Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Joseph Brady (1828–1908)

by C. F. Kerr

This article was published:

Joseph Brady (1828-1908), civil engineer, was born on 18 August 1828 near Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Ireland. Under his father in 1842-44 he served on the Title Commutation Survey in England and became proficient in field surveying and draftsmanship. He was then employed as an assistant engineer with Charles B. Vignoles, a past president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, on railway surveys in Kent and Lincolnshire and on the construction of the Skipton, Sedbergh and Lancaster railway. Soon after this was opened in 1850 Bradley migrated in the Argyle to Sydney, where he became a draftsman with the newly-established Sydney Railway Co.

In January 1851 Brady resigned to carry out surveys and prepare drawings for the Yan Yean water scheme for Melbourne under James Blackburn, the city surveyor. When the work was finished he applied successfully for appointment as assistant engineer with the Sydney Railway Co. on 24 July 1851. He carried out surveys and construction works on the company's railway between Sydney and Parramatta, and had special charge of the surveys and later the construction of the railway from Sydney to the iron-mines at Mittagong Range, near Goulburn. For some time he also acted as chief engineer to the company while carrying out his other duties. Soon after a new chief was appointed, he resigned in 1857 and returned to Victoria.

In 1858-63 he was engineer to the Sandhurst (Bendigo) waterworks, where he designed and constructed the original town reservoir and reticulation. He then became engineer to Cornish & Bruce, contractors for the Melbourne to Sandhurst railway, and took charge of the section between Woodend and Castlemaine, the heaviest works on the line. While employed there Brady won the Victorian government's premium of £500 for the best scheme for a water supply to the Bendigo and Mount Alexander goldfields, and he was appointed to survey and design this system now known as the Coliban River water supply.

Brady next visited Queensland, intending to contract for railway construction; instead he contracted to improve navigation on the Brisbane and Bremer Rivers between Brisbane and Ipswich, a task involving much submarine blasting. When this contract was partly completed the Victorian government recommended him as engineer to the Brisbane Board of Water Works. He accepted the position and his river contract was terminated by agreement, with Brady receiving half the contract amount. Although the Queensland Government Gazette records only his appointment as engineer of harbours and rivers on 21 January 1865, other sources indicate that he served as engineer to the Board of Water Works, successfully undertaking the Enoggera Water Works, and the design and supervision of construction of the reservoir, gravitational works and reticulation for the city of Brisbane in 1865-67. At the same time he reported on the Bremer River railway bridge and the unsatisfactory progress of the contractor for the Brisbane-Dalby railway. Clearly the Queensland government used this versatile engineer in many capacities.

On 3 August 1867 Brady accepted a government offer to manage the Brisbane-Dalby railway construction, under the direction of the chief engineer, at a salary of £600 with a monthly bonus of £25 if the work cost no more than the original contract. Brady not only earned the bonus but was also given a testimonial and handsome presents by the mayor and citizens of Dalby. An inscribed silver claret jug was, a century later, in the possession of a grandson in Adelaide.

He returned to Victoria in 1869 and took charge for O'Grady, Legatt & Noonan, contractors to the Victorian Railways, for building the first section of the new north-eastern line from Melbourne to Seymour, including the heavy bridge over the Goulburn River. In 1871 Brady was again engineer to the Bendigo waterworks, where he constructed an additional reservoir, large settling ponds and extensions to the town reticulation. Soon after these works were completed in 1873 a government department took over country water supplies and Brady was appointed engineer for the Bendigo district of the Goulburn River Water Supply, under the department's chief engineer, George Gordon.

In 1877 Brady applied successfully for appointment as engineer to the new Melbourne Harbor Trust. He had already left his mark on many civil engineering works of importance, and in this office he gave outstanding service to the commissioners and the colony of Victoria. Not only did he carry out the basic development of the Port of Melbourne but his force of character, experience and sound judgment enabled him to provide convincing argument against very powerful opposition in favour of the developmental scheme provided by the trust's consultants, Sir John Coode & Son. While in no way detracting from the major virtues of the consultants' scheme, Brady's changes saved much expenditure at a time when finance for the new port was difficult, reduced the time of construction by several years at a time when harbour accommodation was inadequate and, what proved of greatest value, made the port structures more readily adaptable to changing shipping patterns, so that eighty years later modern ships are accommodated at what are still basically his original structures. The changes that had these marked effects were the building of Victoria Dock as one large dock instead of as three small ones and the substitution of durable Australian hardwood for masonry construction. In the fourteen years that Brady served the trust he was responsible for the spending of some £3,500,000 on works of the port, about half of which was on the Coode development. When he resigned in 1891 the Harbor Trust Commission gave him £1500 for valuable service. He engaged in private practice as a consultant and arbitrator until 1894 when he retired from professional pursuits.

Brady had been elected an associate member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, on 7 December 1875 and became a full member on 3 December 1878. His papers on 'Geelong and Sandhurst Water Supplies' (1878-79) and 'Early railway construction in New South Wales' (1904-05) were published in the institution's Proceedings. He died on 8 July 1908 at his home, Allowah, Staniland Grove, Elsternwick.

At St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, on 14 February 1854 Brady married Adelaide Sarah, a daughter of Henry Keck governor of Darlinghurst gaol. Of their seven surviving children, the eldest son, Lyndon Francis, was a pioneer in the Western Australia timber business and an early manager of Millar Karri and Jarrah Co.; the only daughter to marry was Georgina whose husband, Edward Wardell, was master of the Melbourne Mint.

Select Bibliography

  • 'Obituary: Joseph Brady', Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers (London), vol 174, 1908, pp 374-76
  • Argus (Melbourne), 15 Mar 1889, 10 July 1908
  • Melbourne Harbor Trust Commission records (Melbourne Harbor Trust)
  • Sydney Railway Co. records (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Victorian State Rivers and Water Commission records (Orrong Rd, Armadale, Melbourne)
  • Victorian Railways, contract papers (Public Record Office Victoria)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

C. F. Kerr, 'Brady, Joseph (1828–1908)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 August, 1828
Enniskillen, Fermanagh, Ireland


8 July, 1908 (aged 79)
Elsternwick, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.