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Sir Henry Beaufort (Harry) Somerset (1906–1995)

by L. E. Morgan

Henry Beaufort Somerset's great interests were science and its practical applications, mining and natural history. For much of his life these intertwined.

"Harry'' Somerset was an able scholar, being dux of St Peter's, Adelaide, in 1923. At Trinity College, Melbourne University, he graduated with first-class honors in chemistry and metallurgy and two years later he completed a master of science degree in organic and inorganic chemistry. He later received the degree of honorary doctor of science from the University of Tasmania after serving as chancellor.

For postgraduate experience he went to the US and worked with the Forest Products Laboratory in Wisconsin.

Sir Henry's first job was with ICI Australia and he was sent to England to work on a project converting coal to petrol.

While there, he married Ms Patricia Strickland, who was in Janet Clarke Hall when he was in Trinity.

He served as a councillor of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy from 1956 to 1982, was president in 1958 and 1966 and was later made an honorary life member.

Sir Henry was to become the managing director of Associated Pulp and Paper Mills, and the development of APPM was his principal work in life. He was the first Australian employee.

The company was the pioneer in using eucalypt timber to produce fine writing and printing paper commercially. There were great technical problems to be solved, and the economic climate before the war was difficult.

Sir Henry had a determination to produce excellent paper for the customers, satisfactory results for the shareholders and growing employment opportunities. In particular, he cared for the forest, its flora and fauna. APPM was the first responsible conservationist of the northern Tasmanian forests. It was successful in developing and implementing a forest management and afforestation scheme to meet the company's timber needs and to maintain the wonders of the area.

While in Tasmania he was a director and later chairman of Goliath Cement and Australian Titan Products. For services to the state he was awarded the CBE in 1961.

Although he was spending most of his time in Melbourne, he was appointed chancellor of the University of Tasmania in 1964, when it was facing a period of academic turmoil. Two years later, after harmony returned, he was knighted for services to industry and education.

Sir Henry's interest and ability to solve scientific and corporate problems were recognised when he was appointed to the CSIRO executive council in 1965. He was pleased to be involved, if only at board level, with research and its practical applications.

He was a keen ornithologist and one of his great pleasures was to take his grandchildren to the cliffs of Anglesea, which he monitored for an Australian bird atlas. He was also a councillor of the National Museum of Victoria from 1968 to 1978.

His interest in mining was seen in his position on the EZ Industries and Central Norseman Gold Mines boards. He worked to establish the Australian Mineral Foundation, and was the inaugural president from 1970 to 1983.

Sir Henry was chairman of Perpetual Trustees Victoria for eight years and became a director of Humes Industries in 1957, and chairman from 1961 for 21 years. During this period, Humes expanded into New Zealand and South-East Asia.

Sir Henry will be affectionately remembered for the contribution he made to many areas of Australia in his gentle, thoughtful and helpful way.

Lady Somerset died in 1992. Sir Henry is survived by two daughters and three grandchildren.

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Citation details

L. E. Morgan, 'Somerset, Sir Henry Beaufort (Harry) (1906–1995)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 14 April 2024.

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