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Chapter Fifteen


In his last eight months as Acting Commissioner, Kibble had been in constant friction with the Minister of Railways:[1] this being the reason for his resignation after two difficult years.[2] The Acting Commissioners had made dramatic progress in winding back expenses by 20 percent during the Shiels and Patterson governments, but when Patterson found the triple portfolios of Premier, Chief Secretary and Railways too much to handle, he initially considered placing the railways under the Minister of Public Works and amalgamating the two departments,[3] but thought better of it and later appointed Richard Richardson to the role. Richardson, a liberal in a conservative government cabinet, formally took over as Minister of Railways in August 1893, although he had begun as Acting Minister a few months earlier. He came expecting to be the ‘boss’ and with an agenda to abolish the commissioners and return the railways to full ministerial control.[4] By the time of his official appointment he was already offside with Kibble. [5]

Richardson Takes Over

Richardson was the Member for Creswick, and would take the train from there to Melbourne on Monday, stay at the Grand Hotel, and return home by the Friday train for the weekend, a journey of 4½ hours.[6] From Tuesday to Friday he was at work in the Railway Administrative Offices at 5.15 am, and from the outset he ‘encroached upon their powers’ to ‘lay the foundation for reform.’ [7] By trying to keep the Acting Commissioners ‘under’, despite their combined experience of 77 years, and the vastly expanded and more complex railway network, he was soon clashing with the forceful Kibble.[8] An admirer of ‘King David’ Syme,[9] and a blind critic of Richard Speight, Richardson thought railwaymen in general and the Acting Commissioners in particular were both conservative and disposed to defend the branch structure of management he ignorantly ascribed to Speight. In fact it had been developed during the 1870’s under Francis Longmore and John Woods. He believed political patronage had not ended with Speight’s removal, but merely transferred to the Heads of Branches, any one of whom ‘exercised more patronage than 20 Cabinets’. [10]

But Richardson was desperate to halt the drain on Treasury finances, as revenue was in freefall. Passenger revenue had fallen by 14 percent in the two years since 1890-91,[11] but as the monthly returns came in, the grim decline of patronage continued unabated, despite an experimental lowering of fares on some suburban lines. Goods traffic showed no promise of recovery, with the railways now facing road competition as farmers and others with horses and carts were trying to earn a meagre income by undercutting the freight rates that Kibble had refused to reduce: rightly as it turned out.[12]

The government needed more retrenchments to cut expenses further, but Richardson believed the Acting Commissioners could not see their way to lay off more employees. In fact the government had instructed them to ‘stay their hand’ and they were quite aware there was more room for retrenchment.[13] Nevertheless, Richardson tried to micro manage the railways himself, and decided to retrench the Acting Commissioners! This move was much criticised,[14] one perceptive wit describing their replacements as

‘…simply a team of three horses to draw the triumphal car of the Minister…All acts that are successful and popularize the department the latter will take credit for, and for others the commissioners will be the scapegoat.’ [15]

Richardson had a heart for the unemployed and families struggling on bare minimum wages. He cut the daily wages of locomotive foremen and pattern makers from 14s. to 13s., but increased those of track repairers from 6s. to 6s 6d. [16] But in administering the department he was out of his depth, even proposing a daft scheme to divide the railways into three districts, each managed by one of the three commissioners, with the Minister exerting overall control.[17] It was so much clutching at straws; one paper appraised the mood:

‘A dullness deep as the abysmal gloom of the Stygian pit, broods over politics and all things political. There are a few more members of Parliament about, but these all speak in a hopeless desponding sort of way of the situation…’ [18]

Kibble, Francis and Murray Retrenched

Kibble, Francis and Murray had borne the opprobrium for retrenchments, wage reductions and service restrictions together with Richardson’s meddlesome notions; all with their promised salaries cut by 15 percent.[19] Denied the forum of the Annual Report to review their managerial achievements, the retiring Acting Commissioners took the unprecedented step of publishing an extensive Valedictory Report. They then discovered that had they would have been better off if they had not accepted the role of Acting Commissioners, as their retirement pensions would have been higher. It was over two years before parliament rectified the injustice.[20] While they were waiting Kibble and Murray managed to improve their finances by carrying out their threatened £30,000 libel action against The Argus, and negotiating an out of court settlement in November 1895.[21] The lawyers were certainly busy, Speight’s and Allison Smith’s libel cases having concluded earlier that year. Historian Graeme Davison concluded that

‘…boom and bust left such a tangle of broken contracts and unbalanced books that lawyers and accountants, like black-feathered birds of prey, enjoyed a carrion feast throughout the depression years’.

Speight and Smith’s nemesis in those cases was the barrister James Purves, whose prejudicial and mocking cross-examinations had delivered favourable verdicts in favour of David Syme. Purves had not so successfully defended the crooked manager of the failed Land Credit Bank, and one of its culpable directors, both being gaoled with hard labour.[23] But he managed to save the bacon of the failed City Bank directors, which it was proved had issued false balance sheets, although the jury thought them at least negligent.[24] Alfred Deakin assisted Purves in these cases, and later became Australia’s second Prime Minister.

Seeking a New Manager

Syder, Woodroffe and Lochhead, the new Acting Commissioners, took up office on 1st April, the significance of the date not being lost on unkind satirists at Melbourne Punch. [25] With no increase in salary, they had to endure Richardson’s ongoing intervention, and also scrutiny by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Railways, re-established by the increasingly desperate Patterson government in July 1894. It was further evidence of parliamentary distrust of their abilities, and Richardson’s intention to rule,[26] but a few months later Patterson called an election. He miscalculated and lost to the liberals, and Richardson was defeated.[27]

As discussed in Chapter 14, the new government also lacked confidence in the Acting Commissioners, and looked to another Board of Inquiry for advice, although how they imagined a Judge and a couple of business men could do better is hard to understand. Nevertheless, they responded to the recommendation that a competent General Manager had to be found, so the search began in earnest. One man sounded out was William Meeke Fehon,[28] who had been appointed the second of the three railway commissioners of New South Wales. Fehon had resigned as the VR Traffic Superintendent in 1872 to take up a partnership with William M’Culloch and Co., in the carrying business.[29] He maintained a close interest in railways, and while in England on a holiday in 1883, he was instrumental in the selection of Richard Speight. He had been appointed an advisor to Murray-Smith, the Victorian Agent General. Later he was engaged by the Tasmanian Government to adjudicate in its dispute with the Tasmanian Main Line Railway Co.[30] But Fehon was unwilling, as was Edward Eddy, Commissioner of the NSW Railways, who made it clear that nothing would induce him to come. Mathieson, the Queensland railway commissioner, was noncommittal.[31]

John Mathieson appointed Commissioner

John Mathieson was appointed Chief Commissioner of the Queensland railways in 1889, on the strong recommendation of Richard Speight, who was then visiting Great Britain.[32] Mathieson was born at Cumnock, Ayrshire in 1846 and began work as a teenager on the Glasgow and South-Western Railway (G&SWR) at New Cumnock, in 1861. Before he was twenty years old he was promoted to stationmaster, at Stewarton. Four years later, in 1869, he transferred to the Traffic Superintendent’s office in Glasgow, as a clerk. He succeeded the Traffic Superintendent in 1875, a young 29 year old, and held that position for the next thirteen years. He gained experience representing the company at parliamentary inquiries, and as their representative at the Railway Clearing House, which managed the allocation of revenue for passengers and goods moving over two or more railway companies. As the G&SWR and Midland Railway companies exchanged traffic at Carlisle, their close cooperation would have brought Mathieson and Speight into frequent contact prior to the latter’s recruitment by Victoria.[33]

Victorian Railways Commissioner John Mathieson
Victorian Railways Commissioner John Mathieson 1896

Mathieson had been in sole charge of the Queensland Railways for the previous two years, the colony having dispensed with the Victorian model of three commissioners, which it had initially copied. He was half way through a second term and was inclined to remain, but his wife was finding the Brisbane climate difficult. The Victorian government had received no local applications for the job, and had resorted to advertising in Great Britain. But Mathieson finally accepted when an offer of £3,500 per annum was made, £500 more than his remuneration in Queensland,[34] nearly 60 percent more than all three Acting Commissioners together, and two and a half times the salary of the Premier.[35] This replaced the anomalous situation where Syder, the Acting Chairman, was receiving £775 annually, while Woodroffe was on £986 and Lochhead on the comparative pittance of £437, all because they had to remain on their previous salaries.[36]

He was a ‘tall fair-haired Scotchman, with a broad Glasgow accent, and a firm will and strong nerve’, with a reputation as a martinet but polite, aloof but not dour, focused on business and disinclined to humour patronage seeking politicians: the so-called ‘departmental trotters’. His 6’1” stature further emphasised by a top hat, Mathieson was a stark contrast to his stocky and engaging predecessor, ‘Dicky’ Speight, a Yorkshireman who preferred the ordinary bowler hat.[37] The Worker, organ of Queensland Labour, was not sad to see him go, as his efforts in making the Queensland Railways profitable had embittered some employees and farming interests.[38] Within months Victorians were calling him the ‘Scotch Terrier’. [39]

Speight was rumoured to replace Mathieson as commissioner of Queensland Railways, but he was considering an appeal to the Privy Council in London, and attempting to raise the necessary bond.[40] Mathieson’s replacement was his former deputy commissioner, but he received only half his predecessor’s salary.[41] Victorians got their first look at the new Commissioner in early May, when during a quick visit he rented a furnished house in Jolimont for his family, acquainted himself with the Acting Commissioners and other officials, and met with the Railways Standing Committee to discuss plans for a new Flinders Street Station. The Herald, as always au fait with the goings-on at the Railway Administrative Offices, was amused at the ‘strong desire among departmental officers to “have a look” at Mr Mathieson, and it was surprising how many clerks managed to have business that took them in the corridors at the time he was about.’ [42]

He went to Flinders Street Station, initially on his own, and later joined by railway officers, to watch the working of trains and passengers through the cramped space between the street and the Yarra river. The station was one of those aggravating sores that had been worrying railwaymen and governments since the takeover of the M&HBUR in 1878. The wooden building at the bottom of Elizabeth Street used since the first train ran in 1854 was still there, but the station had grown to seven platforms and a motley gaggle of other buildings crowded along Flinders Street. Plans for a replacement had been made in 1883, but just as people plan for peace during war, delicious meals during rationing, or travel during pandemic lockdowns, so during the depth of depression the Railways Standing Committee was planning a new central station the colony could not possibly afford.[43] It was a distraction for Mathieson and his officers who had better things to do. During his visit The Herald drew Mathieson’s attention to railway revenue for the first 44 weeks of the year, which was well down on the previous year. ‘Look those figures straight in the eye, sir.’ [44]

Victorian Railways Flinders Street Station 1895
The cramped Flinders Street Station in 1895, with ten platforms, looking east towards Princes Bridge. The original M&HBR Elizabeth Street Station building survives carrying the Waldrons’s Sauce advertisement. PROV H2825.

