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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. For the main part, it 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.

The Outer Circle Railway and Central Passenger Station

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 Thomas Higinbotham, and he recommended that course in January 1873.[3]

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

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 Thomas 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 cut off as it was from 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 1863 flood. Not an ideal route for a railway.

The terminal of the government railways was badly laid out and cramped. At that time the land on the western side of the city fell away to a low lying swamp, bordering the Yarra River, which made a large bend to the north of where the Coode Canal was later dug. The government passenger and goods terminus occupied the higher land between Spencer Street and the swamp. An indication of how restricted was this narrow neck of land is given by the decision in 1863 to shave the top off Batman’s Hill to provide space for the original goods sheds. [5] Even then, Thomas Higinbotham was unimpressed with the Spencer Street site, and had submitted plans for a central station to be built at the top of Elizabeth Street. That site had since been developed for housing, [6] but he was drawn to consider the plan of the Great Gippsland Railway Company, which had intended to circle the railway starved eastern and northern suburbs, and terminate at a separate narrow gauge station on another site at the top of Elizabeth Street. [7] Such an ‘Outer Circle’ could be linked with the government system at Spencer Street, but in order to relieve the pressure on that restricted site with its clutter of temporary wooden buildings, the Engineer-in-Chief hit on the idea of developing the Great Gippsland’s proposed terminal at the top of Elizabeth Street as the Central Station for all Government passenger trains, leaving the Spencer Street facilities for the exclusive use of goods trains. The Outer Circle line, as he termed it, while involving an extra six miles on the journey from Oakleigh to Melbourne, would cost an estimated £292,455 if made with double tracks, only one third the valuation of the M&HBUR, which the Audit Commissioner put at £880,000. If the private company insisted on selling at its price of about £1,300,000, and if the government chose to economise by building the Outer Circle as a single track line for an estimated £195,070, the difference between the two proposals would nearly double.[8]

The Engineer-in-Chief reported in this vein, also arguing that although takeover of the M&HBUR would place all the colony’s railways in the hands of the Government, there was no real advantage in this. The building of the Outer Circle and Gippsland line would restrict the private company’s expansion to the eastern shores of Port Phillip Bay. The M&HBUR would not be able to monopolise suburban railways, and its value would diminish, making an eventual Government takeover possible at a lower price than they were then asking. He also saw to it that his assessment of the M&HBUR’s property was none too complimentary. Indeed, his views upset the company’s Directors so much that they wrote to Gillies urging that the reports of the railway officers should not be published. They objected to the claim that the company’s lines and rolling stock were in need of extensive repairs.[9]

Melbourne 1880 (West End)
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 VR 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 lighter standards than Thomas 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, for though the new extensions could be built very cheaply, the extra traffic they generated would soon place intolerable strains on the core of the system. He drew the Government’s attention to the need to make further extensions to the Melbourne Goods Shed, for which Longmore’s Bill had made no provision, 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 his response to this situation, and 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 Engineer-in-Chief 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. He 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 most 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 these political battles, Thomas 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. Such was the work load in the Department that in 1873, George Christian Darbyshire, the first Engineer-in-Chief, was invited back to serve under the man who replaced him, at a fraction of his old salary.[23]

Thomas Higinbotham’s own salary had been reduced by £300 per annum during the lull in construction between 1864 and 1870, a matter over which he nearly resigned. By late 1873 he was still on this reduced salary of £l,200 per annum, and in another gesture of goodwill to his old opponent, Francis Longmore moved that the Engineer-in-Chief’ s salary be restored to £1,500 per annum, once more referring to Thomas Higinbotham’s honesty and integrity as being ‘beyond suspicion’. The Government had already allowed for such an increase,[24] which was certainly earned by the time Gillies’ Railway Construction Act was proclaimed in November 1873.

George Darbyshire, Engineer-in-Chief
George 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. Whether he took the initiative and requested leave of absence, as reported in The Argus on 23rd January 1874, or whether he was asked by the Government to make the visit, as reported four days later, is a matter of conjecture.[25] 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 28 February, at which they presented him with a beautifully illuminated address. Ten days later, he left Melbourne on the S.S. Hero for Sydney, and a connection to San Francisco.[26] After five months in the U.S.A. and Canada, he sailed on to England, which he made his home for a year, with trips to Scotland, Ireland and the Continent. He travelled back to Victoria via the Suez Canal and India, being away on full pay for 22 months.[27]

The Engineer-in-Chief 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 W.H. Greene and Robert Watson.[28] Shortly after his departure, one of these, William Greene, submitted a report to the Minister that was critical of the light construction adopted on the Castlemaine to Maryborough line. This was the first light line, and 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 this not very permanent way before it was opened for traffic. He also saw the deflections to the 50 lb rails caused by the locomotives used on construction trains, which were to Meikle’s design. He threw suspicion on these new light lines engines, doubting their axle load was as light as the eight tons claimed by the designer. He could not prove this, due to the absence of accurate weighing equipment in the colony, but he accurately predicted that the unstable motion of Meikle’s new locomotives would in any case damage the very light track. 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.[29]

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.[30] He was particularly concerned about the Gippsland railway, which would become one of the major trunk lines, and he therefore announced to the House on 30th June that he had authorised the use of heavier 60 lb rails for that line. He explained to the indignant opposition that this would only increase the cost by £230 per mile, but the radicals would have none of it.[31]

On 16th July, Francis Longmore moved that the weight of rails be retained at 50 lb per yard, claiming that this was sanctioned by the Engineer-in-Chief, and so who 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.[32] When Thomas Higinbotham returned, he supported the stand taken by Greene and Gillies, for his sanctioning of 50 lb iron rails had only been the result of Longmore’s pressure.

Of the actions of some other senior officers during his absence, the Engineer-in-Chief was far from supportive. Robert Watson, one of the managing triumvirate, had worked against his Chief’s plans for an Outer Circle line and Central Station, by having the chief draughtsman, Robert G. Ford, prepare a counter proposal for improving the existing terminal at Spencer Street. Of all the senior officers, Watson had the most seniority, his career dating back to the very earliest days of the Government railways.[33]

On several occasions over the intervening years, he had advanced opinions that were contrary to those of the Engineer-in-Chief,[34] who once had publicly criticised Watson for professional imprudence.[35] It is likely that Watson had a low opinion of Higinbotham’s engineering abilities, once implying his boss was a novice.[36] His regard for Higinbotham would not have increased 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.[37] On the other hand, Watson had the highest regard for the skill of his subordinate, Ford, whom he praised in an extraordinary manner on a number of occasions, implying Ford knew more about bridge design than anyone in the Department, and recommending him for promotion in January 1872, Ford being one of three engineers Higinbotham publicly thanked for their ‘invaluable assistance’ in the construction of the North Eastern railway,[38] where he had been in charge of construction of the Goulburn River Bridge.[39] Back in 1867 the Engineer-in-Chief had referred to Ford as ‘a very competent authority’ on the Campaspe Bridge,[40] and he subsequently approved Ford’s promotion in 1872. But it is probably significant that Watson waited until Higinbotham was clear of Australia before recommending Ford for another promotion, in May 1874.[41] By then both Watson and Ford were at odds with the views of the Engineer-in-Chief. Worse still, Ford was counted as a long standing personal friend of John Woods MLA,[42] the engineer-politician who ‘disapproved of almost everything the Railway Department did’.[43] He later praised Ford as having done more for designing cheap railways than all the other engineers put together.[44] It is almost certain that the Engineer-in-Chief knew and disapproved of this friendship before his overseas tour, for in 1878, when Woods was Minister of Railways, and Ford had been elevated to a very senior post, Higinbotham complained bitterly, noting

‘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.’[45]

As Higinbotham prepared to go overseas, any misgivings he may have had about Woods, Ford and Watson would have been allayed by the knowledge that Duncan Gillies was likely to retain his position after the General Election then in progress. [46] His placing of Wells as Acting Engineer-in-Chief was probably a form of insurance. As for Woods, it seemed most unlikely he would be chosen for ministerial office, even if his radical friends gained power again. Woods was an unknown nonentity, and a dismissed civil servant to boot. [47]

Robert Watson C.E.
Robert Watson Resident Engineer, later Engineer-in-Chief. PROV H1839.

So well had Higinbotham argued, that in December 1874, nine months after his departure, Duncan Gillies introduced a Bill for the construction of the Outer Circle Railway.[48] In connection with this, he asked the engineers in charge of the Department to advise the best site for a central station. Watson, who had always favoured the Spencer Street site, asked his colleague Robert Ford to prepare a plan for the enlargement and rearrangement of the Spencer Street terminal, acting in contravention to the Engineer-in-Chief’s policy.[49] 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, which would require hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of spoil, and the construction of twin roundhouses for locomotives at North Melbourne.[50] Ford’s aim was to eliminate the many curves in the yard as it existed, which made it dangerous to work, and earned it a grim designation as the ‘Slaughter Yard’.[51] Laudable as his objectives were, the suggestion of such an expensive solution was questionable at a time when the main trunk lines had yet to be completed, let alone the secondary lines to service the thousands of selections that were still too far from a railhead for their farmers 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, it was advantageous to have the passenger and goods stations close together, to minimize shunting.[52] 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.[53] The Central Station issue therefore lost impetus, and by mid-1875, Duncan Gillies had lost office. With Higinbotham back in charge, Watson and his wife and son took a holiday and sailed for England May 1876.   It was to end tragically as his wife died in England.[54]

John Woods

The new Government was headed by Graham Berry, whose radical tendencies and volatile character made it difficult for him to find a team prepared to serve as his Ministry. Into this vacuum shot John Woods, who was given the Railways portfolio. Of course Francis Longmore had no qualms about serving but he had been Minister for Railways twice and took the Lands portfolio, which was a job much closer to his heart.[55] Woods was 54 years old at the time of his appointment, just three years younger than Higinbotham. Woods 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, in partnership with Woods’ father, won a contract with the Leipzig and Dresden Railway. 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, an iron works in Staffordshire and then as 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 he 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, but he was soon elected to the Legislative Assembly and served as Member for Crowlands (Stawell) from 1859 to 1864. After losing his seat he 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 the nickname ‘Tar Brush’.[56] 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 dismissed not 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 his guilt but disclaiming responsibility.[57] It is small wonder that Higinbotham should be wary of such a man, but in the event, Woods’ term lasted only eleven weeks, for the first Berry ministry was thrown out before it could accomplish anything.

John Woods M.L.A.
John Woods MLA, Commissioner of Railways, 1875, 1877-1880. Illustrated Australian News, 2nd May 1892.

The Engineer-in-Chief Returns

Woods’ short term as Minister of Railways was long enough for him to discover and be impressed by Watson and Ford’s plan for a re-arrangement 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. When the Engineer-in-Chief returned, in January 1876, he found Meikle thus engaged, and immediately sought to discourage him. Higinbotham had seen and ridden on locomotives that had long proven their suitability to light 50 lb iron railed track, often unballasted. Meikle had not seen an American locomotive and was at a disadvantage against the new authority with which the Engineer-in-Chief expounded on locomotive matters. Higinbotham was not an enthusiastic supporter of light railways, but he was politically astute enough to see that the 50 lb iron railed lines must be proved a success, unless the advocates of narrow gauge should reassert themselves with proof that cheap broad gauge lines were impossible. The new Minister, Joseph Jones, while unwilling to incur the ire of protectionist interests was nevertheless impressed with the authority of the Engineer-in-Chief’s case and compromised by splitting the next order for light lines engines; Phoenix would build eight to Meikle’s new design at Ballarat, and two ‘American’ types would be ordered from Rogers, in Paterson, New Jersey. [58]

On his return, Higinbotham also re-asserted his authority in his own Branch, objecting to the proposals for re-building the Spencer Street Terminal, and reiterating his support for a Central Station at the top of Elizabeth Street.[59] The railway system had expanded by 175 miles during his absence,[60] 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.[61] ‘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 a new signal box by replying that the yard was 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 VR. He agreed to some improvements at Spencer Street,[62] 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.[63] But during 1876 the Outer Circle scheme waned, and despite Gillies presence (as Minister of Lands) in the Ministry that had replaced Berry, the Government of Sir James McCulloch opted instead for a direct Oakleigh – Elsternwick line, and re-opened negotiations to purchase the M&HBUR.[64] 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 Thomas’ brother, George.

