The Victorian Corps of Engineers History

The Royal Australian Engineers have a long and proud history dating back to 1860 when a number of citizens of the Colony of Victoria perceived a need to form a military forceful the defence of the colony from outside threats such as the Russians.

The origins of the Royal Australian Engineers date back to 15 November 1860, when the Corps of Engineers was founded in the colony of Victoria by Peter Scratchley. By 1876, five of the six colonies—New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia—had raised their own engineer units. These were amalgamated on 1 July 1902 as the Corps of Engineers. At this time, the corps consisted of field, fortress, telegraph, electric and submarine mining companies. On 19th March 1907 the small regular engineer component was granted the prefix “Royal” however, the militia remained the “Australian Engineers” until 31st January 1936.

Major-General Sir Peter Henry Scratchley, K.C.M.G., R.E.

Major General Sir Peter Henry Scratchley KCMG (24 August 1835 – 2 December 1885) was special commissioner for Great Britain in New Guinea 1884–1885 and defence adviser for Australia.

1860 Duke of Rothesay Hotel, Melbourne

In 1860, a number of citizens of the Colony of Victoria perceived a need to form a military forceful the defence of the colony from outside threats such as the Russians.

A group of these patriotic citizens met on 7 November 1860, at the Duke of Rothesay Hotel then located on the East side of Elizabeth St, now number 24, between Flinders St and Flinders Lane, to discuss the possible formation of a Corps of Volunteer Engineers.

After drafting up a set of rules and discussing these with the then Capt Scratchley of the Royal Engineers, who incidentally was involved in the design and supervision of the construction of coastal defence works for most of the major Australian ports including Port Phillip Bay.

The following week on 15 November 1860 these citizens again met at the Duke of Rothesay Hotel and officially formed the Victorian Volunteer Corps of Engineers.

The Duke of Rothesay Hotel, Melbourne
Plaque located on the wall of 24 Elizabeth Street Melbourne
This plaque was unveiled on 12 November 1972 by the Governor of Victoria, His Excellency Maj Gen Sir Rohan Delacombe K.C.M.G., K.V.C.O., K.B.E., C.B., D.S.O., K.St.J..

1860-1861 St Kilda Road, Melbourne

The members of the Engineer Corps held their early parades at a temporary barracks that were built in 1852 for the 40th Regiment (Infantry). The barracks were located on the East side of St Kilda Rd on a site that now forms the Queen Victoria Gardens

Victorian Volunteer Engineers 1861

1861-1865 Beehive Hotel, Melbourne

In 1861 the Engineer Corps moved into the city area, establishing an Orderly Room in the Beehive Hotel.

1866-1877 Lygon Street, Carlton

For the period 1866-1877, the Victorian Volunteer Engineer Corps is listed in those annual Melbourne and Suburbs Street Directories as occupying a acre allotment in Lygon Street Carlton. At that time it adjoined the Northern boundary of the then Trades Hall Literary Institutes 10 acre Crown Grant, situated the North East comer of Lygon and Victoria Streets 

Early official maps of Carlton (held by the state Library) also record this occupancy. The site was described on a subdivisions Plan as being lot number Parish of Jika Jika. Section I8 at Carlton. 

During 1887 the Trades Hall and Literary Institute was granted a Crown title to this ¼ acre site for the construction of a female Operatives Hall. During the 1920’s this was demolished to enable an extension to Trades Hall building to be undertaken. 

On processing the application for the ¼ acre Crown grant. Colonial Government correspondence (State Office) records that the Secretary for Lands. The Military Commander Colonel TB Hutton of such intent, adding “On inspection of our plans the land question is shown as a Reserve for the Voluntary Engineer Corps but I can find no trace of any formal reservation of the land, therefore I would respectfully request you to let me know before the 12th inst what claim the Volunteers have to the land now and if any by what authority

Major FW Bull on the 10th April replied on behalf of Commandant, “the land in question was formerly in occupancy of the Voluntary Engineers and upon it was erected their Orderly Room, but the material has recently been removed to their Engineer Depot in Wellington Parade and the Military has given up all claim to the land’

For quite a number of years following the re-establishment of their Depot in Wellington Parade the Corps continued to occupy their Lygon Street building. 