Back in Brisbane Mathieson handed over to Gray, his successor, and prepared to move his large family south. In the late afternoon of 15th June the Sydney Mail with the Ministerial carriage attached made an explosive departure from Central Station, having been farewelled by the Minister of Railways and numerous other V.I.P’s. Amid the smoke from detonators placed on the rails, the train disappeared into the tunnel and emerged at Roma Street Station, where another large gathering, mainly of railwaymen, gave him a similar send off with another fusillade of detonators. Lesser demonstrations of affection followed at Ipswich, Toowoomba and the border station at Wallangarra. The NSW Railways also provided a special carriage for the family, as did the Victorian Railways on the last leg of their 2½ day journey over three railway gauges. Arriving on the Sydney Express, Mathieson was greeted by all the railway heads of branches but no politicians were present. Mrs Mathieson must have been delighted to find it raining and a cool 50°F (10°C)![45]

The Valedictory Report of 1896

The Acting Commissioners passed the baton to Mathieson at the end of June, Syder deciding to retire, but Woodroffe remaining as Chief Mechanical Engineer, and Lochhead assuming the role of Goods Manager.[46] As with their predecessors, they made a ‘valedictory report’ outlining their achievements. The first Acting Commissioners reduced working expenses by £575,216, but with the obvious cuts already made, the second team’s task was harder. Nevertheless, they managed to cut working costs by an additional £88,944.[47] Train miles run were further reduced at the cost of overcrowded trains;[48] South Gippsland coal was used more extensively, reducing the cost of coal by about 25 percent, but at some loss in engine performance: coal burnt per engine mile increased by 12 percent. The progressive switch to mineral oil lubricants for locomotives gave startling economies, with costs reducing by 75 percent over four years.[49] Many stations were downgraded to mere unstaffed flag stops and women caretakers replaced full-time staff at others. The removal of level crossing gates was also continued, with 811 having been replaced by cattle pits by June 1896. Although ‘the shrinkage of revenue due to dullness of trade and the failure of the wheat harvest’ defeated their best efforts to improve finances, [50] the government rewarded their achievements and gave them bonuses. They had worked for two years without additional remuneration, and the bonuses belatedly restored to each what an Acting Commissioner should have been paid.[51]

Their valedictory report noted the accelerated rate of track renewals. This was forced on them, as the Octopus Act lines were coming due for periodic renewal of their wooden sleepers. On one of his early inspection tours, Mathieson told a local councillor that the maintenance of a line he had just travelled over was a ‘standing disgrace’.[52] The near doubling of the network meant a corresponding doubling of the maintenance effort, a fact that probably escaped most politicians. (Replacement of worn rails had also increased – see graph in Chapter 14). The unemployment works of easing gradients on some lines had been continued, and the number of repairs to engines and rolling stock had ‘exceeded all previous records’.[53] But one of Mathieson’s first inspections was of Newport workshops, where he was concerned to find large numbers of locomotives, carriages and wagons stored pending repairs. He put the Newport employees back on full time, much to the delight of Williamstown traders: some 300 Newport employees lived in Williamstown, and the extra £3,000 per week would quickly boost the local economy.[54]

Newport had built only 35 trucks during the previous year, two thirds of them ‘cool trucks’ (T vans) for the frozen meat traffic from Deniliquin to Melbourne. A new ice making plant had been completed at Newport to supply the refrigerant. It was a vindication of Speight’s vision, but now after two failed libel actions and a lack of funds to sustain a Privy Council appeal, he was preparing to emigrate to Western Australia, as had one of his sons. At the end of July 1896 his friends and former railway colleagues had collected a purse of sovereigns worth about £1,500 to defray his legal costs, Mathieson being a generous contributor of £25. No such testimonial was successful for David Syme,[55] but he privately presented Speight with a cheque for £100, telling his bemused foe that ‘it was a good fight’.

Revising the Goods Rates

Although Mathieson was not to take over until 1st July, he immediately began to reconnoitre his new domain, travelling extensively over much of its 3,122 miles, a vast increase on the 1,624 mile system Speight came to administer just twelve years earlier.[56] He also had discussions with the Minister of Railways, during which Williams pointed out two thorny issues the Acting Commissioners had been unable (or unwilling) to resolve: reclassification of employees and reclassification of the goods rate book. There were glaring inconsistencies in the payment of officers with similar responsibilities, and the classification of goods for rating purposes was too complicated and cumbersome. Any changes in these areas would directly impact railway employees, customers, expenditure and revenue, so Mathieson was to be thrown into controversy from the outset.[57] Cartoonist Alec Laing’s take on Mathieson’s appointment was not such an exaggeration![58]

Victorian Railways Commissioner John Mathieson Cartoon
Alex Laing’s take on John Mathieson’s appointment as Commissioner. Free Lance 18th June 1896 p.9.

He set to it, working with his new colleagues, and within five months was able to provide the government with recommendations.[59] However, when parliament learned of the detail there was an explosion of protest, especially over changes to the goods rates. Charges for 147 items of freight had been increased, but on another 114 items they had been reduced. Mr. Wheeler led the attack, claiming that 250 to 300 timber cutters and carters in the Daylesford district had been thrown out of work because of the 20 percent increase on the rate for firewood.[60] Francis Longmore read out a highly critical article from the Railway Times of Queensland that claimed Mathieson had made ‘only two or three innovations, and those of a character such as would not stamp him as a genius. They consisted of raising freights and reducing wages.’ [61]

The recriminations went on unabated for three hours in the Legislative Assembly, with more harsh words being directed at Mathieson by men who, less than a year before had been pressing for a Commissioner independent of political influence.[62]

Williams quipped he could

‘now very fully appreciate the reluctance of the late Acting Railways Commissioners to touch this goods classification. They seemed to instinctively shrink from the task which I was constantly urging upon them.’ He explained that after considering the matter the government decided ‘the only way in which they could ascertain the effect of the classification was to allow it to come into operation.’

The Premier ended the debate by forcefully declaring:-

‘I want this to be definitely and distinctly understood that Mr. Mathieson is there as our railway manager, and that I am not going to bring any pressure upon him to induce him to alter his views… We say that this matter is so serious that the Government have no right to direct him with regard to it, but Parliament has a perfect right to direct him to revert to the old rates… and take the responsibility of their action upon themselves…They will not shelter themselves behind the statement that the Railways Commissioner made the reduction. They will say openly –“You tell us that these reductions mean a loss of £30,000 a year to the revenue, and we will place that sum on the Estimates.” [63]

At the sudden realisation that their insistence on forcing a rate reduction would mean increased taxation, there were cries of ‘No, no!’ And there the matter rested, with Mathieson free to use his well-exercised commercial nous, which was to ‘charge what the traffic would bear’: any higher charge would lose business, and any lower would unnecessarily depress railway revenue.[64] This had been the basis of railway rating from the beginning and would remain while they were a virtual transport monopoly, well into the 20th Century.

Mathieson immediately retaliated by seeking to withdraw some of the free passes to Members of Parliament and their families, or otherwise insist parliament pay £400 for the lost revenue. A cynical journalist commented that ‘it is evident that he does not grasp fully the raison d’etre of his office. He was appointed to make the Railways, not members of Parliament, pay.’ [65]

Reclassifying the Staff

When Mathieson arrived, he found the staff had been denied wage and salary increments for over seven years, also having to bear a savage 30 percent reduction of their pay. Dissatisfaction was widespread and the staff were unsettled. He remarked that ‘nowhere in my experience are so many of the administrative officers of such a large and important undertaking so inadequately remunerated for their onerous duties’. He did his best to rectify the situation in his reclassification of employees, correcting anomalies so that those with similar responsibilities received similar payment. Shunters, perhaps the most dangerous job on the railway, had their wages increased from 5/6d to 6/- per day, in line with other daily paid grades. He also reduced the percentage reductions across the staff to 12½ percent, in line with the colonial public service. The government accepted his recommendations, but refused to agree to salary increases for several of the leading officers.[66]

News of the reclassifications did not raise a storm like changes to the goods rates, as most employees were happy. But not the daily-paid! The knockback they received from the Minister of Railways when asking for the restoration of wage increments led to the formation of the Daily Paid Railway Employes’ Union in April 1896. The initial membership of 23 had grown to 200 when a meeting was held in mid-January 1897 to protest at the 6/- per day cap on the wages of cleaners, porters, repairers and the like. They thought blocking further increments was unfair, especially in view of the VR’s requirement that contractors doing railways work must be paid a minimum of 6/8d. Telling Mathieson they had been waiting for three years for promised increments that were now denied, he responded ‘There is another Government in power now, and you have no possible show.’ He had allegedly said ‘there was “room at the top of the ladder,” and porters should qualify themselves for promotion.’ The vice-president of the Trades Hall told them the government was squeezing the Commissioner, who was endeavouring to make the railways pay at the expense of the employees. [67]

The Trades Hall subsequently took up the issue, and held a mass meeting the following September. Mathieson was unmoved. ‘Meetings got up by the Trades hall have very little effect with me. I reckon them beneath notice’ was his response. In his first year at the helm, payments to employees had increases by £35,000 through the reduction of the percentage reductions imposed during the depression, and increases in remuneration. He was budgeting to spend an additional £59,000 on employees in the current year, over a third of it on increased wages.[68]

The slashing of wages by 30 percent in 1893 by Ministerial decree had left the employees insecure, and despite Mathieson’s efforts, wages were still beneath their pre-depression levels. The engine drivers rate of 15/- a day had been cut to 12/- in 1893, and although restored to 14/- by Mathieson, the men were concerned that their wages might be cut again at the whim of a government. Minister of Railways Williams therefore agreed to legislate the officers and employees classifications into law, thereby preventing changes without the agreement of the Commissioner, the Minister and Parliament.[69]

The staff had not just been underpaid, but retrenchments, retirements, resignations and deaths had reduced the permanent staff by 3,625 over the five years to 1897. During this time, practically no new appointments had been made, and out of necessity junior men were filling senior posts.[70] So Mathieson began recruiting, with 428 new permanent appointments in 1897-98, a modest net gain of 141 after retirements. But the gain was lost the following year, as recovery slowed.[71]

Perhaps because of the disruption caused by so many officers leaving, the authoritarian Richardson’s attempt to micro-manage his Department, or the confidence the Acting Commissioners had in their own grasp of business, the regular weekly meetings of Heads of Branches had ceased. This despite Acting Commissioner Francis having criticised the lack of regular inter-branch consultation that existed under Speight’s management, when Allison Smith was perceived to make his own decisions regarding rolling stock.[72] The inter-branch meetings had almost certainly been used to control the former Locomotive Superintendent, but whether as a means of control or to promote co-operation and information sharing, Mathieson quickly reinstituted the Heads of Branches meetings. He also encouraged the traffic and locomotive branches to devolve local decision making to District Superintendents, enabling the head office to concentrate on the most important issues.[73]

Mathieson’s Family Settles In

While her husband was busy, Mrs Mathieson began settling the family, and was no doubt enjoying Melbourne’s winter weather, which was more like her native Ayrshire than the trying climate of Brisbane. She also found herself in a city not unlike Glasgow, as both had risen to prominence during the Victorian era.[74] She and her daughters could enjoy promenading around ‘The Block’ with its enticing boutiques, and finding suitable gowns to wear to the Vice-Regal ball held by His Excellency Earl Brassey and Lady Brassey.[75] Victoria’s new governor was the son of the famous railway contractor Thomas Brassey,[76] and one of the new additions to the British aristocracy from the ranks of successful industrialists.[77] The Mathiesons would attend more of their functions. They rented the mansion in Studley Park that had been built by the railway contractor Charles Millar, but after enduring a Melbourne summer Mrs Mathieson must have realised she had exchanged the frying pan of Brisbane for a fire, and they moved to the Esplanade, St Kilda, with its sea breeze! [78]

Supervision by the Standing Committee on Railways

The building of new lines had all but ceased as the depression bit deeper. The last and one of the most useless of the ‘Octopus Act’ lines, that from Lancefield to Kilmore, had opened shortly after Speight’s removal, but railway building continued during the regime of the Acting Commissioners. Some very short extensions were opened to the South Gippsland coalfields and 209 miles of light lines were extended to wheat growing districts, mainly in the Mallee. But in 1895-96 the 2¼ mile branch to the coal mine at Outtrim was all that could be afforded. Mathieson’s first two years in office were the first period since 1871 when no new lines were opened. But not without a lot of effort by the Railway Standing Committee.

