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William Henry Wood (1856–1941)

by Frank Cain

This article was published:

William Henry O’Malley Wood (1856-1941), surveyor and banker, was born on 15 June 1856 at his family's station, Brundah, near Grenfell, New South Wales, fifth of fourteen children of John Butler Wood, a native-born pastoralist, and his wife Elizabeth, née Mylecharane, born at sea en route to Australia. William was an unhappy boarder at Sydney Grammar School in 1866-68. After returning to Brundah, he worked as a farmer, drover and storekeeper and adopted the surname 'O'Malley Wood' to distinguish himself from other William Woods.

Joining the Department of Lands, O'Malley Wood undertook two years of fieldwork and learned surveying under John Kinloch before passing the surveyors' admission examination in December 1875. On 23 January 1878 he married Susannah Sarah Kemp at St Thomas's Church of England, North Sydney. Working in various regions of New South Wales, he became a district surveyor; he was chairman of the land board at Tamworth from 1890 and later at Forbes. In 1902 he was appointed chairman of the Advances to Settlers Board. The board was incorporated into the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales in 1907; O'Malley Wood was appointed one of two commissioners under a president. He was a member of the royal commission on decentralisation in railway transit in 1910-11.

In 1921, following the advances department's conversion into the rural bank department, O'Malley Wood became president of the G.S.B. During his term the bank's deposits grew from £50 million to £74 million and the branches increased from 142 to 192, becoming the second largest savings bank in the British Empire, behind the British Post Office Savings Bank. In 1928 a new, lavish building was opened on the corner of Martin Place and Elizabeth Street, Sydney. In December that year O'Malley Wood retired.

Encouraged by comments of the Nationalist leader (Sir) Thomas Bavin during the State elections in October 1930, a run on the bank began early next year. With the government unable to help and the G.S.B.'s board failing to ration withdrawals, the bank ceased trading on 22 April 1931. O'Malley Wood was brought back to help to plan a new scheme for the bank; in August he became one of five new commissioners. Next month he again became president and the bank resumed trading. Although the Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia had earlier refused an amalgamation, the success of the reopened bank encouraged discussions between the G.S.B.'s vice-president Sir John Butters and the Commonwealth Savings Bank's Sir Robert Gibson, leading to a combined institution commencing operations on 15 December 1931.

In June 1933 O'Malley Wood was made chairman of the Rural (State) Bank of New South Wales, which was established by the Stevens government to incorporate the G.S.B.'s rural banking and advances for homes departments. Although precluded from savings bank activities, the new bank rapidly expanded. A site for a new head office was purchased in Martin Place and twenty-three rural branches, employing 520 officers, were opened before he retired again in April 1934. (Sir) Roy McKerihan succeeded him. In the most difficult of economic times during the Depression and in the face of opposition from some of Sydney's financial experts, O'Malley Wood had remained dedicated to maintaining a functioning government banking system in New South Wales.

A tall, muscular man, optimistic and tenacious, he was self-taught in a range of commercial and agricultural matters. His chief relaxation was woodcarving and cabinet-making and he had a small farm in the Lachlan district for much of his career. His wife died in 1932. On 18 March 1933 at St Andrew's Church of England, Roseville, he married Lilla Emmaline Raines, née Bertram (1885-1960), a divorcee with two children. Predeceased by the son of his first marriage, O'Malley Wood died on 5 August 1941 at his home at Vaucluse and was buried in Northern Suburbs cemetery. His wife survived him. She was president of the 2/1st and 2/2nd Pioneer Ladies of Australia, a leader of the Australian Women's Movement against Socialisation (1947-60) and sometime president of the Feminist Club of New South Wales.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Griffiths, A History of the Government Savings Bank of N.S.W. (Syd, 1930)
  • G. C. Harvey, The Origins, Evolution and Establishment of the Rural Bank of New South Wales 1899-1979 (1980)
  • J. B. Wood, Squatter (2000)
  • F. Cain, Jack Lang and the Great Depression in Australia in the 1930s (Melb, 2005)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 May 1920, p 10, 31 Oct 1927, p 10, 5 Dec 1928, p 21, 14 Dec 1928, p 13, 26 Aug 1931, p 11, 8 Sept 1931, p 9, 30 June 1933, p 11, 7 Aug 1941, p 11, 23 May 1960, p 28
  • Smith’s Weekly (Sydney), 16 Dec 1922, p 2, 23 Aug 1941, p 15
  • Rural Bank of New South Wales, Annual Report, 1934
  • K. A. Polden, The Government Savings Bank of New South Wales 1871-1931 (M.A. thesis, Macquarie University, 1970).

Citation details

Frank Cain, 'Wood, William Henry (1856–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 21 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • O'Malley Wood, William Henry

15 June, 1856
Grenfell, New South Wales, Australia


5 August, 1941 (aged 85)
Vaucluse, 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.