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Chapter Five


Barely had work on the light lines extensions commenced when the last great fight of Thomas Higinbotham’s career began. The issue concerned the core of the railway system, and its ability to cope with the increasing traffic being won by the new lines, especially the proposed trunk line to Gippsland. Extending from Melbourne to Sale in the east, this was one of the lines included in the Railway Construction Bill introduced in October 1873,[1] by the new Minister for Railways, Duncan Gillies.

The Gippsland line closely followed the route proposed in 1871 by the promoters of the narrow gauge Great Gippsland Railway Company, but the Engineer-in-Chief was asked to report on the best possible way to bring the line into Melbourne. As the line would approach the outskirts of Melbourne from the south east, at Oakleigh, the most obvious route was a short extension to the nearest point on the M&HBUR system, which served the suburbs on that side of the city.

A connection with the M&HBUR at Elsternwick would require the government railway to negotiate ‘running rights’ for its trains over the private company’s line to Flinders Street, or else purchase the company outright. If this course were followed, the M&HBUR station at Flinders Street could be developed as a central passenger station. That this plan was under consideration early in the development of the Gippsland Railway scheme is evidenced by the government’s refusal in the latter part of 1872 to grant the M&HBUR the rights to lease some of the land it had been granted at Flinders Street.[2] The direct route and M&HBUR purchase at first seemed reasonable to Higinbotham, and he recommended that course in January 1873.[3]

The Outer Circle Railway and Central Passenger Station

In order to value the M&HBUR property, Gillies asked his Engineer-in-Chief and the General Overseer of Locomotives and Workshops to make a thorough inspection of the private company’s lines and rolling stock.[4] This survey was made in the autumn of 1873, as the first section of the North Eastern line began to throw additional traffic onto the terminal facilities at Spencer Street Station.

As Higinbotham examined the M&HBUR, he pondered what would happen if the Gippsland traffic was fed into the cramped little station at Flinders Street, sandwiched between the city and the river and unconnected with the rest of the government system. The alternative of extending a line along the river front to the Spencer Street Station was no more attractive, as the area was flood prone and heavily used for serving the adjacent wharves.

Flinders Street and the wharves below the Falls Bridge during the December 1863 flood. Not an ideal route for a railway. G.W. Perry. SLV H6256.

The terminal of the government railways was very badly laid out and cramped. At that time the land on the western side of the city fell away to a low lying swamp. It bordered the Yarra River which made a large bend to the north. (Later the Coode Canal eliminated this bend). The government passenger and goods terminus occupied the higher land between Spencer Street and the swamp. This narrow neck of land was so restricted that in 1863 the top of Batman’s Hill was shaved off to provide space for the original goods sheds.[5] Even then, Higinbotham was unimpressed with the Spencer Street site, and had submitted plans for a central station to be built north of St Francis Church in Elizabeth Street. That site had since been developed for housing.[6]

Victorian Railways Map of Melbourne and Suburbs, 1873 (detail), showing West Melbourne Swamp. State Library of Victoria.

The Great Gippsland Railway Company had intended to circle the railway starved eastern and northern suburbs, and terminate their line at a separate narrow gauge station on the Elizabeth Street site.[7] Higinbotham revived the Great Gippsland’s plan, proposing a Central Station for all government passenger trains near the corner of La Trobe and Elizabeth streets. This would leave the Spencer Street terminal with its clutter of temporary wooden buildings for the exclusive use of goods trains.

The Outer Circle line, as Higinbotham termed it, involved an extra six miles on the journey from Oakleigh to Melbourne, would cost an estimated £292,455 if made with double tracks. This was only one third the valuation of the M&HBUR, which the Audit Commissioner put at £880,000. The private company was angling to sell for about £1,300,000. If the government chose to economise by building the Outer Circle as a single track line, the estimated cost would fall to £195,070.[8]

The Engineer-in-Chief reported in this vein. He also saw no real advantage for the government to own all the colony’s railways. The building of the Outer Circle and Gippsland line would restrict the private company’s expansion to the near eastern and south eastern suburbs. So restricted, its value would diminish, making an eventual government takeover possible at a lower price. He also saw to it that his assessment of the M&HBUR’s property was none too complimentary. His views so upset the company’s directors that they wrote to Gillies urging him not to publish the reports by the railway officers. They objected to claims that the company’s lines and rolling stock were in need of extensive repairs.[9]

Samuel Calvert’s bird’s eye view of Melbourne (West end) in 1880 showing the site of Central Station (X), the M&HBUR Elizabeth St Station (Y), the Victorian Railways Spencer St Station (Z) and wharves downstream from the Falls Bridges. National Library of Australia.

A review of the locomotive roster of the company at the time would seem to verify their position, for the average age of their 19 engines was only 11 years, and two of them were new bogie engines of the modern 4-4-0 design yet to be adopted by the Victorian Railways.[10] The company had also introduced a bogie carriage, again in advance of the government railway.[11] This was hardly an antiquated railway, as some have claimed, but it certainly was a successful railway with less robust standards than Higinbotham cared for.

By recommending a large sum for necessary repairs, the Engineer-in-Chief was seeking not only to deter the government from purchasing the M&HBUR, but also to demonstrate the fallacy of adopting light standards for the next round of government railway extensions. He wanted the conservative government to face up to the dilemma that the radical liberals had ignored in 1871. New lines might be very cheaply made, but the extra traffic they generated would soon place intolerable strains on the core of the system. He emphasised this by drawing the government’s attention to the need to further extend the Melbourne Goods Shed. Francis Longmore’s Bill had made no provision for this work, despite adding a further 150 miles to the railway system.[12]

The Engineer-in-Chief’s advocacy of the Outer Circle and Central Station scheme was by far the cheapest way out. By July 1873, it looked as though he had won an easy victory. Gillies informed the M&HBUR chairman that the government had decided not to make an offer for his company.[13] As it transpired, however, the Higinbotham had only gained half a loaf. When the Railway Construction Bill was introduced on 2nd October 1873, there was no Outer Circle. Instead Gillies chose the cheapest option of all in the short term: a line from Oakleigh to Elsternwick, with ‘running rights’ over the M&HBUR.

The Engineer-in-Chief responded by changing his tactics. On 7th October, he reported that the central station did not form a necessary part of the Outer Circle, and thereby sought to separate what were rapidly becoming hot political issues.[14] He enlisted the support of his powerful brother George, who presented a ‘numerously signed petition’ in favour of the Outer Circle on 14th October.[15] He even found himself on the same side as David Syme, who favoured the Engineer-in-Chief’s scheme as a means of bringing railways to the populous northern suburbs and Heidelberg.[16] An Outer Circle Railway League was also formed that month, and such was the pressure that Gillies was forced to drop the Oakleigh to Elsternwick line from his Bill, which was passed with the Gippsland line terminating at Oakleigh.[17]

As for the other seven lines authorised in the new Act, the Engineer-in-Chief had also succeeded in a bid to substantially lift their maximum cost. In September 1873, he advised Gillies that inflated prices had caused a 20 per cent increase in costs on the 1871 group of lines, although no alterations in the standards of construction had been made.[18] The Minister therefore lifted the maximum cost of the new lines to £5,750 per mile, arguing that they would be built to the same standards as those adopted in the 1871 Act, which fixed the maximum expenditure at £5,000 per mile.

Gillies claimed that the price of iron had risen from the £8 to £9 per ton of 1871, to £12 per ton, and that there had been unspecified increases in other areas. But as the new lines would in the main traverse Crown land, the cost of land would be lower, and the £1,000 per mile increase sought by the Engineer-in-Chief would be held down to £750.[19] The opposition would not accept this reasoning. John Woods did a sum, and found that the increase in the price of iron accounted for only £250 per mile, leaving £500 per mile for unspecified local increases, about which he was very sceptical.[20]

He had good cause to be. The Engineer-in-Chief had long ago learned that unless parliament actually specified details such as the weight of rails to be used, the only effective constraint they imposed was the sum of money voted. Even Longmore’s Act had not specified the weight of rail, but merely limited the average cost per mile. Costs had indeed inflated, but they might well come down again before the contracts for the new lines were let, enabling more substantial works to be undertaken.

Added to his political battles, Higinbotham was kept busy with the increasing work load that followed resumption of railway construction in 1870. An indication of the amount of work is given by the number of contracts let, for the Engineer-in-Chief was final arbiter of each and every one. In the year ended December 1869, work was proceeding on 33 different contracts, to a value of about £25,000. In the year ended June 1873, there were 104 contracts in progress worth approximately £1,440,000.[21]

The North Eastern line was completed at Wodonga in November 1872,[22] by which time several new light lines were under construction, and contract specifications were in preparation for many more. Despite the surge of work, by late 1873 Higinbotham was still on a reduced salary of £l,200 per annum. His salary had been reduced by £300 per annum during the lull in construction between 1864 and 1870, a matter over which he nearly resigned. Longmore moved that it be restored to £1,500 per annum, commending his old opponent’s honesty and integrity as being ‘beyond suspicion’. The government had already allowed for such an increase,[23] which was certainly earned by the time Gillies’ Railway Construction Act was proclaimed in November 1873.

Such was the work load in the Department that in 1873 that George Darbyshire was invited back to serve under the man who replaced him as Engineer-in-Chief. Although employed at a fraction of his old salary,[24] he had other sources of income! Since his resignation in 1860, Darbyshire had settled at Werribee in a two story pre-fabricated house he named ‘Wyndham Grange’. He purchased large amounts of land and became a grazier with prize winning sheep.[25] But he also maintained his surveying and engineering work,[26] and served as a councillor of the Wyndham Shire, being its president from 1867 to 1870.[27] He was enrolled as a magistrate in 1869,[28] and at the time of his railway re-appointment he was Deputy Surveyor-General of the Crown Lands Department.[29]

George Christian Darbyshire circa 1875. PROV H2619.

Administration During Thomas Higinbotham’s Absence Overseas

Over Christmas that year, Higinbotham thought about a holiday, and decided to sail home. He had been away for seventeen years, most of which he had spent administering the Victorian Railways. His request for leave of absence was noted by The Argus on 23rd January 1874, but four days later it was reported that the government had asked him to make the visit.[30] The four day gap could indicate that the government decided to reward the Engineer-in-Chief by making his holiday a paid tour of inspection. The railway staff gave him a farewell banquet at the Athenaeum Club on 28th February and presented him with a beautifully illuminated address.

Ten days later, Higinbotham left Melbourne on the SS Hero for Sydney, and a connection to San Francisco.[31] After five months in the USA and Canada, he sailed on to England. He made his home there for a year, with trips to Scotland, Ireland and the Continent. His epiphany in America and his recommendations are discussed in Chapter Four. He travelled back to Victoria via the Suez Canal and India, being away on full pay for 22 months.[32]

Higinbotham left the affairs of his Branch in the hands of a triumvirate of senior officers, with Arthur Wells as Acting Engineer-in-Chief, supported by Resident Engineers William Greene and Robert Watson.[33] His placing of Wells as Acting Engineer-in-Chief was probably a form of insurance against the radicals regaining government. It was shortly after his departure that Greene submitted his critical report about the Castlemaine to Maryborough line, mentioned in Chapter Four. The first light line to be built, it was almost completed.

