Charles Yelverton O'Connor 1843 - 1902

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C.Y. O Connor (above) Gravelmount House Castletown K.P.


Charles Yelverton.O'Connor was born in Gravelmount House Castletown K.P. Co. Meath on 11th January 1843.  He was the 3rd son born to public spirited  and compassionate parents John and Elizabeth O'Connor.

He was educated at the Waterford Endowed School, and was articled at the age of 17 to John Challoner Smith's railway company. As railway building projects declined in Ireland in the 1860s, Charles decided to leave for New Zealand and sailed on the "Pegasus" on the 24th Dec.1864.

There he was employed as an assistant engineer on the construction of the coach road from Christchurch to the Hokitka goldfields. Gradually promoted, he was appointed in 1870 engineer of the western portion of the province of Canterbury.

From 1874 to 1880 he was district engineer for the combined Westland and Nelson districts.  During his time in New Zealand he worked on the first roads through the Southern Alps, and developed the ports of Greymouth and Westland, by protecting their westerly aspects with massive breakwaters. In 1883 he was appointed under secretary for public works for New Zealand, and he held that position until May 1890, when he was made marine engineer for the colony.

In April 1891 O'Connor was appointed engineer in chief to the state of Western Australia. and in that capacity he was responsible for all new railway work. He replaced narrow light rail with 60lbs track allowing for safer and heavier rolling stock; reduced the gradient from 1:15 to 1:50 and extended the rail line to Southern Cross and on to Kalgoorlie, prompting one of the world's greatest gold rushes.

In the short period of eleven years he under took two works of the utmost importance to the colony, namely Fremantle Harbour and the Coolgardie Water Supply Pipeline, besides constructing all new railways.

freemantle harbour

The Pipeline Project was proposed by C.Y. O'Connor in 1896 to pump water through a series pf 8 pumping stations from a dam in the Darling Ranges near the west coast across 528 kms of rising ground to supply the goldfield reservoir at Coolgardie with 5 million gallons of water per day.

The grand ceremonial opening of the Goldfields Pipeline Scheme took place on Saturday the 24th January 1903 in Coolgardie and later that afternoon in Kalgoorlie in temperatures of 44C in the shade.  Men of high position from all over Australia were there for the water turning on ceremony - except the man who had planned it all.

Nine months prior to the grand opening, beset by criticism of the Scheme, and the strain of overwork, he had ridden into the  sea at Robb's Jetty Fremantle in March 1902 and shot  himself through the head.

C.Y.O'Connor was an honest man and uncorruptable. He was compassionate and fought for the rights of workers, and he was a devoted family man.  He had enormous determination, and upheld the honour and inegrity of his profession right to the end.

A bronze statue of O'Connor by Pietro Porcelli was erected in Fremantle in 1911.

Sources: C.Y.O'Connor The Man for the Time, Cyril Ayris, Perth 1996

C.Y.O'Connor His Life and Legacy, A.G.Evans, 2001