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Ben Hay Martindale (1824–1904)

by G. J. Abbott

This article was published:

Ben Hay Martindale (1824-1904), engineer and public servant, was born on 1 October 1824 in London, son of Benjamin Martindale, of Martindale, Westmorland. Educated at Rugby and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, he was commissioned second lieutenant in the Royal Engineers in June 1843. After a year at Chatham he was posted to Woolwich. Service at Gibraltar, Corfu and Dover followed and in September 1856 as a captain he joined the staff of the inspector-general of fortifications, London.

Martindale refused the offer of the New South Wales Executive Council to superintend the building and running of the colony's railways but reconsidered his decision at the request of Governor Denison and arrived at Sydney in July 1857 as chief commissioner of railways. He had also been appointed superintendent of the electric telegraph and commissioner of roads. After the Government Railway Act in December 1858 he became commissioner of railways. Early in 1859 his title was changed to commissioner of internal communications but in October the Department of Lands and Works was separated into two parts and he became under-secretary for public works and commissioner of railways, losing some of his independent powers as he came under direct control of the parliamentary secretary of public works.

In three years Martindale had served under six ministries and carried much responsibility yet he was blamed in the press and parliament for any inadequacies in roads or railway services. These attacks might have been parried by pointing to the paltry sums approved by parliament for public works but he generally adopted an unconciliatory stand. A select committee into railway construction had vindicated him in 1859 but some parliamentarians still harassed him. Convinced that he could not efficiently fulfil his duties without the 'proper respect' of the assembly, he resigned in November 1860 and sailed for England. Deputations from parliament and the Public Works Department presented him with tokens of their esteem. One testimonial summed up his contribution: 'On your arrival in the colony railway communication was in a crude and unformed condition; under your administration … it has assumed a distinct and firmly established character. Electric telegraphs … have extended throughout the length and breadth of the land, affording facilities of intercourse and conducing to the public prosperity'.

A far-sighted and capable administrator, Martindale aimed at providing indispensable communications on a rational basis, unlike the politicians who saw roads and railways only in terms of votes and thereby brought his New South Wales career to an abrupt conclusion. In England he was appointed deputy inspector-general of fortifications. In 1862 he became director of the Barrack Department and later served on committees for army sanitation and military allowances. His rapid promotion and appointment of C.B. in 1871 show how highly the army esteemed him. As a colonel he resigned in June 1873 to become general manager of the London and St Katherine Docks Co.; he was made a director in 1889. Predeceased in 1902 by his wife Mary Elizabeth, née Knocker, he died on 26 May 1904 at Weston Lodge, Albury, Surrey. He was survived by at least two sons.

Select Bibliography

  • New South Wales Railway and Tramway Magazine, 1 Dec 1920
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Jan 1861
  • ‘Obituary’, Times (London), 28 May 1904, p 8
  • private information.

Citation details

G. J. Abbott, 'Martindale, Ben Hay (1824–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 14 April 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

Life Summary [details]


1 October, 1824
London, Middlesex, England


26 May, 1904 (aged 79)
Albury, Surrey, England

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