Electric Lighting in Gawler

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Murray Street Gawler was originally enjoying lighting by Gas in 1878 - 1879.


GAWLER, May 30.— At the meeting of the Town Council on Monday evening the committee appointed to consider the electric lighting scheme recommended that the following tenders be accepted:—
Contract No. 1, Wm. McLean & Co., 72 B.H.P. Gardner engine and sundries, £702 10/. Contract No. 1A, Kynoch, Ltd., gas-producer plant, £177. Contract No. 2, Wm. McLean & Co., dynamo and various fittings, £739 18/6. Warburton, Franki, and Co., one set of accumulators, erected, £396 10/. British General Electric Co., one 40- kilowatt and one 20-kilowatt transformers, with regulating switches, £130 17/6. Contract No. 3, Siemens Bros., switches, items, and fuses, £12 1/. British General Electric Co., switch, ammeters, voltmeters, fuses, &c., £84 18/6. H. Rowe & Co., syncroscope. £3 4/6. Wm. McLean & Co., service meters, £151 15/. Contract No. 4, supply of poles to remain in abeyance. Contract No. 5. Wm. McLean & Co., aluminium cables, £225.
The committee had instructed the town clerk to write to Messrs. Lincolne & McDougall, informing them that an intimation had been made to the members of the council that the alternating current system would not be the best for a small installation, and asking them to furnish the council with their opinion of this matter. The recommendations were adopted. Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954), Saturday 3 June 1911, page 14


The Gawler electric light plant consists of one 75-h.p. Gardner suction gas engine direct coupled to one 45 -kilowatt double current generator. The generator supplies alternating current direct to the mains and direct current for battery charging. Gas is supplied to the engine by a Kynoch suction gas producer, using charcoal as a fuel. There is one 600 ampere Premier storage battery, which discharges to the mains through a 20-kilowatt rotary converter, thus maintaining a supply when the engine is not running.

The supply is controlled on a four-panel enamelled slate switchboard, from which independent feeders run to various sections of the town. The mains consist of hard drawn bare aluminium carried on jarrah poles. The system of supply being alternating current 50 cycles 200 and 400 volts.

The street lighting consists of 10 100 candlepower and 50 30 candlepower me- tallic filament lamps. These lamps are sup- plied by special mains independent from the private lighting, thus enabling the street lighting to be switched on and off as required from the power house.

The tariff is:— For lighting, 7d. per unit for the first 50 units and 3d. over : for power, 4d. per unit : meter rent 6d. per month. The engine is of the 4-cylinder high speed type, running at 500 revolutions per minute, and is fitted with force lubrication throughout. The coupling between the engine and generator is of the leather belt type, which is specially designed to avoid any possible trouble due to want of alignment or movement of foundation.

The contractors for tbe supply of the engine, generator, rotary converter and switchboard, and for the erection of the entire equipment were Messrs. W. McLean & Co., Melbourne. The storage battery was supplied by Messrs. Warburton, Franki, & Co., Melbourne. The transformers and sundry equipment were supplied by the British General Electric Co., Melbourne ; the suction gas producer by Kynoch Ltd., Melbourne and the poles by Cowell Bros., Ltd., Adelaide.

Other suppliers of sundry equipment were Siemen Bros. Ltd., Melbourne, and Messrs. H. Rowe & Co., Melbourne. Mr. E. G. Roberts was tbe representative of Messrs, McLean & Co. and had charge of the erection. The plant was designed by Messrs. Lincolne and MacDougall, Melbourne, and Mr. F. Thornton was the clerk of works under the instructions of the engineers and is now tbe electrician in charge.

Bunyip (Gawler, SA : 1863 - 1954), Friday 30 August 1912, page 2

Click here to view photos and information about electricity in Gawler.


1831 Michael Faraday discovered that a wire moving through a magnetic field produced an electric current.

1879 Joseph Swan of Newcastle, England, first demonstrated his carbon filament incandescent globe, eight months before Thomas Edison, who text books usually credit with the invention of the electric light globe.

1836 South Australia was proclaimed a Colony, and as Adelaide developed its streets were lit only by lanterns provided by publicans to guide patrons to their bars.

1863 Gas lights were installed in King William Street supplied with coal gas produced by the then privately owned South Australian Gas Company at Brompton.

1867 Charles Todd (of overland telegraph fame) and his assistant Edward Cracknell experimented with electric street lighting using a searchlight mounted on the telegraph office for the Royal visit of HRH the Duke of Edinburgh. The light was powered by 200 voltaic cells.

1871 A second company, The Provincial Gas Company produced gas at its Thebarton works and opened country works at Gawler, Kapunda and Strathalbyn, but was absorbed into the SA Gas Co in 1878.

1878 The first demonstration in London of electric lighting by a public authority.
1881 Charles Todd’s next experiment used an arc light mounted at the top of the Post Office tower, powered by a dynamo driven by a portable engine lent for the occasion by Messrs Francis Clark &Co. Todd was then asked by the Government to investigate interstate and overseas installations.