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. He vehemently attacked Thomas’ brother 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 application of the gag, or ‘iron hand’. This perceived corruption of parliamentary procedure by those whose cause he had so recently expounded troubled George Higinbotham deeply, and he resigned his seat, rather than support either party.[65] 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,[66] and 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 dextrously held onto power throughout 1876. They passed an Act authorising the negotiation of a £l,000,000 loan for railway construction,[67] but failed to pass their Railway Construction Bill of November 1876. Support for the Engineer-in-Chief’s opinions was still strong in parliament, and the Bill was put aside.[68] The Bill had been 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,[69] the maximum expenditure for the new lines was fixed at £4,250 per mile. The government had also taken the unprecedented step of basing this figure on estimates by engineers outside the railway department.[70] They were impressed by the opening of the broad gauge Deniliquin and Moama Railway on 4th July 1876, which had cost a mere £3,600 per mile, probably not realising that it was laid over almost dead flat land with not one river or creek crossing other than the Murray River. (The Engineer-in-Chief’s old opponent, W. A. Zeal, directed the construction of this line, having lost his seat in 1874 and returned to his profession.) [71]

Deniliquin & Moama Railway No.1 1876.
Deniliquin & Moama Railway Co.’s Beyer, Peacock 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, designed to place the affairs of the railways in the hands of a permanent, non-political head, thereby diminishing the Engineer-in-Chief’s authority. The move did not get past a perfunctory first reading, at which the Government refused to outline the reasons for its Bill.[72] The commencement of the following year, 1877, held out no respite for Higinbotham, because if the radical liberals won the upcoming May elections, he faced the prospect of working with Francis Longmore again, or worse still, with John Woods.

Thomas Higinbotham versus John Woods

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. Francis Longmore’s quest for economy was extreme, but he was now Minister of Lands and John Woods, although a fellow radical, had a vision for railways that was unique among his parliamentary colleagues. His 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, and Jones dismissed the idea.[73] 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 Melbourne Terminus. He would give orders to subordinate officers like Ford, Mirls and Sadler,[74] 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
Thomas Higinbotham circa 1878. PROV H1333.

Woods began his second term as Commissioner on 21st May 1877[75] and embarked on three projects which set him at odds with the Engineer-in-Chief, the first of which was to improve train braking. From the earliest days only the locomotive and brake vans were equipped with brakes. These were manually applied by the fireman on the engine and the guard in the brake van, who had to be alert to the driver’s whistle codes. None of the other carriages or wagons had brakes. Much thought was being given to means of applying brakes simultaneously on all vehicles in a train, the mediums being chains, compressed air, vacuum or water. Woods had invented a continuous brake using water pressure, and was seeking its development and adoption by the Victorian Railways. While his hydraulic brake would present no difficulty in warm climates like Victoria, its adoption would make the colony a technological orphan, as water as a braking medium was already out of favour elsewhere. During October 1876, while still on the opposition benches , Woods sought government approval for a trial of his hitherto untested hydraulic brake, but was given the brush off by the Minister, no doubt on Higinbotham’s advice. Woods was told such a trial would be ‘exceedingly inconvenient’, at which he accused Jones of always going out of his way to sneer at his invention, which he offered on public grounds, wanting no benefit for himself! [76]

Woods was also caustic about Higinbotham’s dismissal of his brake, claiming that he had suggested the idea to the Engineer-in-Chief in 1863, albeit without any drawings.

‘In what way, however, was the affair received by Mr Higinbotham?’ said Woods. ‘He made this extraordinary statement, not one word of which I have ever forgotten:- “I object to that brake because it will give the driver too great a control over the train, and render him careless’’’.[77]

One can well imagine the Engineer-in-Chief so voicing the conventional wisdom of the day[78] to the then Honourable Member for Crowlands. Having witnessed the fiasco of Woods’ attempt to hide cracked pipes at Malmsbury Reservoir, it is not surprising that he continued to hold a low opinion of ‘Tar Brush’ Woods as a reputable engineer, and doubt the value of his invention. But when Graham Berry’s radicals were returned with a landslide in May 1877,[79] the railway portfolio was once again given to Woods.

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 William Meikle resigned.[80] Mirls and his staff were given the task of making Woods’ sketches workable, and by December that year a train with the new brake was successfully trialled. John Woods was aboard, together with some senior railwaymen, but there was no report of the Engineer-in-Chief’s presence.[81] By then Higinbotham had been sidelined.

A second initiative of Woods was to reintroduce the Railway Construction Bill that the previous government had failed to pass, although the borrowing of the necessary finance had been approved. 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, with £6,400 per mile for the more mountainous Woodend to Daylesford branch.[82] Woods, however, hit on an even cheaper way of linking up the partially completed Gippsland line with Melbourne.[83] He proposed to build 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 Hobson’s Bay Company 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.[84]

The Engineer-in-Chief now saw the possibility of all his hopes for the Outer Circle and Central Station being dashed. 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 Thomas Higinbotham, who was examined on 23rd August. He disclaimed any responsibility for the direct Melbourne – Oakleigh line, which was to cut through the Botanical Gardens, and argued strongly for the Outer Circle. At worst, he would agree to the taking of running powers over the M&HBUR. In further evidence given on 29th August, he 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, and in this he was supported by the North Eastern Resident Engineer, Mr. Hardie. When Robert Watson was called, however, 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.[85] The 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 that 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.’[86]

He 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.

