Vital role in historic pipeline

Ernie Sinton dies, aged 92.

Ernie Sinton dies, aged 92.

Night brings no halt to activity as workers on the submarine sewer outfall project check the outside of the pipeline. Gisborne Herald file pictures
Ernie Sinton in July 1987, as he prepared for retirement from the role of deputy city engineer.

Ernie Sinton supervised construction and fitting of the pipes for Gisborne’s submarine sewer outfall.

He died in Gisborne last Wednesday, aged 92, convinced of its value to the city.

The submarine outfall put Gisborne on the civil engineering map. It was the first prestressed-concrete sewerage pipeline to be launched as a single unit anywhere in the world.

But before it was commissioned, city engineer Harold Williams wanted to check — from inside the pipeline — that his brainchild was in good health. Staff engineer Mr Sinton would be in the pipe, too, in case anything went wrong.

So on December 21, 1964, Mr Williams pushed himself along on a trolley a thousand feet (305 metres) down the pipeline to check with a torch for cracks.

Mr Sinton went to the 500ft point midway between Mr Williams and the workers who would pull them out.

After an hour-and-a-half inspection, Mr Williams emerged, satisfied everything was in order.

Deputy city engineer

Mr Sinton later became deputy city engineer, a position he held for 21 years until his retirement in July 1987, a year after Mr Williams had retired. Mr Sinton had served 32 years with the Gisborne borough and city councils.

Ernest William Sinton was born in Gisborne, and educated at Te Hapara School and Gisborne High School.

During World War 2, he saw active service over New Britain and Bougainville as an air gunner with No.2 Bomber Squadron.

Back in Gisborne after the war, he worked for the health department before gaining employment as an engineering cadet with the borough council.

As a returned serviceman, he had the cost of his studies met from rehabilitation funds. But when he retired, he said that if he had known what it would take to become a civil engineer, he would never have started the study.

“The course was supposed to be done full or part-time at university,” he said.

“Weekends, lunch hours and all my annual holidays for 10 years were spent studying.

“My family (wife Ruth, two sons and a daughter) didn’t see much of me during that time. Straight after tea I would start studying and work until late at night.

“Once the study was over, I had another two years doing a thesis and getting plans ready for my interview with the Engineers Registration Board in 1960. It was 12 years of solid slog.”

Mr Sinton’s appointment as a staff engineer with the City Council in 1960 renewed his association with Mr Williams, who had become city engineer in 1957.

In 1947, Mr Sinton had joined Gisborne Borough Council a month before Mr Williams joined as assistant to the borough engineer.

Mr Williams moved on after three years, and Mr Sinton joined the Ministry of Works local office 18 months later.

From 1952 to 1960, Mr Sinton worked on the survey and construction of highways and bridges, and on the engineering design of state housing blocks.

He worked on the Waipaoa Bridge construction from the time of the first survey to the official opening, and on the Fitzgerald and Munro Street housing blocks.

During that time he kept in touch with Mr Williams who, he said, helped him a lot with his studies.

After Mr Sinton returned to what was now Gisborne City Council, his office was a converted broom cupboard.

“It measured five and a half feet by four and a half feet, just big enough for a desk and chair,” he said.

Among his first jobs on his return was the production of plans for the Waingake settling tanks and, in his own time, the upgrading of plans for the sewerage reticulation of outer Kaiti.

A difficult job

But the most difficult job was supervision of the construction of the submarine sewer outfall.

Awapuni Road was closed between Stanley and Lytton roads for a year because the pipes for the project were laid along its length. Each of the 750 pipes weighed about two tonnes. They were assembled in four strings of about 400 metres each before they were put out into the bay.

In December 1964, the outfall pipe was joined together and dragged out to sea in a non-stop operation that started on a Monday afternoon and finished on the Friday afternoon. Pipeline stretching nearly two kilometres was taken out to sea, with the end set down in 18 metres of water.

That week, the only rest periods Mr Sinton had were three-hour breaks snatched when he could get them. On the Saturday morning, he went to bed and slept for 18 hours.

Mr Williams described the project in a technical paper that won the New Zealand Institute of Engineers Fulton Gold Medal and the F W Furkert Award.

On the day of his internal inspection of the pipeline, Mr Williams was quoted in The Gisborne Herald as saying that much of the credit for the success of the project should go to Mr Sinton.

For the previous 12 months, Mr Sinton had been in charge of supervision of every aspect of the work.

“Every pipe that was manufactured was checked and tested by him and he was responsible for supervising the fabrication and stressing of the pipeline and all other work incidental to it,” Mr Williams said.

“No one could have been more conscientious and painstaking in carrying out this intricate task, and Mr Sinton is entitled to a great deal of the credit for whatever has been achieved.”

When Mr Sinton retired, he said Gisborne had a lot of sewer overflows before the submarine outfall existed.

“Some of them just worked almost non-stop,” he said. “They flowed into rivers and on to Waikanae Beach.

“The beaches at Stanley Road and Kaiti Beach were revolting. Two septic tanks discharged at low tide. The high-tide mark was lined with excreta and toilet paper. ‘No swimming’ notices warned people but they still swam there.

