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. After Federation the small regular engineer component was granted the prefix “Royal”; however, the Militia remained part of the “Australian Engineers”.

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..

1860-1863 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

1863-1865 Beehive Hotel, Melbourne

In 1863 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 panted 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. 

1868-1894 Wellington Parade South, Jolimont

1868 the 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.

1880’s the Victorian Railways system was expanding and the State Government decided the site was required for railway purposes.

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.

1894-1934 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.

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 RAE

1934- 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

3 November 1991 the unit left for Oakleigh Depot because again the land was required by the Government

Plaque located outside Olympic Park Melbourne

1991- North Road, Oakleigh

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