William Selkirk,  1868- 1961

Mining engineer, financier, philanthropist.

William Selkirk was born in February 1868, at Beckermet in West Cumberland,  the family home. West Cumberland has long had a coal and iron mining tradition,  and when an elder brother, having obtained a commission to go out to Spain to advise on a copper mine, died suddenly, William, according to family tradition, offered to take his place. He went out to Spain, completed the commission successfully, and established himself as an expert in copper prospecting and mining.

In 1897 he went out to Africa and spent more than a year both prospecting for gold and as a surveyor for the proposed Cape to Cairo railway.

On his return to Britain he set up as a consulting mining engineer in the course of which he travelled to many parts of the world.

In 1925 he retired from being a consulting engineer and joined up with the financier Sir Chester Beatty in establishing the Selection Trust for which he successfully established the Roan Antelope mine in Northern Rhodesia. He remained a director of Selection Trust until 1945 when he finally retired and went to live in his country house at Colwood in Sussex.  He also purchased a Packard car which is still in existence as a veteran car in America.

He became a well-known philanthropist giving money among other things to Imperial College, London. He never married and on his death, the residue of his estate came to his nieces and nephews,  one of whom was my father, and I am eternally grateful to Uncle William in that he enabled me to purchase the house in which I am still living, which has meant that for my married life I have lived in rather greater comfort and space than would otherwise have been possible.

I would be grateful to hear from other members of the family and indeed anyone else with news and information about “Uncle William”.

Andrew Selkirk


On to a formal account of his life

26th August 2012, revised 9th March 2014