Mephan Ferguson

(1843 - 1919)

Mephan Ferguson was born in 1843 in Falkirk, Scotland. When Mephan was eleven years old his family set sail for Melbourne , Australia on the ship "Admiral Boxer". Melbourne during this time was experiencing one of Australia's biggest gold-rushes the tender age of thirteen, Mephan went off to work and as luck would have it a new career was about to emerge.

Fine Tuning His Craft

Melbourne was about to experience a massive change in the mining industry. Following the early discovery of gold most of the mining was surface (alluvial) mining. However as the alluvial gold became scarce, mining moved underground. As a result more steel made equipment was required in the deep shafts. Mephan began his apprenticeship working in hot and cold metals and excelled in his new found career. Much to his mother horror, Mephan and his brother set up a workshop in their backyard to experiment and fabricate riveted wrought iron items. In 1874 Mephan married Agnes Shand.

A Company of His Own

In 1875 Mephan and his father-in-law, W.A. Shand, established their own company and began winning contracts for the construction of railway bridges. The factory was located in Erskine Street, North Melbourne. Within two years the company became known as Mephan Ferguson Pty Ltd, following the death of Shand. Later Mephan purchased the Carlton Foundry in 1884 to handle the ever increasing work load. Mephan was involved in the construction of the Shelford, Rochester Rail, Johnston Street, Brunton and Cordite Avenue bridges and the Flinders Street Viaduct.

Lock Bar Joint

In the 1880's Mephan's company moved into the area of pipe making, following the decision by the Victorian Government to investigate a more efficient way of suppling water to the metropolitan areas. Mephan Ferguson Pty Ltd was the first company to build the first steel main in Australia. In 1895, C.Y. O'Connor contacted Mephan about the building of a 580km pipeline from Perth to Coolgardie. Mephan suggested using spiral riveted wrought iron pipes for the job but in the mean time he tried to develop a 100% efficient joint. Then one night in 1896, Mephan had an idea which would eventually revolutionise the industry. Sitting at his desk he happened to notice a dovetail joint, which got him thinking. He grabbed a piece of lead and made a similar joint in the lead model and within minutes he had produce the prototype for what would become the lock bar joint.

Goldfields Pipeline Scheme

In 1897, Ferguson patented a rivetless steel locking-bar joint and the following year he designed the equipment for its manufacture on a commercial scale. The pipes were cheaper and simpler to produce than fabricated ones which required riveting. At the time it was strongly believed that steel was not the best material to use for water pipes, but Mephan would prove them wrong. Once the pipes were coated with a solution of asphaltum and creosote the steel became non-corrosive. In fact nearly 350kms of the Goldfields Pipeline are still the original pipes. C.Y.O'Connor viewed Ferguson's pipes being laid in South Australia and was impressed by their low frictional resistance to water and their lack of leaks. C.Y. O'Connor recommended the use of Ferguson pipes for the Goldfields Water Scheme to the Western Australian Government in 1898. The Government accepted the recommendation and the contract was eventually divided between Ferguson and the Hoskins company who already had a foundry at Midland Junction. Ferguson bought land along the railway line in Maylands and built a highly mechanised foundry employing initially over 50 workers. He named the area "Falkirk Siding" after his hometown in Scotland. At the peak of pipe production there were over 180 people working at the foundry. It was rumoured that Maylands was named after his daughter May but that has never been confirmed. One thing is for sure, many of the streets around the foundry were named by Mephan. Mephan and Ferguson Streets were named after himself, Falkirk Street after his hometown, Foundry Street after his business and Rowland Street after his friend, Mr Rowland who was the Works Manager in Perth. Ferguson completed the contract in 1903 well ahead of schedule and left Western Australia soon after. The Maylands foundry was closed in 1928.

Later Years

Eventually interest for the Lock Bar pipes came from outside Australia, resulting in the opening of a pipe manufacturing plant in Birmingham, England. The Carnegie Company in the USA secured the rights for manufacturing the pipes in America.Mephan Ferguson died in November 1919 at the age of 76. His company was equally divided between his children. In the early 1950's Mephan Ferguson Pty Ltd became a subsidiary of Tubemakers of Australia Ltd.

Facts About Mephan Ferguson

Mephan Ferguson's family crest depicted a bee on a thistle, with the motto "Dulcius Ex Asperis" (Sweetness After Difficulty). His watch also had a bee and thistle engraved on it with a simple inscription underneath, "Industria".

Mephan Ferguson was the pioneer of bolt manufacturing in Australia. His factory at Erskine Street in Melbourne supplied bolts, screws and dog spikes.

Mephan patented many of his inventions including the Spiral Welded Pipes and the Lock Bar Joint Pipes.

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