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John Baillie Henderson (1836–1921)

by H. J. Gibbney

This article was published:

John Baillie Henderson (1836-1921), by unknown photographer, 1910

John Baillie Henderson (1836-1921), by unknown photographer, 1910

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H14040

John Baillie Henderson (1836-1921), hydraulic engineer, was born in London, son of Hector Charles Henderson and his wife Mary Ann, née Norriss. Educated in Scotland as an engineer, he arrived in Victoria in 1861 and in September was appointed a temporary road overseer under the Board of Lands and Works. In 1863 he resigned and went to Gippsland where he married Elizabeth Child. He rejoined the public service in 1866 as an engineer and surveyor in the Water Supply Department. He served as executive engineer under Lieutenant-Colonel Sankey on the Coliban water scheme near Bendigo and was responsible for completing the Geelong water supply but in January 1878 he was suddenly discharged on Black Wednesday.

Henderson went to Queensland where on 10 April he became resident engineer of northern waterworks. Five years later he was appointed to the new office of government hydraulic engineer. Soon afterwards he became interested in Robert Logan Jack's theory of artesian water in Queensland. In 1885 he and Jack collaborated in an investigation and on their recommendation an American drilling plant started work at Blackall in December 1885. Meanwhile an improved plant operated by the Canadian, J. S. Loughead, on Thurulgoona station under contract to Simon Fraser had commenced work and it struck the first water in February 1887. Henderson then secured Loughead's services and the first government bore was completed at Barcaldine on 6 November.

Henderson's activities were not confined to drilling. He kept records of bore output and, when some diminution of supply was observed in 1891, he and Jack recommended government control of artesian waters. A bill to impose such control was rejected by the Legislative Council and was not finally passed until 1910. Henderson travelled thousands of miles all over Queensland and often visited other colonies to study new developments. He introduced the gauging of rivers, provided the first flood-warning system in Queensland and in 1904 was briefly responsible for Clement Wragge's weather bureau. Henderson produced no technical literature but was elected to numerous professional societies in Australia, Britain and America. He retired from office in December 1916 and died aged 85 in Brisbane on 15 February 1921, survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Fraser, The True Story of the Beginnning of the Artesian Water Supply of Australia (Melb, 1914)
  • Report on Artesian Water Supplies … in the Great Artesian Basin, Parliamentary Papers (Queensland), 1954-55, 2 (56)
  • 'John Baillie Henderson', Transactions of the American Society of Civil Engineers, vol 85, 1922, p 1686
  • Queenslander, 26 Feb 1921.

Citation details

H. J. Gibbney, 'Henderson, John Baillie (1836–1921)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

John Baillie Henderson (1836-1921), by unknown photographer, 1910

John Baillie Henderson (1836-1921), by unknown photographer, 1910

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H14040

Life Summary [details]


London, Middlesex, England


15 February, 1921 (aged ~ 85)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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