Sunday, 2 March 2014

Pykes Creek Reservoir and the Fisher family

John Raven Fisher and later his son Thomas Fisher, following his father's untimely death, constructed Pykes Creek Reservoir (1908-1913) at Ballan, Victoria.

A postcard album put together by Tom's fianc√© Ivy Sweetland is an interesting documentation of the construction works during this time.  A Fisher family collection of newspaper cuttings, pasted onto A3 sized paper sheets, in no particular order, and regrettably not always dated nor the publication indicated, has been another source of information about the Pykes Creek Reservoir construction.
In late 2007 I came across this information relating to Pykes Reservoir detailing the construction but sadly the web pages have disappeared....
Moorabool Communities online -

As luck would have it,  I copied the text (below) for future research and feel whilst it is not my work, it would be sad to think the information has disappeared into the ether.   The web article also helped me find the events mentioned in the Fisher newspaper cuttings collection, to date some of them and enable me find the actual article in the publication.   Trove Digitised Newspapers has expanded the newspapers available significantly and I hope to find more about specific cuttings.

I hope that others can benefit from the research in the web article as I have.  Unfortunately from my research notes, I do not know who compiled the original information.

Pykes Creek ran into Pykes Flat from the northwest. This creek was known also as Doctors Creek and on some maps is called Kojamnunip Creek. Dales Creek came into the area almost from the north and the Korobeit Creek came in from the east. This is also called Stoneyhut Creek on early maps and local residents know it as German Creek. Myers Creek came from the southwest and was just a spring fed stream until the water was diverted via the tunnel from the Werribee River.
Pykes Creek and its tributaries continued through the flats and joined the Werribee River, about 2 miles southeast of the reservoir.
Pykes Flat was home to a number of people. The Thompson’s, Fowlers and Shanahan's owned land on the northern edges of the area taken up by the reservoir. Hacketts owned Land at the top end of the weir and when the weir was built, had only 50 acres left and sold it to T.W. Fagg. It is believed that Hornes lived on the eastern banks of the flat and Myers' house and outbuildings were situated, south of the bridge, over Pykes Creek. The house and outbuildings were shifted halfway up the hill, on the Ballan side, beside the new road, in 1910.
In a family letter dated 7/3/1909, Mr. James Myers says, "I am still in my old home because the Government will not settle with me and other things are still in an unsettled state". Just over 85 acres of Mr. Myers land was taken for the reservoir.
Mr. Elwood Mead, for the Victorian Government, approved the scheme for the construction of Pykes Creek Reservoir in 1908 and the contract was let to well known Melbourne Contractor, Mr. John Fisher for £42,000 (Weekly Times 7/1/1911). Some reports gave the cost as £76,840, including land purchase and construction costs.
Mr. James Swan was the engineer for the contractor, Mr. J. R. Fisher Mr. E. Corliss was the resident engineer for the State Rivers Commission, Mr. E. Manchester was visiting and designing engineer for the Commission and Mr. J. Dethbridge was second in command to Mr. Elwood Mead, Chef Engineer.
The Bacchus Marsh Express of 6/11/1909 reported that the contractor Mr. J. R. Fisher was found dead on a Monday night on the pavement at the corner of King and Francis Streets, Melbourne. He was a man weighing approximately 15 stone, well dressed and wearing a heavy gold chain and watch and a sovereign purse. The sum of 10s.6d. in money was found on him and also a half yearly 1st class rail ticket from Ballan to Middle Park. Mr. Fisher was 46 years old at the time of his death; he was W.M. of the Freemasons Lodge of Middle Park and was well spoken of by all who knew him. His son carried on the contract for building Pykes Creek Reservoir.
The water surface was to be about 2 miles long by a quarter mile in average width, the depth was to be 100 feet to 12 feet but most of it 80 feet deep.
The storage capacity of this inland lake was said to be 14,000 acre feet or 609,840,000 cubic feet, which would contain 3,811,500,000 gallons. (Weekly Times 7/1/1911)
The catchment area of Pykes was to be 100 square miles, 50 square miles of that by the tunnel from the Werribee River (Bacchus Marsh Historical Society 22/3/1993). The land area taken up by the water was to be approximately 500 acres.
Bacchus Marsh Express March 1907 - reported that survey work at Pykes Creek is going on, but, oh, so feebly!
The reservoir construction involved building an outlet tunnel so water could be released from the reservoir, a concrete tower over the outlet shaft with two water-gates in the bottom regulated by a hand ratchet, an embankment which would carry a substituted road over the crest, a by-wash to carry the discharged flood water into the creek clear of the embankment and a suitable bridge (Bacchus Marsh Express 13/7/1907).
About 200 men were employed, with a large number of drays, horses, scoops and other equipment. (Bacchus Historical Society notes 22/3/1993).
Bacchus Marsh Express 8/1/1910 article, describes the works as presenting a busy scene, covering more than a mile in diameter, in several directions, although at the time of our visit, the full strength of gangs were not at work. Earth scoops, drays, horses and men were working at full speed. Mining trucks of the familiar, let down full and pull up empty "rakes", were running at various points. There were trap doors for holding up a truckload, until a dray could run underneath in gallery ways, to receive it. Gangs of men were carting puddled clay to both sides of the concrete core wall, which may be regarded as the axis of the whole structure, although some engineers think it is only of a 'please the patient’ character as the real strength lies in consolidating the earth mass of the dam in rigged layers of cleavages, for reason of which a good deal of stone will alternate with selected earth materials, so that the pyramid will not slide - avalanche fashion - when the reservoir water is held back by the earthen stone faced wall.
The Weekly Times of 7/1/1911 reported that the work as a whole was indicative of strength and stability.
The embankment was 1,350 feet long, of which 300 feet was by-wash. It was eight chains wide at the bottom and tapered to 26 feet, upon which a road of 18 feet in the clear, ran. In the bed of Pykes Creek, a concrete wall, some 30 feet high and 3 and a half feet thick was built. This formed the centrepiece of the whole embankment and was set 12 feet into solid rock below the creek bed. On either side of this wall, "pug" clay was being rammed. It was brought in railway trucks from Mr. Myers' paddock, some two miles. It was well watered from overhead iron tanks filled by an engine and force pump and then tramped or "poached" with horses' feet. On the outer sides of this clay material was selected earth for filling and the final outer facings had to be composed of stone. (Bacchus Marsh Express 13/11/1909).