“No one seemed to be unduly worried, except Harold Williams and the medical officer of health, Dr Derek Taylor.”

Mr Williams died in August 2016, aged 90.

Ernie Sinton’s grandfather Robert Sinton came to New Zealand from Galashiels in the Scottish Borders and bought land at Tiniroto. Ernie’s father, William, left the farm at 14 to sail the world as a cabin boy and returned at 21.

He served in World War 1 and married Edith, a mother of two and the widow of his best friend, Archie Bugden, who died in a quarry accident. William and Edith had five more children, Ernie being the third.

William managed his father’s farm until the two fell out over the training of sheepdogs, so in 1929 William’s family settled in MacDonald Street, Gisborne.

Ernie Sinton excelled at school. Having been dux of Te Hapara, he wanted to do the four years of study at Gisborne High School in three. The headmaster said it couldn’t be done, and Ernie proceeded to prove him wrong.

A member of the Gisborne Movie Club, Ernie Sinton won a “Les Hudson Oscar” for a cartoon he made using hand-drawn pictures. It was a skill honed in school exercise books and church newsletters, and eventually displayed on council walls.

Mr Sinton was a member of the Gisborne Central Baptist Church for 75 years, and sang in the bass section of the church choir.

He had a huge vegetable garden from which he filled boxes for others.

He was a volunteer for the Order of St John for nearly 20 years, and often visited hospital patients.

Before Mr Sinton married, he had a private pilot’s licence and flew Tiger Moth aircraft. He allowed the licence to lapse but at the age of 87 he was reacquainted with the thrill of flying when he was taken up in Gisborne’s Tiger Moth, Snafu.

Mr Sinton was predeceased by his wife Ruth. He is survived by his sons Lester and Robert, daughter Jeanette, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Ernie Sinton supervised construction and fitting of the pipes for Gisborne’s submarine sewer outfall.

He died in Gisborne last Wednesday, aged 92, convinced of its value to the city.

The submarine outfall put Gisborne on the civil engineering map. It was the first prestressed-concrete sewerage pipeline to be launched as a single unit anywhere in the world.

But before it was commissioned, city engineer Harold Williams wanted to check — from inside the pipeline — that his brainchild was in good health. Staff engineer Mr Sinton would be in the pipe, too, in case anything went wrong.

So on December 21, 1964, Mr Williams pushed himself along on a trolley a thousand feet (305 metres) down the pipeline to check with a torch for cracks.

Mr Sinton went to the 500ft point midway between Mr Williams and the workers who would pull them out.

After an hour-and-a-half inspection, Mr Williams emerged, satisfied everything was in order.

Deputy city engineer

Mr Sinton later became deputy city engineer, a position he held for 21 years until his retirement in July 1987, a year after Mr Williams had retired. Mr Sinton had served 32 years with the Gisborne borough and city councils.

Ernest William Sinton was born in Gisborne, and educated at Te Hapara School and Gisborne High School.

During World War 2, he saw active service over New Britain and Bougainville as an air gunner with No.2 Bomber Squadron.

Back in Gisborne after the war, he worked for the health department before gaining employment as an engineering cadet with the borough council.

As a returned serviceman, he had the cost of his studies met from rehabilitation funds. But when he retired, he said that if he had known what it would take to become a civil engineer, he would never have started the study.

“The course was supposed to be done full or part-time at university,” he said.

“Weekends, lunch hours and all my annual holidays for 10 years were spent studying.

“My family (wife Ruth, two sons and a daughter) didn’t see much of me during that time. Straight after tea I would start studying and work until late at night.

“Once the study was over, I had another two years doing a thesis and getting plans ready for my interview with the Engineers Registration Board in 1960. It was 12 years of solid slog.”

Mr Sinton’s appointment as a staff engineer with the City Council in 1960 renewed his association with Mr Williams, who had become city engineer in 1957.

In 1947, Mr Sinton had joined Gisborne Borough Council a month before Mr Williams joined as assistant to the borough engineer.

Mr Williams moved on after three years, and Mr Sinton joined the Ministry of Works local office 18 months later.

From 1952 to 1960, Mr Sinton worked on the survey and construction of highways and bridges, and on the engineering design of state housing blocks.

He worked on the Waipaoa Bridge construction from the time of the first survey to the official opening, and on the Fitzgerald and Munro Street housing blocks.

During that time he kept in touch with Mr Williams who, he said, helped him a lot with his studies.

After Mr Sinton returned to what was now Gisborne City Council, his office was a converted broom cupboard.

“It measured five and a half feet by four and a half feet, just big enough for a desk and chair,” he said.

Among his first jobs on his return was the production of plans for the Waingake settling tanks and, in his own time, the upgrading of plans for the sewerage reticulation of outer Kaiti.

A difficult job

But the most difficult job was supervision of the construction of the submarine sewer outfall.

