1803 - BEGINNINGS
First settlement in Port Phillip.
original settlement in Port Phillip was at Sullivan’s Bay, near Sorrento, in 1803. Water was supplied to the 400 marines,
convicts and settlers via 6 wooden barrels sunk into the ground to capture groundwater.
In 1835 John Batman officially
claimed the establishment of the Town of Melbourne. Within five years the population of the town was 7,000 and water pumps
were installed on the northern bank of the Yarra River, above the falls (the falls prevented salt water flowing further up
the river). Men with water carts travelled the town door-to-door selling water at three shillings a barrel.
town continued to grow it became apparent that pollution from human settlement and the limited availability of good quality
drinking water were presenting significant health issues and would limit the future growth of the settlement.
the newly-formed Town of Melbourne Council was given responsibility for water and sewerage for the Town but it did not have
the taxing or borrowing powers or resources to be able to carry out the undertaking effectively. The Council lobbied the Government
(then based in Sydney) for funds but they were loathe to hand over such large amounts to the new body.
By late 1849
James Blackburn's privately owned Melbourne Water Company was pumping water from the Yarra River into large iron tanks in
the City. The water was filtered through charcoal and sand and sold to water carriers for distribution in horse-drawn water
Early Water Distribution System
The system is described in
more detail as follows:
1849 James Blackburn and J. W. Peppers formed a partnership known as the "Water Company" to construct a water works at the
junction of Elizabeth and Flinders Street. A large trunk brought water from the Yarra to a reservoir in the centre of their
premises. From there a steam engine pumped the water to another reservoir at one end of the building which was raised about
six feet from the ground. From there it was filtered through sand and charcoal and passed into a tank from which it was able
to flow by means of tubes into water carts below. Eight carts could be loaded at once, with each cart being filled in 30 to
40 seconds. The planned price per load was said to be one penny. However when operations commenced in early September 1849
the price was set at a halfpenny more".
Blackburn was an experienced engineer from London who had been
transported to Tasmania as a convict but earned his freedom. He designed and supervised the construction of Launceston's water
supply system and devised a plan for Hobart's water supply system, before moving to Melbourne in 1849. He was probably the
most innovative and skilled engineer in the Colony at the time and was soon appointed to the position of City Engineer at
the Town of Melbourne Council.
Blackburn began surveying sites for possible future water supplies for Melbourne in
the late 1850's. Initially, Blackburn chose the Plenty River as the next supply source for Melbourne's water - he was planning
for a population of 70,000 people requiring 40 gallons per day each (Melbourne's population at the time was only 23,000 and
the rapid growth resulting from the gold influx had not yet occurred).
Blackburn was distrustful of "modern machinery"
and preferred to use the simple and time-proven method of moving water by gravitation "as extensively practiced by the ancients".
He sought to find a water source at sufficient elevation then "diverting the same from its natural course and by means of
an aqueduct, open or closed, leading it on a series of inclines to its destination". It was this view that provided the foundation
for the subsequent development of Melbourne's extensive network of aqueducts. The capital cost of such a system would be greater
than other alternatives but the operating costs and reliability of such a system were considered to be much preferred.