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Henry Coathupe Mais (1827–1916)

by Sally O'Neill

This article was published:

Henry Coathupe Mais (1827-1916), by Adelaide Photographic Co.

Henry Coathupe Mais (1827-1916), by Adelaide Photographic Co.

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6682

Henry Coathupe Mais (1827-1916), engineer, was born on 14 May 1827 at Westbury-on-Trym, near Bristol, England, son of Henry Mais, engineer, and his wife Amelia Jane, née Coathupe. Educated at Bishop's College, Bristol, he was articled for seven years to W. M. Peniston, one of I. K. Brunel's chief engineers, and worked on English railways. For some months at Birmingham he made steam engines, superintended the building of locomotives at Swindon and in 1850 worked on the Hull docks.

In December Mais arrived in Sydney with machinery for a foundry and engineering works but found conditions too unsettled and joined the Sydney Railway Co. as acting engineer. He resigned in March 1852 and among other work supervised the building of a steam sawmill at Brisbane Water. He returned to Sydney and in 1855 joined the City Commissioners' Department as assistant engineer on the water and sewerage works. Later that year a select committee into the department's handling of the sewerage works accused him with other city engineers of 'negligence, ignorance or corruption'. Though his dismissal was recommended, the city commissioners strongly opposed the committee and protected him. After government pressure Mais resigned in May 1856 but for five months was given a temporary post in the railways and then practised privately. In January 1857 another select committee accused him of 'gross misconduct' and inexcusable errors while working on the sewerage project.

Mais went to Victoria and in 1859-61 worked for Cornish & Bruce, with charge of the Gisborne, Black Forest and Woodend section of the Sandhurst-Melbourne line. As engineer and general manager of the Melbourne Railway Co. for three years, he won praise as a 'first class man in every sense of the word'. In December 1863 the Colonial Bank of Australia awarded him £25 for his conduct of the Melbourne railway during the floods. When the suburban railways were taken over by the government in 1866 he joined the Water Supply Department.

With high professional and personal references Mais applied on 19 February 1867 for the post of engineer and architect to the South Australian government. After interviews he was offered £750 as engineer-in-chief and appointed on 27 March. His post included the general managership of railways and charge of all public works except buildings, but his duties were eased by the appointments of an engineer of harbours and jetties in March 1876 and a hydraulic engineer in April 1878. In the late 1870s he was well known in Adelaide as a 'splendid host'; at his home in Rundle Street, Kent Town, he gave musical evenings with dances to follow and lavish suppers. On 30 September 1882 his wife Jane Amelia, née Weaver, died in Adelaide aged 49. Soon afterwards he toured railways and other works in Europe and America. His lengthy report with many detailed illustrations was printed in 1884 as a parliamentary paper.

In 1887 Mais became involved with the private Silverton Tramway Co. over building a connexion from the Barrier Ranges to the transcontinental railway in South Australia. In parliament he was accused of accepting private work and using government draftsmen to prepare plans for the company; Mais conceded that he had acted in an unusual manner but contended that the circumstances were exceptional and would greatly benefit the colony. However, his resignation was accepted and six-months' leave granted in March 1888 only after he agreed to pay his fees from the Silverton Tramway Co. into the treasury.

Mais left Adelaide and went into private practice as a consulting engineer in Melbourne. As an arbitrator he acted in important disputes between railway contractors and the governments of Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania. For sixteen years he was chairman of the Victorian Advisory Committee of the Institution of Civil Engineers. He was a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, of the Society of Engineers, London, and the American Society of Civil Engineers. He was a Freemason. He retired in 1912 and on 25 February 1916 died at his home in South Yarra, survived by three sons and two daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, New South Wales), 1855, 3, 475
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1856-57, 3, 182, 220
  • Votes and Proceedings (House of Assembly, South Australia), 1868-69 (45), 1883-84 (27, 230), 1887 (82), 1888 (65)
  • Votes and Proceedings (House of Assembly, Tasmania), 1889 (94)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1896, 3 (19)
  • Parliamentary Debates (South Australia), 1868, 1887
  • Register (Adelaide), 17 Nov 1887, 15 Mar 1888, 1 Mar 1916
  • Argus (Melbourne), 28 Feb 1916
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 1 Mar 1916
  • research note, 158 (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Sally O'Neill, 'Mais, Henry Coathupe (1827–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 16 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Henry Coathupe Mais (1827-1916), by Adelaide Photographic Co.

Henry Coathupe Mais (1827-1916), by Adelaide Photographic Co.

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6682

Life Summary [details]


14 May, 1827
Westbury-on-Trym, Gloucestershire, England


25 February, 1916 (aged 88)
South Yarra, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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