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Preston No.2 Reservoir

Further details of issues mentioned on the main story overview page.

Preston No.2 Reservoir Controversies:
Adverse publicity about the Breakaway.

Following the 'breakaway' incident, JM's friend on the Board, G S Walter, asked for detailed facts to help him present RCMPC's view of the matter. He added: "I do not think it will be brought before the Board tomorrow. It is being kept quiet". Later, he telephoned to say that, although some Councillors wanted to bring the matter up, nothing had been done. The danger was over for the present, but might rise again at a later date. Gibson later assured Monash, who had gone to Adelaide, that nothing had appeared in the press, and the [Board?] meeting had gone smoothly.

Despite the precautions, Monash soon learned that photographs of the break in the wall were being circulated amongst interested parties. His initial response was to write to William Calder, City Engineer for Prahran, and later Chairman of the Country Roads Board of Victoria. Calder had asked Monash if he could take photographs of the break, and JM had agreed, provided they were not made public. He continued: "You may judge of my surprise to find that at least one print, if not more, has found its way into hands which are industriously making use of it to show to my 'friends' with a view to injuring me both in my business interests and personally". JM had been told on the best authority that the print was supplied by Calder. "I feel bound to say that I regard this as an unfriendly act to me personally, and one which surprised me greatly having regard to the promise given me that the photo would not be made public; in fact, this is so different from what I would have expected from you that I thought it best to write you, frankly, for some explanation which might put a different construction on the matter."

It seems that Calder had lent the photographs to architect Walter R Butler, who now wrote to JM: "I regret to think that you should imagine for a moment that I was making use of the photographs to injure you or your company's business … I have the strongest desire to assist in any way I can to bring into general use the modern scientific construction you are utilising your energies upon. I returned the photos to Mr. Calder. I told him, as I tell you, that they have not been shown to more than about 4 people and all, as far as I know, of these are quite friendly. You may rely on my saying nothing to injure you."

Some days later, Calder told JM he had heard that Ritchie had had photographs taken and that the professional photographer concerned was selling them for 1/6 per print. However, Ritchie asserted that his photographs were taken before the break, and he had no knowledge of other officers taking photographs. Eventually JM decided that, to avoid bad feeling, it would be best to drop the matter unless new information became available from a totally independent source. He thanked Calder for his efforts and apologised for having been "such a worry to you".

Return to Overview of Preston No.2 Reservoir.

Preston No.2 Reservoir Controversies:
The MBA and JM

The Master Builders Association, representing builders and other contractors throughout Australia, had long been resentful of Monash's insistence that his firm was the only one in Victoria entitled to build reinforced concrete work - and the only one with the requisite knowledge and experience. They particularly resented the fact that certain architects, when calling tenders for buildings, would specify that the reinforced concrete work had to be carried out by RCMPC. This meant that Builders lost the opportunity to make a profit on this part of the work, and were obliged to work with and around RCMPC during construction. The MBA was preparing to undermine just such an arrangement for extensions to the Melbourne Public Library, including its well-known dome, and were planning to send a deputation to the Board to achieve a similar result in the case of Preston Reservoir No.2.

On 11 March, Monash took pre-emptive action with a letter to the MMBW, listing the following objections:

The next day Kussmaul let JM know that "the Builders" were arguing - through one of their own contacts on the Board - that Kussmaul should have prepared an MMBW design for a reinforced concrete wall, to enable Builders to compete for its construction. Kussmaul had countered this by arguing that it was not part of his job to get involved in specialised work requiring expert knowledge and great experience, and that perhaps the Board ought to send him home [presumably Germany] to study it!

On 21 March, the MBA reacted with a letter under the pseudonym "Contractor" published in The Age. RCMPC's offer was "not a tender lodged in the ordinary way, but a private arrangement between the Board's officers and the company". The Builders knew that Monash had "submitted his plans to the Board's engineers before tenders were called for". There had been "no competition for the reinforced concrete work, as the necessary information was not supplied to contractors". The conditions that required alternative tenderers to carry out their own design and take full responsibility "placed the job in the hands of [RCMPC] without competition". If MMBW engineers really did not have sufficient knowledge and experience to prepare their own reinforced concrete design, and thus open up the bidding, how could they verify the safety of RCMPC's design? The writer also claimed that reinforced concrete would not last as long as mass concrete. After an unconvincing attempt to argue that it would be more expensive, the writer made the valid point that this was RCMPC's first job on such a large scale.

