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Chapter One


When Richard Trevithick drove his great clanking, hissing contraption along the Pen-y-Daren tramway in 1804, the railway age began. But another fifty years would pass before another steam driven contraption trundled a train from Elizabeth Street to Sandridge at the other end of the Earth.

Working replica of Stephenson’s ‘Locomotion No.1’ at Beamish Museum, 2010. Image by Dominic Wade – Flickr.

There were enormous technical difficulties that needed solution to make steam railways practical, and deep seated public skepticism, suspicion and fear about the new technology. George Stephenson was the first to overcome this, triumphantly driving his ‘Locomotion No.1’ from Shildon to Stockton at the head of the first public train in 1825, but many more obstacles remained.

The size of the crowd that cheered Stephenson on his way that auspicious September day in Durham County was equal to the whole colonial population of Australia,[1] then little more than fifty thousand, nearly half of them convicts, and all confined to Sydney and its hinterland or to Van Diemen’s Land.[2]

The event on the English coalfields went unreported in Australia. Four years later an even more momentous event occurred when the Liverpool and Manchester Railway conducted locomotive trials that were won by the Stephenson’s locomotive ‘Rocket’, but news of this took five months to reach Australia, first being reported by a Hobart newspaper.[3]

Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’ at Rainhill Trials 1829
Stephenson’s ‘Rocket’ at the Rainhill Trials. Painting courtesy Rainhill Railway and Heritage Society.

For the first time colonists heard about steam engines running at the astounding speed of 32 miles per hour (mph), but lacking the vital resources of capital and know-how they could only dream of witnessing such marvels in the antipodes. These could only be found in Great Britain, France and the United States and later the lesser industrialised nations, but by 1850 the basic elements of railway engineering and operation had been worked out, and the new technology was ready to conquer the world.

In the meantime the populations of Europeans and sheep in Australia grew, with four more colonies being established by 1851. Their economies were based on wool. Bullock drays loaded with supplies plodded up country to widely scattered homesteads from the colonial port-capitals, and returned laden with wool bales.

Bullock dray loaded with wool – slow but adequate

The trade was so dispersed that thousands of miles of railways would still not satisfy it, but so meagre that even if all the traffic were concentrated it might only finance a few hundred miles of line.[4]

There was an exception. In 1831 the Australian Agricultural Company built a short, iron-railed line from their coal pits in Newcastle to the ship loading staith on the Hunter River.

Australia's First Railway
The Australian Agricultural Company’s Newcastle Railway, 1831. State Library NSW.

The Newcastle line was a genuine railway, with rails imported from England similar to those then being used around Newcastle-on-Tyne. Instead of locomotives, the New South Wales line used a combination of rope haulage and gravity to move loaded wagons down to the ships and horses to haul the empties back to the pits. Like most of the pioneering railways in Britain, it was not a public line.[5]

A few years later, in 1836, a 4½ mile wooden railed tramway was built to carry supplies and passengers across the Tasman peninsula from Eaglehawk Neck to Port Arthur. It avoided a dangerous sea voyage around the peninsula, its four wheeled carriages being pushed by luckless convicts.

Convict Tramway Tasmania 1836
The Convict Tramway on the Tasman Peninsula 1836. Tasmanian Archives.

Attempts to start public railways in Australia were made as early as 1833, [6] but none were taken seriously until the late 1840’s, when the colonial legislatures in Sydney and Adelaide were each persuaded to incorporate a railway company. Both companies had trouble finding enough capital: the Sydney Railway Company was forced to make such drastic economies that its engineer resigned,[7] and the Adelaide company abandoned its enterprise to the government.[8] All this changed in 1851 with the discovery of gold.

Had Australian colonists been aware of what the Americans were doing there may have been other lines built in the Thirties and Forties. Almost from the outset, American engineers overcame the problem of low traffic density and shortage of capital by inventing locomotives and rolling stock which would run on the most rudimentary track. This was remarkably demonstrated during the Civil War, when a Confederate Captain took the locomotive ‘Texas’ in hot pursuit of some Union raiders who had stolen a train with its locomotive, the ‘General’. In describing this event, Alfred Bruce, Director of Steam Locomotive Engineering at the American Locomotive Company wrote:

‘The remarkable part of the race (or chase) was that it was run over a crooked track that had little or no ballast, laid with rails weighing less than 50 lb. per yard. Yet occasional bursts of speed well over 60 mph, without derailment, were reported. Moreover, the Texas was run in back-up position, with tender in front, for about 50 miles, which greatly increased the operating hazards’[9]

Contrast of American and English locomotives of the early 1850’s.

English locomotives were rigid, had a high centre of gravity, working parts between the frames, burnt coke and required high quality track, whereas the Americans developed a very flexible wood burning engine with a low centre of gravity and most working parts easily accessible. By using light weight rails and timber bridges, they lowered the cost per mile of railways to a fraction of a typical English main line, and by 1850 had built about 9,000 miles of railroad.[10] (They developed their own railway jargon too).

But the Australian colonies were British, and wedded to the ways things were done at ‘Home’. It was to take more than a century to gradually wean Australian railwaymen from the methods of the mother country and develop ways and means that worked in this vast, sparsely populated continent.

The Gauge Problem

The controversy about railway gauges erupted in 1844, when Birmingham merchants were confronted with expensive transhipping of their goods en route to and from Bristol. Bristol was in 7’ gauge territory, while Birmingham was the heart of the 4’8½” gauge network. The following year, the British government established a Royal Commission to report on the merits of the various gauges and recommend a standard. By far the largest mileage was laid to 4’8½” gauge but the 7’ broad gauge of the Great Western Railway was technically superior, permitting higher speed and greater safety.   Despite this the Gauge Commission opted for the status quo, and recommended that 4’8½” become standard for Great Britain, where by far the largest mileage was laid to that gauge. Nevertheless, they favoured wider gauges on technical grounds.[11] The advantage of these wider gauges was principally to the locomotives, which could have more room for machinery between the wheel frames. As late as 1950, steam locomotive design engineers still saw advantage in an extra three inches or so on the 4’8½” gauge.[12] In civil engineering terms, the difference of three to six inches on a gauge was negligible.

The British Parliament subsequently passed the Railway Regulation (Gauge) Act in August 1846, fixing 4’8½” as the gauge for Great Britain and 5’3” for Ireland.[13] But two years later Earl Grey, the Colonial Secretary, inexplicably recommended that 4’8½” gauge should be adopted in Australia. The Sydney Railway Company had engaged as its engineer Francis Shields, a surveyor with six years’ experience in the colony.[14] Shields, aware of colonial conditions and developments in the United Kingdom, persuaded the company to adopt the Irish gauge and proposed a light railway, explaining that 4’8½” gauge

‘…has long been complained of by practical persons, both from its rendering the manufacturing and repair of locomotive engines more difficult by crowding their machinery within too narrow a space…’[15]

His advice was accepted by the Colonial Secretary in London and in May 1850 the other colonies were instructed to follow suit, so for a time 5’3” was the official uniform gauge of Australia. .   The Goulburn railway was to be laid as a single track with wooden rails lined with iron straps, and bridges of timber, which may have sufficed for the modest traffic expected.  The company was battling to raise capital and it was all it could afford. In an attempt to further economise, salaries were reduced, and Shields resigned. His replacement, James Wallace, arrived in Sydney in July 1852, and quickly proceeded to scrap Shield’s plans.   Wallace wanted a proper railway like those at home, with double lines, heavy iron rails, masonry and iron bridges and good solid stations. He was aware that the balance problem that had plagued standard gauge locomotives had been overcome, and that powerful engines like the London and North Western’s ‘Bloomer’ class had proved the 4’8½” gauge was now quite safe for high speed running.   He therefore strongly recommended the re-adoption of 4’8½” gauge on the very mistaken grounds that the company would have to pay a 20 to 30 percent premium for locomotives built to 5’3” gauge.  Reputable British consulting engineers and locomotive builders might have been consulted, but it was a four to six months wait for a reply, depending on the ships available. He estimated the cost of a 15 mile duplicated railway to Parramatta at £218,420, which was ten times the capital the struggling Sydney Railway Company had so far managed to raise.   As a sweetener, he convinced the Directors to order Barlow rail, in the mistaken belief that this novel rail would obviate the need for sleepers; a significant economy.   There was no other experienced railway engineer in NSW to consult on these matters, or correct his assertion that India had adopted 4’8½” gauge: India was building to the broad 5’6” gauge, as was Spain, Chile, Brazil and Canada. Captive to Wallace’s advice, the Directors and the Legislative Council accepted all his suggestions. They were fully aware of the need for a uniform railway gauge with Victoria and South Australia, but assumed those colonies would follow their lead.   They were mistaken.[16]

In 1853 the isolation of the colonies made negotiating contentious issues difficult.   There was no telegraph linking colonial capitals, and the fastest communication was by sea.   But ships departed Sydney irregularly and took an average 8½ days to reach Melbourne.   Of the 18 voyages in July 1853, only five were steamers, and even they averaged four days. The slowest of the sailing ships took 18 days![17]

In Melbourne, Lieutenant Governor La Trobe consulted the three infant railway companies, seeking their views about 4’8½” gauge.   Only one suggested he follow the lead of NSW, so La Trobe decided to retain the status quo.   It has long been thought he did so because Victoria and South Australia had already ordered broad gauge locomotives and rolling stock, but this has been proved incorrect.   La Trobe must therefore bear some responsibility for the ensuing gauge muddle and the dashing of early hopes for uniform gauge, but as in NSW, there were few experienced railway engineers to advise him.[18] The cost to the Australian economy has been incalculable.

Private Enterprise Beginnings In Australia


The need and the stimulus to make railways were most keenly felt in Victoria, where the gold rush was most concentrated. The roads between Melbourne and the anchorages at Sandridge (Port Melbourne) and Williamstown were not up to the vast throngs of diggers and supplies that suddenly crammed them, movement being especially challenging in wet weather. The roads to the diggings were no better, which made the cost of transport astronomical. In 1854 it was estimated that £2-3 million was spent on moving goods to the goldfields.[19] A ton of flour could be bought at the already inflated price of £36 in Melbourne, but by the time it reached the goldfields it would fetch £100! [20] A small army of waggoneers was engaged in the trade, with over 2,000 bullock and horse drays working the Mount Alexander road alone.[21] The road was also fraught with danger: the cry ‘Stand and deliver!’ by a bushranger aiming a brace of pistols was all too familiar.[22]

‘Robbing the Mail’ by S.T.Gill.
‘Robbing the Mail’ by S.T.Gill. Gold Museum Collection.

