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

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Water supply reservoirs: "Standpipes".

On this page:
[Wunghnu.] [Pyramid Hill.] [Katamatite.] [Tungamah.] [Saint James.] [Mortlake.] [Wahgunyah.]

Wunghnu Tank.

Photo: c.2000.

Location: Goulburn Valley Hwy, Wunghnu (-36.15214, 145.43135). Fate: Extant 2000. Firm: RCMPC. Designer: John Monash. Draughtsman: W. W. Harvey. Client: Shire of Numurkah Water Works Trust. Client's Engineer: J. Meldrum. Initial Design: October 1905. Definitive Design: November 1905. Construction: January to March 1906.


On 2 October 1905, the Numurkah Water Trust called tenders for a wrought iron tank supported by either a brick tower or a timber stand. Monash contacted the Trust's engineer, James Meldrum, to offer a reinforced concrete structure instead. As usual, time was short: the deadline for tenders was 11th. Meldrum took up the suggestion enthusiastically. The tank must hold 15,000 gallons between levels 33 feet and 48 feet above ground (10.1m and 14.6m) though he would prefer it to be several feet higher. The site was only 400m from the station. No local stone was suitable for concrete, but broken brick could be used. The officer responsible in the Victorian Water Supply Department was Kenyon, and Meldrum suggested that Monash visit him.

Monash determined the required shell thickness by extrapolation from the Kiama dimensions, but appears to have been worried about the slenderness of the tank. His calculations showed there was no danger of overturning due to wind pressure against the empty tank; but he wrote to Gummow for a second opinion. He knew of precedents and had dimensions of a similar tank in the USA. "At the same time I am not prepared on the strength of examples to rush into anything hazardous …" Gummow replied in haste that he thought a "Concrete Steel Standpipe" would be "quite feasible", though he recommended an increase in the reinforcement, probably on Baltzer's advice. Meldrum wrote encouragingly: "I have shown your letter to one of the commissioners who takes a great interest in this work and he was very favourably impressed with the idea - you know, however, what a Trust is, and that they do not consider much beyond the cost - so be careful to make that a consideration in your structure."

A tender for £275 was submitted on 11th and accepted by the Trust on 13th, the price being well below tenders for the iron-on-brick version and about equal to those for iron-on-timber. The approval of the VWS was still required, and on 1 November Monash met with senior engineers Garson and Shaw. He then prepared a detailed design, based on Gummow & Forrest's recommendations for reinforcement, and incorporating modifications required by the clients. Following formal acceptance, Monash travelled to Wunghnu on 17th January 1906, and Tom McCartney started work soon after.

The tank was finished early in March, but filling was delayed until May when it was commenced with formal ceremony. There was the normal "sweating" through the tank walls, but Meldrum seems to have been less anxious about it than other clients' engineers. In January 1907, he asked RCMPC to fix a pin-hole and a small pervious patch which had not "taken-up", and the final payment was made that March.

Technical Description (based on drawings).

Capacity: 40,000 gallons (182,000 litres). Nominal height: 50 ft (15.2m). Outside diameter: 14 ft (4.27m). Wall thickness varies from 3" (76mm) to 6".

Two historic images of the Wunghnu reservoir are held by University of Melbourne Archives with Location Numbers GPNB/1151 and /1152.


Pyramid Hill Standpipe.

Photo: c.2000.

Location: Pyramid Hill. Fate: Extant (2000). Firm: RCMPC. Designer: John Monash. Draughtsman: H. G. Jenkinson. Client: Pyramid Hill Waterworks Trust. Client's Engineer: C. D. Graham. Client's Consultant: H. V. Champion. Initial Design: March 1907. Definitive Design: June 1907. Construction: December 1907 to February 1908.


The story of this tank commenced early in March 1907 when J. McKay, Chairman of Commissioners of the Pyramid Hill Waterworks Trust, was referred to Monash by Stuart Murray Jnr, of the Victorian Water Supply Department. McKay asked for a print of the Wunghnu tank, saying that he had intended to build in brick, but had been informed by Murray that standpipes were now built in concrete. Monash prepared a rough sketch showing a tank 20 feet (6.1m) high sitting on a shaft also 20 feet high but only 12 feet in diameter. He worked out a price of £250, just above the £225 which the Trust had budgeted.

