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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. 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 and nearly half of them convicts. [2]

Working replica of Locomotion No1. Beamish Museum. September 2010. Courtesy Dominic Wade, Flickr.

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 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 without capital and know-how they could only dream of witnessing such marvels in the antipodes. Such resources could be found only in Great Britain, France, 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. The trade was so dispersed that thousands of miles of railway 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.

Bullock teams and dray loads of wool bales – slow but adequate. MAAS Tyrell Collection 31983.

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. 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]

The Australian Agricultural Company’s Newcastle Railway, 1831. SLNSW IE193418.

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.

The Convict Tramway on the Tasman Peninsula 1834. Godfrey Charles Mundy, 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]

English locomotives were rigid, with a high centre of gravity, working parts between the frames, coke burning and demanding of high quality track. The Americans developed a very flexible wood burning engine with a lower centre of gravity and most working parts easily accessible. The ‘Jenny Lind’ and ‘Yonah’ exemplify the design differences by the end of the 1840’s. Each had boilers of roughly similar size and power, but otherwise the contrast is startling.[10] By using light weight rails and timber bridges, the Americans 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.[11] (They developed their own railway jargon too).

Typical English and American locomotives of 1850. The ‘Jenny Lind’ (left) typifies English design. The ‘Yonah’ (right) the American approach. ‘Yonah’ from a print courtesy John Ott, ‘Jenny Lind’ from a Hornby catalogue cover.

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 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 I.K. Brunel’s 7’ broad gauge 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. Nevertheless, they favoured wider gauges on technical grounds.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14] But two years later Earl Grey, the Secretary of State, inexplicably mandated that 4’8½” gauge should be adopted in Australia. In 1849 the embryonic Sydney Railway Company engaged as its engineer Francis Webb Sheilds, a 29 year old with six years’ experience working for Charles Vignolles on railways in England.[15]

Sheilds was given responsibility for a 15 mile line from Sydney to Parramatta, recommending a light railway and persuading the company to build to the Irish gauge, 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, and from it causing an unsteady motion of the engine…on the larger Gauge…[engines of] greater steadiness…may be constructed of larger capacity…’ [16]

Shiels’ advice was accepted and the Colonial Secretary in London approved of the change on 14th February 1851, four and a half months before Victoria was proclaimed an independent colony. The other colonies were instructed to follow suit, so for a time 5’3” was the official uniform gauge of Australia. The Parramatta line 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 Sheilds resigned in November 1850 and returned to Britain.[17]

A few weeks later 23 years old Henry Coathupe Mais arrived in Sydney from Portsmouth after a voyage of 115 days. He responded to an advertisement by the Sydney Railway Company and was hired. In England he had been apprenticed at 15 years old to one of Brunel’s engineers on the building of the 7’ gauge Wiltshire, Somerset and Weymouth Railway. At the time of his emigration he had been working for about two years with the Broad Street Foundry in Birmingham, gaining mechanical engineering experience building steam engines, including some at the Great Western Railway’s Swindon workshops.

No one was at hand in Sydney with better qualifications than Mais, so the new chum found himself Acting Engineer of the Sydney Railway Company. The Directors nevertheless sought a more experienced engineer and Mais resigned in March 1852, later developing a stellar career as a railway engineer in Victoria and South Australia.[18] His replacement, James Wallace and his wife arrived in Sydney in July 1852, also after a 115 day voyage. His age was not reported, but he was born in Scotland and was recommended by Robert Stephenson and Samuel Morton Peto, both railway colossuses of the day.[19]

Wallace wanted a proper railway like those at home, with double lines, heavy iron rails, masonry and iron bridges and good solid stations. It is likely he was aware that the balance problem that had plagued 4’8½” gauge locomotives had been overcome, and that powerful engines like the London and North Western’s ‘Bloomer’ class had proved the narrower gauge was now quite safe for high speed running.[20] So after a month in the NSW and with no consultation with the other colonies, he made a strong recommendation to the Sydney Railway Company board to re-adopt the 4’8½” gauge.

A London & North Western Railway ‘Bloomer’ 2-2-2 of 1851 with 7’ driving wheels, long wheelbase and high pitched boiler, which proved 4’8½” gauge locomotives were safe at high speed. Järnvägsmuseets foton.

