News

  • William Knox D'Arcy, who funded the development of the Mt Morgan mine and oil exploration in Persia has been inducted into the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame.

How Mt Morgan helped win the war and changed the course of history

03 August 2012

Described by noted historian Professor Geoffrey Blainey AC as the 'most influential Queenslander who has ever lived' and 'a giant figure on the world stage', William Knox D'Arcy should be a household name.

Yet the driving force behind the establishment of the Mount Morgan mine and backer of oil exploration in Persia early last century has slipped through history virtually unnoticed in Queensland.

QUT Business School, the State Library of Queensland and the Queensland Library Foundation are changing that, inducting Mr D'Arcy (posthumously) into the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame.

Established in 2009 to recognise the contribution business makes to Queensland, the Hall of Fame now records the stories of 34 great Queenslanders.

QUT Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Corporate Programs and Partnerships) Professor Peter Little said D'Arcy was a man of vision.

"Mt Morgan became a monster mine, the richest gold mine in the state for half a century," he said.

"William D'Arcy became a millionaire while in his thirties, not bad for a lad who at age 17 settled in Rockhampton after sailing from England with his parents.

Professor Little said Mr D'Arcy, who had qualified as a solicitor in 1872, had faith in the potential of the Mt Morgan mine and this unshakable commitment to the mine and to his own business acumen was to change the course of history.

While after 20 years in Australia he returned to England with his wife and children, he remained chairman of the London board of the Mt Morgan mine until his death in 1917.

Professor Little said the fact that Mr D'Arcy saw the potential of oil as a significant new source of fuel was testament to his astute business sense.

"He funded oil exploration in Persia at a time when the world was fuelled by coal and many thought that oil, and even the motor vehicle, would never catch on," he said.

"William persevered and the deal he struck with the then Shah of Persia in 1901 was extraordinary.

"He bought the right for 60 years to drill for oil over three quarters of Persia.

"The British government, through the Burmah Oil Company, also saw the potential of oil as a future fuel for its navy vessels so bought out Mr D'Arcy's concession in Persia.

"But he maintained an investment in the project through Burmah Oil and in 1908 the first oil in south-west Persia was found."

Professor Little said the Burmah Oil Company was eventually floated and became British Petroleum, or BP, now the fourth most valuable company in the world.

He said Winston Churchill had been a significant force behind the British government's decision to buy D'Arcy's concession.

"When the First World War broke out, Britain had the only good oil field in the Middle East and when the war ended Germany had almost run out of oil whereas Britain had not.

"But it was in the Second World War that the true value of oil was undisputed. The Second World War was a motorised war and again Britain had access to plentiful oil where Germany didn't.

"The Germans invaded Russia hoping to capture the main Russian fields but never managed to and began making synthetic oil. This was very expensive and when the British and Americans bombed the German oil plants in 1944, Germany was all but defeated."

Professor Little said had D'Arcy not poured money into the exploration and mining for gold in Mt Morgan he would never have had the funds to explore for oil in the Middle East and Britain may not have had control of and access to oil, the commodity above all others that has changed not only the course of history but day-to-day life as we know it.

The Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame now includes the stories of 34 business people and corporations who have helped shape Queensland's social and economic prosperity.

The distinguished Queenslanders inducted into the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame last night at a gala dinner at the Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre were:
•Campbell Brothers Limited, nearly 150 years old, for global business leadership in its field
•William Knox D'Arcy for his successful development of the Mt Morgan gold mine and role in the discovery of oil in Persia
•Cyril Golding for contributions to civil infrastructure and mining services in Queensland
•The McDonald Family for leadership in beef production over more than 150 years
•The RNA for its outstanding contribution to Queensland industry and society for 136 years
•Salvation Army General, General (Rtd) Eva Burrows AC for exceptional global and national leadership.

The Hall of Fame space resides within the State Library and includes a digital story booth and provides access to business memorabilia.

Visit www.halloffame.slq.qld.gov.au to view stories or to find out more about the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame inductees.

Media contact: Rose Trapnell, QUT media team leader, 07 3138 2361 or 0407 585 901 rose.trapnell@qut.edu.au