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Burford, William Henville (1807–1895)

Mr. William Henville Burford, one of the pioneer colonists of South Australia and the founder of the firm of Messrs. W. H. Burford & Sons, died at his residence, Clapham Park, West Mitcham, on Wednesday morning at the advanced age of 88 years. Mr. Burford was born on January 24, 1807, at St. Catherine's, Middlesex. He was the youngest of five sons and was of his own choice apprenticed to the butchering business. After following this occupation for a few years he entered the oil and color trade, which included tallow-rendering and tallow candle-making. He had many difficulties to fight against during his life in England, and this no doubt was good training for his future rough colonial experience. A friend of his brought under his notice the subject of emigration and he took passage with his family for Sydney; but while waiting his attention was called to South Australia. Observing the liberality of its contitution and, above all, that there was to be no State church, he preferred it and got consent to change destination. He sailed by the Pestonjee Bomanjee, with Governor Gawler on board, and anchored off Glenelg on October 11, 1838, when the province was nearly two years old. He only had 1s. 6d. to commence colonial life with. He at once sought work. His first job was at a lime-kiln and his second was excavating a cellar in Hindley-street.

Meanwhile Mr. Richardson, the first local auctioneer, had built an auction-room on North-terrace. Having some knowledge of painting and glazing Mr. Burford applied for and got the work for this building. Other work followed in the same line until he had the largest business in the city, and employed a number of men, paying them from 10s. to 14s. per day. Suddenly this was ended by the crisis which came upon the colony when its credit was stopped at the Colonial Office. For some time the colony had suffered inconvenience from a scarcity of candles. As much as sixpence was given for a single candle, and as this was his trade in England Mr. Burford had the necessary plant made and agreed to give the butchers 7½d. per lb. for their fat, which up to that time had been thrown away or given to pigs. But before he had time to begin the manufacture the colony was deluged with candles from Tasmania, which were sold at about the price given for fat. However, he persevered and eventually got the trade pretty well into his own hands, supplying the Burra, Moonta, and other mines, besides the general demand. To the manufacture of candles that of soap was added. In 1853 Governor Young wrote thanking Mr. Burford for presenting to him a box of soap manufactured from the tallow brought down the Murray by the steamer Lady Augusta on its first trip. At this time the factory was in Grenfell-street, opposite W. Peacock & Son's tannery, and operations were continued there until the place was destroyed by fire, although the business had long outgrown this location and had its headquarters elsewhere. Stearine candles, toilet soaps, starch, and other manufactures were, as time passed on, added, and thus, since the establishment in 1840, the business has steadily advanced. Although many great difficulties had to be met yet, with determined perseverance they were overcome, so that now besides the large factory with frontages to Sturt, Russell, Norman, and Gilbert streets, there are branches at Hindmarsh, Port Pirie, Port Augusta, and Broken Hill. In 1878 two sons, Benjamin and William, were taken into partnership, but Mr. Benjamin Burford retired from the firm in 1886, leaving Messrs. William Henville and William Burford as sole partners. Of course for many years Mr. William Burford has been the managing head of the firm, and it is to his enterprise and business tact that recent developments are due.

As a citizen Mr. Burford ever strove for the best interests of the colony, and in the early history of Adelaide he was prominently concerned in municipal work. In October, 1841, during the second year of the mayoralty of the late Sir James Hurtle Fisher he was elected to serve as a member of the Common Council. His death removes the last of the 20 gentlemen who composed that body, which was ultimately replaced by the Board of City Commissioners of whom Sir Samuel Davenport is the sole survivor. Mr. Burford joined heartily in opposing the attempted encroachment upon Victoria-square for the purpose of a cathedral, and he was always a strong advocate of the abolition of capital punishment.

When responsible government was established in South Australia Mr. Burford was a candidate for election for the first House of Assembly, and on March 9, 1857, he was returned as one of six members to represent the City of Adelaide. His colleagues were the late Sir R. R. Torrens, author of the Real Property Act; the late Sir R. D. Hanson, afterwards Chief Justice; the late Mr. F. S. Dutton, C.M.G., afterwards Agent-General; the late Hon. B. T. Finniss, first Premier of the colony; and the late Mr. J. B. Neales. Mr. Burford retained his seat until April 29, 1859, when he resigned. Of the 36 members who composed the House, the present survivors are Mr. Luther Scammell, of Messrs, Faulding & Co.; Mr. John Harvey, now returning-officer for Yatala; Mr. Alexander Hay, who afterwards sat for many years in the Legislative Council; the Hon. G. M. Waterhouse, who has the unique distinction of having acted as Premier both of South Australia and New Zealand; Mr. Charles Bonney, an ex-Commissioner of Crown Lands, and the only pensioner of South Australia, who now resides in Sydney; and Mr. F. Krichauff, chairman of the Central Agricultural Bureau. The Speaker of this Parliament was Sir George Kingston, father of the present Premier; and the sergeant-at-arms was Mr. James Newnham Blackmore, brother of the present clerk of Parliaments. Although Mr. Burford only sat in Parliament for two years he saw four changes of Ministry, the successive Premiers being the late Mr. Finniss, the late Mr. Baker (father of the President of the Legislative Council), the late Sir R. R. Torrens, and the late Sir R. D. Hanson. He took a prominent part in the passage of the Real Property Act; and the first copy of Sir Robert Torrens's book on law reform, presented to Mr. Burford, bears this inscription :—"This, the first completed copy of my work, I present to my friend, W. H. Burford, hoping that he will accept it as testifying my esteem for his steadfastness and integrity of character and of my gratitude for the assistance rendered by him in carrying the Real Property Act through the Legislative Assembly, especially on the occasion of the second reading.—R. R. Torrens. — Lands Titles Office, June, 1859."

The late Mr. Burford was well known as a worker in religious circles. At the age of 19 he joined the adherents of the celebrated Rev. G. C. Smith, the sailors' missionary, and led the singing at the open-air Services at the Billingsgate Fish Market. In 1841 he was one of those who signed a memorial to Governor Gawler in favor of religious equality in the colony. He was a member of the Christian Church, first at Kermode-street, North Adelaide, and afterwards at Park-street, Unley, and for many years an elder. He always took an active part, leading the singing until his voice failed, and he often conducted services. He was one of the first three elders elected by the Grote-street Church, the others being the late Mr. Philip Santo and the late Mr. J. C. Verco.

Mr. Burford had seven children. One died on the voyage out, and two in South Australia. The surviving children are Messrs. Benjamin and William Burford, Mrs. R. K. Finlayson. and Mrs. R. H. Eddy. There are 15 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. In 1833 Mr. Burford married the eldest daughter of the late Mr. Samuel Messent. She was taken ill on the voyage out, and was an invalid for several years until she died. In 1861 he married another daughter of Mr. Messent, who also died. In 1880 he married the present Mrs. Burford, who was the widow of the late Mr. J. H. M. Hawkes.

Mr. Burford had never been out of South Australia since the day of his arrival, nor had he travelled more than 100 miles from Adelaide. He was always just to those he employed and was greatly respected by them. Some of those at present in the factory are very old servants, having been in the firm's service for 30 years.

The funeral will take place at the West-terrace Cemetery at 2.30 on Friday afternoon.

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'Burford, William Henville (1807–1895)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/burford-william-henville-1851/text24778, accessed 19 July 2019.

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