Some projects planned during Speight’s commissionership had fallen victim to the depression, but the need for them had not lessened. In February 1897 the Minister of Railways referred his department’s £91,500 shopping list to the Committee, as no work could proceed before its investigation and report. Projects included a new engine shed at Benalla, a new Goods Shed at Spencer Street, more regrading on the North Eastern and South Western lines, improved carriage lighting, and finishing the fitting of the Westinghouse brake to goods trucks. All of this was in addition to the narrow gauge proposals they were investigating.

The Committee did not take long to approve expenditure on a new engine shed at Benalla. It was explained it was to be built of wood and corrugated iron, in lieu of the slate roofed brick structure proposed by Allison Smith in 1890. At half the cost and definitely needed, the Committee quickly granted its approval. Such was the competition for work as the colony slowly began to climb out of depression that the shed was tendered for at 28 percent below the estimate.[79]

Triumph of the Narrow Gauge

The Committee deferred consideration of the other matters for some months while they wrestled with plans for lines into hilly districts. Prior to Mathieson’s arrival the Committee had been persuaded that 2’ 0” gauge light railways were warranted where estimated traffic was inadequate for a broad gauge line, or where hilly terrain would make broad gauge lines too expensive. Rennick had opposed narrow gauge from the beginning of the former Standing Committee’s interest in mid-1893.[80] But just as they had twenty years before, politicians fell prey to the narrow gauge propagandists and patent holders, this time the Sydney based Belgian consul and agent for Decauville Aîné et Cie, M. Clement Van de Velde, C.E. He was spruiking 2’0” gauge in New South Wales in 1891, drawing attention to the ‘decided want of knowledge’ among Australian railway engineers of the widespread application of narrow gauge in Europe. He crossed swords with NSW Railway Commissioner Edward Eddy, who said that the adoption of narrow gauge and the attendant break-of-gauge would be a ‘national calamity’.[81] Van de Velde had been advocating 2’0” gauge railways on the Decauville principle since 1891, bolstered by the success of the system at the Exposition Universelle in Paris during 1889, where the little trains had carried six million passengers over six months.[82] Decauville railways were also being used on sugar plantations in Queensland, New Caledonia and Fiji.[83]

Van de Velde quoted fellow engineer Gustave Noblemaire, the Managing Director of the prestigious Chemins de Fer de Paris à Lyon et à la Méditerranée (PLM):

‘How many lines have been constructed in France and Algeria on the standard gauge, which it would have been sufficient to build on the 3ft. 4in. gauge or on the 2ft. gauge? Those are errors in which we must not persevere.’

But Van de Velde went further, claiming there

‘is no traffic carried on the 3ft. 4in. or 3ft. 6in. gauge which cannot be as successfully carried on a 2ft. line and with greater economy.’ [84]

Although his efforts were thwarted in NSW, he found willing converts in Richardson, the Victorian Minister of Railways, and The Age, which told its readers Decauville railways could be built for £600 – £800 per mile.[85] Richardson had parliament refer the matter to the Standing Committee on Railways, but his political demise in late 1894 and the lack of funds prevented further action. [86] But Victorian politicians only had to make a half hour’s walk from Parliament House to see a Decauville narrow gauge railway in operation. The Metropolitan Gas Company had laid a short 2’6” gauge railway in 1886 to transport Maitland coal from their wharf on the Yarra River to their adjacent West Melbourne gas making plant. A small Decauville locomotive was purchased that year to work the line, and another in 1890. Those that bothered might have had pause to wonder what sort of a load such tiny locomotives would manage on the steep gradients proposed for lines in West Gippsland and the Otway Ranges. A century later this was demonstrated when the same locomotives just managed to haul 20 tons on the 1 in 30 gradients of the Gembrook railway.[87] Some of the Committee members were sceptical, but nevertheless a recommendation was passed that surveys be made for nine narrow gauge lines on the Decauville principle.[88] It was the beginning of what The Age termed ‘the triumph of the narrow gauge.’ [89]

Metropolitan Gas Co. Decauville locomotive 'John Benn’.
Metropolitan Gas Co. 2’6” gauge 0-4-0T locomotive ‘John Benn’, made by Couillet in Belgium on Decauville principles in 1886 to work the West Melbourne tramway. UoN ‘Living Histories’ – ARHSBox030_0945.

The North East Dundas Tramway Dazzles

Over the next two years, the Engineer-in-Chief’s branch accordingly made permanent surveys of narrow gauge railways to Whitfield, Gembrook, Beech Forest and Yarra Junction, with trial surveys to Warburton and Mansfield (from Whitfield). No surveys of broad gauge lines were made.[90] Meanwhile, the Tasmanian Parliament approved a 2’0” gauge tramway of 17½ miles on the wild and very rugged West Coast.[91] Most of the line was open by early 1897, and Zeal, now Sir William, made an unofficial visit, as did Williams, the Minister of Transport and, E.H. Cameron, the Chairman of the Committee. Zeal returned to Victoria a passionate supporter of Decauville lines and penned a strong letter to the Committee in February 1897. As always, he was disparaging of VR engineers, accusing them of overstating the costs of making narrow gauge lines by surveying them to broad gauge standards. ‘I have no doubt – and never had – of this, and I feel sure your committee will solve the problem of cheap railway construction if you can get a narrow gauge line surveyed by friendly engineers and its details placed before you in a truthful and accurate manner.’

As President of the Legislative Council, Sir William Zeal carried considerable influence and his advocacy for narrow gauge was widely reported throughout Australia, some 20 newspapers carrying the story.[92] He urged the whole committee to visit Tasmania and see for themselves. They did, but not all of them were swayed by Zeal and the narrow gauge propagandists,[93] and investigations continued.

North East Dundas Tramway Montezuma Falls circa 1900.
Tasmanian Government Railways 2’0” gauge G class 0-4-2T crossing the Montezuma Falls Bridge on the North East Dundas Tramway circa 1899. SLV GZ000164.

The North East Dundas Tramway was laid with 46 lb steel rails with only four inches of ballast beneath the sleepers. The ruling gradient against loaded trains was 1 in 30 and minimum curvature for the first 5¼ miles was five chains, which was also the tightest allowed on Victoria’s 5’3” gauge. But for the remaining 12¼ miles the line was almost a continuous succession of reverse and compound curves, half of them 1½ to 2 chains radius. The maximum speed allowed on this section was 8 mph, and 12 mph on the easier section. The 0-4-2 tank locomotives were big for 2’0” gauge, at just under 20 tons in working order, but they could only manage trains of four wagons, each carrying 10 tons of silver lead ore (galena) in 1 cwt bags, which two strong men heaved into 3’6” gauge wagons at the transfer yard in Zeehan. The line cost £2, 823 per mile.[94] But this was not the story The Age presented and gullible politicians swallowed! Trains running at 18-20 mph ‘except round the sharpest curves’ (which it neglected to say comprised 70 percent of the distance), on light 40 lb rails (not 46 lb), with a maximum gradient of 1 in 35 (not 1 in 30), engines that could haul 50 tons of cargo (not 40 tons), and built for a mere £1,725 per mile (61 percent the real cost). The ‘bugbear’ of break of gauge it asserted ‘was not any trouble’. Williams thought it was ‘a marvellous triumph’, and Cameron a ‘convincing test of the merits of the narrow gauge system.’ [95]

History Repeats

As discussed in Chapter Three, in May 1871 Zeal had been instrumental in having a Select Committee examine narrow gauge. Now twenty six years later he intervened again to make narrow gauge a major political issue. It was so much déjà vu for Rennick, who had been an engineer with the VR for 39 years. Just as Higinbotham and Longmore had inspected the Queensland narrow gauge a generation before and come to starkly opposing views, now Rennick as Engineer-in-Chief made his own visit to the N.E. Dundas line and was soon at loggerheads with the Minister of Railways. Like the Festiniog line that prompted the first infatuation with narrow gauge, the N.E. Dundas line carried concentrated loads: slates on the former, galena on the latter. This gave a high load to tare ratio[96] for the wagons, which looked good on paper comparison with wider gauge averages, where rolling stock had to carry all manner and densities of freight. In his report Rennick acknowledged the N.E. Dundas line was suitable for the ‘existing and peculiar circumstances’, but believed it would have been better to have made it with 3’6” gauge and 60lb rails, thereby avoiding break of gauge and readying it for increased traffic: the wider gauge, heavier rails and bigger locomotives would enable trains to carry twice as much loading. Indeed, from the start the savage curvature on the N.E. Dundas line rendered excessive wear and tear on the locomotives, and growing traffic quickly led to experimentation with several very large but novel articulated locomotive designs.[97]

With Zeal’s prompting the Committee made further investigations but found themselves up against the Engineer-in-Chief, who was implacably against break of gauge. In another parallel with 1871, Francis Longmore was back in parliament, having been elected Member for Dandenong after a decade in the political wilderness. Now the feisty 71 year old gave his passionate support to the Committee’s recommendations of lines on the 2’0” gauge. He fumed that the VR engineers were still making excessive estimates, just as they had when he was Minister of Railways. But Williams would have none of it.

‘Mr. Rennick takes credit for being the first engineer in the Victorian Railway department to bring down the cost of the broad-gauge lines enormously. And there is not the slightest doubt he has done that…

Mr. LONGMORE.-He has opposed the narrow-gauge system throughout.

Mr. H. R. WILLIAMS.- He is known to be theoretically opposed to the break of gauge. Every honorable member knows that…’ [98]

Like Higinbotham before him, he was able to demonstrate that a broad gauge railway could be made for very little above the cost of narrow gauge. But more than Higinbotham, Rennick had proved he could build light railways: the 206 miles of railway built since his appointment as Engineer-in-Chief averaged a mere £2,190 per mile. [99]
Most of these lines were in flat Mallee country, so most politicians were sceptical of his ability to match the cost of the N.E. Dundas line in hilly country. But he made a powerful case, which was viewed by The Age and men like Longmore as obstructionist.[100] The Committee in their final report in July again recommended narrow gauge, despite it being strongly advised otherwise by the Engineer-in-Chief. They therefore recommended that surveys and construction of narrow gauge lines be placed in the hands of a more sympathetic engineer.[101] It was tantamount to a vote of no-confidence in Rennick and he was being pressured to resign. But that was nothing new for Rennick either: Bent had sacked him in 1882 over the Ford affair, only to ask him back a month later.[102]

The first 2’0’ gauge line recommended by the Committee was from Ferntree Gully to Gembrook, followed soon after by Colac to Beech Forest.[103] Both were to have a ruling grade of 1 in 30, echoing the N.E. Dundas line. Their third recommendation was to make the Wangaratta to Whitfield line on narrow gauge.[104] Rennick had advised that this line could be made on the broad gauge for almost the same cost, but the Committee wanted to experiment with a minimal Decauville line, and justified their decision on the basis that the line might be extended from Whitfield through very hilly country to Mansfield: a remote possibility as that town already had a railway. They used the same reasoning to recommend a line from Lilydale up the Yarra Valley to Yarra Junction, with the sanguine speculation that it might be extended a further 70 miles to Woods Point, a declining gold mining town deep in the Victorian Alps. Each of these four lines required a separate passage through parliament, unlike a less sober legislature had done with the ‘Octopus Bills’. The Whitfield line had a relatively easy passage, Zeal intervening to speak against a last minute amendment in the Legislative Council to change the gauge to 5’3”. He accused railway officers of making ‘clap trap arguments’ and opposing the public good, and rebuffed the idea that narrow gauge engines would be incapable of hauling a paying load, urging members to take a Bay steamer to the popular resort of Sorrento and note the 8 ton 3’6” gauge engine which regularly drew two to four 6 ton carriages from the pier to the Back Beach.[105] Opened in 1890 the double track line ran for a little over a mile.[106] As the Whitfield line was flat, the politicians agreed and the Bill received Royal assent on 24th August 1897, [107] clinching the first narrow gauge addition to the Victorian Railways. But passage of the other three lines through parliament would be tortuous.

