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Norman Selfe

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Norman Selfe (1839-1911), Sydney engineer.


1911 Obituary [1]

NORMAN SELFE was born at Kingston-on-Thames on 9th December 1839.

Educated for the engineering profession, he went to Australia and arrived at Sydney in January 1855, and was at once articled to the engineering firm of which the late Sir Peter Nicol Russell was the head.

After serving his time in the various departments— both for wood and metal working, and also in the drawing office — he became chief draughtsman. For several years, until the partnership was dissolved, he was responsible for the design of numerous engineering works carried out, many of them for the Government. He was afterwards the superintending engineer to two kerosene companies, designing and carrying out the mining plant, and then, under engagement with the Sydney Gas Co., he erected the new chief station and designed several of the buildings.

Subsequently he resigned his position to take the post of chief draughtsman and engineer to Mort's Dock and Engineering Co., at Balmain. This position he held for a number of years, and then he commenced private practice.

With a view to making himself acquainted with the great engineering works of the world, he made an extended tour, visiting the principal cities of Europe and the United States.

During the course of his career he designed the hulls and machinery for over 40 steamers, including the Australian torpedo vessels. He was the first to introduce into Australia the compound engine to local boats, both paddle and screw; and designed the first ferry boat with screw at both ends, now so common at Port Jackson. Included among his works are numerous mills and manufactories, country water works, ice-making plant, etc.

He first introduced lifts into New South Wales, and invented a new system of wool pressing, which revolutionized the business by increasing the capacity four-fold. He also carried out many hydraulic and electric light installations in Sydney, and designed the apparatus by which trains on the New South Wales Railways were first lighted by gas.

Nearly all the deep-sea wharves at the north end of the city of Sydney were reconstructed by Mr. Selfe to accommodate modern vessels; and he initiated the first school for technical instruction in New South Wales in 1865. He also advocated most vigorously the construction of a circular city railway for Sydney and many city improvements which were much needed.

His death took place suddenly at Sydney on 15th October 1911, in his seventy-second year.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1882; he was also a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and had been President of both the Sydney Engineering Societies.


1912 Obituary [2]

NORMAN SELFE, an engineer of prominent rank and high repute in New South Wales, died at Sydney on the 15th October, 1911, in his seventy-second year.

Born on the 9th December, 1839, at Kingston-on-Thames, he left this country for Australia at the end of 1854. On arrival at Sydney, he entered the engineering works of Messrs. P. N. Russell and Company, with whom he served his apprenticeship, afterwards remaining with them as chief draughtsman for several years.

Between 1865 and 1868 he designed and erected extensive works and machinery for the Australian Mineral Oil Company at North Shore, and for the Western Kerosene Company at Hartley Vale. As Engineer to the Australian Gas Light Company he erected their works in Sydney. On their completion, he became Chief Engineer to the Morts Dock and Engineering Company, and designed the mail-steamer “Governor Blackall” for the Queensland Government, and the high-level pumping-engines for Sydney Waterworks.

In 1876 he commenced private practice, and in the course of his subsequent career carried out, or was associated with, a large number of important works, comprising mills, factories and other industrial buildings ; cranes, lifts, refrigerators and a large variety of machinery ; wool-pressing plant from his own patented designs ; hydraulic and electric light installations and other work. He designed and built over forty screw-steamers, torpedo-boats for the New South Wales Government, and several large paddle-boats, all with compound engines. He also carried out extensive wharf improvements in Sydney, waterworks for the town of Paramatta and the Katoomba Company’s Incline and Summit Railway, and was responsible for the system of gas-lighting adopted on the New South Wales Railways.

Apart from professional practice, Mr. Selfe always took a keen ‘and active interest as a citizen in all that concerned the improvement of Sydney. Its transport problems especially appealed to him, and his design for a North Shore bridge was successful in a world-wide competition. The first school of technical instruction in New South Wales was initiated by him, and he afterwards became a member of the committee of the Working Men’s College and chairman of the Board of Technical Education. He was one of the founders of the Engineering Association of New South Wales, of which he was President for several years, and to whose proceedings he contributed many valuable papers. He was also a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and of the Institution of Naval Architects.

Mr. Selfe was elected a Member of The Institution on the 7th December, 1880


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