1885 Adelaide Arcade lit with electric lights using its own generating plant. Circus's and some business houses had their own electricity generators, such as the Theatre Royal which used a Garret Locomotive to drive its generator and did supply the power for Adelaide’s first permanent street light. Electric light was used for the first time in Gawler for business purposes. Messers Hilfers & Company's premises were lit by 18 lamps of 20 candlepower on the ground floor which was bathed in a fine clear light. (from The Advertiser lst Dec. 1885).

1888 The first Municipal Electricity Plant in Australia was at Tamworth in NSW. The original steam driven plant has been restored or replicated and opened as a working museum. (from Electronics Australia Jan 1989).

1891 The South Australian Electric Light and Motive Power Company successfully applied to Parliament for powers to supply elec­tricity within the colony of South Australia. This was the true ancestor of today's ETSA. Port Adelaide Council was the only Municipality to show interest and the company was awarded a contract, but due to lack of finance was unable to fulfill its contract, so it lapsed.

1897 The Company tried again in 1897 and built a power station in Nile Street Port Adelaide and South Australia's first electric street lighting and power distribution system was set up by 1899. The plant consisted of three Galloway boilers and two 25kW and two 50 kW Alley & McLellan high speed, single acting, non condensing steam engines coupled to Johnson & Phillips bi-polar DC generators, plus a 500 ampere hour battery.

1901 Adelaide’s first Power House was built on the corner of Grenfell St. and East Tce. The plant consisted of three Babcock & Willcox boilers, two 100 HP Williams central valve steam engines coupled to two 50 kW 200volt DC generators. There was also a Williams 360 HP engine connected to a 400volt DC generator.

1902 Motor Generators were installed to convert the DC to AC for transmission to the suburbs of North Adelaide and Walkerville.

1904 The Electric Lighting and Traction Company of Australia Ltd sold its South Australian undertaking to the Adelaide Electric Supply Company Ltd (AESCo) a company incorporated in England and registered in Sth Aust. as a foreign company.

1907 Power for Adelaide’s first electric trams was supplied from the Grenfell Street Power Station.

1923 Osborne 'A' Station opened on the 12th of August with plant consisting of three Metropolitan Vickers sets, two 5,000 and one 10,000 kW which was increased to a total of 79,000kW by 1942.

1924 Grenfell Street Power Station closed down and all but a few small areas of Adelaide had been converted to AC. James Cyril Stobie (AESCo's Chief Draftsman) invented a steel and concrete pole (The Stobie pole) which, because of its much longer life, made the expansion of AESCo's distribution to country centres economically possible.
1942 Osborne 'B' Station begun.

1946 The Electricity Trust of South Australia was formed.

1954 The Thomas Playford 'A' Station opened at Port Augusta, using brown coal mined at Leigh Creek.
1960 '8' Station opened at Port Augusta.

1967 Torrens Island Power Station began operating.

1968 Osborne 'A' Station closed, 'B' Station retained for peak load use only.

I became interested in the Gawler Electricity Supply when Tom Modra showed me a book of old photographs he had found in 1989, entitled "TOWN OF GAWLER, Electricity Supply Undertaking, with compliments from:- Gerald B. Lincolne, J.Kenneth MacDougall, Consulting Engineers, Melbourne" and I was surprised to see this big engine in such a clear photo. I began asking around to see if anyone had information about the power station but could not find anybody who could help me. My brother Keven did some research at the Gawler Library and came up with some information, so I carried on searching through yards of microfilms of the "Bunyip" from 1910 to 1912.

Since 1879 Gawler streets had been illuminated by gas lights from gas produced at the Provincial Gas Company Works in Seventh street. High grade coal imported from NSW was needed to produce the gas so it was costing the Gawler Corporation 120 pounds per quarter for the 25 lights in Gawler and Willaston. Kadina and Wallaroo had electric street lighting in 1910 and at fourpence a unit, was much cheaper than gas. Gawler Council called a public meeting on the 25th of November 1910 and a decision was made to form a committee to investigate electric street lighting and to call for tenders.

Many months went by and they did eventually receive ten tenders from overseas and interstate companies. The Council appointed an expert (Mr G.B.Lincolne of Camperdown Vic.) to vet the tenders and to report to Council. None of the tenders were acceptable in their entirety, so Mr Lincolne (who by this time had taken a partner, J.K.MacDougall and moved to Melbourne) was asked to prepare specifications and call for new tenders.

Contracts were eventually let to Cowell Bros & Co Ltd for the supply of wooden poles, Mr Thomas White for the erection of the power house and the Melbourne firm of Messers W.McLean & Co. for the plant and installation. Construction began in 1910 and was estimated to cost 4,000 pounds, which increased to 6,000 pounds before it was completed.

The building was of wood and iron construction, situated where the ETSA office and Line Depot now stands at the corner of Fotheringham and Scheibener Terrace’s. The plant installed there consisted of one 75 HP Gardner suction gas engine, direct coupled to a 45 Kilowatt (kW) double current alternator. The alternator supplied 200 and 400 at 50 volts cycles per second (c/s or Hz) direct to the direct mains and current for the battery charging.