Sorrento Tramway’
Sorrento Tramway’s Baldwin 0-4-0 saddle tank passing the Continental Hotel in Ocean Beach Road.

Construction of the Whitfield line was well under way before the Gembrook railway was authorised a year later, also as a 2’0” gauge line. Mathieson was not happy:

‘…in my opinion, they will be found to be very costly experiments. The estimated saving in cost of construction is relatively so small that it cannot possibly compensate for the delays in transit, transfer charges, additional cost of handling, and the general inconvenience necessarily involved in breaking the gauge on such branch lines.’ [108]

The politicians did not have it all their own way. Confusion troubled the selection of the route and gauge of the Yarra Valley line. A week after success with the Gembrook line, the Legislative Assembly approved another 2’0” gauge line from Coldstream to Yarra Junction. They had chosen the route and for good measure also fixed the maximum spend at £2,000 per mile, citing the N.E. Dundas tramway and rejecting advice and estimates provided by Rennick’s engineers. But the Legislative Council was nervous, and just as they had called Higinbotham to give evidence, now they called Rennick. This time Zeal’s opinion was ignored and, persuaded by the Engineer-in-Chief, they altered the gauge to 5’3”! [109] The Railway Standing Committee had had seven surveys made of the route and visited the area many times, but now in a desperate move they brought the General Manager of the Tasmanian Railways across Bass Strait to back up their previous recommendations. But Frederick Back told them ‘he would be unable to see his way to criticise the work of officers of the Railway department in this colony or say anything that would bring him into controversy with them.’ He further disappointed the Committee by noting the ‘Tasmanian Government had decided upon a break of gauge only when it became evident that East Dundas could not be given communication either by ordinary railway or by construction of a road’ and that he would ‘agree to a break of gauge only when it became a question of having a 2 foot railway or none at all.’ ‘Never was any public body so perplexed and puzzled what to do’ said The Age, but with an election looming and not wanting to run with a contentious issue, the Premier shelved the Bill. [110]

Turner’s government was re-elected in mid-October 1897, but Francis Longmore was defeated.[111] The old radical died six months later, rather appropriately on May Day.[112] With the original Bill shelved, Rennick and Mathieson seized the opportunity to make a new survey on broad gauge and reconsider the traffic estimates. Six new sawmills had recently been established near Yarra Junction and Warburton to meet the demand for timber from the colony’s coal and gold mines. The revised revenue more than doubled, from £2598 to £5382 per annum. Construction costs more than doubled too. The £2,000 per mile cap was gone, the new estimate being £4174 per mile. These figures were presented to the Railway Standing Committee and their own investigations during 1898 confirmed the new data. Mathieson and Rennick were interviewed, talking up the benefits of the new survey, the need for a broad gauge line to cope with the additional traffic, and noting that the total cost of just over £98,000 was only a quarter of the £371,000 proposed in 1890. The Committee still believed narrow gauge would be suitable, but in December 1898 they reluctantly agreed to support a broad gauge line in the face of political reality and the new traffic estimates.

The Committee made no such concession with the Colac to Beech Forest line, insisting on narrow gauge. The upshot was that after 18 months of investigations and debate, the Warburton and Beech Forest Bills were passed.[113] So against the professional advice of the Engineer-in-Chief, Victoria was now committed to a third narrow gauge branch line. The first, from Wangaratta to Whitfield, had been authorised as a 2’0” gauge line, but Rennick found that he could increase the width by six inches without significantly changing the specifications for bridges, earthworks and sleepers. He convinced Williams to approve this without reference to parliament,[114] and when the legislation for the Gembrook and Beech Forest lines was introduced, the 2’6” gauge was specified. It was a big step away from the Decauville principles, and enabled the use of much bigger locomotives.

Pintsch Gas Carriage Lights

Mathieson had overseen the equipping of Queensland trains with Pintsch gas lighting in 1892-93, and had travelled on the inter-colonial expresses in New South Wales, where gas lighting had been in use since 1879. Before taking up as Commissioner of the QR in 1889, he had wide experience of gas lit trains in Great Britain, where the system was being widely adopted by 1880.[115] Victoria had dithered prior to Speight’s arrival in 1884, and given priority to a host of other capital works during the Land Boom. The 1890 experiment with electric lighting in the Portland sleeping cars was disappointing, and the depression had scotched any train lighting improvements. Rectifying this was one of Mathieson’s first initiatives, and by September 1896 he had Woodroffe supervising the fitting of a carriage for trials, the first of which took place on the St Kilda line at the end of the month.[116] No time was wasted preparing a case to convert 500 carriages to gas lighting, and some rather elaborate illustrations were published. [117] Construction of a gas making plant was going to cost £10,000 and a further £20,000 for conversion of 500 carriages. Carriages would be four times brighter, and savings of £2,510 per annum were projected.[118] The Railways Standing Committee commenced its own train lighting investigation in February 1897, wasting time discussing electricity and ‘the relative joys of explosions by gasoline, acetylene, Pintsch’s gas and the common or garden kerosene oil.’ [119] In the meantime the South Australian Railways had sent an officer to study the trial being taken on the St Kilda line. Impressed, they ordered the immediate fitting of all South Australian broad gauge carriages with Pintsch gas lighting.[120]

A 406 Spencer Street 1892.
New A class No.406 and Allison Smith’s bogie carriages at Spencer Street in 1892. Lighting in the carriages was still by kerosene lamps.

The Committee’s investigation only served to encourage deputations from those advocating trials of electric and gasoline gas lighting systems, and delays while they made more experiments. A frustrated Mathieson fronted the Committee in June, pointing out to the politicians that electric lighting was too costly and impractical. He became quite heated when Mr. Melville, M.L.C. quoted overseas experience with electric lighting. Electrically lit trains had been successfully operated by some English railways since 1883, but required carriages to be connected to a dynamo and batteries in the guards van. This made it impractical to attach or detach carriages to a train en-route, and this Mathieson objected to. Most likely Melville was aware that the previous year Stone & Co. had patented a battery system that could be fitted to individual carriages, but it was still novel and expensive.[121] Mathieson accused him of quibbling, but Melville also complained that Pintsch gas lights were smelly and made carriages stuffy, which the Commissioner rebutted by reference to experience in Queensland, which experienced a hotter climate. Melville favoured Dempster’s gasoline gas lamps. These had been trialled on the Brighton line in 1881 but Dempster claimed to have made improvements and was pressing for a further trial.[122] Filling the gasoline tank beneath a carriage was regarded as a hazard, and Mathieson was adamant that not a single carriage would make one journey if so fitted.[123] The Committee vacillated. Despite Pintsch gas lights being four times brighter than the existing kerosene lamps, they recommended no change for another two years.[124] The following month the government rejected this finding and approved the adoption of Pintsch gas lighting, leaving the Committee somewhat miffed.[125]

But electric lighting was being pursued for stations. Spencer Street had been electrically lit in 1883, but extensive electric lighting required a power station. Planning for this was under way in 1895, but it was two years before tenders were let. By late 1899 the plant was operational, supplying current for the lighting of the Melbourne Goods Sheds and Flinders Street Station, but also the Houses of Parliament, the General Post office and the Public Library.[126]

Pintsch gas carriage lamps.
Proposed Pintsch gas carriage lamps. The less ornate version was adopted. The Australasian, 26th February 1898, p.476.

Expansion of the Melbourne Goods Sheds

Immediately after the imbroglio over Pintsch gas lighting, the VR Traffic Manager, William Fitzpatrick, appeared before the Committee to make the case for new goods sheds at Spencer Street. He explained how the goods terminal was so congested that perishables like dairy products and fruit were often not being delivered in time.

‘One week at Christmas time 3000 cans of milk and cream were dealt with. During one night 209 trucks of perishable products went into the sheds, the average being 120 to 150 trucks. That vast quantity of stuff came in between 1 a.m. and 4.30 a.m., and it had to be delivered at once. The Department simply could not do it, but the officers were doing the best they could…in the rush and hurry under the present arrangements there was a scene of riot and confusion’ [127]

Contrary to accepted railway practice, Inwards and Outwards consignments had to be handled in the same sheds, and were all mixed up. It was only the depressed volume of traffic resulting from the depression and a succession of two poor wheat harvests that had enabled them to get by. A ‘grand plan’ had been prepared to rectify this, but the Acting Commissioners had shelved it, the time not being opportune. Fitzpatrick told the Committee that the money sought was to implement the first part, which required some demolition of an existing shed. At this the Committee baulked, as they had not been informed that the finance requested was only the first stage of a larger proposal. Melville was sceptical about the Traffic Manager’s assurance that there ‘would be no rooting up, it would be all suitable for the future.’ Melville retorted that ‘I am old enough to remember that the same story was told when the present shed was put up.’ Fitzpatrick had to admit that when the viaduct was duplicated, the goods shed, which was 990 feet long, would have to be demolished. This was Higinbotham’s shed, built in 1874-75, and had survived the Woods-Watson rearrangement of Spencer Street. Nevertheless, something clearly had to be done, and the Committee approved the initial expenditure a week later.[128]

Mathieson’s Westinghouse Brake Win

Under Allison Smith, all the locomotives, all the passenger stock and more than half the goods stock had been fitted with Westinghouse brakes, at a cost of approximately £250,000. Preoccupied with other investigations, it took some months for the Committee to tackle the request to fit 3,000 more trucks, comprising most of remaining goods stock.[129] But in the meantime Newport Workshops was outshopping new carriages and trucks which needed the brake. In a conversation between Mathieson and the Premier and Treasurer, Sir George Turner, it was agreed it was a technical matter and Newport should go ahead fitting the brakes. Williams, the Minister of Railways agreed, but some months later asked the Committee to investigate anyway. By then £10,000 had already been expended and more had been committed! The Committee interviewed Mathieson, who apologised for any misunderstanding, but explained that passengers were being jerked around on mixed trains, as they included a mix of braked and unbraked trucks ahead of the passenger carriages. Similarly, livestock trains had to be fitted with the Westinghouse to prevent the animals being jostled and harmed. The Committee realised that the matter was a fait accompli and gave up.[130]

New carriages for the Sydney Express

From his arrival in Australia, Mathieson had experienced inter-colonial train travel more than any railway commissioner before him in any of the seven colonies. He and his family disembarked from the RMS Britannia at Largs Bay early in the morning of 21st July 1889 and travelled from Adelaide to Melbourne in a Boudoir car, then from Melbourne to Albury in one of Allison Smith’s modified Ashbury sitting cars. From there to Sydney and then Wallangarra they experienced Pullman sleepers, and a narrow gauge sleeper for the last leg into Brisbane. Mathieson became well acquainted with the inter-colonial expresses over the years up to his appointment as VR Commissioner, and was well aware of their shortcomings. Most carriages were side loading compartment ‘dog boxes’ with no lavatories. Only the sleeping cars had end platforms, making movement from one to another possible, although exposed to the weather and somewhat exciting at speed. All the carriages on the Victorian and South Australian lines were lit by kerosene lamps.