The Victorian Volunteer Engineer Corps throwing a Pontoon bridge across the Yarra 14 December 1870

1868-1894 Wellington Parade South, Jolimont

1868 the Victorian Volunteer Engineer Corps moved to a 4 ha site on the South side of Wellington Parade South.

This had originally been Capt Lonsdale’s house till 1854 which was a prefabricated house built by the Royal Engineers in Sydney and shipped to Melbourne. It was used as the Corps HQ. There was a horse paddock, parade ground and training area.

1869 a pontoon shed was built on the South bank of  the Yarra upstream from Princess Bridge for watermanship and bridging training. In 1871 the shed was removed by the Government in order to make room for the embankment of the ornamental lake which forms a portion of the Government House domain. It was re-erected and enlarged on the other side adjacent to CPT Lonsdale’s old house that was now being used by the Victorian Engineers as an Orderly room after moving from Lygon Street.

1870 the Victorian Government established a seperate Torpedo and Signals Corps on 4 November 1870, but in 1875 they transferred to the Engineer Corps.

January 1884 the Volunteer Corps was disbanded and a Corps of Engineers was approved and the first regular Victorian Engineer unit was the Permanent Section of the Torpedo Corps.

In 1885 a Victorian Government return dated 30 June 1885 listed 10 Regular soldiers (the Permanent Section)seventy Militia men in the Torpedo Corps and 101 men in the Engineer Corps

June 1886 both corps were merged the Corps of Engineers. The torpedo men, their unit was renamed the Submarine Mining Company, Corps of Engineers and was based in Port Melbourne. Now numbering 63 all ranks, they were also responsible for searchlights.The Field Company at Jolimont, now with a telegraph section had a strength of 99.

In 1889 the Victorian Railways system was expanding and the State Government decided the site was required for railway purposes and therefore it was time to move again, this time to Alexandra Avenue back on the South side of the Yarra about 200 meters East of where the old pontoon bridge and shed were and the Jolimont buildings were moved again. m-

Capt Lonsdale’s house in 1877 and the Jolimont Depot to the right
1880 Map of Melbourne
Plaque located on the corner of Wellington Parade South and Jolimont Rd, East Melbourne.

Extract from the Argus Newspaper 11 September 1875

1894-1935 Alexandra Avenue, Melbourne

During the period 1890 – 1891 the Sappers dismantled their buildings in Jolimont and re-erected them on the new site at Alexander Avenue after the railways wanted the area.

It eventually included a large parade ground, HQ buildings, Staff housing, stables, machinery sheds and magazine.

17 July 1894 – Was the official occupancy date of the Alexandra Avenue Depot by the Victorian Engineer Corps. The Corps moved to Alexandra Avenue, Melbourne together with their buildings from the Jolimont site on Wellington Parade South where they had occupied Captain William Lonsdale’s old house (Victoria’s first Government House) and two large buildings adjacent to it since 1868, because the railways wanted their land to expand the rail network.One of these large buildings had already been moved to Jolimont from the South side of the Yarra upstream from Princes Bridge in 1871, 23 years earlier as the land at that time was wanted by the Government to build an ornamental lake that now forms part of the Government House Domain.Many notable units were formed at and occupied the Alexandra Avenue Depot over the years from 1894-1935 including 2,4,6,8,10 and 15 Field Companies, 21 and 26 Signal Troops, 34 Electric Company (searchlights), 34 Fortress Company and 38 Submarine Mining Company (later 38 Fortress Company), 3 and 4 Field Park Companies and 10 Field Independent Squadron together with a number of AIF units that were also formed to serve in the 1914-18 War.The Honour Rolls for 34 and 38 Fortress Company members who served in WW1 hang on the walls of the Oakleigh BarracksIn 1935 after 41 years the Corps once more had to relocate, this time to the then new Swan Street Barracks in Richmond as the Government again wanted the land this time to extend the Alexandra Gardens and on 22 September 1934 a reunion called “A Farewell to the Old Depot” was arranged by the newly formed Old Sappers Association to celebrate the Alexandra Avenue Depot as being a part of our proud Victorian Sapper history. A copy of that programme is attached, the autographed original is in the Association’s collection.More information from our the “Swan Street Sappers” book compiled by LTCOL Rob Youl RFD (Retd)

The Army officially vacated Alexandra Avenue on 11 March 1935.

