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Leslie Vickery (Les) Waterhouse (1886–1945)

by Michael Waterhouse

This article was published:

Leslie Waterhouse, 1936

Leslie Waterhouse, 1936

photo supplied by Michael Waterhouse

Leslie Vickery (Les) Waterhouse (1886-1945), mining engineer, was born on 18 March 1886 at Waverley, Sydney, third son and fifth child of Gustavus John Waterhouse, a Tasmanian-born merchant, and his wife Mary Jane, daughter of Ebenezer Vickery, from Sydney. Rev. Jabez Waterhouse was his grandfather, and Gustavus Athol Waterhouse and Eben Gowrie Waterhouse were his brothers. Educated at Sydney Grammar School, Les studied mining and metallurgy at the University of Sydney (B.E., 1910).

After three years with the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd, Waterhouse worked for the Mount Lyell Mining & Railway Co. at Queenstown, Tasmania, where he designed, erected and operated a copper-flotation plant. In Sydney, on 18 February 1915, he married Dorothy Edna, daughter of Rev. William Taylor, at the Methodist Church, Lindfield. Following his departure from Mount Lyell in 1919, Waterhouse's varied experiences included salvaging blistered copper from the Karitane, wrecked in Bass Strait, and zinc from the Yarra, wrecked in the Solomon Islands.

Having joined William Freeman on the board of the Canadian mining company Placer Development Ltd in 1928, Waterhouse was largely responsible for co-ordinating and guiding exploitation of the company's option over alluvial gold leases at Bulolo, Mandated Territory of New Guinea. He and another director, a dredge-design expert, decided that the most economical approach to mining would be to use two electrically driven dredges. However, the difficult terrain and absence of roads made it impractical to use land transport to bring in from Lae the dredges, machinery and materials to build a hydro-electric power station and new township. The solution was air transport.

Bulolo Gold Dredging Ltd was established in 1930 by Placer Development, with Waterhouse a director and executive engineer. Advised by Ernest Mustar, the company acquired two G.31 Junkers passenger aircraft, named Peter and Paul, which were modified to enable them to carry up to 7000 lb. (3175 kg) in freight. As a director of Guinea Airways Ltd which operated the aeroplanes, Waterhouse did much to ensure their successful deployment. The 2300-ton dredges were transported in sections so that no single piece weighed more than three and a half tons. Over eighteen months from March 1931, Peter and Paul made 1370 flights and carried 3657 short tons. An air lift of such magnitude had never been attempted anywhere in the world. The first dredge began operations in March 1932. With Waterhouse's direction and support, the scale of operations expanded dramatically; components for six more dredges and a second hydro-electric plant were flown into Bulolo. By 1942, when Japanese aircraft attacks halted mining operations, the leases had produced 1.3 million oz. (36,854 kg) of gold and 575,000 oz. (16,301 kg) of silver.

From 1929 Waterhouse had been a council-member of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy. As president in 1938 he tried to strengthen ties with the institute's far-flung membership. In the 1930s Waterhouse expanded Placer Development's Australian operations. He was managing director of its subsidiaries, Clutha Development Ltd, Rutherglen Gold Dumps Ltd and Gold Dumps Pty Ltd.

Waterhouse was a reserved, modest man, who was convivial in familiar surroundings. A quick thinker, he had confidence in his ability and judgement, was direct in his dealings with others and had an acute business sense. He enjoyed fishing and playing golf, and belonged to the Royal Society of New South Wales, the Australian and New South Wales clubs, Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, Royal Sydney Golf and Elanora Country clubs and the Rabaul Club, New Guinea. Survived by his wife and their two daughters, Waterhouse died of cancer on 27 November 1945 at his Bellevue Hill home and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • A. M. Healy, Bulolo (Canb, 1967)
  • J. Sinclair, Wings of Gold (Syd, 1978)
  • A. W. John, Fortune Favoured Me (Melb, 1999)
  • Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Proceeding, 1946, p 49
  • Royal Society of New South Wales, Journal and Proceedings, 81, 1947, p 299
  • Pacific Islands Monthly, Dec 1945
  • Chemical Engineering and Mining Review, 10 Feb 1950
  • Rabaul Times, 17 Jan 1930, 15 Apr 1932
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Mar, 29 Oct 1932, 5 June 1933, 16 Aug 1938
  • History of Placer Development (manuscript, 1970, privately held).

Citation details

Michael Waterhouse, 'Waterhouse, Leslie Vickery (Les) (1886–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 18 April 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

Leslie Waterhouse, 1936

Leslie Waterhouse, 1936

photo supplied by Michael Waterhouse

Life Summary [details]


18 March, 1886
Waverley, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


27 November, 1945 (aged 59)
Bellevue Hill, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.