The Smith Survey

The Smith Survey was a detailed trigonometrical survey of the city carried out by the city engineer Charles Smith during 1878 to 1880.

The Survey was done in preparation for the installation of general system of deep drainage. It comprises 126 large format maps each of 10-acre blocks, which show the precise location and layout of every building that existed in the City at that time.

The knowledgeable staff at the Adelaide City Archives have written a fascinating history of the Smith Survey based on information held within the City of Adelaide Archives Collection. Read on to learn more about this significant survey. 

Prior to 1881 there was no effective system of deep drainage across Adelaide city and North Adelaide. The removal of household sewerage was undertaken by night carts and then deposited on the Park Lands. The construction and cleansing of privies and cesspools was regulated by the Adelaide City Council health inspectors.

From 1873, the Public Health Act (Act No. 22 of 1873) imposed wider responsibilities on local councils with regard to the removal of "unwholesome or insanitary conditions" considered harmful to public health. In July 1877 Council commissioned William Clark, an eminent civil engineer (who had come to Australia to advise on Sydney's water supply), to conduct an intensive inspection of Adelaide city with a view of proposing a thorough system of drainage "for the sake of the health, comfort and convenience of the citizens". (1)

After 11 months work in determining and recording "the depths, inclinations, discharge and cost of a drainage scheme" during which he was greatly assisted by the City Engineer and Surveyor, JL Hyndman, on 14 January 1878 Clark presented to Council a comprehensive report in which he outlined a general plan for the deep drainage of the entire city.(2)

After carefully considering Clark's report, a deputation of the City Council waited upon the government of the day "to urge the desirability of their undertaking the drainage scheme", the parliament having previously intimated its intention to carry out such works (when the Adelaide Waterworks Act had been passed in 1860).(3) The government readily agreed to construct the proposed drainage system and on
30 November 1878, the Adelaide Sewers Act was passed by parliament, making provision for the necessary expenditure for the construction of a water carriage system of drainage for the city and its suburbs.

Prior to the commencement of this work Clark's plan called for a detailed cadastral survey of the city to be performed. Accordingly, arrangements were made with the Commissioner of Public Works to conduct "a general survey of the city and the preparation of a plan", the cost of which was to be shared equally between the Corporation and the government (while the full cost of preparing the drainage plan was to borne by the Corporation, the government was to meet the cost of photo-lithographing the plan). (4)

On 18 February 1878 Council instructed the City Engineer and Surveyor "to carefully prepare a Plan of the city of Adelaide on a scale sufficiently large to show in detail, by differences in tint, permanent from temporary buildings, showing the levels not only of the street surfaces, but of the back yards also, the levels and positions of cellars where they exist, and the points where drainage will be required, such as kitchen sinks, water taps, stack pipes, water closets, etc., on a scale of 40 feet to the inch". (5)

There appears to have been some misgivings within Council as to the competency of Hyndman to carry out the task of surveying the entire city. On 21 January 1878 a motion that "applications be invited for a first-class engineer to take the entire management of all works in this city" was narrowly defeated in Council after Mayor Henry Scott had produced testimonials from William Clark affirming the valuable assistance which Hyndman had given him during the preparation of his report on the drainage scheme.(6)

It was agreed that Hyndman should be furnished with all the professional and other assistance as he may require "to push the work as fast as prudence will permit, having a due regard to its correctness and efficiency". (7) A draftsman, two surveyors and four chainmen were engaged to assist with the survey work, but even with this help it soon became clear that Hyndman had far more work as City Engineer and Surveyor than he could comfortably cope with, and that if the survey was to be completed within a reasonable period of time, it would be necessary "to have some of the burden taken off". (8) Hyndman was therefore relieved from those "city duties appertaining solely to the office of City Surveyor" to be permitted to devote himself solely to the preparation of the survey plan. On 18 March1 878, Council appointed JMC Langdon as Acting City Surveyor to be entrusted with the "ordinary work on the streets", and other routine outdoor duties hitherto performed by Hyndman. A month later, Council appointed Langdon to the office of City Surveyor "until such time as the City Engineer has completed the plan now in the course of preparation". (9)

Work on the survey progressed at a steady pace. However, on 4 August 1878, the project suffered an unexpected setback with the sudden death of Hyndman. In his place Council appointed Charles William Smith, a professional engineer of considerable "intelligence, zeal and activity". (10) 

As Engineer in Charge of the Survey of the City Smith was instructed to complete "the survey of the city and construction of a map of the city in accordance with the suggestion of Mr W Clark CE, for drainage purposes, on a scale of forty feet to the inch, to see the said plan correctly and truly drawn in every particular, and properly prepared ready for the photo-lithographer". (11)

Smith began working on the survey on 20 October 1878. Two new assistant surveyors were recruited "to fill the vacancies which had occurred", and they were later joined by three more surveyors who, together with a draftsman and eight chainmen, were continually occupied for the next 13 months in carrying out the trigonometrical work of the survey. 

