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The self indulgence, bordering on arrogance, that lead to his academic failures in 1885 was replaced by a greater self-determination to succeed and resume his place, as he saw it, in the future of the colony. David Munro & Co was the biggest employer of labour in Victoria at the time. The securing of the contract to build the Princes Bridge and widen the Yarra River at that point was the most prestigious and the biggest project undertaken in Melbourne. Monash sees this as the key to restoring his family’s fortunes. Monash signs on as an employee for 30/- per week. He is 20 years old. continued on from Monash - the early years

His job was to draw a complete set of courses for the masonry, a task of huge responsibility as the finished cutting and placing of the blocks will depend on these drawings. Notwithstanding, his social life, part-time study and military activity continue unabated. He is conscious that his red coat uniform is a magnet for the fairer sex. He joins the German Club. He applies, and fails, to secure a commission with the Victoria Engineers unit but the diminishing threat of a Russian invasion reduces general community interest in the militia and the university regiment is disbanded in July, 1886.


University Company, Victorian Rifles, from back left: Color Sgt. John Monash, Sgt. Farlow, Cpl. McWilliams, Cpl. T. Hodjson, Sgt. Major Sullivan; front left: Cpl. Pringle, Cpl. McCay, Sgt. Chase. 1885

Remaining members of the university militia unit transfer to the North Melbourne Battery of the Garrison Artillery which is responsible for defending all of Victoria’s ports. His militia activities create scope for an expanding social life and business contacts. He is given more responsibility by his employer y planning the excavations for machinery foundations for setting the stone, the establishment of a supply yard, and a quarry 16kms from Melbourne. His academic studies continue fervently and he passes his third-year arts degree. His social life is in turmoil and there are several broken encounters with budding eligible girls. His arrogant streak is returning but professionally his career is rising with recognition of his various roles on the Princes Bridge project. On completion of one year’s service with Munro & Co his salary rises to 2 pounds per week.

In April, 1887 he is promoted to lieutenant in the North Melbourne Battery.


Brigade [Garrison Artillery] officers, 1895 (Monash front row, fifth from left)

His officers’ uniform enhances his amorous social activities beyond his earlier expectations and he now sees a full time military career as a fall-back position if his academic and engineering ambitions fail.

However, his arrogance does not do him any good. He is ostracised by fellow officers and betray him for “utter want of tact”. His position is protected by his friend, Major Goldstein of Jewish and Polish extraction, who assigns Monash more responsible duties in preference to more senior fellow officers. He embarks on additional military studies along with his continuing academic obligations. He passes his exams in October and as the Princes Bridge project is nearing completion he is also promoted by Munro & Co to take control of a new project, the construction of Queens Bridge, a few hundred metres downstream from Princes Bridge.


His elation is rudely interrupted. On 18th February 1888, he is in charge of the battery’s shooting practice at the Williamstown rifle range. A target spotter is hit and killed by a ricocheting bullet. Monash is summoned to the Coroner’s inquest fearful of serious consequences. To his relief, the finding was accidental death but the shock to his system causes him to defer further academic studies for two years. He embarks on a 5 day walking expedition to Gippsland to clear his mind and on return his mentor, Jim Lewis, dean of the engineering faculty at Melbourne University persuades him to apply for the role of running the construction of the Outer Circle Railway. This is another major project for Melbourne and is a story in itself. It was a 17 km route to divert rail traffic from Gippsland past the CBD linking Oakleigh and Fairfield through the eastern suburbs. As part of the route there were 16 bridges and 25km of roads to be built.


He is appointed to head the project at a salary of 7 pounds per week and resigns from Munro & Co. He is 22. He acquires a property at Hartwell with a vacant house as a site office. He allows his clerk, Fred, and his wife, Anne, to reside there. A highly passionate affair develops between John and Annie. Fred discovers them together several times but it all blows over until Anne discovers she is pregnant. After a further reconciliation with Fred the affair fires up again and culminates in a public altercation between Fred, Anne and John on a tram heading down Johnston Street, Collingwood. Fred threatens to kill John, hands in his notice and separates from Anne. Anne returns to her home town of Ballarat and John returns to his regular social scene with gusto.

When an early girlfriend told him that his only fault was that he made women adore him, Monash could think of only one reply.

“How very true.”


At the same time, he passes his militia captain’s exam but is not promoted in rank. In his new role, he presses Major Goldstein to seek more funding for more military activities.                  

He advocates more realistic training at the state’s forts and bigger allowances for volunteers to devote extended time to training. He is elected to the Naval & Military Club. He becomes less enamoured with the German Club where he has fallen out of favour because he has become “too Anglo-Saxon”. His work schedule and militia activities are running at full pace and he has more women in his life than he can handle.

Among this avalanche of female admiration, Anne reappears and the passionate union resumes briefly. Anne’s husband Fred, to whom she is now pregnant, soon emerges and another public altercation occurs. Finally, Anne decides that the affair is over and returns to Fred. Almost simultaneously John takes up with a new conquest named Victoria Moss. They become engaged to be married. Their relationship is tempestuous but it survives and on 8th April, 1891 they are married.

 During this period of personal turmoil, Johns career continues unabated. Despite a strike and extensions of the Outer Circle contract due to alterations to the plans, the contract is successfully completed and John passes all of his exams.

He is awarded his Bachelor of Engineering degree shortly before his wedding day. His financial situation turns sour soon after the wedding. Australia is in the grip of a deep depression, there is widespread industrial unrest, and funds for carrying out new public works dries up. His wife's previously adequate private income disappears and John has no employment to replace the completed Outer Circle contract. Victoria will not curb her spendthrift ways and tension develops over domestic financial matters.


“You look round the rooms, the kitchen with its empty shelves, the fireless grate,the solitary crust on a plate placed high up on the dresser to be out of the reach of the children till the time comes for its use, and you wonder with curious and unpleasant wonder how long you yourself could endure such a condition of affairs,” The Age reported in 1893.

 John maintains small amounts of income from casual engineering assignments on continuing public works projects but no permanency until he lands a mundane job with the Melbourne Harbour Trust. He also enrols as a student at the Supreme Court. He sees an opportunity for an engineering expert with a law degree to preside over legal disputes. Work on various Harbour Trust projects earns him promotion to the point where his income and life style return to their former level.

His military career continues to impress but he cannot gain promotion. He comes to the conclusion that there is prejudice against him because he is a Jew. In May, 1892, he is promoted to Chief Draughtsman at the Harbour Trust on a salary of 260 pounds per year. Double the average wage. This is a timely break because Victoria becomes pregnant. John takes leave from the Harbour Trust to preside over a legal arbitration for the contractors of the Outer Circle project. His fee is 5 guineas per day plus loss of salary. A huge fee five times his normal daily wage. The experience propels him into more legal study and in December passes his first four subjects. On 22nd January 1893 he becomes a father.


1893 Victoria with Bertha

On 30th April, 1893 the Victorian government declares that the banks have suspended all payments and will close for five days. The crash has arrived. Most of John’s engineering contemporaries are unemployed and is informed that his job may soon terminate. He survives by appealing to one of the Trust commissioners who is also a leader in the Jewish community and a member of parliament. His military career takes a strong upward advance when in August he delivers a talk, with demonstrations, on the Implements of War. His engineering knowledge is a vital factor on the topics he discusses and receives glowing reports from senior officers in attendance. His personal skill scores in marksmanship are also impressive but still no promotion.

He attains his Masters degree in engineering and secures another major legal case representing David Syme, proprietor of The Age newspaper. The case lasts for 98 days then an appeal of 86 days. His fee is 40 pounds.

By August the only professional staff at the Harbour Trust are John and two inspectors. His finances are precarious and he has to borrow 10 pounds for the fees to sit his next lot of law exams. He passes the exams and qualifies as a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Law in December 1893. However, he has to wait another two years until he has paid all of the university fees. His military reputation advances again when he delivers a paper to officers describing new techniques in the design and use of artillery pieces and enhanced power of explosives. This is followed by an offer for him to attend an artillery course with the Royal Artillery in England. Apart from transport he has to pay his own way but does not have the funds. He loses his job at the Harbour Trust in April, 1894 and his wife Victoria leaves him after constant quarrelling over money.


Railway Pier Port Melbourne, ca.1870. Credit: Charles Nettleton/State Library of Victoria

In June, 1894 he joins forces with Josh Anderson, a former lecturer and now another out-of-work engineer. They form a partnership of Monash & Anderson, consulting engineers. The business is immediately successful. Anderson the salesman and Monash the engineer. His finances steadily recover but his marriage steadily declines and comes to an end when Victoria walks out and starts divorce proceedings. Then in December, his father, Louis, dies, aged 63. On the bright side his Bachelor of Laws is conferred. He now has three bachelors and one masters degree and in July there is a reconciliation with his wife. The worst of the depression has passed and the family finances are restored again. Then in October he is at last promoted to captain. In July, 1896 he is made acting commander of the North Melbourne Battery and passes his exams to make major and is promoted in 1897.

The following years are prosperous for Monash & Anderson with work flowing from all parts of Australia. Then while John is handling a very large legal assignment in Queensland, Anderson makes a deal with a Sydney contractor, Carter, Gummow & Co, which will revolutionise the construction industry. Gummow holds the Australian patent for a system of reinforced concrete construction developed by a French gardener, Joseph Monier, to stop his flower pits from falling apart. Anderson sees the potential and the firm become Gummow’s Victorian agent. Three bridge contracts are soon awarded. Three 90 metre Monier arches are used in the construction of the Anderson Street bridge over the Yarra. The biggest ever made at that time.


John is heavily involved in legal matters in Western Australia. His first case there was an outstanding success and further assignments are awarded to him. He remains in Perth for over 12 months earning large fees. During his absence, the Anderson Street Bridge contract continues and comes to a conclusion. The final tests of a 15 ton road roller and hundreds of tons of earth trucked onto the bridge pass with flying colours. Two weeks later a 160 foot span for Monash & Anderson’s North Mt.Lyell Railway in Tasmania, the biggest steel span structure manufactured in Victoria, is unveiled.

As the 19th century draws to a close the North Melbourne Battery farewells a contingent of 260 mounted troops to South Africa, John Monash farewells Alfred Deakin and Edmund Barton off to London to oversee the passage of the Federation Bill through the British Parliament and Monash & Anderson embark on the production of Monier pipes for sale to the Board of Works.

A new Century is about to bring in a new phase of John Monash's life and, while he has become a man, he is still to become the man that fought on the fields of battle and made Australian history at Gallipoli.

In my next article I will tell you about the journey from man to military man. 

A time when he started to hone his skills. much like the newly born country of Australia as a Federation. 

John Monash was about to test himself on the battlefield and. almost like his engineering skills, see how tough and strong he really was. Could he hold the load?




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