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

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Monash, Anderson, transport and communication 1894-1914.

Paper by Alan Holgate and Geoff Taplin.

This paper was written for a conference with the intention of entertaining as well as informing. It draws on impressions formed from wide reading of archival material and it was thought inappropriate to reference the many documents on whose contents they are based. However, some notes have been added for this Web version. The body of the text has been left basically unchanged, apart from the system of referencing.


This paper presents an image of transport and communications around the time of Federation, drawn from the experience of John Monash and J. T. N. Anderson, who were consultants in civil and mechanical engineering, and designed and constructed projects in the fields of mining, water resources and structures. Monash represented clients in wide-ranging legal cases. Based in Melbourne, the partners were surprisingly mobile, utilising ships, trains, coaches, horses and, in Anderson's case, the bicycle. Due to the need to minimise haulage of steel and cement by wagon, exploitation of their monopoly on Monier reinforced concrete in Victoria was shaped by the nature of the railway system, except when coastal locations could be supplied by steamer. Technical assistance from Gummow Forrest & Co. in Sydney involved regular visits across state boundaries. Monash's later work extended briefly to Tasmania, and more importantly to South Australia where he supervised a company which prospered before WW1. The telegraph and then the telephone were important for urgent communication, but mail remained the prime method throughout the period.


Monash and Anderson formed their partnership in 1894. In 1897 Anderson made contact with Carter Gummow & Co. who held Australian rights to the Monier patent for reinforced concrete. The partnership was recognised as sole agents for Victoria and within a few years had designed and built some 20 Monier arch bridges. The Sydney firm (later Gummow, Forrest & Co.) provided back-up in design and general advice on engineering and business matters. In 1902, a Monier pipe factory was established in Melbourne. In May of that year Anderson moved to New Zealand as Chief Engineer of the Dunedin Sewerage Board. From then on, Monash steered the business, and the partnership was officially dissolved in 1905, its operations being joined to those of the Monier Pipe Company to form the Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Construction Company. Monash took RCMPC into the construction of what we would now recognise as conventional reinforced concrete, and this soon became its main business. In 1906 he formed the South Australian Reinforced Concrete Company (SARCC) and was effectively non-resident chief engineer. Some work was also undertaken in Tasmania under direct management from the Melbourne office. Structures built throughout country Victoria included small dams, reticulation schemes utilising RCMPC's own pipes, service reservoirs, silos, and many girder bridges. Monash left for WW1 in December 1914. An overview of the period is provided in Serle's biography.

Serle, G. 'John Monash: A Biography.' Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1982, pp.121-124 and 126-141, 151-156, 163-167, 177-180, and 185-189.

Personal Transport

The following Table shows Monash's surprising mobility in connection with legal cases involving contract and water-rights disputes over the period June 1897 to July 1898. All start from and return to Melbourne and include visits to CG&Co in Sydney. Journeys to the coastal metropolises were generally by steamer, but when Monash returned home from Perth in March 1899 for a three-week visit, he disembarked at Adelaide and took the train to Melbourne.

05.06.97 to 21.06.97Sydney, Brisbane, Bundaberg, Rosedale, Brisbane, Sydney.
12.07.97 to 26.07.97Echuca, Deniliquin, Hartwood, Coonong, Jerilderie, Urana.
21.09.97 to 12.10.97Sydney, Brisbane, Sydney, Junee, Narandera.
18.10.97 to 27.10.97Junee, Narandera, Junee.
01.11.97 to 24.12.97Sydney, Brisbane, Sydney.
08.01.98 to 16.02.98Sydney, Brisbane.
07.03.98 to 29.03.98Deniliquin, Hartwood, Junee, Sydney.
20.04.98 to 03.05.98 Riverina.
23.05.98 to 14.06.98Sydney.
07.07.98left for Perth

Within Victoria rail transport was the preferred mode of travel for personnel, with the horse or horse-drawn 'trap' serving as the general run-about. When supervising the construction of the Outer Circle Line in Melbourne in 1888-9, Monash moved around the project on horseback before persuading his employers to provide a trap in which he could convey surveying equipment and small quantities of urgently needed supplies (e.g. bags of bolts; cement for small jobs) [photo]. The time required for journeys was a constant preoccupation. A typical reconnaissance report on a construction site advised that it was 9 miles (14.5 km) from the nearest town, or 55 minutes with a pair of horses pulling the trap.