On 23rd, Charles E Eldridge, Secretary of the MBA, made similar points in a letter to The Age, adding that the Board's officers could have called in outside consultants "who have kept themselves abreast of the advance of modern construction" to prepare a reinforced design for open competition. "The same shirking of responsibility by the professional heads of Government departments and municipal councils, as well as architects in private practice, has allowed this method [of awarding contracts in reinforced concrete] to grow to an alarming extent, until now thousands of pounds of work is being constantly handed over to one firm, who gets the work at its own price without any competition. The builders and contractors ask for a fair field and no favor in tendering for public works. It is not their business to design and prepare plans, the engineers and architects are paid for this professional work, and the public have a right to know why they do not do their duty instead of handing it over to an able professional gentleman outside and giving him a monopoly of the work."

Nevertheless, the MMBW's Water Supply Committee recommended that RCMPC's tender be accepted. At the next meeting of the Board there was a fiery discussion, reported in The Age of 25 March. In the middle of it Oliver was asked if the Board's officers could have drawn up their own design. He replied that they did have the ability; but there were several different patent systems of reinforcement and, by adopting one, the Board would have been awarding the contract to whatever firm held the rights. He said that RCMPC's system was currently in satisfactory service in several "water works" in Victoria - with in one instance a 4-inch thick wall of concrete supporting the pressure of 60 feet of water. He also felt that general building contractors in Victoria had insufficient experience to undertake reinforced concrete work. Attempts were made to have the matter referred to Professor Kernot at the University and other experts, or to call a fresh round of tenders so that contractors could have alternative designs prepared by consultants. However, the recommendation to accept RCMPC's tender was finally adopted by majority vote.

At the end of August 1908, just after RCMPC started work on the walls, the Master Builders fired off another round. G A Taylor, Editor of Building informed JM that he had received a letter from a well-known builder claiming unfair practice in the letting of the Contract. He sent JM a copy so that his reply could be published alongside the builder's letter which reads, in part:

"You are no doubt aware of the controversy that has been going on in the daily press regarding the Preston Reservoir - but it appears to have escaped the notice of many that what looks like a 'hole and corner' affair has been arranged between the Metropolitan Board and the Reinforced Concrete Co whose tender was accepted. Their tender was not lodged in the ordinary way but was a Private agreement between the Board's officers and the Company. There was no competition for the work accepted, as the necessary information was not supplied other contractors to tender upon. Tenders were invited in the ordinary way with permission to submit an alternative tender for reinforced concrete for which the tenderer had to provide his own plans and specifications, but as builders do not do that class of business these conditions placed the job in the hands of the Company without competition. For some surruptitious reason the Board's Officers did not furnish plans and specifications for the reinforced work but it would not have been their ignorance of the subject as they were able to advise acceptance of the tender submitted for that work. The strength of the Reservoir depends on the amount of concrete put into it and the privately arranged job of the Reinforced Concrete Co provides anything they like to put into it. What the Public should know is 'What guarantee does the private company give that their work will not be a failure?' and if the affair is not a success what action can the Board take after approving designs they admittedly could not prepare themselves."

This letter was sent just after RCMPC started work on the walls, and prior to the development of their perceived problems. The statement about the strength of the reservoir is simplistic, but perhaps reflects the opinion of engineers like Ritchie and Coane, who considered a 6 inch face plate and a 3 inch floor too thin. The final sentence must reflect their fears of major failure.

Return to Overview of Preston No.2 Reservoir.

Preston No.2 Reservoir Controversies:
McClelland and RCMPC.

Monash first contacted McClelland about the project on 15 February, but only to ask his advice on the price of earthworks. McClelland replied that he did not want to be "used" for tendering purposes, but was willing to do business. JM assured him that he was "proposing nothing else but what was fair and honorable". He named the project as Preston No.2 and explained that it involved some 80,000 cubic yards of earthwork - "fully 90% of which can be dealt with in bulk, while a small percentage, which would have to be carried out piece-meal as the concrete works proceed, might better be carried out at a separate rate, or perhaps by our own men". The two men signed a conventional agreement on 11 March for McClelland to act as sub-contractor.

During the tendering stage, McClelland fed JM the information that "the other side" were "going strong" on a reinforced concrete design and proposed "cutting out half the expanded metal and taking a large risk". He told Monash: "Don't let them beat you … do not disclose my prices to anyone, and for the present say nothing about my co-operation in the matter. I may get more information when not directly identified with yourselves in this matter".

RCMPC's contract with the MMBW (No. 4468) was formally signed on 8 April 1908. Monash told McClelland that after long debate Carre Riddell had insisted on a nine-month construction period with a deadline of 9 January 1909.

