DELPRAT, Guillaume Daniel (1856-1937)

DELPRAT, Guillaume Daniel (1856-1937)
son of General F. A. T. Delprat, was born at Delft, Holland, on 1 September 1856. He went to Scotland in 1872, served an apprenticeship in engineering, and worked on the Tay bridge. Returning to Holland about four years later, he continued his studies at Amsterdam university and for a time was assistant to Professor van de Waal the well-known physicist. In 1879 he went to Spain and was engaged at the Rio Tinto copper-mines. He was subsequently connected with the Bede Company, Newcastle-on-Tyne, and held appointments in Spain, Norway and Canada. In September 1898 he came to Australia to become general manager of the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd., which was then a mine producing large quantities of silver and lead. Soon after becoming manager Delprat drew attention to the value of the zinc in the tailings, and made successful efforts to recover this by means of a flotation process. Within a few years 500,000 tons of zinc concentrates were obtained from 1,750,000 tons of tailings. The process used has since been applied in many mines throughout the world. Delprat realized, however, that the ore reserves of the mine were shrinking, and that the company would have to eventually find a use for its capital in other directions. In 1911 he visited England, Germany, Sweden and the United States, and conferred with leading experts on the problem of establishing iron and steel works in Australia on a large scale. He reported strongly in favour of the project, and it was decided that Newcastle, New South Wales, would be the best centre for it. During the subsequent negotiations with the New South Wales government, Delprat promised that if the works were established work would be found for 10,000 men, and that the requirements of Australia in steel rails etc., would be supplied as cheaply as they could be obtained from any other part of the world. In return, the government was asked to deepen the river near the company's site, provide an additional area of adjoining crown land, and build up some of the low-lying portions of the site with the dredgings from the river. The company was also to be given an order for 30,000 tons of steel rails at the same price as those imported. An agreement was come to, and the works were so quickly started that they were able to open in 1915 and do work that was of great value during the 1914-18 war. Everything that was promised by Delprat was carried out, and the company, with many subsidiary activities, continued to develop for many years. Delprat resigned in 1921, and lived in retirement at Melbourne until his death on 15 March 1937. He married in 1879, Henrietta Jas, who survived him with two sons and five daughters. He was created C.B.E. in 1918, and in 1935 was the first recipient of the medal of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.
Delprat was quiet, modest and kindly; a good chess player in his youth, in old age he made a hobby of modelling. He was an excellent engineer and manager, handled his staff well, carried the respect of the miners, and was far-seeing when broad issues were concerned. The beneficial effect of his work was not fully realized until after the second world war broke out, for the steel and munitions produced by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company were then of incalculable value to Australia.
The Argus, Melbourne, 17 and 19 March 1937; The Age, Melbourne, 17 March 1937; The Bulletin, 24 March 1937; The Industrial Australian and Mining Standard, 15 October 1935.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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