The battery was a 600 ampere hour "Premier" storage battery, (supplied by Warburton & Franki of Melbourne) consisting of 100 two volt lead/acid cells in glass jars. A 20kW rotary inverter converted the DC to AC for maintaining the supply when the engine was not running.

The Gas for the engine was provided by a 11 Kynoch11 gas producer using charcoal for fuel. The charcoal was supplied by F.A.Russell of Smithfield at a cost of 62 shillings and sixpence a ton so coke was substituted 1n a two to one ratio which was found to be much more economical than charcoal alone.

Cooling of the engines was achieved by pumping the water to the top of a cooling tower outside the building and allowing it to trickle down over wooden slats being cooled by evaporation, collected at the bottom and re­ circulated through the engines. The electricity distribution was controlled at a four panel enamelled slate switchboard from which independent mains fed various parts of the town.
The mains consisted of hard drawn bare •aluminium con­ ductors carried on jarrah poles. The street lighting consisted of ten 100 candlepower and fifty, 50 candlepower metallic filament lamps. The lamps in Murray street were fitted in the existing cast iron gas was controlled at a four panel from which independent mains fed lantern posts which had been donated to Council by prominent townspeople, one of these still remains in front of the Gawler Institute. The street lighting was supplied by mains, separate from the general purpose supplies, so that the street lamps could be switched on or off from the power house.

The Consulting Engineers, Lincolne & MacDougall were contracted to manage the undertaking with Mr Frederick Thornton as Clerk of works and the first electrician in charge and his assistant was Mr A.H.Johnson.

The first test run was on Wednesday the 26th of June 1912, arrangements were made to supply street lighting and private consumers between 5-30 and llpm for two weeks. The official opening was held on the 16th of August 1912. The Town Hall was suitably illuminated for the ceremony, and the Mayor C.Reibech did the honours of switching on the street lights, Mr E.H.Coombe offered congratulations on behalf of the townspeople. Invited guests then visited the power house before refreshments in the Council Chambers. Trouble began within a few weeks when the square poles began to bow, they were painted to try to prevent this, but were eventually replaced by round poles, at a cost of twelve shillings and sixpence for a 28 foot pole. Tarriffs charged were seven pence per unit up to 50 units of lighting and five pence for any excess, for power it was four pence per unit. Rental of meters cost six pence per month.

Following recommendations by the Consulting Engineers that steps be taken to enlarge the plant to accommodate increased demand, not only within the Municipality but to extend the supply to Gawler South (which was then a separate Council). A poll of ratepayers was held and a petition sent to Parliament requesting an amendment to the Gas and Electric Lighting Act to allow the supply of electricity to adjacent localities. The amendment was passed by Parliament in August 1913 and a second suction gas engine, alternator and gas producer was ordered. The Cambridge gas pr•oducer supplied was found to be unsatisfactory, so the contractor was ordered to remove it and supply another Kynoch unit.

The Consulting Engineers were found to be too remote to give effective management so a Committee consisting of the Mayor, the Town Clerk and one Councillor took over the management in 191.4. The batteries were not performing well after little over two years use and it was feared that they would need to be replaced.

The Gas Works was closed down in 1917 which left Willaston without street lighting until 1918 when electric lights were installed, and power made available to consumers. Also in 1918 a 23 HP crude oil engine was installed in the power house for generating the night load and was proving to be very economical at 1 penny per unit compared to the suction gas plant at 2 1/4 pence per unit.

The above eight photographs were in the album kindly loaned for this article by Tom Modra.

The Adelaide Electric Supply Company bought the Gawler Power Station in 1922 and built a 33,000 volt transmission line from Port Adelaide which was the first step towards the statewide electricity grid that now exists. Gawler was switched over to the power from Adelaide on the 16th of March 1924.

Sources of information:- Bunyip Newspaper microfilms accessed at the Gawler Library. Mayoral Reports 1909 - 1918, "Gawler, Colonel Light’s Country Town, By Derek Whitelock. (Note there are some discrepancies regarding dates between the three sources, we have used the dates published in the Bunyip).

The GARDNER 75 HP Suction Gas Engine was a four cylinder, high speed type, running at 500 RPM and was fitted with force feed lubrication throughout. The engine was direct coupled (via a flexible drive) to the 45 kW Alternator which was most likely also made by Gardner.

The maker of the engine was the Barton Hall Engine Works at Patricroft, England, which was founded by L.Gardner as a dynamo maker. Gardner made his first internal combustion gas engine in 1894 and soon gained a reputation for high quality engines and had sold 22,000 engines by 1914. Gardners also made matched generating sets. Gardners were bought out by Hawker-Siddeley in 1979 and are now stablemates with Lister, Petter, Blackstone etc. (Excerpts from "Stationary Engines for the Enthusiast,. by David Edgington and Charles Hudson, 1981.

Click here to read Memories of Gawler 1923+ _ by Colin Hillier re Electricity page 22. https://drive.google.com/open?id=1t46sIGz7_J3T34GOYtfOLIj27BDiXAxy

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