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.

Sir John Coode (1816–1892)

by D. R. Crawford

This article was published:

View Previous Version

Sir John Coode (1816-1892), civil engineer, was born on 11 November 1816 at Bodmin, Cornwall, England, son of Charles Coode, solicitor, and his wife Anne, née Bennett. He was educated at Bodmin Grammar School and studied civil engineering under James Rendel (1799-1856) of Plymouth.

Coode's achievements justify the claim that he was probably the most distinguished harbour engineer of the nineteenth century. He was in charge of the Portland Harbour works in 1856-72 and made many reports on English harbours and rivers. The most famous colonial works for which he was responsible are the harbours of Table Bay and Colombo. In 1849 he was elected a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers and was president from May 1889 to May 1891. He was knighted in 1872 and appointed K.C.M.G. in 1886. He served on the International Commission of the Suez Canal in 1884-92. He was also an active member of the Royal Colonial Institute and chairman of the Colonial and Continental Church Society.

Coode first visited Australia in 1878, when he was brought out by the Melbourne Harbor Trust to report on works for improving the port. Large ocean-going ships had been prevented from approaching the city by the narrow and winding Yarra River and the inadequacy of the port facilities. Coode recommended improvement of the existing channel in preference to the direct canal advocated by many local authorities. The river was to be widened, deepened and made into a smooth curve by means of a canal through Fishermen's Bend. To accommodate the increasing port traffic he recommended the construction of docks. His plans were faulty in detail but his proposed river improvement and location of dock sites provided a satisfactory basis on which the modern port of Melbourne has been developed. Coode was then retained by the government to report on other harbours. At Portland his recommendation to build a breakwater of 3450 feet (1052 m) protecting several short shipping piers was considered too expensive and elaborate, and only a small, ineffective 'Fisherman's Breakwater' was constructed. A breakwater similar to Coode's proposal was finally built in 1960. At Geelong a bar running across the harbour mouth prevented large ships from entering: Coode's recommendation of 1879 of a direct channel cut through the bar was adopted by the government. His recommendations for Warrnambool and Port Fairy were also carried out. His Lakes Entrance plan brought Gippsland into direct communication with the sea by construction of a channel through the sand dunes between the lakes and the ocean. This work was completed in June 1889. In South Australia Coode reported on navigation of the Murray River mouth.

In 1885 Coode revisited Australia and examined harbours and river mouths from Fremantle round the southern and eastern coasts to the Gulf of Carpentaria. He reported from London in 1887-88 to the New South Wales government on the Clarence River, where he recommended the building of two moles or piers to act as breakwaters and training banks and the removal of the rocky reef across the entrance to provide a fixed navigable entrance and reduce damage from floods and tides. At Richmond River he recommended breakwaters and training banks to neutralize the shifting character of the river entrance. These two reports were put into effect and helped to develop the trade of rich agricultural hinterlands. At Lake Macquarie, to give better access to the collieries, Coode recommended improvement of the channel connecting the lake to the sea. In his Macleay River report he recommended two breakwaters and training banks to regulate the river entrance.

In 1887 Coode made two reports for the Queensland government; both were carried out. At Mackay he recommended extensive training banks and the dredging of a continuous deepwater channel from the entrance of the Pioneer River up to the town. For the port of Townsville he proposed breakwaters and dredging operations. In the same year Coode made two reports for Western Australia. He chose a site for Fremantle Harbour and reported on harbour works, but the plan was rejected.  He had, however, impressed Western Australian officials sufficiently for the main street of South Perth and another in East Fremantle to be named after him.  At Geraldton he recommended a jetty with railways and warehouses to increase accommodation for loading and discharging ships. In South Australia, after personal inspection, he recommended an outer harbour for Port Adelaide.

Coode died at Brighton, England, on 2 March 1892. In 1842 he had married Jane Price and his son John followed his father by becoming a civil engineer. A portrait is at the Institution of Civil Engineers, London.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Hoare, Jubilee History of the Melbourne Harbor Trust (Melb, 1927)
  • C. Daley, The Story of Gippsland (Melb, 1960)
  • N. Learmonth, The Story of a Port — Portland, Victoria (Portland, 1960)
  • Votes and Proceedings (South Australia), 1877 (158), 1886 (119)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, Western Australia), 1878 (26)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1885-86, 2, 313
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1887-88, 3, 895, 905
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1887, 4, 17, 31
  • 1888, 3, 685
  • 1889, 3, 839
  • J. Coode, Presidential Address, Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers (London), vol 99, 1890, pp 1-40
  • Age (Melbourne), 5, 7 Mar 1878, 4 Mar 1892
  • 'Obituary: Sir John Coode', Times (London), 3 Mar 1892, p 7
  • Argus (Melbourne), 4 Mar 1892
  • Leader (Melbourne), 12 Mar 1892
  • Illustrated Australian News, 1 Apr 1892.

Citation details

D. R. Crawford, 'Coode, Sir John (1816–1892)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 22 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

John Coode, 1892

John Coode, 1892

State Library of Victoria, IAN01/04/92/9

Life Summary [details]


11 November, 1816
Bodmin, Cornwall, England


2 March, 1892 (aged 75)
Brighton, Sussex, England

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.