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Leonard Keith Ward (1879–1964)

by Bernard O'Neil

This article was published:

Leonard Keith Ward (1879-1964), by unknown photographer

Leonard Keith Ward (1879-1964), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6081

Leonard Keith Ward (1879-1964), geologist and public servant, was born on 17 February 1879 at Petersham, Sydney, fourth of eight children of Frederick William Ward, a journalist from New Zealand, and his Australian-born wife Amy Ada, née Cooke. One of his brothers was Hugh Kingsley Ward. After attending Sydney and Brisbane Grammar schools and winning a Queensland university exhibition, Keith studied arts and then mining and metallurgy at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1900; B.E., 1903). Taught geology by (Sir) Edgeworth David, he gained experience with Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd before joining the staff of the Western Australian School of Mines, Kalgoorlie, in 1903.

On 7 December 1907 at St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, Ward married with Catholic rites Estella Jane Hockin (d.1957). In 1907-11 he was assistant government geologist and inspector of mines in Tasmania. On 1 January 1912 he succeeded H. Y. L. Brown as government geologist in South Australia. From 1916 he had additional duties as director of mines and supervisor of boring. When the Geological Survey and the Department of Mines were combined into the one organization in 1917, he was appointed head of department; in 1919 he also became secretary to the minister of mines.

From the beginning Ward worked to integrate the mining industry with the South Australian economy. He regarded the State's mineral resources as public property to be used and regulated in the best interests of the community: increased production of minerals would foster the expansion of local industries, and thereby boost employment. In 1914 (and 1928) he was responsible for revisions of Brown's geological map of South Australia. Under his direction a department of chemistry was established in 1915 to conduct systematic chemical industrial research on South Australia's natural resources. He was appointed a member of the Leigh Creek coal committee (1916) and of the advisory committee (1943). In 1918 he became chairman of the mineral industry committee set up by the Commonwealth Advisory Council of Science and Industry in South Australia. His concern for industrial safety and employees' health resulted in greater protection for workers; in the 1920s he oversaw the implementation of new regulations to prevent lead and gas poisoning, and to cover the use of electricity in mines, works and quarries. In 1926 the University of Adelaide conferred a doctorate of science on Ward for a thesis on the geological history of Central Australia.

Ward stressed the value of having a national geological survey in addition to the State enterprises. As a consultant to the Commonwealth government he investigated water supplies in the Northern Territory and Central Australia (1923-31), and chaired the fifth interstate conference on artesian water (1928). He advised on mining in the Northern Territory (1927-30) and on the establishment of an ore-treatment plant at the Tennant Creek goldfield (1937). A member (1929-30) of the Federal and New South Wales governments' royal commission on the coal industry, he was appointed (1934) to the Commonwealth committee which investigated the construction of a plant to produce oil by the hydrogenation of coal. In 1935 he joined the geological advisory committee formed to assist Anglo-Persian Oil Co. geologists who were investigating sites in Australia for Commonwealth Oil Refineries Ltd. He served on the State advisory committee of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (1926-44), the executive committee of the Imperial Geophysical Experimental Survey (1928-31) and the Commonwealth Oil Advisory Committee (1936-40).

A member of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy from 1918, the Australian National Research Council, and the council (1917-43) of the South Australian School of Mines and Industries, Ward was also a fellow of the Geological Society of America. He presided over the geology and mineralogy section of the sixteenth meeting (1923) of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, held in Wellington, New Zealand, the Royal Society of South Australia (1928-30) and the State branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (1930-31).

Honest, unassuming, modest and kind, Ward 'took quiet delight in cutting the self-important down to size, and in bringing to light the true facts of any situation'. He was an easy-going, congenial and humorous person who was renowned for his 'cheery laugh' and fondness for telling amusing stories. Appointed I.S.O. in 1943, he was awarded the (W. B.) Clarke and (Sir Joseph) Verco medals by the Royal societies of New South Wales (1930) and South Australia (1955) respectively. After retiring in 1944 as director of mines and government geologist, he was a consultant to the department for five years until forced to resign because of continuing ill health. Survived by two of his three sons and his three daughters, he died on 30 September 1964 at Toorak Gardens, Adelaide, and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • B. O'Neil, In Search of Mineral Wealth (Adel, 1982)
  • B. O'Neil, Above and Below (Adel, 1995)
  • Royal Society of South Australia, Transactions, 89, 1965, p 291
  • Daily Herald (Adelaide), 28 Nov 1911
  • Register (Adelaide), 24 Jan 1928
  • Ward biography file (State Library of South Australia).

Citation details

Bernard O'Neil, 'Ward, Leonard Keith (1879–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Leonard Keith Ward (1879-1964), by unknown photographer

Leonard Keith Ward (1879-1964), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6081

Life Summary [details]


17 February, 1879
Petersham, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


30 September, 1964 (aged 85)
Toorak Gardens, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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