17 July 1894 – The official Occupancy date.

1901 – Australian Federation occurred and the colonial units became part of the Australian Army.

1 July 1902 – The Victorian Engineers became the Corps of Australian Engineers

4 October 1907 the Regular Army became the Royal Australian Engineers and in 1936 the Militia became part of the Royal Australian Engineers

1912-1918 – 10 Field Company First AIF – Alexandra Parade, Melbourne

1 May 1921 – Reformed as 10 Independent Field Squadron at Alexandra Parade, Melbourne

11 March 1935 – Moved to Richmond

1 July 1901 The Corps of the Australian Engineers formed

 The Corps of the Australian Engineers was formed from the amalgamation of the existing Corps of Volunteer Engineer units of the Commonwealth.

1935- 1991 Swan Street, Richmond

The Swan Street Depot housed various Engineer units including Militia, Citizen Military Forces and Army Reserve.

Many Victorian Engineer Troops volunteering or being called up for service including National Servicemen mustered here.

In late 1934, we find the engineers moving ’ from their home of forty years in Alexandra Avenue alongside Princes Bridge to a new site, some 2.5 hectares in extent, a kilometre away between Batman Avenue and Swan Street. At that time, most of 15 Field Artillery Brigade AFA was also located with the sappers in the old depot, after its drill hall at Albert Park burnt down, and with 10 Field Artillery Brigade would share the new one. Officers planning the new barracks looked also at sites at Jolimont and along Yarra Bank Road. The move was marked by an evening march by the troops, led by a band, from Alexandra Avenue to Swan Street. Jack Alford of 15 Field Company recalls that the parade attracted many female spectators, including ‘ladies of the night’ Furthermore, 34 Fortress Company held a final regimental dance at the old depot on 8 September 1934 – printed program survives. The Army officially vacated Alexandra Avenue on 11 March 1935.

The Swan Street Depot was eventually demolished in the mid 1990s, to make way for the City Link works. The site is now marked by a. stone plaque, placed fry the RAE Historical and Heritage Committee, with assistance of members of 22 Regt. 

1936 – Militia units of the Australian Engineers were granted the title ‘Royal’ and distinguished between regular units by being termed RAE (M)

1 July 1948 – RAE 3 Division (CMF) units re-raised at Swan St, Richmond

1948 – 1st troop of 10 Independent Field Squadron (Armoured) moved to Swan St from Alexandra Parade

1948 – 3 Field Engineer Regiment RHQ and LAD at Swan Street

1948 – 2 and 8 Field Squadrons at Swan Street

1953 – 6 Engineer Group Formed at Swan St, Richmond

1960 – 6 Engineer Group re-designated 6 Construction Group at Swan St, Richmond

1964 – 3 Field Engineer Regiment RHQ and LAD move to Dublin Road, Ringwood East

1964 – 2 and 8 Field Squadrons move to Dublin Road, Ringwood East

3 November 1991 – The units left for Oakleigh Depot because again the land was required by the Government

Plaque located outside Olympic Park Melbourne

1947 – Marine Parade, Abbotsford

1947 – 16 Construction Squadron – Marine Parade Abbotsford

1952 – Re-designated 16 Field Squadron – Marine Parade Abbotsford

1952 – 29 Corps Field Park Squadron & Light Aid Detachment – Marine Parade Abbotsford

1964 – 16 Field Squadron relocated to Dublin Road, Ringwood East

1949 – 1956 Adjacent to Ringwood Station

1949 – The 2nd troop of 10 Independent Field Squadron moved to a training depot on railway property near the Ringwood East railway station from Alexandra Parade Depot

1956 – The timber training depot was demolished and re-erected at Wonthaggi and the Squadron moved to the new training depot at Ringwood East.