Another bugbear was the inconvenient timing of the intercolonial express trains. Mathieson worked with Eddy to speed up the Melbourne-Sydney service, and from 1st May 1887 the timing of the southbound service was reduced by 100 minutes, and the northbound by 60 minutes. The southbound service was also timed to leave after dinner, and arrive at Albury at a more convenient time for breakfast.[131] A small change, but it meant a lot for the passengers.

A more expensive initiative by Mathieson was to encourage Woodroffe to build a prototype corridor car for the Sydney Express with lavatories and enclosed vestibule connections to adjoining cars. While the argy bargy with the Railways Standing Committee continued, the team at Newport designed and built a first class corridor car with lavatories, Pintsch gas lighting and enclosed vestibules. It was a development of the ‘Pioneer’ cars introduced four years previously, but shorter at 50 feet, and carried on four-wheeled bogies of a new pattern with a longer eight foot wheelbase for steadier riding. Like the ‘Pioneer’ cars, the external access doors insisted on by Kibble were provided to each compartment, but in this case the design saved space and enabled the provision of a few extra seats, as well as expediting loading and unloading of passengers. Although Kibble had sailed for Europe four months earlier,[132] his influence persisted, and Woodroffe, as Chief Mechanical Engineer, was not yet assertive enough to counter the voice of the Traffic Branch.

Victorian Railways AV carriage.
First class vestibule carriage 6AV, one of 35 1st class and 25 2nd class of this design built at Newport 1887-1899. PROV H1196.

The new carriage was exhibited at Spencer Street at the end of June 1897 and enthusiastically described in The Age;

‘The body of the car is built principally of Moulmein teak, with blackwood and kauri internal framing, fittings, &c. The internal panelling is principally of ash and kauri, which, in conjunction with the teak and blackwood framing, has a very pleasing effect. The ceilings are in one piece, and painted a dead white to reflect the light. The side lights have perforated hoods to prevent dust and rain from entering the compartment. Each compartment is provided with a mirror and tastefully arranged photographs of attractive resorts in the colony. All the corridors are provided with sliding doors. The external doors are provided with draught steps, and every care has been taken to make the car as dust and draught proof as possible. The seats are upholstered in green leather, and are of such outline as to give the maximum of comfort. Arm rests are provided so as to accommodate three passengers to each seat.’ [133]

The carriage design was almost certainly the work of Victor Siepen, and was inspected by the Commercial Travellers Association, whose company of members constituted a significant part of railway revenue. Their lives were spent dragging their hampers of samples and hawking their company’s wares to shops and stores from one end of the colony to the other, staying overnight in the bare rooms of a ‘Railway’ or a ‘Commercial’ hotel, often just across the road from a town’s station. [134] They more than any could critique the minutiae of the car’s design and make suggestions that would help finalise the design for 60 similar carriages. As the private rolling stock manufacturers had collapsed, these new cars were to be built at Newport, and constituted the first large rolling stock project undertaken there since new work had dried up in 1893.

The first of the production batch of these AV (1st class) and BV (2nd class) cars were finished by July 1898, complete with Pintsch gas lighting. A train of six cars was given a trial run to Kyneton on 27th July, carrying a large party of officials and guests, including journalists, the object being to demonstrate the Pintsch gas lighting and advertise the new train. The gas was purchased from the Harbour Trust, as the new gas making plant at Spencer Street was not ready. The gas was made from shale oil obtained from New South Wales, and Newport was busy converting 100 cars for the intercolonial and country expresses, to be followed by 200 suburban cars.[135] Probably because the railway Pintsch gas making plant was delayed, only three of the new ‘V’ (for vestibule) series cars were used on the Sydney Express until late September. By October the gas plant was functional, enabling a complete six car train of ‘V’ type cars to be put on the Sydney Express with a second train being readied, as two divisions of the Express were needed for the Melbourne Cup traffic. Trains on the Ballarat and Bendigo lines also began to be brightly lit at night.[136] Once the travelling public had sampled the new cars, they were impatient for more. By November 1898 the morning Albury train had one corridor car added to its consist[137] on alternate days, but this raised a protest in parliament because the absence on other days of ‘lavatories or ladies’ and gentlemen’s retiring compartments…[was] a great inconvenience.’[138] The whole order for 60 cars was expected to be complete by mid-1899. They were well received. The Wodonga newspaper remarked that:-

‘The railway authorities are sanguine that the corner of the depression has been turned, and that everything is now on the up grade, which hope the public at large will doubtless echo.’ [139]

Victorian Railways DV Express Van
2 DV, one of two ‘Express Vans’ with vestibule connections built for the Sydney Express in 1898. PROV H1195.

Newport Returns to Capacity

One of Mathieson’s first inspection visits had been to Newport Workshops. He was disturbed by the amount of rolling stock stored, pending repair.[140] Over the four years from 1891/92, Newport’s workforce of men and boys had fallen by 694, but short-time work meant the loss equated to 795 full time jobs. With full-time work restored, the number of trucks repaired jumped from 290 to 434 in 1896/97. That year Woodroffe also took on another 105 workers, many of them boy apprentices. Activity increased: in the three years 1895/96 to 1897/98, the number of new boilers made increased from six to eighteen, new trucks built from 35 to 92, new carriages from nil to 18. Rolling stock orders given to outside firms also recommenced, with orders for 300 ‘I’ trucks being awarded in 1896/97. Woodroffe found that the cost of rolling stock built at Newport compared favourably with that made under contract, and as the workshops returned to full capacity more and more of this work was done in-house, including the introduction of trucks made entirely of iron and steel.[141] Among the first of these made were eight 2,000 gallon water trucks, a response to the drought. Crop failures in the Mallee had depressed revenue, except on the Sea Lake line, where carting water had proved a welcome earner for the railways.[142]

Woodroffe also had a new higher pressure boiler designed and manufactured for ‘New A’ class 4-4-0 No. 398. This was a response to the additional weight of the Sydney Express, the six new carriages and brake van of the train weighting approximately 210 tons. It was too heavy for a single locomotive, and by raising the pressure from 140 to 170lbs/, the tractive effort of the engine increased by 21 percent, making double heading of the Express unnecessary when No.398 was used. Encouraged by this, five more New A’s were similarly reboilered over the following 13 months,[143] as at busy times like the Melbourne Cup when a second division of the Express was put on,[144] or additional carriages added, double heading was unavoidable.

On one such occasion driver Campbell of the second engine noticed the bearings of his tender running hot, and in spite of the speed he left the cab to oil them. Fireman Jones was watching and saw him fall! After the engines were stopped and the train backed up, Campbell was found unconscious but alive. In shock and with head injuries, his wounds were cleaned and bandaged at Seymour and he was invalided back to his home depot at Benalla in the van of the next train, no doubt with the guard caring for him.[145] The practice of clambering around moving locomotives to fix problems was not uncommon.

Catering for Important People

The celebrations at Albury in 1883 to mark the first joining of colonies by rail had turned into an unofficial federation conference. As discussed in Chapter Eight, it was the largest gathering of colonial dignitaries yet held, and need for federation was the main topic of conversation. The first Federation Conference was held in Melbourne in 1891, but enthusiasm cooled during the depression. In November 1896 a People’s Convention was held at Bathurst, and during the next two years delegates to subsequent conventions were frequently booked on the Sydney and Adelaide Expresses.[146] The trains had become the preferred way of travel between the colonial capitals, and as there was normally just one train per day, its carriages conveyed the highest and humblest of society.

As ever, the busiest time of the year for the intercolonial expresses was the racing season, culminating with the Melbourne Cup. So important was the event that the Sydney Express stopped at Newmarket for the convenience of punters who might have missed the special race trains from Flemington to Spencer Street, timed to connect with trains for country towns and adjacent colonies.[147] The Cup was an extraordinary social event: in 1898 the Lords Brassey, Hampden and Lamington, and Sir Gerald Smith, governors respectively of Victoria, NSW, Queensland and Western Australia, all travelled by train to or from the Cup,[148] together with lesser luminaries. Also on their way that year a couple of bookmakers attempted to settle a longstanding grievance while changing trains at Albury: the ensuing punch up was only stopped by another passenger, Commandant Herbert Booth of the Salvation Army.[149]

Lord and Lady Brassey had been returning from Sydney, and were given a special train of one engine and the Governor’s car, running a block section ahead of the Sydney Express from Albury.[150] The same car was probably attached to the Express for the other governors, who travelled together. Allison Smith’s boudoir cars were also used for VIPs, one being provided for the Premier of NSW and his party on their way to the March 1897 Federation Convention.[151] The patronage of important people, and Mathieson’s visits to functions at Government House was the likely stimulus for the alteration of the design of numbers 23 and 32 AV. These were finished with a sumptuously drawing room compartment at each end, and shown to journalists on the Commissioner’s tour train in November 1899. That Victoria had emerged from the recriminations of the depression was evident in the approving reaction of The Age, which had led the charge against the ‘excesses’ of Speight, Darbyshire and Allison Smith. These two cars were the most luxurious yet to appear for use on regular trains. One was included in the Sydney Express, and the other was intended for the Adelaide Express along with other V series cars, but Mathieson had trouble convincing the South Australians that the gas lit, vestibuled corridor cars should be added to the Victorian and South Australian joint stock. The SAR was baulking at the additional cost, but eventually gave way and six ‘V’ series cars were added to the joint stock in 1900.[152]

Victorian Railways AV car Drawing Room
A sumptuously furnished drawing room in 23 AV for the Sydney Express. PROV H2077.

Mathieson was concerned to improve the lot of all passengers. A trial of footwarmers was made on the Sydney Express in the winter of 1898, and extended to the Adelaide Express the following year. He also approved a new design of 1st/2nd class composite car which would provide lavatories for passengers on long branch line journeys. Classified ABL, they were a variation of the ‘V’ series, but had no vestibule.[153]

Drought Hinders Recovery

Mathieson’s first year as Commissioner was encouraging: after five years of declining revenue, 1896-97 showed a nine percent increase. The mood was therefore optimistic at the railway picnic held at Ballarat in March 1897. Ten trains carried over 5,000 railwaymen, their families and friends to the Showgrounds, where the excellent lunch was provided by Charles Straker, Victoria’s leading caterer, once again hosting a railway function. Mathieson could not attend, but he sent his four daughters ‘hostage’ under the care of the affable Railways Secretary Bob Kemp.[154] They were accomplished young ladies, Sarah, Jean and Nancy all winning prizes at the Presbyterian Ladies College that year.[155]

The Incubus of Non-Paying Lines

But the 1897-98 results were disappointing. Revenue dipped again, although only by a tad.[156] The economic recovery faced a new impediment: drought. The 1880’s and early 1890’s had experienced good rainfall, but 1894 was a dry year. Drought returned in 1896 and below average rainfall and high temperatures continued into the new century, culminating in the disastrous crop failures of 1902. In 1898 Melbourne recorded its driest year yet, not equalled until 1967.[157] As hopes of quickly returning the railways to profit faded, Mathieson needed something to head off potential criticism. He found it in his predecessors’ report of 1895: the albatross of non-paying lines! They wrote:

‘The main cause of the deficit, apart from the effects of the general depression, is to be found in the fact that a few years ago a number of branch ‘cockspur’ lines were constructed which have to be worked at absolute loss. In many instances the lines do not pay even working expenses apart from interest.’