As Resident Engineer, Greene had supervised its construction with growing concern, noting that the cuttings and embankments were too narrow for adequate drainage. Washouts had damaged it’s not too permanent way before it was opened for traffic. He also worried about the deflections of the 50 lb iron rails caused by Meikle’s Buzzwinkers. To remedy the situation, he proposed to add an extra sleeper beneath each section of rail, at a cost of £70 per mile, but strongly recommended that 60 lb rails be used for subsequent construction.[34]

Greene’s report worried Gillies, who was the local Member for Maryborough. There was no political capital to be made out of a line that began to disintegrate before it opened. Even the North Eastern line, built to quite substantial standards, was drawing the fire of provincial journalists over the most trivial irregularities.[35] He was particularly concerned about the Gippsland railway, which would become one of the major trunk lines. He therefore announced to the House on 30th June that he had authorised the use of heavier 60 lb rails for that line.

Gillies explained to the indignant opposition that this would only increase the cost by £230 per mile, but the radicals would have none of it.[36] On 16th July, Longmore moved that the weight of rails be retained at 50 lb per yard, claiming that this was sanctioned by the Engineer-in-Chief. Who then he thundered, was this man ‘unknown to fame…that says they will not do?’ A division was forced on the issue, but the government had the numbers and got its way.[37] When Higinbotham returned, he supported the stand taken by Greene and Gillies, as his sanction of 50 lb iron rails had been made under Longmore’s pressure.

The actions of one of the managing triumvirate were contrary to the Engineer-in-Chief’s policy. Watson was 51 years old. He was born at Dartington in Devonshire in November 1822 to a farming family, and educated at Exeter. For about fifteen years he worked on the surveying and construction of broad gauge railways in the west of England before emigrating to Victoria 1854. Joining the surveying teams under Captain Clarke and Darbyshire, he was subsequently appointed one of the original engineers of the Victorian Railways. As Resident Engineer he had supervised construction of the Geelong-Ballarat, Sandhurst-Echuca, the North East and Gippsland mainlines, and a number of branch lines.[38]

Robert Watson Resident Engineer, later Engineer-in-Chief. PROV H1839B.

Watson had worked closely with Robert G. Ford for over twenty years, and had the highest regard for his skills. By 1874 Ford had been promoted to Chief Draughtsman. Watson disagreed with his Chief’s plans for an Outer Circle line and central station, and had Ford prepare a counter proposal for improving the existing terminal at Spencer Street. It is likely that Watson had a low opinion of Higinbotham’s engineering abilities, once implying his boss was a novice.[39]

On several occasions Watson had advanced opinions contrary to those of the Engineer-in-Chief,[40] and Higinbotham had publicly criticised him for professional imprudence.[41] His regard for Higinbotham would not have improved by being passed over for the job of Acting Engineer-in-Chief in favour of Wells. Watson had more seniority than Wells, and in the mid 1860’s was earning a higher salary.[42]

Watson thought Ford knew more about bridge design than anyone in the Department, and recommend him for promotion in January 1872. Higinbotham approved, as Ford was one of three engineers he had publicly thanked for their ‘invaluable assistance’ in the construction of the North Eastern railway.[43] Ford had been in charge of construction of the Goulburn River Bridge.[44] Some years earlier, in 1867, the Engineer-in-Chief referred to Ford as ‘a very competent authority’ on the temporary Campaspe Bridge.[45]

But Watson waited until Higinbotham was clear of Australia before recommending Ford for another promotion, in May 1874.[46] Ford was counted as a long standing personal friend of Woods,[47] the engineer-politician who ‘disapproved of almost everything the Railway Department did’.[48] Woods later praised Ford as having done more for designing cheap railways than all the other engineers put together.[49] It is almost certain that Higinbotham knew and disapproved of this friendship before his overseas tour. In 1878, when Woods was Minister of Railways, and Ford had been elevated to a very senior post, Higinbotham complained of ‘a series of disgraceful intrigues, which have been carried on in the Engineer-in-Chief’s office for a very considerable time past, with the knowledge and participation of the Minister of Railways, both before and since he was in office.’ [50]

Nine months after Higinbotham’s departure Gillies had sought the railway engineers’ advice as to the best site for a central station. This was in connection with a Bill for the construction of the Outer Circle Railway.[51] Watson, always a supporter of the Spencer Street site, had asked Ford to prepare a plan for its enlargement and rearrangement. He was knowingly acting in contravention of the Engineer-in-Chief’s policy.[52] Ford duly finished a most grandiose plan that required the destruction of the entire existing station, the raising of the land level on the western side of the yard with hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of spoil, and the construction of twin roundhouses for locomotives at North Melbourne.[53]

Ford aimed to eliminate the many curves in the yard which made it very dangerous to work. It had earned the grim epithet ‘Slaughter Yard’.[54] Laudable as his objectives were, the proposition of such an expensive solution at the time was questionable. The main trunk lines had yet to be completed, and thousands of selector farmers were still too far from a railhead to make a decent living.

Watson later defended his actions to the Engineer-in-Chief, arguing rather lamely that as there were still many mixed passenger and goods trains working to and from the Melbourne Terminal, shunting would be minimised by keeping the passenger and goods terminals close together.[55] In the event, Gillies’ Bill was withdrawn due to the opposition of interests in the southern suburbs, who wanted a direct link between Oakleigh and Melbourne.[56] The central station issue therefore lost impetus, and by mid-1875, Gillies had lost office.

The new government was led by Graham Berry, a radical protectionist. He gave the railway portfolio to Woods, a ‘nonentity’ hitherto untried in ministerial office. [57] Woods’ term as Minister of Railways lasted just eleven weeks, as Berry’s intention to tax the big grazing estates alienated his more moderate supporters.[58] But Woods was Minister long enough to discover and be impressed by Watson and Ford’s plan for a rearrangement of Spencer Street Station. He also sought out his fellow mechanical engineer, William Meikle, and encouraged the General Overseer of Locomotives and Workshops to have another go at designing a light lines engine that could be locally made.

Melbourne looking South West in 1866. Spencer Strret Station and Yard at right, constrained by swamp. Princes Bridge and Elizabeth Street Stations (then unconnected) beside the Yarra River, with ships right up to the Falls Bridge. Undeveloped swampy ground surrounding the Sandridge and St Kilda lines. Detail from Isometrical plan of Melbourne & Suburbs, 1866, by De Gruchy & Leigh, lithographers. SLV PIC LT 1017.

Higinbotham Returns

On his return in mid-January 1876 Higinbotham found Joseph Jones as the Minister of Railways. As discussed in Chapter Four, he returned as a powerful advocate for the American 4-4-0 locomotive. These engines would guarantee the success of the light lines laid with 50 lb iron rails, but would have to be imported. Meikle’s new 4-4-0 design that Woods had requested was unproven but would be made locally. Jones, while unwilling to incur the ire of protectionist interests was nevertheless impressed with the authority of the Engineer-in-Chief’s case, so he compromised. The next order for light lines engines was split, with Phoenix to build eight to Meikle’s new design at Ballarat, and two ‘American’ type 4-4-0s to be ordered from Rogers, in Paterson, New Jersey.[59]

Higinbotham reasserted his authority in his own Branch, objecting to the proposals for rebuilding the Spencer Street terminal, and reiterating his support for a central station at the top of Elizabeth Street. [60] Watson decided to make himself scarce, and took his wife and son on a holiday. They sailed for England May 1876 but while there his wife died.[61]

The railway system had expanded by 175 miles during Higinbotham’s absence,[62] and the pressures on its core were getting intense. He used to stretch his legs by walking around the station, and on several occasions walked up the yard to talk to John Sadler, the Yard Inspector. Sadler and Higinbotham had both worked for the Great Northern Railway in England, and had been colleagues almost from the inception of the Victorian Railways.[63] ‘I don’t know how you get along at all in this complicated place’ he would tell Sadler, but initially resisted the junior man’s suggestions for interlocking the points and signals in the yard from a new signal box. Higinbotham replied the delay was due to the yard being in a state of transition.

Higinbotham was not against interlocking. He had been impressed with developments he witnessed in England, and was instrumental in introducing the McKenzie & Holland patent interlocking on the Victorian Railways. He agreed to some improvements at Spencer Street,[64] including the installation of one signal box after the collision that Sadler predicted must occur. These improvements were only consistent with what Higinbotham hoped would be the exclusive dedication of the facilities to goods traffic. He made no attempt to interlock the passenger station, lest the money be wasted due to the subsequent construction of his central passenger station.[65]

But during 1876 the Outer Circle scheme waned and Berry’s government fell. Gillies was included in the new Ministry of Sir James McCulloch as Minister of Lands, but the government opted for a direct Oakleigh – Elsternwick line. It reopened negotiations to purchase the M&HBUR,[66] and try as he may, the Engineer-in-Chief’s efforts to secure his own plan were fruitless. Not the least of his difficulties was a bitter feud that had erupted between McCulloch and George Higinbotham, Thomas’ brother.

The ‘most striking figure in Victorian politics’ of that century, George Higinbotham had virtually ruled the colony with McCulloch during the first constitutional struggle of 1864-1868. In the intervening few years, McCulloch received a knighthood, and began to favour the conservatives. McCulloch vehemently attacked George for supporting Graham Berry’s bid to call an election at the end of 1875. The frustrated radicals adopted the tactic of stonewalling when parliament resumed in January 1876, attempting to obstruct all items of business the McCulloch Ministry tried to bring on. McCulloch reacted by the applying the gag, or ‘iron hand’. This perceived corruption of parliamentary procedure by those whose cause he had so recently expounded troubled George deeply. He resigned his seat rather than support either party.[67]

Thereafter Thomas’ influence began to decline in parallel with his brother’s, for despite their differing political views, Thomas lived harmoniously with George’s family in a lovely sea front villa he had designed for them in 1860.[68] There can be little doubt that the awe in which politicians held George caused them to act circumspectly towards Thomas. This is not to imply that George fought his older brother’s battles. He seems to have refrained from public comment on railway matters, excepting his support for the Outer Circle scheme in 1873.

The McCulloch government had dextrously held onto power throughout 1876 and passed an Act authorising the negotiation of a £l,000,000 loan for railway construction.[69] But their Railway Construction Bill of November 1876 failed to pass. The Bill was the most cheese-paring yet, for in spite of Higinbotham’s warnings about the need for more attention to the core of the system, especially the supply of rolling stock,[70] the maximum expenditure for the new lines was fixed at £4,250 per mile. Support for the Engineer-in-Chief’s opinions was still strong in parliament, and the Bill was put aside.[71]

McCulloch’s government had also taken the unprecedented step of basing this figure on estimates by engineers outside the Railway Department.[72] They were impressed by the opening of the broad gauge Deniliquin and Moama Railway on 4th July 1876. It had cost a mere £3,600 per mile, but few realised that it was laid over almost dead flat land with not one river or creek crossing other than the Murray River. Construction of the line had been directed by Higinbotham’s old opponent, W. A. Zeal. Having lost his seat in 1874 he had returned to his profession.[73]

Deniliquin & Moama Railway Co.’s Beyer Peacock light lines 0-6-0 No. 1 with a mixed train at Deniliquin soon after the line was opened on 4th July 1876. H. Moser photo, SLNSW 403044.

The pressure on Higinbotham to watch every penny was therefore intense during 1876, and his opposition to the government’s proposals may have stimulated McCulloch to introduce a Railway Management Bill in November 1876. It’s intent was to place the affairs of the railways in the hands of a permanent, non-political head, thereby diminishing Higinbotham’s authority. The move did not get past a perfunctory first reading, at which the government refused to outline the reasons for its Bill.[74] The commencement of 1877 held out no respite for Higinbotham. If the radical liberals won the upcoming May elections, he faced the prospect of working with Longmore again, or worse still with Woods.

