Spotswood Sewer MonumentPrint Page Print this page

Photographs supplied by Stuart Ingram

The monument commemorates the six construction workers who died in the collapse of the sewer tunnel under the Yarra River on Good Friday 1895.

The construction of the Melbourne Sewer system, began in 1892, and was a large civil engineering project. Its design involved a network of gravitational sewers which would bring sewerage from throughout Melbourne to a central pumping station at Spotswood. From there, it would be pumped to a treatment plant at Werribee, on the western side of Port Phillip Bay.

In order to tunnel underneath the Yarra River, a special Gateshead tunnelling shield was imported from Britain. The shield incorporated a sharp steel lip on the leading edge of a 3.4m wide tunnelling cylinder, designed to cut into the rock as the shield moved forwards. Because the tunnel was below the water level of the river, pumps were employed to continually drain water from the work area. Eventually, an airlock consisting of two 1.5 metres thick brick walls set 4.5 metres apart in the tunnel, each with a thick steel door containing a small glass peephole, was constructed to reduce the water flow through the tunnel.

By Good Friday, 12 April 1895, construction of the tunnel had almost reached the centre of the river, where it was just 3.3 metres below the riverbed. Around 8:00pm that evening, water burst through the tunnel at the leading edge of the Gatehead Shield. Five men working the nightshift and an engineer were all drowned as water swamped the workings. All men were local residents.


Address:Douglas Parade, Near Westgate Punt Ferry, Westgate Bridge Memorial Park, Spotswood, 3015
GPS Coordinates:Lat: -37.831988
Long: 144.895607
Note: GPS Coordinates are approximate.
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Monument Type:Monument
Monument Theme:Disaster
Actual Event Start Date:12-April-1895
Actual Event End Date:12-April-1895


Actual Monument Dedication Date:Friday 18th October, 1996
Front Inscription

This monument was erected by friends of labour to mark the tragic events of Good Friday 1895 when six construction workers died here in Spotswood in the collapse of the sewer tunnel under the Yarra.

The tunnel is an essential part of the metropolitan sewerage scheme which so greatly improved the health and quality of life of Melbourne . The real builders of our cities are all too often forgotten.

This monument is to honour the six who gave their lives to improve the civilisation of our city.

They were:

- John Buchanan 38 years married with one child
- James Bourke 24 years married with children
- William Foster 30 years married with six children
- Martin Gabriel 35 years married with one child
- Joseph Jackson 24 years single
- Tom Johnson 21 years sole support of his widowed mother

Unveiled by the Hon Barry Jones - Member for Lalor, President ALP
In company with Martin Kingham - Secretary, Construction & General Division, CFMEU 18 - 10 - 96

Supported by Labour Historical Graves Committee

Source: MA
Monument details supplied by Monument Australia - www.monumentaustralia.org.au