyer of the Mansergh Shaw building at the University of Queensland, and the principal’s chair for Emmanuel College. Suffering from Parkinson’s disease during the last decade of his life, Shaw died on 14 February 1993 at Chelmer, Brisbane, and was cremated. His wife, son, and daughter survived him. In 2010 he was inducted into the Queensland Engineering Hall of Fame.

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Cossins, Geoffrey, ed. Eminent Queensland Engineers. Vol. 2. Brisbane: Institution of Engineers, Australia, Queensland Division, 1999, 96–97
  • Grigg, F. W. Eulogy given at M. Shaw’s funeral. Unpublished manuscript, 1993. Copy held on ADB file
  • Nature (London, England). ‘Mechanical Engineering in Queensland: Prof. Mansergh Shaw.’ 163 (1949): 559
  • Shaw, John. Eulogy given at M. Shaw’s funeral. Unpublished manuscript, 1993. Copy held on ADB file
  • University News (St Lucia, Qld). ‘Uni Mourns a Pioneer.’ 10 March 1993, 10
  • Whitmore, R. Professor Mansergh Shaw. Staff file, Mansergh Shaw. University of Queensland Archives.

Citation details

Klaus Bremhorst, 'Shaw, Mansergh (1910–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2017, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


8 January, 1910
Liverpool, England


14 February, 1993 (aged 83)
Chelmer, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death


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