John Woods

In May 1877 the radicals were returned with a landslide,[75] the new government being headed by Graham Berry. He was a man of radical tendencies and volatile character, and he found it difficult to find a team prepared to serve on his Cabinet. Into this vacuum shot Woods, who was given the Railways portfolio. Longmore had no qualms about serving with Berry, but he had been Minister for Railways twice and took the Lands portfolio. This was a job much closer to his heart.[76]

Woods was 54 years old at the time of his appointment, just three years younger than Higinbotham. He was born in Liverpool and as a teenager was apprenticed to the locomotive department of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR), where Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’ had famously won the Rainhill trials just a few years earlier. Thomas Worsdell was the L&MR’s carriage builder and in 1837 he joined Woods’ father in a partnership. They won a contract with the Leipzig and Dresden Railway,[77] so young John finished his apprenticeship in Germany, working alongside Worsdell’s son George.

In the early 1840’s Woods visited North America where he would have witnessed a different railroad technology emerging, but not yet perfected. Returning to England about 1844 he was employed briefly as an engineer at the Crewe railway works, moving from there to an iron works in Staffordshire. He became head foreman of the Dallam Forge, which won a gold medal for railway forging at the 1851 Exhibition. But that was not gold enough for Woods!

The following year Woods and his wife emigrated to Victoria and spent about six years on various diggings, where he joined the fight for miners’ rights. Ill luck caused him to return to engineering at Stawell in 1859. He was soon elected to the Legislative Assembly and served as Member for Crowlands (Stawell) from 1859 to 1864. After losing his seat he again returned to engineering and in 1867 was appointed engineer in charge of construction of the Malmsbury reservoir. He was later dismissed, along with the Chief Engineer of the Water Supply Department and the senior Resident Engineer, for covering up – quite literally – cracks in the dam’s water pipes.

Ever after he endured being called ‘Tar Brush’ Woods.[78] Higinbotham was a principal witness at a Select Committee inquiry into the matter, and his evidence was critical of Woods. The government later claimed the men were not dismissed for faulty work, but for a conspiracy to conceal important facts. By throwing the blame onto his superiors, Woods was able to make light of the affair and was re-elected in 1871 as Member for Crowlands. In a personal explanation to the Legislative Assembly on 17th May 1871, he alienated his staunchest ally, W.A. Zeal, by his manner of admitting guilt but disclaiming responsibility.[79]

John Woods MLA, Commissioner of Railways, 1875, 1877-1880. J.W. Lindt, Image courtesy Victorian Parliamentary Library.

Higinbotham and Woods at Loggerheads

It is ironic that the issue which finally brought about the downfall of the Engineer-in-Chief was not that of economy in railway construction. For years he had resisted pennywise politicians and newspaper editors, and even the more moderate Ministers of Railways, who had maintained the pressure on him to keep costs down. Longmore’s quest for economy was extreme, but he was now Minister of Lands and Woods, although a fellow radical, had a vision for railways that was unique among his parliamentary colleagues.

Woods’ political radicalism was tempered with an understanding of technical matters, as alone among his colleagues he had worked on railways in England and Germany and witnessed the early railways of North America. This was shown in December 1876, for whilst still in opposition he had strenuously opposed McCulloch’s intention to build 264 miles of new lines for a mere £4,250 per mile. In the absence of any official breakdown of this estimate, Woods made his own, claiming that £5,353 was rock bottom. He also suggested that the Minister countermand an order for 26,000 tons of iron rails; enough for about 300 miles of track; and substitute steel rails, which were becoming relatively cheaper. This would have cost an extra £40,000, but Jones dismissed the idea.[80]

Woods’ preference for the more durable metal showed that the divide between himself and Higinbotham on engineering matters was not unbridgeable. In matters of authority however, there was a yawning chasm. Woods was very much a ‘hands on’ Minister. He delighted in the ‘railways clash and clang’, spending hours in conversation with railwaymen, especially about his pet project, the renovation of the Melbourne Terminus. He would give orders to subordinate officers like Ford, Mirls and Sadler,[81] rather than communicate through the permanent head of branch, as was proper. To a man like Higinbotham, long accustomed to the exercise of final authority, such interference was unbearable, and he used his power to frustrate the new Minister wherever possible, not least in his proposed new Railway Bill.

Thomas Higinbotham circa 1878. PROV H1333.

Woods began his second term as Commissioner on 21st May 1877[82] and embarked on three projects which set him at odds with the Engineer-in-Chief. The first was the improvement of train braking. One of Woods’ first acts was to appoint Solomon Mirls as Acting General Overseer of Locomotives and Workshops, and backdate the promotion to 17th March, when Meikle resigned.[83] Mirls and his staff were given the task of making Woods’ sketches of his idea workable. The saga of contintinuous brakes is discussed in Chapter Seven, including the successful trial in December 1877. Woods was aboard the train, together with some senior railwaymen, but there was no report of the Engineer-in-Chief’s presence.[84] By then Higinbotham had been sidelined.

A second initiative of Woods was the reintroduction of the Railway Construction Bill that the previous government had failed to pass. Woods added his own amendments and placed the Bill before the Legislative Assembly in July 1877. It should have left the Engineer-in-Chief a contented man, as the maximum cost per mile for most lines was set at a reasonable £5,750 per mile, as recommended by Higinbotham.[85] But Woods’ Bill included a low cost way of linking the partially completed Gippsland line with Melbourne.[86] He proposed a direct line from Melbourne to Oakleigh, in competition with the M&HBUR. The radicals had successfully opposed the purchase agreement negotiated between McCulloch and the private railway the previous November. They objected that the £1,374,000 to £1,535,000 price would be better spent carrying lines into the rural areas still deprived of railways.[87]

The radicals easily had the numbers in the Lower House to carry their Bill, but the Legislative Council adopted the same tactics they had used so successfully in 1871. Experts were called before the Bar of the Council, the principal witness again being Higinbotham. He was examined on 23rd August and argued strongly for the Outer Circle, disclaiming any responsibility for the direct Melbourne – Oakleigh line which was to cut through the Botanical Gardens. At worst, he would agree to negotiating running rights over the M&HBUR.[88]

In further evidence given on 29th August, Higinbotham argued that the route proposed for the Goulburn Valley railway should be altered from the eastern to the western side of the river. This, he claimed, was the cheaper of the two possibilities. He was supported by the North Eastern Resident Engineer, Hardie but not Watson! Now a widower, Watson had returned from his holiday earlier in the year and had been appointed Resident Engineer on the Gippsland railway construction. When called to the Bar, he once again expressed a view in public that was contrary to his Chief, asserting that the costs of the two routes were about equal.[89] The Legislative Council subsequently amended Woods’ Bill, and sent it back to the Assembly.

The Bill was re-introduced to an angry Lower House on 9th October, by the leader of the government, Graham Berry. He bitterly complained that the Council had singled out the Railway Construction Bill of his government, where it had allowed a similar Bill of the conservatives to go through intact during 1873. ‘What is the case now’ he challenged. ‘Again we find that directly the political party represented by the Government of 1871, and which are now once more in power, bring down a railway construction scheme, exactly the old tactics of opposition and alteration are adopted elsewhere. Evidence is taken at the Bar, although nothing of the kind has been done in connection with a railway scheme since 1871. We are told that all this action is non-political, but the fact that it is a precise repetition of the conduct pursued in 1871 is curiously suggestive.’ [90]

Berry argued that by insisting on broad gauge in 1871, the Council had restricted the growth of the railway network in Victoria, which was only two-thirds what it might have been using 3’6” gauge. Neither Woods nor Longmore took part in the debate which followed, which dwelt almost entirely on constitutional precedents, not the merits of the lines proposed.

Graham Berry MLA, Premier of Victoria 1875, 1877-80. J.W. Lindt, courtesy Victorian Parliamentary Library.

Woods had every opportunity to force through a Bill for the cheapest lines yet, to narrow gauge if needs be. That he resisted the temptation to fish for more support by throwing such light lines into many more electorates, is clear proof of his grasp of basic railway engineering issues. Furthermore, although the lines proposed were essentially the same as those put forward by McCulloch’s government the previous November, the radicals had struck out over 110 miles of short country branch lines and suburban extensions. Only the branch lines from Springs (Springhurst) to Wahgunyah, on the Murray River, and from Woodend to Daylesford, were retained.[91]

Woods thus answered the question he had raised in his Annual Report for the 1876-77 financial year. He asked whether future extensions should push into portions of the colony still without railways, or form branches from existing main lines to places already within reach of the network. In that report, he also echoed the Engineer-in-Chief’s concern that the profitable limit of railway extension was being approached, and dwelt at length on the need to consolidate the existing system.

The network would cover 961 miles of lines when all current construction was complete, or one mile for every 894 inhabitants. Both Woods and Higinbotham thought this compared unfavourably with the situation in Britain, where there was one mile to every 1,945 people. The Engineer-in-Chief had warned that the ratio of railway to population had fallen too low in the United States, and had ‘been a principal cause of the great depression…’ It varied from 1:772 in the Middle States to 1: 389 in the Pacific States. If all lines surveyed in Victoria were built, the ratio in the colony would drop to 1: 502, and ‘probably lead to serious embarrassments’.[92]

The Berry government insisted on its original Bill, which it immediately sent back to the Legislative Council, who returned it to the Lower House for a second time. That Higinbotham should have allowed himself to be a pawn in what was the beginnings of the second great constitutional crisis is lamentable, particularly when the railway scheme at issue was so basically sound. Berry was forced to delete both the lines to which the Engineer-in-Chief had objected, in order to get construction under way on the non-contentious lines, which the Council were prepared to authorise. The price of this compromise was a further deferral of the line to settlers in the Goulburn Valley, and, more seriously, the fourth failure to link Melbourne with the Gippsland trunk railway, which by October 1877 was already two-thirds complete.[93] It was also the measure of Higinbotham’s determination to realise his plans for the Outer Circle and central station.

Woods’ third initiative came within a month of him taking up office and was a massive setback for the Engineer-in-Chief, as it resurrected Watson and Ford’s plan for reconstructing the Spencer Street site.[94] This would make Higinbotham’s central station unnecessary. The first step at implementing the new plan was the placing of a contract for a 1,000 ft. goods platform on the former site of Batman’s Hill, on the western side of the passenger station. This was done in July 1877, and was completed within a year for just under £6, 900.[95]

A new goods shed was to be built beside this platform, and would have involved the demolition of the existing large brick goods shed next to the passenger platform, to which a £9,300 extension had been authorised by the Engineer-in-Chief less than three years previously, and which had cost, in total, £73,000 – the price of 27 new locomotives.[96] The interest on that facility would continue to be charged, together with the cost of building a replacement shed, not to mention the maze of new trackwork and land fill. Apart from the perceived waste associated with remodelling Spencer Street yard, the contravention of his authority and the disloyalty of his subordinates cut Higinbotham deeply. Subsequent financial strictures were to save the large goods shed for another decade, but they also finally buried Higinbotham’s plans for a central station.

Interior of Thomas Higinbotham’s Goods Shed in Melbourne Yard 1872. Illustrated Australian News, 28 March 1872, p. 73.

To further goad the Engineer-in-Chief, Woods urged his colleague, Thomas Bent MLA, to move that all papers and correspondence in connection with the railway contractor Thomas Doran, be opened for parliamentary scrutiny. (Doran had been fined by the Engineer-in-Chief for a delay in completing a contractual obligation.) Bent so moved on 2nd August,[97] and it was with these cares playing on his mind that the Engineer-in-Chief was called to the Bar of the Legislative Council later that month.