Wallace based his opinion 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.[21] The Sydney Railway Company board might have sought further advice from reputable British consulting engineers and locomotive builders, but a reply would take four to eight months, depending on the ships available.[22]

Wallace 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![23] 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.[24] 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 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.[25] The Governor General, Charles FitzRoy, presented his Lieutenant Governors in Victoria and South Australia with a fait accompli on 2nd February 1853, with no reasons given for the decision. The Sydney Railway Company and NSW Legislative Council 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.[26]

In 1853 the isolation of the colonies made negotiating contentious issues difficult. There would be no telegraph link between the colonial capitals for another four to five years,[27] and the fastest communication was by sea. Ships also departed irregularly and took an average 8½ days to sail between Sydney and 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! [28]

Lieutenant Governor C.J. La Trobe. Detail of painting by Sir Francis Grant, SLV H30870.

In Melbourne, Lieutenant Governor Charles La Trobe consulted the three infant railway companies, seeking their views about 4’8½” gauge. Of the three, one was non-committal, one made a strong engineering case for retaining broad gauge, and one, while recognising the superiority of broad gauge, felt an eventual link with NSW meant adoption of their gauge was necessary.[29]

La Trobe decided to retain the status quo. It was long thought he did so because Victoria and South Australia had already ordered broad gauge locomotives and rolling stock, but this was not the case. On the other hand, Wallace placed orders for locomotives on 4th March 1853, before the other colonies had time to respond to FitzRoy!

La Trobe has been criticised for not following his superior’s recommendation, FitzRoy having the higher rank. It is alleged ‘this decision was nothing more nor less than an expression of LaTrobe’s personal opinion, based on the opinions received from two companies. There is no evidence that any kind of disciplined analysis of the various gauge options available to Victoria was carried out…’ [30] On the contrary, Edward Snell, the engineer of the Geelong and Melbourne Railway (G&MR), had made a strong case to La Trobe for the broad gauge, noting Wallace’s ‘objections appear to me somewhat absurd, and are, in fact, merely assertions unsupported by truth.’ Snell also sent his objections directly to the Sydney Railway Company.[31]

Herschell Babbage, the engineer of the Adelaide City and Port Railway, also made a strong case for broad gauge, totally disagreeing with the reasons given by Wallace.[32] Furthemore, La Trobe was aware the 1851 ruling by the Colonial Secretary in London mandating 5’3” as the uniform gauge had not been revoked. He was also enduring harsh criticism for his handling of the chaos of the gold rush.[33] The matter of railway gauge could not have been high on his agenda! Sir George Grey, then Secretary of State in London, subsequently refused to enforce gauge uniformity, and instead merely pointed out the proven technical superiority of 5’3” gauge and asked FitzRoy to review the NSW decision ‘for the sake of the neighbouring colonies’. But by the time his letter arrived tracklaying on the Parramatta line had commenced and locomotives had been ordered: FitzRoy refused to budge. [34]

That Wallace continued to insist on 4’8½” gauge knowing Victoria and South Australia had committed to broad gauge is indicative of professional pride and a failure to grasp the overwhelming importance of uniform gauge. After three and a half years, he resigned and sailed home to Britain, where details of his subsequent career, family and life remain a mystery.[35] The cost of reverting to 5’3” gauge at the time would have been manageable, but the cost to the Australian economy has been incalculable.[36]



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.[37] 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![38] A small army of waggoneers was engaged in the trade, with over 2,000 bullock and horse drays working the Mount Alexander road alone.[39] The road was also fraught with danger: the cry ‘Stand and deliver!’ by a bushranger aiming a brace of pistols was all too familiar.[40]

‘Robbing the Mail’, a water colour by S.T.Gill from The Australian Sketchbook (1864). 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 the foot of Elizabeth Street in Melbourne to Sandridge. As the line was short the adoption of solid English engineering meant the total capital sought was a manageable £100,000.

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. Chauncy, and his replacement with 28 years old James Moore.

Moore had worked on railway projects in England managed by his eminent uncle, Sir William Cubitt.[41] 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.

