Happy birthday No.8!

by Kate C
Publish date
28 September 2011
Comments (0)

At 2pm today it was exactly 100 years ago, on 28 September 1911, that the No. 8 Steam Pumping Engine in the Spotswood Pumping Station was fired up for the first time. You can still see the it in motion in the Engine Room but these days it runs in demonstration mode, powered by compressed air.

The Austral Otis Steam Pumping Engine - Austral Otis, No.8 Pumping Engine, MMBW Spotswood Sewerage Pumping Station, 1911 (ST 038266).
Source: Museum Victoria

Built by local company Austral Otis, the No. 8 Engine was a modified copy of the earlier Hathorn Davey engine. It is one of five surviving engines at the Pumping Station which remain some of the most sophisticated steam engines ever built in Australia. It took four men to run the No. 8 Engine: an engine driver, a greaser, a pump attendant and a fireman. It was one of the engines that moved sewerage from Melbourne to Werribee following the welcome introduction of Melbourne's sewerage system in the 1890s.

Original blueprint for an Austral Otis Steam Pumping Engine. Original blueprint for an Austral Otis Steam Pumping Engine.
Image: Austral Otis
Source: Museum Victoria

Of the bank of engines, one or two were run continuously with additional machines brought on to handle peak sewerage flow. The Pumping Station log books show that from 1912, the No. 8 Engine was used heavily for the first decade of its life. In the 1920s and 30s the old steam engines were progressively replaced by electric engines which were cheaper to run. No. 8 was used less often, but was still important for managing peak periods.

There was a regular flow pattern coinciding with the daily cranking up of industrial and domestic activities. Curator Matthew Churchward describes a peak on Mondays when many women did the week's laundry. The superintendant would also keep a close eye on the weather and impending rainfall, and counted raindrops to predict how many staff would be needed to manage the stormwater that would be on its way to Spotswood within a couple of hours. During big storms, all the engines might be running to prevent sewerage from entering the Yarra River.

During its working life from 1911 to 1947, the No. 8 Engine pumped the equivalent of four billion toilet flushes out of the city. It was a filthy job but vital to the health and quality of life of 20th century Melbourne. If you're at Scienceworks today, be sure to wish this gleaming hulk of pistons, valves, cranks and pipes a happy birthday!

Graeme Kerrs running a pumping engine demonstration Workshop volunteer and casual engine driver Graeme Kerrs running a pumping engine demonstration in front of the No. 8 Engine.
Image: James Geer
Source: Museum Victoria


Centenary of the Austral Otis Steam Pumping Engines

Spotswood Sewerage Pumping Station

MV Blog: World Toilet Day

Comments (0)

Write your comment below All fields are required

We love receiving comments, but can’t always respond.

About this blog

Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.