In June, the Trust's engineer, C. D. Graham, contacted Monash to say he was required to prepare designs and call tenders for versions in reinforced brickwork and reinforced concrete. Graham was not qualified under the Water Act to take final responsibility for the design of such structures and must have them checked and signed by the Trust's consulting engineer H. V. Champion. He was not at all happy with this situation, feeling that he was obliged to do the work while Champion took the glory; but he seems to have leaned heavily on Monash for advice concerning design and specification, and asserted that the computations for reinforced concrete must be left to RCMPC, as the Monier system was still patent. He assured Monash, who was concerned about commercial secrecy, that while he would be obliged to show Champion the detailed drawings, he would otherwise keep them confidential.

Monash then prepared a more precise estimate and a drawing showing a "standpipe" rather than a tank-and-tower, based on "the top 40 feet of Wunghnu". In July, he was advised by Graham to inspect the latter's drawing for the brick tank, which had been sent to Champion's office, to ensure that the two versions met the same criteria. Monash noticed Graham's design was grossly under-reinforced and evidently convinced Champion of the fact. He was called to the VWS by Thomas Murray, another son of Stuart Snr, who was responsible for the area including Pyramid Hill, and required to make some modifications to the Monier design and specification. Tenders were then called, and the concrete version was adopted at RCMPC's price of £269.

Construction commenced in December, but there was a hitch when Lynch and the VWS condemned the local sand and gravel which Graham had proposed for use. Lynch spent three days "searching the countryside", but could find none suitable, so Monash decided to import some from White Hills, Bendigo. The tank was finished early in February 1908. The usual dispute over "sweating" and leakage was exacerbated by RCMPC's demand for extra payment for the sand carting, and Graham's claims of inadequacies in construction, including a deficiency of 110mm in the height. In April, Monash wrote in exasperation: "We did not seek for this work. We undertook it to oblige you and the Trust. We have lost heavily over the matter, and it is a little too much to now find ourselves in the position of having to suffer paltry deductions on unfair grounds." The records peter out in late 1908 with no sign of a resolution.

Technical Description (based on drawings).

Capacity 26,000 gallons (118,000 litres). Depth 42'-6" (13.0m). Diameter 14" (4.27m). Wall thickness: 3" (76mm) at top, 5.5" (140mm) at bottom.


Katamatite, Tungamah, St James Tanks.

1 2 3

Photos: c.2000. 1. Katamatite. 2. Tungamah. 3. St. James.

Locations: 1. Near intersection of Reserve and Goorang Sts, Katamatite (-36.082905, 145.6903). 2. Tower St, Tungamah (-36.16136, 145.8789); 3. Saint James. Fate: All extant (2000). Firm: RCMPC. Designer: John Monash. Assistant Designer: P. T. Fairway. Draughtsman: J. A. Laing. Client: Shire of Tungamah Water Works Trusts. Client's Engineer: Tobias Kelly. Initial Design: May? 1909. Definitive Design: July 1909. Construction: August to December 1909.


Kelly first approached RCMPC in October 1907 for a tower 50 feet high to contain 30 to 40 thousand gallons. Monash prepared a rough estimate based on the Wunghnu tank of £300 to £325, but it was not until May 1909 that tenders were called for identical towers at Katamatite and Tungamah. RCMPC's price of £350 each was reduced to £325 in return for a reduction in diameter to 12 feet. Monash seems to have left the design to Fairway, with Laing doing the drawing and perhaps the routine calculations. In mid-July Kelly wrote to complain that it was five weeks since things had been fixed up; but RCMPC had still not signed the contract. "The people living in Tungamah and Katamatite are anxious that the water supply will be ready for this summer." The delay was due partly to a ten day period which Monash spent on business in Adelaide, but also to a comedy of errors within the Victorian Water Supply Department. Kelly had forwarded the contract documents to the VWS so that Monash could sign them, but the VWS officials denied any knowledge of them. Kelly was reluctant to let RCMPC start before formalities had been completed, but fortunately the documents were discovered on Thomas Murray's desk just as Monash was sending his team into action. Monash told Kelly: "While you are undoubtedly technically correct in saying that the work should not go on until all these formalities had been completed, I am bound to say that our readiness to go on before the Contract had been signed was entirely as a matter of courtesy, and at our own risk, to expedite the work. It is a course we very frequently take in Government and Municipal contracts".