M&HBR makeshift pile driver locomotive at Elizabeth St. station. It powered the first locomotive hauled train in Australia, on 2nd June 1854. Lithograph by S.T.Gill, SLV 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,[42] just two years and one month after the formation of the company.[43]

By contrast, the basically similar Port Adelaide railway took eight years to fruition, as with no gold rush in South Australia there was no pressing need. The M&HBR’s locally built engines soldiered on bravely for three months. Then on the evening of 1st December the crank axle of the larger one fractured ‘into a thousand atoms’.[44] While fitters were assessing the damage the following day, soldiers at Ballarat were preparing to storm the rebel stockade at Eureka.[45] The colonials had a bit to learn about locomotive construction and democracy! But the English engines were almost ready and services were restored on Christmas Day.[46]

Detail of ‘Princes Bridge & City Terminus of the M&HB Railway’, an engraving by S.T. Gill showing Moore’s 0-2-4 and the train shed which was soon removed. SLV b20528.


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.[47] Most amounted to nothing, but the diggings at Mount Alexander (Castlemaine) and Bendigo were producing fabulous wealth and warranted a railway. On 8th February 1853, just over eighteen months after the rush began,[48] the Melbourne, Mount Alexander and Murray River Railway Company (MMA&MRR) was authorised.[49] 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.[50] In all, this amounted to about 200 miles of trunk line railway, 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’.[51] Both colonies bit off more than they could chew, especially given the amounts of capital needed to build the lines their English engineers were recommending. 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.[52] As in NSW, the fledgling railway companies in Victoria were forced to drastically curtail their ambitions.

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. He has worked 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,[53] Swyer 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 the company was struggling to find the necessary capital. 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 numerous avenues were open for highly profitable investments with the promise of quick returns.[54] But negotiating capital from Britain was a tortuous process, with at least six 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.[55] 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 Charles Swyer was adverse to the cheaply built railways colonists were hearing about in the United States and elsewhere. [56] 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’ [57]


The G&MR had a more realistic objective and quickly demonstrated a willingness to get on with the job. Authorised on 8th February 1853[58] it took only seven months to begin construction. Only a quarter the length of MMA&MRR, they had to build a more or less straight line of 40 miles over fairly level terrain with only one river and a few creeks to cross. But it was 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.[59] By then the company had placed substantial orders for equipment on English firms.

In 1853 the G&MR engaged 33 years old Edward Snell as their engineer.[60] He 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 broad gauge 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 while employed as the G&MR Engineer.[61] It was Snell who advised Lieutenant Governor La Trobe to retain the 5’3” gauge.

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 the G&MR’s Engineering Inspector in England and was 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,[62] 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,[63] onlookers must have been astonished! With single driving wheels of 6’6” diameter,[64] they were fittingly named ‘Typhoon’ and ‘Sirocco’ and could run freely at 60 mph.[65] They were capable of 70 mph.[66] Snell ordered four more of these 2-2-2 Singles with 6’6” diving wheels[67] from Newcastle builders. Two from Robert Stephenson & Co were given the Shakespearean names ‘Titania’ and ‘Oberon’.[68] The two from R & W Hawthorn were intended for fast running and were appropriately named ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Cyclone’.[69]

All six G&MR 2-2-2 Singles were well tanks, carrying their water supply in small tanks slung between the frames under the footplate. With their huge driving 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!

Snell also ordered four 0-6-0 well tank goods locomotives from R & W Hawthorn. They rejoiced with the powerful names ‘Goliath’, ‘Samson’, ‘Hercules’ and ‘Tubal-Cain’, but their limited water supplies were not ideal for long runs. A little 0-4-0 tank inspection engine made by Walker and Munro in Geelong was dubbed Ariel. [70] His choice of names suggest Snell had panache! But making his uncle the G&MR’s Inspecting Engineer was another mistake. When George Stothert learned that his nephew had placed the 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!

Along with Snell’s first orders for rolling stock were orders for rails. His previous railway experience with the Great Western 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. Double headed 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.[71] 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.[72] A perceived disadvantage was its expected shorter life, but it was the rail of choice in the Americas.

The M&HBR had adopted Vignoles rail for the Melbourne to Sandridge line,[73] 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. Firstly, about seven miles of what he called ‘foot rail’ and the London agent referred to as ‘American rail’ was ordered. 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.