Our map shows the extensive coverage provided by country railways in Victoria in 1914, but it was often necessary to complete journeys by coach, trap, horse, or even bicycle. Scheduling for combined-mode transport was tight. Arranging for the casting of a Monier arch for the Upper Coliban Spillway Bridge in 1902 Monash instructed his foreman "You will come from Bendigo by the evening train [Friday] with 4 men, meeting Mr Monash at Kyneton Station, where he will make arrangements to put you up for the night, and also for a trap to drive the whole party out to Upper Coliban on Saturday morning at daybreak, so as to be able to make a start with the arch shortly after 7 a.m. Together with the men who will be available at Coliban you should be able easily to catch the express or the evening train back to Bendigo the same night".

Travel between cities was equally stressed. When signs of settlement developed in the Anderson St (Morell) Bridge over the Yarra River in 1901, Monash asked Gummow's chief engineer, W. J. Baltzer to reassure the authorities. He pointed out that if Baltzer left Sydney any evening he would reach Melbourne at 12.30 p.m. the next day. He could spend the afternoon on the bridge and return by the same day's express, thus being absent from Sydney only one day. Monash often followed a similar schedule himself. His diary entry for 3 October 1903 reads: "Up at 5 + turn arch at Mansfield, then return to Melbourne [some 240 km by rail] reaching home at 11.30. Very tired."

Monash had spent the previous night at Mansfield. Because it was necessary to wait for a connection at Yea, it took most of a day to get from Melbourne to Mansfield, arriving too late in the afternoon to do much work. So a visit to Mansfield meant two days away from the office. Because of this, JM tended to avoid the trip, and the Shire Engineer had great difficulty persuading him to come up for the opening ceremony.

Anderson, who was physically tough, was a great believer in the bicycle for commuting and off-rail journeys. He took his bicycle on trains and coaches, as illustrated by an expense account incurred while reconnoitring a bridge replacement over the Tambo River at Bruthen in 1899. Travel was initially by train to Bairnsdale.

For an explanation of the £ s d monetary system, see [currency].

October £ s d
10thTicket on Ry 45/8, bicycle ticket 3/-2-8-8
 Meals and refts on journey3/6
 Portage on arrival2d
 Freight for baggage on coach2/-
11thRefreshments with O'Rorke 1/6, Engr 2/-3/6
 Horse hire 7/6
 Telegram 10d
12thRefreshments (+ Kerr[?] Engr) 2/-
 Horse hire 7/6, fodder 1/69/-
 Telegram and letter1/-
13thRefts with Brook 1/-, gratuities at hotel 2/63/6
 Hotel bill 20/-1-0-0
 Baggage on coach 2/-, telegram 9d2/9
 meals on journey4/6
 Refts with military at Warragul1/6
 Cold w. bath in Bairnsdale6d

In a 1901 message from Bendigo, Anderson announced he would reach Preston Reservoir station near Melbourne at 6.46 a.m. in order to cycle to the Barber's Creek bridge site (about 22 km) by 8.30 a.m. Cycling was not without its dangers. While riding from home to the office one morning in 1899, Anderson was knocked from his bike by a horse and cart travelling at a gallop. M&A's clerk reported that, although the horse did not step on him, a wheel went over his back "from right hip to left shoulder". He lay in a shop for several hours, and was then sent home on a cart.

Correction: 'Clerk' was a lapse of memory. The report was in fact sent to Monash by M&A's assistant engineer, A. G. Timmins in a letter of 8 Feb. 1899. The accident had happened the previous day, on which M&A wrote to GF&Co in Sydney: "We are sorry to inform you that our Mr A was run over by a cart this morning and is not expected to be about again for another week."

On one of his trips to the Mildura Irrigation scheme, Anderson suffered a fate known to many conference delegates when his baggage was overcarried. The coach operator, McMahon of Wentworth, expressed regret but pointed out that luggage was carried at the owner's risk. However, he told the driver to give Anderson a 6/- discount the next time he was on the coach.

When business was less pressing, the ship, or 'boat' was sometimes preferred to the train, even for short journeys such as Melbourne to Geelong. Mention is made of trips on the Edina and Courier to visit the nearby Fyansford bridge site in 1899, an advantage being the chance to take lunch on the boat. Trains and ships afforded chances for business-related socialising. Monash regularly took Gummow to Fyansford by boat and Serle records that on his trip to Perth in 1898 he made the most of the opportunity to socialise with the construction magnate Saddler. After the Arbitration of the Fyansford contract in January 1900, Monash noted that the senior engineers involved and M&A's business manager "all travelled home together and all parted in very good humour with each other".

For the Edina and Courier see e.g. Loney, J. K. 'Bay Steamers and Coastal Ferries', Reed, French's Forrest, NSW, 1982.