Graham Berry, Premier of Victoria 1875, 1877-80
Graham Berry, Premier of Victoria 1875, 1877-80

It is interesting that 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. 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 Sir James 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.[87] Woods thus answered the question he had raised in his Annual Report, dated 20th June 1877, as to 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’.[88]

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 completed.[89] 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,[90] which 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.[91] 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.[92] 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 remodeling 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 central station.

Melbourne Goods Shed 1872.
Interior of Thomas Higinbotham’s Goods Shed in Melbourne Yard 1872. State Library Victoria.

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 contract obligation.) Bent so moved on 2nd August,[93] 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 Woods were the Engineer-in-Chief; his second-in-command, Robert Watson; the newly appointed General Traffic Manager, A. P. Mathison; his deputy, John Anderson; and John 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 Francis Longmore.[94] Woods, himself an author of unprintable doggerel,[95] 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 Mr. Watson

‘…and thus enable me to communicate with that gentleman directly on the matter.’[96]

With Higinbotham sidelined, Watson immediately commenced the yard re-arrangement, with large orders being placed for sleepers and crossing timbers. [97] This was followed a year later with large orders for points and crossings,[98] 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.[99] 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.[100]

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 Mr. 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.[101] 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 Graham 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 David Syme, The Age editorialist,[102] 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 Mr. Berry for his ‘heroic measures’ which limited the suffering to ‘those who would be least inconvenienced by it’.[103] Such was the view of ‘the organ of the Commune’ as the Melbourne Punch described The Age,[104] already the most widely read newspaper in Victoria.[105]

The conservative press was outraged, recognising that Higinbotham and Paul Labertouche, the Secretary of Railways, were among a few purposely singled out.[106] 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’.[107]

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 Thomas Higinbotham and his allies. Together with Labertouche, the three Resident Engineers who had supported their Chief (Wells, Greene and Hardie), all went, as did Darbyshire for the second time in his troubled 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.[108] 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.[109] 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 re-titled position as General Traffic Manager.[110] Woods was about to exert a closer control over train services and safeworking procedures, and needed to bring the Traffic Branch to heel.

David Syme, Editor of The Age
David Syme, Editor of The Age

But 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’.[111]

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’.[112]

The most notable survivors of the 55 officer purge were Solomon Mirls, the head of the Locomotive Branch who was busy arranging further trials of the Woods’ hydraulic brake, and Robert Watson who was promoted to fill the vacant Engineer-in-Chief’s position.[113] 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.[114] 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, John Woods thus assumed the role, if not the title, of General Manager of the Victorian Railways.

Woods claimed he ‘had his revenge’ upon the ex-Engineer-in-Chief.[115] The Argus claimed this was in retaliation for Higinbotham’s part in Woods’ dismissal from the Water Supply Department.[116] The Minister of Railways sought to add legitimacy to his actions by trumping up a charge against W.H. 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 these changes, the substitution of cast iron for wrought iron columns, at a cost of £7,426; 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, the new Engineer-in-Chief, was asked if he thought footpaths were necessary, he replied emphatically that they were not, showing yet again a divergence of views with 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.[117]

‘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…’[118]

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.[119] The Echuca Bridge footways were not built, but Greene and Higinbotham achieved a moral victory. The matter of the fines imposed on Thomas Doran had been left unresolved. Bent, who had loudly proclaimed his sympathy for the aggrieved contractor, 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’.[120]

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, which had grown like topsy throughout the Seventies, with little or no change in its senior personnel, its organisation structure, or 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 Robert 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.[121] He removed much of the accounting functions hitherto carried out in the Engineer-in-Chief’s Branch to the Accountancy Branch, where he ordered that the practice of accounting separately for each line of railway be dispensed with, in favour of a simplified division of accounts 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, whereas before the changes 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.[122] A major 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, and by 1864 the VR was employing its own telegraph clerks[123] to send and receive messages for both the public and for railway purposes, using the Post Office’s wires. The VR opened their own telegraph office at Spencer Street in 1870,[124] and the following year purchased Siemens & Halske instruments for the North Eastern line.[125] A further 15 instruments were purchased in 1872 for use on the new single track light lines.[126] Some 53 stations were equipped with telegraph instruments by 1876, but the shared telegraph was only used as an adjunct for railway safeworking. Frequent service outages over the Post Office’s wires undermined its value for railway purposes. The first application of a dedicated railway telegraph in Victoria was by the M&HBR in 1866,[127] but the VR struggled on with shared wires until the new Telegraph Branch was established by Woods, shortly before Christmas 1877.[128] A single wire was opened the length of the North Eastern mainline 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.[129]

The main function of the Telegraph Branch was the improved safeworking of trains, especially on the many miles of single track railways 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. The telegraph lines of the Post and Telegraph Department could not be relied upon for the prompt sending of messages connected with the despatch and arrival of trains at stations, which was vital if trains on single lines were to be safely worked, but the new railway pole line between Melbourne and Wodonga enabled the introduction of telegraphic block working to be introduced from 10th September 1878.[130] 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. It also gave its attention to improving the control of trains in busy station yards.[131]

The organisational changes made by Woods increased the functional specialisation of the Railway Department. Separate branches were evolving to deal with specialised spheres of railway operations, and there was a growing need for a general manager to direct and co-ordinate 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 the political head, whilst called the Commissioner, was not in fact competent to perform this task, which required wide technical and managerial expertise.[132]