Fairway had signed the definitive drawing for Monash on 20 July. Lynch made his customary survey at the end of the month, finding suitable sand nine miles away, but reporting that the roads were impossible [sic] and he was making arrangements to cart it by rail. Construction commenced at Katamatite on 2 August, with D. Giggins as foreman. Difficulty was experienced in finding suitable stone for use in the concrete. Kelly proposed crushed bluestone, but Monash favoured omitting stone altogether and using simply a coarse sand, which he explained had been used satisfactorily in the past. Kelly was initially helpful in sending samples of sand to Melbourne for testing and making arrangements with a supplier, but seems to have tired of this and turned a deaf ear when he was asked to arrange cartage.

On 30th August Giggins moved to Tungamah, and filling of the Katamatite tank started early in November. On 5th Kelly, who was "down for the races" in Melbourne, called in to the RCMPC office to say he had heard that the tank was leaking badly. Fairway assured him that it would seal itself, but Giggins, who had moved on to St James, was asked to return to Katamatite "by train and by cycle" to nurse the first two tanks as they were filled. Relations became strained, with disputes over the manner of filling the tanks and the quality of work. Monash was obliged to write soothing letters to both Kelly and Giggins. He assured the former: "nothing was further from our minds than to say anything to irritate or anger you in any way - we wrote merely in what we thought was the best interests of the work". Giggins was told: "I must impress on you to avoid any friction with Mr Kelly, even if he should abuse you. Your action in reporting to us was quite right, but it is equally your duty to avoid any friction with the Engineer." Suggestions for fixing the problem should be made "very courteously and diffidently" and Giggins should "take all necessary steps to keep [Mr. Kelly] sweet and make him satisfied, as we have not yet received one penny for any of the tanks and want a progress payment for Katamatite and Tungamah very badly".

A week later he wrote: "We have received another excited letter from Mr. Kelly … He seems a hot headed fellow who does not stop to think and my advice to you is to ignore his outbursts entirely and simply treat him with calm courtesy. We cannot afford to quarrel with him, and I hope that my action in sending you full particulars of the correspondence that is going on will not in any way influence your mind to want to have it out with Mr. Kelly. You will see that in my letter I have said all that is necessary to protect you." He assured Kelly that Giggins had not ordered a Council man to fill the tank - he had asked him to do so. "Nothing was further from my thoughts than to do anything which could annoy you. My view is that we are all trying to act together to achieve the best results in the best interests of the work." He had no desire to offend or ignore Kelly.

Despite his diplomacy, Monash had great difficulty in extracting payment from the Water Trusts. A request for a progress payment on 10 December went unheeded. He followed this up with a full statement on 24th, listing contract prices for the three towers as £325, £328, and £325, plus extras of £22-14-00 for external plastering and £12 for lettering at each. Including the deposit of £55, this gave a total of £1102-18-00 owing - a large sum for those days. Repeated requests extracted two payments of £600 and £300 in January 1910, and the deposit was returned on 8 March. Monash asked if this implied that the tanks were considered satisfactory and requested the balance of £147-18-00. At the end of April this had still not been paid, and there the record ends.

Technical Description (based on drawings).

Simple cylinder 50 feet (15.2m) high, internal diameter 12 ft (3.66m). Wall thickness: 3" (76mm) at top, 5½" (140mm) at bottom. Approximate capacity 35,000 gallons (159,000 litres).


Mortlake Standpipe.

Photo: c.2000.

