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Alfred Mault (1829–1902)

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Alfred Mault (1829-1902), engineer and civil servant, was born in the East Indies. Exceptionally well educated, he became a competent linguist and acquired some knowledge of public health, arts and mathematics. As a civil engineer he helped to build part of the Glasgow and south-west railway near Kilmarnock, the Neilston and Barrhead branch and the Caledonian railway near Rutherglen. For some time he lived at Coventry, designing and building water-works, and wrote a textbook for Macmillans on Natural Geometry (London, 1877). He then moved to France and as chief engineer designed and built railways for the Compagnie Anglaise which also held the concession for the sewerage of Paris.

With high testimonials Mault applied to the Tasmanian government for engineering work in November 1882 and was appointed to undertake the 'parliamentary' survey for the Derwent Valley railway, the route of which had been a subject of local acrimony since 1880. He arrived in 1883 and soon made a satisfactory survey. In November he was appointed to undertake the engineering survey and in December to superintend the works. In 1886 a royal commission on railways and public works criticized his quantity surveys 'as inefficiently performed'; despite his zest for economy some piers and abutments had to be rebuilt. In July Mault was appointed to the Central Board of Health as engineering inspector at a salary of £350. He soon condemned the sanitation of Hobart and submitted two plans, one for open drainage to cost £20,000 with annual maintenance of £16,300, the other for closed underground drainage to cost £60,000 with maintenance of £7000. He then made plans on the sanitation of Launceston. In 1889 he planned water supplies for several northern towns and sanitation for New Norfolk.

In December 1890 Mault heard that the seventh International Congress of Hygiene and Demography was to be held in London in August 1891, and recommended Tasmania be represented. The premier was not impressed but when he learnt of Mault's 'eminent service with English and Parisian Drainage Works' he submitted Mault's name to the agent-general who passed it on to the organizing committee of the congress. On 23 March 1891 Mault was invited to attend the congress and as a vice-president in the engineering section to send a copy of his paper. Meanwhile he had gone to the mining areas of Strahan and Mount Zeehan. On his return he accepted the invitation on 16 May and submitted his report, 'Sanitation of a mining settlement, Mount Zeehan'. The government agreed to give him leave and £300 under the Public Health Act. He left Hobart on 27 June and in Melbourne and Adelaide talked to officers of the boards of health and public works. He arrived in London on 3 August and returned in June 1892, with many papers on the congress and the latest developments in Europe.

From July 1886 Mault had acted as secretary to the Central Board of Health without salary but with one clerk. Among other things he had to report on outbreaks of smallpox, diphtheria and even one case of leprosy. In April 1888 his salary as engineering inspector was reduced to £300. On 6 October 1891 he asked for more pay, submitting that much of his work was unpleasant, that local boards absorbed most of his time and that he was paid at the same rate as second clerks in other departments. The government replied that the financial position and his unofficial duties justified the reduction; later his salary was raised to £325. At the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science Congress at Hobart in 1892 he lectured on 'Sewage of a Seaside Town' to the section on sanitary science and hygiene, at the 1893 congress in Adelaide as president of the section he lectured on 'Urban Sanitation' and at the 1902 congress served as secretary to the section.

Mault had been elected a member of the Royal Society of Tasmania on 8 September 1884 and his first paper, read on 13 October, described his careful observations of the Derwent River. He presented papers on 'Natural Geometry' and Hobart's drainage in 1886, and in 1889 Hobart's tides, 'Detention of Flinders at Mauritius' and 'Notes on Charts of the coast of Tasmania', copied from the Hydrographical Department in Paris. His later papers ranged from Tasman's charts, which he had copied at the British Museum in 1892, to Antarctic exploration and practical forestry. He was elected to the society's council in 1901. He died of cancer at his home in Holebrook Place, Hobart, on 16 November 1902 and his funeral service at All Saints Church was well attended, the chief secretary ordering by telegraph from Launceston a handsome wreath.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (House of Assembly, Tasmania), 1886 (64, 139), 1887 (136), 1889 (83, 114, 130, 137), 1891 (54, 86a)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 17 Nov 1902
  • CSD 16/29/491, 19/10/75, 22/26/182.

Citation details

'Mault, Alfred (1829–1902)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 24 May 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

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