Coode was a civil engineer and considered the most distinguished harbour engineer of the nineteenth century. He was in charge of the Portland Harbour works in 1856-72 and made many reports on English harbours and rivers. In 1849 he was elected a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers and was president from May 1889 to May 1891. He was knighted in 1872 and appointed K.C.M.G. in 1886. He served on the International Commission of the Suez Canal in 1884-92 and was also an active member of the Royal Colonial Institute and chairman of the Colonial and Continental Church Society.
Coode first visited Australia in 1878, when he was brought out by the Melbourne Harbor Trust to report on works for improving the port. Large ocean-going ships had been prevented from approaching the city by the narrow and winding Yarra River and the inadequacy of the port facilities. He recommended improvements to the existing channel in preference to the direct canal advocated by many local authorities. The river was to be widened, deepened and made into a smooth curve by means of a canal through Fishermen’s Bend. To accommodate the increasing port traffic he recommended the construction of docks. His plans were faulty in detail but his proposed river improvement and location of dock sites provided a satisfactory basis on which the modern port of Melbourne has been developed. Coode was then retained by the government to report on other harbours. At Portland his recommendation to build a breakwater of 3450 feet (1052 m) protecting several short shipping piers was considered too expensive and elaborate, and only a small, ineffective ‘Fisherman’s Breakwater’ was constructed. A breakwater similar to Coode’s proposal was finally built in 1960. At Geelong a bar running across the harbour mouth prevented large ships from entering: Coode’s recommendation of 1879 of a direct channel cut through the bar was adopted by the government. His recommendations for Warrnambool and Port Fairy were also carried out. His Lakes Entrance plan brought Gippsland into direct communication with the sea by construction of a channel through the sand dunes between the lakes and the ocean. This work was completed in June 1889. In South Australia Coode reported on navigation of the Murray River mouth.
In 1885 Coode revisited Australia and examined harbours and river mouths from Fremantle round the southern and eastern coasts to the Gulf of Carpentaria. He reported from London in 1887-88 to the New South Wales government on the Clarence River, where he recommended the building of two moles or piers to act as breakwaters and training banks and the removal of the rocky reef across the entrance to provide a fixed navigable entrance and reduce damage from floods and tides. At Richmond River he recommended breakwaters and training banks to neutralize the shifting character of the river entrance. These two reports were put into effect and helped to develop the trade of rich agricultural hinterlands. At Lake Macquarie, to give better access to the collieries, Coode recommended improvement of the channel connecting the lake to the sea. In his Macleay River report he recommended two breakwaters and training banks to regulate the river entrance.
In 1887 Coode made two reports for the Queensland government; both were carried out. At Mackay he recommended extensive training banks and the dredging of a continuous deep water channel from the entrance of the Pioneer River up to the town. For the port of Townsville he proposed breakwaters and dredging operations. In the same year Coode made two reports for Western Australia. He chose a site for Fremantle Harbour and reported on harbour works, but the plan was rejected. He had, however, impressed Western Australian officials sufficiently for the main street of South Perth and another in East Fremantle to be named after him. At Geraldton he recommended a jetty with railways and warehouses to increase accommodation for loading and discharging ships. In South Australia, after personal inspection, he recommended an outer harbour for Port Adelaide.
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