Most desperate was the need for a railway to the port, which was jammed with shipping. Just twelve months after gold was found at Ballarat, the Melbourne and Hobson’s Bay Railway Company (M&HBR) was formed. Five months later on 20th January 1853, in one of the first pieces of legislation of the 18 month old self-governing colony, the company was incorporated to build and operate a 2¼ mile line from Elizabeth Street in Melbourne to Sandridge.

As the line was short even the adoption of solid English engineering meant the total capital sought was a manageable £100,000, and the company was able to start construction immediately and order four locomotives from Robert Stephenson & Co, of Newcastle-on-Tyne. Stephenson was a giant among railway engineers, so it is not surprising his firm was chosen. But the fledgling company was struggling financially and encountering difficulties in constructing the railway pier at Sandridge.

This led to the resignation of their engineer, W.S. Chauncey, and his replacement with 28 years old James Moore, who had worked on railway projects in England managed by his eminent uncle, Sir William Cubitt.[23] Moore supervised the building of the company’s first bridge over the Yarra River, and when delivery of the English locomotives was delayed, he cobbled together two locomotives. The first was adapted from a pile driver and mounted in a wagon. It worked, and commenced running construction trains on 2nd June 1854, even reaching speeds of 18 mph!

Victoria's first locomotive.
M&HBR makeshift pile driver locomotive at Elizabeth St. station in 1854 by S.T. Gill. State Library of Victoria H1076.

Encouraged, Moore designed a larger locomotive, using parts of a railway wagon and a paddle steamer. It was assembled by Robertson, Martin, Smith, & Co., with a simple boiler made by Langlands Port Philip Foundry, and was ready in ten weeks. A rather ungainly looking 0-2-4, with cylinders mounted between the frames and behind the driving wheels, it hauled the inaugural public train on 12th September 1854,[24] just two years and one month after the formation of the company.[25] By contrast, the basically similar Port Adelaide railway took eight years to fruition: there being no gold rush in South Australia there was no pressing need. The M&HBR’s locally built engines soldiered on bravely for three months before the crank axle of the larger one fractured ‘into a thousand atoms’.[26] The colonials had a bit to learn about locomotive construction, but the English engines were almost ready and services were restored on Christmas Day.[27]


A few weeks after authorising the M&HBR the Legislative Council approved two more railway schemes. The gold rush had created a frenzy of proposals to build railways into the interior.[28] Most amounted to nothing, but on 8th February 1853, just over eighteen months after the gold rush to the Mount Alexander (Castlemaine) and Bendigo diggings began,[29] the Melbourne, Mount Alexander and Murray River Railway Company (MMA&MRR) was authorised to build a railway.[30] On the same day the Geelong and Melbourne Railway Company (G&MR) was approved to build a line from Geelong to a junction with the MMA&MRR near Williamstown.[31] In all, this amounted to about 200 miles of trunk line railway, which was equivalent to the task given the Sydney Railway Company a little over three years previously. The Legislative Council of New South Wales had authorised the first railway in Australia on 10th October 1849, from Sydney south to Goulburn and ‘towards Bathurst’.[32] Both colonies bit off more than they could chew, especially given the thoroughly daunting tasks of raising the amount of capital to build railways of the kind that English engineers were recommending. Both in NSW and Victoria, the fledgling railway companies were forced to drastically curtail their ambitions. By 1853 the Sydney Railway Company had shelved the trunk lines and was concentrating on the 14 mile section between Sydney and Parramatta, but this took over five years to complete, not opening until September 1855.[33]

The MMA&MRR chose as their Engineer Charles Swyer, a 29 year old who had been in the colony less than a year. His qualifications were compelling: working for railways ‘all his life’, including a spell on the Liverpool and Manchester and other lines in Lancashire and Ireland. Most of his experience was with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, where he became a Resident Engineer, and claimed to have supervised the erection of about two hundred bridges and tunnels. Engaged on the handsome salary of £1,000 per annum,[34] he made a trial survey for a crossing of the Great Dividing Range and thought the task could be completed for £30,000 per mile. It was clear that Swyer was preparing to build a typical English main line, but first the company had to find the necessary funds. The inflated labour prices caused by the gold rush exacerbated matters: even the few miles between Spencer Street and Williamstown were estimated to cost £300,000. From the outset it was realised that funds of the magnitude needed could not be raised within the colony, where there were numerous avenues open for highly profitable investments with the promise of quick returns.[35] At the time negotiations between Australia and Britain were tortuous, with at least four months elapsing between the dispatch of a letter and the receipt of its reply. And that was with smooth sailing: the ships carrying the mail were none too reliable.[36] So sixteen months passed while the Directors tried to interest English capitalists in their scheme.

Given time and a measure of government support, the MMA&MRR might have resolved its problems, but their Engineer was adverse to cheaply built railways which were common in the United States and elsewhere.[37] American Forty-Niners were crossing the Pacific to the new goldfields and bringing news of their railroads. The Argus newspaper urged:

‘Every additional piece of information we obtain respecting the go-a-head spirit of Yankeeism, convinces us more firmly that Johnathon is our best exemplar in such matters’[38]


The Geelong and Melbourne Railway Company (G&MR) was demonstrating that private railway companies could successfully tackle the task of building trunk railways. It was authorised on 8th February 1853[39] and began construction only seven months later, attempting an easier task than the MMA&MRR: a more or less straight line of 40 miles over fairly level terrain with only one river and a few creeks to cross. But they chose a most inauspicious time to commence a large civil engineering work, as the lure of the goldfields was draining the labour pool. In mid-1854, in an effort to alleviate the labour shortage, the government hired them 100 convicts at five shillings each per day, or about half the going wage for unskilled labourers.[40] By then the company had placed substantial orders for equipment on English firms.

In 1853 the G&MR engaged as their engineer 33 years old Edward Snell,[41] who had been apprenticed as an engineer and millwright to Stothert’s Bath foundry as a boy of 14, and subsequently was employed as a draughtsman in the Great Western Railway’s Swindon workshops. Over six years he advanced to Head Draughtsman and then Deputy Works Manager at Swindon, under the famous Locomotive Superintendent, Daniel Gooch. Emigrating in 1849 with hopes of making his fortune in the colonies, he worked at various jobs before setting up as a consulting engineer and architect at Geelong in early 1853. He continued this private practice for a few years while also working as Engineer of the G&MR.[42]

Snell’s uncle George Stothert was a manager of the Bristol engineering firm of Stothert & Slaughter, so it was to family Snell turned for the G&MR’s first orders. Stothert was given the role of Engineering Inspector in England and also given orders for the first two locomotives. But in the four years Snell had been absent from the railway world things had moved on and his specifications for these locomotives were outdated. Stothert and Gooch found fault with the specifications and Gooch made some modifications,[43] but without knowledge of the true conditions these engines would encounter. When the completed locomotives arrived at Geelong aboard the big square rigged ship ‘Aallottar’ in November 1855 after a 16 week voyage,[44] onlookers must have been astonished! With single driving wheels of 6’6” diameter,[45] they were fittingly named ‘Typhoon’ and ‘Sirocco’ and could run freely at 60 mph.[46] They were capable of 70 mph.[47] Snell ordered two more 2-2-2 Singles from Robert Stephenson & Co., Newcastle, also with driving wheels of 6’6” diameter. (The South Australian Railways S class 4-4-0 had 6’6” driving wheels, and their 600 class 6’3” drivers, but no other Australian locomotive has had driving wheels greater than 6’1”, which became standard for Victorian Railways passenger engines). The four G&MR 2-2-2 Singles were Well Tank locomotives, carrying their water supply in small tanks slung under the boiler and footplate. With their huge wheels and small water supply they were manifestly unsuited for Australian conditions, but Snell’s only railway engineering experience had been with the Great Western, where very large driving wheels were common, gradients easy and the permanent way first class: it was the fastest railway in the world. A far cry from the G&MR’s line! Making his uncle the G&MR’s Inspecting Engineer was a mistake too. When George Stothert learned that Snell had placed his other locomotive orders with Stephenson’s and Hawthorn’s, he was so miffed that the company’s agent in London had to transfer the responsibility for inspections to Daniel Gooch. But Robert Stephenson could have made the ‘Typhoon’ and ‘Sirocco’ for £1,000 less! Snell placed orders for four goods 0-6-0’s and two mixed traffic 2-4-0’s with Robert Hawthorn & Co. Newcastle, these also being fitted with well tanks.[48]

Along with Snell’s first orders for rolling stock were orders for rails. His previous railway experience with the GWR at Swindon had been with locomotives and rolling stock, not with civil engineering. British engineers favoured a reversible double-headed rail profile, which had the apparent advantage of extended life. This was achieved by turning the rail upside down when the wear on one head became excessive. But these rails could not stand upright without special supports called chairs, which were spiked or bolted to the sleepers. The rail was held tight in the chairs by wooden wedges called keys, but these tended to work loose so the tracks had to be subject to frequent inspection and maintenance. The advantage of reversing the rail also proved elusive, as the underside was often damaged by resting in the iron chair.

A simplified system that found favour in America was the flat-bottomed rail invented by Charles Vignoles in 1837, and sometimes referred to by his name.[49] This rail could stand upright without the need of expensive chairs as it was fastened directly to the sleepers by dog spikes.

Its chief advantages were lower first cost, being about 12 per cent cheaper than double headed rails of the same weight. It also required a less exacting inspection regime.[50] A perceived disadvantage was its perceived shorter life, but it was the rail of choice in the Americas.

Left: Double-headed or Bullhead Rail with supporting chair and wooden key. Centre: Flat-bottom or Vignoles Rail dog spiked direct to sleeper. Right: Barlow Rail.

