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WEAVER, William, (1828 –1868)

William Weaver, civil engineer, was born at Beckington, Somersetshire, in May 1828. Educated in England, he was a pupil of Brassey and Peto of Bristol, and from 1846 was trained in the office of Brunel and later R. I. Ward, M.M.Inst.C.E. He worked on the Great Western Railway. After working on other architectural and engineering projects, he fell into problems in a coal-mining venture that was unprofitable before leaving for Australia in 1850. After arriving in Australia, he married Miss Broughton, daughter of Bishop Broughton, but separated from her before leaving for Auckland in 1864.

In Australia, Weaver started as Foreman of Works in the Sydney Colonial Architect’s office where he was given much of the credit for the design ingenuity of incorporating large timber trusses in the Victoria Bridge at Maitland. After Edmund Blacket, the Colonial Architect resigned on 1 October 1854, Weaver was appointed to the position. He designed a new Government printing office, completed in the following year, and continued the building of timber bridges across rivers in country areas. He resigned as Colonial Architect on 31 March 1856 after a dispute with the Governor. He then became Chief Engineer for New South Wales where he won the first prize in a competition for a design of Melbourne Post Office. Due to political interference, he left the Government and in 1863 became engineer for 16 miles of the Richmond to Windsor Railway construction. He was also architect for the Oriental Bank, Sydney School of Arts, and other projects.

Weaver came to New Zealand on 25th April 1864, to take up the position of Engineer-in-Chief of the Auckland Provincial Council where a £500,000 loan had just been raised for Public Works. Auckland, initially reliant on wells and roof water, suffered chronic water shortages and disastrous fires in 1858 and 1863. Weaver was responsible for the first water supply piped from the Domain springs in 1866 at a cost of £3,207. There had been many years of debate and inaction by the Provincial Council about water supply for the city. In August 1864, Weaver had reported on six options for water supply to Auckland. Considerable interest was voiced in a supply from the Nihotupu stream in the Waitakere Ranges, which Weaver recommended could deliver 850,000 gallons per day at a cost of £82,771-0-4. By omitting filter beds and service reservoirs he suggested the scheme could be built for £67,019-0-4. Financial constraints limited the choice of water supply to cheaper and less desirable options until 1902 when the Nihotupu scheme recommended by Weaver was eventually constructed and brought into service. Auckland suffered many years of chronic water shortages in the rapidly growing city until the Nihotupu scheme was finally commissioned.

Transportation by sea and land was vital for the rapidly growing town of Auckland in the 1860s. In November 1864, Weaver prepared plans for the improvement of Auckland's two harbours including the erection of new wharves, extensions to existing piers and a breakwater. The works were carried out at a cost of £57,500. A task he undertook in 1867 was the removal from the Waitemata harbour of the wreck of the ship Marion, a ship of 300tons. Due to a lack of suitable lifting equipment, explosives were used. A railway from Auckland to Onehunga and south to the Waikato had been proposed. Weaver investigated various alternative routes into Auckland. Against Weaver’s advice, contacts were let to contactors without sufficient resources and major difficulties and expenses resulted. A commission of enquiry in 1866, including Weaver, found inadequate inspection of documents before contracts were let and that the whole work was in a very unsatisfactory state. The work was stopped until 1872 when it was resumed with the first passenger train running in December 1873. Weaver furnished the design and was responsible for the erection of a bridge over the Tamaki River, 576 feet long and 21 feet broad at a cost of £17,025. In 1866 he provided an estimate £58,664-13-4 for a 25 mile long canal to link the Waitemata and Kaipara harbours. He recommended a railway of 17 miles instead, which he estimated to cost £51,000.

Between 1864 and 1867 he carried out works of all kinds to the value of £230,000 at a cost for design and supervision of three percent. But he was always under pressure, and often criticism from the elected members of the Provincial Council. His report to the Council dated 6th January 1866 stated:

"Your Honour will be aware of the very considerable portion of every day which is necessarily occupied in personal communication with parties having business with the office, leaving little time for the conduct of the general business of the department, and less still for the consideration and design of works of importance and their personal inspection by myself. Some idea of the amount of clerical work may be formed by the following items of a portion of it during the past year.

Number of letters written – 756

Number of letters received – 564

Number of letters referred to me from the Superintendent’s office and reported on – 554"

Letters and accounts (still available in Auckland Public Library) were handwritten in beautiful copperplate writing. At the time Weaver’s staff comprised one assistant engineer, an inspector of roads, a clerk/draftsman and a clerk/accountant.

In 1867, owing to financial stringency, his salary, which had been £800 p.a., was reduced, and he was allowed to engage in private practice. He made the first survey for a dry dock at Auckland. In October 1866, in addition to his other duties, he took over the control of telegraph communications from the military authorities. In February 1868 he resigned as Engineer in Chief of the Provincial Council to become Telegraph Engineer for New Zealand. However he only held the position for a few months before leaving for Australia. He died suddenly of "apoplexy" at Geelong on 18th December 1868. He had been elected Associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers on 21st January, 1857, and was transferred to the class of Member on 4th February, 1868

Sources of information

  • Furkert, Early New Zealand Engineers, p 288;
  • Journals of Auckland Provincial Council, 1865 – 67;
  • Firth C.W., A Century of Water Supply for Auckland, New Zealand, (1967)
  • Lowe David, Tracks Across the Isthmus;
  • Sydney Architecture Images, Sydney Architects Edmund Blacket;
  • Illustrated London News, October 12, 1867, p 405;
  • NZ Herald 28 January 1869, Obituary p 5;
  • NZ Gazette 19 February 1868, p 98.

Author: John La Roche

This essay appears in the Biographic Dictionary of Civil Engineers, Vol 2. (ICE, London)