The final showdown between Woods and Higinbotham occurred on Saturday, 1st October 1877, in the Melbourne Yard. Gathered there to discuss Ford’s plan with them were Resident Engineer Watson, Traffic Manager A. P. Mathison, his deputy John Anderson and Sadler, the Yard Inspector. Watson later recalled that the Engineer-in-Chief protested ‘very vehemently’ at what the new Minister had proposed to do. He was capable of strong language, and had earlier been in trouble about it with Longmore.[98]

Woods, himself an author of unprintable doggerel,[99] would hardly have been offended, but for the fact that this demonstration had been orchestrated before an audience of senior railwaymen. The following Monday, the Engineer-in-Chief received a memo from Woods relieving him of ‘the duty of carrying out a work to which he is diametrically opposed’ and instructing him to place the Spencer Street re-arrangement work in the hands of Watson ‘…and thus enable me to communicate with that gentleman directly on the matter.’ [100]

With Higinbotham sidelined, Watson immediately commenced the yard re-arrangement, with large orders being placed for sleepers and crossing timbers.[101] This was followed a year later with large orders for points and crossings,[102] work having proceeded in the interval in raising the level of the ground on the western side. Fill was obtained by levelling of the railway reservation between Spencer Street and North Melbourne and the use of silt dredged from the Yarra by the Harbour Trust.[103] But these sources soon proved inadequate to supply the vast amount of fill necessary. Forced to look elsewhere, the engineers found that the silt in the swamp was not only ideal, but very handy. Thus began what was to be a protracted reclamation, initially by digging a cut which would form Woods’ proposed railway coal dock on the Yarra.[104]

The Dismissal of Thomas Higinbotham

A few weeks later, Bent and Woods moved to further diminish the Engineer-in-Chief’s authority. The Doran papers were tabled, and on 1st November, a Select Committee was established to investigate the matter. Bent was elected Chairman and had the Committee bring down its report within the month. Of the nine members, five did not attend a single meeting, and Bent’s report was predictably biased in favour of the contractor. On 19th December, Bent recommended the fine be remitted, and that the position of the Engineer-in-Chief as sole arbiter of contract conditions be modified.

In the debate that followed, Woods refused to defend the permanent head of his Department, and sought for the provision of some appeal against the decisions of the Engineer-in-Chief in such cases. What Bent and Woods neglected to mention was belatedly brought forward by Kerferd, one of those Select Committee members who had failed to attend. Kerferd pointed out that while Doran’s contract was delayed a total of 241 days, the Engineer-in-Chief had established that 201 days were due to an alteration in the contract, and reduced Doran’s fine from £12,000 to £2,000.[105] The debate was adjourned after this disclosure, for by late December an ultimate solution to the radical’s problems with the Engineer-in-Chief was hatching.

Were it not for the intransigence of the Legislative Council in dealing with the radical Lower House, Higinbotham might have survived in an uneasy relationship with the Minister of Railways. But when Berry’s government attempted to cover the payment of members by ‘tacking’ an amount of money for this purpose onto an Appropriation Bill, the Legislative Council rejected the whole Bill, leaving the government without funds.

To the astonishment of the colony, Berry decided to govern without supply and in order to reduce expenditure took the drastic step of dismissing over 300 civil servants, including judges and magistrates. In the opinion of Syme, The Age editorialist,[106] it was ‘impossible to justify but for the object that is sought to be obtained by’, or in other words, the end justified the means. ‘There cannot be a coup d’etat without its victims’ he continued, and the ‘suffering unfortunately cannot be confined to those who are the cause of it.’ Nevertheless, by retrenching from the top down, he congratulated Berry for his ‘heroic measures’ which limited the suffering to those ‘who would be least inconvenienced by it’.[107] Such was the view of ‘the organ of the Commune’ as the Melbourne Punch described The Age,[108] already the most widely read newspaper in Victoria.[109]

David Syme, Editor of The Age, by Louis Tannert, 1879. Nine Entertainment/ The Age.

The conservative press was outraged, recognising that Higinbotham and Paul Labertouche, the Secretary of Railways, were among a few purposely singled out.[110] One claimed it was ‘no secret that Mr. Thomas Higinbotham’s appointment was promised upwards of two years ago to a subordinate in the same department who has been playing the part of a spy and an eaves-dropper’.[111] The day most of these sackings occurred, 8th January 1878, was dubbed ‘Black Wednesday’ and was a golden opportunity for Woods to rid the Railway Department of Higinbotham and his allies. In addition to Labertouche, Wells, Greene and Hardie, the three Resident Engineers who had supported their Chief all went, as did Darbyshire for the second time in his troubled railway career.

But not all those dismissed were senior. G.F. Dennis, the stationmaster at Williamstown Pier was ousted along with his boss, Traffic Manager, A. P. Mathison.[112] Two months previously, both men had investigated the death of a shunter at Williamstown and found no blame could be attached. But the coroner’s jury found that there had been carelessness on behalf of some officers.[113] Mathison was also in Woods’ bad books following an accident at Broadford, so he took the opportunity to replace him with John Anderson, who was appointed to the retitled position as General Traffic Manager.[114] Woods was about to exert a closer control over train services and safeworking procedures, and needed to bring the Traffic Branch to heel.

The government’s unstated agenda was widely recognised. Even The Age speculated that in all probability ‘the reductions that have been made under the pressure of an emergency will be permanent’. [115] The Argus held that ‘nobody imagines that the positions vacated will be left void for any length of time. They will be filled up by and bye, by some of the hangers-on of the Ministry, or by sycophantic subordinates’.[116] The most notable survivors of the 55 officer purge were Mirls, the head of the Locomotive Branch who was busy arranging further trials of the Woods’ hydraulic brake, and Watson who was promoted to fill the vacant Engineer-in-Chief’s position.[117]

With all the Resident Engineers gone, Woods later elevated his personal friend Robert Ford to a new position, second only to Watson. As Engineer for Construction, Ford was given control of all new railway projects.[118] With so many new railways being built and proposed, it was a vast and very strategic responsibility, and included the redesign of the Melbourne Terminal. He would be Acting Engineer-in-Chief whenever Watson was on holiday or ill, and as a senior officer, Woods would be able to direct him personally on specific issues. From 8th January 1878, Woods thus assumed the role, if not the title, of General Manager of the Victorian Railways.

Melbourne Terminal in 1880, looking south-west. The carriage sheds (the old locomotive sheds) at left, and Higginbotham’s huge goods shed at right. The area behind locomotive No.64 is being readied for landfill, with pipes stacked in preparation for associated drainage works. It was only the beginning of Watson and Ford’s vast and expensive reclamation work that changed the western side of Melbourne.

Woods claimed he ‘had his revenge’ upon the ex-Engineer-in-Chief.[119] The Argus claimed this was in retaliation for Higinbotham’s part in Woods’ dismissal from the Water Supply Department.[120] The Minister of Railways sought to add legitimacy to his actions by trumping up a charge against Greene and Higinbotham over the design of the Echuca Bridge. A Royal Commission was established on 6th February 1878, only a month after Black Wednesday. The bridge linked Victoria and New South Wales across the Murray River, and carried both road traffic and the single track of the Deniliquin and Moama Railway Company. The Commission’s main concern was alleged increases in the cost of the bridge due to design changes made after the letting of the contract.

One of the design changes was the substitution of cast iron for wrought iron columns, at a cost of £7,426. This was found to have been made with the mutual approval of all parties. But Greene and Higinbotham were attacked for attempting to have footpaths added. When Watson, as the new Engineer-in-Chief, was asked if he thought footpaths were necessary, he replied emphatically that they were not. Here yet again was a public divergence of views between Watson and his former Chief. When the Commission subpoenaed Higinbotham, he refused to attend, and instead penned a most revealing letter from his Brighton home, on 20th May 1878.[121]

‘I have no doubt’ he wrote, ‘that the Minister of Railways intends, under cover of the Commission, and through the agency of those whose objects and interests are identical with his own, to attack the professional character of Mr Greene, the late Resident Engineer, who designed the bridge … I am not prepared to either recognise or take any part in the proceedings of a Commission which has not the knowledge necessary to form an independent judgement, however anxious it may be to do so, and which will certainly be subjected to influences most hostile to Mr Greene, and directed to obtaining a false report intended to damage his professional character.

The bridge and its approaches are now so nearly completed that no alterations in the design of any importance are possible. The labours of the Royal Commission will, therefore, be absolutely futile so far as the ostensible object of the inquiry is concerned. It is significant that the necessity for appointing a Royal Commission to inquire into the design for the Echuca Bridge was not discovered until the Minister of Railways had been more than eight months in office, during the whole of which time the works of the bridge had been in active progress; and further, that the appointment of the Commission, followed almost immediately Mr Greene’s dismissal from the public service by the Minister of Railways.

The simple truth is, that the appointment of the Royal Commission is a further step in a series of disgraceful intrigues, which have been carried on in the Engineer-in-Chief’s office for a very considerable time past, with, as I have good reason for believing, the knowledge and participation of the Minister of Railways, both before and since he was in office. These intrigues have demoralised an important branch of the public service, and degraded it into an instrument for erecting personal and party objects. Self respect and respect for my profession alike forbid me to attend to give evidence to a Commission which I believe has been appointed to promote such objects…I am aware that in refusing to attend to give evidence I make myself liable to a pecuniary penalty…’ [122]

As a further protection against ‘misunderstanding and misrepresentation’ he published the letter. The Commissioners ‘deemed it advisable under the circumstances to give great latitude to the late Engineer-in-Chief ’. They appended his ‘…ill-natured communication’ to their report, and resolved not to pursue the matter further.[123] The Echuca Bridge footways were not built, nevertheless Greene and Higinbotham achieved a moral victory. But the matter of the fines imposed on Doran had been left unresolved. Although Bent had loudly proclaimed his sympathy for the aggrieved contractor, he now found him of no further use. On 6th March he cast Doran aside, telling a bemused Assembly that ‘it was a matter of perfect indifference to him what Honourable Members did with regard to the case…he did not care’.[124]

The Organisational Changes of John Woods

Although John Woods’ ethics were at best situational, his Ministry was marked by a number of positive advances for the Victorian Railways. Its network of lines had grown like topsy throughout the Seventies and there had been little change in its senior personnel, its organisation structure, or its management processes. Woods had an effect like an express train thundering through a station: he dislodged a lot of loose objects, lifted the dust of convention and left a lot of people gasping in awe or frustration.

His restructuring of the Engineer-in-Chief’s Branch in 1878, while convenient for advancing Ford, was nevertheless in line with practice at that time. By abolishing the posts of Resident Engineers, their separate design staffs were amalgamated in a central office, which made for an improved use of resources.[125] Woods removed much of the accounting functions hitherto carried out in the Engineer-in-Chief’s Branch to the Accountancy Branch, and ordered that the practice of accounting separately for each line of railway be dispensed with. Instead accounts were to be kept for a simplified grouping of lines into four districts.

The ensuing improvements in Accountancy Branch efficiency was demonstrated by the making up of paysheets. With fewer staff, the Branch now accomplished this important function by the fourth day after the close of the pay period. Hitherto the pay had lagged a fortnight or more behind, to the constant irritation of employees. Woods also ordered an overhaul of the Stores regulations in September 1877, and made the Accountant responsible for Stores administration, which had hitherto been under the control of a Storekeeper.[126] Perhaps the most important reform under his administration was the improvement in railway communications.