The M&HBR had adopted Vignoles rail for the Melbourne to Sandridge line,[51] which Snell would have seen before placing his first orders. Having built no railways and being out of touch with current developments, he ordered three rail types for the G&MR; about seven miles of what he called ‘foot rail’ and the London agent referred to as ‘American rail’. This was almost certainly flat-bottom or Vignoles rail. Snell’s two other rail orders were novel and worried the London agent, who was also a G&MR shareholder. One order for 500 tons of ‘Smiths patent’ the agent took the liberty of canceling outright, as untested, expensive and impractical. He also expressed doubts about Snell’s order for 300 tons of Barlow rail, having made investigations in England.[52] Patented the year Snell left England, the Barlow rail was rolled in a broad inverted V shape and was intended to be laid straight onto ballast, without the need for sleepers. For a time it was favoured by Brunel’s Great Western Railway.

It was the subject of a paper read to the Institute of Engineers in 1850, but its benefits proved illusory.[53] The headstrong James Wallace had ordered Barlow rail for the Sydney to Parramatta line in 1853[54] and may have influenced Snell to purchase a trial sample.[55] William Randle, the contractor who built the Parramatta line, was later scathing in his remarks about Barlow rail.[56] But the G&MR’s rail was already being laid at Geelong before the Parramatta line opened in September 1855, so the Barlow rail’s failings were not yet apparent. On Brunel’s recommendation the Adelaide City and Port Railway in South Australia took delivery of some Barlow rail in 1855, but only enough for a mile of track.[57] Snell was also careful to order only enough rail to lay two miles of line. Although some of the first rails sent were probably flat bottom Vignoles at £6 5s per ton,[58] Snell finally settled on 75 lb/yard [59] double-headed rail at £7 12s 6d per ton for the bulk of its construction.[60]

He was under pressure to finish the job quickly and economically and this, together with a lack of civil engineering experience led to some risk taking with bridges and drainage. The width of opening for the bridge over Koroit Creek was inadequate and a flood carried the bridge away on 31st January 1861.[61] Floods also overwhelmed the line causing washouts in a number of places.[62] But his most regrettable mistake was the design of the bridge over Cowie’s Creek. There was inadequate clearance on the timber lattice girders through which trains passed: just 16 inches from the carriage sides to the bridge timbers. This led to the death of Henry Walters, the G&MR Locomotive Superintendent. He was standing on the engine of the Governor’s special on opening day and while looking back as they approached the bridge he was knocked off.[63] Three years later a passenger received serious injuries when putting his head out the window at the same spot.[64] Snell was publicly criticised by Charles Swyer, who drew on his experience of bridge building in England to insist that a minimum gap of 30 inches was accepted practice, and that the Board of Trade had ordered some bridges with narrow clearance to be replaced.[65] Snell resigned, and rather curtly explained that he had only been contracted to build the railway, hence he had not resigned but his contract had ended.[66] His contract had been lucrative, earning him £17,000 in less than five years, and the following year he returned to England with assets that enabled him to live as a country gentleman and quite an accomplished artist.[67]

The G&MR cost £653,690, or about £16,340 per mile, stations and rolling stock included.[68] This cost was inflated because the line was made during four years of very high wages.[69] It was a substantial line of 40 miles, laid with heavy rails. The terminal at Geelong was provided with a wooden station building and a corrugated iron train shed over two platforms which was more imposing than any Melbourne station for decades to come. There was a goods shed, engine shed and workshops at Geelong, together with a railway pier into Corio Bay connected to the station by a short branch line. Snell’s bridges over Cowie’s Creek, Little River and the Werribee River were timber, probably to the bow string design soon after adopted by the M&HBR for the Falls Bridge over the Yarra. The intermediate stations were of timber, except Werribee, which was built in stone.[70] There were several minor derailments during the line’s construction, and three in the first few weeks of public operation, the worst involving the upsetting of the locomotive ‘Typhoon’ and a carriage.[71] These were teething problems, most likely caused by track that had not bedded down properly. ( Similar problems were experienced on the MMA&MMR’s Williamstown line, which by then had been taken over by the government ).[72] There were no serious injuries and the G&MR line thereafter functioned without serious mishap.

The line was opened progressively, initially to Duck Ponds (Lara) on 1st November 1856 and two months later to Little River. The last spike was driven by the G&MR president on 8th June 1857 near Laverton to the acclamation (and no doubt amusement) of the assembled navvies, and the big wheeled Single ‘Sirocco’ then took the first train through to Greenwich (Newport) to the surprise of locals. But the future of the line had been clouded two years previously by the Legislative Council, which had blocked further expansion of the Geelong company. The Geelong Advertiser seized on the line’s opening to editorialise:-

‘…We may now congratulate ourselves, not only upon the disproof of the assertion that private enterprise has failed, but upon the fact that local energy has completed the first main line of railway in Victoria, and that too under very adverse circumstances. Having done so much, shall we permit the Ballarat line to be taken from us…?[73]

Opening the Geelong Railway 1857.
Opening of the G&MR in the corrugated iron train shed of Geelong Station 1855. An engraving of a drawing by Edward Snell. Museums Victoria MM070577.

Through public services started on 25th June 1857, for the first three months terminating at a wharf near the mouth of the Yarra via a mile long temporary branch from Greenwich (Newport). From 3rd October 1857 the G&MR trains were able to run through to the Williamstown Pier over the newly opened first section of the government line.[74] A steamer connection was initially provided up the Yarra to Queens Wharf in Melbourne.[75] From December the river steamer was replaced by the paddle steamer Comet, which ferried passengers from Williamstown across Hobson’s Bay to the Sandridge Pier, where an M&HBR train took them the final few miles to Elizabeth Street.[76] Throughout 1858 passengers between Melbourne and Geelong faced this journey of two trains and one ferry, but the journey became easier from 19th January 1859, when the government line was finally opened right through to Spencer Street, enabling G&MR trains to be worked direct to Melbourne.[77]

Slow Progress And Government Frustration

Railway promoters had initially accepted that the trunk lines would have to be built cheaply. An unsuccessful Bill introduced into the Legislative Council on 11th August 1852 proposed a line from Melbourne to Mount Alexander at £7,000 per mile.[78] The G&MR intended to capitalise their 40 mile line at £350,000, or £8,750 per mile.[79] The three initial railway companies were all incorporated in February 1853.

But just as Wallace had dampened the Sydney Railway Company’s hopes of building a line to Goulburn, Swyer’s estimates and inflated colonial wages put the kybosh on the MMA&MRR objective of reaching the goldfields. The task was so daunting they did not even attempt a detailed survey of their 150 mile line from Melbourne to the Murray River, deciding instead to concentrate their limited resources on the short but expensive section from Melbourne to Williamstown.[80]

Hobson’s Bay (1860) by Thomas Robertson.
Hobson’s Bay (1860) by Thomas Robertson. There are thirty ships, a steam tug and three prison hulks in this scene. National Gallery of Victoria.

Meanwhile the M&HBR had encountered serious problems with the construction of a pier at Sandridge. Quicksand had brought work to a standstill and threw the ultimate success of the line into doubt, for without the pier ships would not transfer their cargo to the railway and the line would be a failure.[81] Williamstown was the alternative and more favoured port, but the MMA&MRR was bogged down seeking finance and work was slow to start on their line. Desperate for a railway link between Melbourne and its port, the government moved to purchase the company and complete the line itself.[82] The threat galvanised the company to find enough money to make a start, and the ‘turning of the first sod’ ceremony took place on 12th June 1854, ten days after the competing M&HBR steamed up its first locomotive. By then their engineers had overcome the difficulties with Sandridge pier and the Hobson’s Bay line was soon in business.

Alarmed by the MMA&MRR’s failure to tackle its trunk line to the diggings, the government established a Commission to report on the best system of ‘Internal Communication’. The three man Commission was appointed on 6th June 1854, and examined 26 witnesses, including Swyer. All but two advised that railways of the most substantial character should be built, and the Commission reported three months later that the weight of evidence warranted their recommendation that double track lines of not less than £35,000 per mile would be prudent investments, and that in view of the failure of colonial capitalists to raise the funds necessary, the government should finance construction, and lease the completed lines to private operators.[83] Their cost estimate was five times that of the MMA&MRR promoters!

The Argus was outraged at the ignorance of the Victorian countryside shown by most of the engineers examined by the Commission. In a remarkably prophetic editorial it succinctly put the fundamental issue that would trouble railway policy makers and engineers in the colony for the next fifty years:

‘Engineer after engineer is examined, all of them bearing a high professional character, and most of them having been connected, in some shape or other, with the construction of railways in England; but, with one or two exceptions, it is astonishing to find how little they know of the actual state of this country.[84]

None of them, however, felt the ‘slightest pang of diffidence at giving their opinion’, and they took care to denigrate the cheap railways in America. The editor argued that the Americans adopted cheap lines out of necessity, because unlike England they did not have good turnpike roads to use while waiting for well-built railroads. Their concern was to access their resources as fast as possible, and building cheap railways enabled them to do so. Far from ‘being convinced of their error in laying down cheap lines’, the Americans had found that ‘easily and speedily-made roads are necessary for developing a country: expensive and slowly-constructed roads, to be worked at high speed, are practicable and necessary only in a country that is developed.’ Furthermore, ‘rarely, if ever’ were their lines renewed ‘till they had paid themselves, in some instances, several times over.’ The primary consideration, said The Argus, was time:

‘We are now paying between two and three millions per annum for carriage to the gold-fields alone. The object should be to get this reduced, and so effect an immediate economy.’

