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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Sir John 'Bawra' Higgins, 1922

Tom Glover

pen and ink on paper (sheet: 27.0 cm x 12.5 cm)

Sir John Michael Higgins GCMG (1862-1937), metallurgist, government adviser and company director, was the son of a miner and was indentured to a pharmacist at 14. After graduating in chemistry and metallurgy at the Bendigo School of Mines he ran his own chemist shop and reputedly studied surgery before becoming an analyst with a New South Wales mine. In 1890 he became metallurgical chemist at the Dry Creek Railway Station, Adelaide, reduction works. Within a few years he was manager, and in due course part-owner of the company. He settled in Melbourne as a metals consultant and acquired pastoral holdings in New South Wales and Queensland; this sparked his interest in wool technology. Travel in Asia and Europe before the war increased his interest in metallurgical issues. In 1914, W M Hughes offered him the position of independent metallurgical adviser to the Federal government, but he did not take it up; in September 1915 he established the Australian Metals Exchange, establishing Commonwealth control over the treatment, refining and sale of Australian metals in order to preserve their use for the allies and prevent enemy access via neutral countries. In November 1916 he became chairman of and government nominee to the Central Wool Committee, founded on the same principles as the metals exchange. In early 1921 he was Founding Chairman of the British Australian Wool Realisation Association Pty Ltd, the largest public company in Australia, established to safeguard the national wool trade and, in association with a temporary London directorate, to realize the wool carried over from the war period. By May 1924 the surplus had been cleared, with a profit of £6 million. After the liquidation of BAWRA in 1926 Higgins was trustee for the Wool Selling Brokers' Commission Trust until the final clearance of BAWRA wool in 1932. Meanwhile, early in 1931 he was a key figure in the temptation of JA Lyons from the Labor Party to lead the United Australia Party. He was president of the Melbourne Club in 1933. A collector of books and objets d'art, Higgins made substantial donations to charitable and educational institutions. The University of Melbourne promotes agriculture and veterinary science through the JM Higgins Research Foundation and the annual JM Higgins exhibition; the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology's chemistry laboratory is named after Sir John and Lady Higgins.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2012

Accession number: 2012.183

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Tom Glover (age 31 in 1922)

Sir John MIchael Higgins GCMG (age 60 in 1922)

Subject professions

Science and technology

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.