Location: Boundary Rd, Mortlake. Fate: Extant (2000). Firm: RCMPC. Designer: John Monash. Assistant Designer: J. A. Laing. Client: Mortlake Waterworks Trust. Client's Engineer: E. Pellow. Initial Design: June 1912. Definitive Design: September 1915. Construction: January to April 1916.


Pellow first asked for a quote in May 1912 for a standpipe 20 ft in diameter and 60 ft high. Monash, perhaps under pressure of other work, made an atypically crude estimate. He extrapolated from experience with the Charlton tank simply by increasing the price in proportion to capacity, and came up with a figure of £650 at "present prices". In March 1913, Pellow asked for a draft specification, and in August called in to the RCMPC office in Melbourne to provide more details. At this time Monash reaffirmed his price of £650, but Pellow wrote in October to say that Murray of the SRWSC thought it insufficient. Laing was given the job of reworking the figures and came up with £800. In explaining the change to Pellow, Monash noted that in the past 15 months there had been a 25% rise in wages and some rise in the price of materials. He also mentioned the extrapolation, and said it was difficult to give an accurate estimate without going into a full design. In March 1914, Pellow called in again. Finance had been arranged, but he was obliged to call tenders. He had hoped for help from Monash in writing his specification, but had seen Laing in Monash's absence.

Laing noted: "I told him the practice now coming into vogue for such works was for the engineer to draw up a list of requirements embodied in general conditions of tendering, calling on tenderers to submit with tenders their own designs and detail specifications in accordance with the conditions of tendering - and explained to him the advantage to himself of this method of procedure. He seemed to be very pleased with this arrangement and I gathered that he would proceed in this way." Laing suggested to Monash that Pellow be given a copy of A. E. Castle's preliminary specification and conditions for Rochester, with names deleted, to explain the system. He thought Pellow would welcome this "as a type to follow." Monash wrote a simple "OK" on Laing's memo.

It was not until July 1915 that tenders were called. An undated specification simply asks for a tank of capacity 118,000 gallons with top water level 60 feet above ground. The structure had to be designed for, amongst other criteria, a wind pressure of 25 pounds force per square foot (1.20 kPa). Steel stress was not to exceed 11000 psi (76 MPa) under full load. A roof with manhole was to be provided. The inside of the tank was to be rendered, and cement grout worked into the pores of the render. The foundations were to be carried down to rock (3 ft below surface). A price was to be quoted for any extra concrete.

The RCMPC price was £1095, with provision for a "margin" of 21%. The letter of tender regretted the increase on the October 1913 figure of £800, and explained that the cost of cement and metal had risen 50 per cent. "We hasten to acquaint you with the reason for the discrepancy between estimate and tender, and trust that you will not be greatly embarrassed in financing the work." However, this seems to have happened as the SRWSC reduced the diameter of the tank from 20 ft to 16'-6" and RCMPC won the contract at £850, against competition from Stone & Siddeley.

Technical Description (based on drawings).

Mean internal diameter 16'-6" (5.03m). Depth of water approximately 60 ft (18.3m). Wall thicknesses: 4" (102mm) at top, 7" (178mm) at bottom.

Historic images of the Mortlake reservoir held by the University of Melbourne Archives have Location Numbers BWP/24185 to /24189, and NN/1101.


Wahgunyah Standpipe.

Photo: c.2000.

Location: McDonell St, Wahgunyah (-36.01238, 146.39585). Fate: Extant (2000). Firm: RCMPC. Designer: John Monash. Assistant Designer: J. A. Laing. Client: Wahgunyah Waterworks Trust. Client's Engineer: G. W. C. Venables. Initial Design: June 1914. Definitive Design: June 1914. Construction: August 1914 to April 1915.


In May 1912, Venables wrote to the "Monier Pipe Co.", saying he had heard they had built a tank at Tatura of 30,000 gallons capacity. He wanted a tank of similar capacity with a minimum height to the bottom of 55 ft and asked them to please send details and a quotation. Monash maintained his usual caution, which might have been increased by the fact that in 1911 he had exchanged angry letters with Venables over a project for Hackford's Bridge, in the Rutherglen Shire. He asserted that Venables had encouraged him to tender for the bridge and then, without forwarding RCMPC's design to the PWD, had awarded the contract for a bridge of his own design which was more expensive.