1951-1975 South End Road, Yallourn

The Eaglehawk Militia Depot was purchased by the Public Works Department in 1937 and was moved from Eaglehawk to be re-erected in Yallourn. The first public function was a Military Ball that was held at Yallourn on Friday 24 June 1937. The Militia unit in the area at the time was part of D Company, 52 Battalion Militia Infantry. In 1939, with the rapid increases of volunteers due to the start of World War II, the unit was redesignated as part of 37 Battalion Militia Infantry. The 37 Battalion now covered from Yallourn to Bairnsdale. 

As the war progressed additional units shared, the resources of the Yallourn Depot, the Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC) and the units of the Royal Australian Artillery. The RAA stationed Anti-Aircraft units in and around the State Electricity Commissions of Victoria’s undertakings, due to their vital and strategic importance. 

Many people have commented and written as to the contribution the Yallourn Militia Drill Hall made to the local and surrounding community social life during and after WWII.

When WWII was over the Army Depot was utilised by the Education Department of Victoria for skills training of demobbed ex-servicemen, thus enabling them to assimilate into the local workforce more easily. Even in the 1950s the Education Department of Victoria was still using the Army depot for vocational training for the local Secondary Technical School

With the commencement of National Service Training and the establishment of 5 Corps Engineer Regiment, including 38 Field Squadron, the continued social rapport between the Military members and the civilian community continued and flourished. This continued through the life of the unit right to the end.

The units relocated to Newborough in 1975 when the land the old Yallourn Depot was standing on was needed for the open cut mine expansion

1954 – Dublin Road, Ringwood East

1954 – 2nd troop of 10 Independent Field Squadron moved to Dublin Road from Ringwood station,

1964 – The 1st troop of 10 Independent Field Squadron moved from Swan Street, Richmond and both troops became 10 Field Squadron.

1964 – 8 Field Squadron moved from Swan Street, Richmond

1964 – 2 Field Squadron moved from Swan Street, Richmond

1964 – 3 Field Engineer Regiment moved from Swan Street, Richmond

1964 – 16 Field Engineer Regiment moved from Marine Parade, Abbotsford

1975 – 10 Field Squadron becomes part of 7 Field Engineer Regiment

1987 – 8 Field Squadron disbanded

1991 – 10 Field Squadron (Independent) joins 2 Division Engineers to give combat support to 4 Brigade

1992 – 7 Field Engineer Regiment became 7 Engineer Support Regiment

30 June 1995 – 10 Field Squadron (Independent) is disbanded.

1 July 1995 – 7 Engineer Support Regiment is re-designated 4 Combat Engineer Regiment

1 July 1995 – 10 Combat Engineer Squadron Formed as part of 4 Combat Engineer Regiment

1 January 2007 – 8 Field Squadron re-raised as 8 Combat Engineer Squadron formed as part of 4 Combat Engineer Regiment

3 December 2012 – 4 Combat Engineer Regiment that includes 8 and 10 Combat Engineer Squadrons amalgamated with 22 Construction Regiment

November 2014 – 22 Construction Regiment changed over to 22 Engineer Regiment

Dublin Road Depot 1969
Contracts awarded to build the depot in Dublin Road 1954

1975 – Monash Road, Newborough

1991 – North Road, Oakleigh

1991 saw the transfer of the Regiment from the Depot at Swan Street, which had been home for 41 years, to the new Barracks at North Road.

The Barracks are set on a 3.5-hectare triangular site with a pleasingly open layout thanks to the setback from the railway and North Road, The main barracks comprise a two-storey administration block connected to a training wing. The latter has a superb galleried lecture theatre known as the ‘model room’, parquet-floored gymnasium/drill hall, kitchen, classrooms, syndicate rooms, ablutions and three ‘recreation rooms’ used originally as the officers, sergeants and OR’s messes. A large utilitarian QM store, other stores, garages, repair facilities, plant yards, a modest parade ground and a carpark complete the complex. The Old Sappers Association has its independent clubroom abutting the gymnasium. 

November 2014 – 10 Combat Engineer Squadron moved to 22 Engineer Regiment – North Road, Oakleigh