It concluded that it was not a question for the professional engineer, to whom ‘ultimate economy’ was the watchword, but for the public to decide. It complained that the Commission had paid no attention to the evidence of the two engineers who advocated light railways.[85]

South Australia Threatens The Gold Trade

But The Argus was about to do a complete volte-face. As this editorial was being written, Captain Thomas Cadell was bumping a paddle steamer over snags in the upper Murray River, over 1,300 miles from his home port of Goolwa, in South Australia. On 4th October 1854 he brought the PS Lady Augusta to within 22 miles of Albury, where he gave up and returned downstream.[86] The previous year Cadell and rival riverman William Randell had opened the river for navigation in a dramatic race to win a £2,000 prize offered by the South Australian government for the first steamer to reach the junction of the Murray and Darling Rivers.[87] Randell took his steamer as far as Hopwood’s Ferry, later the site of Echuca and only 50 miles from the Bendigo goldfields.[88] This was only eight months after the Victorian government had authorised the MMA&MRR to build a railway to the Murray, and when expert opinion held that the inland rivers were unnavigable. Despite several more trips up river by both Cadell and Randell the following year, a dismal inter-colonial government report of April 1854 found that ‘the navigation of the river, beyond its junction with the Darling, is not likely to be of any practical advantage in ordinary years…’. The success of Cadell and Randell was put down to the high water of two extremely wet years.[89] Cadell’s answer was to take his steamer several hundred miles past the previous limit of navigation, and news of this triumph sent shivers into the Victorian business establishment, because at a stroke it became cheaper to supply the goldfields from Adelaide than from Melbourne.

Paddle Steamer 'Lady Augusta' 1864
P.S. Lady Augusta at Hay NSW circa 1864. SLSA PRG-1258-1-1768.

The Argus warned that ‘not only would South Australia derive the chief benefit from the trade on these rivers, but the supply of our own northern frontier would be irrevocably lost to the Victorian merchants. It has generally been believed’ the report continued, ‘that this consummation, so much to be dreaded and deprecated, could be prevented only by a railway from Melbourne to the Murray, a distance of 150 miles.’[90] But the MMA&MRR, far from fearing the loss of trade, was hoping to link up its line near Echuca with an extension of the Sydney Railway Company’s projected line south from Goulburn. Echuca would then become the hub of a railway and river system linking the capitals of the three colonies.[91] No one colony would have monopolised the Riverina District, but the failure of the MMA&MRR to push their line over the Great Divide, and the success of the South Australian rivermen now posed a very real threat to the Melbourne establishment. South Australia would become the Louisiana of Australia, with Port Elliot as its New Orleans.

The Government Buyout Of The MMA&MRR

Randell was no sailor; from the outset his motivation had been to market the produce of his family’s flour mill at Gumeracka, near the Murray at Mannum.[92] Within a year he was supplying the Bendigo diggings and a number of new steamers and barges were being built for the trade. Throughout 1855 the rivermen steadily developed the northern Victorian market, and by September that year, Bendigo interests were projecting a railway of their own to the Murray, to link up with the South Australian steamers. It was estimated that goods could be delivered at Bendigo after this 1,400 mile journey for less than £10 per ton, substantially lower than the ‘tedious and expensive land carriage over bad common roads from Melbourne.’[93]

During 1855 The Argus pressured the government to take over construction of the trunk railways. Prominent in its columns was a series of articles to this effect by Richard Woolley, Secretary of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce, and a shareholder in the MMA&MRR. Woolley urged the company to sell the rights to the Mount Alexander and Murray River line back to the government. The money from the sale would help strengthen the finances for the Williamstown line. Contracts for £81,000 had been let for that line, the largest being of £57,000 for earthworks to carry the line across the Lagoon and West Melbourne Swamp between North Melbourne and the Saltwater (Maribyrnong) River.[94] It was the largest civil engineering project in the colony to that date, involving the excavation of 107,500 cubic yards of earth and using it to build an embankment across the lagoon.[95] But by February 1855 the company was having difficulty making payments. At a shareholders meeting that month, Woolley seconded a motion instructing the Directors to open negotiations with the government.[96] Only ten months before the shareholders had been almost unanimous in opposing a government takeover.

On Tuesday 30th May 1855, the Legislative Council adopted the report of the previous year’s Select Committee on Internal Communication, and determined that all trunk lines should henceforth be under government control, and no government guarantees of private railway dividends should be provided.[97] The Argus justified this with a weak editorial claiming that as private railways would necessarily be monopolies, they would be subject to the same inefficiencies as the civil service, but without the safety of Parliamentary oversight. The imperative on private companies to borrow only enough to function profitably was ignored.

The efforts of the G&MR and the M&HBR were denigrated without evidence, despite the very large orders for equipment already being made in England for the Geelong company and a surge of goods traffic on the Hobson’s Bay line. The M&HBR had yet to pay a dividend, yet in the four months February to May 1855, after completion of the Sandridge Pier, some 31 ships had unloaded cargo and created a surge of traffic for the infant railway.[98] This was clear evidence of a very profitable outlook. The real reason was the fear expressed by The Argus; the ‘alternative really is that of Government railways – or of no railways at all.

The influence of Richard Woolley should not be overlooked either. Noted The Argus:-

‘Mr. Woolley, the able secretary to the Chamber of Commerce, strongly advocates placing Victorian railways under Government management; and we believe the Chamber, in some of its debates about things in general, has pledged itself to the same opinion.’ [99]

He and the other shareholders had a lot to lose if the MMA&MRR went broke, and much to gain from a government buyout.

There was fierce rivalry between Melbourne and Geelong, but the latter’s interests were overwhelmed in the Legislative Council. Earlier the same month James Harrison, the member for Geelong, owner of the Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer and an engineer,[100] had tried to introduce a Bill authorising the Geelong Ballarat and North Western Railway Company (GB&NWR), an extension of the G&MR and probably with similar shareholders. He was voted down 19 to five.[101] The Bill had been before the Legislative Council for eight or nine months, with clear support from Geelong interests.[102] The G&MR responded immediately with a letter published in Melbourne and Geelong, detailing construction progress and listing contract commitments amounting to £351,884 and observing

‘the first cost of any public work may be increased to almost any extent to the satisfaction of the Contractors and all parties concerned, except those who have to pay for it, and it is a fact, patent to all the Colony, that public works have been let by the Government at prices considerably higher than is necessary to ensure their satisfactory completion.’ [103]

If a government buyout of the MMA&MRR seemed the only way to prevent the drift of trade to South Australia, there was no pressing reason for the government to assume responsibility for making all the trunk lines, especially that to Ballarat. It was argued that the Geelong and Melbourne line traversed easy country, and that much more difficult and expensive engineering would be required on the trunk lines, which had to surmount the Great Divide.[104] It was a grossly overstated argument, particularly in the case of the Geelong to Ballarat route which followed a gently sloping inclined plain with only one stream to cross in its 55 miles. In contrast, the G&MR’s line was not as easy as it appeared to a layman, crossing a plain embedded with large basalt boulders and bridging five small streams and the Werribee River. Furthermore, the GB&NWR had already surveyed the difficult parts of the Ballarat route and knew their project was feasible. Given a pier and railway yards were already in place at Geelong, the private company was also in a position to rapidly mobilise its construction teams and equipment. Harrison tried to get the Bill through again a few days later, but was voted down, this time 27 to seven.[105]

But the government still hesitated to buyout the MMA&MRR and The Argus continued crying that the ‘question of a railway to the Murray is the “to be or not to be” of Melbourne’.[106] So an offer for the assets was made and the shareholders accepted on 28th November 1855. A Bill authorising the purchase was introduced on 7th February 1856 and was passed on 19th March 1856, giving birth to the Victorian Railways Department.[107] It was to prove a very expensive child.

If the colonists expected that government ownership would quickly solve the problem of getting a line to the goldfields, they were soon disillusioned. The initial delay was caused by the establishment of the Legislative Assembly and the first democratic elections to choose its members. These were not held until September and October 1856, and it was early in the new year of 1857 before the new Parliament was ready to decide how it would tackle the question of trunk lines. Its decision was to create another Select Committee, so the rest of 1857 was frittered away examining witnesses, writing reports and debating. It was not until 24th November that Acts were passed authorising the government to build the Melbourne to Murray River, and Geelong to Ballarat railways, which were to be English in every respect, with double lines and heavy engineering works. Where the MMA&MRR had foundered trying to raise £1,000,000 the government now decided to borrow £8,000,000![108]

Nationalisation Of The G&MR

The G&MR shareholders had been denied all hope of a profitable return by the government’s action in choking off their aspirations to tap the lucrative goldfields traffic with an extension to Ballarat. They were also facing competition from Bay steamers, which many preferred to the convoluted mix of train and ferry prior to through working to Spencer Street. Had the Legislative Council authorised the GB&NWR in 1855, its construction   would likely have been commenced immediately. A single line might have been built within two years, providing the G&MR with a profitable income stream, but denied this the company made a loss on working of £34,840 and cost the government £72,770 in guaranteed interest payments.[109] After protracted negotiations the shareholders, seven eighths of whom were in England, agreed to a government offer to purchase their paid-up capital of £350,000 plus interest, and for the government to discharge all the outstanding liabilities, the total cost of the takeover being almost £800,000.[110] But that was only the beginning.

The G&MR had achieved more than any other railway undertaking in Australia, and provided politicians and government engineers an example of what might be done to make affordable railways, but despite Snell’s engineering credentials being as good as any of theirs, his efforts were rejected out of hand. Government engineers denigrated the G&MR from the start, and after the takeover on 3rd September 1860[111] they commenced rebuilding to their standards. To do this the government borrowed a further £300,000 ‘for repairs’ to the G&MR line![112]

The G&MR was by far the longest railway then running in Australia and its employees and the people of Geelong expected they would carry on after the takeover, as before. It was not to be. Nearly all the men were dismissed and most of the rolling stock and equipment moved to the government workshops at Williamstown. James Harrison editorialised the disappointment at this centralisation by Melbourne interests:-

‘Despite what has been said to the contrary, both the permanent way and rolling stock of the company were in good order and condition when the transfer was made.’ [113]

Also aggrieved were the Sabbath Observance Society faithful, as the government commenced to run Geelong trains on Sunday.[114]

Over the next few years the bridges over the Skeleton, Kororoit and Cowie’s Creeks were all renewed in stone and iron, and 31 wooden culverts were similarly replaced. Resleepering was carried out, a bluestone station was built at Little River and improvements were made to the Geelong station. These works alone cost £45,800.[115]

Ongoing track renovations and the duplication of the line from Geelong to the junction of the Ballarat line raised this to £165,870 by 31st October 1864.[116]

These works were outlined in the Engineer-in-Chief’s report:-

‘A very large part of the sleepers were quite rotten; these have been removed and replaced with sound sleepers; the embankments have been raised in several places where they were below the level of floods, and additional openings for the passage of the flood waters have been made. Tenders have been invited for a new pier at Geelong; the present pier, which was built of bad timber, is now quite rotten, and having been placed in the shallowest water, is, from that cause alone, useless. The plans and specifications for the widening of the line between Geelong and West Geelong are nearly ready, and tenders will be called for shortly.’ [117]

Was this really the case? There was nothing wrong with the rails laid by the G&MR; they served until the mid-1880’s. That the sleepers needed replacement was not a fault of the G&MR alone; the government lines and the M&HBR were replacing prematurely rotten sleepers too, as it had yet to be understood which varieties of Australian hardwood should be used, and how sleepers should be prepared and laid.[118]

That the wooden bridges needed immediate replacement is dubious, except in the case of Cowie’s Creek, where the clearance was totally inadequate. After the Kororoit Creek bridge had been damaged by floods, the line was reopened in twelve days. [119] The same floods that caused washouts on Snell’s line caused washouts on the government lines.[120] The hamlet of Little River would have been well enough served by Snell’s timber buildings, but an impressive stone station and goods shed were somehow deemed necessary by government engineers.[121] A decade later the condition of the G&MR at takeover would have been considered fit for purpose and only the most pressing repairs sanctioned. That the colony paid heavily for the nationalisation of the G&MR is indisputable. Had its extension to Ballarat been approved it is arguable that private capital would have built lines to the goldfields around Maryborough, Avoca and Stawell a decade before the government achieved the same result with cheap railways made to a much lesser standard than the G&MR. In Argentina, British capital was extending private railways all over the Pampas. There was no intrinsic reason why the same could not have occurred in South-Eastern Australia.

Darbyshire And The Government Trunk Lines

The incorporation of the MMA&MRR into the Victorian Railways brought Charles Swyer into government employment, but George Christian Darbyshire was appointed Engineer-in-Chief. Swyer was given the post of Acting Engineer and continued to supervise construction of the Williamstown line.[122] At 36, Darbyshire was about two years older than Swyer, but had been directing the labours of sixteen government survey teams mapping out the first trunk lines since March the previous year. Darbyshire received his training in the firms of three giants of English engineering, during the railway mania of the 1840’s. At first he worked for Charles Vignoles, on the surveying of the London and Dover line. At the age of 25, he joined George Stephenson’s firm as a junior assistant engineer on the construction of the Manchester to Derby line. After six years, he joined John Rennie’s firm, surveying lines in England. In 1853 he moved to Victoria, where he was employed by the Surveyor General’s Department.

George Christian Darbyshire
George Christian Darbyshire Engineer-in-Chief circa 1860.

Darbyshire was made Engineer in charge of Railway Surveys on 31st March 1855, and his team mapped and surveyed over 700 miles of alternative routes to standards similar to those he had worked with in England. But he had not qualified as a member of any professional association, and his appointment as Engineer-in-Chief was criticised by The Age.[123] He and Swyer were among eight railway engineers officially appointed on 6th May 1856.[124] His long career with the railways was to include two retrenchments. Among the eight, Robert Watson and William Green were to hold senior positions for over thirty years, William Hardie served over twenty years and Frederick Christy shaped the locomotive branch for a decade. William Zeal maintained a long involvement in railway affairs, but his career with the Victorian Railways was brief. Probably the most experienced civil engineer of them all was Charles Swyer, but he did not get along with his Chief and resigned after five months.[125] About the time of his resignation Swyer had adjudicated a competition sponsored by the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce, which offered a £50 prize for an essay on the best routes from Melbourne into the Colony’s interior.[126] Darbyshire had already surveyed these routes, and the two men were treading on each other’s toes. While in government employ, Swyer was also surveying a line for the St. Kilda and Brighton Railway and had been that company’s engineer since early 1856. He was also consulting as an architect, and was made Treasurer of the Victorian Institute of Architects shortly before his resignation from the Victorian Railways.[127]

All these engineers were young men looking for career opportunity far from home. Darbyshire’s appointment clearly showed the scarcity of engineering talent in the Colony, but also the naivety of the infant colonial administration, that they should put such gigantic public works in the hands of a surveyor, who had only six years’ experience as a railway engineer – and then at a junior level. Perhaps in an effort to fill the competence vacuum, they also engaged a consulting engineer in England. This was none other than Isambard Kingdom Brunel, architect of the broad gauge Great Western Railway, and arguably the greatest engineer of the age.[128] Brunel was no skinflint; his seven foot gauge lines were among the most expensive constructed in Britain, and under his remote control, the nine miles from Melbourne to Williamstown were completed as a monument to durability. The pièce de résistance was the £90,000 wrought iron bridge over the Saltwater River with its single span of 200 feet. Even the trickle of Stony Creek near Yarraville was graced by a masonry and iron bridge worth over £16,000 against which the M&HBR’s wooden crossing of the Yarra appeared humble indeed![129]

Saltwater River Bridge circa 1860
I.K. Brunel’s Wrought Iron Bridge over the Saltwater River, Footscray circa 1860. Sands, Kenny & Co., State Library of Victoria.

But Darbyshire’s surveys for the Sandhurst and Ballarat lines allowed gradients that would be regarded as unusually steep for a British mainline railway. The early railways in England involved extraordinarily heavy civil engineering works to keep the lines as level as possible for the very low powered locomotives then available. The first great mainline was the Grand Junction Railway, from London to Birmingham, opened in 1836. Its engineer, Joseph Locke, kept the ruling grade to 1 in 330, with some short inclines steeper. This was regarded by most English engineers as the maximum desirable gradient, and was achieved only by boring numerous long tunnels.[130] The wide seven foot gauge of the Great Western Railway permitted larger and more powerful locomotives, a factor that enabled Brunel, to adopt a ruling grade of 1 in 100. Even so, the earthworks were massive, with the two mile long Box Tunnel being one of the great engineering feats of the day; the line being completed in 1841.[131]

With standard gauge locomotives improving in power and reliability, steeper ruling gradients were accepted by Locke on the northwards extension of the London and North Western Railway (successor to the Grand Junction). The line was carried to Glasgow in 1848, over the 1 in 75 Shap and Beattock banks.[132] With a few exceptions these are still the worst main line gradients in Britain, but their steepest mainline gradient is the Lickey Incline near Birmingham, with two miles of 1 in 37. Opened in 1840 before it was certain that any locomotive would have the power to operate it, trains sometimes required five locomotives to struggle to the summit.[133] Experience on the Continent and later in India subsequently proved that long gradients as steep as that at Lickey could be successfully worked. The Semmering line in Austria was built with a ruling gradient of 1 in 40, but unlike Lickey the grade continued for seventeen miles. Again, it was uncertain if conventional locomotives could cope with such an ascent, and a competition was arranged in 1851 which proved such grades were feasible. In 1855 the Giovi Incline was opened in Italy, with gradients of 1 in 29 and 1 in 36, and in 1858 the Great Indian Peninsula Railway pushed a line over the Western Ghats by using a zig zag (switchback) on a gradient of 1 in 37. Both the Giovi and Ghats lines required special locomotives.[134]

It was against this background that British engineers contemplated the task of building lines over the Great Dividing Range in Australia. When Darbyshire and Brunel came to plan the Sandhurst and Ballarat lines, they were prepared to accept a maximum ruling grade of 1 in 50, although the occasions this was resorted to were minimised, with only 14 per cent of the Sandhurst line and five per cent of the Ballarat line being steeper than 1 in 60.[135] Moreover, the changes in gradients were minimised, averaging only two per mile, and gentle, sweeping curves were adopted, again following British practice. When these parameters were combined, it was impossible for the line to follow the lie of the land, forcing the extensive use of cuttings, embankments, bridges, viaducts and tunnels, as on their home railways.

The most breathtaking example of Darbyshire’s approach is the viaduct to carry the Ballarat line over the Moorabool River, which cuts a deep valley through the basalt near Geelong. Instead of taking the line down the sides of this valley, and crossing the moderate stream on a low bridge, he surveyed the line as though the obstacle did not exist, taking the rails soaring 115 feet across the valley for 1,300 feet on ten iron lattice girders, supported by nine masonry piers. It cost £187,772, a sum that ten years later would be expected to finance between 30 and 40 miles of railway![136] For decades this unlikely location boasted the biggest bridge in Australia.[137]

Moorabool Viaduct circa 1865.
George Darbyshire’s Moorabool Viaduct on the Geelong to Ballarat line c1865. PROV H1471.

Just 3½ miles downstream, the Australian Cement Company later carried their narrow gauge line across the river on a small timber trestle bridge. The comparison is startling, and aptly demonstrates the different approach to civil engineering of the heavy and light schools. The government opted for the heavy school, and were prepared to pay more than three times the cost of the private G&MR line to back their decision.

Australian Cement Co. wooden bridge, Batesford, 1966. The Moorabool viaduct spans the same valley 3½ miles downstream from the rim seen above the locomotive to the opposite rim. Photo: Michael Venn.

