Charles Robert Scrivener (1855 - 1923)

Scrivener was a surveyor, born at Windsor, New South Wales. He was an accountant at Orange in 1875 before joining the New South Wales Department of Lands as cadet ‘geodetic computer’ in the trigonometrical branch (1876).

From 1891 he carried out the re-survey and definition of the boundaries of the Gloucester estate of the Australian Agricultural Co. and in 1896 he was acting district surveyor of the Wagga Wagga district, which included the southern Monaro. Scrivener’s surveys in rugged country established his reputation as an extremely able bushman. However, he is best known for his association with the Federal capital site selection. Influenced by the Snowy River ‘surplus overflow’, Alexander Oliver had recommended Bombala, with sea access at Eden, as the best prospect for Australia’s capital city.

For two months during the winter of 1904 Scrivener and an assistant worked on horseback in snow-covered country to prepare contour maps, drawn in a tent on rough drawing-paper by Scrivener, with such accuracy that the Land Department swiftly published 4000 copies. His reports proved vital to the choice of Dalgety. Scrivener next marked out prospective territorial boundaries but on his own initiative added 1550 sq. miles (4015 km²) taking in the Snowy River watershed including Mount Kosciusko. In an angry response (Sir) Joseph Carruthers withdrew the Dalgety site and threatened High Court action if a single Commonwealth survey-peg was driven into New South Wales soil. Scrivener served in Hay as district surveyor in 1906-08, and engaged in cadastral surveys in the Deniliquin district. Following Commonwealth acceptance in December 1908 of a capital in the Yass-Canberra district, Andrew Fisher chose Scrivener in preference to the New South Wales chief surveyor to determine the best city site and water-catchment territory. Scrivener forced a small team on a sixteen-hour day schedule to complete the task within two months. He again triggered prime ministerial correspondence and New South Wales hostility by suggesting a boomerang-shaped territory of 1015 sq. miles (2630 km²) determined by the Cotter, Queanbeyan and Molonglo river catchments. Despite negotiation of alternative territory, Scrivener’s recommendation for a city in the Canberra valley with railway access to Jervis Bay was accepted. His survey was the basis of the competition for the design for the capital city. In 1910 Scrivener was appointed first director of Commonwealth lands and surveys. He established the land survey and property branch of the Department of Home Affairs and concentrated on the topographical, cadastral, triangulation and railway surveys connected with city planning and land purchase, until he and his staff were posted to Melbourne in 1914. He retired in 1915, having been appointed I.S.O. in 1913.

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