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William Elsdon

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William Elsdon (1829-1904), chief engineer of Melbourne and Hobson's Bay Railway Co and the Victorian Railways, Australia

1829 Born at Lemington, Northumberland, (baptised 29th November 1829 at Newburn), the son of Robert Elsdon, engineer, and his wife Margaret Forrest.

1841 Living at Lemington, Newburn Hall: Robert Elsdon (age c45), Engineer. With his wife Margaret Elsdon (age c45) and their four children; Margaret Elsdon (age c18); Robert Elsdon (age c12); William Elsdon (age c6); and James Elsdon (age c7).[1]

Apprentice with Robert Stephenson and Co

1851 Lodging at Orchard Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne: William Elsdon (age 21 born Lemington), Engine Wright.[2]

1854 May 21st. Married at Ovingham to Mary Ann Reid the daughter of William Reid (b. c1797) of Welton, who was a Surveying Engineer, who in the 1850s was Superintendent of Whittle Dene Waterworks near Welton, Northamptonshire.

1854 May 1st. Appointed chief engineer to the Melbourne and Hobson's Bay Railway Co, Australia, "upon the recommendation of George Stephenson, with whom he served his time as a civil engineer at Newcastle Upon Tyne". He remained in this post for 25 years and during this time he undertook the designs for the St.Kilda branch line, including three bluestone bridges built in 1857.

He also carried out private practice in Melbourne designing a number of civic works including the Fitzroy Gasworks, City Abattoirs and some large public buildings.

He took out a patent for the construction of rail and road carriages and improved wheel tires,' and an improvement in railway crossings, adapting them to such carriages in England on 21 September 1863.

1870 Elected as a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers

1865 Undertook the works for linking the Melbourne and Hobson's Bay Railway Co and Melbourne and Suburban Railway Co, through construction of a tunnel under Swanston Street, and setting the location for Melbourne's main suburban railway terminus at Flinders Street Railway Station.

He also envisaged a connection with the Spencer Street station, initially supervising construction of a ground level branch line in 1879, before the Flinders Street Viaduct was built.

In 1871 he took a year's absence due to over-strain in his profession, spending the time visiting England and the continent. On his return he prepared a report on the progress of railways in Europe at the request of the Victorian Government.

He travelled on behalf of the Victorian Railways with Thomas Higinbotham, to England, Europe, Russia and the USA to examine railway construction in these places, and reported that more economical methods could be used to advantage. This ushered in a new phase of construction of the 'light lines', with less elaborate structures, steeper grades and tighter curves to reduce the earthworks required.

He was presented with an elaborate silver server set in 1869, in recognition of his contribution to railways in Victoria.

Following the takeover of the private Hobson's Bay Railway Company by the Victorian Government railway department, Elsdon was appointed general manager and Engineer-in-Chief of the Victorian Railways on the sudden death of Thomas Higinbotham in 1880. During this time he prepared designs for the Rosedale Railway Station in Gippsland.

He subsequently retired in 1882 on political grounds during a period of turmoil with the former Engineer-in-Chief Robert Watson being reinstated.

Then became involved in coal-mining at Newcastle, New South Wales, served on several Royal Commissions, filled the role of acting City Surveyor for the City of Melbourne for three years.

1904 March 10th. Died and buried in Melbourne Cemetery.


1904 Obituary [3]

WILLIAM ELSDON, who died in Melbourne, Victoria, on the 10th March, 1904, aged 74, commenced his professional career in the Colony as far back as 1855. In that year, on the recommendation of Robert Stephenson and Co, with whom he had served his articles, he received the appointment of Chief Engineer to the Hobson’s Bay Railway Company, a post which he retained for twenty-five years. During that period various extensions were built and other lines were added by purchase to the Company’s system, which developed with the growth of Melbourne.

In addition to the increased responsibilities of his position as Engineer, the duties of which he discharged with vigour and ability, Mr. Elsdon carried on private practice in Melbourne as an engineer and architect, in which capacity he designed and carried out various important works, including the Collingwood and Fitzroy Gasworks, the City abattoirs, and some large public buildings.

In 1871, feeling the effects of overstrain, he was obliged to take a year’s leave of absence, which he spent in visiting England and the Continent; and on his return he furnished to the Government, at their request, a report on railway progress in Europe.

When the Hobson’s Bay lines were taken over by the Government in 1880, Mr. Elsdon was appointed General Manager and Engineer-in-Chief of the State Railways. Subsequently, however, he retired on political grounds.

On leaving the public service Mr. Elsdon interested himself actively in various coal-mining undertakings at Newcastle, New South Wales. He served on several Royal Commissions, and also acted for three years, pending the appointment of a permanent officer, as City Surveyor of Melbourne, receiving the thanks of the municipal council for his services.

Mr. Elsdon was elected a Member of the Institution on the 5th April, 1870.



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1841 Census
  2. 1851 Census
  3. 1904 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries