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Thomas Haynes Upton (1889–1956)

by T. F. C. Lawrence

This article was published:

Thomas Haynes Upton (1889-1956), by unknown photographer

Thomas Haynes Upton (1889-1956), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 21652

Thomas Haynes Upton (1889-1956), civil engineer and public servant, was born on 2 June 1889 at Collingwood, Melbourne, eldest of three children of Victorian-born parents Thomas Upton, civil servant, and his second wife Mary Sophia, née Haynes. Sent to Hawthorn State School, young Thomas won a scholarship to Wesley College where he also won a Draper scholarship. He played hockey at school and later with the Hawthorn club. Awarded an exhibition, he entered Ormond College in 1906 and studied civil engineering at the University of Melbourne (B.Sc., 1910; M.Sc., 1912; B.C.E., 1912; M.C.E., 1919). He graduated (1910) with first-class honours and the Dixson scholarship, and won the Stawell scholarship (1912). In 1912-13 he gained practical experience working for (Sir) John Monash.

In 1913 Upton travelled to Britain via Africa and Europe. He worked for about eight months for a consulting engineer in England, designing structural steelwork for bridges and buildings and checking calculations for designs in reinforced concrete. In 1914 he was appointed assistant-engineer to the Victorian Country Roads Board and instructed to brief himself on modern road-making practices and materials in Britain and the United States of America.

When World War I broke out, Upton was granted leave. Enlisting in the British Army in September 1914, he was posted to the Royal Naval Division as a sapper. On 6 December he was appointed temporary lieutenant, Royal Engineers. He served on the Western Front with its 130th Field Company until he was wounded in February 1916 and evacuated to England. Back in action with the 74th Field Company, R.E., from August, he was again wounded, in March 1917, and brought to England to recover. He was attached to the R.E. Bridging School, Aire (later Monchy Cayeux), France, in December as acting captain. From March 1918 he performed staff duties at General Headquarters; his responsibilities, still related to bridging, encompassed the wider field of route selection and the design of special structures. In October 1918 he returned to the Bridging School as chief instructor. He was thrice mentioned in dispatches (1916, 1918 and 1919). Demobilized from the army in April 1919, he was appointed O.B.E. that year.

Having rejoined the C.R.B., Upton completed his assignment, which had been interrupted by the war, by returning to Australia via the U.S.A. From September 1919 to February 1922 he was engaged in work associated with major roads in Victoria. A significant bridge over the Barwon River at Moorabool Street, Geelong, was designed and built under his supervision. In early 1920, with William Calder, chairman of the C.R.B., and Professor Henry Payne, he sat on a committee that judged designs for a bridge over the River Yarra at Church Street, Richmond. On 26 October 1921 he married Jessie Toon Smith (d.1922) with Methodist forms at her home at Kew. While senior lecturer (from 1922) in civil engineering at the university, he undertook a survey of the State's road-making materials and established a road-materials testing laboratory.

In February 1925 Upton was appointed to the statutory Main Roads Board in New South Wales. Shortly before moving to Sydney, he married Irene Dodgshun, a clerk, on 18 February at the Presbyterian Church, Surrey Hills. During the next seven years, under Upton's guidance, the board organized the design and construction of a State-wide system of roads. On 22 March 1932 Premier Jack Lang abolished the board. During the remainder of that year Upton was retained by the Department of Transport in an advisory capacity, and as a member of a committee inquiring into motor omnibus transport in Sydney and Newcastle. Late in 1932 the new premier, (Sir) Bertram Stevens, created the Department of Main Roads. Upton was gazetted assistant commissioner.

On 30 April 1935 Upton was transferred to the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board as president. Although the Depression had begun to ease, an eight-year drought was to accentuate the board's problems. Under Upton's direction, the board was well on the way to eliminating a backlog of works when World War II broke out. Thereafter, many of its design and construction resources were diverted to the war effort. The largest of these works was the Captain Cook Graving Dock at Garden Island for the Royal Australian Navy. After 1945 the water board reverted to its statutory responsibilities. Its major task—to augment Sydney's water supply—was effected by the construction of Warragamba Dam on the Nepean River, which was progressing satisfactorily when Upton retired in April 1955.

A founding associate (1919) and member (1922) of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, Upton joined its board of examiners in 1932. Representing (1939-54) the Sydney division on the council, he was elected a vice-president in 1944 and president in 1946. He chaired (1948-56) the Standards Association of Australia. Upton was awarded the Kernot and (Sir) Peter Nicol Russell medals, respectively by the University of Melbourne in 1947 and by the I.E.A. in 1949. The University of Western Australia conferred on him an honorary doctorate of engineering in 1949.

For his work over many decades for Killara Congregational Church, Upton was appointed a life deacon. He held offices in the Congregational Union of New South Wales and the World Council of Churches, and was a councillor of Sydney City Mission. Retaining the moustache and bearing that reflected his military experience, he was a warm-hearted man, deeply interested in his fellows and in the team he gathered about him. He belonged to the Rotary Club of Sydney and Killara Bowling Club. Upton died of a coronary occlusion on 25 October 1956 in his home at Killara and was cremated with Congregational forms. His wife, and their three daughters and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. H. Corbett, The Institution of Engineers, Australia (Syd, 1973)
  • Journal of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, vol 20, 1948, p 71, vol 21, 1949, p 183, vol 28, 1956, p 298
  • Sydney Water Board Journal, vol 5, Apr 1955, p 3
  • 6, Jan 1957, p 100
  • Reticulator, Apr/May 1955, p 12
  • Institute of Mercantile and Industrial Administration, Nexus, Oct 1956, p 18
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Feb 1925, 6, 28 Apr 1955, 27 Oct 1956
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 17 Apr 1955
  • Upton family papers (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

T. F. C. Lawrence, 'Upton, Thomas Haynes (1889–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Thomas Haynes Upton (1889-1956), by unknown photographer

Thomas Haynes Upton (1889-1956), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 21652

Life Summary [details]


2 June, 1889
Collingwood, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


25 October, 1956 (aged 67)
Killara, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.