Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Walter Shellshear (1856–1939)

by C. C. Singleton

This article was published:

Walter Shellshear, n.d.

Walter Shellshear, n.d.

photo provided by family

Walter Shellshear (1856-1939), engineer, was born on 17 September 1856 in London, son of Joseph Shellshear, merchant seaman, and his wife Alicia, née Scarriott. Brought up on the Clyde, he studied mathematics at King's College, London, then was employed in the engineering works of Robert Napier and Son, Glasgow. In 1877-78 he received a certificate of proficiency in engineering science from the University of Glasgow. He returned to London and worked for George Buckley on the design of bridges and the supply of materials and surveys for the Indian government railways. In 1879 he migrated to New South Wales and on 1 February 1880 was employed as a draftsman in the roads branch of the Department of Works. On 1 April 1882 he joined the Railways Department as a draftsman.

On 1 May 1886 Shellshear was promoted district engineer in charge of the metropolitan district, which included the tramways, the Illawarra line to Waterfall, the southern line to Picton, the western line to Springwood and the Richmond and Hornsby lines. Responsible for maintaining existing lines, he also constantly travelled on new lines in the interests of safety and found the construction of the Petersham viaduct one of his most difficult jobs. An associate member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, in 1882, he was president of the Engineering Association of New South Wales in 1885-86; he was a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1883-1922 and in 1884 published a paper 'On the Removal of Bars from the entrances to our Rivers' in the society's Journal. He corresponded with Sir John Coode on the subject and in 1889 told the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works that the 'question of improving these bar bound rivers is a favourite study of mine. I have taken a great deal of pains with it'. In 1884 he had prepared a paper on the 'Sydney Steam Tramways' for the Society of Civil Engineers, London. He published other short papers in the Proceedings of the Engineering Association.

Shellshear was closely associated with the design and construction of many important works such as an additional generating plant for the Ultimo Tramway Power House, station yard re-arrangement for the new Sydney station in 1906, the renewal of the steel in two miles of timber viaducts across the Murrumbidgee flats at Wagga Wagga, and the new Nepean bridge at Penrith in 1907. On 1 September 1903 he had been promoted inspecting engineer; he became deputy engineer-in-chief and in 1905 relieved James Fraser, the engineer-in-chief. In 1912-21 he was consulting and inspecting engineer in London where he supervised all materials ordered for New South Wales government works.

Painstaking, unassuming and quietly confident, Shellshear was noted for his patience and helpfulness with his subordinates. He retired in 1921, returned to Sydney and took up his residence at Ripley, Mitchell Street, Greenwich, where he died on 11 November 1939; he was buried in the Northern Suburbs cemetery with Catholic Apostolic rites; his estate was valued for probate at £2345. He was survived by his wife Clara Mabel, née Eddis, whom he had married at the Catholic Apostolic Church, Carlton, Melbourne, on 21 April 1881, and by five sons and five daughters; his son, Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Lexden, won the D.S.O. in World War I.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1887 (2nd session), 2, 274, 1887-88, 6 485, 489, 539, 1889, 5, 490, 1889 (2nd session), 2, 399
  • New South Wales Railway and Tramway Magazine, 1 Dec 1920.

Citation details

C. C. Singleton, 'Shellshear, Walter (1856–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Walter Shellshear, n.d.

Walter Shellshear, n.d.

photo provided by family

Life Summary [details]


17 September, 1856
London, Middlesex, England


11 November, 1939 (aged 83)
Greenwich, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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