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William Burford (1845–1925)

William Burford, 1892, by F. R. Burford

William Burford, 1892, by F. R. Burford

State Library of South Australia, B 56297

Mr. William Burford, who died at his residence, Belair, on Friday morning, at the age of 79 years, was a well-known figure in municipal affairs, as well as a former leading manufacturer of Adelaide. At various times he filled the offices of President and Vice-President of the Chamber of Manufactures, of the council of which he was a member for more than 30 years. For several years he was a member of the Hospital Board and of the Adelaide Licensing Bench. He served on the Unley Council for 12 years, and filled aldermanic and councillors posts at Glenelg. He devoted much time to philanthropic work, and was Vice-President of the Royal Institution for the Blind at its foundation and for many years afterwards. In addition, he was treasurer of the Adelaide City Mission, and a leading committeeman of the Adelaide Benevolent and Strangers' Friend Society. He was also actively associated with Y.M.C.A. work, and was for some years its President. Always kind hearted and regardful for others, and of a genial temperament, the deceased was widely known and had a host of sincere friends.

Mr. Burford took a keen interest in all branches of sport. He was at one time prominent in yachting circles, being the owner of a fine 47-ton yacht, the Empress. He was a life member of the S.A. Cricket Association, and until comparatively recently was a keen bowls player.

Mrs. Burford, who died in May, 1921, at the age of 76 years, was an equally keen philanthropic worker, being the first Vice-President of the Wattle Blossom League and a Vice-President of the present Wattle Day League. There are four sons and four daughters surviving, also 25 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Mr. Burford's second wife (who was the widow of Mr. William Finlayson) helped to nurse him in his last illness. 

Mr. Burford was born in Grenfell street, on the site of the Electric Light Company's works. He was educated at the Pulteney Street Grammar School and Mr. J. L. Young's High School in Stephens-place, afterwards going into business with his father. The business of W. H. Burford & Sons, of which Mr. Burford was Chairman of directors, is one of the most flourishing and important of its kind in Australia and its history is almost that of the State. Its founder (Mr. W. H. Burford) came to South Australia within 18 months of the proclamation of the province by Governor Hindmarsh. With no financial advantages—he had just 1/6 in cash—and with an invalid wife and two young children to support, he boldly faced a situation that might well have dismayed the stoutest heart. With a knowledge of three trades, he was ready to turn his hand to anything. He earned good wages as a painter and glazier, and in time became the freeholder of a piece of land in the city, for which he paid £30. He continued in businees as a painter and glazier until the financial panic, brought about by the repudiation by the Colonial Office, of the Governor's drafts in 1840, caused him to turn his attention to the supply of things more intimately necessary than paint or glass. Candles were then being retailed at 6d. each. Having had some experience of this class of goods in his father's business at Smithfield, Mr. W. H. Burford erected on his newly acquired property, at the eastern end of Grenfell street—now covered by the Electric Light Works—the buildings appropriate for the production of tallow, soap, and candles. He was the first to begin that work, just as, a few years later, he was the first to produce tallow for exoport by boiling down. In 1857 he stood for Parliament, where he was to a large extent instrumental in securing the passing of the Real Property Act.

At the outset, Mr. Burford's children, Messrs William and Benjamin Burford, were too young to be of much assistance to him, but after their admission to the business in 1878, they both "worked like Trojans". The same may be said of Miss Burford, now Mrs. F. A. Bowen, who, in addition to keeping the books, was wont to drive about the country—not an easy task in those primitive days—collecting orders and delivering goods. In 1885 the business was transferred to its present site in Sturt street and there flourished exceedingly. In 1887 the firm, very quick to grasp all opportunities, acquired the Apollo works at Hindmarsh, which to-day covers many acres of land. Since then branches have been established at Broken Hill, Port Pirie, Kadina, Port Augusta, Mount Gambier, and at North Fremantle and Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. The number of employees has increased in 55 years from half a dozen to more than 500. Shortly after the destruction of a large portion of the Sturt street factory in 1919, Mr. F. A. Bowen, the managing director, was sent abroad to acquire new ideas calculated to be of value in the restoration of the plant. Shortly after his return the Minister for Industry (Hon. W. Hague) opened the magnificent modern factory at Dry Creek. 

Mr. W. H. Burford died in 1885 at the age of 83, and the late Mr. William Burford assumed control. He proved to be a master of the business, and introduced many new methods to the great advantage of the firm, displaying wonderful initiative and energy. One of the characteristics of the firm, apart from the conscientious maintenance of its standard, was the justice and kindness displayed in all dealings with its employees, in fact, the rise of Burfords has been due in a large measure to the way in which all worked together for success in every honourable and legitimate way.

Throughout his life Mr. Burford was a prominent and active member of the Church of Christ. He took a great interest in the proceedings of the annual conferences, and besides holding office as President, rendered much service as member of the principal executive committee. As a liberal patron of all new causes, he initiated the establishment of the churches in Park street, Unley, and at Glenelg. He was a diligent student of the Bible, and as a lay preacher and Sunday school worker for many years was highly esteemed among the churches. To his generosity and earnest advocacy was chiefly due the founding of the Church of Christ Girls' School, Ellerslie, Magill. Christian missions abroad, especially in China and India, shared in his liberality towards religious work.

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'Burford, William (1845–1925)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 May 2024.

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