Monash advised Ritchie that "our representative for the whole of the earthwork comprised in the Contract is Mr D. J. McClelland, MCE; any instructions which are given direct to him being binding on us". McClelland appears to have been working in the Seymour area at the time, probably on earthworks connected with irrigation schemes, and began sending his draught horses down to Preston starting from 23rd. Within a week Monash informed him that someone had leaked the information that he was really a sub-contractor, and that Oliver had threatened to examine the pay sheets and demand statutory declarations. As a result, McClelland appeared on the paysheets receiving a large regular 'salary' and bonuses. He agreed that if this should result in overpayment, he would refund the excess. A circular was distributed telling all personnel to "avoid letting it appear that Mr McClelland is not in full touch with us" or that he was "an outside person knowing nothing except about the earthwork".

Attempts to place the new understanding on a formal basis continued past the end of June, at which point McClelland wrote to JM: "I have been trying tonight to draft an agreement, on the lines discussed with you, to be substituted for my present agreement with the Company … and find it a difficult matter to get anything satisfactory … To virtually make myself a servant in the employ of the Company, my payment being in the form of a bonus, would I fear introduce difficulties which I, as a layman, could not fathom. I prefer to let our agreement stand. Should there be any difference with the Board and they require declarations, I will then meet your Company and protect you in that direction in every possible way. The little excitement with the Board at first, however, seems to have subsided and I do not anticipate that you will have any bother."

McClelland seems to have been very willing to cooperate, accepting verbal assurances about the unusual payment system, and promising to conduct negotiations about progress measurements and payments on site with Shearan, on behalf of RCMPC, provided that a member of their staff (H G Jenkinson) coached him up in "all the data requisite to deal with all matters other than earthwork".

Within a few weeks of the start of earthworks, Oliver complained about slow progress. Monash insisted that McClelland was on schedule and shifting 5,000 cubic yards per week. On 11 June, he passed on McClelland's complaints about the difficulties caused by the gaps in the embankments where the large diameter pipes supplied by Mephan Ferguson were to be installed. These were located at the reservoir Inlet and Outlet; and also at the 'scour' outlet. McClelland argued that these interfered with his operations, requiring his horse teams to descend and re-climb the banks while shifting earth and suggested that the gaps be filled, and the pipes installed later by tunnelling. However, Ritchie could not be swayed.

McClelland and his men were as keen as the MMBW inspectors to hurry the job forward, and impatient with the need to limit pressure on the newly-built wall. Following the 'breakaway' Monash gave urgent instructions to Lynch that the earth fill must be compacted in layers sloped away from the wall, as specified. If inspectors would not insist that McClelland's men do this, then Foreman Bloom must do so. McClelland must not be allowed to tip material against newly-completed sections of wall until they were at least 14 days old. JM also told Lynch it was urgent to get on with completion of the mass concrete scour structure, to avoid holding McClelland up.

McClelland then attempted to keep things moving by excavating material from the bed of the reservoir and piling it on top of the banks, ready to shovelled down behind the walls and into the gaps. The compact clayey soil excavated from the bed had expanded much more than expected, providing more than enough material to build the embankments to their desired height. McClelland was obliged to stack some of it behind the banks. The banks gradually settled and he was required to make good the resulting hollows. On occasions he was directed to spread top soil to protect the banks from rain, but was later required to remove it temporarily in order to fill hollows. The resulting extra work, and the variability of demand, required much juggling of his workforce.

As we have seen, the inspectors' insistence that McClelland tip material in a very wet condition was contrary to RCMPC's interests and he must have found himself under pressure from both sides. He complained constantly of continual changes in directions from the Board's officers, putting him to extra expense and delay. He seemed to think that Monash had power to alter this situation and was perhaps resentful that he did not do so.

Eventually, early in January 1909, McClelland declared he had completed his work. It was agreed that he should withdraw his workforce and return one month later, or earlier if required. In fact, within two weeks, RCMPC demanded that he return to complete the remainder of the earthworks, saying that if he did not do so they would carry out the work themselves at his risk. McClelland had demanded compensation for extra work carried out, in addition to that occasioned by the breakaway. He also claimed compensation for loss of the profit he would have earned if the puddle backing had not been omitted from behind the wall. RCMPC said they would try to persuade the Board to pay for this, but could give no guarantee.