The Post Office and Telegraph Department used railway stations on the first trunk lines to Echuca and Ballarat as telegraph offices, the wires belonging to the Post Office. By 1864 the Victorian Railways was employing its own telegraph clerks[127] to send and receive messages for both the public and for railway purposes. The Victorian Railways opened their own telegraph office at Spencer Street in 1870,[128] and the following year purchased Siemens & Halske instruments for the North Eastern line.[129] A further 15 instruments were purchased in 1872 for use on the new single track light lines.[130] Some 53 stations were equipped with telegraph instruments by 1876, all connected to the Post Office’s wires. This meant the shared telegraph could only used as an adjunct for railway safeworking, as frequent service outages undermined its value for railway purposes.

The first application of a dedicated railway telegraph in Victoria was by the M&HBR in 1866,[131] but the government railways struggled on with shared wires until the new Telegraph Branch was established by Woods, shortly before Christmas 1877.[132] A single wire was opened the length of the North Eastern main line in July 1878, just seven months after the creation of the new branch. It only failed once over the ensuing ten months, when it was cut at Glenrowan by the Kelly Gang of bushrangers.[133]

The main function of the Telegraph Branch was the improved safeworking of trains, especially on the many miles of single track railway which had been opened by the late Seventies. The need for safer practices had been emphasised on 25th June 1877, shortly after Woods came to power, when a passenger train ran into the rear of a slow moving goods train near Broadford, fortunately with no loss of life. If telegraph was to be relied on for railway safeworking, a dedicated line was essential for the prompt notification of the despatch and arrival of trains at stations.

The new railway pole line between Melbourne and Wodonga enabled the introduction of telegraphic block working to be introduced from 10th September 1878.[134] By the end of 1879, the branch had opened 798 miles of telegraph, and had reduced the length of Post and Telegraph Department wires used from 702 to 536 miles. It installed a mechanism to electrically synchronise all clocks in stations and signal boxes, which were set right every hour. This was a help in keeping trains to timetable. The new Branch also gave its attention to improving the control of trains in busy station yards.[135]

The organisational changes made by Woods increased the functional specialisation of the Victorian Railways. Separate branches were evolving to deal with specialised spheres of railway operations. This created a growing need for a general manager to direct and coordinate these functional empires for the efficient operation of the railways as a whole. This had been recognised in the abortive Railway Management Bill of November 1876. The Minister of Railways as political head, whilst called the Commissioner, was not in fact competent to perform this task, which required wide technical and managerial expertise.[136]

In earlier days, the Commissioner had looked to the Engineer-in-Chief as virtual permanent head, although it is likely the Secretary also reported direct. The first change was made by one of McCulloch’s Ministries prior to 1871, when the Engineer-in-Chief was relieved of any responsibility in connection with traffic management, possibly in 1869 when W.M. Fehon replaced John Jeremy as Traffic Superintendent.[137] The situation was made more complex when Longmore separated the mechanical and civil engineering functions in 1870, and by the steady growth in the magnitude of railway operations after that date. By 1876, no single Head of Branch, including Higinbotham, had sufficient authority to tie the increasingly complex functions of the Department together.

Woods was unique among the political heads of the Department in having the engineering and administrative ability to perform the integrative tasks of a general manager. Alone among the Department’s multitude of Ministers down to the present day, Woods can be considered a railwayman. As a politician, he was also in a position to push through Cabinet those changes which he saw were clearly necessary. In this respect he had a decided advantage over Higinbotham, whose political influence was waning. The Engineer-in-Chief’s knowledge and skill was superior to Woods’, but his authority within the Department had been limited since Longmore’s reorganisation in 1870. When it came to rolling stock it was Woods who stepped in and drew attention to the pressing need for additional locomotives, carriages and wagons.

The Shortage of Rolling Stock

In his first Annual Report, written in July 1877, Woods was at pains to demonstrate an acute shortage of locomotives and rolling stock. He did this by comparing the current situation with that of 1862, and with that in Great Britain and New South Wales. In each case, the existing Victorian fleet appeared to be inadequate, whether compared on the basis of miles of line operated or train miles performed. He complained that there had not been an adequate provision for rolling stock in the money voted for new lines, let alone the increased traffic on the older lines.[138] The McCulloch Ministry had been prepared to take the risk, it’s aborted Railway Construction Bill of 1876 being the most miserly yet when it came to providing rolling stock for new lines.[139]

But when Woods raised the matter less than a year later, the new government listened. The maximum expenditure per mile on new lines was raised, and he also succeeded in obtaining an extra £180,000 for rolling stock, unconnected with new lines.[140] He claimed locomotive and rolling stock shortages had forced the cancelation of a train a day on the Gippsland railway, and prevented the running of a midday train to Colac.[141]

The locomotive shortage was less acute than the rolling stock shortage. There were enough engines for Woods to quietly introduce express trains, the first being on the Western line. This served his own electorate at Stawell, but others soon followed to Sandhurst and the North East.[142] That there was some strain on the rolling stock fleet is evident, but it is also true that Woods’ rhetoric made the most of the situation to procure more modern vehicles.

Whereas many of Woods’ views on engineering and management were new to the Victorian Railways, his influence in these spheres was basically a conservative one. He steered his radical colleagues away from the adoption of ultra-light or narrow gauge railways, and saw to it that capital was poured into the construction of extra rolling stock and terminal facilities. He perpetuated British engineering standards, albeit within the framework of protection for local manufacture.

Woods may have held radical atheistic, anti-squatter and Chartist sympathies,[143] but he limited radical initiatives in his Department to the construction of a few miles of the Horsham line without ballast.[144] Such a temporary measure was a sop to parliament, but could be corrected later, as it would have to be. But his political views affected the Railways in two significant areas. He refused to sanction the construction of branch lines into grazing districts, and he encouraged the fledgling railway union movement.

Railway Unions Recognised

Politically, Woods was one of the most radical Ministers in a radical government.[145] Under his second Commissionership, the Engine Drivers and Firemen’s Association (EDFA) ceased to be an underground group, struggling with a hostile management and government. It held its first annual dinner on 27th December 1879,[146] although it had been formed in 1870 at the time of F.C. Christy’s dismissal as Locomotive Superintendent. The subsequent changes in the Locomotive Branch were unpopular with some of the men, although what initially prompted them to begin secret meetings in a North Melbourne hotel seems to have been the issues of employment security and seniority.

The enginemen resented the recruitment of a man directly into a drivers job over existing men who had spent years as cleaners and firemen.[147] The dismissal of some men from the Williamstown Workshops sometime after William Meikle took over was another aggravation, as was the promotion of a labourer to an artisan’s job. Mechanisation was making some tasks suitable for skilled labourers, and Meikle was following modern practice. Meikle also had to deal with some inefficient workmen who had been employed through political patronage, a practice then rife in the railways.

How the grievances of the enginemen at Melbourne and the artisans at Williamstown were linked is a matter of speculation, but a series of critical letters from ‘Red Light’ published by The Age during September and October 1875 prompted a parliamentary debate and inquiry into the management of the Locomotive Branch. Some of the complaints were found to have come from dismissed men.[148] They were probably encouraged by Woods’ support for dissenters, whom he used as conduits into the department, both when he was in government and in opposition.

After the appointment of Woods as Commissioner for a second time he encouraged another railway union. It was alleged he had encouraged the formation of the Victorian Railway Employés Association (VREA) during 1879. From its inaugural meeting on 17th March 1879 its membership grew rapidly, reaching about 2,000 in three months.[149] Unlike the EDFA which only represented enginemen, the VREA embraced a wide range of railway occupations and was the first railway union of its kind in the colonies.[150]

In the February 1880 election campaign, the VREA called on its members to support the radical candidates, but the Berry Ministry were swept from office. The new Service government meted out swift retribution on the VREA, all connected with it being ordered to resign their membership or face dismissal. The VREA collapsed,[151] but the enginemen’s association survived by allowing Gillies, the new Commissioner, to vet the EDFA rules.[152] At the time, the enginemen’s association was more a craft guild than a union, and therefore not such a political threat.

Thomas Higinbotham Restored and the Ford Scandal

Berry’s government had run its full three years, the first to do so in the parliament’s history. As a parting gesture to his Department, Woods increased the salaries of all the senior officers, including Ford and Mirls,[153] whom he left to carry on his pet projects; the rearrangement of the Spencer Street Terminal, and the fitting of his hydraulic brakes. When Gillies took over (for the third time), he immediately sought to redress some of Woods’ mischief. One month after coming to power, the new Cabinet met to reappoint Higinbotham as Engineer-in-Chief in place of Watson, whose resignation from the Department they accepted. Higinbotham had been earning good money during his absence acting as a consulting engineer to the other colonies, but felt it his duty to return. It was a fateful decision.

Watson was generously offered to retain his £1,200 salary if he returned to his former position, but after consulting his friends he decided instead to resign. [154] The offer of working subordinate to Higinbotham must have been unpalatable, and left him smarting at his ‘ungenerous treatment’.[155] He was now to experience a period of banishment that was not uncommon among the senior officers of his generation, but after two years, he would return to the Engineer-in-Chief’s desk.[156]

Thomas Higinbotham returns as Engineer-in-Chief, according to Melbourne Punch, 15th April 1880, p.5.

Back at his old desk on 4th April 1880, Higinbotham found things much altered, with Ford as his virtual deputy, and in control of twice the number of officers of any of his other subordinates.[157] A week after Higinbotham returned he instructed Ford to provide information about his work on the new railway from Dunolly to St Arnaud. In contravention to Greene’s plans, on his own authority Ford had dramatically reduced the waterway for the Carapooee Bridge from 650 to 100 feet. The restricted waterway later caused flood damage to the line. Three days later the Engineer-in-Chief also instructed Ford to explain why a £6,000 contract had been let for the re-arrangement of Melbourne Yard without competitive tenders being called, and why the contractor, Bain and Son, were manufacturing and installing point levers throughout the yard to a design patented by Ford.[158]

The Engineer for Construction was widely regarded as a most efficient officer,[159] but he had become a law unto himself, and was in no hurry to respond to his superior. Exasperated, Higinbotham wrote a memo to Ford on 26th April, complaining of the ‘most unnecessary and unwarrantable delay’, and instructing him to ‘put aside all other business’ and reply. Given that Ford’s sympathetic superior Watson had resigned, his friend Woods was no longer Commissioner and his chief was angry, Ford might have heeded the proverb that ‘a soft answer turneth away wrath’ .[160] On the contrary, he took umbrage at Higinbotham’s insistence and left the office to inspect progress on the Goulburn Valley railway! So Higinbotham recommended his dismissal.

Both men worked in the railway offices in Spencer Street and could easily have talked these matters over had they been on speaking terms. Ford had a staff at hand but seems to have trusted only himself to go back through the files to justify his past actions. Even if he had to be absent from the office, given the tense situation he could have kept in daily contact with his clerk by telegraph and made a hasty return to answer any demand of his chief. In the circumstances, Ford’s later pleading pressure of work was a lame cover for his rebellion.[161] Neither did he go quietly. He took certain accounts with him and wrote a long reply, ‘violently assailing’ the Engineer-in-Chief.[162] Ford’s portrait shows a man of steely resolve[163], as does Higinbotham’s.

Engineer for Construction, Robert Gray Ford . James A. Lerk, Robert Gray Ford, Bendigo, 2007, p. 6.