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.[133] The situation was made more complex when Francis 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. John 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 almost certainly 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.[134] His use of statistics was, however, very selective. The miles of line open are no indicator of how busy a railway is, and even the train miles worked gives no indication of the weight of goods carried, and therefore the wagon requirement. The best indication of the demand for wagons at the time is the tonnage of goods carried. When this figure is examined, it is found that the ratio of wagons available to thousands of tons of goods carried fluctuated between 1: 336 and 1:413 in the years 1868 to 1875. In 1876, the first year the shortage was seriously raised, this ratio jumped to 1:452, 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. (Appendix Three)

There was another slight increase over the following 18 months. Clearly, Victorian railwaymen were experiencing a tighter situation than they had become used to, but it is significant that the McCulloch Ministry, after hearing the complaint in 1876, went ahead with a Railway Construction Bill that put the greatest restriction yet on rolling stock for new lines. But the rolling stock shortage was not yet acute, so McCulloch was prepared to risk a potential shortage as the new lines were opened.[135] But when Woods raised the matter again less than a year later, the 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.[136] He claimed he had had to stop a train a day on the Gippsland railway, and decline to run a midday train to Colac because of the locomotive and rolling stock shortages.[137] Nevertheless, some indication of the real intensity of the shortage is given by his simultaneous action of quietly introducing express trains, first from Melbourne to his own electorate at Stawell, followed by services to Sandhurst and the North East.[138] That there was some strain on the rolling stock fleet is evident, but it is also true that Woods was able to make the most of the situation to procure more modern vehicles.

Whereas many of Woods’ views on engineering and management were new to the Railway Department, 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. Within his Ministerial responsibility, this atheistic, anti-squatter Chartist[139] limited his radical initiatives to the construction of a few miles of the Horsham line without ballast.[140] 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: refusal to sanction the construction of branch lines into grazing districts, and encouragement of fledgling railway unionism.

Politically, Woods was one of the most radical Ministers in a radical government.[141] 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,[142] 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. They resented the recruitment of a man directly into a drivers job over existing men who had spent years as cleaners and firemen.[143] The dismissal of some men from the Williamstown Workshops sometime after William Meikle took over was a separate matter, further fuelled by 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.[144]

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 his appointment as Commissioner for a second time he encouraged another railway union, the Victorian Railway Employés Association (VREA), which it was alleged he helped found during 1879. From its inaugural meeting on 17th March 1879 its membership grew rapidly, reaching about 2,000 in three months.[145] Unlike the enginemen’s association (the EDFA), the VREA embraced a wide range of railway occupations, and was the first railway union of its kind in the colonies.[146] 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,[147] but the enginemen’s association survived by allowing Duncan Gillies, the new Commissioner, to vet its rules.[148] 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: The Ford Case

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,[149] whom he left to carry on his pet projects; the re-arrangement of the Spencer Street Terminal, and the fitting of his hydraulic brakes. When Duncan 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 re-appoint Thomas Higinbotham as Engineer-in-Chief in place of Robert 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 decided instead to resign.[150] Whereas Watson and Higinbotham were both conservative engineers and had worked together for many years, in recent years they had favoured mutually exclusive plans for Melbourne’s passenger and goods terminals. Watson agreed with Woods and Ford, and as Engineer-in-Chief after Thomas Higinbotham’s dismissal on Black Wednesday, he oversaw the dramatic changes to Melbourne Yard. The offer of working subordinate to Higinbotham must have been unpalatable, leaving him little option but resignation. It left him smarting at his ‘ungenerous treatment’,[151] and 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.[152]

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.[153] 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.[154] The Engineer for Construction was widely regarded as a most efficient officer,[155] 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’[156]; but no, 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.[157] Neither did he go quietly. He took certain accounts with him and wrote a long reply, ‘violently assailing’ the Engineer-in-Chief.[158]

Engineer for Construction, Robert Gray Ford
Engineer for Construction, Robert Gray Ford[159]

Worried about the Bain and Sons contract, Higinbotham approached a dozen ironworks and sought quotes to manufacture the same point levers as 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.[160] 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[161] 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.[162] But Duncan 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’.[163]

He abolished the position of Engineer for Construction and Ford was retrenched with a compensation package.[164] Higinbotham’s loyal colleague William Greene took over Ford’s responsibilities, with the position re-titled Resident Engineer. In effect, however, it was the Engineer for Construction’s job, for the days of Resident Engineers had passed.[165]

The Bain case festered over the next few months, as 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 Mr. Nimmo obliged in question time on 11th June. Later that same day, Duncan 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’.[166] 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.[167] 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.’ He 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 so the yard could be straightened out, the point levers had to be made elsewhere, this supposedly further increasing costs.[168] Instead of a Select Committee, he called for a Royal Commission, which would be empowered to take evidence under oath.[169] Graham Berry, now leader of the Opposition, followed 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?’ [170] 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.’ After calling for an inquiry, as much to vindicate Watson, who as Engineer-in-Chief during Woods’s commissionership was ultimately responsible for the Melbourne Yard works, Zeal concluded that Ford’s treatment was ‘un-English and unmanly’ and ‘striking an opponent below the belt.’ [171] 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.[172] 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’.[173] 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.’ [174]

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 [John 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.’[175]

Regarding Ford’s delay in responding to his superior’s directions, The Argus wondered ‘where was he hiding’.[176] And so the invective went, poisoning relationships, disturbing the railway offices and silently inducing deadly stress in Thomas Higinbotham. Robert 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’.[177] 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’.[178] 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,[179] 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. 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.[180] 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 John Woods’ and Robert Ford’s doings, so the Royal Commission was quashed.[181] However, Bain’s claim was still outstanding and the government was still encountering flak over the apparent preference given the company.[182] 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’.[183] The Argus was skeptical, noting;

‘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.’[184]

The Argus was right. After interviewing only two railwaymen – Lang, an inspector and Robert 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.’ [185] On the same day Patterson tabled the Board’s report, he instructed Higinbotham to replace William Greene with Robert Ford.[186] 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.[187] It was to no avail, for Patterson was convinced Ford should be re-instated, and the radicals needed their man back in the department. Thomas 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.’ [188] Robert Ford returned on Monday as Engineer for Construction, and Acting Engineer-in-Chief.[189] But if he thought that was the end of the matter, he was deluded.

