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

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People who interacted with JM
Notes on special individuals, Page 3.

On this Page:

Anderson, J. T. N.   Christensen, Christian.   Lindsay, Samuel James.   Mitchell, David.

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Joshua Thomas Noble Anderson (1865-1949)

John Monash's subsequent fame overshadowed the contribution made by J. T. N. Anderson to engineering in Victoria and to Monash's early career. The pair formed a business partnership in 1894. [Photo: partners and families.] In 1897, while Monash was in Western Australia, Anderson forged a link with the Sydney firm of Carter Gummow & Co and obtained through them sole rights to the Monier patent in Victoria. He oversaw the initial negotiations, planning and design for the partnership's first two Monier arch bridges (Fyansford and Wheeler's); obtained many of their commissions and contracts; and consulted widely in the fields of mechanical engineering, water resources and mining. By 1902 a downturn in the economy and two serious misfortunes had placed the partnership in severe financial trouble and its future was uncertain. Anderson elected to take up a salaried position in charge of design and construction of a new sewerage scheme for Dunedin, New Zealand. It is likely that the pair hoped to form a bridgehead there for the partnership and its related pipe factory, though nothing eventuated. Monash worked in Victoria at trading the firm out of debt and in 1905 it was agreed that the partnership be dissolved. Anderson relinquished his rights and was absolved from his share of the remaining debt. He travelled overseas for some time, then returned to Australia and spent the rest of his life in municipal engineering in Victoria, while retaining his independence as a consulting engineer.

JTNA's life is summarised in a paper by Brian Lloyd. Stories of the bridge projects in which JTNA was concerned are available on this web site via the following links: [Morell Br.] [Fyansford Br.] [Wheelers Br.] [Bendigo Arch Brs.] [Kings Br Bendigo.] [Barbers Ck & Woolert Brs]. There is much more in the archives at UMA and NLA on JTNA's consulting work, e.g. for the Mildura Irrigation Board and the Ballarat Woollen Mills. As our primary focus has been JM's work, we have not investigated projects that were JTNA's concern alone.

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Christian Christensen.

Christensen seems to have been a good man for heavy construction work, willing to tackle challenging and diverse projects. In 1896 M&A employed him "to move about 28 tons of machinery, mainly a huge boiler, from Daylesford to beyond Walhalla, and to erect a battery" (Serle, p.123). Subsequently he was foreman on projects such as an aerial tramway near Walhalla, Fyansford Bridge, Monier arches at Creswick and Coliban, the Tambo timber truss bridge, the Bendigo Monier arch Bridges, the Barham-Koondrook Bridge, and the St Kilda Street Bridge, Elwood. His wages around 1900 were £4 per week "wet or dry".

Monash probably met him in 1885 when they were both working on bridges across the Yarra in Melbourne: Princes Street, Falls, and Queen's. Late in 1904 JM described him as by trade a ship's carpenter who had carried out every form of building construction, concrete, masonry and brickwork, and the erection of ironwork. He was particularly capable in pile driving, floating plant, and steam plant.

Christensen's employment with M&A was not continuous. It appears that he hoped to establish a contracting business of his own. He prepared a tender for the falsework for the Anderson Street Bridge, and while working for M&A in Bendingo was offered the chance to tender for a small private reinforced concrete bridge. Monash even sent him a cheque for the necessary deposit. He was employed only for the duration of specific projects and left to his own devices when M&A did not have jobs of sufficient size or challenge to warrant employing him.

By nature he seems to have been quick to anger, and blunt in expressing strongly-held opinions on people and technical matters. A degree of conflict is inevitable between the various roles in engineering, but Christensen was more often than usual at odds with subordinates, colleagues, superiors, and government engineers and inspectors. He was reluctant to take orders from, or listen to the advice of, engineers. Again, this is not unusual in foremen with lengthy practical experience, who are sure they know more about the job than a young graduate; but JM and JTNA were not happy when his decisions conflicted with their understanding of the commercial interests of the firm. JTNA once commented: "So far I have never found Christensen directly insubordinate but … he can bolster up his excuses for not strictly adhering to instruction, by reasons which would probably be impossible if I were more on the ground".