Transport of freight off the railway system was by horse- or bullock-wagon. Although traction engines are mentioned as pulling large loads in the later part of our period, they figure largely as a headache for the bridge designer. The cost of wagon transport and the heaviness of the supplies required for concrete construction meant that most projects were built within a few kilometres of the railway. The Wheeler's Bridge project (1899) was somewhat unusual, with the site six miles (9.7 km) from the station. Cartage cost 5/- per ton.

Since this paper was written, we have realised that the bridge at Waterford (1908) was a marked exception, being 75 km by winding mountain road from Bairnsdale. Our history of the bridge [link], written since the publication of this paper, goes some way to explain how RCMPC won the tender despite such an economic disadvantage.

In 1902 Anderson's brother Jack, at the site of the Upper Coliban Spillway Bridge, organised bullock drivers to cart cement from the railhead at 3/- per ton and bricks at 4/-. Two months later he reported that they had reduced their shipment limit for cement from 80 to 74 (bags or casks?) and soon after that: "the bullock driver is leaving here at the end of next week and thereafter the cartage will be prohibitive". Later he was content with a replacement wagon and three-horse team. Again, there was a danger of serious accident. In 1895 the driver of a wagon with eight horses under contract to M&A lost control going down a steep incline near the mining town of Walhalla. The team plunged over an embankment and all horses were killed.

Note, Nov. 2011. The article upon which the last sentence was based was published in The Argus, 21 Nov 1895, p.5. Trove. Monash wrote to the paper on 23rd to complain of its inaccuracy. This is supported by an article in the Traralgon Record of 3 December 1895, p.2. Trove.

For coastal sites, ship freight was competitive with rail. In 1900-1901 materiel sent from Melbourne to the Tambo River Bridge at Bruthen was shipped up river through Mossiface on the SS Wyrallah. Most of the cement and reinforcement for the service reservoir at Bairnsdale (1906) was carried by sea, although there was sometimes difficulty in getting up the river. [Shipper.] Freight sent interstate by train was often delayed. In February 1902, M&A informed GF&Co in Sydney "… the delay we complained of was due to the Customs, but in any case, please note, that goods sent by rail in this way are always slower in delivery than when sent by boat". A later letter explained they were sending certain goods by ship because "The last time you sent us some by rail they took 3 weeks". In 1904 proprietary chemicals were sent by sea from Sydney to Melbourne and thence by rail to Koondrook (insured for "marine risk only").

River transport on the Murray is mentioned in planning for a projected railway water tank at Mildura in May 1902. M&A had been obliged to assume that the "new railway" would not yet have reached the town, so they had allowed for the cost of river transport, presumably from Swan Hill.


M&A, RCMPC, and SARCC made a significant contribution to Australian transport infrastructure, including construction of the Barham-Koondrook lift bridge across the Murray. Design-and-construct projects included a wharf and railway bridge in South Australia and many road bridges throughout Victoria.

The SA projects were CSR's Glanville Sugar Refinery Wharf and the Hindmarsh River Bridge. SARCC also worked on the 'Port Bridge' or 'Port River Bridge' in Adelaide, but Monash lost the contract to design and build it in T-girders by being over-confident in his asking-price. It was done with steel girders installed by the Government topped by a Monier deck by SARCC.

The various modes of transport naturally featured as loads on these structures. Shire Engineers commonly specified crowd loading plus a Bullock Wagon or Traction Engine. The Fyansford bridge near Geelong was tested in 1900 by fourteen two-horse drays "with about 3 tons of limestone positioned as closely as possible at the southern end of the 100ft span", then by "an 18 ton roller with a crowd of 100 people following closely". With no standardisation, a major concern was "the weight of the heaviest traction engine known to be working in the area". In 1906 a number of municipal councils moved to regulate traction engines [Age, 20 Mar 1906], but their owners argued that their movements should not be restricted, and it was up to the councils to provide culverts and bridges capable of carrying their weight. (The heaviest were about 14.5 tons.) When cracks were reported in the Janevale Bridge in 1912, it was said that two traction engines with loads of mowing machinery weighing about 55 tons had passed over, and because the second "could not make grade", the first went back and they double-headed.

Monash's railway bridge over the Hindmarsh River near Victor Harbor (1907) is still in existence, though suffering from the inadequate cover to reinforcement provided in that era. Unfortunately, he was not given a chance to build for the railways in his home State. As early as March 1900 he wrote telling Gummow of strong resistance to 'Monier' within the Victorian Railways Department - it was no use arguing that the New South Wales Railways used reinforced concrete, because Victorian railway engineers thought themselves highly superior to their NSW counterparts.