Had British practice been more rigorously applied, the earthworks, tunnelling and bridging would have been even more expensive. To compensate for the steep gradients, locomotives imported for the Sandhurst and Ballarat lines were among the heaviest and most powerful then being built in Britain, with engine weight in working order of 38½ tons. Typical locomotives built for English lines at the time were 35 tons or lighter.[138]

But while Darbyshire was averse to surveying railways that approximated the lay of the land, the private suburban lines being built in Melbourne at the time had no such qualms, and laid track with up to eleven changes in gradient per mile, being virtually laid over the ground.[139] The G&MR also approximated the lay of the land, with fifty percent more gradient changes per mile compared with Darbyshire’s Sandhurst line.[140]

Darbyshire’s Resignation

During construction of the Sandhurst railway a scandal erupted over alleged shoddy workmanship in some culverts near Castlemaine, where the amount of cement used fell far short of the amount claimed in expenses by the contractor. The matter was debated for two days in Parliament, with Darbyshire being criticised for lax supervision. Demanding the government acquit him of any blame and not receiving it, he resigned 24 hours later, on 11th May 1860.[141]

Private Suburban Railways Flourish

While Darbyshire was supervising the construction of the Williamstown line and finalising planning for the trunk lines to Sandhurst and Ballarat, the first private railway company established in the Melbourne suburbs was flourishing. It had appointed 25 years old William Elsdon as its Engineer. A Northumberland lad, he was apprenticed to Robert Stephenson & Co. as an Engine Wright, and was sent out by that firm with the first English locomotives ordered by the M&HBR.[142] He was the company’s third engineer in two years, despite his forerunner James Moore enjoying the ‘entire confidence’ of the Directors only three months before.[143] The failure of Moore’s locally made locomotives and other delays created a good deal of ill-feeling among frustrated shareholders, who had quite unrealistic expectations.[144] Elsdon had arrived with the first two English engines just days before the third breakdown of Moore’s six-wheeled engine on 1st December. Over the next few weeks the new man must have impressed, despite him only being recommended by R. Stephenson & Co. as ‘a competent engine driver’.[145] Moore was fired on 12th December 1854 and Elsdon appointed in his place. But the aggrieved Moore did not go quietly, and took the matter to the Supreme Court, which awarded him a handsome £600 damages. [146]

The imported engines were typical English 2-4-0’s, designed for short runs, with modest amounts of water carried in a well-tank between the frames, and a small bunker for the coke fuel, which also had to be imported.[147] The M&HBR then comprised a single track of a mere 2¼ miles from the Elizabeth Street Station [148] (later renamed Flinders Street) to Sandridge. The line swung out of the Elizabeth Street Station on a very sharp curve which was seen to be a mistake even before the line was officially opened.[149] It then crossed the Yarra River just above the Falls on a timber bridge. (The river was considerably narrower at that point before the re-channeling works of the 1880’s).

From the river for some distance the line was built on piles over land that was often flooded,[150] and further on it was laid at ground level. Light weight iron rails of 55 lb. per yard were used.[151] After putting his locomotives in service Elsdon turned his attention to the track, which was in a mess. It was laid with loose sand as ballast on a poorly prepared sub-grade, so that rain, wind and the stresses of moving trains quickly caused the loss of its true alignment. The light iron rails laid in short lengths and bolted together with fish plates exacerbated this deterioration. Without a solid foundation of good ballast rails get kicked out of true, both horizontally and vertically, by the impacts of wheels on passing trains, especially at speed. The track becomes liable to twist, creating a difference in level between the two rails. In some places the track on the Sandridge line had subsided 14 inches. At best this made for a rough ride, but bad track geometry creates increased wear and tear of both rolling stock and track. Bad geometry and poor ballast also increases the stress on rail joints, which unless kept tightly bolted leads to crimped rail ends from the hammer blows of passing wheels. The rigid English 2-4-0 locomotives that Elsdon brought from England were unforgiving of the poor track, and undoubtedly hastened its deterioration. All this Elsdon was quick to see and within a few months was supervising the re-ballasting of the whole railway, restoring the line to its proper level and shoring up embankments.[152]

Yarra River Melbourne 1858.
The Yarra River below the Falls, 1858. Photograph by R. Daintree & A. Fauchery. State Library of Victoria.

In the first six months of operation goods traffic grew rapidly from a trickle to several thousand tons per month.[153] Rapid growth continued, and in the 12 months to 31st October 1857 the M&HBR carried over 107,000 tons of freight and 462,000 passengers.[154] Despite the re-ballasting carried out in early 1855 the traffic surge was proving too much for the track. Just a year after opening, one shareholder said the permanent way was in a ‘disgraceful state’ but the company was watching its pennies.[155] In May 1857 a very worried foundry owner wrote to The Argus commenting on the track:

‘…examine the permanent way; you will see many of the planks [sleepers] split, so that no bolts or fastenings could hold in them; also see the slovenly manner the rails butt, some of them 1½ inches from meeting, and projecting above each other 1 inch, and battered to a mummy by the frequent blows received by the passing trains [i.e., crimped ends]; also many of the bolts are not screwed home by one inch, others not put in the rail holes at all, but at the side, some out altogether and lying on the ground, and the whole so slovenly fixed…’ [156]

The same day William Elsdon responded with the assurance that the Sandridge line was about to be relaid in new 75 lb. rails, and the whole line duplicated and ballasted with blue-metal ballast. A new bridge was also about to be built across the Yarra and the line raised on an embankment from the river to the junction of the new line to St Kilda, which had opened with a single track on 13th May 1857.[157] The land near the river was notoriously flood prone, so Elsdon had the first section of the St Kilda line raised on a low wooden bridge.[158] He also engineered the line with light 55 lb. rails laid on longitudinal hardwood sleepers to provide extra support,[159] but passengers complained of rough riding. He tried to reassure them:

‘In two or three month’s time, when the timbers on the St. Kilda branch have become firmly bedded in the stone ballast, the carriages will run with smoothness, and no oscillation will be felt.’ [160]

But laying the sleepers longitudinally was a mistaken attempt at economy and militated against good track geometry, also failing to prevent premature rail wear, so only two years later Elsdon had the line relaid with 75 lb. and 80 lb. rails.[161]

He was learning on the go! The G&MR track was in much the same condition as that of the Sandridge line, having been laid with scoria or ‘red sand’ ballast.[162] After inspecting the line where the ‘Typhoon’ derailed and tipped over, engineer Prowse reported that:

‘…the ballast used in this portion of the line is about as bad as it well could be, which, from its settlement after wet weather, is the cause of the unevenness of the rails.’ [163]

Both the G&MR and M&HBR were operating single lines, and this was another cause of public disquiet. Elsdon was at pains to reassure worried passengers on the new single track St. Kilda line that its working was perfectly safe, making a sanguine explanation of its operation:

‘New clocks, as accurate as can be procured in this country, have been placed at every station, and are daily regulated by the makers. The Sandridge down train and the St. Kilda up train leave their respective stations at the same time; the former travels half-a-mile to clear the junction point, the latter very nearly three miles, the speed on both being the same. The up Sandridge train and the down St. Kilda train start simultaneously, the former having half a mile to travel, the latter 2¼ miles, to the same point in either case; there cannot even be a collision if one should break down, as at the junction is stationed a point man, assisted by a policeman, with proper day and night signals, with which he can command either train to stop, and no train can come up without getting from him the “all right” signal.’ [164]

It sounded good, but so much came down to the vigilance of engine drivers. Sooner or later there would be a collision.

William Elsdon’s Career Develops

Despite Elsdon’s reassurances about the arrangements for operating single lines, the M&HBR moved quickly to duplicate the line between the Elizabeth Street terminus and the junction of the St. Kilda line, at the same time replacing the temporary wooden bridge across the Yarra. Elsdon engineered a new timber bridge which included a central bowstring truss girder. The new bridge and duplication was opened on 14th September 1858,[165] and was another feather in Elsdon’s cap, as was his design for the company’s Melbourne goods shed then being erected.[166]

Bow-String Falls Bridge, Melbourne.
William Elsdon’s timber bowstring truss Falls Bridge built in 1858. The Leader, 19 April 1890 p.38.

He oversaw the ordering of seven more locomotives from his former employer,[167] and most likely designed the first bogie carriages to run in the colony. These 40 foot long cars were locally manufactured by William Williams, and were said to accommodate 110 passengers, which must have been a squeeze![168] Elsdon must also have refurbished Moore’s locally built six-wheeled locomotive, probably ordering a crank axle and other parts to replace those inadequately produced locally. It was to be many years before complex steel forgings could be successfully manufactured in Victoria. With a number of lines under construction in the Colony, Moore’s engine was in demand for works trains, and was sold in 1857 for use in the building of Geelong-Ballarat line.[169] Elsdon’s credentials had been questioned by shareholders, but he was rapidly proving his worth. Another of his early jobs for the M&HBR was the extension of the pier at Sandridge into deeper water, to enable the berthing of bigger ships. Sunken ships had been used as a base for the first pier when it was found difficult to sink piles, but following an experiment Elsdon was able to use Tasmanian timber for piles and extend the pier, which brought valuable extra traffic to the railway.[170] He was able to freelance while in the employ of the M&HBR, one of his first projects being the patenting of a coal burning grate for steam locomotives. Initially, the Colony’s first engines depended on imported coke, which burnt with very little smoke or ash. But coke was expensive. Coal could be shipped from mines in New South Wales, but modifications like Elsdon’s were necessary for engines to burn it efficiently.[171] He was engaged as a consulting engineer for the Collingwood Gas Company[172] and the Public Abattoirs,[173] and also established himself as an architect, designing the Mariner’s Church for the Seaman’s Mission,[174] the St. Kilda Public Baths[175] and the Sandridge Wesleyan Church,[176] at least the last mentioned gratis.

The shareholders of the St. Kilda and Brighton Railway Company (St.K&BR) engaged Elsdon to check the measurements and calculations of their consulting engineer, Charles Swyer, prior to the construction contract being finalised.[177] (The line was built by William Randle, who had previously built the Sydney to Parramatta line).[178] Swyer’s estimate of cost for the line’s construction was substantially exceeded, primarily due to extra works later insisted on by the colonial and municipal governments, in particular the viaduct over St. Kilda Road. The line was opened prematurely at the director’s decision, leaving Swyer to bear the brunt of criticism.[179] Anonymous letters published after train services began on 19th December 1859 complained of shoddy work, especially on the viaduct,[180] but the track took some time to consolidate and the Engineer-in-Chief considered it safe.[181] Swyer was not retained once construction was finished; Elsdon was engaged instead,[182] but Swyer defended his professional reputation. [183] This led to an exchange of insults in the newspapers[184] and Swyer subsequently quit Victoria and took up the post of Provincial Engineer in Otago, New Zealand.[185] By the early 1860’s Elsdon had firmly established himself as an engineer, and by the end of the decade he was admitted as a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers.[186]

By the end of 1860 Victoria had 27 miles of duplicated and 36 miles of single main line linking Melbourne with Sunbury and Geelong, and suburban lines to Williamstown, Sandridge and Brighton via St. Kilda. But of the engineers who had accomplished it, only Elsdon remained in the railway industry; Moore, Snell, Swyer and Darbyshire had moved on. Some hundreds of miles of new lines were under construction, led by the new Engineer-in-Chief, Thomas Higinbotham. Whereas the 1850’s had commenced with over-optimistic and inexperienced private companies, seeking to build frugally, it ended with nationalisation and a commitment to solid English standards. Two important paths of railway development had been abandoned that, had they been pursued, might have significantly lowered the cost and hastened progress; private enterprise and American technology.


