Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Edward Wainwright (1873–1959)

by D. F. Fairweather

This article was published:

William Edward Wainwright (1873-1959), mining and metallurgical engineer, was born on 3 January 1873 at Upper Holloway, London, son of Edward Harley Wainwright, schoolmaster, and his wife Maria, née Brooks. Edward brought his family to Adelaide in 1879 when he was offered a teaching post at the Collegiate School of St Peter.

Educated at Prince Alfred College, William proceeded to the South Australian School of Mines and Industries where he gained diplomas in metallurgy (1892) and mining (1894). His first appointment, in 1895, was as battery manager at Ivanhoe Gold Mines, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. Next year he was made mill-manager at Queen Margaret Gold Mine, Bulong, near Kalgoorlie. In 1898 he joined the staff of the South Mine of Broken Hill South Ltd, Broken Hill, New South Wales; in 1903 he became manager, in 1918 general manager, then consulting engineer in 1937, before retiring in 1941.

Under Wainwright's leadership the South Mine achieved and maintained a leading position world-wide in mining and metallurgical practice and research. He developed efficient mine-management systems and built a staff of outstanding competence, while exercising a moderating influence in Broken Hill's difficult industrial scene and promoting the welfare of employees. He was among the earliest to apply modern technology to problems of health and ventilation in Broken Hill's mines.

In 1926 the Commonwealth government appointed him chairman of the technical committee to report on the gold-mining industry at Kalgoorlie and at the Sons of Gwalia mine, Leonora, Western Australia. He was also a member of the executive committee of the Imperial geophysical experimental survey. In 1930 Wainwright led the Australian delegation to the third Empire Mining and Metallurgical Congress, held in South Africa. Vice-chairman of the council of the Standards Association of Australia and chairman of its Victorian committee, he was a member of the executive of the Australian National Research Council, the Victorian committee of the mining advisory panel of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, as well as of the engineering faculty and the appointments board, University of Melbourne. He served as director of several companies including N.K.S. (Holdings) Ltd and Noyes Bros (Melbourne) Ltd.

A member of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy from 1902, Wainwright was a councillor in 1908-59, president in 1919 and 1930, and honorary treasurer in 1943-59. Awarded the Institute medal in 1936, he was made an honorary member in 1950. He initiated an endowment fund and founded a student prize. Wainwright was also a member of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy, London. After fifty years membership of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers he was admitted in 1953 to its 'Legion of Honour'.

Of middle height and medium build, Wainwright had a thick moustache and receding hair. He dressed conservatively. A good companion, with a pleasant sense of humour, he belonged to the Broken Hill Club, and to the Australian and Rotary clubs in Melbourne. He was a warden at St Paul's Anglican Church, Caulfield. Predeceased by his wife Emily Constance, née Goode, whom he had married on 27 October 1900 in the chapel of St Peter's College, Adelaide, Wainwright died at his Caulfield home on 3 May 1959 and was cremated. Two daughters and three sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • W. S. Robinson, If I Remember Rightly, G. Blainey ed (Melb, 1967)
  • G. Blainey, The Rise of Broken Hill (Melb, 1968)
  • B. Carroll, Built on Silver (Melb, 1986)
  • University of Melbourne Gazette, Oct 1959
  • Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy records (Parkville, Melbourne)
  • University of Melbourne Archives
  • private information.

Citation details

D. F. Fairweather, 'Wainwright, William Edward (1873–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


3 January, 1873
London, Middlesex, England


3 May, 1959 (aged 86)
Caulfield, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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