In April 1900 Christensen "left in a huff" because the partners refused to back him in a decision which they considered wrong. He told them he would go to Sydney to find work with Gummow Forrest & Co. Monash wrote to the Sydney firm saying that, though he might make derogatory comments about M&A, they should not let this deter them from employing him, as he had given "long and faithful service". When a gang led by Christensen was working on Wheeler's Bridge the barrow road [example] collapsed and one of the workmen stopped to assist another who had been slightly injured. Christensen must have questioned his motives, because the entire gang went on strike and returned to Geelong.

The Tambo project was bedevilled by the increasing scarcity of good quality timber at the time, and probably also by over-zealous inspectors; but Christensen's clashes with government officials led the PWD Chief Engineer Catani to brand him "lacking in skilled knowledge and tact" and demand his removal. Monash defended him in a "stormy" interview with the Inspector-General. At Bendigo, his relations with City Engineer Richardson were strained and three colleagues sent in turn by M&A to do his paperwork asked to be transferred.

Nevertheless, Monash continued to rely heavily upon Christensen, presumably because of his ability to tackle difficult projects and get things done. He appointed him to head the challenging Koondrook bridge project. Once again, there were complaints from workers, which Monash noted were "becoming monotonous" and had resulted in the loss of a good man. Near the end of the project, Christensen caused JM much anguish by clashing with the Resident Engineer, J B A Reed, who also demanded his removal.

Monash and Christensen seem to have become increasingly impatient with each other over the Koondrook project. JM criticised what he saw as Christensen's slow rate of progress and commented to Reed that it would be difficult to introduce a second foreman to speed things up, because Christensen was "rather touchy on such matters" and there was "not room for more than one star in his firmanent". At the same time Christensen was critical of what he saw as lack of support and inefficiency in the Melbourne office, making his reports so forceful that JM complained of their tone.

When the project was wound up in November 1904, Monash was in no hurry to give Christensen work on another M&A project, but tried to find him a job elsewhere. There is evidence that in February 1905 he was working with J G Aikman on the salvage of the RMS Australia. In March he offered to accept "any reasonable offer" from M&A, and was appointed to their Reilly Street Drain Cover project, and later to the Elwood Bridges. In July 1906 he worked on the foundations of the Warracknabeal Post Office. After that, the breach appears to have become final.

Christensen was separated from his wife, and in 1902 Monash became entangled in the question of maintenance payments, having them deducted from the foreman's wages, and sometimes filling gaps out of his own pocket. He had agreed to stand surety to the sum of £25 and was not amused when in 1906 Mrs Christensen foreclosed, refusing to believe that JM did not know the whereabouts of her husband.

Christensen appears in a group photograph of the workers at Fyansford, with JM and his wife. A print of this photograph in Monash University Archives gives his name as "Cristisen". This may be someone's mispronunciation, but there is evidence that he used alternate spellings himself.

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David Mitchell (1829-1916)

Please remember that these sketches are not biographies, but accounts of the subject's professional relationship with Monash, as revealed by our somewhat patchy research.

Mitchell was perhaps the most important of three solid backers who enabled Monash to survive in business through a period of severe setbacks. It is true, as Serle remarks, that Mitchell and his manager, John Gibson, "knew their man". They gained financially when JM's business finally thrived. But the relationship must have been based on more than this. When Mitchell died, JM wrote that he would never forget how the older man had "befriended" him when he "needed help so badly".

David Mitchell, born near Forfar, Scotland, on 16 February 1829, came to Australia in 1852, and worked initially as a stonemason. He gradually established a thriving business in building construction, erecting some of Melbourne's most famous landmarks and developed widespread interests in quarrying, production of cement, bricks, and precast concrete products. He also ran a prosperous farm and vineyard (now St Hubert's at Yering) and ventured into gold mining. Perhaps his best-known achievement was to father Helen Porter Mitchell, who became Dame Nellie Melba the opera singer. His home was at 'Doonside', 75 Burnley St, Richmond, in the same street that contained the cement and pipe factories.

Surprisingly, there is little evidence in our research notes of direct contact between Monash and Mitchell, most of their business dealings being conducted through Gibson. A possible reason is that, by the late 1890s, when Monash & Anderson began to order significant quantities of cement, Mitchell was about 70 years old and presiding over very widespread business interests.

