John Bradfield - Biography

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John Bradfield was an Australian engineer, who oversaw the design and building of ‘Sydney Harbour Bridge’. He was a hard working and extremely talented person and also the youngest one in the family. In his youth he received many medals and honors throughout his graduation and post graduation. He had the knowledge and the ability to create marvels in the field of construction. He served as an engineer throughout his life contributing wholeheartedly towards the construction of bridges and underground railway systems in Australia. His designs and schemes were appreciated by the government and he devoted more than four decades of his life working for them. His greatest and the most well known achievement was the designing the ‘Sydney Harbour Bridge’. He also created designs for the underground railway system in Sydney’s central business district, known today as the City Circle. He was the master of his work, a genius in civil engineering whose designed works were huge and futuristic. He successfully created visually stunning masterpieces. He earned the respect of people through his ability to transform imagination to a real world entity and a symbol of excellence.


Childhood & Early Life

  • He was born on December 26, 1867 in Sandgate, Queensland, Australia to John Edward Bradfield, a Crimean War veteran and his wife Maria Crew. He had several siblings.
  • He was educated on a scholarship at the North Ipswich State School and Ipswich Grammar School in Queensland.
  • He won a gold medal in chemistry when he passed the Sydney senior public examination in 1885. In 1886, he matriculated from the University of Sydney.
  • In 1889, he graduated from St. Andrew’s College obtaining a ‘Bachelor of Engineering’ degree with the University gold medal.



  • He started his career as a draftsman and worked for Queensland Railways Department from 1889 to 1891. In 1891, after his marriage, he was appointed as a temporary draftsman in New South Wales Department of Public Works, becoming permanent in 1895.
  • In 1896, he obtained a ‘Master of Engineering’ degree from the University of Sydney with first class honor and the University Medal.
  • He worked as an assistant engineer on several projects of Cataract Dam and Burrinjuck Dam in the early 1900s.
  • In 1910, he contested for the foundation chair of engineering in the University of Queensland and submitted 22 testimonials from various reputed people, but was unsuccessful in his attempt.
  • In 1912, he proposed the idea of a suspension bridge to connect Sydney and North Sydney and also submitted a cantilever design for its construction. It was accepted and he was appointed as the Chief Engineer for metropolitan railway construction.
  • He went overseas in 1914 to explore new approaches for metropolitan railway networks. In 1915, he proposed a grand scheme for Sydney’s railway involving electrification of suburban railways, a city underground railway and Sydney Harbour Bridge. Most of his ideas were highly praised but they all got postponed as a result of World War I.
  • During World War I, he worked to establish the civil aviation school for training pilots for overseas services.
  • In 1922, the Bridge Bill on the Sydney Harbour Bridge was passed in the parliament and work on the construction of bridge started along with his proposed scheme of underground railway system. In 1923, the work for the building of tunnel as a part of underground railway network was also started.
  • In 1924, he was honored with the first doctorate of science in engineering by the University of Sydney for his thesis titled ‘The city and suburban electric railways and the Sydney Harbour Bridge’.
  • In 1930, he was abruptly retired by the railway commissioners but the cabinet preserved his status and he continued to work as a government employee and supervised construction of the bridge, which opened in 1932.
  • In July 1933, he retired after 42 years of his services from the New South Wales Department of Public.
  • In 1934, he was appointed as a consulting engineer for the construction of Story Bridge across the Brisbane River. The construction of bridge began in 1935 and was opened in 1940.

Major Works

  • He was one of the founders of ‘Sydney University Engineering Society’ in 1895 and served as its President in 1902–1903 and 1919–1920.
  • On December 20, 1926 two underground railway stations were inaugurated, St. James station and Museum station, marking the first success of his designed system for the city, followed by other stations in later years.
  • On March 20, 1932 the ‘Sydney Harbour Bridge’ was inaugurated and is considered the greatest achievement of his life. The bridge highway named after him, Bradfield Highway, was the main roadway section of the bridge.


Awards & Achievements

  • In 1933, he was awarded the ‘Peter Nicole Russell Memorial Medal’ by the ‘Institution of Engineers, Australia’ which he founded in 1919.
  • He was appointed as a companion to the ‘Order of St. Michael and St. George’ in 1933.
  • In 1934, he was awarded the Telford Gold Medal by the ‘Institution of Civil Engineers’.
  • In 2007, he was awarded the Queensland Institute of Engineers Lifetime Achievement award.

Personal Life & Legacy

  • On May 28, 1891 he married Edith Jenkins, daughter of John Ventris Jenkins of Brisbane. They were blessed with six children; one daughter, Mary and five sons, Edward, Anthony, Alan, Stanley and Keith.
  • His youngest son, Keith Noel Everal, also an engineer in Department of Civil Aviation was responsible for modifying the Alexandra Canal in Sydney.
  • He died on September 23, 1943 in Sydney, at the age of 75.



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