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Checchi, Ettore (1853–1946)

by Ronald East

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Ettore Checchi (1853-1946), engineer, was born on 11 July 1853 at Pisa, Italy, twelfth child of Leopoldo Checchi, police officer and later teacher, and his wife Carlotta, née Botti. Ettore was 5 when his father died. After obtaining a degree in civil engineering in Florence he decided to migrate with his friends C. Catani and P. Baracchi; after going to Wellington, New Zealand, they arrived in Melbourne on 27 September 1876 in the Alhambra.

On 31 October Checchi was appointed a draftsman in the Department of Lands and Survey. On 14 January 1882 he became engineering draughtsman in the Public Works Department, working on harbours, jetties and coast works; by 1887 he was assistant engineer at a salary of £265. Next year he was transferred to the Department of Water Supply to supervise water-trusts and minor works. By 1889 he was in charge of river-gaugings and measurements of water, and also supervised water-boring operations.

Checchi's early hydrographic work attracted world-wide attention for his organization of systematic river-gaugings throughout Victoria under the direction of Stuart Murray, and it laid the foundation of a scientific water-conservation policy in Victoria. During an arduous six years from 1894 as engineer-in-charge of river-gaugings, irrigation-trusts and the extensive Coliban and Geelong water-supply systems, he took only one day's leave a year. In 1906 he was transferred to the newly constituted State Rivers and Water Supply Commission.

Checchi's greatest contribution to Australian water resources development was the supply of most of the technical data required in connexion with harnessing the River Murray. This data formed the basis for the recommendations in the report of the Interstate Conference of Engineers in July 1913, which were embodied in the River Murray agreement of 1915 between the three neighbouring States and the Commonwealth. Checchi was highly qualified to advise on the contentious matter of the construction of reservoirs and weirs on the Murray and the distribution of its waters between Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. As chief engineering officer, he was responsible for hydrographic examinations and investigations for storage sites along the Upper Murray, including the site of the future Hume Reservoir. He was also closely associated with investigations for many other major water-conservation projects, including the first Eildon Dam.

At his own request, Checchi retired in 1926, to enjoy his hobby of making guitars. On 13 November 1889 he had married Rebecca Rodgers of Attunga, New South Wales; they had a daughter and three sons, two of whom became doctors. Checchi was a large and powerful man whose great physical strength allowed him, with very few assistants, to establish gauging-stations on most Victorian rivers and to carry out flow measurements under difficult conditions. For a pastime he built and successfully raced model yachts on the Albert Park Lake. He was highly respected as a sound designing engineer, a fine mathematician, and as 'a gentleman in the continental sense of the word at all times'. Survived by his children, he died on 19 July 1946 at his home in Hampton, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. N. Churchyard, ‘Pioneers of Victorian irrigation … Ettore Checchi’, Aqua, Mar 1957
  • private information.

Citation details

Ronald East, 'Checchi, Ettore (1853–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/checchi-ettore-5570/text9499, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 19 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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