Website Banner. John Monash: Engineering enterprise prior to World War 1.

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Marine and Riverine Projects:
Some smaller projects.

Cunninghame Foreshore Wall (project)

Design and Tender

In October 1900, Monash & Anderson made a hurried bid for construction of a foreshore wall at Cunninghame, near Lakes Entrance. The Public Works Department of Victoria had prepared a conventional design employing blocks of stone (Fig.1) which Monash estimated to cost about £3000. However a larger project valued at £22,000 was also planned, and he hoped the smaller job would lead on to the larger. He wrote to an old acquaintance, C H Evans, offering him the job of foreman for both projects at £240 per annum.


Fig.1. The PWD's rubble wall scheme (based on a pencil sketch dated 5 Oct 1900, University of Melbourne Archives, Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Construction Co Collection).

Huddart Parker & Co regretted that they were unable to quote for the supply and shipping of some 1500 tons of bluestone rubble, but the Standard Quarrying Co. offered to do the job for 10/- per ton, wharf to wharf. Although M&A had by this date built two Monier arch bridges and were well on their way to securing contracts for more, they still saw themselves as general contractors, and there seems to have been no thought at this stage of offering a scheme for Cunninghame employing the Monier Patent. Monash tendered on 11 October for the PWD version at £3097-12-6. A few days later, he learned that although his tender had been the lowest, the PWD thought it too high, and intended to re-advertise.

In response, Monash decided to offer a scheme employing reinforced concrete plates. The firm was at the time building a timber truss bridge across the Tambo River near Bruthen, and he sent the foreman, Christian Christensen, to reconnoitre the Cunninghame site. Christensen reported that there was good access to the site from the road, and space available where the plates could be cast flat on the ground. He dug exploratory pits to determine the nature of the sub-soil, and found good gravel available for the concrete. He established the position of the wall relative to high and low water and reported that the steamer Wyrallah would be able to berth at each end of the site.

M&A's assistant engineer, J S Gregory, then prepared a drawing showing the 'Monier' scheme (Fig.2). Reinforced concrete buttresses were to be erected at intervals of 12 feet. The plates, only 4" thick, were to be cast flat on the ground and then placed in front of the buttresses, linked to them by a wedge-shaped in-situ joint (Fig.3).


Fig.2. Typical vertical cross-section of Monash's scheme, extracted from a drawing showing "Cunninghame Foreshore Wall. Monier plates." University of Melbourne Archives, Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Construction Co Collection.


Fig.3. Approximately horizontal cross-section through the in-situ joint (of questionable value) intended to anchor the precast plates to the buttresses. Adapted from the drawing "Cunninghame Foreshore Wall. Monier plates."

Tender No.3097 was called on 25 October. M&A's price for the rubble wall was £2954-5-0; but their "Alternative Tender upon the Monier system" was only £1991. However, on 19 November 1900, the PWD returned M&A's deposit. The Chief Engineer, Carlo Catani, though a strong supporter of the introduction of reinforced concrete to Victoria, had decided not to back the 'new' system in this case.

Comment. This wall was conceived at a time when M&A had little practical experience of the application of reinforced concrete. The location of the reinforcement in the plates shows that they were conceived as resisting only inward pressure (towards the land). Provision should have been made for the outward pressure likely to be exerted by the filling shown above natural surface in Fig.2, and for outward pressure possible following the back-filling of the excavation necessary to construct the lower part of the wall. The ability of the in-situ joint to resist outward force is also questionable.

The following month, Monash was hoping to secure a contract to supply similar walls to line the sides of the Yarrowee River in Ballarat, which was about to be canalised. Catani was still cautious. Monash saw an abstract of a technical paper on the use of Monier plates for Dock Walls, and tried to get hold of a copy of the full text. He told F M Gummow in Sydney: "Mr Catani's only objection to the use of Monier Training Walls in place of Concrete Training Walls is on the score of novelty. Probably if we had had examples of this we could have secured a £2000 job recently let at the Fore Shore Cunninghame for a tidal wall."

The abstract was of a paper by Wattman, and had appeared in the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Monash's Specification for the Monier Plate Wall.

