William Davidson (engineer)

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William Davidson
Born (1844-12-06)6 December 1844[1]
Moy, County Tyrone, Ireland[1]
Died 2 September 1920(1920-09-02) (aged 76)[2]
Hosie's Hotel, Melbourne Australia[3][4][1]
Resting place Boroondara Cemetery[1]
Nationality Australian
Occupation Engineer
Spouse(s) Elizabeth, née Cherry, married on 3 January 1874 at St John's Church, Ballarat.
Children son and three daughters
Engineering career
Discipline civil engineer
Institutions MMBW, Institution of Civil Engineers
Projects Maroondah Aqueduct
Awards I.S.O. in 1911

William Davidson (1844–1920), was an Australian civil engineer, who headed the Melbourne Water Supply department, and was responsible for important improvements to Melbourne's water supply system during sustained periods of drought.[5][6]

Early life[edit]

Davidson was born on 6 December 1844 at Moy, County Tyrone, Ireland. His father, John Davidson, was an architect, and his mother was Eliza, née McCudden. Davidson was educated at the local National school, until age 13 and then worked as a clerk in Belfast. In 1859 he worked his passage to Melbourne, Australia, and then on to Ballarat, where he sought out his uncle, mining surveyor Robert Davidson, whom he assisted in survey work as chainman. Davidson obtained his surveyor's certificate in 1864, and then spent some years surveying farm selections, mines and roads in north-west Victoria and Gippsland.

Career in Australia[edit]

Davidson was appointed assistant to the superintending engineer of the Melbourne water supply, Charles Taylor in April 1873 and was made inspector-general of public works in 1889 becoming chief engineer of the Melbourne water supply where he supervised the improvements and extensions to the Yan Yean Reservoir and water supply system. When a major flood on 16 March 1878 destroyed the bluestone viaduct carrying the Yan Yean water across the Plenty River, and so severed Melbourne's drinking water supply, Davidson, worked for three days and nights with a gang of carpenters, to build a replacement timber flume.[7] He was subsequently appointed superintending engineer 'for the outstanding part he had played in expediting repairs and restoring water to Melbourne in three days' by the minister of public works, (Sir) James Patterson.[8]

In August 1886 Davidson commenced the Watt's River Scheme - the precursor to the Maroondah Aqueduct and Maroondah Reservoir,[9] and then, by bringing in a new water source from a reservoir on the O'Shannassy River, above the junction of the Yarra, he was instrumental in conceiving and designing a system which provided Melbourne with an additional 20 million gallons of high quality drinking water each day, with the added benefit that the system could be expanded later to take in the entire upper Yarra catchment. Davidson, was a tireless and vigilant protector of water catchments, ensuring that any freehold was resumed, subdivision opposed and forests protected.[10]

Professional achievements[edit]

Davidson was elected a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers (London) on 4 December 1888, and later became the chairman of the ICE Victorian branch 1914-19. He was awarded the I.S.O. in 1911. He retired from the public service in 1912.[11]

Personal life[edit]

Davidson was married on 3 January 1874 at St John's Church, Ballarat, to Elizabeth Cherry, and had a son and three daughters. He became a leading member of the Yorick Club, and, in a rare distinction, was an honorary life member of the Victoria Racing Club.


  1. ^ a b c d "DEATH OF MR. W. DAVIDSON.: SUDDEN SEIZURE IN CITY.: Valuable Public Service.". The Argus (Melbourne) (23,116). Victoria, Australia. 3 September 1920. p. 6. Retrieved 30 March 2017 – via National Library of Australia. 
  2. ^ "THE LATE MR. WILLIAM DAVIDSON, I.S.O.". The Australasian. CIX, (2,840). Victoria, Australia. 4 September 1920. p. 39. Retrieved 30 March 2017 – via National Library of Australia. 
  3. ^ "Obituaries.:Mr. W. Davidson, I.S.O.". The Observer (Adelaide). LXXVII, (5,825). South Australia. 11 September 1920. p. 37. Retrieved 30 March 2017 – via National Library of Australia. 
  4. ^ Hosie's Hotel, eMelbourne - The Encyclopedia of Melbourne Online
  5. ^ "THE PICTORIAL. - MR. WILLIAM DAVIDSON.". The Australasian. L, (1300). Victoria, Australia. 28 February 1891. p. 44. Retrieved 30 March 2017 – via National Library of Australia. 
  6. ^ "MR. WILLIAM DAVIDSON. : DISTINGUISHED STATE SERVICE. : MELBOURNE'S WATER SUPPLY .DEVELOPMENT OF THE SYSTEM.". The Argus (Melbourne) (20,620). Victoria, Australia. 24 August 1912. p. 7. Retrieved 30 March 2017 – via National Library of Australia. 
  7. ^ Plenty River Flume, On My Doorstep
  8. ^ Ronald McNicoll, 'Davidson, William (1844–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,accessed 2 April 2013.
  9. ^ 1891 - The Aqueduct
  10. ^ Continent of Curiosities: A Journey Through Australian Natural History, Danielle Clode, Cambridge University Press, 11 September 2006
  11. ^ Ritchie, E. G. (October 1934). "Melbourne's Water Supply Undertaking". Journal of Institution of Engineers Australia. 6: 379–382. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 April 2011. <
  • Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works Sewerage Scheme, MMBW (Melb, 1900).
  • Building and Engineering Journal, 25 July 1891.