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Wade, Leslie Augustus Burton (1864–1915)

by C. J. Lloyd

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Leslie Augustus Burton Wade (1864-1915), civil engineer, was born on 20 June 1864 at Singleton, New South Wales, son of English-born William Burton Wade, civil engineer, and his native-born wife Anne McBean, née Duguid. (Sir) Charles Gregory and (Sir) Robert Blakeway were his brothers. Leslie was educated at All Saints College, Bathurst, and at The King's School, Parramatta. Joining the Department of Public Works on 1 July 1880 as a cadet, he was articled to W. C. Bennett and trained as a surveyor in the field with John Cardew, working on Sydney's ocean outfall sewerage scheme.

An outstanding athlete, Wade played Rugby Union football for New South Wales against Queensland (1883, 1888) and Britain (1888). In February 1890 he joined the recently formed water conservation branch of the Department of Mines and Agriculture as assistant engineer under Hugh McKinney, remaining with the branch when it was transferred to the works department in May 1892. He was directly involved in the planning and construction of major public works, including the Lachlan River storage, and the Cataract Dam for Sydney's water supply. On 29 December 1896 at St John's Anglican Church, Parramatta, Wade married Ethel Constance, daughter of Charles Lloyd.

Promoted principal engineer of the water supply and sewerage branch in March 1901, Wade visited the United States of America in December 1903 to investigate the most suitable and economical type of dam for a proposed reservoir on the Murrumbidgee River. As principal engineer for rivers, water supply and drainage from July 1904 (chief engineer, 1906), he urged the State government to build the Burrinjuck Dam. He was closely associated with its construction and supervised the planning of the diversion canals which channelled water to the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, carved out of the arid plains north-west of Narrandera.

In 1908 Wade's health collapsed from the cumulative strain of overwork; taking leave, he investigated engineering practices in Europe. Soon after returning to duty in April 1909, he was made chief engineer for irrigation and drainage; when the branch was divided in August 1911 he became chief engineer for irrigation. He was also executive officer and secretary of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Trust from January 1911. On 1 January 1913 he was appointed commissioner for water conservation and irrigation with a staff of 250 and responsibility for all irrigation programmes in the State. Wade directed the settlement and development of the M.I.A., exercising the powers of a virtual pro-consul from his headquarters at Leeton. His administrative style blended authoritarianism with paternalism, though he claimed that he tried to see things from the perspective of the battling settler. He was loath to delegate responsibility and his administration was marred by friction with his subordinates, while his skills in land settlement and social planning were also criticized. Because duties took him to Sydney, he was often absent from the M.I.A. Despite his shortcomings, he brought dedication and energy to the task of establishing a sound basis for a venture into irrigated land settlement.

Survived by his wife and four daughters, Wade died at his Double Bay home on 12 January 1915 of coronary heart disease and was buried in Waverley cemetery. News of his sudden death was received in the M.I.A. with the dismay and reverence that usually attend the passing of the great. Wade Shire was designated in his honour.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • C. J. Lloyd, Either Drought or Plenty (Syd, 1988)
  • Irrigation Record, 1 Feb 1915
  • British Australasian, 11 Mar 1915
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13, 14 Jan 1915
  • Town and Country Journal, 20 Jan 1915.

Citation details

C. J. Lloyd, 'Wade, Leslie Augustus Burton (1864–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wade-leslie-augustus-burton-8940/text15711, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 28 May 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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