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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Stobie, James Cyril (1895–1953)

by R. W. Linn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

James Cyril Stobie (1895-1953), engineer and inventor, was born on 15 September 1895 at Parkside, Adelaide, only son and eldest of four children of South Australian-born parents James Stobie, grocer, and his wife Alice, née Ingleby. Known as Cyril or 'C', he attended Glenelg Public and Pulteney Street schools. A brilliant student, he won a scholarship to the Preparatory School, South Australian School of Mines and Industries. His education was made difficult by his father's business struggles and his untimely death in 1912. Cyril took over the family grocery shop at Mile End to support his mother and sisters. In 1915 he enrolled as an evening student at the School of Mines. He gained an associate diploma in mechanical and electrical engineering that year and a fellowship diploma in 1919. Fond of sport, he excelled at long-distance swimming and won the race from Grange to Henley Beach in 1922.

In 1916 Stobie had joined the staff of the Adelaide Electric Supply Co. Ltd. He continued his engineering studies part time at the University of Adelaide (B.E., 1921; M.E., 1932). Frederick Wheadon, A.E.S.Co.'s chief executive, became his mentor and the two formed a lifelong friendship. Stobie's career began to prosper. In 1923 he was appointed chief draftsman. At the Church of Christ, Unley, on 19 March 1924 he married Rita Muriel Maddern.

South Australia suffered from a scarcity of timber and an abundance of termites. Poles that were brought, at considerable expense, from other States were often destroyed by white ants. In 1924 Stobie invented the 'Stobie pole' to carry electricity cables and telegraph wires. It was constructed of two steel-I beams, held together by tie bolts; the space between them was filled with concrete. A.E.S.Co. paid him £500 for the patent rights. Although hopes of selling the design interstate and worldwide remained unfulfilled, the poles were used extensively in South Australia. In 1936 a Sterling coal truck was converted into a heavy pole-erector, designed by Stobie: it could install 70-ft (21 m) long, concrete-steel poles that weighed 8½ tons.

Stobie was the founding editor (1926-40) of A.E.S.Co.'s in-house magazine, Adelect. Through this publication, he conveyed his vision of the company's future, interest in research, sense of fun and Christian values (he was a staunch Methodist). His face, with its full features, deep smile-lines and clear eyes, reflected his jovial disposition. Despite bouts of recurring illness, he became chief design engineer in 1946, when the Electricity Trust of South Australia took over from A.E.S.Co. In 1950 he was appointed assistant to the manager of engineering research. Survived by his wife, and their two daughters and two sons, he died of coronary thrombosis on 15 August 1953 at his Malvern home and was buried in Centennial Park cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £6092. The Stobie pole continues to be regarded with affection by many South Australians who consider it part of their heritage.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Linn, ETSA (Adel, 1996)
  • Adelect, Dec 1953, July 1982
  • private information.

Citation details

R. W. Linn, 'Stobie, James Cyril (1895–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 November 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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