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David John McClelland (1873–1962)

by Geoffrey Serle

This article was published:

David John McClelland (1873-1962), engineer, was born on 31 March 1873 at Buninyong, Victoria, eldest child of Irish-born David Caldwell McClelland, goldminer and schoolteacher, and his Victorian-born wife Mary, née Magor. When 13 David won the open competition against adults for violin at the Ballarat (South Street) eisteddfod and played in a local orchestra. He was educated at Ballarat College, holding a state scholarship for three years, the Ballarat School of Mines and the University of Melbourne (B.C.E., 1896; M.C.E., 1898) where he was at Ormond College. He gained honours in second and third-year engineering and at his final examinations won second-class honours and shared the Argus scholarship. He later acquired qualifications as a surveyor and a municipal, mining and hydraulic engineer.

After completing his first degree McClelland worked as a surveyor on a Melbourne sewerage contract, with Mephan Ferguson as a design draughtsman, and as a mining and land surveyor in Western Australia. On returning in 1899 he spent six months with the Victorian Railways on line construction before being appointed engineer to Kerang Shire and eventually to eleven irrigation and water-supply trusts.

He began private practice in Melbourne about 1906 but soon took up contracting. His major construction work was the main western channel for the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission; he also built an irrigation canal in the Riverina, the Moorabool reservoir, a railway line in South Australia and reinforced concrete bridges.

In the 1920s, in partnership with the English firm Armstrong Whitworth, McClelland carried out the civil engineering work on the Sugarloaf-Rubicon hydro-electric power stations of the State Electricity Commission of Victoria, also hydro-electric works on the Shannon River, Tasmania, and the Clarence River, New South Wales. In 1932-41 he was an S.E.C. commissioner and in 1936 an able and amiable chairman of a royal commission to investigate the affairs of State Rivers. About this time he was also an active member of the Foreshore Erosion Board, and designed and installed a hydro-electric power plant for mining companies in the Wau-Bulolo area, New Guinea. In 1940-41 he was a member of a royal commission enquiring into the operations of the Tasmanian Hydro-Electric Commission. He was increasingly in demand as an arbitrator, advocate and technical witness in disputed engineering cases.

McClelland also developed business interests, being sometime chairman of directors of the Civil Engineering Construction Co. Pty Ltd, Cork Industries (Aus.) Pty Ltd which he conducted for some twenty-five years, Steelite Pty Ltd and Damman Asphalt (Vic.) Ltd, and managing director of Kingsville Quarries Pty Ltd.

He was a member of the faculty of engineering at the University of Melbourne and honorary lecturer and examiner in the economics of engineering. His published lectures, Civil Engineering Estimates and Contract Costs for Contractors or Engineers (Melbourne, 1931), became a standard text. McClelland was elected to full membership of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, in 1918 without having been an associate, and was a member of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, from its foundation and of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy, Australasia. He was a Freemason.

As consulting engineer to the Melbourne Cricket Club he supervised construction of new stands in the 1930s and 1950s and the regrading of the ground for the 1956 Olympic Games: in his later years he was honorary treasurer of the club. A shooter and footballer who played a season with Melbourne in his youth, he also followed racing and played bowls and golf.

McClelland's childless first marriage had ended in divorce. On 13 January 1923 he married Nellie Kathleen Fotheringham at South Melbourne. Survived by one son and four daughters, he died on 11 March 1962 at Windsor and was buried in Brighton cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £39,644.

His younger brother William Caldwell McClelland (1875-1957) was born at Buninyong and educated at Brighton Grammar School and the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1899; M.A., 1901; M.B., B.S., 1905). He was medical officer to the Brighton City Council for over forty years. A brilliant centre half back for the Melbourne Football Club and its captain in 1901-04, he became president of the Victorian Football League in 1926-55 and of the Melbourne Cricket Club in 1944-57. McClelland was appointed C.B.E. in 1955. He did not marry.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 3 (Melb, 1905)
  • K. Dunstan, The Paddock that Grew (Melb, 1962)
  • Age (Melbourne), 31 May 1957, 13 Mar 1962
  • Sun-News Pictorial (Melbourne), 2 Aug 1932, 10 Jan 1936, 13 Mar 1962
  • autobiographies (manuscripts, privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

Geoffrey Serle, 'McClelland, David John (1873–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


31 March, 1873
Buninyong, Victoria, Australia


11 March, 1962 (aged 88)
Windsor, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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