Although the bulk of communication was by mail, the telegraph played an extremely important role which was encroached upon by the telephone during our period. Postal services were expected to be quick and reliable and appointments were made at short notice in confidence that the mail would arrive on time. Strong complaints were made to the Post-Master General on the few occasions when it failed. Reports posted in the morning by M&A's foreman at Bendigo reached the Melbourne office at noon the same day, while those from more distant Wunghnu had to be posted the previous night to arrive at noon. In 1901 the overnight mail train left Sydney at 9.20 p.m. and reached Melbourne at 10.52 a.m., beating the "express" which left at 7.15 p.m. and arrived at 12.30 p.m.

The proximity of the local Post Office to construction sites was as important as that of the railway station. In 1907 M&A's works manager Alex Lynch reported from a reconnaissance of the Waterford Bridge site that "Urgent telegrams sent to Dargo, 10 miles distant, would be sent back to Waterford by any one who happened to be travelling in that direction." The local constable had promised to look after them. Outward mail was conveyed officially on Mondays and Thursdays, and at other times "by any one travelling to Stratford". (The Waterford site was exceptionally far from the nearest railway.)

Travellers maintained contact with head office by mail and telegraph, and this required precise details of movements. In November 1912, Monash told his office he would leave on 23rd for Sydney by the express train, staying at Larkin's Prince of Wales Hotel until the evening of 24th. Then he would move to Penrith for 25th (Tattersall's Hotel) and on 26th go to Liverpool (Perry's Commercial Hotel). He would leave for Sydney on 29th (POW Hotel) and take the express to Melbourne on 31st, arriving at 1 p.m. the next day.

When important news was pending, it was arranged for telegrams or even letters to be sent to designated stations en route. A memorandum to Monash's clerk reads: "Mr Saddler will let you know result of tendering for Waranga [dam], should you not be able to glean news at Govt offices. Intercept me by wire either at Castlemaine or Kyneton Stations." Old and new met in a wire reading: "Please keep seat for me tonight's coach to Balranald" (1904).

Telegrams suffered from the same problem as e-mails, and simple codes were used to maintain confidentiality. A wire sent to Monash aboard the SS Kalgoorli between Sydney and Melbourne in January 1901 read "Biliousness partially coat left today duplex arbitrated sedulous gladness". Monash's translation was: "King's Bridge [Bendigo] East abutment concrete is partially in. Coat [presumably forgotten] left today. Junction have now 150 c. yds. Have received £200 from Brown [re Junction Deep Lead Mine]. Brabet has delivered three long beams [for Tambo Bridge]. Lighthouse [Point Lonsdale] tenders have been referred for report."

Brabet was a timber merchant in Bairnsdale. (Information supplied Dec. 2008 by Neville Brabet.)

Monash and Anderson set up their office in June 1894, but it was not until February the next year that they requested a telephone. In January 1901 it was still something of a novelty. Anderson wired the office from Bendigo: "Have engaged telephone for 11.00 a.m. Want speak Monash urgently". In November the office, worried by an adverse weather forecast, wrote to their foreman at Bendigo: "Should anything go wrong during tomorrow, you should notify us most quickly by telephone, for which you would have to pay 1/6, that is, if the telephone line has been restored. It was not available some days ago." Even in 1904, Monash told a site engineer that he should not have written a letter regarding a recent crisis as it had been "a legitimate occasion for use of the phone". By the end of the period, Gummow and Monash were regularly in touch by telephone, although lengthy letters, hand-written when dealing with sensitive issues, were still very important.


The authors have provided a picture of transport and communication around the time of Federation, as revealed in the archives of Monash & Anderson and the Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Construction Co. The general impression is that Australians at that time were by no means overawed by the 'tyranny of distance'. Using many modes of transport, they moved within and between States with a speed and frequency which has surprised the authors, while maintaining constant contact with their home base and each other by mail, telegraph, and telephone.


The authors are grateful to the staff of the National Library of Australia and the University of Melbourne Archives for their friendly assistance in the research upon which this paper is based; and also to those who permitted and secured the deposition of the records in those repositories.

Authorship. The paper on which this web page is based was prepared by Alan Holgate and Geoff Taplin for the Eleventh National Conference on Engineering Heritage, Canberra in October 2001, organised by the Institution of Engineers, Australia. Geoff was at the time with the Department of Civil Engineering, Monash University, Australia. He is now with AECOM Australia, in Melbourne. Alan had retired from the Department in December 1996 and is a member of The Independent Scholars Association of Australia.