Worried about the Bain and Sons contract, Higinbotham approached a dozen ironworks and sought quotes to manufacture the same point levers Ford had patented. The average of the quotes was 59 per cent below Bain’s price, and on that basis the Engineer-in-Chief withheld payment of a Bain account.[164] The incident lost Higinbotham the respect of his Branch Accountant, Robert Singleton and the Comptroller of Stores, G.T.A Lavater. Both men had careers before them[165] and found themselves squeezed between rival managers and their powerful political friends. They were nervous about producing ammunition for Higinbotham which might explode in their hands if the Ford party prevailed, which it did.[166]

But Gillies agreed with Higinbotham’s contention that Ford’s office as Engineer for Construction was ‘unprecedented, and not only unnecessary but most objectionable, as it introduces a divided responsibility’.[167] He abolished the position of Engineer for Construction and Ford was retrenched with a compensation package.[168] Higinbotham’s loyal colleague Greene took over Ford’s responsibilities, with the position retitled Resident Engineer. In effect, however, it was the Engineer for Construction’s job, for the days of Resident Engineers had passed.[169]

The Bain case festered over the next few months and their claim remained frozen. The Carapooee Bridge matter receded but remained in contention. Bain urged his Member of Parliament to raise the matter in the Legislative Assembly, and Nimmo obliged in question time on 11th June. Later that same day, Gillies tabled the result of some very fast work by the Engineer-in-Chief. Higinbotham outlined his concern over the Bain account and what was becoming known as the ‘Ford Scandal’. [170]

Over the previous year £5,377 of orders by Ford had been given without seeking competitive tenders, and the Treasury had asked for one payment to Bain and Son to be stopped. Higinbotham claimed a ‘substantial’ part of Bain and Son’s work comprised articles marked ‘R. G. Ford’s patent’, and that had competitive tenders been sought, a saving of £1,447 might have been achieved. He made no charge of dishonesty, but made it clear that a searching inquiry into the contracts was needed.[171]

The House divided, siding with either Higinbotham or Ford, now proxies in the bitter struggle between the Conservative and radical ‘Berryite’ factions. The following week Woods weighed in with a spirited defence of Ford, castigating the comparative quotes Higinbotham had sought from iron foundries as ‘simply monstrous’ as they took no account of the conditions Bain and Son had to work under. Extolling the virtues of the new Melbourne Yard, he claimed that ‘during the time the alterations were being made not a train was delayed by them for five minutes and no man was seriously injured.’

No. 1 Signal Box and associated interlocking and track works, with pipes stacked in preparation for the raising of the goods yard behind. The Annual Report caption reads: ‘Spencer Street Station Shewing Improvements Made by the Hon. J. Woods. Commissioner of Railways. Interlocking by Messrs. McKenzie and Holland, Worcester England.’

Woods added that because he had insisted that no traffic be delayed, the Yard reconstruction work was done at night, accounting for the high contract costs. Further, due to the removal of the blacksmith’s shop to enable the yard to be straightened out, the point levers had to be made elsewhere. This supposedly further increased costs.[172] Instead of a Select Committee, he called for a Royal Commission, which would be empowered to take evidence under oath.[173] Berry, now leader of the Opposition, supported Woods. If the Engineer-in-Chief had not made a charge of corruption said Berry, ‘it was certainly intended to convey that impression to the public…If it was not a charge of corruption why had the Premier made use of the memorandum at Beechworth on Friday night to show the way in which the public money might be expended?’ [174]

Former Member of Parliament and fellow engineer W.A. Zeal lent his support to Ford in a letter published in The Argus. ‘I can honestly say’ he wrote, ‘I have always found him to be an able, reliable, and truthful man.’ Zeal’s call for an inquiry was also to vindicate Watson, who as Engineer-in-Chief during Woods’s commissionership was ultimately responsible for the Melbourne Yard works. He concluded that Ford’s treatment was ‘un-English and unmanly’ and ‘striking an opponent below the belt.’ [175]

With both sides calling for an inquiry which they hoped would vindicate their man, Gillies prevaricated. He had decided on a Royal Commission, but was having trouble finding suitable men willing to serve as commissioners.[176] In the meantime Ford wrote a long defence of his actions and attacked Higinbotham’s letter as a lie, accusing him of ‘malicious and diabolical cunning’ and ‘ingeniously and perversely putting facts together in a very ugly fashion’.[177] By this he meant the linking of the matter of the Bain and Son contracts with his patent point lever.

‘I invented the “reversible lever”, and gave the department the benefit of the invention, as I was its officer. But there was no reason why I should be as generous to New South Wales, and when the reversible lever was sent by the department as an exhibit to the Sydney Exhibition it was marked “R. G. Ford’s patent”, by way of protecting my interests. Castings from the same mould were afterwards sent to the department by Bain and Son. It was done without my knowledge, and as soon as I saw the brand I directed that the letters should be chipped off, and they were removed.’

Ford concluded with a remarkably perceptive comment. ‘I cannot help thinking’ he wrote, that Higinbotham’s allegations were due to ‘circumstances of which I was as much the creature as he was himself.’ [178] But if Ford’s camp was dishing it out, they got some hot serves in reply. The Argus was the mouthpiece for the conservative side:

‘Whatever may be Mr. Higinbotham’s faults, it cannot be truly said that he is cunning or untruthful, or wanting in the courage of his opinions. If he had been so he might have held office without interruption, and so have prevented Mr. Ford from becoming the confidential advisor and general factotum of the late Commissioner [Woods]… the excuse about some work being pressing, and to be done at night, we…fail to see its force. We presume that plans and specifications were in existence before operations were commenced, so even if there was no time to advertise, half a dozen well known firms might have been asked to compete without incurring any appreciable delay…. It appears to us that Mr. Ford has failed to understand the real charge – if there is any charge at all…that he (Mr. Ford) used his official powers to secure the adoption of sundry so called inventions, to the exclusion of others which might be cheaper and better, and then had them manufactured by a favoured firm without competition.’ [179]

Regarding Ford’s delay in responding to his superior’s directions, The Argus wondered ‘where was he hiding’.[180] And so the invective went, poisoning relationships, disturbing the railway offices and silently inducing deadly stress in Higinbotham. Singleton, the Engineer’s Accountant, had to prepare lists of all orders given to Bain and Son over the preceding years. He objected, he said, ‘because it was political, and might bring me into ill odour, and I did the work much against my wish, and Mr Ford cut me dead after that’.[181]

Lavater, the Railway Accountant, also made himself unpopular with Higinbotham by steadfastly maintaining that Ford’s actions over Bain and Sons, however unconventional, were not outside the regulations. ‘I unfortunately got to loggerheads with Mr. Higinbotham’ he said, ‘but what I did I did in good faith. I should feel it my duty to say the same thing over again if I were in the same position’.[182] The Engineer-in-Chief would not hear it, for with Mirls continuing to fit Woods brake to rolling stock and Ford letting contracts to favoured firms and having his patent reversible levers installed in Melbourne Yard, the spectre of corruption was menacing the department and it had to be exorcised.

After some weeks Gillies found three men prepared to serve on a Royal Commission with quite wide ranging terms of reference,[183] but the railways were a side show compared to the government’s efforts to deliver a Parliamentary Reform Bill, and so prevent another impasse between the Assembly and the Council like that which triggered ‘Black Wednesday’ two years previously. Alas, it all unravelled and the Service government was defeated in a no-confidence motion on 24th June 1880. A general election followed, the second in five months, with the unexpected result that the ‘Berryites’ were returned with increased numbers.

On the first sitting day of the new parliament, the Royal Commission was gazetted, but Service’s attempt to form a government was defeated and Graham Berry was once again Premier. [184] Higinbotham must have been dismayed, yet Berry had had enough of Woods and left him out of his Ministry team. The new Commissioner of railways was the more moderate J.B. Patterson. Nevertheless, the last thing Berry wanted was a Royal Commission taking evidence about Woods’ and Ford’s doings, so the Royal Commission was quashed.[185]

Bain’s claim was still outstanding and the Berry Government was still encountering flak over the apparent preference given the company.[186] Something had to be done, so Patterson appointed a Board of three iron foundry owners to adjudicate the Bain and Son claim. The terms of reference were very narrow, their only duty to decide if the Bain account was ‘reasonable’.[187]

The Argus was sceptical: ‘Mr. Patterson has come to the conclusion that the matter has no political significance; that it is only a tradesman’s dispute with his office, and therefore the press will not be represented at the inquiry…how will it be possible for them [the Board] to avoid leaning in some measure towards their fellow tradesmen? They are all engaged, or have been engaged, in the same business as Messrs. Bain and Son,’ [188]

The Argus was right. After interviewing only two railwaymen – Lang, an inspector and Singleton, the Engineer’s Accountant, they concluded that ‘no information of importance could be gathered’ and accepted Bain’s evidence, recommending payment of the account, despite the prices being higher than could be obtained on the open market, because the work was done under ‘very exceptional circumstances’. The Argus concluded that a ‘weaker report was probably never printed.’ [189] On the same day Patterson tabled the Board’s report, he instructed Higinbotham to replace Greene with Robert Ford.[190]

The Engineer-in-Chief obeyed, giving his Resident Engineer notice with a heavy heart. ‘I think I now see the end of the furrow I have been ploughing so long’ he told a friend, and on 3rd September informed the Minister that he had dismissed Greene, but had no confidence at all in Ford.[191] It was to no avail, for Patterson was convinced Ford should be reinstated, as the radicals needed their man back in the Railways. Higinbotham left work on Saturday afternoon, 4th September, determined that he would resign, rather than work again with Ford. The blow of his dismissal on ‘Black Wednesday’ had been softened by the suffering of a great many others. What Patterson now proposed to do amounted to an expression of no-confidence, and the stress of the last few months was telling.

He retired that evening feeling unwell, contemplating the dawn of his greatest humiliation the following Monday. Mercifully, he never awoke to see it. He died peacefully that night, worn out at sixty-one, from an ‘effusion of serum in the cavities of the brain and heart.’ [192] Ford returned on Monday as Engineer for Construction, and Acting Engineer-in-Chief.[193] But if he thought that was the end of the matter, he was deluded.

Comment on Higinbotham’s death. The Grim Reaper’s sash reads ‘Black Wednesday’. The newspaper headline is ‘Ford’s Reinstatement’. Caption, ‘Died of Natural Causes – Verdict of Coroner’s Jury’ . By Francis Thomas (Tom) Dean Carrington (‘CT’), Melbourne Punch, 16th September 1880, p. 5.

