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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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David, Charles St John (1855–1924)

by Alan Jones

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Charles St John David (1855?-1924), civil engineer, was born at Chepstow, Monmouthshire, England. He arrived at Moreton Bay, Queensland, aboard the Ramsay on 13 January 1880. For three years he worked on railway construction in Queensland, and in 1884-92 was a partner in the Brisbane firm of Brown & David, civil engineers, architects and quantity surveyors. He was also consulting engineer to the Booroodabin suburban municipality and participated in the development of the Brisbane electric tramway.

David was appointed city surveyor in Launceston, Tasmania, on 1 March 1892. His predecessor had presented three proposals for the establishment of a municipal electricity generator to be driven by the South Esk River; David recommended and implemented a scheme which involved driving a tunnel large enough to transfer 62,500 gallons (284,131 litres) of water per minute half a mile (800 m) through basalt rock. By late 1895 Launceston's main streets were illuminated by carbon arc lamps energized by Australia's first hydro-electric system. A public electric tramway was advocated and after investigations in 1894 and 1902, and an unsuccessful private venture, a further report in 1909 was adopted. David supervised the design and construction of permanent way, tramsheds and offices for the first tramcar service in 1911. Other achievements included the East Launceston sewerage system and, during the later part of his career, major improvements to the city's waterworks.

Three notable examples of David's ability as engineer, architect and surveyor are prominent in Launceston. In the city centre the southern wing of the town hall, built to a design submitted privately in competition by David in 1904, offers in its plain, neatly proportioned façade a harmonious echo to the classical elegance of the earlier building. Westward of the city, in the savage ravine of the South Esk, David's engineering skill is attested by the sturdy pylons and graceful catenary span of the 1904 Alexandra Suspension Bridge. On the northern verge of Launceston stands Carr Villa cemetery, surveyed, designed and developed from 1902 according to David's directions.

He served in various community organizations. He was a committee-member of the Launceston Mechanics' Institute and Public Library, and in 1907-22 of the Technical School. David advised the Tasmanian Agricultural & Pastoral Society on the construction of Elphin Showground, the Tasmanian Turf Club on alterations to Mowbray Racecourse and acted as honorary consulting engineer to the Northern Tasmanian Fisheries Association. He was a fellow of the Queensland Institute of Architects. Described as 'generous and kindly', and highly valued as a 'general all-round engineer', David died, aged 69, of pneumonia on 17 July 1924 at Wahroonga, New South Wales, while on holiday. His body was returned to Launceston for a civic funeral and burial in a special plot in Carr Villa cemetery. He was survived by an only son in England.

Select Bibliography

  • Examiner (Launceston), 1 Mar 1892, 11 Dec 1895, 18, 29 July 1924
  • Weekly Courier (Launceston), 19 May 1921, 24, 31 July 1924
  • immigration records, 1880 (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

Alan Jones, 'David, Charles St John (1855–1924)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 22 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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