Melbourne Punch, 16 September 1880, p5. On Higinbotham’s death:- Grim Reaper’s sash reads ‘Black Wednesday’. The newspaper headline is ‘Ford’s Reinstatement’. Comment – ‘Died of Natural Causes – Verdict of Coroner’s Jury’ .


  1. V.P.D., 1873, Vol. 17, p.1719.

  2. V.P.D., 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. V.P.P., 1873, Vol. 3, No.86. ‘Correspondence and Return Relative to Proposed Lines of Railway’. 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. Appendix 2. List showing the nature and amount of contracts, p.19. Contract No.1127, p.63.
  6. Leo Harrigan, Op. Cit., p.180, 182.
  7. Company Prospectus, Op. cit., p.5.
  8. ‘Correspondence and Return Relative to Proposed Lines of Railway’. Op. Cit.
  9. ‘Correspondence and Return Relative to Proposed Lines of Railway’. Op. Cit.

    Beardsell and Herbert, Op. Cit., p.9.

  10. Leo Harrigan, Op. Cit., 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. Leo Harrigan, Op. Cit., p.48.
  12. ‘Correspondence and Return Relative to Proposed Lines of Railway’. Op. Cit.
  13. ‘Correspondence and Return Relative to Proposed Lines of Railway’. Op. Cit.
  14. ‘Correspondence and Return Relative to Proposed Lines of Railway’. Op. Cit.
  15. V.P.D., 1873, Vol. 17, p.1860.
  16. Beardsell and Herbert, Op. Cit., p.9.
  17. Beardsell and Herbert, Op. Cit., p.9.
  18. ‘Correspondence and Return Relative to Proposed Lines of Railway’. Op. Cit.
  19. V.P.D., 1873, Vol. 17, p.1722-23.
  20. V.P.D., 1873, Vol. 17, p.1722-23. 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 of the Board of Land and Works for the Year Ended 31 December 1869. Appendix 2; and Year Ended 30 June 1973, Appendix 13.
  22. Leo Harrigan, Op. Cit., p.285.
  23. The Age, Friday 1 December 1893, p.5.

    V.P.P., 1882-83, Vol. 1, C7. ‘Victorian Railways, Branches and offices’ and C.14, ‘Public Departments – Persons Employed’ p.43.

    V.P.P., 1878, Vol. 1, C2. ‘Officers of Railways and Public Works Departments whose services have been dispensed with’.

  24. The Argus, Friday 31 October 1873, p.6.

    ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., Q.1094, p.27. Regarding Thomas Higinbotham’s attempted resignation in 1866.

  25. The Argus, Friday 23 January 1874, p.5., and Tuesday 27 January 1874, p.7.
  26. The Argus, Monday 2 March 1874, p.6, and Wednesday 11 March 1874, p.5.
  27. ‘Report of the Observations on Railways’, Op.Cit.
  28. The Argus, Saturday 14 March 1874, p.7.
  29. V.P.D., 1874, Vol. 18, p.543-544.
  30. Keith Turton, Op. Cit., p.30.
  31. V.P.D., 1874, Vol. 18, p.544.
  32. V.P.D., 1874, Vol. 18, p.676.
  33. V.P.P., 1867, Vol. 3, No.1. ‘Civil Establishment of the Colony of Victoria for the Year 1865’, p.55-58.
  34. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., Q.7610-7618, p.208. 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.
  35. ‘Report on the Select Committee on Railway Contracts’, Op. Cit., 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.
  36. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit. Watson actually called him a ‘tyro’.
  37. ‘Civil Establishment of the Colony of Victoria for the Year 1865’, Op. Cit., p.58.

    V.P.P., 1867, Vol. 4, No.40. ‘Civil Establishment of the Colony of Victoria for the Year 1866’, 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.

  38. Argus, Friday 12 April 1872, p.6.
  39. Age, Friday 12 April 1872, p.3.
  40. McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, Friday 4 January 1867, p.3.
  41. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., p.83.
  42. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., p.83.
  43. V.P.D., 1874, Vol. 18, p.545. Comment by Mr. G.V. Smith, 30 June.
  44. V.P.D., 1884, Vol. 47, p.1786.
  45. V.P.P., 1878, Vol. 3, No.57. ‘Echuca Bridge; Report of the Royal Commission’, 19 September 1879. Appendix G, p.80.
  46. H.G. Turner, Op. Cit., p.170.
  47. H.G. Turner, Op. Cit., p.183.
  48. Beardsell and Herbert, Op. Cit., p.14.
  49. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., Q.5714-5717, p.154-5, Q.5830, p.159.
  50. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the Year Ended 31 December 1877. The plan appears as an Appendix which also includes a plan of the existing terminal.
  51. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., Q.5989-5990, p.163.
  52. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., Q.5714, p.155.
  53. Beardsell and Herbert, Op. Cit., p.14.
  54. The Argus, Wednesday 17 May 1876, p.5.
  55. H.G. Turner, Op. Cit., p.183.
  56. The Avoca Mail, Tuesday 5 April 1892, page 2.

    The Argus, Monday 4 April 1892, page 5.

    Table Talk, Friday 8 April 1892, page 1.

    The Age, Monday 4 April 1892, page 6.

    Jill Eastwood, “John Woods”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol.6, 1851-1890, R-Z, p.434-435.

  57. V.P.D., 1871, Vol. 12, p.155-167, 219-228.

    The Age, Thursday 18 May 1871, p.2.

  58. See Chapter 4.
  59. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., Q.5717, p.156.

    ‘Report of the Observations on Railways’, Op. Cit., p.11.

  60. Leo Harrigan, Op. Cit., p.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.
  61. The Herald, Thursday 7 January 1875, p.3.

