Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Thomas Hill (1867–1944)

by Ronald McNicoll

This article was published:

Thomas Hill (1867-1944), engineer, was born on 6 June 1867 at Wednesbury, Staffordshire, England, son of James Hill, bricklayer, and his wife Hannah, née Hawkins. Educated at the Grammar School, Walsall, he went to the United States of America at 16 before migrating to Victoria in February 1886. He became a cadet with Thomas Fender, district surveyor at Geelong, then worked at Collingwood and in the Croajingalong district. From about 1890 he was employed by the Department of Victorian Water Supply. He obtained a surveyor's certificate in 1894. In January 1896 he joined the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works as a draughtsman; he was promoted to surveyor's assistant next year and engineering assistant in 1898. On 15 April 1897 at Albert Park he married Annie Mabel Thompson with Anglican rites.

In 1902 Hill joined the newly formed Commonwealth Department of Home Affairs as a draughtsman in the public works branch, Victoria. Quickly promoted, he became works director for Victoria in 1908 and in 1914 engineer in the central administration. His activities extended to the projected Federal capital at Canberra—a site of which he personally disapproved, preferring Albury. He was on the board which reported on the 'premiated' designs for the city and was concerned with the earliest engineering works, including the Cotter dam which he later claimed to have designed. Although closely questioned in 1916 and 1917 by the commission investigating Walter Burley Griffin's complaints of obstruction in the implementation of his plan for Canberra, Hill himself was not criticized. He became chief engineer of the department (now Works and Railways) in 1923 and visited the United States and England in 1927 to report on road construction and maintenance before the Federal Aid Roads Act (1931) was framed. In 1929 he was made director-general of works in Canberra. He returned to his family in Melbourne in September 1931 for furlough before his official retirement in June 1932.

From February 1918 Hill was deputy commissioner under the River Murray Waters Act (1915). An excellent chairman, he presided over meetings which approved the Hume and Lake Victoria reservoirs and the locks and weirs which made 600 miles (966 km) of the River Murray navigable, as well as the Euston, Torrumbarry and Yarrawonga weirs, and the important barrages at the Murray mouth. His last concern was the project to enlarge the Hume reservoir to two million acre feet (2,466,964 megalitres), and on his deathbed he tried to ensure that his successor should be someone not opposed to the scheme.

Hill was a member from 1896 and a past president of the Victorian Institute of Surveyors and a life member of the Victorian Institute of Engineers, having joined in 1897 and held the presidency in 1925-26. His membership of the Victorian branch of the Institute of Municipal Engineers entitled him in 1926 to associate membership of the Institution of Engineers, Australia; he became a member in 1930. He was appointed O.B.E. in 1928. A sound administrator, Hill is remembered as being friendly but discreet, tall, well built and strong even in his declining years, with a good head for whisky. He died on 12 May 1944 in Melbourne, and was cremated. His wife had died the previous year; his three sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • State Rivers and Water Supply Commission, Pioneers of Victorian Irrigation, J. N. Churchyard compiler (Melb, 1958)
  • Reports, River Murray Commission, Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth, and Victoria), 1917-18 to 1944-45
  • Argus (Melbourne), 12 Aug 1927, 5 Sept 1931, 15 May 1944
  • Age (Melbourne), 15 May 1944
  • private information.

Citation details

Ronald McNicoll, 'Hill, Thomas (1867–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


6 June, 1867
Wednesbury, Staffordshire, England


12 May, 1944 (aged 76)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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