The agent took the liberty of cancelling outright Snell’s order for 500 tons of ‘Smiths patent’ rail. It was untested, expensive and impractical. The agent also expressed doubts about Snell’s order for 300 tons of Barlow rail, having made investigations in England.[74] Patented the year Snell left England, Barlow rail was rolled in a broad inverted V shape and was intended to be laid straight onto ballast, eliminating the need for sleepers. Tie rods were inserted between the rails to maintain gauge.[75] For a time it was favoured by Brunel’s Great Western Railway.

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

Barlow rail was the subject of a paper read to the Institute of Engineers in 1850, but its benefits proved illusory.[76] The headstrong James Wallace had ordered Barlow rail for the Sydney to Parramatta line in 1853[77] and may have influenced Snell to purchase a trial sample.[78] William Randle, the contractor who built the Parramatta line, was later scathing in his remarks about Barlow rail.[79] 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 in Australia.

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.[80] 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,[81] Snell finally settled on 75 lb per yard[82] double-headed rail at £7 12s 6d per ton for the bulk of the G&MR construction.[83]

Snell 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 openings for the bridge over Koroit Creek was inadequate and a flood carried the bridge away on 31st January 1861.[84] Floods also overwhelmed the line causing washouts in a number of places.[85] But his most regrettable mistake was the design of the bridge over Cowie’s Creek. The timber lattice girders through which trains passed were just 16 inches from the carriage sides. 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 Cowie’s Creek bridge he was knocked off.[86] Three years later a passenger received serious injuries when putting his head out the window at the same spot.[87]

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.[88] Snell quit, later rather curtly explaining that as he had been contracted to build the railway, he had not resigned but his contract had ended.[89] 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.[90]

The G&MR cost £653,690, or about £16,340 per mile, stations and rolling stock included.[91] This cost was inflated because the line was made during four years of very high wages.[92] 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. It was more imposing than any Melbourne station for decades to come. A goods shed, engine shed and workshops were also provided 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 built of timber, as were all the stations except Werribee. A handsome building, it was made of bluestone, with sandstone quoins around windows and doors, and a slate tiled roof.[93]

Snell’s station at Werribee before the fire of 1927, and subsequent rebuilding without the gable roof. The bluestone had been covered by cement rendering by that time. Werribee District Historical Society.

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.[94] These accidents were sensationalised by the press, but in reality they were teething problems, and there were no serious injuries. Most likely they were 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).[95] Thereafter the G&MR line 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. 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 the company from further expansion.

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 Ballaarat line to be taken from us…?’ [96]

Detail of ‘Geelong Railway Terminus’ showing the façade (building at left) in 1857. S.T. Gill.

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.[97] A steamer connection was initially provided up the Yarra to Queens Wharf in Melbourne.[98]

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.[99] 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.[100] By then the private company was hemorrhaging money and negotiations were already underway for a government takeover.

Opening of the G&MR in the corrugated iron train shed of Geelong Station 1857. Engraving by C.E. Winston of a drawing by Edward Snell, Museums Victoria. MM070577.


Railway promoters had initially accepted that the trunk lines would have to be built cheaply. Some were encouraged by the apparent success of the Yan Yean tramway. This was a 19 mile line laid with wooden rails. It ran alongside the trench dug for the water pipes that linked the Yan Yean reservoir with Melbourne. Built for just £450 per mile, horses were used to haul the 4,500 30 inch iron pipes to the work site. It was ready towards the end of 1855, and was worked for two years until the laying of pipe was finished. The project’s completion was celebrated with a ‘jet d’eau’ of water sixty feet high from a hydrant opposite the railway station at the end of Elizabeth Street. There were proposals to extend the tramway to Beechworth, and even Sydney, but once the pipeline was complete the wooden rails were in poor condition and the tramway remained unused for four years and was eventually removed. [101]


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.[102] The G&MR intended to capitalise their 40 mile line at £350,000, or £8,750 per mile.[103]

But just as Wallace had dampened the SRC’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.[104]

Hobson’s Bay (1860) by Thomas Robertson. There are thirty ships, a steam tug and three prison hulks in this scene. NGV Joseph Brown Collection.

