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Thomas Utrick Walton (1852–1917)

by H. G. Holland

This article was published:

Thomas Utrick Walton (1852-1917), industrial chemist, was born on 17 June 1852 at Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland, third child of Utrick Walton, a customs officer from Cumberland, and his wife Elisabeth, née Dickinson. Educated at the academy, Greenock, at the University of Glasgow (B.Sc., 1873) where he won prizes and awards, and at Anderson's University (1876-78), he was admitted to the Institution of Civil Engineers (1873) and worked in sugar refineries at Greenock until 1880. Recruited by (Sir) Edward Knox to develop scientific procedures for the Colonial Sugar Refining Co., Walton migrated in the Cotopaxi, reaching Sydney on 11 March 1881. On 20 March 1889 he married Mary Hamilton at St George's Presbyterian Church, Sydney.

With Gustav Kottmann (a beet-sugar chemist from Berlin), Walton developed a system of chemical control which monitored the movement of cane-sugar from the farms through the mills and refineries to the final market products. He trained large numbers of school-leavers in routine polarimetric analysis before they were sent into the field. A high degree of efficiency resulted, allowing the company to survive in difficult economic times. The control system became a model for the Australian sugar industry and also internationally. Walton and his central laboratory staff, including Thomas Steel, also undertook advanced investigation of a wide range of other technical problems.

A member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, from 1873, Walton was elected a fellow of the (Royal) Institute of Chemistry of Great Britain and Ireland in 1880 and of the Chemical Society, London, in 1884. From its foundation in 1903 until his death, he was honorary secretary of the Sydney section of the Society of Chemical Industry.

A practising Congregationalist, Walton served in 1888-92 as secretary of the Pitt Street Church, Sydney; from 1894 he attended the Trinity Church, Strathfield. His only recreation seemed to be his garden at Burwood. Survived by three daughters and a son, he died of acute colitis on 1 February 1917 at Darlinghurst and was buried in Rookwood cemetery. Tributes were paid to his personal and civic qualities.

Select Bibliography

  • A. G. Lowndes (ed), South Pacific Enterprise (Syd, 1956)
  • R. W. Home (ed), Australian Science in the Making (Cambridge, Eng, 1988)
  • Scottish Australasian, Oct 1913, p 2123
  • International Sugar Journal, July 1917, p 320
  • Institute of Chemistry, Proceedings, 1917, p 17
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 Feb 1917
  • Australian Worker, 8 Feb 1917
  • Australian Christian World (Sydney), 9 Feb 1917
  • Town and Country Journal, 28 Feb 1917
  • Colonial Sugar Refining Co. staff records and correspondence (Australian National University Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

H. G. Holland, 'Walton, Thomas Utrick (1852–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 13 June 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]


17 June, 1852
Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland


1 February, 1917 (aged 64)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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