High resolution versions of some of the photographs in this chapter may be found on Smugmug


End Notes

  1. Victorian Parliamentary Debates (VPD), 1873, Vol. 17, p. 1719.
  2. VPD, 1872, Vol. 14, p. 1066. Mr. Gillies in the Assembly, 21 August 1972.
  3. David V. Beardsell and Bruce H. Herbert, The Outer Circle, Melbourne, 1979, p. 8.
  4. Correspondence and Return Relative to Proposed Lines of Railway, Victorian Parliamentary Papers (VPP), 1873, No. 86. Letter to the Chairman of the M&HBUR, 30 December 1872.
  5. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the Year Ended 31 December 1864, VPP 1864-65, No. 48, Appendix 2. List showing the nature and amount of contracts, p. 19. Contract No. 1127, p. 63.
  6. Leo Harrigan, Victorian Railways to ’62, Victorian Railways, 1962, pp. 180, 182.
  7. Company Prospectus, Great Gippsland Railway, Melbourne to Sale. Outline of project. Melbourne, 1871, Author’s collection., p. 5.
  8. Correspondence and Return Relative to Proposed Lines of Railway, VPP 1873, No. 86.
  9. ibid.
    Beardsell and Herbert, p. 9.
  10. Harrigan, p. 63. Calculated from a list of M&HBUR locomotives, excluding those sold prior to 1973, or purchased after that date. The VR’s first bogie locomotive was Meikle’s G class (No. 38) of 1877.
  11. Harrigan, p. 48.
  12. ibid.
  13. ibid.
  14. ibid.
  15. VPD, 1873, Vol. 17, p. 1860.
  16. Beardsell and Herbert, p. 9.
  17. ibid.
  18. Correspondence and Return Relative to Proposed Lines of Railway, VPP 1873, No. 86.
  19. VPD, 1873, Vol. 17, pp. 1722-23.
  20. ibid. 1760 yards x 2 (for two rails) x 50 (weight in pounds) ÷ 2240 = 78½ tons per mile. Say 80 tons, allowing for sidings, etc. At £9 per ton, cost was £750. At £12 per ton, cost was £960, an increase of £240.
  21. Victorian Railways: Report…31 December 1869. VPP 1870, No. 28, Appendix 2.
    Victorian Railways: Report…30 June 1973, VPP 1873, No. 90, Appendix 13.
  22. Harrigan, p. 285.
  23. Argus, 31 October 1873, p. 6.
    Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction, VPP 1882-83, No. 33. 1 June 1881, p . 27, Q. 1094. Regarding Higinbotham’s attempted resignation in 1866.
  24. Age, 1 December 1893, p. 5.
    Victorian Railways, Branches and offices, VPP 1882-83, C 7.
    Public Departments – Persons Employed, VPP 1882-83, C 14, p. 43.
    Officers of Railways and Public Works Departments whose services have been dispensed with, VPP 1878, C 2.
  25. Ballarat Star, 1 October 1864, p. 1.
    Camperdown Chronicle, 14 September 1881, p. 4. Darbyshire was hosting a ploughing match at his farm ‘near to the Werribee railway station’.
  26. Argus, 27 July 1868, p. 1.
    Leader, 17 July 1869, p. 15.
    Age, 20 February 1871, p. 2.
  27. He was also shire president. See Wyndham History:- Shire President 1880-81.
  28. Leader, 9 January 1869, pp. 24-25.
  29. Argus, 28 March 1881, p. 1.
  30. Argus, 23 January 1874, p. 5; 27 January 1874, p. 7.
  31. Argus, 2 March 1874, p. 6; 11 March 1874, p. 5.
  32. Report on the Observations on Railways made during a tour in 1874 and 1875, undertaken by direction of the Government of Victoria, by Thomas Higinbotham, VPP 1876, No. 15.
  33. Argus, 14 March 1874, p. 7.
  34. VPD, 1874, Vol. 18, p. 543-544.
  35. Keith Turton, Six and a Half Inches from Destiny, Melbourne, 1973, p. 30.
  36. VPD, 1874, Vol. 18, p. 544.
  37. VPD, 1874, Vol. 18, p. 676.
  38. See Graces Guide:- Robert Watson (1822-1891)
  39. Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, p. 228, Q. 7618. Watson actually called him a ‘tyro’ i.e., a novice.
  40. Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, p. 208, Questions 7610-7618. Watson and Ford suggested alterations to the girders of the Moorabool Viaduct, but the Engineer-in-Chief was reluctant to adopt them until a trial proved Watson and Ford right.
  41. Report from the Select Committee on Railway Contracts, VPP 1864-65, D 20, p. 8. Watson had signed a certificate requiring the counter signature of W.A. Zeal, then a Resident Engineer in charge of the Keilor contract on the Sandhurst line. The certificate approved payment for ballast on the Keilor section, which Watson had not ensured had been provided. Watson trusted that Zeal had made the check, but Zeal allowed payment to be made on Watson’s signature alone, and immediately left the VR to join the contractor, who had in fact defrauded the government by short providing ballast to the tune of £19,000. A few years later this sum would be adequate to build four miles of railway.
  42. Civil Establishment for the Year 1865’, VPP 1867, No. 1. p. 58.
    Civil Establishment of the Colony of Victoria for the Year 1866, VPP 1867, No. 40, p. 64. In 1865, Watson’s salary was second only to Higinbotham’s in the Railway Department. While his salary was equalled by one other District Engineer, he had slightly more seniority, as is shown by the following extract of the Civil Establishment.
    Position Incumbent Salary p.a. Commenced Appointed
    Engineer-in-Chief T. Higinbotham £1,200 Jan 1858 May 1860
    Resident Engineer (a) R. Watson £ 740 Nov 1854 June 1855
    Resident Engineer and Surveyor W. Hardie £ 740 May 1855 June 1855
    Resident Engineer A. Wells £ 700 Apr 1857 Mar 1858
    Resident Engineer W. Greene £ 700 Jul 1855 Apr 1857
    Locomotive Superintendent (b) F. Christy £ 700 Jun 1855 Jul 1855
    The following year, 1866, Watson was also shown as in charge of preliminary Surveys. In 1866, Christy’s salary was increased to £750, raising his status above the others.
  43. Argus, 12 April 1872, p. 6.
  44. Age, Friday 12 April 1872, p. 3.
  45. McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 4 January 1867, p. 3.
  46. Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, p. 83.
  47. ibid.
  48. VPD, 1874, Vol. 18, p. 545. Comment by Mr. G.V. Smith, 30 June.
  49. VPD, 1884, Vol. 47, p. 1786.
  50. Echuca Bridge; Report of the Royal Commission, VPP 1878, No. 57, 19 September 1879. Appendix G, p. 80.
  51. Beardsell and Herbert, p. 14.
  52. Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, pp. 154-55, 159, Questions 5714-5717, 5830.
  53. Victorian Railways: Report…31 December 1877, VPP 1878, No. 6. The plan appears as an Appendix which also includes a plan of the existing terminal.
  54. Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, p. 163, Questions 5989-5990.
  55. Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, p. 155, Q. 5714.
  56. Beardsell and Herbert, p. 14.
  57. H.G. Turner, A History of the Colony of Victoria, Volume II, 1854-1900, London, 1904, p. 183.
  58. Geoffrey Bartlett, ‘Sir Graham Berry’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 3, 1969.
  59. See Chapter 4.
  60. Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No.33, p. 156, Q. 5717.
    Observations on Railways, VPP 1876, No. 15, p. 11.
  61. Argus, 17 May 1876, pp. 5; 8 April 1891, p. 6. They sailed aboard the RMS Bangalore.
    Age, 17 May 1876, p. 2.
  62. Harrigan, pp. 283-286. Lines opened were; Castlemaine-Dunolly, Ballarat-Maryborough, Ballarat-Ararat, and Beechworth Junction (later renamed Bowser)-Everton. The line from Ararat to Scanlan’s Hill (near Stawell) was opened a month after his return.
  63. Herald, 7 January 1875, p. 3.
    Ballarat Star, 6 June 1890, p. 2.
  64. Argus, 27 January 1882, p. 5.
  65. Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, pp. 149-150, Questions 5540-5541, 5496.
  66. Negotiations between the Government of Victoria and the Melbourne and Hobson’s Bay United Railway Company for the Purchase of their Property, VPP 1876, No. 53. Correspondence opened with a letter of 7 July 1876, and ran until December 1876, including reports by Thomas Higinbotham and William Meikle.
  67. Turner, pp. 112, 139, 185, 187. After his defeat for the Legislative Assembly seat of Brighton by Thomas Bent in 1871, George Higinbotham won the seat of East Bourke Boroughs in 1873. He resigned in January 1876.
  68. E.E. Morris, Memoir of George Higinbotham, London, 1895, pp. 40-41, 269.
  69. Turner, p. 188.
  70. Victorian Railways: Report…31 December 1876, VPP 1877-78, No. 21. The warnings were published in the report.
  71. Beardsell and Herbert, pp. 14-15.
  72. VPD, 1877, Vol. 26, pp. 150-151.
  73. VPD, 1876, Vol. 25, p. 1428.
    G.H. Eardly, The Deniliquin and Moama Railway Company, ARHS Bulletin, No. 280, February 1961, pp. 21-25.
    Age, 25 November 1893, p. 3
    Kathleen Thompson and Geoffrey Serle. A Biographical Register of the Victorian Parliament 1859-1900, Canberra, 1972, pp. 234-235.
  74. VPD, 1876, Vol. 25, p. 1426.
  75. Turner, p. 191. Sixty members of the 86 elected were Berry’s group.
  76. Turner, p. 183.
  77. See Berlioz in Leipzig:- Leipzig Train Journey
  78. Avoca Mail, 5 April 1892, p. 2.
    Argus, 4 April 1892, p. 5.
    Table Talk, 8 April 1892, p. 1.
    Age, 4 April 1892, p. 6.
    Jill Eastwood, ‘John Woods’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 6, 1976.
  79. VPD, 1871, Vol. 12, pp. 155-167, 219-228.
    Age, 18 May 1871, p. 2.
  80. Argus, 22 December 1876, p. 7.
  81. Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, p. 168, Q. 6166.
  82. Harrigan, p. 274.
  83. Argus, 2 June 1877, p. 7.
  84. Argus, 20 December 1877, p. 4.
  85. Age, 29 August 1877, p. 4.
  86. The section from Sale to Morwell was opened on 1 June 1877.
  87. VPD, 1876, Vol. 25, p. 1430, 1432, 1749.
  88. Argus, 23 August 1877, p. 9.
  89. Argus, 23 August 1877, p. 9; 29 August 1877, p. 4.
    Weekly Times, 31 March 1877, p. 16. R. Watson and G. Watson were listed as saloon passengers aboard the RMS Bangalore. This may be Robert and his son.
  90. VPD, 1877-78, Vol. 26, pp. 173, 1015-1036.
    VPD, 1876, Vol. 25, p. 1429.
  91. Lines added to McCulloch’s Railway Construction Bill:- Geelong Race Course 1½ miles Lines altered:- Oakleigh-Elsternwick to Oakleigh-Melbourne direct.
    Lines deleted miles
    Everton – Myrtleford 17
    Geelong – Queenscliff 21½
    Lancefield Road – Lancefield 15
    Warrnambool – Hawkesdale 25
    Brighton – Frankston 18½
    North Melbourne – Preston
    Preston – Heidelberg
    Hawthorn –Camberwell
    Total length 113½
    Lines retained miles
    Stawell – Horsham 48½
    Springs – Wahgunyah 14
    Dunolly – St Arnuad 34
    Avenel – Shepparton 44½
    Woodend – Daylesford 26
    Total length 167
  92. Victorian Railways: Report…31 December 1876, VPP 1877-78, No. 21, pp. 8-9.
    Observations on Railways, VPP 1876, No. 15, p. 29.
  93. VPD, 187-78, Vol. 27, pp. 1242, 1266-67.
    Harrigan, p. 286. The sale-Morwell and Oakleigh-Bunyip sections were opened on 1 June and 8 October 1877 respectively. The Legislative Council passed the modified Bill on 31 October.
  94. Argus, 8 June 1877, p. 5.
  95. Victorian Railways: Report…31 December 1877, VPP 1878, No. 6, p. 33, Appendix 3.
  96. Victorian Railways: Report…year ended as follows:-
    Expenditure on Melbourne Goods Sheds 1972 – 1875 Amounts include expenditure exclusively in connection with the Batman’s Hill goods station only. If joint costs were added, the total would be somewhat higher.
    Contract No. Actual Expenditure £ Report Year Ended Reference
    1871/417 9,840 30 June 1872 Appendix 2, p. 9.
    1871/989 929 30 June 1872 Appendix 2, p. 9.
    1871/5 872 30 June 1872 Appendix 2, p. 10.
    1872/1406 218 30 June 1872 Appendix 2, p. 11.
    1872/1407 147 30 June 1872 Appendix 2, p. 11.
    1870/1025 47,489 30 June 1873 Appendix 3, p. 13.
    1872/1404 213 30 June 1873 Appendix 3, p. 14.
    1872/100 506 30 June 1873 Appendix 3, p. 14.
    1873/1034 295 30 June 1874 Appendix 3, p. 17.
    1873/1118 517 30 June 1874 Appendix 3, p. 18.
    1872/16 459 30 June 1875 Appendix 3, p. 17.
    1874/1426 9,343 30 June 1875 Appendix 3, p. 18.
    1874/1483 1,849 30 June 1875 Appendix 3, p. 18.
    1874/1521 286 30 June 1875 Appendix 3, p. 19.
    Total 72,963