1. The Wall to be carried out with Concrete Buttresses, Monier Plates, and Masonry Coping, all other works comprising Excavation, Filling, Forming Footpaths, Drains, Gullies, and Earthenware Drain Pipes, to be on exactly the same lines as embodied in the Departmental Specification.
2. The Buttresses to be of the dimensions shown on the drawing, composed of 7 to 1 concrete, consisting of 7 parts of a mixture of gravel or shingle and sand, to one (1) part of Portland Cement. The buttresses to be erected 12 ft. 6" centres.
3. Monier Plates to be composed of 4 to 1 Cement Compo. with steel or iron grids, consisting of ¼" carrying bars of No. 8 gauge distributing bars. Plates to be 4" thick with moulded projection at the upper edge, to carry coping. The plates to be moulded in proper boxes, well punned in, and after completion to be well wetted for three days. No plate to be set in position until it is 14 days old. The plates to be set into buttresses with Cement Compo. joints. The vertical joints between plates on the face of buttresses to be made with a cement compo. Key carrying a grid all as shown on drawings.
The Coping to consist of 12" x 6" hammer squared rubble set on a bed of 3 to 1 Cement Compo., projecting 2½" over the top of the Monier Plates.
4. All other works described in Departmental Specification, with the exception of the Rubble Wall and Concrete Buttresses, are to be carried out and embodied in this alternative contract.

Gellibrand Light (project)


Fig.4. A rough sketch shows Monash's proposal for the Gellibrand Light supported on four reinforced concrete legs reaching to rock. Dated 11 Feb 1905. (From a drawing in the University of Melbourne Archives, Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Co Collection, File 404.)

An undated newspaper clipping in the records of the Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Company states that the Ports and Harbors Department intended to replace the Gellibrand lightship in Hobson's Bay with a fixed structure. It explained: "The urgency of the matter is not so much inadequacy of the existing light as the necessity of having a beacon that will be constantly on duty in one place. The Gellibrand lightship has two or three times got adrift, and when it travels it of course is not such a reliable craft to steer by as might be desired". The Department had prepared plans for a timber superstructure supported on timber piles.

A previous report in September 1903 shows that the Inspector-General of Public Works in Victoria, William Davidson, was already thinking at that stage of using "ferro concrete piles in the construction" (Argus 28 September 1903).

Late in January 1905, Monash wrote to J W Baltzer, chief design engineer of the Sydney firm of Gummow Forrest & Co, asking for a photograph of a lighthouse the firm had recently completed - possibly the one at Bradley's Head in Sydney Harbour (Lewis 1988, pp.75-7). However, the Gellibrand project would be quite different. The Department's intention was to transfer the superstructure, incorporating living rooms, store rooms and lantern, from the hull of the lightship to place it on a fixed base. The task was therefore to design a supporting structure in reinforced concrete to compete with a traditional timber piled substructure.

Monash planned a simple structure of four legs at the corner of a square 25 × 25 feet (7.62m). The columns would be formed from reinforced concrete cylinders of outside diameter 6 feet (1.83m). For advice on the installation of the legs, he contacted J B A Reed, a friend with experience of bridge foundations, who had been Resident Engineer for the NSW Public Works Department on the Barham-Koondrook Bridge project. He explained that the water at the site was 29 feet (8.84m) deep at Low Tide, and the tide about 3 feet (0.9m). The bed of the bay was composed of sand for the first 9 feet (2.74m), followed by sandy clay, then stiff clay, and then rock. He assumed the cylinders would go down about 20 feet (6.10m) into the bottom and finish about 3 feet above high water, giving a total length of 55 feet (16.8m). He expected that the cylinders would need to be provided with cutting edges, and that workers might need to operate in pressurised air. The lowest section would be subject to 50 feet head of water, but would be afterwards filled with concrete. The site was exposed to storms, but there were long periods of calm. There would be no need for haste.

Reed answered: "I look upon the sinking of the cylinders, through the strata mentioned, as a sweet job". The stiff clay overlying the rock would allow the cylinder-legs to be levelled off and even sunk a short distance into the rock "in the open". All the other work could be done by diver which would be much cheaper than using an airlock and pressurised air. A diver could send up the sand, and sand and clay, very rapidly. Using compressed air would make the cylinders much more "lively" and stronger guides would be needed to control them on their descent. Reed estimated the cost at about £3 per foot for labour, staging and accessories, exclusive of rock excavation, or £160 per leg. With an airlock the cost would be about £3-10-0 per foot. In both cases the cost of transporting men to and from the shore and providing punts or barges for pumping equipment would have to be added.

