About Robert Ballard


Robert Ballard

Lake Ballard’s European name is believed to honour Robert Ballard, who died in London on the 22nd November 1912.

According to a friend, who penned a letter to the Kalgoorlie Miner shortly after his death, Ballard was “for some years Engineer-in-Chief of the Queensland Central Railways, and came to West Australia in the early nineties to take the general management of Mr O’Driscoll’s leases at Menzies, North Coolgardie Goldfield. These were afterwards floated into the Lady Shenton Extended Gold Mining Co., Ltd, and comprised the Lady Harriet, Aspasia and several other leases. He was one of the first Justices of the Peace for North Coolgardie. He left there in 1901 for London, where he engaged in literary pursuits, residing at Shepherd’s Bush until his death . . . He was buried beside his brother John in the churchyard of the little village of Newton St. Loe, not far from Bath… He was a very clever man all round, a most entertaining companion, genial host, and kind hearted, and made many friends during his residence in Menzies.”

An exceptionally skilful railway engineer, Ballard arrived in Australia in 1859 to work in New South Wales on the Maitland to Singleton railway. He later superintended the rail extension from Picton to Goulburn, and in 1865 he was the engineer on Queensland’s first railway from Ipswich to Toowoomba.  His impressive feats are detailed in the third volume of The Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Ballard’s ‘literary pursuits’ suggest he may have been a Freemason. In New York and London he published The Solution of the Pyramid Problem; or, Pyramid Discoveries. With a New Theory as to Their Ancient Use (1882), arguing that the pyramids were the ‘theodolites of the Egyptians’, while his Man’s Blood-Guilt (London, 1906) speculated on the history of the human soul.

During the time Ballard was engaged at Menzies (c. 1896-1901), the Warden for the region was William Lambden Owen. Fortunately for us, Owen kept a journal, and hence we have this colourful account of our Mr Ballard:

[He was] a well read classical scholar, extremely irritable and with a raucous voice [who kept a revolver by his side at all times, whether in the office or in bed]. His brother Johnnie had a very effeminate voice and was the exact opposite in every way. Whenever Ballard called for Johnnie, if he did not appear promptly enough, off would go one of the revolvers aimed above door level. Johnnie would rush in holding his arms in a protective manner across his head exclaiming, ‘Yes, brother! Yes, brother!’ . . . [The] hessian office walls were simply riddled with bullet holes.