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.

Wilfred Noyce Kernot (1868–1945)

by S. Murray-Smith

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Maurice Edwin Kernot

Wilfred Noyce Kernot (1868-1945) and Maurice Edwin Kernot (1852-1934), engineers, were the fifth and second sons of Charles Kernot and his wife Mary Wright, née Archer. Charles Kernot had a fine home workshop and many of his descendants became prominent in the engineering profession, notably his eldest son William Charles, foundation professor of engineering at the University of Melbourne.

Wilfred was born on 18 July 1868 at Newtown, Geelong, Victoria, and attended the Flinders School. He matriculated at the university in 1885, and graduated B.C.E. in 1894 (M.Mech.Eng., 1918), meanwhile being appointed in 1891 as a lecturer in applied mechanics at the Working Men's College, Melbourne (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology). On the establishment of the important day-diploma courses in 1898 Kernot became head of the college's engineering department, a position he retained with distinction; in 1901 he was one of the two highest-paid members of staff, on £380 a year.

In 1904-05 Kernot travelled to the United States of America and to Europe, investigating high-voltage transmission and engineering education. From about 1909 conditions at the Working Men's College became increasingly unpleasant, with internecine strife and attacks on the administration from the reinforced 'business' element on the college's council, and in 1911 Kernot resigned to join the staff of the engineering school at the university, where he had for some time been undertaking responsible part-time work. His departure from the Working Men's College was regretted in technical education circles.

Kernot became associate professor in engineering in 1923, and from 1932 to 1936 was professor, in succession to Henry Payne. Kernot's appointment to the chair came just fifty years after his brother's appointment to the same position.

At the university Kernot specialized in the teaching of graphics and engineering design, with a reputation as an able teacher and administrator. His lecture on 'Mechanical Paradoxes', employing ingenious home-made devices, is still remembered, as is his nick-name 'Crunch', from his mannerism of muttering and grinding his teeth. He had strong extramural interests. He was a director of the New Australian Electric Co., of which his brother William had been chairman from its foundation in 1882 until 1900, and where he was known as the 'trouble man'; with A. G. Thomas he won a competition for the design of a swing-bridge over the Yarra at Spencer Street, and he designed several other bridges and irrigation works; he was employed as a consultant by such instrumentalities as the Metropolitan Gas Co., the Defence Department, the Commonwealth Public Works Department and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. Kernot was recognized as an expert on patents, electric tramways and power generation, but worked widely over the fields of mechanical, civil and electrical engineering. Professor Charles Moorhouse, one of his students, has called him 'one of the last of the general engineers'.

Kernot was also active in the organization of the engineering profession, and was president of the Institution of Electrical Engineers of Australia (Melbourne) in 1917, as well as acting federal president; president of the Working Men's College (1920); and was administratively associated with C.S.I.R., the Royal Society of Victoria, the Institution of Civil Engineers (London) and Caulfield Technical School. At the university he was dean of the faculties of engineering and architecture.

After retirement Wilfred Kernot acted as examiner to Melbourne technical colleges and spent much time in his well-equipped home workshop at Malvern, where his interest in clocks led to his constructing gearing for time signals from the Melbourne Observatory. His personality was regarded as humorous, patient, kindly and jovial. He died, unmarried, of coronary vascular disease on 17 May 1945 and was cremated, leaving the considerable fortune of £71,943, spread over a number of careful investments.

Maurice Edwin Kernot was born on 10 June 1852 at Geelong and educated at the Gheringhap Street State School and the High Church School, of which he was dux.

Matriculating in 1869, he did not complete his engineering course at the university but worked 'on the job' with the Water Supply Department, the Mines Department, and from 1874 the Railways Department. Kernot married Caroline Grace Home in 1880. He achieved some distinction in his career as a railway engineer, being 'the first to apply the principles of technical analysis to railway location in Victoria', and achieved large savings through his administration of the 'butty gang' or 'direct labor' system, which replaced the letting of large contracts in the 1890s. While he was engineer-in-chief of the Victorian Railways from 1907 to 1923, over 1000 miles (1609 km) of railways were built.

In 1914 Maurice Kernot investigated railway practice in Europe and America and he was active, especially after retirement, in the affairs of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, being awarded its Peter Nicol Russell medal in 1933; he was also awarded the Kernot memorial medal in 1928.

Kernot was an active member of the Presbyterian Church, a methodical man with a sense of humour and simple tastes. He died on 13 January 1934 and was cremated. He was survived by his wife, a daughter and a son Charles Home Kernot (1885-1958), who became chief engineer of the State Electricity Commission of Victoria.

Another brother, Frederick Archer Kernot (1854-1920), dentist, actively aided the transition of dentistry from a trade to a profession, served on the Dental Board of Victoria and the council of the Australian College of Dentistry, and took some part in the establishment of the original Dental Hospital in Melbourne. He was also a well-known amateur photographer.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • Scientific Australia, 20 Mar 1906
  • Institute of Engineers, Australia, Journal, 8, 1936, p 277
  • Punch (Melbourne), 25 Apr 1918
  • Argus (Melbourne), 18 May 1945
  • letter from H. Payne, 21 June 1923, Monash papers (National Library of Australia)
  • W. N. Kernot papers (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

S. Murray-Smith, 'Kernot, Wilfred Noyce (1868–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 29 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

Wilfred Kernot, n.d.

Wilfred Kernot, n.d.

University of Melbourne Archives, UMA/I/1252

Life Summary [details]


18 July, 1868
Geelong, Victoria, Australia


17 May, 1945 (aged 76)

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.