O'Connor, Charles Yelverton

Charles Yelverton O'Connor (1843 - 1902)

Charles Yelverton O'Connor (1843 - 1902), civil engineer, was born at Gravelmount, Castletown, County Meath on 11 January 1843, the youngest son of John O'Connor, a landowner, and (Mary) Elizabeth O'Keefe. In 1850 the family moved to Waterford, where Charles was later educated at the endowed school (Newtown?).

He was articled to John Chaloner Smith and, after experience of railway work in Ireland, emigrated in 1865 to New Zealand, where he was employed by the Canterbury provincial government as an assistant engineer on the construction of the road from Christchurch to the Hokitika goldfields on the west coast. In 1870 he was appointed engineer for the western part of the province and later for the national New Zealand government as district engineer for the combined Westland and Nelson districts. From 1880 until 1883 he was inspecting engineer for the whole of the South Island; from 1883 to 1890 he was under-secretary for public works for New Zealand; and in 1890 he was made marine engineer for the colony before moving to Western Australia in April 1891.

The discovery of the Coolgardie goldfield in 1892 led to an extraordinary and rapid development of Western Australia. O'Connor undertook two important projects, namely Fremantle Harbour and the Coolgardie Water Supply, besides a large number of roads, bridges, harbours, and jetties. He was also responsible for all new railway work and under his leadership major lines were built from Perth to the southwest and northern regions of Western Australia and to its eastern goldfields.

The Coolgardie Water Scheme, carried out between 1898 and 1903, supplied water to the principal goldfields of the colony. Water was pumped a distance of 328 miles from a reservoir near Perth. By March 1902 tests had convinced him that the scheme would work, but lack of local support affected his mental balance and, on 10 March 1902, ten months before the water was turned on, he shot himself.

His professional achievements earned him respect from his engineering peers in Britain as well as in New Zealand and Australia. He was created CMG in 1897.

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