  1. L.T.C. Rolt. George and Robert Stephenson: The Railway Revolution. (Pelican Books, 1978). p.86.
  2. Manning Clark. A Short History of Australia. (New York, 1963). P.73.
  3. Hobart Town Courier, Saturday 6 March 1830, p.4. The news took another three weeks to be reported in Sydney.
  4. Geoffrey Blainey. Op. Cit., 1966. P.233-4. He contends that “…in the early 1850’s Australia had no inland pastoral town or farming area that was important enough to justify a railway to the coast”.
  5. D. Campbell, J. Brougham and R. Caldwell. Uncovering and understanding Australia’s first railway. Australian Journal of Multi-disciplinary Engineering, Vol.7, No.2. 2009.
  6. Department of Railways, New South Wales The Railways of New South Wales 1855-1955. (Sydney, 1955). p.8.
  7. The Sydney Railway Company was incorporated in April, 1849. The Adelaide City and Port Railway Company in February, 1850.
  8. South Australian Railways. History of Construction and Operation 1854-1954. (Adelaide, Undated). p.1-2.
  9. Alfred W. Bruce. The Steam Locomotive in America. (New York, 1952). P.44.
  10. Christian Wolmar. The Great Railway Revolution: The Epic Story of the American Railroad. (London, 2012). P.80.
  11. Robert Ritchie, Railways; Their Rise, Progress, and Construction. (London, 1846)., p.346-356.
  12. Alfred w. Bruce, Op. Cit., p.34.
  13. Wikipedia Entry “
    Railway Regulation (Gauge) Act 1846

  15. John Gunn, Along Parallel Lines: A History of the Railways of New South Wales (Melbourne University Press, 1989). p.17, 21.

  16. Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 13 January 1853, p.2., Thursday 7 July 1853, p.2.
    E.L. Ahrons. The British Steam Locomotive 1925 – 1925. (London, 1975), p.94 for the significance of the L&NWR ‘Bloomers’.

    The Argus, Friday 15 July 1853, p.4. Records the voyage of the SS Argo, which steamed from Southampton to Melbourne in a record 65 days. Most ships took much longer.

    John Mills, ‘Australia’s mixed gauge railway system: a reassessment of its origins’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Societry, 1 June 2010.
    John Gunn, Along Parallel Lines: A History of the Railways of New South Wales (Melbourne University Press, 1989). p.26.

  17. The Argus, Shipping Arrivals July 1,7,12,13,14,15,16,23,27,28 and 30th, 1853. The longest voyage was 18 days, the shortest 3 days. Ships departed Sydney on 15 days of the month, but the days were irregular.
  18. The Argus, Wednesday 11 August 1852, p.4.
  19. The Argus, Wednesday 27 September 1854, p.4.
  20. The Argus, Saturday 13 May 1854. P.4.
  21. The Argus, Wednesday 11 August 1852, p.4.
    1. The Argus, Thursday 19 August 1852, p.4, Tuesday 31 August 1852, p.2.
    2. K.A. Austin, Op. Cit, p.130-131.

    1. The Courier (Hobart), Saturday 25 March 1854, p.2.
    3. The Banner, Friday 9 June 1854, p.9.

    1. The Argus, Wednesday 13 September 1854, p.5.
    2. Norman Cave, John Buckland and David Beardsell. Steam Locomotives of the Victorian Railways Volume 1: The First Fifty Years. (Melbourne, 2002). p.2-3.

  22. Leo J. Harrigan. Victorian Railways to ’62. (Melbourne, 1962). p.38-40.
  23. The Age, Saturday 2 December 1854, p.5.
  24. Leo J. Harrigan. Op.Cit. p.40.
  25. Leo J. Harrigan. Op.Cit. p.1-6.
  26. H.G. Turner. A History of the Colony of Victoria, Volume II, 1854-1900 (London, 1904), p.6.
  27. Victorian Government Gazette, No.21. 26 May 1852, p525. Notice was given of an application to the Legislative Council for an Act to incorporate the Melbourne and Mount Alexander Railway.
  28. Leo J. Harrigan. Op.Cit. p.2-3, 31.
  29. John Gunn, Along Parallel Lines: A History of the Railways of New South Wales (Melbourne University Press, 1989). p.19.
  30. The Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 27 September 1855, p.4.
  31. George Tibbits . Biographical Index of Australian Architects Faculty of Architecture and Building, University of Melbourne.
  32. The Argus, Friday 16 February 1855. p.5.
  33. Geoffrey Blainey. Op.Cit. p.214-217.
  34. John L. Weller. “A Perspective of transport Finance in the United States”. Traffic Quarterly. October 1975. p.481-495.
  35. The Argus, Thursday 10 June 1852. p.4.
  36. Leo J. Harrigan. Op.Cit. p.2-3, 31.
  37. Leo J. Harrigan Op.Cit. p.33.
  38. The Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, Thursday 19 May 1853, p.1. This is the earliest reference to Snell as G&MR Engineer,but he had clearly been working for some little time beforehand.
    1. Wikipedia : Edward Snell (engineer) Accessed 27 November 2018.
    2. The Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, Friday 4 July 1856, p.2., Tuesday 13 May 1856, p.1.

  39. The Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, Thursday 17 July 1856, p.4. Quoting a letter from the G&MR’s London agent, A. Thompson, of 29th December,1854.
  40. The Argus, Wednesday 17 October 1855, p.4., Monday 5 November 1855, p.4., Tuesday 20 November 1855, p.6. Departing London 11th July, she arrived Geelong 2nd November, but was tugged into the inner harbour to unload the locomotives on 20th November.
  41. Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Assembly upon Railways 1857, p.25. William Randle claimed they were 7’0” diameter, but he was incorrect. A diagram held by the Public Records Office, Kew, U.K. shows the wheel as 6’6”.
  42. Norman Cave, John Buckland and David Beardsell. Steam Locomotives of the Victorian Railways Volume 1: The First Fifty Years. (Melbourne, 2002). p.10.
  43. Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Assembly upon Railways 1857, p.25.
  44. Norman Cave, John Buckland and David Beardsell. Op. Cit., p.9-10, 15.
  45. John Marshall. Op. Cit., p37.
  46. V.P.P., 1871, Vol.1., D5., Select Committee on Railways, Appendix E and H.
  47. The Argus, Friday 22 October 1869, p.7. Thomas Higinbotham’s remarks, stating the M&HBR used 55 lb rails laid on longitudinal sleepers. This would almost certainly indicate Vignoles rail was used, spiked direct to the sleepers.

  48. The Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, Wednesday 5 July 1854, p.4., Thursday 17 July 1856, p.4.

  49. See : William Henry Barlow , Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History
  50. John Gunn, Along Parallel Lines: A History of the Railways of New South Wales (Melbourne University Press, 1989). p.29.

  51. The Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, Wednesday 5 July 1854, p.4.

  52. Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Assembly upon Railways 1857, p.24, 30.

  53. Ron Stewien, A History of the South Australian Railways, Volume 1: The Early Years (A.R.H.S., Victoria, 2007). p.130-135. Includes a detailed discussion of Barlow rail.

  54. The Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, Thursday 17 July 1856, p.4., quoting a letter from the London agent on 14 February 1854.

  55. Bell’s Life in Victoria and Sporting Chronicle, Saturday 27 June 1857, p.2.

  56. The Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, Tuesday 13 May 1856, p.1.
  57. The Geelong Advertiser, Friday 1 February 1861, p.2.

  58. The Geelong Advertiser, Tuesday 11 December 1860, p.2.

  59. Bell’s Life in Victoria and Sporting Chronicle, Saturday 27 June 1857, p.2. The special was on 25th June 1857.

  60. The Williamstown Chronicle, Saturday 8 September 1860, p.2.

  61. The Argus, Thursday 2 July 1857, p.6.

  62. The Argus, Friday 16 October 1857, p.5.

  63. See : Edward Snell (engineer) Accessed 27 November 2018.
  64. The Argus, Friday 17 February 1860, p.1.

  65. Geoffrey Serle, Op.Cit., p.280.

  66. Bell’s Life in Victoria and Sporting Chronicle, Saturday 27 June 1857, p.2.

  67. The Argus, Monday 28 September 1857, p.5.

  68. The Age, Thursday 8 October 1857, p.4.

  69. The Argus, Wednesday 10 June 1857, p.6. (Quoting a Geelong Advertiser article).

  70. Leo J. Harrigan. Op.Cit. p.34.

  71. The Argus, Saturday 3 October 1857, p.1.

  72. The Argus, Monday 14 December 1857, p.1.

  73. Leo J. Harrigan. Op.Cit. p.36-37.

  74. The Argus, Wednesday 11 August 1852. p.4.

  75. Leo J. Harrigan Op.Cit. p.31.
  76. The Argus, Thursday 24 March 1853. p9, and Tuesday 17 June 1856, p4. The 1852 article notes that plans for the Williamstown line were approved, and that the trunk line was “now under survey”. The 1856 article asserts that the inland route was never surveyed, despite a £5,000 government grant.
  77. Robert Lee. The Railways of Victoria 1854-2004. (Melbourne, 2007). P13.
  78. The Argus, Monday 10 April 1854. p.5., Tuesday 30 May 1854, p.4-5 and Tuesday 13 June 1854, p7.

  79. The Argus, Wednesday 27 September 1854. p.4.

  80. The Argus, Friday 29 September 1854, p.4.

  81. The Argus, Friday 29 September 1854. p.4.

  82. The Argus, Tuesday 10 October 1854. p.4.

    1. Ian Mudie. Riverboats. (Adelaide, 1961). p.23, 66.
    2. Go to State Library of South Australia. Race to open the River Murray to steam navigation.. Accessed 18 January 2017.

  83. The Argus, Tuesday 4 October 1853. p.5. Hopwood’s Ferry became Echuca and maiden’s Punt Moama, on opposite banks of the river.
  84. The Argus, Saturday 8 April 1854. p.5.

