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Harrie Wood (1831–1917)

by Bruce Mitchell

This article was published:

Harrie Wood (1831-1917), miner and civil servant, was born on 12 February 1831 at Kensington, London, son of William Alexander Wood, imperial public servant, and his wife Margaret Eleanor, née Hall. He arrived in Melbourne in the Admiral in November 1852, declined a position offered by Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe, and became a miner on various alluvial goldfields. In 1855-57 he worked in the Ballarat mines, and on 15 April 1858 he was appointed clerk of the new Ballarat Mining Board with salary of £150. In June 1861 he proposed to J. B. Humffray, commissioner of mines, a new system for administering surveys and claim registration and on 23 September 1861 he became district mining registrar for Ballarat. His recommendations on administrative reforms were almost wholly supported by the report of the 1862 royal commission on the gold fields. Wood was a founder of the Ballarat School of Mines in 1870 and was secretary of its first council and an honorary councillor. He also actively worked for the district hospital and the benevolent asylum.

On 27 October 1873 Wood was appointed to the New South Wales new Department of Mines with a roving commission to organize its administration. His reports of 1873 and 1874 criticized the procedures for surveying and registration of claims, and he made detailed suggestions for conducting the department and a school of mines. He was also anxious to amend the law to facilitate co-operation between capital and labour ventures unsuited to either individual miners or large companies; he hoped to remove existing antagonism between these groups. Helped by a private letter to (Sir) Henry Parkes from his friend Angus Mackay, Victorian minister of mines, Wood was appointed under-secretary for mines on 1 September 1874. Some politicians and civil servants alleged that the appointment of this 'new chum' was a 'scandalous abuse' by the government and would demoralize the civil service, but his capable and innovatory work soon silenced his critics. Wood's department grew steadily and acquired wider responsibilities in the next twenty years, with sheep and stock affairs, forests, rabbit extermination and public parks being added at various times. In 1891 it was reorganized as the Department of Mines and Agriculture and his responsibilities covered agricultural matters and the new Hawkesbury Agricultural College; in 1894 water conservation, irrigation and drainage were included.

Wood served under twenty ministries and was untouched by recurring mining investigations and scandals. He was sympathetic, perhaps over generous, to his staff and protected them against outside pressure; his resulting lax control was criticized by the 1889 and 1895 royal commissions into the civil service. Opposed to an independent public service board, he told the 1895 commission that 'so-called political patronage' was not a problem, claiming that his ministers had never failed to adopt his staff recommendations. He retired on 5 March 1896 and set up in Sydney as a mining agent until 1909.

Wood was a member of the board for opening tenders for runs from 1880, a New South Wales commissioner for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition, London, 1886, and for the exhibitions in Adelaide in 1887 and Melbourne in 1888, and was chairman of the Prospecting Board. He had been a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales from 1873 and a foundation member in 1883 of the New South Wales branch of the Geographical Society of Australasia. He wrote on gold-mining in Victoria and New South Wales, revealing a fine grasp of detail and an independence of judgment on technical, legal and administrative matters; he contributed a major appendix, 'Notes on the Ballarat Goldfield' for R. Brough Smyth's The Gold Fields and Mineral Districts of Victoria (1869); and wrote two reports on gold-mining leases in New South Wales, 1873 and 1874; and Mines and Mineral Statistics of New South Wales, prepared for the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, 1876.

Wood suffered from arteriosclerosis for ten years: he died of heart failure on 18 September 1917 at Cremorne, and was buried in the Presbyterian section of Gore Hill cemetery. He was survived by four sons and two daughters by his wife Ellen (Helen) Dalrymple, née Beattie, whom he had married at Carlton, Victoria, on 1 July 1868.

Select Bibliography

  • W. B. Withers, The History of Ballarat, 1st ed (Ballarat, 1870)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1862-63, 3 (10), 1871, 1 (10)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1874, 1, 869, 1891-92, 4, 1055, 1894-95, 3, 55
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 June 1874
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 14 Nov 1874
  • Town and Country Journal, 26 May 1888, 21 Mar 1896
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Bruce Mitchell, 'Wood, Harrie (1831–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


12 February, 1831
London, Middlesex, England


18 September, 1917 (aged 86)
Cremorne, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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