The material for forming the embankment was conveyed by railway trucks by means of an endless rope – the weight of the filled truck going down pulling the empties back. (All shovelling was done away with.) First the ground was ploughed with an American plough some 10 inches deep, then scooped and tipped into a "shoot" where it fell into empty trucks, thence was conveyed down on the railway line to another tip, where it was received into empty drays and finally deposited by horses where required.
Some of the quantities of materials used were: -
30,000 yards of puddled clay
55,000 yards selected material on top of the clay
135,000 yards of earth
3,000 cubic yards of 3 and a half inch ballast
5,000 square yards of spalls - then on the top 30 feet of spalls,
7,000 square yards of wave line pitchers - each pitcher 10 inches thick
The pug clay came from a site on top of "Clover Hill", on the property now owned by F. W. Fagg (formerly owned by James Myers) and the track of the railway can still be followed around the hill. The route of the railway track encircles the hill, that is, from the pug pit, the track heads west and gradually circles around until it arrives at the reservoir heading in an easterly direction. The route was made alternately of parts of slight incline and almost flat sections, so the trucks did not bolt to the bottom. It was a piece of ingenious engineering to bring pug clay down a steep hill by the "let down full and pull up empty" system using an endless rope or wire.
The back portion of the embankment of a 2 to 1 slope was soiled and grassed. The water face was of a 3 to 1 slope, until near the top, then a 2 to 1 slope. Broken ballast, 9 inches thick was put on the 3 to 1 slope, and then rubble pitchers were put on the 2 to 1 slope. The pitchers weighed 140 pounds each and they extended 20 feet below the water level (Bacchus Marsh Express 13/11/1909).
The concrete tower erected over the shaft which taps the water was to be regulated by raising or lowering two water-gates by means of a hand ratchet. There were two water-gates one 4 and a half feet high by 2 feet wide and the other 2 feet x 2 feet, worked by screws from the tower. The intention appeared to be, to use the little gate usually and the other unusually. These screws were made by Mr. E. Campbell, 106 Victoria Street Carlton. The tower is 80 feet high and has six sides. The sides at the top being 6 and a half feet wide, widening 1 and a half inches every 6 feet to the bottom. There were six grated openings in the tower for light purposes, 3 feet x 2 feet. An iron ladder ran down one side of the tower inside, with rungs 10 inches apart. The water was to rise in the tower to very near the top, when the reservoir was full.

