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Goulburn Waterworks: before 1886

In colonial NSW an increasing demand for a reliable supply of clean water would see, in 1880, assent given to the Country Towns Water Supply & Sewerage Act.  This would open the way for the start of an increasing number of schemes to supply town water in rural NSW.  There were 10 in 1890 rising to 56 by 1919.  Commencing in 1883, Goulburn along with Bathurst, Albury and Wagga Wagga would receive some of the first and grandest of these schemes.

Before 1886 the residents of Goulburn would have collected water in tanks or wells, or purchased supplies from a carter.

Becoming operational in January 1886, the Waterworks, on the banks of the Wollondilly River, provided a reticulated water supply to the growing City of Goulburn.


Appleby Beam Engine

The original 1883 Appleby Bros. steam engine situated inside the pumphouse was one of four installed in Pumphouses around NSW. The others were at Wagga Wagga, Albury (both scrapped in 1936) and Bathurst . The steam engine is known as a beam engine because of the large overhead rocking beam that transmits motion from the pistons to the cranks.

This great beam engine, of the type first invented by Thomas Newcomen in 1712, is an example of the powerhouse that drove the Industrial Revolution. Originally designed for pumping water out of mines in the UK it was improved by Watt, Smeaton, Maudsley and other engineers of the steam age until it became a very efficient and reliable engine.

Apart from mines and water supplies, many thousands were used to drive factory machinery in the 18th and 19th centuries – some four operated in factories in Goulburn – until they were superseded by electric motors in the early 20th century.

Goulburn's Beam Engine 1883

The Goulburn Waterworks engine is of medium size and produces 120 horse power. It has Woolf compound cylinders and a jet condenser. The fly wheel is 5 metres in diameter and at 18 r.p.m. the pumps delivered 130,000 litres of water per hour. This engine was 'moth-balled' in 1918 after 32 years of service.

In 1918 a new era commenced at the Waterworks with the introduction of electric pumps. These operated in tandem with a duplex steam pump, installed in 1887 and designed by G.F. Blake & Co of New York. In 1932 the Waterworks abandoned steam and electricity took over completely.

Idle for 40 years the Applyby Bros. Beam Engine was restored in 1958 by Bruce McDonald, an engineer and steam enthusiast. At this time the electric pumps were still supplying some of Goulburn with it's water. In 1977 the operation moved to Rossi Weir and the Waterworks was shut down.

Galloway Boilers

The two Galloway boilers that produce the steam that powers the engine, are located in the western wing of the building. Similar externally to the Lancashire boiler and with the usual two furnaces, however, instead of extending through the whole length of the shell, the two furnaces join just behind the bridge to form a single large diameter flue which is strengthened by a number of cross water tubes.

Fired by wood or coal, they produce high temperature steam that is piped through to the beam engine in the central part of the building. Only one boiler would have been operational at any one time. The other being shut down for regular cleaning and maintenance.

Steam from the boilers enters the valve chest on the cylinders from where it is transmitted to the cylinders by means of a valve mechanism. The action of the steam on the pistons causes them to reciprocate. Rods connect the pistons to the beam at one end, and to the crank at the other. This converts the 'rocking' motion to rotary motion which makes the flywheel turn, giving a smooth and continuous action.

The Pumphouse

The Waterworks is notable not just for its historic steam engine, but for the elegant Victorian building, designed by James Barnet of the Colonial Architects Office, that houses the beam engine and boilers. Only metres away further up the hill stands the original fireman's cottage, also of Victorian design.

Two annexes were added to the original building. The south eastern annex, added sometime between 1918-1924, now houses a horizontal steam engine, the Hick Hargreaves. While the northern annex, built in 1897, houses a 1947  Thompsons Engineering & Pipe Co 180,000 g/h centrifugal pump and in 1969 a Harland pump/A.E.I. motor combination 180,000 g/h centrifugal pump was installed.  Only the front wall remains of the original 1897 addition.

Horizontal Engine by Hick, Hargreaves & Co., England, 1866.

This engine was manufactured in Bolton, UK, by Hick, Hargreaves & Co and is the oldest of only three left in the world. The single cylinder horizontal engine measures 9 metres in length, weighs 17 tons with the flywheel being 4 metres in diameter. The engine came to Australia in 1867 and was put to work at Bell's Creek gold mine near Araluan, NSW. This venture was abandoned about 1896 and the engine then used at Wright and Bruce Tannery at Botany, near Sydney until it was discarded in 1961.

The engine eventually made its way to the "Museum of Historic Engines" (precursor to the Waterworks Museum) in 1970. It was during this period that a grant was made available under the Regional Employment Development Scheme (1975) for the installation, and restoration, of the Hick Hargreaves, in the annexe of the pumphouse.

In 1876 a location known as Rocky Point, on the Wollondilly River, was identified as being the best location for pumping water for the city of Goulburn. Ten years later the Waterworks began operation supplying residents with their first piped water supply using a 120 horse powered steam beam engine known as the Appleby Engine imported from London.  This magnificent and rare engine can still be seen operating today in the original Waterworks Pumphouse building.

Wollondilly River – deep waterhole water supply (before Marsden Weir)

The name Wollondilly is said to be derived from wallandillii, an Aboriginal word for ‘water trickling over rocks’. There is archaeological evidence of travelling clans along the banks of the Wollondilly River.  Historical records describe the Wollondilly River in summer as being “a chain of deep waterholes with dry spaces of ground intervening the deepest of holes”. These waterholes which had been selected as the site of the pumping station “had never in memory of man been known to run dry.”

A popular legend at the time claimed this phenomenon was due to the presence of springs at the bottom of the waterholes. However, this theory was never proven.  Local authorities stated then they “were confident that no machinery which man had ever made could pump this hole dry.”  It was soon to be discovered that these sources from which the supply of water was first drawn was by no means inexhaustible.

Edward Woodhart, The Engineer in Charge of the Waterworks, thought otherwise but his views were ignored. Mr Woodhart recorded in his diary, “one morning in the middle of a long drought the city of Goulburn suddenly awoke to find the hole was nearly empty and that the luxury of the water supply was withdrawn.”

Marsden Weir – Goulburn’s First Weir

It became absolutely necessary, if supply was to remain a reliable one, to construct a weir.  By 1890 the waterholes were dammed by a substantial £8000 masonry weir.  The residents were assured there was “no fear of the town running short again even in the longest drought.”  Unfortunately, as history shows this was not the case as the Goulburn region has endured a number of droughts since then.  It is recorded that both the weir and bridge were named after James Marsden (1842-1924), a well-known identity of the Goulburn district and one of the leading graziers of this state.  Prior to the construction of the bridge this area on the river was thought to be known as Marsden’s Crossing Place.

Marsden Weir is a fine example of how a man-made modification to the environment can increase the population of wildlife.  It is a common sight to see ducks, swans, cormorants, herons and even pelicans at various times during the year.  Also, seen are frogs, platypus, blue tongue lizards and, of course, snakes.


References: Grand Goulburn, A Random History, Stephen Tazewell, 1991; Goulburn Waterworks, The Engineer in Charge, Edward Jacob Woodhart, Rev. Norman Woodhart, 1983;

Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 30 December 1924; The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 August 1857.


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