A map and table of results were appended providing a graphic but highly misleading picture.[158] The non-paying lines comprised 34 percent of the network, but returned a tad less than ten percent of total railway revenue.[159] The complete South-Western district, including the mainlines from Geelong to Port Fairy, and Ararat to Portland were ‘non-paying’. How could this be?

Victorian Railways 'Non Paying' Lines 1894
Map of Non-Paying Lines at 30th June 1894. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1895.

It was a comparatively simple matter to establish the operating costs for each of these lines. The train crews, station staff and track maintenance workers on a branch line were all identifiable, as were the materials they used, but the costs incurred for movement over the mainline were too difficult to estimate and were not identified. Revenue was apportioned to each mile of the route traversed. As the journey over the branch line is typically a small part of the total distance a passenger or item of goods travelled, this approach left the branch line with a jackal’s share of revenue to offset a lion’s share of expenses. The method was devised to attribute the maximum possible portion of the railway deficit to branch lines, thereby shifting criticism to parliament for authorising the lines and the Speight administration for supposed over capitalisation of their construction. Mathieson embraced the method and a table of non-paying lines was a feature of railway annual reports from 1897 to 1902. He complained of the ‘large number of branch lines constructed at a heavy capital cost’ which were ‘expensive to work and maintain’, also warning that non-paying lines were ‘an object lesson which should he kept prominently in the foreground, especially in view of the contemplated authorization of a number of additional railways…some of the suggested lines …will inevitably add to the incubus which this Department already has to bear…’ [160] He also acknowledged that many of the non-paying lines ‘contribute to the general revenue by acting as feeders to the main lines…and it is only fair that an allowance should be made…to the credit of such lines…’ [161]

As Mathieson noted in 1897, production of the non-paying lines return involved a considerable effort by the accounting staff, and the annual returns were discontinued in 1903 as finances improved. [162] But there is no doubt that many of the branch lines remained a burden on railway finances. Considering the railway network after it had recovered from the depression, and using a fairer basis of cost and revenue allocation, nearly 40 percent of ‘Octopus Act’ lines still remained unprofitable in accounting terms.[163] This did not mean these and other branch lines were a waste of resources, as their purpose was to promote the development of the colony. Nearly all conferred on their surrounding districts benefits that were greater than the cost incurred by the Victorian Railways. A historical geography examination of the effects on rural production of the Healesville, Warburton and Gembrook lines east of Melbourne concluded that ‘the establishment of these lines had immediate significance on the areas around them. Increased accessibility saw some increase in the number of cultivated holdings as a result of subdivisions and increased purchases along the line.’ Regarding the Gembrook line, ‘it does not appear that…closure would have been justified previous to World War II.’ [164] Some lines were nevertheless a dead loss, and Mathieson acted quickly to close the remnant of the Outer Circle from Camberwell to Ashburton on 1st May, and the Lancefield to Kilmore line on 1st June 1887.[165] The following February the embarrassing line from Penshurst to Dunkeld was dismantled, after lying idle for six years.[166]

Work for the Unemployed

Immediately the second group of Acting Commissioners were appointed in mid-1894, they began an investigation into the reduction of gradients. This initiative was likely Woodroffe’s, who had spent many years working with the civil engineers, and was well aware of deficiencies in the profiling of lines built after 1870. Easing gradients would not only enable engines to haul heavier trains, but would reduce the growing incidence of broken couplings. In his new role as Chief Mechanical Engineer, Woodroffe must have been concerned by this problem. The lines built since 1870 had frequent and abrupt changes of gradient. On downgrades, the couplings between trucks bunched up, but as a train began climbing the couplings stretched out as slack was taken up. The resulting jerk was amplified as slack was taken up from the front to the back of the train, the ‘pull out’ on long trains often throwing unsuspecting guards about in the brake van and damaging goods not properly secured in the trucks. But on long trains the jerk could be so violent as to snap the steel couplings. It required great skill by drivers to control trains on poorly profiled lines. The provision of vertical curves eliminated these sudden gradient changes and enabled trains to make a gradual transition onto an incline. It was therefore an essential precursor to the efficiencies offered by longer trains.[167] As a sweetener, it was proposed to undertake this work with unemployed men. Funds were voted and work commenced in 1895, putting 800-900 men to work, most from the ranks of the unemployed.[168]

Regrading Gang, Maryborough District 1899
Seventy ‘Pick and Shovel’ men employed on regrading a line in the Maryborough District in 1899. The Baldwin ‘Ten Wheeler’ locomotive was ideal for light lines. PROV H4391.

The number of unemployed men on regrading work increased as the scheme was extended throughout the colony. Of the 9,158 who registered for work during 1996-97, only a quarter were employed,[169] but as regrading work was extended throughout the colony, more were taken on, with nearly 5,000 obtaining work during 1897-98.[170] By then they had achieved some dramatic results. Between Ararat and Dimboola, regrading enabled maximum train weight to be doubled, from 200 to 400 tons. On the South Gippsland line the weight of coal and other trains was increased by 40 to 50 percent. Similar gains were achieved on the lines from Bendigo to Swan Hill and Wycheproof. Everywhere the provision of vertical curves eased the transition when gradient changed. On the Frankston line regrading between Caulfield and Mordialloc enabled five level crossings to be replaced by bridges.[171]

Spending Again

Most of the materials would have been salvaged for use elsewhere. Part of the very low cost per mile of some branch lines then being built was due to the use of rail salvaged from mainlines. For example, some 47 miles of the Dimboola to Serviceton line had been relaid by June 1897, only ten years after the line’s opening. Originally laid with 60 lb. steel rails, it was not up to the requirements of intercolonial traffic, and was being relaid with 80 lb. steel rails. In 1897 a new policy was made, whereby heavily trafficked suburban lines would be relaid with 100 lb. rails, busy country lines with 80 lb. rails and elsewhere, 60 lb. rails would be standard. The object, said Mathieson, ‘of providing for the heavier rolling stock now generally used…’ [172] Speight and Allison Smith had said so too, but Mathieson did not have The Age baying at his heels. In 1898 parliament authorised the relaying of a further 185 miles of line, and Mathieson warned that ‘cares should be taken, in authorizing the construction of new lines…to provide at the outset for laying way of sufficient strength to meet probable requirements. The ultimate saving in maintenance and renewals will more than compensate for the extra initial cost involved’.[173] Old George Darbyshire would have been glad to read these words, but he had died six months earlier.[174] Mathieson’s observation was also a vindication of Allison Smith and Speight, then rebuilding careers in Western Australia.

As the financial constraints of the depression were slowly relaxed, a long list of ‘minor works’ were carried out which it was admitted in the ‘aggregate involved a considerable sum.’ [175] Among the largest of these works were the erection of No.4 Shed at the Melbourne Goods Terminal,[176] and to reduce the deterioration of wooden bodied carriages from sun and rain, and facilitate maintenance work, a large shelter shed for carriages was provided in the Spencer Street yard, and another at Ballarat.[177]

The most urgent work was the redecking of the Moorabool viaduct, which had been eclipsed as Australia’s longest in 1889 with the bridging of the Hawkesbury River in NSW. The Acting Commissioners were quick to dampen assertions by The Argus that the viaduct was unsafe, and The Age leapt to their defence, claiming their rival newspaper was ‘ready to publish any alleged facts…calculated to support its pet theory that the railways are not being properly maintained, because they are being more economically managed than heretofore.’ [178] How their roles had changed! But The Argus was nearer the truth than its reporter knew. The obvious problem, even admitted by the Acting Commissioners and The Age, was the overdue need to replace the wooden decking of the viaduct. But there was an underlying concern. Engineers worried at the ability of the wrought iron lattice girders to withstand the weight of up and down trains simultaneously passing over the same span. Speed had been restricted on the viaduct for some time, and traffic limited to one of the two lines. So in connection with the redecking, the double line across the viaduct was replaced by a single line, centred on the piers. Even then, train speed restrictions remained. The work was completed in March 1895 by about 100 unemployed mechanics, who were accommodated beneath the viaduct in tents, rented to them at 6d. per week. [179]

To control train movements on the new single line section between Moorabool and Gheringhap, the Tyler’s Train Tablet System was installed: only the second application on the VR.[180] The tablet was a small metal disc named for the single line section. A number of these were kept in electrically locked boxes called ‘instruments’, and one could only be released by the signalmen at each end of the section simultaneously holding down a release key. Once one tablet was out, the system electrically locked, preventing another being withdrawn until the first was returned, a process that again involved the simultaneous action of the signalmen at each end. Requests by the signalmen to release or return the tablet were made with bell codes. It was the beginning of a revolution in the safeworking of busy single lines. An upcountry mainline station office would be alive at night with the ringing of bells and the clang of tablets being withdrawn or returned to the instrument, the duty signalman having little time to relax!

A rather surprising work was the construction of an imposing two storey bi-chromed brick station building at Warrnambool. The first tenders were well above the amount provided by parliament, but the second call found a builder from far away Albury willing to make it for £4,100.[181] It would quite likely have been called extravagant had it been built in 1891, and no other substantial railway station was built for another decade.

Victorian Railways Warrnambool Station
Warrnambool Station built in 1897. SLV jc017203.

But planning for a really substantial station was ongoing. Mathieson’s first task had been to comment on the higgledy-piggledy Flinders Street Station. In 1896 there were 724 trains terminating at Flinders Street and Princes Bridge, and 318 terminated at Spencer Street.[182] The two track Flinders Street viaduct was a bottleneck preventing all suburban trains on the west of the City working through to Flinders Street, which in any case did not have enough platforms to receive them. Although the viaduct had opened in November 1891, it was just over three years before trackwork and signalling at each end was altered to enable suburban trains to work through from west to east. Even then, much of the work was temporary.[183]

Plans were made to redirect trains terminating at Princes Bridge Station into the platforms at Flinders Street, thereby saving the cost of manning two stations,[184] but once suburban trains began using the Flinders Street viaduct, all free capacity at Flinders Street was taken up, and Princes Bridge Station continued as a separate terminus for another century. (Until electrification in the 1920’s, the engines of trains terminating at Princes Bridge used a traverser near the dead end to cross to the adjacent road so they could run-round their train).

It had long been realised that a completely new station was needed, with a building of grand proportions befitting the city. Competitions had been held and winning designs selected, all to be stymied by the depression. But the difficulty of working trains and handling crowds did not go away, and was a constant pebble in the railway shoe. Planning was put on hold in 1896 due to the lack of finance, but two years later Mathieson was strongly urging the new station be commenced ‘at once’, assuring the government that all the necessary preliminary works and planning was complete.[185] As the new century and federation loomed, the railways again became a driver of the Victorian economy.

Victorian Railways Flinders Street Station Proposal 1883.
The 1883 proposal, showing twin station buildings for Flinders Street (right) and Princes Bridge (left), with connections beneath a raised extension of Swanston Street. Fifteen years later a more grandiose proposal was being mooted. The Illustrated Australian News, 16th May, 1883, p.72.


