Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ritchie, Edgar Gowar (1871–1956)

by Marjorie Morgan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Edgar Gowar Ritchie (1871-1956), public servant and engineer, was born on 15 July 1871 at Kew, Melbourne, son of Frederick Henry Ritchie (1841-1909), clerk, and his wife Eliza, née Kirwood, both English born. His father became secretary to the Board of Trade and chief clerk of the Victorian Railways, and secretary to the minister.

Edgar was educated at All Saints' Grammar School and Scotch College, Melbourne, where he matriculated in 1888. On leaving school he spent eighteen months on land survey work for the Victorian Railways, and several months as an engineering pupil draughtsman in the Melbourne water supply department of the Public Works Department. In 1890-98 he studied part time at the Working Men's College (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology), where he passed a two-year course in applied mechanics, design and construction, and qualified as a municipal surveyor and engineer of water supply.

Entering the service of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works in 1891 as an engineering draughtsman, Ritchie worked in the sewerage department and subsequently in the water supply department of which in 1908 he was appointed head as engineer of water supply, a position he held until his retirement in July 1936 when he entered into practice as a consulting civil engineer. On 30 September 1914 at Caulfield, Ritchie had married Bertha Clara Rees, lecturer in botany at the University of Melbourne. In 1920-29 he was temporarily engaged, for varying periods, on engineering work outside the M.M.B.W. at the request of both the Commonwealth and State governments, carrying out a series of assignments relating to the Waranga and Hume reservoirs, Eildon weir, the Sydney pressure tunnel and the water supply for the cities of Auckland, Brisbane, Hobart and Perth. In 1924 he spent about eight months travelling extensively overseas to study modern civil engineering developments.

While he was engineer of water supply, Ritchie was responsible for major engineering works associated with the construction and maintenance of the metropolitan water supply. This included the construction of the Maroondah, O'Shannassy and Silvan dams and their associated aqueducts, as well as twelve service reservoirs in the metropolitan area, together with their distribution mains. He also initiated extensive investigation of the areas for future sources of water supply, and established policies for maintaining unpolluted, forested water-catchments for the Melbourne and metropolitan area. He wrote about twenty papers, chiefly on water supply, which were published by the board and in various engineering journals.

Ritchie's personal characteristics of dignity, kindliness and ardent devotion to work earned for him total loyalty from his staff and the confidence of the commissioners of the board who gave his name to a mountain on the boundary of the O'Shannassy catchment. A member of the Institution of Civil Engineers (London) and foundation member of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, he was a councillor of the latter in 1929-31 and vice-chairman (1927-28) and chairman (1929) of the Melbourne division. He was an honorary member of the American Waterworks Association. The University of Melbourne in 1935 awarded Ritchie the Kernot memorial medal 'for distinguished engineering achievement in Australia', and in the same year he received a Silver Jubilee medal from King George V. In 1943 the Institution of Engineers, Australia, awarded him the Peter Nicol Russell memorial medal 'for a notable contribution to the science and practice of engineering in Australia'.

An ardent fly fisherman, Ritchie was a regular visitor to Tasmania and the headwaters of the Snowy River in search of trout. He was also a keen member of Yarra Yarra Golf Club. Throughout his life he was a loyal worshipper and for many years elder at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Caulfield. He died on 23 July 1956 at East St Kilda, and was cremated. His wife, son and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works, Annual Report, 1921-25
  • Institute of Engineers, Australia, Journal, 15, 1943, p 237, 28, 1956, p 243
  • Ritchie papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • comments by professional colleagues and MMBW correspondence, Aug 1975 (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

Marjorie Morgan, 'Ritchie, Edgar Gowar (1871–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ritchie-edgar-gowar-8215/text14375, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 17 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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