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Biographies

McGREGOR, John, (1838 - 1911)

(Extract from Furkert, F W; Early New Zealand Engineers, p 213)

John McGregor was born in Fifeshire, Scotland, and trained there as a harbour engineer, being employed later on the Liverpool Dock works. The date of his arrival in New Zealand is uncertain, but he was assistant to J. M. Balfour on the Ross Creek reservoir from June, 1866, to completion in November, 1867. He was then employed by the Harbour Board of Port Chalmers, and then Was appointed Engineer to the Oamaru Harbour Trust on 5th March, 1870, and designed the first stage of the work (very similar to the proposals of Dobson and Blackett and Paterson). However, McGregor very soon changed over to the idea of the breakwater, which became the major factor in the design. Work was started in 1871 and the first block was laid on 10th September, 1872, the contractor being Walkem. For a time after 30th April, 1872, McGregor was assisting C. Napier Bell locating deviations on railway Waitaki to Moeraki at £10 per week. Progress was slow on the breakwater, and in 1874 he reported that 300 feet of the breakwater was completed-63 feet in the last year; but he estimated future progress at 350 feet per annum. Meanwhile he was busy elsewhere. In 1872 he reported on a dredging scheme for Otago Harbour and also on Balfour's central training wall proposal. In 1873 he reported on Harbour works for Napier and designed a Breakwater Harbour. He made another report on Napier in 1875 to much the same effect. The work was not proceeded with and the existing breakwater is not where McGregor proposed [fortunately]. In 1874 he surveyed the railway up the Waihao Valley. He had previously offered to build the line of railway himself and to take payment in land. He already held 15,000 acres in the area to be served. When his offer was refused he offered to do the engineering survey at £30 per mile, and this was evidently accepted, but though McGregor may have been paid for and supervised the work, he did not personally carry out the field work.

It should be noted that McGregor was not a salaried officer of the Oamaru Dock Trust or its successor, the Harbour Board, but was engaged to design and carry out the works on the basis of receiving 2½ per cent of the moneys expended on works. To show the urgency of harbour works at Oamaru, it may be noted that there were seven wrecks of vessels attempting to load or unload there in 1873, and between 1860 and 1875 thirty-three vessels were driven ashore, of which twenty became total losses.

In 1875 McGregor was evidently concerned with the question of water supply for Oamaru as in June, 1875, we find a report from the Government analyst at Dunedin as to the character of the water of the Waitaki River based on samples sent in by John McGregor. Possibly he was assisting Forrester, who completed a design for this scheme (see Thos. Forrester). Meanwhile the breakwater was progressing; 1,000 feet had been built, and in April, 1879, a further contract for 700 feet was let to Miller and Smillie. In that year Forrester, q.v., who in addition to being Clerk of Works to the Harbour Board, was also an architect, had had borings made in the bed of the sea under the shelter of the breakwater, and these disclosed that the bottom was readily dredgeable. The harbour scheme was at once elaborated and instead of simply making quiet water in which vessels at anchor could work cargo under the shelter of the breakwater, it was decided that an enclosed harbour with deep water wharves was possible, desirable, and justifiable. This now involved a northern mole 1,800 feet in length and three wharves and the purchase of a dredge. The dredge was built in Dunedin by Davidson and Co. but was finished by Briscoe and Co.. in 1883. The north mole was not started until 1881 owing to the first contractor failing. The breakwater was completed in February, 1884. The last report by McGregor, which has been traced at Oamaru, is dated 31st October, 1884. In 1885 McGregor was appointed Harbour Engineer at Auckland and held this position until 1888, when widespread depression led to the Board, like many other employers, deciding to do without an Engineer. During his term a comprehensive scheme of improvements estimated to cost £1,167,000 was prepared, and it is interesting to note that the present waterfront railway was envisaged. He also built the Hobson Wharf and the Quay Street jetty. He then seems to have turned to mining engineering, being a battery manager in 1900, and died in Reefton on 1st September, 1911.