As part of his investigations, Monash worked out the cost of a competing support structure in timber. Unfortunately, the workings in the UMA file are incomplete, and there is no evidence of engineering calculations for strength of the reinforced concrete version, or of a cost estimate.

Nothing seems to have happened then until early January 1906. Monash was at the time on holiday in Tasmania with his wife and daughter. On 3rd his office manager, John McNaught wrote an uncharacteristically relaxed letter, informing him that the PWD had called tenders for "Erection of Pile Lighthouse off Point Gellibrand", closing at noon on 4th. RCMPC staff, including General Manager John Gibson had not noticed the newspaper advertisements on 22 December; but Gibson had contacted the Commissioner of Public Works (Mr Cameron) to ask if the matter could be deferred until Monash's return. The Department had specified a wholly timber structure, and RCMPC staff had made a tracing of the PWD drawing, and made notes on the specification for timber. The RCMPC file contains a cutting from The Age of 13 February 1906 saying that "A great deal of interest" had been shown by tenderers, but there is nothing more, and the structure was built in timber.

Sorrento Sea Wall (Project)

In November 1907, Carlo Catani, Chief Engineer of the Public Works Department, wrote to Monash asking for a rough idea of the cost of building a retaining wall to reclaim land at the Bay-side town of Sorrento, near the pier (-38.33736, 144.7441). "This information is needed to ascertain if the concrete can be adopted instead of the timber, the latter having given no end of trouble in the past. It is proposed to build a new sea wall outside the old one and fill in the area thus enclosed. The height of filling beyond wall will be about 5 feet."


Fig.5. Catani's rough sketch. His notations read, clockwise from top left: "Grand Stand", "Proposed Reclamation", "Fairway", "To Portsea", and "Sorrento Pier". University of Melbourne Archives, Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Co Collection, File QF-D55.

Catani's own concept for the wall was explained in rough sketches (shown in idealised form below). There would be a row of mass concrete buttresses, having the form of slender truncated pyramids, seated in excavations in the sandstone bedrock. These would have slots in their sides, so that precast reinforced concrete panels could be lowered into them. The panels would sit on a strip foundation of plain concrete, poured in a trench dug along the line of the wall. The height, from top of coping to rock, would be 5 feet (1.52m).


Figs.6 and 7. Vertical and horizontal sections of Catani's concept.

Nothing more appears in the RCMPC files until 10 April 1908, when Catani wrote: "You may remember some time back when we had a conversation re proposed re-inforced concrete wall Foreshore Sorrento. I now enclose tracing shewing position of same and would feel obliged if you would submit me a price also a design for the wall. The space between the wall and roadway is to be filled in level with top of wall later on."

On 15th, Monash replied: "... I have been giving the matter close consideration. I have not so far succeeded in arriving at a cheap design which will satisfactorily deal with the problem of uncertain base for any wall work to rest upon. It would, of course, be easy to devise a stable wall if low cost were not a necessary consideration. I am anxious not to submit any proposal except upon lines which you will consider permanent and stable. For this reason I have been trying to find time to call up and see you, but have been prevented by other business in hand." Monash was due to go to Mornington "in connection with military manoeuvres" but would return during the middle of the following week and would call on Catani then.

The tracing that accompanied Catani's letter is folded and thoroughly bound into the correspondence file and could not be examined without risk of damage to the entire file. Monash's reference to foundation problems suggests that site investigation had shown something less solid than the sandstone indicated in Catani's original sketch of November 1907.

On 27th, Monash completed calculations for a retaining wall 7 feet (2.13m) high, with a base extending 3'-6" (1.07m) back from the face. Under each edge of the base would be a trench filled with "Concrete deposited in bags, down to firm ground - not exceeding 1'-6" [457mm] below L.W.M." For "making only" he estimated a cost of 17/- per foot run, to which he added 40% to give a quote of £1-4-0 per foot run.


Fig.8. Schematic representation of Monash's proposal of 27 April 1908.