But within a year the shareholders had the jitters. Many of the principal investors were appointees to the Legislative Council, and saw a way to save their bacon. On a Saturday afternoon in April when most of the country members were absent, a motion was passed empowering the government to buyout the shareholders. Geelong interests saw it as a ‘corrupt transaction’ by a ‘precious lot of vagabonds’ [105] Empowering gave the right, but how was it to be exercised? The following June, after the departure of C.J. La Trobe, the Deputy Lieutenant Governor, John Foster, appointed a Board of Commissioners to investigate the best way to arrange internal communications in the colony.[106] The Commission comprised the head of the Roads Board and two military engineers; hardly a body qualified to assess the railway needs of the colony.[107]

Foster conveyed the Government’s offer to buyout the MMA&MMR to its directors, but they took it as an insult and instead arranged an expensive commencement of works ceremony at Williamstown on 12th June.[108] After filling the first wheelbarrow with earth, Foster remarked that:- ‘…the Williamstown branch will…be the most important portion of the work’, and went on to explain that ‘on the part of the Government, I made an offer to the company to take the undertaking off their hands. This proposition was not acceded to. The Government was delighted that it was refused. The only object was to get the railway made, and therefore there could be no feeling of disappointment or regret at the non-success of the negotiation…. It is very common in this colony for people to expect the Government to do everything, and not to do anything themselves. I am therefore very glad that a work of this national importance has been undertaken by a public company.’ [109]

Foster was not being perfectly frank about the Government’s intentions, but a few weeks later on 22nd June 1854 Commodore Sir Charles Hotham arrived to take over as Lieutenant Governor. Finding a growing gap between revenue and expenditure, he was no doubt relieved the Government’s buyout had been rejected.[110] But the urgency of its Williamstown’s rail connection had been heightened by concerns the almost completed M&HBR line to Sandridge could prove a white elephant. Difficulties encountered driving piles for the Sandridge pier brought work to a standstill and threw the ultimate success of the M&HBR line into doubt, for without the pier ships would not transfer their cargo to the railway and the line would be a failure.[111] Williamstown was the only alternative, and in any case had better anchorages for larger ships than Sandridge.

The M&HBR’s new engineer, James Moore, effected a temporary solution by sinking three hulks as foundations for the Sandridge pier’s extension, and since early June ballast trains were running, beginning with one carrying the company directors.[112] The second half of 1854 therefore looked brighter for the private railway companies. The Sandridge line was visibly progressing, and a gang of eighty convicts was working on the first six miles of the G&MR.[113] That company was also surveying an extension from Geelong to Ballarat, with encouraging results. On 9th September the G&MR provided the Lieutenant Governor with a prospectus of the Geelong, Ballarat and North Western Railway Company (GB&NWR). A public meeting to establish the company had taken place nine months earlier and achieved unanimous support. The Ballarat line was estimated to cost £13,000 per mile, and a Bill to incorporate the company was ready for presentation the Legislative Council.[114]

The M&HBR opened its railway on 12th September, then two weeks later the Commission on Internal Communication brought down its report. Over the previous four months they had examined 26 witnesses, including Swyer. All but two advised that railways of the most substantial character should be built, and the Commission reported that the weight of evidence warranted their recommendation that double track lines of not less than £35,000 per mile would be prudent investments. In view of the failure of colonial capitalists to raise the funds necessary, the Commission recommended the government should finance construction, and lease the completed lines to private operators. Their cost estimate was five times that of the MMA&MRR promoters, but the stinger was their conclusion that ‘except for short and inexpensive lines, private colonial efforts will be unavailing’ and therefore government intervention was ‘no longer a matter of expediency, but of necessity…’.[115]

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.’ 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.[116]

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.’ [117]

The editorial noted that ‘rarely, if ever’ were American 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.[118]


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.[119] 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.[120] Randell took his steamer as far as Hopwood’s Ferry, later the site of Echuca and only 50 miles from the Bendigo goldfields.[121] 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, a dismal intercolonial 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.[122] Cadell’s answer was to take his steamer on a dramatic incursion into the upper Murray, 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 rather than from Melbourne.

The paddle steamer PS Lady Augusta, possibly at Hay, NSW about 1864. This boat was the first to navigate the upper Murray River in 1854. 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.’ [123]

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.[124] 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.


