Canberra Contour Survey


Charles Robert Scrivener (1855 - 1923)

Charles Scrivener’s important, large scale contour map of present day Canberra, made for the preparation of the proposed federal capital. The area of the capital is marked in red.


S/N: PP-1909-ACT-001-PPAP–228854
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Full Title:

Canberra Contour Survey




Charles Robert Scrivener (1855 - 1923)


In good condition, with folds as issued, laid onto archival linen


Lithograph printed in colour.

Image Size: 

x 1008mm
Canberra Contour Survey - Antique Map from 1909

Genuine antique



Charles Scrivener’s important, large scale contour map of present day Canberra, made for the preparation of the proposed federal capital. The area of the capital is marked in red.


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

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