Awapuni Road was closed between Stanley and Lytton roads for a year because the pipes for the project were laid along its length. Each of the 750 pipes weighed about two tonnes. They were assembled in four strings of about 400 metres each before they were put out into the bay.

In December 1964, the outfall pipe was joined together and dragged out to sea in a non-stop operation that started on a Monday afternoon and finished on the Friday afternoon. Pipeline stretching nearly two kilometres was taken out to sea, with the end set down in 18 metres of water.

That week, the only rest periods Mr Sinton had were three-hour breaks snatched when he could get them. On the Saturday morning, he went to bed and slept for 18 hours.

Mr Williams described the project in a technical paper that won the New Zealand Institute of Engineers Fulton Gold Medal and the F W Furkert Award.

On the day of his internal inspection of the pipeline, Mr Williams was quoted in The Gisborne Herald as saying that much of the credit for the success of the project should go to Mr Sinton.

For the previous 12 months, Mr Sinton had been in charge of supervision of every aspect of the work.

“Every pipe that was manufactured was checked and tested by him and he was responsible for supervising the fabrication and stressing of the pipeline and all other work incidental to it,” Mr Williams said.

“No one could have been more conscientious and painstaking in carrying out this intricate task, and Mr Sinton is entitled to a great deal of the credit for whatever has been achieved.”

When Mr Sinton retired, he said Gisborne had a lot of sewer overflows before the submarine outfall existed.

“Some of them just worked almost non-stop,” he said. “They flowed into rivers and on to Waikanae Beach.

“The beaches at Stanley Road and Kaiti Beach were revolting. Two septic tanks discharged at low tide. The high-tide mark was lined with excreta and toilet paper. ‘No swimming’ notices warned people but they still swam there.

“No one seemed to be unduly worried, except Harold Williams and the medical officer of health, Dr Derek Taylor.”

Mr Williams died in August 2016, aged 90.

Ernie Sinton’s grandfather Robert Sinton came to New Zealand from Galashiels in the Scottish Borders and bought land at Tiniroto. Ernie’s father, William, left the farm at 14 to sail the world as a cabin boy and returned at 21.

He served in World War 1 and married Edith, a mother of two and the widow of his best friend, Archie Bugden, who died in a quarry accident. William and Edith had five more children, Ernie being the third.

William managed his father’s farm until the two fell out over the training of sheepdogs, so in 1929 William’s family settled in MacDonald Street, Gisborne.

Ernie Sinton excelled at school. Having been dux of Te Hapara, he wanted to do the four years of study at Gisborne High School in three. The headmaster said it couldn’t be done, and Ernie proceeded to prove him wrong.

A member of the Gisborne Movie Club, Ernie Sinton won a “Les Hudson Oscar” for a cartoon he made using hand-drawn pictures. It was a skill honed in school exercise books and church newsletters, and eventually displayed on council walls.

Mr Sinton was a member of the Gisborne Central Baptist Church for 75 years, and sang in the bass section of the church choir.

He had a huge vegetable garden from which he filled boxes for others.

He was a volunteer for the Order of St John for nearly 20 years, and often visited hospital patients.

Before Mr Sinton married, he had a private pilot’s licence and flew Tiger Moth aircraft. He allowed the licence to lapse but at the age of 87 he was reacquainted with the thrill of flying when he was taken up in Gisborne’s Tiger Moth, Snafu.

Mr Sinton was predeceased by his wife Ruth. He is survived by his sons Lester and Robert, daughter Jeanette, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

“No one could have been more conscientious and painstaking in carrying out this intricate task, and Mr Sinton is entitled to a great deal of the credit for whatever has been achieved.”

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Richard Oakden, Lake Macquarie, NSW - 6 months ago
I was sorry to read that Ernie Sinton had died just one month ago at the mature age of 92 - about the same as I aspire to expire at. In recent years I have heard of Ernie regularly through a common friend - Harry Crosby - over here at Lake Macquarie, NSW. Ernie's expertise as an engineer appears to have been very well known. His practical aptitude was no doubt helped by his time with Harold Williams, Harry Crosby and others in Takitimu Sea Scouts, just as mine and Harry's younger brother Allen's were 10 years later. Today I was looking (as it turns out, unsuccessfully) for Ernie's current address to send him a copy of what he wrote on the back of a photo dated Jan 1940, of a Takitimu Sea Scout Camp on the Hegarty's farm in Riverside Road. For posterity here it is:
"Jan 1940. Annual Takitimu Sea Scout Camp on a farmer's land up the Waimata River from Gisborne N.Z.
Taken by Ernie Sinton for his mate - Harry Crosby (14) from (a) Tehapara Baptist Bible Class (another story)
(b) Gisborne High School (c) Air Training Corps corporal. Separate WWII RNZAF Campaigns resulted in Harry writing to the Governor General -(another story). "Slow coach" Harry continued his St John's Ambulance training while becoming the quickest to become a King Scout, Captain of the Gisborne Harriers Club, et al. He only lasted 1/2 hour as an Air Force Sergeant! (Another story)."
Such was Ernie - complete in every detail! May he be resting in peace.

Richard Oakden.

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