Monash replied that Tatura had a greater capacity (80,000 gallons) and floor height, so that a full re-design would be necessary for Wahgunyah. He asked Venables to prepare a general specification and require tenderers to send detailed overall dimensions and a guarantee of strength, saying this was now standard Water Supply Dept practice. He also asked for a sample of local sand. Venables' reply was that he had "taken out sections and complete design myself (as a check on prices etc.) and I would like your approximate price specification and full details, etc so as to check the schedule before laying same before my Council." Monash was still wary. "I gather that you already have a complete design, and doubtless an estimate, and no doubt you will, in due course, be calling public tenders. Under these circumstances, it would scarcely be expedient for us to disclose our price, as it is sure to leak out in some way and would be to our disadvantage in tendering." He repeated his suggestion as to procedure.

In May 1913, Venables wrote to say the project looked as if it was going ahead, with a capacity of 35,000 gallons, but it was not until mid-December that he called in to the RCMPC office. Fairway recorded in a memo that Venables had prepared full drawings, details and estimates of a Stand Pipe and submitted them to Mr Tom Murray at the VWS. Murray had recommended Venables visit RCMPC, then call tenders and allow RCMPC to submit their own design, with tender and guarantee. "Mr V then, after some discussion, asked us to let him have clauses of spec and particulars for advertising tenders, so as to put the matter in such a way as will be favorable to our securing the work. He is quite prepared to entirely set aside his own design and specification in favor of those submitted by us." The pipe was to be 65 ft high, 15 ft in diameter, with a capacity of approximately 72,000 gallons. Venable's estimate was between £600 and £650. The matter was in abeyance awaiting the return to office of the Watt Ministry.

Monash sent a draft call for tenders, and the next day wrote to say he had omitted to ask: "whether it is your intention to advertise the work of the Wahgunyah Tank in the local papers only. In view of your expression of your hope that this work should come our way, under our usual guarantee, I surmise that you would adopt such a course, which we would also prefer, being quite a usual procedure." RCMPC's tender, apparently for a 65,000 gallon tank, was duly approved but they were asked to quote on a reduction to 50,000 gallons, 60 ft high and 13 ft in diameter. This was finalised at £606. Construction took place between August 1914 and April 1915, under foreman A. Bendschneider. Fairway notified Venables that the tank was complete on 27 October 1914. The final account for £609 was presented in November and settlement occurred in April 1915.

In the RCMPC file on this structure is an undated copy of an affidavit entitled: Supreme Court of Victoria, re the Justices Act 1890 and Information before the Court of Petty Sessions, in the Central Bailiwick - George Taylor Informant, and RCMPC Defendant. In the accompanying General Conditions of Contract, Clause22 is marked, reading: "Power to Require Dismissal of any Workman. The Engineer may require the dismissal within 24 hours by the Contractor of [anyone] employed by him on the works contracted for, and in the event of the Contractor refusing or neglecting to comply … no further payment will be made on account of the work until such dismissal is carried out." The file also contains a copy of the argument "what is a builder's labourer" dated 20 October, and an urgent request to the Wahgunyah Waterworks Trust for three copies of the General Conditions of Contract and the Tender forms, required for "a law case" in which RCMPC was engaged. This suggests that the dispute, which also impinged on the North Geelong Tank, started at Wahgunyah.

Technical Description (based on drawings).

Capacity 50,000 gallons (227,000 litres). Mean internal diameter 13'-1" (3.99m). Overall height 64 ft (19.5m). Wall thicknesses: 3" (76mm) at top, with stiffening ring, 15" (381mm) at bottom. Base 12" (305mm) thick, 19'-6" (5.94m) diameter. Lower 3 ft of cylinder filled with weak concrete, dished 3".

Historic images of the Wahgunyah reservoir are held by the University of Melbourne Archives with Location Numbers NN/1009 to NN/1012, and NN/1185 to NN/1187.