For a time there was an alternative supplier of cement in Richard Taylor, whose works were then at Fyansford near Geelong. He offered M&A favourable terms and extended credit during their financial troubles; but Monash finally settled for Mitchell as his preferred and almost sole supplier.

In August 1899, when M&A were moving to obtain bridge building contracts in Bendigo, JM reported:

David Mitchell has volunteered an offer to us of the use of a piece of land with a large shed already thereon, containing gantry, situated next door to his cement works at Burnley, Richmond. He would probably require a merely nominal rental, provided we used his brand of cement.

However, M&A still received cement from Taylor for the Bendigo contracts at least up to October 1901, when Gibson registered a protest at their doing so.

In May 1901, M&A suffered the first of two major setbacks when the recently-completed King's Bridge in Bendigo collapsed under test. Mitchell had a personal interest because his 'Emu Brand' cement had been used in its construction. It is most unlikely that the cement played any part in the failure, but opponents were ready to cast aspersions and exploit the situation.

'Opponents' included owners and workers in traditional forms of bridge construction (stone, brick and steel); engineers who thought the quality of locally-made cement was inferior; and proponents of free trade, opposed to the tariff on imported cement.

M&A agreed to rebuild the bridge at their own cost - about £1000 - and Mitchell, along with Gummow and Gibson, agreed to back them.

The business relationship with Mitchell became closer in 1901, when the Monier Pipe Company was formed to develop the manufacture of precast concrete products. In July, M&A wrote to him:

We beg to put on record in outline, the terms which we have verbally arranged for the starting of a factory for the Manufacture of pipes &c. under the Victorian patents, which we control, viz:- that you in consideration of granting financial aid to the concern at its inception be given 40% of interest, that we retain a 40% interest, and that a 20% interest be reserved for allotment to the officers of the concern, the subscribed capital to be limited to £150.

John Gibson was to be Manager; E. A. Newbigin, Secretary; and Alex Lynch, Foreman. (Serle states that at this time Lynch was an employee of Mitchell.) Monash and Anderson feared Gummow might be hostile to the idea; but he said that if they had not approached Mitchell he would have done so himself. A copy of the MPC Directors' Report, dated 13 November 1901 shows Mitchell with 400 shares "paid up in money", JTNA and JM with 200 shares each, Gibson with 190, and Newbigin with 10.

In September 1902, M&A suffered a second financial blow. During construction of the Fyansford Bridge for the Shires of Corio and Bannockburn, they had completed a large amount of work additional to that shown on the contract drawings. This 'extra' work had been authorised by the Shires' engineer on the understanding that M&A would be paid for it proportionally - but the Councillors claimed that M&A had contracted to build the bridge for a fixed sum, and no extra payment was due to them. In 1901 M&A took the Shires to court and won; but in September 1902 an appeal court ruled in favour of the Councillors. The value of work for which they were to receive no payment, plus legal costs incurred, amounted to £3000 [Serle]. M&A's main creditors at the time, as listed by JM, were: Bank of Australasia £1150, David Mitchell £400, Australian Portland Cement Co (Taylor) £460, Gummow Forrest & Co £182, JM himself £180 (an insurance mortgage), and Austral Otis £30.

There was talk of an appeal to the Privy Council. This would be expensive, and a deposit would be required before proceedings could start. Mitchell agreed to guarantee about £1000, and V J Saddler promised to give Mitchell a guarantee for half that amount. Both men saw the judgement as a threat to contractors in general. Monash's diary for 10 October 1902 records: "Early to see Gibson, + anxious day with D. Mitchell + the bank". Two days later he told his bank manager that Mitchell would call in to sign the guarantee, raising M&A's overdraft to £2000. In return, JM mortgaged his interests in the pipe factory to Mitchell. It was about this time that he showed Nellie Melba over the pipe factory.

The press reported that she recognised some of the old hands and tipped the workmen a £5 note which resulted in the consumption of much beer.

In January 1903 Monash requested further support. He set out his financial position in a letter to Gibson and continued:

On the basis of these facts, I would now ask you to submit to Mr Mitchell my desire for his assistance in giving the security required. His security … viz our interest in the pipe factory - has vastly increased in value in recent weeks, I trust partly thro' my own considerable efforts, and one successful year would entirely cover any risk involved in the whole position.

Mitchell agreed to provide a further security for £500, on the understanding that if M&A decided not to press on with the appeal, he would be released from it immediately.