According to Smith, each surveyor was able to cover an average of an acre a day, "plotting lines on streets" and "filling in the details of the blocks".(12) Evidently, he had to entirely undertake again the work of his predecessor - "work so inaccurately done that I could not accept any of it, and therefore commenced de novo". (13) Despite this, by 23 December 1879 Smith was able to inform Council that the bulk of the survey work was nearing completion in readiness for the photo-lithographer. The plan of the City was completed on 30th June 1880.

  • The survey of the city was carried out on a scale of 40 feet to the inch. The survey sheets were prepared by the survey team from detailed drawings, measurements and notes along with other pencilled jottings recorded in a series of Survey Field Books.
  • There are 23 volumes of the Field Books, each one carefully numbered and focused on separate areas divided into their respective town acres. In addition, there was a detailed hand-written Index to the Field Note Books which allowed a location and town acre to be quickly identified and viewed in the relevant volume. 
  • The data recorded in the Field Note Book was used as the basis on which the City of Adelaide Survey Maps were produced. A total of 1042 town acres were plotted, arranged mostly in 10-acre blocks on the 126 survey streets, which were reduced by photo-lithography to a scale of 80 feet to the inch. 
  • According to Smith: Everything existing on the ground - buildings, tramways, post-pillars and even the trees in the streets - are delineated on the plans, which give the fullest information possible as to how the city is occupied. Every house and every subdivision of property on the ground is represented while even the character of the building - whether of stone, brick or wood and iron - is indicated. The fireplugs, stopcocks, standpipes, lamp-posts and telegraph posts are also shown; and anything in the shape of a public building, a church or a hotel stands out as a landmark, the names being clearly printed on the plan. (14)
  • An important feature of the survey plan was the delineation of the levels all over the city, the datum of level taken being 100 feet below the low-water mark at Port Adelaide. Two base lines were measured with rods along South Terrace and West Terrace and all other distances were worked from these. Lines were set out and chained and angles taken along every street and lane. In order to ensure absolute accuracy all measurements were taken with steel tapes; the angles of the trigonometrical work were taken from the Albert Tower at the Adelaide Town Hall. In the plan, base lines are shown running along the north and south side of each street. (15)
  • Besides the plans of the acre blocks, Smith also produced 13 sheets showing the Park Lands (including the Botanic Gardens). Tracings were made and forwarded to the Hydraulic Engineer of those portions of the Park Lands through which the main sewer was to pass.
  • The cost of undertaking the survey amounted to £3,391, of which the Corporation and the Government each paid half. The total cost of preparing the plan was £1,067, the whole of which was borne by the Corporation, while the government paid for the lithographing. (16)
  • Some 2,000 single sheets of plans representing 10-acre blocks were produced, to be sold at 2 shillings per sheet, while 100 sets of plans of the entire city consisting of 126 sheets in all were bound in volumes, to be sold at £50 a set. It was envisaged that proceeds from the sale of the plan would significantly help to defray the cost of the undertaking.
  • Each Member of Council was presented with a bound set of the plans. On 25 March 1881, the Town Clerk (Thomas Worsnop) was instructed by Council to "take all necessary steps to secure the copyright of the plans of the City for the Corporation".(17) By 22nd August, 1881, the preparation of the plans for sale to the public was completed, the Town Clerk being asked by Council "to make arrangements with booksellers and publishers for the disposal of the City plans".(18)  

On 17 July 1882, the Town Clerk reported that a notice had been served by Council on a local firm of lithographers (Penman and Galbraith of Currie Street) ordering them to desist from publishing in map form any part of the Smith survey.(19) 

Apparently, the lithographers had been acting at the behest of a HN Colyer of Norwood, who had compiled a map of the southern area of the city using the decastral plans, thus violating the legal rights of the Corporation. In defending his actions, Colyer explained to the Council that although copyrighted, the survey sheets had not actually been registered by the Corporation, the word "Registered" having been omitted on the plans sold to the public. (20)

On the advice of the City Solicitors (Bruce and Moore) Council promptly instructed the Town Clerk to write to the Registrar of Copyrights asking that each sheet of the plan be registered under the Copyright Act of 1878 "so that the Copyright of each sheet or plan may become vested in the Corporation of Adelaide". (21) In this way, the question of copyright of the survey sheets would be mad "indubitable". (22)

Despite a suggestion by Colyer that an agreement may be reached in regard to the maps he had issued, Council instructed their Solicitors to take immediate proceedings against him. On 29 November 1882, Mayor Edwin Smith informed Council that a writ had been "served on Mr Colyer for infringing the rights of the Corporation by pirating the City plans". (23) The case was heard in the Adelaide Local Court on 20 March 1883, the judge finding in favour of the Corporation and the defendant being ordered to "deliver up to the Corporation " all the maps he had published. (24) Colyer appealed against the judgement, but this was dismissed on a legal technicality by the Supreme Court in March 1885.

