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Joseph Dawson Wormald (1863–1921)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Henry Percy Wormald

Joseph Dawson Wormald (1863-1921) and Henry Percy Wormald (1874-1932), fire engineers and manufacturers, were born on 3 January 1863 and 26 April 1874 in Edinburgh, sons of Joseph Dawson Wormald, writer to the signet, and his wife Mary Millar, née Anderson. Arriving in Australia in 1889, young Joseph entered into partnership with Stanley Russell to manufacture and import fire appliances. Living alternately in Sydney and Melbourne, the partners operated an agency from the Manchester engineering firm of Mather & Platt Ltd for the Grinnell sprinkler and Simplex fire extinguishers and fire door, as well as for the Palatine Insurance Co. Ltd of Manchester. Russell retired in 1896.

Harry was educated at Manchester Grammar School. After working for Agnew Bros at Manchester in 1888, he joined Dowson, Taylor & Co. (later Mather & Platt Ltd). He reached Sydney in 1890 and in 1891-98 was accountant cashier for the Scottish Union & National Insurance Co. In 1898 he became sub-manager for Russell & Wormald and in 1900 was admitted into partnership when the name was changed to Wormald Bros. On 5 October 1904 at St Paul's Anglican Church, Burwood, he married Mildred Clive Chalmers.

By 1907, with its factory and store at 7 Deans Place and its office at 17 Bond Street, Sydney, Wormald Bros had agents throughout Australasia. With engineer W. E. L. Wears, in 1909 the brothers set up Embosteel Ltd to manufacture steel ceilings and embossed metal fittings, but within four years sold to Wunderlich Ltd. On 21 December 1910 Wormald Bros Ltd was registered with a nominal capital of £25,000 in £1 shares. The original works to make Simplex equipment were moved to Surry Hills and then in 1912 to Young Street, Waterloo, where rolling shutters and hollow metal windows were made in 1913 and steel shelving three years later. In 1916 a branch was opened in Brisbane and in 1919 a factory was set up in Bay Street, Port Melbourne.

After severing his links with the Palatine Insurance Co., Joseph Wormald became chairman of the local board of the Union Assurance Society Ltd and a director of Anderson & Co., seed merchants. Upright, good-hearted and popular, he was an enthusiastic member of the Australian Golf and New South Wales clubs and of the Highland Society of New South Wales. He retired from active business with Wormald in 1918. In failing health, he left Sydney in March 1921 for a motoring holiday in Britain; he died of hepatic cirrhosis on 10 December 1921 in London.

A director of Wunderlich Ltd, Harry became managing director of Wormald Bros in 1918 when the company's capital was increased to £75,000. Reconstructed in 1920 with a nominal capital of £130,000, the firm expanded in the 1920s, building works in Brisbane and Adelaide, and renting them in Perth. A member of the New South Wales and Australian Jockey clubs, Harry belonged to the Australian, Royal Sydney and Leura golf clubs; his other recreations were motoring and gardening. In 1932 old links with Manchester were celebrated when an elder brother Sir John Wormald, for many years managing director of Mather & Platt, visited Australia. Survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, Harry Wormald died of coronary thrombosis on 14 October 1932 at his Woollahra home and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate in New South Wales at £25,518. A century after its foundation Wormald International Ltd was a world leader in the fire protection and security industry.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • Wormald Brothers Limited, The Story of Wormald Brothers (Syd, 1952)
  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 21 Dec 1921
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Dec 1921, 15 Oct 1932.

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Wormald, Joseph Dawson (1863–1921)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 25 May 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]


3 January, 1863
Edinburgh, Mid-Lothian, Scotland


10 December, 1921 (aged 58)
London, Middlesex, England

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