The monumental artificer for the contractor was Mr. W. Humphreys. In 8/1/1910 Christopher Crisp the Bacchus Marsh Express reporter, described Mr. Humphreys (a good imported man from Wales) as having strength, judgement and experience and described his hand work, in building the cement concrete water tower, as a work of art, with its sexangled sides, fine arises and mathematically correct "drawing in" of measurements from base to apex. He called the tower, "Humphreys' Tower" and because he was also the builder of the bridge, Mr. Crisp called the bridge "Humphreys' Bridge".
Bacchus Marsh Express 30/4/1910 reported that Humphreys' Tower was now crowned with the lifting gear, to corkscrew ratchet the water gates up and down. The rod was 20 feet long and 4 inches in diameter. This lifting power was beautifully made and balanced and cased and a boy could work it.
The outlet tunnel was 400 feet long in the solid rock. It was 5 feet in diameter for 100 feet, then 3 and a-half feet at the end. The cast iron pipes in the tunnel weighed 2 tons each and were cased in cement. The outlet tunnel was the first step in the construction of the reservoir, as it was to be under the embankment.
The bridge was 75 feet above the ground, length was 225 feet with 18 feet clear on road surface. It was built on grey box piles (from Omeo), some 40 feet in length, resting on rubble concrete piers, which showed some 35 feet above the surface. Each pile weighed about 3 tons and was sewed to the concrete piers by iron standards, which gripped the latter, by 5 feet and the former by 3 feet. There were seven piers about 32 feet apart and each pier carried 3 piles braced with 40 feet red gum planks from Echuca. The piles received 3 coats of tar. The concrete piers were stiffened by 3/8 inch rods of iron, 5 inches apart and one foot between each set of rods. The decking was supported by 18 x 9 feet planks of jarrah and each plank and pile was lifted into position by a handy crane similar to those seen at railway stations, ingeniously erected on that part of the bridge which was completed. This crane could be shifted with ease by 2 men to where required. When the reservoir was full, only some 10 feet of the bridge would show.

The southeast end of the bridge abutted on the west end of the embankment and road traffic would here experience a sharp curve, for from bridge to embankment the turn is almost at right angles. Old photos show, that there was almost a right angle turn also at the west end of the bridge, where it joined the road to go up the hill, towards Ballan.

The Ballarat metalled road, 18 feet between fences crossed along the top of the dam embankment wall and then across the bridge.

During the building of Pykes Creek Reservoir, a small town sprang up. Besides the huts and tents used by the men, they had a recreation hall 60 feet x 30 feet, with no pillars, two fireplaces, not much furniture and a shop. The reservoir township was on the Ballan side of the reservoir, on the hill, between the new road and the old road. It was reported to be a good repetition of goldfield conditions!
Some reports say that 80 men were engaged and some reported that 200 were employed, as well as Government Inspectors, Engineers etc. Progress was slow at times It was apparent that men were hard to get and would not stay, to work on the project. The Bacchus Express 30/4/1910 states that "nothing less than missionaries will bring them". The newspaper article also said, that “works of this kind should never be let by contract, especially in Victoria where discipline is nil".
Men paid 6d. a fortnight to buy literature. The Ocean Accident Co insured all men against accidents and 3d. in the pound of each man’s wages was deducted to pay the premiums.
The Bacchus Marsh Express of 22/1/1910 reports that a serious accident happened on Tuesday afternoon by a powder explosion at Pykes Creek water scheme by which four men were more or less injured as well as a 50 pound horse getting its leg broken, which necessitated it being shot. A man named John Binge was tamping a drill hole at the foot of the rock-faced hill on the cascade of the by-wash, charged with half a barrel of powder, and between 30 and 40 plugs of gelignite, when one of the plugs got twisted, and with the extra force used to drive it home, it is presumed, it caused one of the caps to explode. Binge's collarbone was broken, and his face and head bruised, leaving him suffering from shock. A man named Jones, belonging to Egerton and suffering from abrasions was also brought into Ballan and treated by Dr. Gregg. The other two injured employees would not leave the camp, although, it was seen that one of them had a badly shattered hand. After Dr. Gregg had done all in his power to alleviate Binge’s suffering he was taken on the ambulance for transmission to the Ballarat hospital. Young Mr. Fisher helped convey Binge into Dr. Greg's surgery, and showed deep sympathy.
A few days previously a horse and dray had rolled over and over down one of the hills that girdled the southern side of the weir. Strange to say the horse, when it landed at the bottom, was released from its bondage, yoked up again in another dray, and walked off in all equine grandeur.
The Werribee River Weir and diversion tunnel here constructed between 1916 and 1918 to divert flows from the Werribee River to Pykes Creek Reservoir via Myers Creek. The weir and tunnel entrance is located on the Werribee River approx. 2km east of Ballan. The tunnel is 1.8m in diameter and 1.5kms long. It opens into Myers Creek on the east side of Monteville Lane and the water then runs along Myers Creek.

The State Library of Victoria has amongst their collection several images including those of Pykes Creek Embankment (1911- ca.1935) showing men working on the wall and a water view of  Pykes Creek Reservoir (ca. 1915-ca. 1940) which may have been taken during and not long after construction.

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