Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Struth (1804–1886)

by Arthur Corbett

This article was published:

John Struth (1804-1886), mechanical and marine engineer, was born on 1 January 1804 in Berwickshire, Scotland, of a farming family that had come from Holland in the fifteenth century; one of his ancestors was Admiral Struth and another Sir Nathaniel Struth. After an engineering apprenticeship with Messrs Murray of Chester-Le-Street, Durham, he remained with them as a tradesman until he migrated to Sydney in the barque Mountaineer. On his arrival in September 1832 he was employed by Thomas Barker, a pioneer of steam flour-milling.

Seven years later Struth had his own flour-mill, and in the following year he bought land on Darling Harbour at the foot of King Street, where he built a wharf, known for many years as Struth's Wharf. He undertook casting in iron and brass, blacksmithing, machining, building of agricultural machines, meat salting injectors and ships' steam engines. His letterhead engraving shows a small paddle steamer at the quay, busy workshops beyond, and a steep ramp to a dwelling at street level.

In 1847 Struth told a select committee of the Legislative Council that he used 400 tons of Newcastle coal a year for his smithy and for burning to coke for foundry purposes. He had erected machinery at many coal-mines in England, and thought the Australian mines 'more advantageously situated for working at trifling expense'. He complained that the general management at Newcastle was much too expensive, and the coal too dear at 12s. a ton alongside his wharf. He concluded, 'we are now paying forty pounds a ton for some descriptions of iron, which in England would not cost above ten pounds a ton'. His evidence to another select committee in 1848 disclosed that his wife and three children had died during the previous two years and a half while the family lived in Sussex Street. He attributed his loss to the miasma from slaughter houses and piggeries, and to the filth washed down from higher levels. About this time he built for Sir Thomas Mitchell a 'bomareng' twelve feet (3.7 m) in diameter, intended to drive a boat by means of an air propellor.

Struth's establishment was bought by Napier & Postlethwaite in 1854, and in the following year Struth, wealthy but in poor health, took his 13-year-old son to England. In 1866 he returned to Sydney, where he died at 95 Phillip Street on 12 January 1886. He had married in 1829 Alison Hislop Lockie. Of their seven children a son and two daughters survived.

Struth was a consistent member of the Presbyterian Church, and after his retirement he gave large sums to charities. A man of robust constitution, he devoted his skill and energy to building up his fortune at a favourable time when the colony needed steam navigation and manufactures that could not easily be brought from England.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Selfe, ‘Annual Address to the Engineering Section’, Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, vol 34, 1900, pp i-xlviii
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 15 Feb 1886
  • Select Committee on Coal, Report, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1847
  • Select Committee on Slaughter Houses, Report, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1848.

Citation details

Arthur Corbett, 'Struth, John (1804–1886)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 23 February 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


1 January, 1804
Berwickshire, Scotland


12 January, 1886 (aged 82)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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