In juggling his creditors, Monash portrayed Mitchell as likely to foreclose on him. In April 1903 he asked his solicitor George Farlow to accept only an interim payment of fees for the Fyansford case. This would allow JM to reduce Mitchell's guarantee "and thus help to protect me from what would otherwise be immediate serious consequences". In May, he asserted: "My position as regards Mr Mitchell is very acute indeed, any delay in my declaring the extent of my ability to reduce my liability to him will make my position still more serious". However, six weeks later he told Richard Taylor, who was also pressing for payment, that he had good prospects of success in business, and that "both Mr Mitchell and Mr Gummow have expressed themselves satisfied with our proposals to keep going and gradually to wipe off the amount due".

It was Mitchell who arranged in July 1903 for Monash to design and build a farm water tank for friends at Caldermeade. This was probably the first reinforced concrete tank in Victoria, and established JM's firm in a very useful line of business (evident from the Tanks & Silos Index).

When in December 1903 Monash asked Gummow to accept further delay in the payment of royalties, he stated his debt to Mitchell as £300. (This presumably referred to a cash debt, rather than the guarantee.) According to Serle, JM was anxiously hoping for a dividend from the Pipe Factory, but the directors considered it wiser to plough all profits back. This reduced JM's ability to repay debts, but worse, left him without the means to meet calls for capital. Mitchell would have been justified in demanding a reduction in JM's 40 per cent interest in the firm. As Serle put it: "The formal directors' meetings with Mitchell and Gibson were tense".

Some two years of profitable operations meant, however, that by January 1906, JM's debts to Mitchell and Saddler were fully covered by tangible assets rather than the hope of future earnings.

In June 1906, Monash established the South Australian Reinforced Concrete Co. Ltd., with Mitchell and himself as two of the five shareholders. All contributed £200 initially.

Later in 1906, JM was able to pay off some of his overdraft, and asked the bank in turn to formally reduce David Mitchell's liability from £1500 to £800. This would mean that most of JM's share interest in RCMPC would be free of mortgage. The bank agreed to reduce the guarantee to £1000.

In the middle of 1907 RCMPC began work on Mitchell's warehouse and office project in Oliver's Lane, Melbourne. Monash now felt more in control of matters and told his sister "I have succeeded in paying off all liabilities, excepting only Mr D. Mitchell who does not worry me because I have the success of his business in the hollow of my hand - besides I owe him only £400 and he can wait for years if need be".

My notes do not explain how the £300 grew to £400.

A formal agreement regarding the building was signed, and normal formalities between client and contractor observed, even though Gibson was simultaneously Manager for both firms. The first Oliver's Lane building was basically complete by November of the same year. Another was started alongside the first in mid-1908. The final account for this was issued at the end of October.

In February 1909, Monash was finally able to tell Newbigin "everything in connection with my shares in the Company has been now cleared up as regards Mr Mitchell", and to ask the Secretary to hand over the scrip. However, letters indicate that at the end of the year JM was still "indebted" to the old man, perhaps in regard to the long-standing £400.

In September 1910 and August 1911, Bakewell asked Gibson if Mitchell would be willing to sell some of his shares in the South Australian operation. It appears that he did so, at least on the first occasion. Serle mentions an attempt by Monash and Gibson, also in 1911, to buy Mitchell out of RCMPC. JM, just returned from an overseas trip and not yet signed up for a further term as the firm's Engineer, painted a gloomy picture of business prospects; raised the possibility of winding up the company; and even suggested he might freelance and find himself in competition with it. Serle thought Gibson and Monash were colluding to "frighten Mitchell out".

See paragraph on this in the notes on Gibson.

The old man was not convinced, but in December agreed to a reduction in his shareholding (along with that of JM) in order to give Gibson an equal share in the business, and allow minor interests for Newbigin, Fairway and Lynch. A document summarising the proposed change shows:

 present
holdings
proposed
future
holdings
Mr D Mitchell108008730
Mr Monash108008730
Mr Gibson51308730
Mr Newbigin270270
Mr FairwayNil270
Mr LynchNil270

The value of the shares was estimated to be 6/-. Gibson was to buy the shares from Mitchell and Monash, but JM was willing to give shares to Fairway and Lynch, as long as Mitchell did the same.