  85. The Argus, Saturday 18 November 1854, p.4.

  86. The Argus, Wednesday 11 August 1852, p4., Thursday 24 March 1853, p.9.

  87. The Argus, Wednesday 25 August 1852, p.4.

  88. The Argus, Tuesday 11 September 1855, p.4.

  89. The Argus, Friday 16 February 1855, p.5.
  90. The Argus, Thursday 23 August 1855, p.4.

  91. The Argus, Friday 16 February 1855, p.5.

  92. The Age, Wednesday 30 May 1855, p.4.

  93. The Argus, Wednesday 6 June 1855, p.6.

  94. The Argus, Wednesday 30 May 1855, p.4.

  95. Visit M. Churchward, James Harrison, Inventor, Newspaper Proprietor & Mayor of Geelong (1816-1893) Accessed 7 December 2018.
  96. The Argus, Thursday 10 May 1855, p.5.

  97. The Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, Saturday 29 September 1855, p.2., Monday 1 October 1855, p.2.

  98. The Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, Tuesday 29 May 1855, p.2.

    1. The Argus, Wednesday 27 September 1854, reporting the findings of the Inquiry into Internal Communication, appointed by the Legislative Council and tabled 26 September 1854.
    2. Matthew J. Murray. Memories: Notes of a lecture to the Historical Society of Victoria 25th June 1917. Melbourne, 1973. p.15 and Chapter 2. Murray refers to the ballast on the G&MR as ‘red sand’.

  99. The Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, Monday 4 June 1855, p.2.

  100. The Argus, Tuesday 11 September 1855, p.4.

    1. The Argus, Thursday 29 November 1855, p.6, Tuesday 18 March 1856, p.4.
    2. Leo J. Harrigan Op.Cit. p.13.

  101. Leo J. Harrigan, Op.Cit. p.17-18.

  102. The Argus, Friday 17 February 1860, p.1.

  103. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works, November 1862. p.12.

  104. Leo J. Harrigan. Op.Cit. p.37.

  105. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works, November 1862. p.13.

  106. The Geelong Advertiser, Friday 26 October 1860, p.2.

  107. The Geelong Advertiser, Monday 1 October 1860, p.2., Tuesday 16 October 1860, p.2.

  108. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the Year Ended 31 December 1864. Appendix No.2, p.15-21. Contracts 538, 62; 1109, 63; 1343, 62; 694, 63; 773, 63; 821, 63; 1155, 63; 110, 64; 765, 4; 963, 64; 1102, 64. Total amount contracted £45,855.
  109. V.P.P. 1864-65, Vol.1, A22. ‘Papers Relating to the Chewton Station, Railway Breaks, etc.’ p.2.
  110. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works, November 1862. p.14.

  111. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works for the Year Ended 31 December 1867. Appendix No.1, p.17.

  112. The Geelong Advertiser, Friday 1 February 1861, p.2., Monday 11 February 1861, p.2.

  113. The Geelong Advertiser, Friday 1 February 1861, p.2.

  114. Heritage Council Victoria Victorian Heritage Database Report: Little River railway Station and Goods Yard. Statement of Significance, May 2, 2000.

  115. The Cornwall Chronicle, Wednesday 14 May 1856, p.3.

    1. The Argus, Friday 2 May 1856, p5, Thursday 15 May 1856, p.6.
    2. The Age, Thursday 8 May 1856, p.2.
    3. The Age, Friday 1 December 1893, p.5. (Darbyshire gave evidence in the Speight v Syme case).
    4. Leo J. Harrigan, Op.Cit. p.11,14.

  116. The Age, Wednesday 7 May 1856, p.2. Quotes the Government Gazette appointing to the Victorian Railways George Christian Derbyshire, Engineer-in-Chief and Surveyor; Charles R. Sayer, Robert Watson, William B. Hull, William A. Zeal, William H. Greene, William F. Hardie, and Frederick C. Christy as engineers.
  117. The Argus, Monday 6 October 1856, p.5.

  118. The Age, Friday 17 October 1856, p.4.

    1. The Age, Friday 1 February 1856, p.3.
    2. The Argus, Monday 6 October 1856, p.5.
    3. See : Biographical Index of Australian Architects Faculty of Architecture and Building, George Tibbits University of Melbourne.

  119. Leo J. Harrigan, Op.Cit. p.14,16,76.

  120. Leo J. Harrigan, Op.Cit. p.17-18.

  121. Robert Ritchie. Railways; Their Rise, Progress, and Construction. (London, 1846). P. 141-144.
  122. Ibid. p1.

  123. Robert Ritchie. Railways; Their Rise, Progress, and Construction. (London, 1846), p.358.

  124. Brian Reed. ‘The Norris Locomotives’, Loco Profile No.11. (Windsor, U.K., 1975). p.58.

  125. O.S. Nock. Locomotion: A World Survey of Railway Traction. (London, 1975). p.58.

  126. Victorian Railways. Diagram of Gradients and Curves. (Melbourne, 1927). p. 1-3, 40, 127-128.

    1. Leo Harrigan. Op.Cit, p.82.
    2. V.P.D., 1871, Vol. 13, p.1515. Costs given by W.A.C. A’Beckett.

  127. Leo J. Harrigan. Op.Cit. p.82. Victorian Parliamentary Papers (V.P.P.), 1882-83, Vol., 2, No. 3. “Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction”, 1 June 1881, Q7610-7618, p 208. (Watson claimed it to be the biggest bridge in Australia, twenty years after its erection).
    1. E.L. Ahrons. The British Steam Locomotive 1925 – 1925. (London, 1975), p.145, 158.
    2. Norman Cave, John Buckland and David Beardsell, Op.Cit. p.50.

  128. Norman Cave, John Buckland and David Beardsell, Op.Cit. p.194. The Flinders Street – Brighton line was built by the Melbourne & Suburban, and the St. Kilda & Brighton railway companies, 1859-1861.

  129. Victorian Railways. Diagram of Gradients and Curves. (Melbourne, 1927). p.119.
    1. The Argus, Thursday 17 May 1860, p.1.
    2. E.E. Morris. Memoir of George Higginbotham. (London, 1895). p.40.

  130. William Elsdon

  131. The Argus, Wednesday 13 September 1854, p.5.

  132. The Argus, Wednesday 6 December 1854, p.8.

  133. The Argus, Thursday 6 December 1855, p.6.

  134. The Argus, Thursday 6 December 1855, p.6.

      1. Norman Cave, John Buckland and David Beardsell, Op. Cit. p.4-6.
      2. The Argus, Wednesday 6 December 1854, p.8. (The importation of coke).

  135. The Argus, Tuesday 2 October 1866, p.5.

  136. The Argus, Wednesday 13 September 1854, p.5.

  137. Matthew J. Murray. Memories: Notes of a lecture to the Historical Society of Victoria 25th June 1917. Melbourne, 1973. p.8.

  138. The Argus, Monday 25 May 1857, p.5., Friday 22 October 1869, p.7. Check these – Pollard in 1865 SC said they used 67 lb rails – p.11.

  139. The Argus, Wednesday 6 June 1855, p.6.

  140. The Argus, Wednesday 6 June 1855, p.6.

  141. Leo J. Harrigan. Op.Cit. p.45.

  142. The Argus, Thursday 6 December 1855, p.6.

  143. The Argus, Tuesday 26 May 1857, p.6. Letter from Thomas Fulton.

      1. The Argus, Monday 25 May 1857., Friday 22 October 1869, p.7.
      2. Leo J. Harrigan, Op.Cit. p.41.

  144. Matthew J. Murray. Memories: Notes of a lecture to the Historical Society of Victoria 25th June 1917. Melbourne, 1973. p.8.

  145. The Argus, Friday 22 October 1869, p.7.

  146. The Argus, Thursday 6 December 1855, p.6.

  147. The Argus, Friday 22 October 1869, p.7.

  148. Matthew J. Murray. Memories: Notes of a lecture to the Historical Society of Victoria 25th June 1917. Melbourne, 1973. p.15.

  149. The Argus, Monday 28 September 1857, p.5.

  150. The Argus, Monday 25 May 1857, p.5.

  151. The Argus, Wednesday 15 September 1858, p.7.

  152. The Argus, Wednesday 2 June 1858, p.6., Wednesday 15 September 1858, p.7.

  153. Leo J. Harrigan. Op.Cit. p.44 lists all the Hobson’s Bay locomotives.

    1. The Argus, Monday 24 March 1862, p.5.
    2. Norm Bray, Peter J. Vincent & Daryl M. Gregory. Fixed Wheel Coaching Stock of Victoria. (Sunbury, 2008), p.140. A diagram of this carriage indicates it had seats for 52 passengers. The claimed capacity of 110 would be a crush load of standees – all small and skinny!

  154. Norman Cave, John Buckland and David Beardsell, Op. Cit. p.5.

      1. The Argus, Thursday 6 December 1855, p.6.
      2. The Argus, Friday 11 March 1904, p.6.

  155. The Argus, Thursday 14 July 1859, p.4-5.

  156. The Age, Friday 24 June 1859, p.4.

  157. The Argus, Thursday 22 September 1859, p.6.

  158. The Argus, Tuesday 31 July 1860, p.4.

  159. The Age, Thursday 29 November 1860, p.5.

  160. The Age, Friday 1 March 1861, p.5.

  161. The Argus, Tuesday 14 August 1860, p.6.

  162. See St Kilda & Brighton Railway co.

  163. The Argus, Wednesday 29 February 1860, p.1.

  164. The Age, Monday 2 April 1860, p.3.

  165. The Age, Saturday 4 May 1861, p.6.

  166. The Argus, Friday 15 February 1861, p.6.

  167. The Age, Tuesday 3 April 1860, p.5.

  168. The Argus, Wednesday 1 May 1861, p.5., Friday 3 May 1861, p.7., Thursday 9 May 1861, p.5., Tuesday 21 May 1861, p.5.

  169. See :
    George Tibbits . Biographical Index of Australian Architects Faculty of Architecture and Building, University of Melbourne.

  170. Minutes of the Proceeding of the Institution of Civil Engineers: Ice Virtual Library entry for William Elsdon, Died 1904, Aged 74