Because of his peculiar business relationship with RCMPC, McClelland felt powerless. The correspondence between the two parties became warm. Gibson regretted the tone of one of McClelland's letters. He claimed that McClelland had received more money than RCMPC was obliged by contract to pay him, and that some of this had been paid "as a matter of grace". JM also objected to the tone adopted by McClelland, demanding that he cease to ignore RCMPC's request for action. The latter replied: "… you have tried at some length to prove that you are right and I am wrong in the matter of Preston Reservoir Contract Earthwork. Your Company has made a convenience of me from beginning to end, the agreement between us is not applicable to the Contract I have performed for you, under promise and on the distinct understanding of a fair deal at the finish. Your Company from my experience with it does very little as a matter of grace and it is rather late now for you to try and twist our last arrangement for replacing spoil against wall by such an explanation. I have not got any flying machines to send men to Melbourne at a day's notice but was making arrangements to do the filling (as an admitted addition to the Contract) when I received a letter yesterday from your Mr Monash that he had already started the work. This being so, kindly let me know when the banks will be ready to receive the soiling." Gibson's reply was an attempt to cool things down, although he refused to budge from RCMPC's declared position.

On 10 February 1909, Gibson and JM met McClelland to try to work out an agreement. They admitted liability for some extra work, there were minor compromises, and RCMPC agreed to press McClelland's claims for variations in the work with the Board. On 12th, some of his horses were returned to the job and earthworks were continued on a minor scale. However, his foreman became involved in rows with the inspectors and complained to McClelland of excessive interference. JM demurred. "I happened to be on the ground at the time. Mr Randall did not stop him from scooping in the filling, but merely objected to the particular manner in which he was doing it. I did not interfere in any way as it appeared only one of the small rows that constantly go on between Foreman and Inspector, and I thought both sides would soon cool down." Later, JM asked McClelland to replace the foreman as he was making very slow progress and "not doing as well for you as he might". Alex Lynch had advised that he seemed not to have confidence in himself or the work, and seemed afraid to exercise initiative by hiring extra men. According to Lynch, the foreman's "weakness" was the principal cause of friction with the Inspector.

Not long after this, the reservoir was declared "structurally complete" and the Board's engineers started to admit water. However McClelland's small team was kept busy filling up depressions that appeared in the slowly consolidating embankments, shifting top soil and trimming. Anxious to get his men and horses away, McClelland struggled on until 29 May, but wrote to RCMPC complaining that the task he had been obliged to carry out was quite different from that for which he had quoted. He claimed financial compensation for the disruption to his operations caused by (1) the need to allow several weeks to elapse before placing filling behind the reinforced wall, (2) the repair of the failed section of the wall plate and the consequent insertion of drains behind the wall, (3) the late delivery of the Board's inlet, outlet and scour pipes, requiring him to leave gaps in the embankments, (4) loss of profit due to omission of puddle backing, and (5) what appeared to him arbitrary instructions from inspectors to shift earth back and forth. JM and Gibson, correctly, replied that the General Conditions of Contract gave the Engineer-in-Chief the right to order whatever work he saw fit and to make whatever variations he wished, once the contract was signed. They blamed the breakaway on McClelland's men and claimed that his general problems were due to the fact that he had not paced his work in accordance with the reinforced concrete work.

In July 1909, Gibson offered McClelland £460 in settlement of all claims. However, this was not accepted, and in September The Age reported that an action had been mentioned to Mr Justice Hood in the Practice Court. McClelland claimed £1500 for extras, while RCMPC admitted £480 and paid this into court. The Judge ordered statements of claim and defence and discovery.

Monash prepared a "Short History of the Case", setting out the facts as RCMPC saw them. There are also two lengthy undated documents listing objections to McClelland's claims and "Defendants' comments on Statement of Claims". Monash's solicitor, V Wischer, prepared a draft defence for submission to Counsel. JM's notes and suggestions regarding Counsel's advice remain in the files. On 7th February, JM wrote to Wischer: "I beg to inform you that Mr D J Mc Clelland, accompanied by Mr E Campbell as amicus curiae, met Mr Gibson and myself today for the purpose of discussing, without prejudice, a complete settlement of the action which he has brought against us. After a very lengthy discussion, and a minute investigation of each separate item, it was agreed between us that, for a total payment of £727-9-4 Mr Mc Clelland would withdraw his action and give us a complete discharge from all our liabilities. Of this, £497-4-10 is to be paid into Court and £230-4-6 direct."

I have not found the name of Counsel.

In June 1910, the State Rivers & Water Supply Commission informed RCMPC that a contract to build a reinforced concrete service reservoir had been won by McClelland. He was now in direct competition with them on what they considered their own territory. However, in May 1914, JM took the trouble to send a letter of commiseration to McClelland who was on crutches. The latter replied: "It is very nice to know that a busy man like yourself will make time to write to a poor fellow in trouble" and also sent his kindest regards to Mr Gibson.

Return to Overview of Preston No.2 Reservoir.