    The Ballarat Star, Friday 6 June 1890, p.2.

  62. The Argus, Friday 27 January 1882, p.5.
  63. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., Q. 5540-5541, 5496. p.149-150.
  64. V.P.P., 1876, Vol. 3, No.53. ‘Negotiations between the Government of Victoria and the Melbourne and Hobsons Bay United Railway Company for the Purchase of their Property’. Correspondence opened with a letter of 7 July 1876, and ran until December 1876, including reports by Thomas Higinbotham and William Meikle.
  65. H.G. Turner, Op. Cit., p.112, 139, 185, 187.
  66. E.E. Morris, Op. Cit., p.40-41, 269.
  67. H.G. Turner, Op. Cit., p.188.
  68. Beardsell and Herbert, Op. Cit., p.14-15.
  69. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the Year Ended 31 December 1876. The warnings were published in the report.
  70. V.P.D., 1877, Vol. 26, p.150-151.
  71. V.P.D., 1876, Vol. 25, p.1428.

    G.H. Eardly ‘The Deniliquin and Moama Railway Company’, ARHS Bulletin, No.280, February 1961, p.21-25.

    The Age, Saturday 25 November 1893, p.3

    Kathleen Thompson and Geoffrey Searle, Op. Cit., p.234-235.

  72. V.P.D., 1876, Vol. 25, p.1426.
  73. The Argus, Friday 22 December 1876, p.7.
  74. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., Q. 6166, p.168.
  75. Leo Harrigan, Op. Cit., p.274.
  76. The Argus, Wednesday 18 October 1876, p.9.

    The Age, Wednesday 18 October 1876, p.2.

  77. V.P.D., 1877-78, Vol. 27, p.2323-2424.
  78. O.S. Nock. The Great Northern Railway, (London, 1958), p.102-104. Nock discusses how Higinbotham’s previous employer, the GNR, held out against continuous brakes.
  79. H.G. Turner, Op. Cit., p.191. Sixty members of the 86 elected were Berry’s group.
  80. The Argus, Saturday 2 June 1877, p.7.
  81. The Argus, Thursday 20 December 1877, p.4.
  82. Wednesday 29 August 1877, p.4.
  83. The section from Sale to Morwell was opened on 1 June 1877.
  84. V.P.D., 1876, Vol. 25, p.1430, 1432, 1749.
  85. The Argus, Thursday 23 August 1877, p.9, and Wednesday 29 August 1877, p.4.
  86. V.P.D., 1877-78, Vol. 26, p.173, 1015-1036.

    V.P.D., 1876, Vol. 25, p.1429.

  87. 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

  88. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the Year Ended 31 December 1876, p.8-9.

    ‘Report of the Observations on Railways’, Op. Cit., p.29.

  89. V.P.D., 187-78, Vol. 27, p.1242, 1266-67.

    Leo Harrigan, Op. Cit, 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.

  90. The Argus, Friday 8 June 1877, p.5.
  91. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the Year Ended 31 December 1877. Appendix 3, p. 33.
  92. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the year Ended, data tabulated over five reports 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, Op. Cit., p.204. Copy of statement by the Railway Accountant giving the landed cost of the American 4-4-0’s built by Rogers, New Jersey as £2,645 each.

  93. V.P.D., 1877-78, Vol. 26, p.1320.
  94. Victorian Railways File 1/128, 1870.
  95. Jill Eastwood, “John Woods”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol.6, 1851-1890, R-Z, p.434-435.
  96. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., Q. 5718, p.155.
  97. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the Year Ended 31 December 1877. Appendix 3, p. 34.
  98. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the Year Ended 31 December 1878. Appendix 4, p. 32.
  99. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the Year Ended 31 December 1877. p.7.
  100. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the year Ended 31 December 1878. p.7.
  101. V.P.D., 1877-78, Vol. 26, p.1037, and Vol. 27, p.1635, 1863-66.
  102. Geoffrey Blainey. A History of Victoria. (Cambridge University Press) 2006). p88.
  103. The Age, Wednesday 9 January 1878, p.2.
  104. The Melbourne Punch, Thursday 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’.
  105. Geoffrey Blainey

    ‘A City’s Story Told One Day at a Time’. The Age, 4 March 2013.

  106. The Argus, Wednesday 9 January 1878, p.4.
  107. The Melbourne Punch, Thursday 10 January 1878, p.3.
  108. The Age, Wednesday 9 January 1878, p.3.
  109. The Argus, Monday 26 November 1877, p.5.
  110. Leo Harrigan, Op. Cit, p.276.
  111. The Age, Wednesday 9 January 1878, p.2.
  112. The Argus, Wednesday 9 January 1878, p.4.
  113. V.P.P., 1878, Vol. 1, C.2. ‘Officers of Railways and Public Works Departments whose services have been dispensed with’. A total of 55 railwaymen, together with the Inspecting Engineers in Britain, were dismissed for a total annual saving of £17,507/13/5d.
  114. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., Q. 415, p.11., Q.1407, p.35 and Q.2947, p.77.

    The Argus, Saturday 14 September 1878, p.8. Reports the gazetting of Ford’s new role as Engineer for Construction on Friday 13th September 1878.

  115. H.G. Turner, Op. Cit., p.199. Turner states that ‘one Minister of the Crown openly declared that in the dismissal of Thomas Higinbotham he had ‘had his revenge’. In regard to the dismissals generally, he asserts (p.198) that ‘Popular opinion at the time fixed the blame primarily on Berry, Lalor, Duffy, Longmore, Woods and trench…’

    Alfred Deakin, Op. Cit., p.18-19. Quoted by J.E, Parnaby, Op. cit., p.366. Deakin claimed that ‘The choice of the persons discharged in the Departments was left to the individual Ministers and but roughly revised by cabinet…’

  116. The Argus, Monday 25 February 1878, p.4.
  117. ‘Echuca Bridge; Report of the Royal Commission’, Op. Cit., especially p. vii – ix, 53.
  118. ‘Echuca Bridge; Report of the Royal Commission’, Op. Cit., Appendix G, p.80.
  119. ‘Echuca Bridge; Report of the Royal Commission’, Op. Cit., Appendix G, p.80.
  120. V.P.D., 1878, Vol. 27, p.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.
  121. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the Year Ended 31 December 1877,p.27., and Year Ended
    31 December 1878, p.19.
  122. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the year Ended 31 December 1877, p.25 and Year Ended 31 December 1878,p.19.

    ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., Q.5274, p.141.

    Leo Harrigan, Op. Cit., p.276-279.

  123. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the Year Ended 31 December 1864, Appendix 2, p.22.
  124. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the Year Ended 31 December 1870, Appendix 2, p.22. Contracts 1379-1381.
  125. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the Year Ended 30 June 1872, Appendix 2, p.10. Contracts No.1.
  126. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the Year Ended 30 June 1874, Appendix 3, p.15. Contracts No.119.
  127. The Argus, Thursday 25 January 1866, p.4.
  128. The Geelong Advertiser, Monday 24 December 1877, p.4.
  129. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the Year Ended 31 December 1878, Appendix 2, p.26.
  130. C.D. Gavan Duffy, ‘The Block System in Victoria’, ARHS Bulletin, No.281, (March, 1961), p.43.
  131. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the Year Ended 31 December 1878 and 31 December 1879. Appendix 3.

    Keith Turton, Op. Cit., p.112.

    Leo Harrigan, Op. Cit.p.10-12.

  132. R.L. Wettenhall, Op. cit., p.278.
  133. V.P.D., 1871, Vol. 13, p.1825. Statement by Mr. Vale, 14 November.

    Leo Harrigan, Op. Cit., p.276.

  134. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the Six Months Ended 31 December 1876, p.6-7.
  135. 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. But the Argus extracts in the J.C.M. Rolland Collection contain few, if any, references to wagon shortages during the 1870’s.
  136. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the Six Months Ended 31 December 1878, p.8.
  137. V.P.D., 1877-78, Vol. 27, p.1705, Mr. Woods, 29 November 1877.
  138. The Argus. Friday 5 October 1877, p.4.
  139. J.E. Parnaby, Op. Cit., p.334, 336.
  140. V.P.D., 1884, Vol. 47, p.1779, Mr. Woods.
  141. J.E. Parnaby, Op. Cit., p.62.
  142. The Argus, Monday 29 December 1879, p.5.
  143. J.C. Docherty, Op. Cit., p.14-15. 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.

  144. V.P.D., 1876, Vol. 23, p.1343, Messrs. Langridge, Woods and Hanna.
  145. The Argus, Wednesday 19 March 1879, p.5., Friday 4 July 1879, p.3.
  146. J.C. Docherty, Op. Cit., p.47.
  147. J.E. Parnaby, Op. Cit., p.62.

    J.C. Docherty, Op. Cit., p47.

  148. J.C. Docherty, Op. Cit., p.21.
  149. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., Q. 3116, 3119, p.82.
  150. The Argus, Thursday 1 April 1880, p.1.
  151. The Geelong Advertiser, Monday 6 September 1880, p3.
  152. Leo Harrigan, Op. Cit., p.276.
  153. The Argus, Wednesday 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.
  154. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., p.109. Q.4044, Robert Singleton’s evidence, and p.162-63, Q.5965 and 5974, R.G. Ford’s evidence.
  155. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., Q.2228, p.59. Q.7598-7599, p.207.
  156. Proverbs 15.1 KJV.
  157. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., Q.6077-80.
  158. The Argus, Thursday 24 June 1880, p.1.
  159. James A. Lerk. Robert Gray Ford: Colonial blacksmith, inventor, engineer and one time Bendigonian. Bendigo, 2007.p.6.
  160. The Argus, Thursday 24 June 1880, p.1.
  161. Leo Harrigan, Op. Cit., 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.
  162. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., Q.2584, 2611.
  163. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., Q.3124.
  164. The Williamstown Chronicle, Saturday 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.
  165. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., Q.3124-3124A, p.83, Q.6026-6035, p.164.
  166. The Argus, Friday 11 June 1880, p.6.
  167. The Argus, Friday 11 June 1880, p.6.
  168. The Argus, Wednesday 16 June 1880, p.9.
  169. The Argus, Wednesday 16 June 1880, p.9.
  170. The Age, Wednesday 16 June 1880, p.2.
  171. The Argus, Thursday 17 June 1880, p.6.
  172. The Argus, Monday 9 August 1880, p.4.
  173. The Age, Saturday 19 June 1880, p.6. Also printed on p.9 of The Argus same day.
  174. Ibid, Saturday 19 June 1880, p.6.
  175. The Argus, Monday 21 June 1880, p.4.
  176. The Argus, Monday 21 June 1880, p.4.
  177. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., Q.5288-5308, p.142-3; Q.5334, 5337, p.144; Q.5965-5988, p.162-3; Q.2611, p.69.
  178. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., Q.5299.
  179. The Argus, Wednesday 28 July 1880, p.6., and Monday 9 August 1880, p.4.
  180. H.G. Turner, Op. Cit., p211-212.
  181. The Argus, Friday 6 August 1880, p.6.
  182. The Argus, Saturday 14 August 1880, p.6.
  183. The Argus, Wednesday 25 August 1880, p.4.
  184. The Argus, Saturday 28 August 1880, p.6.
  185. The Argus, Thursday 2 September 1880, p.4 and p.7.
  186. ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Q.3124A, p.83.
  187. E.E. Morris, Op. Cit., p.270.
  188. The Argus, Tuesday 7 September 1880, p6.
  189. E.E. Morris, Op. Cit., p.270.

    ‘Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction’, Op. Cit., Appendix A, p.215; Q.2273, p.60; Q.2956, p.78.