    M.H.W. Clark and J.C.M. Rolland, The Introduction of American-designed Locomotives to the Victorian Railways 1877-78, ARHS Bulletin, No. 467, September, 1876, p. 204. Reproduces a statement by the Railway Accountant giving the landed cost of the American 4-4-0s built by Rogers, New Jersey as £2,645 each.
  97. VPD, 1877-78, Vol. 26, p. 1320.
  98. Victorian Railways File 1/128, 1870.
  99. Eastwood.
  100. Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, p. 155, Q. 5718.
  101. Victorian Railways: Report…31 December 1877, VPP 1878, No. 6, p. 34, Appendix 3.
  102. Victorian Railways: Report ..31 December 1878, VPP 1879-80, No. 9, p.32, Appendix 4.
  103. Victorian Railways: Report…31 December 1877, VPP 1878, No. 6, p. 7.
  104. Victorian Railways: Report ..31 December 1878, VPP 1879-80, No. 9, p. 7.
  105. VPD, 1877-78, Vol. 26, p. 1037, and Vol. 27, p. 1635, 1863-66.
  106. Geoffrey Blainey, A History of Victoria, Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 88.
  107. Age, 9 January 1878, p. 2.
  108. Melbourne Punch, 27 June 1878, p. 8. The reference is to the radical socialist government of the Paris Commune revolutionaries for two months in 1871, only seven years before ‘Black Wednesday’.
  109. Geoffrey Blainey, A City’s Story Told One Day at a Time, Age, 4 March 2013.
  110. Argus, 9 January 1878, p. 4.
  111. Melbourne Punch, 10 January 1878, p. 3.
  112. Age, 9 January 1878, p. 3.
  113. Argus, 26 November 1877, p. 5.
  114. Harrigan, p. 276.
  115. Age, 9 January 1878, p. 2.
  116. Argus, 9 January 1878, p. 4.
  117. Officers…dispensed with, VPP 1878, C 2. A total of 55 railwaymen, together with the Inspecting Engineers in Britain, were dismissed for a total annual saving of £17,507/13/5d.
  118. Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, pp. 11, 35, 77, Questions 415, 1407, 2947.
    Argus, 14 September 1878, p. 8. Reports the gazetting of Ford’s new role as Engineer for Construction on Friday 13th September 1878.
  119. Turner, pp. 198, 199. Turner states that ‘Popular opinion at the time fixed the blame primarily on Berry, Lalor, Duffy, Longmore, Woods and Trench…’ and that ‘one Minister of the Crown openly declared that in the dismissal of Thomas Higinbotham he had “had his revenge”’.
    Alfred Deakin, Victorian Politics, Vol. 2, M.S. pp. 11-15 . ‘The choice of the persons discharged in the Departments was left to the individual Ministers and but roughly revised by cabinet…’ Quoted by J.E. Parnaby, The Economic and Political Development of Victoria 1877-1881, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Melbourne, 1951, p. 366.
  120. Argus, 25 February 1878, p. 4.
  121. Echuca Bridge, VPP 1878, No. 57, pp. vii – ix, 53.
  122. Echuca Bridge, VPP 1878, No. 57, p. 80, Appendix G.
  123. ibid.
  124. VPD, 1878, Vol. 27, pp. 2164-2165, 6 March. Mr. Bent moved that the Speaker ‘now leave the Chair’. The House then went into Committee and Mr. Munro said ‘he did not know what was the object of the Honourable Member for Brighton in delaying business in this way, but the effect of his action would be to compel the Honourable Members who were in favour of the motion, with reference to railway contracts submitted on a former occasion, to vote against it. However, it was not his affair if the Honourable Member for Brighton was determined to destroy the case he had taken in hand. He begged to move that the Chairman report progress. This was carried on the voices.
  125. Victorian Railways: Report…31 December 1877, VPP 1878, No. 6, p. 27.
    Victorian Railways: Report…31 December 1878, VPP 1879-80, No. 9, p. 19.
  126. Victorian Railways: Report…31 December 1877, VPP 1878, No. 6, p. 25.
    Victorian Railways: Report…31 December 1878, VPP 1879-80, No. 9, p. 19.
    Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, p. 141, Q. 5274.
    Harrigan, pp. 276-279.
  127. Victorian Railways: Report …31 December 1864, VPP 1864-65, No. 48, p. 22, Appendix 2.
  128. Victorian Railways: Report…31 December 1870, VPP 1871, No. 35, p. 22, Appendix 2. Contracts 1379-1381.
  129. Victorian Railways: Report…30 June 1872, VPP 1872, No. 77, p. 10, Appendix 2. Contracts No. 1.
  130. Victorian Railways: Report…30 June 1874, VPP 1874, No. 97, p. 15, Appendix 3. Contracts No. 119.
  131. Argus, 25 January 1866, p. 4.
  132. Geelong Advertiser, 24 December 1877, p. 4.
  133. Victorian Railways: Report…31 December 1878, VPP 1879-80, No. 9,p. 26, Appendix 2.
  134. C.D. Gavan Duffy, The Block System in Victoria, ARHS Bulletin, No. 281, March, 1961, p. 43.
  135. Victorian Railways: Report…31 December 1878, VPP 1879-80, No. 9, Appendix 3.
    Victorian Railways: Report…31 December 1879, VPP 1880-81, No. 14, Appendix 3.
    Turton, p. 112.
    Harrigan, pp. 10-12.
  136. R.L. Wettenhall, Railway Management and Politics in Victoria 1856 -1906, Canberra, 1961, p. 278.
  137. VPD, 1871, Vol. 13, p. 1825. Statement by Mr. Vale, 14 November.
    Harrigan, p. 276.
  138. Victorian Railways: Report…31 December 1876, VPP 1877-78, No. 21, pp. 6-7.
  139. Woods was very selective in his use of statistics. The miles of line open are no indicator of how busy a railway is, and train miles worked gives no indication of the weight of goods carried, and therefore the wagon requirement. A better indication of the demand for wagons was the tonnage of goods carried. The ratio of wagons available to thousands of tons of goods carried fluctuated between 1: 34 and 1:41 in the years 1868 to 1875. In 1876, the first year the shortage was seriously raised, this ratio jumped to 1:45, nearly a 10 per cent increase over the previous peak demand in 1874, and a 20 per cent increase over the average demand in the seven years 1868 to 1875. If the rolling stock shortage was critical, there would have been serious delays in dispatching and receiving goods, a situation bound to produce political repercussions.
  140. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the Six Months Ended 31 December 1878, VPP 1879-80, No. 9, p. 8.
  141. VPD, 1877-78, Vol. 27, p. 1705, Mr. Woods, 29 November 1877.
  142. Argus, 5 October 1877, p. 4.
  143. Parnaby, pp. 334, 336.
  144. VPD, 1884, Vol. 47, p. 1779. Woods.
  145. Parnaby, p. 62.
  146. Argus, 29 December 1879, p. 5.
  147. J.C. Docherty, The Rise of Railway Unionism: A Study of New South Wales and Victoria, c1880-1905, MA Thesis, School of General Studies, Australian national University, Canberra, 1973, p. 47. He notes the high regard with which the men held Christy, and their farewell dinner given him at which a handsome illuminated address was presented, and speculates that despite there being ‘…no documentary record to indicate their feelings towards Meikle, the circumstances of his appointment make it reasonable to assume he became unpopular. Certainly he was not given any presentation by them when he left the service seven years later’. However, this is incorrect. Meikle was given a very lavish presentation and farewell dinner by the Locomotive Branch.
    Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Engineman, The Oldest Continuous Railway Union in the World, (Melbourne, 1975), p. 7-8. Indicates that discontent among enginemen which prompted formation of the Enginemen’s Association about 1871 was over job security, seniority and the prevention of hiring drivers from outside the service, to the detriment existing employees.
  148. VPD, 1876, Vol. 23, p. 1343, Messrs. Langridge, Woods and Hanna.
  149. Argus, 19 March 1879, p. 5., Friday 4 July 1879, p. 3.
  150. Docherty, p. 47.
  151. ibid.
    Parnaby, p. 62.
  152. ibid, p. 21.
  153. Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, p. 82, Questions 3116, 3119.
  154. Argus, 1 April 1880, p. 1.
  155. Geelong Advertiser, 6 September 1880, p. 3.
  156. Harrigan, p. 276.
  157. Argus, 19 July 1882, p. 10. Although this refers to staffing two years later, the totals would not be much changed from 1880. There were 102 officers under the Engineer for Construction, and 54 under the Engineer for Existing Lines, the next largest department.
  158. Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, pp. 109, 162-63. Questions 4044, 5965, 5974.
  159. Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, pp 59, 207, Questions 2228, 7598-7599.
  160. Proverbs 15.1 KJV.
  161. Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, Questions 6077-80.
  162. Argus, 24 June 1880, p. 1.
  163. James A. Lerk, Robert Gray Ford: Colonial blacksmith, inventor, engineer and one time Bendigonian. Bendigo, 2007, p. 6.
  164. Argus, 24 June 1880, p. 1.
  165. Harrigan, p. 279. Both men headed the Accountancy Branch. George Theodore Adams Lavater was Accountant 1872-87 and 1890-91, and Robert Singleton was Accountant 1893-1896, and Chief Accountant 1896-1900. The Comptroller of Stores was part of the Accounts Branch from 1878-1881, during Woods’ commissionership.
  166. Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, Questions 2584, 2611.
  167. Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, Q. 3124.
  168. Williamstown Chronicle, 8 May 1880, p. 2. An Order in Council on 3rd May 1880 abolished the position of Engineer for Construction. R.G. Ford retired with compensation.
  169. Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, p. 83, 164, Questions 3124-3124A, 6026-6035.
  170. Argus, 11 June 1880, p. 6.
  171. ibid.
  172. Argus, 16 June 1880, p. 9.
  173. ibid.
  174. Age, 16 June 1880, p. 2.
  175. Argus, 17 June 1880, p. 6.
  176. Argus, 9 August 1880, p. 4.
  177. Age, 19 June 1880, p. 6. Also printed same day in The Argus, p. 9.
  178. ibid.
  179. Argus, 21 June 1880, p. 4.
  180. ibid.
  181. Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, pp. 142-44, 162-63, 169, Questions 5288-5308, 5334, 5337, 5965-5988, 162-3; Q. 2611.
  182. Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, Q. 5299.
  183. Argus, 28 July 1880, p. 6; 9 August 1880, p. 4.
  184. Turner, pp211-212.
  185. Argus, 6 August 1880, p. 6.
  186. Argus, 14 August 1880, p. 6.
  187. Argus, 25 August 1880, p. 4.
  188. Argus, 28 August 1880, p. 6.
  189. Argus, 2 September 1880, pp. 4, 7.
  190. Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, p. 93, Q. 3124A.
  191. Morris, p. 270.
  192. Argus, 7 September 1880, p. 6.
  193. Morris, p. 270.
    Mr. R.G. Ford, VPP 1882-83, No. 33, pp. 60, 78, 215, Questions 2273, 2956, Appendix A.