  1. Table Talk, Friday 23 February 1894, p.2.
  2. Melbourne Punch, Thursday 7 December 1893, p.5.
  3. The Argus, Tuesday 18 April 1893, p.4.
  4. The Herald, Saturday 12 August 1893, p.5.


    The Age, Tuesday 11 September 1894, p.5.
  5. The Argus, Monday 23 January 1893, p.5. Appointed an Honorary Minister in the Patterson Cabinet.


    The Argus, Wednesday 21 June 1893, p.4. Appointed Acting Minister of Railways.


    The Herald, Saturday 12 August 1893, p.5.
  6. The Herald, Friday 16 March 1894, p.1.


    Victorian Railways. Working Time Table on and after 1st July 1886, p,24.
  7. The Age, Friday 28 September 1894, p.6.
  8. The Herald, Friday 2 March 1894, p.1.


    The Geelong Advertiser, Thursday 7 September 1893, p.3.


    The Weekly Times, Saturday 25 November 1893, p.21.
  9. The Herald, Wednesday 18 April 1894, p.2.
  10. The Age, Tuesday 11 September 1894, p.5.
  11. Victorian Railways Annual Report 1890-91, p.iv., 1892-93, p.4.
  12. The Age, Friday 16 March 1894, p.5.


    The Leader, Saturday 24 February 1894, p.23. The impact of competition remained. See: Victorian Railways Annual Report 1894-95, p.7.
  13. The Herald, Saturday 12 August 1893, p.5.
  14. The Argus, Thursday 22 February 1894, p.5.


    Table Talk, Friday 23 February 1894, p.2.


    The Mount Alexander Mail, Wednesday 28 February 1894, p.2. Melbourne Punch, Thursday 1 March 1894, p.133.
  15. The Bendigo Independent, Saturday 3 March 1894, p.2
  16. The Age, Tuesday 11 September 1894, p.5.
  17. The Albury Banner and Wodonga Express, Friday 1 December 1893, p.30.


    Melbourne Punch, Thursday 7 December 1893, p.5.
  18. The Bendigo Independent, Saturday 3 March 1894, p.2.
  19. The Age, Wednesday 12 August 1896, p.6.


    The Argus, Tuesday 28 July 1896, p.4.
  20. The Australasian, Saturday 26 September 1896, p.32.
  21. The Herald, Tuesday 26 November 1895, p.1
  22. Graeme Davison. The Rise and Fall of Marvellous Melbourne. Op. Cit., p.133.
  23. Michael Cannon. The Land Boomers. Op. Cit., p.88.
  24. Michael Cannon. The Land Boomers. Op. Cit., p.107.
  25. Melbourne Punch, Thursday 15 March 1894, p.162., Thursday 3 May 1894, p.273.
  26. The Argus, Wednesday 11 July 1894, p.7.


    The Mount Alexander Mail, Wednesday 28 February 1894, p.2.
  27. The Age, Friday 21 September 1894, p.5.
  28. The Albury Banner and Wodonga Express, Friday 1 December 1893, p.30.
  29. The Australasian, Saturday 9 March 1872, p.19. Fehon was reported as Traffic Superintendent, one of the investigators of the Sunbury accident.


    The Argus, Friday 12 April 1872, p.6. Fehon is reported as the ‘late Traffic Superintendent’, but was in the official party for the opening of the NE mainline to Schoolhouse Lane.


    The Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 23 October 1888, p.4.


    K.J. Cable ‘William Meeke Fehon’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol.8, M.U.P., 1981. Fehon William Meeke-6152
  30. The Australasian, Saturday 1 January 1887, p.27.
  31. The Argus, Monday 13 April 1896, p.5., Wednesday 15 April 1896, p.5.
  32. The Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser, Saturday 11 May 1889, p.5.
  33. The Age, Wednesday 15 April 1896, p.5.


    Railway Clearing House
  34. The Argus, Monday 13 April 1896, p.5., Wednesday 15 April 1896, p.5.
  35. The Champion (Melbourne), Saturday 20 June 1896, p.6.
  36. The Weekly Times, Saturday 24 February 1894, p.19.


    The Mount Alexander Mail, Wednesday 28 February 1894, p.2.


    The Brisbane Courier, Saturday 25 April 1896, p.4.
  37. The Herald, Monday 4 May 1896, p.1.


    Melbourne Punch, Thursday 16 April 1896, p.4., Thursday 23 April 1896, p.2.


    The Argus, Monday 4 May 1896, p.5.
  38. The Worker (Brisbane), Saturday 18 April 1896, p.11.


    The Euroa Advertiser, Friday 24 April 1896, p.2.
  39. The Sportsman (Melbourne), Tuesday 15 December 1896, p.8.
  40. Table Talk, Friday 17 April 1896, p.1.


    The Age, Wednesday 29 April 1896, p.5.
  41. The Telegraph (Brisbane), Friday 1 May 1896, p.5.
  42. The Herald, Monday 4 May 1896, p.1., Thursday 7 May 1896, p.1.
  43. The Herald, Monday 4 May 1896, p.1.


    The Argus, Wednesday 6 May 1896, p.4.,
  44. The Herald, Tuesday 5 May 1896, p.4.
  45. The Age, Friday 19 June 1896, p.6.
  46. The Age, Wednesday 8 July 1896, p.4.
  47. Victorian Railways Annual Reports 30 June 1892, 1894 & 1896, p.4,10; p.5,7; and p.5-6.
    Financial Results under the Acting Commissioners
    Year Working Expenses Reduction Gross Revenue Operating Ratio Train Miles Run Reduction
    1890-91 2,310,645 3,298,567 70.0% 12,249,747
    1893-94 1,635,419 675,226 2,726,159 60.0% 10,145,307 2,104,440
    1895-96 1,546,475 88,944 2,401,392 64.4% 8,989,391 1,155,916
  48. The Williamstown Chronicle, Saturday 11 July 1896, p.2.
  49. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1896, Appendix 3, p13.
  50. The Age, Monday 29 June 1896, p.5. The valedictory report figures quoted by the newspaper do not tally with railway Annual Reports.
  51. The Age, Wednesday 8 July 1896, p.4.
  52. The Argus, Wednesday 10 February 1897, p.6.
  53. The Age, Monday 29 June 1896, p.5.
  54. The Williamstown Chronicle, Saturday 11 July 1896, p.2.
  55. Table Talk, Friday 24 July 1896, p.1.


    The Inquirer and Commercial News, Friday 21 August 1896, p.9.
  56. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1896, p.5.


    Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1885, Appendix 14, p15.
  57. The Age, Friday 26 June 1896, p.5.
  58. The Free Lance, Thursday 18 June 96, p.9. On the wall behind papers read:- ‘To Ms P [Members of Parliament] Ask and you will receive’; ‘Dick Speight, Athenaeum Club’; and a railway map showing 50 refreshment rooms! His top hat, umbrella and bag are marked ‘Brisbane to Melbourne, and a reporter from The Age is peering around the door.
  59. The Argus, Tuesday 8 December 1896, p.4.
  60. V.P.D., 1896, Vol.84, p.4188.
  61. V.P.D., 1896, Vol.84, p.4200.
  62. The Age, Thursday 10 December 1896, p.4.
  63. V.P.D., 1896, Vol.84, p.4225-26.
  64. The Age, Thursday 10 December 1896, p.4.


    The Argus, Thursday 10 December 1896, p.4.
  65. Table Talk, Friday 11 December 1896, p.1.


    The Age, Saturday 26 December 1896, p.2.
  66. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1897, p.11-12.


    V.P.D., 1896, Vol.90, p.3006-08. Debate on the Railway Officers and Employes Classification Bill. 22nd November 1898.
  67. The Leader, Saturday 26 December 1896, p.21.


    The Argus, Saturday 16 January 1897, p.11.
  68. The Argus, Tuesday 21 September 1897, p.5.
  69. V.P.D., 1898, Vol.90, p.3006-08. 22nd November 1898.
  70. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1897, p.13.
  71. Victorian Railways Annual Reports 30 June 1898, p.13; 1899, p.12.
  72. The Age, Tuesday 7 March 1893, p.5.


    The Argus, Tuesday 7 March 1893, p.6.
  73. Victorian Railways Annual Reports 30 June 1897, p.6-7.
  74. Asa Briggs. Victorian Cities. (London, 1963). p.34, 278.
  75. E-Melbourne Blog
  76. Melbourne Punch, Thursday 13 August 1896, p.15.


    Australian National University
  77. Another was the railway contractor, Samuel Peto, created a baronet in 1855. Samuel Peto
  78. Table Talk, Friday 18 September 1896, p.2-3., Friday 20 May 1898, p.9.
  79. The Age, Thursday 25 March 1897, p.6.


    The Advocate, Saturday 3 April 1897, p.19.


    The Argus, Saturday 2 October 1897, p.8.
  80. The Argus, Thursday 13 July 1893, p.9.
  81. The Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 18 May 1891, p.3., Friday 24 November 1893, p.3.
  82. The Australian Town and Country Journal, Saturday 12 September 1891, p.20.


    The Argus, Wednesday 30 May 1894, p.7.


    Decauville Railway @ Exposition Universelle (1889)
  83. The Herald, Wednesday 27 July 1887, p.3.


    Le Courrier Australien (Sydney), Saturday 8 October 1892, p.3., Saturday 29 October 1892, p.1.


    The Argus, Friday 25 May 1894, p.6.


    Museum of Victoria Victorian Collections 1, and Victorian Collections 2 The Decauville locomotives were built in Belgium by Société Anonyme Usines Métallurgiques du Hainaut – Locomotives Couillet.


    J.L. Buckland ‘The West Melbourne Gasworks Tramway’ Light Railways No.90, October 1985. LRRSA
  84. The Argus, Wednesday 30 May 1894, p.7. The reference to 3ft.4in gauge is an approximation to the Metre gauge common in the Francophone world and India. It is correctly 3ft.3⅜in.
  85. The Age, Wednesday 9 May 1894, p.5.
  86. The Argus, Friday 25 May 1894, p.6.


    The Age, Saturday 5 June 1897, p.13.
  87. Both the Gasworks locomotives survived, and were eventually purchased and restored by Colin Rees and occasionally used on the Gembrook line, where they could haul two open carriages.
  88. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Railways, Fourth General Report, 26 June 1896. p.10-11.
  89. The Age, Thursday 18 February 1897, p.5. The first use of the term, in describing the N.E. Dundas tramway and Sir William Zeal’s visit.
  90. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1898, Appendix 1, p16.
  91. The Daily Telegraph (Launceston), Saturday 21 September 1895, p.5.
  92. The Age; Argus; Ballarat Star, (Victoria), The Register (South Australia); West Australian; Western Mail; Golden Age; Goldfields Morning Chronicle; Goldfields Courier (Western Australia); Sydney Morning Herald; Newcastle Morning Herald; Sydney Mail & NSW Advertiser (New South Wales); Brisbane Courier; Queensland Times; Northern Miner; Morning Bulletin; Capricornian; (Queensland); Mercury; Tasmanian News; Launceston Examiner; Zeehan and Dundas Herald (Tasmania).
  93. The Age, Wednesday 17 February 1897, p.5.
  94. William Hales ‘The North East Dundas Tram: An Engineering Account’ Institution of Civil Engineers-Minutes of Proceedings, Volume 140, 1899-1900. Reproduced in Light Railways No.128 LRRSA
  95. The Age, Thursday 18 February 1897, p.5.
  96. The ratio of the maximum load a truck could carry, to the empty weight of the truck.
  97. The Zeehan and Dundas Herald, Friday 26 July 1901, p.