The main uses of the Smith Survey were stated at the time as being:

  • to facilitate the installation of a water borne system of sewerage by enabling the Hydraulic Engineer's Department to carry out Clark's scheme "with confidence and accuracy". (25) The main sewers, connecting the City with the Sewerage Farm at Islington, began operating during 1881.
  • to supply the Lands Titles Office with accurate data to enable it to determine the legal boundaries of properties to be transferred and registered under the Real Property Act of 1858.
  • an invaluable record for the City Council. In Smith's words "The survey and plan will be of the greatest service to the Corporation who hitherto have had no reliable data from which they could determine whether encroachments had been made upon dedicated thoroughfares…” (26)

    With the completion of the survey plan of the city, Smith's services as City Engineer were dispensed with by Council. There is some evidence to suggest that Smith may have been under the erroneous impression that his job as City Engineer was to be permanent and that once the survey of the city had been completed he might be assigned to other engineering works, in addition to keeping the survey plans up to date. (27) 

    Council thought otherwise and when the services of a professional engineer were again needed, this time to overcome problems associated with the construction of the Torrens Dam in 1881, another engineer (George Chamier) was temporarily appointed by Council (although Smith was temporarily re-engaged by the Corporation in 1883 to lay tram lines out to the Prospect Road). (28)

    The title of City Engineer was not formally reinstated on the Corporation’s staff establishment until 1895 when, following Langdon's death, James Vicars was appointed City Engineer and Surveyor.

    (1) Mayor's Report, 29 November 1877, Digest of Proceedings of the City Council, 1876-77, p.12 (hereinafter DPCC).

    (2) Report on the Drainage of the City of Adelaide and the Disposal of Sewerage (by W Clark) January 1878. DPCC, 1876-77 [City Surveyor's copy] appendix.

    (3) Mayor's Report, 1877-78, p.84.

    (4) Ibid. p.58.

    (5) Ibid. p.57.

    (6) Minutes of Council, 21 January 1878. DPCC, 1877-78, p.5-6.

    (7) Minutes of Council, 18 February 1878, DPCC, 1877-78, p.5.

    (8) Minutes of Council, 4 February 1878, DPCC, 1877-78, p.1.

    (9) Minutes of Council, 29 April 1878. DPCC, 1877-78, p 2.

    (10) Mayor's Report, 1877-78, p.57.

    (11) Duties of Officers. DPCC, 1877-78, [Town Clerk's copy] appendix

    (12) Town Clerk's Department (C15), Dockets (S3). 3190 of 1878. Adelaide City Archives (hereinafter ACA).

    (13) Town Clerk's Department (C15). Dockets (S3). 2394 of 1878. ACA.

    (14) Mayor's Report, 1879-80, pp.73-74.

    (15) Town Clerk's Department (C15). Dockets (83). 2571 of 1878. ACA.

    (16) Mayor's Report, 1879-80, p.74.

    (17) Report of a Committee of the Whole Council, 25 March 1881. DPCC, 1880-81, p.122.

    (18) Minutes of Council, 22 August 1881. DPCC, 1880-81, p.282.

    (19) Report of the Public Works Committee, 17 July 1882. DPCC, 1881-82, p.271.

    (20) Town Clerk's Department (C15). Dockets (83). 2369 of 1882. ACA.

    (21) Town Clerk's Department (C15). Outward Letter book 1882. ACA. Record Series -Accession 602, Item18.

    (22) Report of the Town Hall Committee, 27 July 1882. DPCC, 1881-82, p.292.

    (23) Mayor's Report, 29 November 1882. DPCC, 1881-82, p.436.

    (24) Mayor's Report, 1882-83, p.44-45.

    (25) Mayor's Report, 1879-80, p.72.

    (26) Ibid.

    (27) Town Clerk's Department (C15). Dockets ($3). 2758 of 1880. ACA.

    (28) Town Clerk's Department (C15). Outward Letterbook 1883. ACA. Record Series - Accession 602, Item 1

    Explore the Smith Survey

    For your convenience the complete works associated with the Smith Survey has been made available to view online. This includes the 126 large format maps, 23 Field Books and the survey sheet index.