P T Fairway prepared a neat tracing of the proposal. Monash's covering letter addressed to Catani as "Engineer for Roads & Bridges", reads: "I now have pleasure in enclosing you a design ... in Reinforced Concrete. The wall is formed by a continuous series of L shaped trestles, each forming from two to three feet of wall, placed in contact upon a prepared foundation ... I estimate that the wall itself can be manufactured portably and carried into and erected in place, upon a prepared foundation for the sum of 19/6 per ft. Regarding the foundation, I consider that the most effective method, consistent with economy would be to sink a continuous trench along front and rear edges of base plate, and deposit in same cement concrete in bags. Assuming that this work be limited to a depth of 1'-6" below Low Water (which ought to be ample to prevent under scour) I estimate this work would cost 4/6 per ft, run. The total cost of the work, exclusive of filling would be £1-4-0 per ft. run.
"The several other forms of wall discussed prove somewhat more costly than that now proposed. The same type of wall, to a height of 32 ft. [9.75m] has met with great success in the Sydney Harbor foreshores.
"I shall be pleased to supply any further information desired hereon.
"Before submitting a binding tender, I should require to know the exact length of the work so that I could make full enquiries re transport charges, and means of local access."

The technical portion of Monash's letter reads: "The sand filling is taken as 100 lbs per [cubic] ft., its angle of repose as 1.5 to 1; and it has therefore been computed as being equivalent to a hydrostatic pressure of 30 lbs. per sq. ft. acting horizontally. The total horizontal pressure is therefore 735 lbs. per ft. of wall; and the total overturning moment, at the junction of base plate and wall plate is 20580 inch-lbs, per foot of wall. This junction has been designed to resist this bending moment with a factor of safety of 5. The factor of stability of the wall as a whole, at dead low water, is 2½. In such cases, a factor of 2 is usually regarded as sufficient."

In June 1912 G Kermode, of the PWD, approached Monash about an extension to the Sorrento Sea Wall (presumably built by others). Monash offered precast walling five feet high for 10/6d per foot run, but the project was deferred by the PWD for lack of funds. In September, Kermode again made contact, sending drawings showing existing conditions at the site. Monash noted: "Called on Mr K on 26/9/12; returned drawing and explained I could evolve no cheap scheme". In February 1913, he made a rough sketch on a copy of a PWD specification for the job; but a few days later informed Kermode that pressure of work had prevented him and senior staff from getting to the site to check out the local conditions.

St Kilda Breakwater (project)

The story of Monash's investigations for a breakwater for St Kilda (near the City of Melbourne) is brief. Probably in November 1910, he made sketches of caissons which had been used for a similar project, reported in the German serial Beton und Eisen for 1909 (p.108). These had the form of tall, narrow, rectangular boxes made of reinforced concrete that could be floated into position, sunk in a line to form the breakwater, and filled with mass concrete. On 27 November, Monash drew a rough cross-section for his own scheme (Fig. 9).


Fig.9. Cross-section through the proposed caisson. The longer sides of the box were to be 10 feet (3.05m) long and 4 inches (102mm) thick, and would slope inwards towards the top. The end walls would be vertical. Half way along there would be a vertical internal diagram 7'-6" (2.29m) high, and 3" (76mm) thick. Based on a sketch in the University of Melbourne Archives, Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Construction Co Collection).

On the same sheet of paper, Monash calculated the weight of the caisson, and found that it would float with about 7'-6" submerged. The total weight, when filled with concrete, would be about 69,000 lb (31.3 tonne). Checking for overturning about one edge, he found that it would resist a wave force, concentrated 11 feet (3.35m) above the base, of 25,100 lb (112 kN) per caisson (without factor of safety). He estimated the cost of each caisson to be £31-12-0 launched, and the cost of the filling at £22-10-0.

On 4 January 1911, he wrote to the City Engineer, F J Davies: "I have worried a good deal about the proposition of a breakwater at St. Kilda … I have arrived at the conclusion that it is not practicable to submit a reasonably safe proposal in Reinforced Concrete at anything like reasonable figures. I would advise against pile form of construction, as experience seems to show that reinforced concrete is not sufficiently elastic in the form of piles to withstand the buffeting of wave action, unless made of considerable thickness." [This was a reference to his experience at Glenelg in South Australia.] He explained that he had also considered caissons floated out and filled with rock, but "one can never tell with certainty when a breakwater is constructed, whether the sand bottom will remain stable, or whether the whole structure will not sink out of sight. This is too serious a risk to face lightly." Therefore he thanked Davies for the opportunity, but had decided not to tender.

