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Ebenezer Shaw (1865–1943)

by Ronald McNicoll

This article was published:

Ebenezer Shaw (1865-1943), engineer and public servant, was born on 2 August 1865 at Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, son of Ebenezer Shaw, storekeeper, and his wife Elizabeth, née Maundrell, both English born. He was educated at Scotch College, Melbourne, where he was in the same post-matriculation class as (Sir) John Monash. In 1882 he enrolled at the University of Melbourne for the certificate of civil engineering, which he gained in 1886. Then came a period of tutelage as an engineering assistant under J. D. Derry who was designing water supply works for the government. On 2 June 1887 at Hawthorn Shaw married Edith Anne Delbridge.

In 1888 Shaw joined his brother-in-law G. H. Dunlop as an engineering contractor. Most of the young partners' work during the following six years was for the Railway Department, chiefly bridges and waterworks, the most significant being the Flinders Street (Melbourne) railway viaduct. Works for other authorities included the large gas-holder at Tooronga, and the drainage of portion of the Koo-Wee-Rup swamp using dragline scoops, then a novelty.

The firm went out of business in 1894, the worst depression year, although neither partner became insolvent. Shaw and his family moved to Queensland, where for four years he was resident engineer for Gladstone Meat Works Ltd, erecting and fitting out the meat-treatment, freezing and shipping works at Port Curtis.

In 1899 Shaw returned to Victoria, where he gained temporary employment as a draughtsman in the Department of Mines and Water Supply erecting and fitting out schools of mines and laboratories. In 1902, still temporarily employed, he was moved to the water supply side, where his work included investigating the operations of the Western Wimmera Irrigation and Water Supply Trust. Observing at close quarters the effects of the severe drought culminating in 1902, when nearly all the stock in the region had to be moved to the Western District or to Gippsland, Shaw recognized that a recurrence of the calamity could be averted only by a large increase in water storage.

On the formation of the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission in 1906 Shaw was appointed a supervising engineer, responsible for what was to become the Wimmera-Mallee domestic and stock supply system, then covering 3300 sq. miles (8550 km²). He retained the appointment until 1915, by when the area served had increased to 8000 sq. miles (20,720 km²).

In 1915 Shaw was appointed a commissioner. In 1917 he was admitted, as member, to the Institution of Civil Engineers, London. As commissioner Shaw continued to take a special interest in the Wimmera-Mallee region. During his time the capacity of the storages was trebled, the area served increased to 11,000 sq. miles (28,490 km²), and the length of the channels increased from 1300 (2092 km) to 10,000 miles (16,093 km). Forty towns were supplied with water. By 1932 the Wimmera-Mallee system was the largest of its type in the world.

Shaw also developed the Mornington Peninsula water supply, originally devised to serve the Flinders Naval Base. He chose the site for the Glenmaggie weir on the Macalister River as a source for the future Maffra-Sale irrigation district. It was he who won the battle to build a strong enough foundation for the Hume weir to make possible the subsequent raising of the crest which increased the storage from 1.25 million (1,542,000 megalitres) to 2 million acre feet (2,467,000 megalitres).

Ebenezer Shaw retired from the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission in 1932. He died on 13 October 1943 at Camberwell, and was buried in Burwood cemetery with Congregational forms. His four sons and a daughter survived him. A tall, lean man, he is recalled as a highly competent professional who was impatient of aesthetic considerations but far-sighted in assessing future needs and making timely provision for them.

Select Bibliography

  • Aqua, Sept 1958
  • Herald (Melbourne), 2 Nov 1932
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 14 Oct 1943
  • Argus (Melbourne), 14 Oct 1943
  • Institute of Civil Engineers (London) Archives.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ronald McNicoll, 'Shaw, Ebenezer (1865–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 19 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


2 August, 1865
Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia


13 October, 1943 (aged 78)
Camberwell, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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