The story of Monash's business dealings with Mitchell, as contained in my research notes, ends abruptly at this point. There is nothing of interest later than 1911. This may be because the correspondence files likely to hold such information are in Canberra at NLA and I have not yet gone through them thoroughly, but by 1911 Mitchell would have been 83 years old and RCMPC was well established. There may have been no need for interaction on a business level, other than the payment of dividends. Mitchell died at his home in Richmond on 25 March 1916.

References

ADB Online.
Vestey, P. David Mitchell: A Forfar Man, Coldstream, Victoria, Australia, 1992.

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Samuel James Lindsay.

From 25 April to 7 May 1904, Monash made surveys in the Riverina on behalf of the Lower Murrumbigee River Locking League, and employed Lindsay as an assistant for nine days, paying him £4-10-0. In August, Lindsay's mother wrote to Monash from Yanga, asking him to keep Sam in mind if he heard of any job opportunities. His qualifications included a diploma from the Ballarat School of Mines and a BCE degree from Melbourne University; and he was a metallurgist. She added: "you know he never jibs at hard work". Lindsay had work at a mine in Daylesford, but its outlook was not promising. JM promised to do what he could, but noted that many other young engineers were looking for jobs at the time. In October he wrote to Lindsay at Burgoyne House, Daylesford, telling him that business was very dull in Melbourne, and he had several members of staff standing by waiting, to whom he had commitments. However, he remained in contact with Lindsay regarding the survey plans.

In May 1905 Monash formed RCMPC, and in July offered Lindsay work for 3 to 4 months. "Hitherto, I have had several University men with me from time to time for short periods as office assistant, but the volume of work has not, before this year, been sufficient to justify a permanent addition to my staff. Since the beginning of the year, I have been without an assistant. Concurrently, the volume of work has greatly increased. This work is Construction in Reinforced Concrete, a very modern, very interesting development of constructive engineering, which has a great future. I control a company which has a monopoly of this work in this State." RCMPC had six contracts in hand ranging from £100 to £2100. "Up to now I have just managed to carry out the engineering work involved, (design, setting out, supervision and cost[?] record keeping) single handed; but it is getting too much for me. For some time I have been considering the engagement of an assistant engineer, who would be prepared to qualify himself to become expert in this special branch." However, JM had delayed waiting for a big job to come up that would guarantee a reasonable period of employment. He was willing to pay £3 per week, with more later if the man took "independent responsibility".

Lindsay appears to have joined RCMPC in August 1905. His subsequent contribution to RCMPC can be judged from the list of projects on which he worked, preparing calculations and drawings. Buildings include: Bank Place Chambers, the AML&F Store in Kensington and its Office Building in Melbourne, projects in Perth, the Dental Hospital, the Alfred Hospital Operating Theatre and Students' Gallery, Buckley & Nunn's, the ES&A Bank, the Metropolitan Meat Market, extensions to Melbourne Grammar School, the first BATC Building, the Central and Windsor Telephone Exchanges, Mitchell's Building, Dr Ham's Building, University Dissecting Room, NZ Woolstore, Lincoln Stuart Building, and the Victoria Brewery floors. He also worked on design of the Brickwood St Bridge in Elwood, the Hindmarsh Railway Bridge (SA), the Lilydale Bridge Project, Staughton's Bridge, the Arden St Drain, Fitzroy Baths, the Bairnsdale Service Reservoir, the Richmond Match Factory Sprinkler Tank, the Glanville Wharf, and Monash's project for the Geelong Sewerage Aqueduct.

Accounts of most of the above projects listed above can be accessed through the Buildings Index, the Bridges Index (including the Aqueduct), and the Tanks & Silos Index.

In February 1908, Lindsay discussed his future prospects at RCMPC with Monash, but was not satisfied with the result. On 29th he formally tendered his resignation, effective from 31 March. The parting must have been amical, because he worked actively until then on projects including Hackett's Tannery and extensions to the BATC complex. Monash provided him with a testimonial and the Victorian Municipal Directory for 1909 shows him at Tatura. In 1911 he was with the State Rivers & Water Supply Commission. In December that year he wrote from the "Engineers' Camp" at Yancko, NSW, asking Monash to certify his experience as part of his application for membership of the Local Government Engineers Institute. The Municipal Directory for 1914 shows him at Prahran.

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