Postscript. In January 1913, consulting engineer Owen Thomas also prepared designs for a breakwater at St Kilda. Monash was sufficiently interested to work out the weight of Thomas's caissons (128 tons). He estimated the cost at £2300 and allowing for a margin of £800, predicted that Thomas would submit a price of about £3100. A note in the file shows that the Chief Engineer of the Public Works Department of Victoria, Carlo Catani, telephoned to ask whether Monash would be tendering for the job, but there is no evidence that he did so.

St Kilda Sea Wall, Marine Parade (Project)

This job seems to have been handled mainly by P T Fairway, assisted by J A Laing. On 15 June 1912, Monash had taken possession of his new home "Iona" in St George's Road, Toorak. He was involved in canvassing for the creation of a Museum of Technology, advising on University examinations, overseeing several other projects, and was suffering from what he described as "liver and digestive derangements largely due to overwork". In June 1912 he learned that W J M Woolley, the City Surveyor of St Kilda, near Melbourne, was contemplating extending the retaining walls along the municipality's Marine Parade. He wrote to ask "whether there is any opening for the introduction of Reinforced Concrete work herein". Woolley replied that he had proposed to do the work in mass concrete, but if reinforced concrete could compete in price, the Council would no doubt be pleased to consider its use.

On Wednesday 3 July, Woolley called at Monash's office. He had £500 to spend on the structure itself, and wanted the maximum amount of wall for this price. He said that he favoured reinforced concrete and had in fact been starting to work out a design when he had received Monash's letter. He needed a response by Friday, when a committee of the Council would negotiate with the Public Works Department. Fairway made a sketch of the City Surveyor's mass concrete design (Fig.10).

Fig.10. Fig.11.

Fig. 10. Woolley's mass concrete design. Fig. 11. Fairway's reinforced concrete cantilever design. The wall was to be 9 feet (2.74m) high overall. The water level shown in the sketches is "highest high tide". At "mean high water" the water did not reach the exposed face of the wall.

Fairway completed computations for a reinforced cantilever retaining wall on the same day. As was often the case, the computations for strength and stability, the quantities, and the estimate are all combined on a single sheet of letter paper. The wall itself and the necessary excavation were estimated to cost 14/6d per foot. An amount of 2/6d was allowed for contingencies, and a margin of 5/0d was added, giving a quote of £1-2-0 per foot length of wall.

On 4 July, a neat sketch was sent to Woolley; but to protect the firm's intellectual property, the thickness of the wall and base plate were not dimensioned, and no details were given of the reinforcement. The wall is shown projecting 6'-6" (1.98m) above natural surface, with the bottom of the base 2'-6" (762mm) below. The back fill extends to 4'-6" (1.37m) above natural surface. The base is 3'-9" (1.14m) from front to rear, but its exact position relative to the wall is not given. The covering letter stated that the quote might be reduced slightly by careful detailed design. It continues: "You will see that the stability conditions are substantially more favorable than in the case of a mass wall, inasmuch as the moment of stability depends upon the considerable weight of clay and sand resting upon the sole plate of the wall, and the base is of substantial width."

By the time tenders were called, on 11 July 1912, Woolley had £900 at his disposal and was proposing to build almost 800 feet of wall. On 12th, he sent word that he required details of RCMPC's calculations. Fairway copied them out and included an explanatory phrase to introduce each step in the process. This document, and a drawing with full details of concrete dimensions and reinforcement, was submitted with the tender on 17th. The tender price was £898. (This included a £200 margin and £37 for minor work.)

On 23rd the Melbourne Argus reported that five tenders had been received. The highest was £1275, and the lowest, from J & W Rowsell, was £896-3-9d. On the advice of the Chief Engineer of Public Works, the Council had accepted Rowsell's tender.

On 29th, Monash wrote to the Town Clerk: "So far as I can gather from the Press, our tender for Reinforced Concrete Wall has been rejected. If this be the case, I should esteem it a favor of the deposit lodged with the tender can be returned to me. If, however, there is any reason for desiring to hold the deposit until a later date, please do so."