    Herbert Garratt In 1901 a 40 ton Hagan’s Patent locomotive was introduced: at the time the most powerful 2’0” gauge locomotive in the world. Not ideal, it was replaced in 1908 by two Garratt locomotives; again, a world first.
  98. Victorian Parliamentary Debates, Vol.86, 1897, p.1252, 11 August 1897., p.2201. 23 September 1897.
  99. Victorian Railways Annual Report, 30 June 1903, p.5. Appendix 15 & 16.
    Francis Rennick’s Railways 1893-1896
    Line Section Length Miles Opened Cost per Mile Total Cost
    Warracknebeal to Beulah 22 1893 £2,414 £53,111
    Donald to Birchip 32¼ 1893 £2,350 £75,788
    Beulah to Hopetoun 16 1894 £2,071 £33,129
    Korumburra to Jumbunna 1894 £5,057 £18,965
    Korumburra to Strezlecki 1894 £5,130 £11,541
    Dimboola to Jeparit 23 1894 £1,721 £39,577
    Natimuk to Goroke 28¼ 1894 £2,274 £64,250
    Boort to Quambartook 22 1894 £1,955 £43,020
    Wycheproof to Sea Lake 47¾ 1895 £1,489 £71,108
    Jumbunna to Outrim 1896 £12,324 £27,730
    Nathalia to Picola 1896 £1,982 £13,378
    Total 206¼ £2,190 £451,597
  100. The Age, Saturday 5 June 1897, p.13.
  101. The Age, Wednesday 14 July 1897, p.5.
  102. The Argus, Tuesday 27 July 1897, p.4.


    See Chapter Six.
  103. The Australasian, Saturday 3 July 1897, p.36.


    The Herald, Thursday 15 July 1897, p.1.
  104. The Argus, Thursday 5 August 1897, p.6.
  105. Victorian Parliamentary Debates, Vol.86 1897, p.1397-98. 17 August 1897. Zeal said it hauled two cars, but photos also show three and four cars.
  106. N.E. Wadeson, ‘The Sorrento Tramway’ ARHS Bulletin, December 1960, p.181-185.
  107. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1898, Appendix 1, p.18.
  108. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1898, p.9.
  109. Victorian Parliamentary Debates, Vol.86 1897, p.2016, 2030. 30 August 1897.


    The Australasian, Saturday 28 August 1897, p.35, Saturday 4 September 1897, p.34.


    The Age, Tuesday 31 August 1897, p.6.
  110. The Age, Thursday 9 September 1897, p.6., Friday 24 September 1897, p.4.
  111. The Age, Friday 15 October 1897, p.5.
  112. The Age, Monday 2 May 1898, p.6, for a liberal obituary.


    The Australasian, Saturday 7 May 1898, p.34, for a conservative obituary.
  113. The Lilydale Express and Yarra Glen, Wandin Yallock, Upper Yarra, Healesville and Ringwood Chronicle, Friday 16 December 1898, p.2.
  114. Victorian Parliamentary Debates, Vol.88 1898, p.122-123. 6 July 1898. Quoting a letter from the Engineer-in-Chief.
  115. The Week (Brisbane), Friday 9 December 1892, p.9.


    The Evening News (Sydney), Friday 23 May 1879, p.3.
  116. The Age, Friday 11 September 1896, p.5.


    The Ballarat Star, Wednesday 30 September 1896, p.1.
  117. The Australasian, Saturday 26 February 1898, p.476.
  118. The Age, Wednesday 17 February 1897, p.5. In modern terms, the investment would provide a payback of 10-12 years at 3 percent.
  119. The Herald, Thursday 3 June 1897, p.1.
  120. The Geelong Advertiser, Wednesday 2 June 1897, p.2.
  121. J.F.L. Train Lighting by Electricity. The Locomotive Publishing Co. London. 1914, p.2-3.
  122. The Herald, Wednesday 26 May 1897, p.2.
  123. The Herald, Tuesday 8 June 1897, p.1.


    The Age, Saturday 12 June 1897, p.13.
  124. The Age, Wednesday 17 February 1897, p.5., Monday 5 July 1897, p.5.
  125. The Ballarat Star, Wednesday 11 August 1897, p.1.


    The Age, Friday 13 August 1897, p.3.
  126. Victorian Railways Annual Reports 30 June 1895, p.12; 1897, p.11; 1898, p.11; 1899, p.17; 1900, p.14.
  127. The Herald, Wednesday 7 July 1897, p.1.
  128. The Herald, Wednesday 7 July 1897, p.1., Thursday 15 July 1897, p.1.
  129. The Age, Wednesday 17 February 1897, p.5. Some 4,747 trucks had already been fitted, with 3,000 more earmarked, and 800 deemed obsolete and not worth fitting.
  130. The Age, Friday 23 July 1897, p.6.


    The Argus, Wednesday 28 July 1897, p.6.
  131. The Australasian, Saturday 27 March 1897, p.20.
  132. The Age, Thursday 4 March 1897, p.4.
  133. The Age, Monday 28 June 1897, p.5.
  134. The author held a University scholarship from the Commercial Traveller’s Association, of which three generations of his family had been members. My grandfather’s advice to my father was ‘don’t get sick’ (bed linen was often not changed after every guest), and ‘make sure your employer puts you up in the best hotel, because the best is not as good as home’. My great grandfather would sometimes detrain from the Melbourne Express at Nhill or somewhere in the middle of the night, drag a hamper to the hotel, find his room key left at the desk and let himself into his room. He would take his own sheet. There was nothing to do in the evenings except read and drink in the bar.
  135. The Argus, Tuesday 12 July 1898, p.5.


    The Age, Tuesday 26 July 1898, p.4.
  136. The Mount Alexander Mail, Saturday 10 September 1898, p.2., Thursday 15 September 1898, p.2.
  137. A train consists of a variety of vehicles, ergo a ‘consist’ to is list of each vehicle in a train.
  138. V.P.D., 1898, Vol.90, p.3252. 30th November 1898.
  139. The Wodonga and Towong Sentinel, Friday 12 August 1898, p.2.
  140. The Williamstown Chronicle, Saturday 11 July 1896, p.2.
  141. Victorian Railways Annual Reports, 1894 to 1898, Appendix 3 and 1897, Appendix 18.
  142. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1898, p.9.
  143. The Argus, Tuesday 25 October 1898, p.4.


    M.H.W. Clark and J.C.M. Rolland, ‘History of the Locomotives of the Victorian Railways, 1860-1904’. Privately reproduced MS, (Melbourne, 1934), Sheets 15-16. Locomotives reboilering dates:-A398, 27-7-98; A422, 27-2-99; A410, 2-5-99; A400, 20-6-99; A412, 11-7-99; A488, 21-8-99. The original 140 lb/ (psi) boiler gave a tractive effort of 13,104 lbs, the higher pressure version 15,912 lbs. The other nine New A’s were later reboilered with the even bigger 175 psi A&Y boiler early in the new century, which gave a tractive effort of 16,380 lbs.
  144. The Age, Saturday 5 November 1898, p.8.
  145. The Argus, Thursday 29 December 1898, p.5.
  146. Federation Timeline
  147. The Age, Wednesday 26 October 1898, p.6.
  148. The Weekly Times, Saturday 29 October 1898, p.12.


    The Herald, Saturday 29 October 1898, p.4.


    The Age, Friday 11 November 1898, p.4.
  149. The Maitland Weekly Mercury, Saturday 15 October 1898, p.10.
  150. The Weekly Times, Saturday 29 October 1898, p.12. The ‘Governor’s car’ was that converted from Aa193 in 1894 for Lord Hopetoun. Wooden Bogie Passenger carriages
  151. The Herald, Friday 19 March 1897, p.5. Allison Smith’s boudoir cars were included in the consist of the Sydney Express from 1893, and probably continued until the ‘V’ series cars were introduced.
  152. The Age, Friday 15 September 1899, p.6., Wednesday 22 November 1899, p.6.


    The Evening Journal (Adelaide), Friday 13 July 1900, p.3. Notes a 2nd class corridor car on the Melbourne Express was derailed at Lubeck.
  153. The Herald, Wednesday 26 October 1898, p.4. ABL = 1st class/ 2nd class/ Lavatory.
  154. Melbourne Punch, Thursday 25 March 1897, p.17.


    Straker Doyl 1839-1913/
  155. The Argus, Tuesday 14 December 1897, p.6. ‘Miss Mathieson’ was likely Sarah, the oldest. Jean is named, and Nancy is given her initial. Young Lucy is not mentioned.


    Table Talk, Friday 20 May 1898, p.9. Names all the daughters.
  156. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1898, p.4.
  157. Federation_Drought
  158. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1895, Appendix 22, p.59.
  159. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1895, p.8. Non-paying lines totalled 1,058 miles compared to total network 3,083 miles. Attributed revenue £211,559 compared with total railway revenue of £2,222,310.
  160. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1898, p.8-9.
  161. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1897, p.9.
  162. After 1902 non-paying lines were investigated from time to time but the results were not published, but the methods were used in determining the losses on lines nominated for closure until 1970.
  163. M.A. Venn. ‘The Octopus Act and Empire Building by the Victorian Railways During the Land Boom’, Master of Arts Preliminary Thesis, University of Melbourne, 1973. p.42-3., Appendix X, p.71-4.
  164. Joseph Aron. ‘Railways and Road Transport’, Department of Geography, University of Melbourne. 1971. p.102, 130.
  165. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1897, Appendix 2, p.19.
  166. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1898, Appendix 2, p.18. Dismantling complete 19 February.
  167. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1894, p.10.
  168. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1895, Appendix 2, p.20.
  169. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1897, Appendix 1, p.16-17.
  170. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1898, Appendix 1, p.17. Numbers employed: Fin. Year 1898, 4477; Fin. Year 1897, 1,592; 8 May 1895 to 30 June 1986, 3,018.
  171. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1898, Appendix 2, p.19-20.
  172. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1897, p.8., Appendix 2, p.19.
  173. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1898, p.7.
  174. The Weekly Times, Saturday 12 March 1898, p.14.
  175. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1898, p.7.
  176. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1899, Appendix 2, p.18.
  177. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1895, p.10., 30 June 1897, Appendix 2; p.20; 30 June 1898, Appendix 2, p.19.
  178. The Age, Wednesday 21 November 1894, p.5.
  179. The Argus, Tuesday 20 November 1894, p.5., Wednesday 21 November 1894, p.5.


    The Geelong Advertiser, Thursday 22 November 1894, p.3., Monday 8 April 1895, p.2. It is significant that the maximum speed of subsequent tests was only 15 mph.
  180. C.D. Gavan Duffy, ‘Staff and Ticket on the Victorian Railways’, ARHS Bulletin, No.98, (December, 1945), p.76.


    C.D. Gavan Duffy and Jack McLean, ‘Working of the Geelong to Ballarat Railway’, ARHS Bulletin, No.114, (April. 1947), p.52.
  181. The Argus, Wednesday 10 February 1897, p.6.


    The Age, Wednesday 30 June 1897, p.6.
  182. The Age, Wednesday 1 April 1896, p.6.
  183. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1895, Appendices 2, p.20; 12, p.33; 16, 46-47.
  184. Victorian Railways Annual Report 30 June 1895, p.12.
  185. Victorian Railways Annual Reports 30 June 1896, Appendix 2, p.12; 30 June 1898, p.10.