History of West Australia/Clayton Turner Mason

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Clayton Turner Mason HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

THE world reads of an astounding scientific discovery and wonders. Men begin to debate with themselves whether science after all cannot solve all the secrets of nature. Perhaps no century since the dawn of history has so indelibly stamped its impress on the progress of the age as this wonderful nineteenth has done. What hitherto were regarded as the insoluble problems in nature, sacred because of their profound mysteriousness, are now common property-knowledge. Men with hushed breath, as if dreading some infelicitous climax to such a series of startling discoveries, ask, "Where are they going to stop? Perhaps, after all, they will succeed in overcoming friction, and then, with the slightest impact, we shall be set agoing, and never stop." Such imaginative possibilities are buoying up the popular mind, and they endeavour now to reconcile all other branches of learn-to this gigantic progress-maker. Experiment, that Baconian instrument of inductive logic, has been mainly responsible for all progress and truth, and they hesitate not to apply its infallible criteria to the realms of religion and philosophy. All departments of this limitless word Science are on the march. In the van, side by side with the beautifully-marshalled giant of Electricity, is stationed a formidable rival, fighting, too, for the best interests of her country—Civil Engineering. Both do noble, valiant service, and both win equal applause in the fray. The prowess and utility of the latter has been longer tested and her achievements admired, though swift and dazzling are the strokes of her rival.

The place of civil engineering can never be filled or usurped; its contrivances and mechanical results are of more fundamental necessity for humanity than the superadded fascinating delicacies of electricity. Almost all means of transit are due to a theoretical and practical knowledge of this important profession, and the loss of these would spell the ruin of the world. Its devotees are for ever harassing their brains, devising some better scheme for the common good, and how seldom are their disinterested actions sufficiently recognised by the recipients of these conferments. In Western Australia, while as yet the colony was young and weapons rude, we cannot but respect and admire the energy and skill of those pioneers who, though continually hampered and fettered, contracted works of great engineering skill, which remain as monuments to their ability and labours. Among these Mr. Clayton Turner Mason's name bears universal reputation. He was born at Torrington, in Hertfordshire, in 1847. He was sent very young to Rickmansworth and Hampton private schools, where excellent elementary education is given. As a "provectiore" he received high-class instruction in King Edward's School, Birmingham, where he studied for some time. On leaving school with a considerable quantum of fundamental and useful knowledge, he felt that natural inclinations were strong for civil engineering. With such an unusual early leaning towards his calling, he was articled by his father to Mr. Thomas Waring, a leading member of the Institute of Civil Engineers, who was practising at Cardiff, in Wales. His term of apprenticeship was characterised by hard work and enthusiastic devotion to the science. Although but a young man, Mr. Mason was appointed to measure up the quantities in the great dispute between the contractor and the Penarth Dock and Railway Company, in which £100,000 was involved. He felt on the conclusion of his term that he had learnt much from such an able master, but at the same time was aware of the indefiniteness of scientific scope and research. He left for London, where he practised for some time before leaving for America. On this latter continent he was a great traveller, and reaped valuable information from the different methods of theory and practice in that country. If any country in the world is versatile, it is America, and that versatility is due to a pliable and complete gift of adaptation. In 1874 Australia claimed his services, and after various scientific achievements, he was engaged from 1884-87 in the Railway branch of the Public Works of New South Wales. At this period Western Australia was yawning and tossing dreamily about. It had remained long quiescent and inactive, and now thought of action and progress. In 1887 he came to Western Australia under engagement to the Government, and took up the duties of Resident Engineer of the Geraldton and Northampton Railway. This was the first Government Railway constructed in Western Australia. Difficulties, pecuniary and otherwise, retarded the progress of the line. For eighteen months he sedulously discharged his duties through a trying period. At one moment all available sums were expended and labour stopped. At the next, arrival of necessary implements and material was seriously delayed, and all patience taxed to the utmost. With such disturbing influences, it showed great pluck and determination to have pursued it so zealously, and great skill in bringing it to so speedy completion. During this time he undertook the superintendence of the construction of Point Moore Lighthouse, which was being built by Chance Brothers of Birmingham. His abilities as an engineer were now being recognised, and the Government appointed him controller of various public works in the Victoria district. All these offices he performed with the utmost satisfaction, and wonderful progress was made under his management. From this time his career consists of filling many important positions of fastly ascending importance. He was resident engineer for four years of the Eastern Railway. In the construction of this line money again was scarce, and a repetition of former troubles and difficulties was his unfortunate lot. These are but the necessary adjuncts of infantile development, and require for their mastry a cool head and patient hand. In 1882 and 1883 he was provisionally appointed Commissioner of Railways. He not only discharged the duties of Commissioner of Railways, but also those of Director of Public Works. In quick succession, and simultaneously with this appointment, other honourable offices fell to his lot. He was created a Commissioner of Railways, a member of the Executive and Legislative Councils, and general manager and maintenance engineer. Such a combination, as enviable as honourable, required no ordinary amount of ability and skill. The responsibility of these positions capably resting in the hands of one who could adequately discharge them, gradually elicited the reflex sense of public approval. His tenureship was marked by energy and careful methodical insight into all the departments. Everything was set on comprehensive, intelligible groundwork and system. It was during his period as councillor that the great arbitration case about the Geraldton and Northampton Railway was discussed. Two arbitrators, Sir James Lee-Steere and W. D. Moore, Esq., were appointed, and their decision was based mainly on Mr. Mason's report. Prior to certain concessions being granted to the Great Southern and Midland Railways, which it was proposed to construct on the "land grant" principle, certain rules of agreement had to be drawn up, which was done by a Select Committee of the Legislative Council, one of whom was Mr. Mason. Concessions and points of agreement were definitely fixed upon by the Committee, who acted and followed according to Mr. Mason's proposals. In June, 1885, he was made Commissioner of Railways and a member of the Executive Council, and on the introduction of Responsible Government was appointed to the Collectorship of Customs. He was married, in 1879, to Miss Julia Scott, and has five of a family. He is a prominent Freemason, having filled the chair of the St. George's Lodge. He is a Past Senior Grand Warden of District Grand Lodge.

In all kinds of manly sports Mr. Mason has ever taken a keen interest. In his youth he won laurels in the first Metropolitan the art of swimming and a brave heart has enabled him to perform deeds of valour in saving the lives of two of his fellow creatures. On the first occasion, while at Cardiff, he rescued a man who had fallen into the water, and had to swim more than half a mile with him. This deed of heroism attracted the attention of the Royal Humane Society, from whom he received the certificate of merit, signed by the Duke of Argyle, the then President. On another occasion he rescued a child who was knocked into the water by the tow rope of a steamer. As a rifle shot, Mr. Mason has distinguished himself by winning many important matches in England, Scotland, and Wales. He was one of the riflemen invited by the King of the Belgians to compete in the great matches in Belgium, in which there were 6,000 competitors. In these competitions, which were of an international character, Mr. Mason won the sixth prize. He brought his love for the sport with him to Australia, and in both Perth and Geraldton has been very successful in matches. The love of field sports seems to be hereditary in the family, for in the cricket field Mr. J. R. Mason, of Kent, who played for the South of England Eleven against the recent Australian visiting eleven, is his nephew. Mr. Mason is a keen and liberal supporter of the pastime, and sighs again for the halcyon days of youth that he might enjoy it all over again.