Mr William Selkirk


(I was sent this script by my cousin Margaret Shipman (nee Selkirk)  in January 2013 with a note saying “Source and author unknown; written between 1954 and 1961”. This is the most detailed account of Uncle William’s life that I have found so far, and I suspect that it was in fact written by him and is in effect his autobiography .)


Mr William Selkirk was born in Cumberland in 1868. He was educated at Ghyll Bank College, Whitehaven, and was an articled pupil with a well-known Consulting Mining Engineer in Whitehaven and obtained his training in the West Cumberland Iron Ore Mines. He was a prominent athlete and played for his county at both rugby and cricket.

After holding various junior appointments in Mexico, Spain, the Gold Coast, the Ivory Coast and England, he was appointed geologist in 1897 to an expedition to Central Africa to search for gold, and walked several thousand miles during the two years it occupied. After returning to England he became a manager to the Panuco Copper Mining Company, in Mexico, and from there he went as a mining superintendent at the Mountain Copper Company’s mines in California. He resigned that position in 1901 and returned to England to take up an appointment which led to his commencing practice in London as a Consulting Mining Engineer.

In the following years, and until he retired from private practice in 1925, he travelled extensively. On several occasions he visited Russia and Siberia and particularly the copper mining districts in the Ural mountains and the manganese ore field in the Caucasus. He made several visits to the iron and manganese ore fields in India. For many years he annually visited various parts of Spain, Algeria and Tunisia. He visited all European countries, also Morocco, Egypt, the Sinai peninsula, Asia Minor, Spitsbergen, Canada, South Africa, Zululand, Brazil, Chile, etc.

During the 1914-18 war he was for about two years controller of the iron mines in Cumberland and the Furness district, North Lancashire.

He retired from private practice in 1925 and immediately joined Mr (now Sir) Chester Beatty who had recently formed a company called Selection Trust.

Early in 1926 he visited Northern Rhodesia and went over the various areas which contained outcrops of copper ore and on which only a little work had been done on the surface at that time and which now form a large part of what is known as the Copper Belt.

In particular, he examined a large area which was held by Selection Trust and on which work had only been done at or near the surface to expose the outcrops of copper ore. As he felt certain that the ore would be found to continue in depth, he recommended a deep drilling program and laid it out on the spot. This program was entirely successful and proved that large deposits of sulphide copper existed in depth. This area is being worked by the Roan Antelope Copper Mines Ltd.

It was this successful discovery that ore existed in depth that gave a big impetus to the development throughout the Copper Belt.

Selection Trust also formed an exploration company called Rhodesian Selection Trust which found the Mufilira Copper Mine, since worked by Mufilira Copper Mines Ltd. It also formed Consolidated African Selection Trust Ltd to work diamond deposits in the Gold Coast, and later formed a subsidiary company, Sierra Leone Selection Trust Ltd, to work diamond deposits in the Sierra Leone colony. It also formed Trepos Mines Ltd to work lead- zinc deposits in Yugoslavia.

He was a director of all these companies in addition to which he was vice chairman of the parent company, Selection Trust Ltd. He retired at the end of 1945.

Mr Selkirk was a Fellow of the Imperial College of Science and Technology, a member of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy, a Fellow of the Geological Society, a member of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers and an Honorary Associate of the Royal School of Mines.


On to his early life in Beckermet