Randell was no sailor; from the outset his motivation had ben to market the product of his family’s flour mill at Gumeracka, near the Murray River at Mannum.[125] 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.’ [126]

A shareholder’s meeting of the MMA&MRR in February was told contracts for £81,000 had been let for the Williamstown line. Largest of these was £57,000 for earthworks to carry the line across the Lagoon and West Melbourne Swamp between North Melbourne and the Saltwater (Maribyrnong) River.[127] It was the biggest 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.[128] Faced with a similar obstacle, the M&HBR crossed the Albert Park swamp at a fraction of the cost on a timber trestle.[129]

The St Kilda & Brighton Railway’s timber viaduct on the loop line from St Kilda to Chapel Street (Windsor) over the Albert Park Swamp in 1862. Edward Haigh, via Stuart Roberts (Flickr).

But much larger expenditures were looming and Richard Woolley, Secretary of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce, and a shareholder, urged the company to sell the rights to the Mount Alexander and Murray River line back to the government, and use the money from the sale to complete the Williamstown line. He seconded a motion instructing the Directors to open negotiations with the government.[130] Only ten months before the shareholders had been almost unanimous in opposing a government takeover.

Four days after the shareholders meeting Hotham, now raised as a full governor, asked the Legislative Council to re-examine their railway policy, suggesting the government construct only single line railways, and that these be leased to private companies upon completion. He was preoccupied at the time with the aftermath of Eureka Stockade bloodshed, as it was now clear to him that the hated licence fees extracted from miners could not bolster the colony’s unhealthy finances.

The response of the Legislative Council was to form another committee, which included the Surveyor General, Captain Andrew Clarke, R.E., a forceful advocate of a government takeover. The committee was dominated by Melbourne interests, many with vested interests in a government buyout. Clarke was opposed by James Harrison, the member for Geelong, an engineer and owner of the Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer,[131] who feared the result of rushed proceedings would be a foregone conclusion, noting nine-tenths of the members were residents of Melbourne. He ‘considered it an exceedingly cool proposition’s on the part of Government that they were to take from the Geelong railway the substantial works they had erected and hand them over a bundle of papers in return.’[132]

As Harrison predicted, the committee merely 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.[133] 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.[134]

The efforts of the G&MR and the M&HBR were denigrated without evidence. But the Geelong company had already placed very large orders in England for equipment, and the Hobson’s Bay line was enjoying a surge of goods traffic. The M&HBR had yet to pay a dividend, but 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.[135] This was clear evidence of a very profitable outlook.

The real reason for recommended takeover 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.’ [136] 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, whose members were appointed, not elected. Earlier the same month Harrison had tried to introduce a Bill authorising the GB&NWR, an extension of the G&MR and probably with similar shareholders. He was voted down 19 to five.[137] The Bill had been before the Legislative Council for eight or nine months, with clear support from Geelong interests.[138] 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.’ [139]

If a government buyout of the MMA&MRR seemed the only way to prevent the drift of trade to South Australia, there remained 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.[140] 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.[141] Furthermore, the GB&NWR had already surveyed the difficult parts of the Ballarat route and knew their project was feasible. Nevertheless, Clarke had instructed his staff to make a new survey two months earlier, before the report of the Legislative Council committee was tabled.[142]

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.[143] In so doing the Legislative Council denied the G&MR a profitable extension, dooming it to ruin. But Geelong interests continued to press for their Ballarat extension. Meanwhile they could show genuine progress. Nearly three miles of track laid and the first locomotives in transit by October 1855.[144]

But the government still hesitated to buyout the MMA&MRR. The Argus continued crying for action before ‘the trade of the interior is stolen by the South Australians’. The ‘question of a railway to the Murray is the “to be or not to be” of Melbourne’.[145] At that time the MMA&MRR had laid no track and the government subsequently made an offer to purchase its assets. This was accepted by shareholders at a meeting on 28th November 1855 and the Legislative Council authorised the purchase on 19th March 1856 giving birth to the Victorian Railways Department.[146] 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 colony’s 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.

Parliament’s 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![147]


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. The company might have built a single line to Ballarat within two years, providing the G&MR with a profitable income stream.

Denied expansion, the company made a loss on working of £34,840 and cost the government £72,770 in guaranteed interest payments.[148] 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.[149] 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[150] they commenced rebuilding to their standards. To do this the government borrowed a further £300,000 ‘for repairs’ to the G&MR line![151]

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.’ [152] Also aggrieved were the Sabbath Observance Society faithful, as the government commenced to run Geelong trains on Sunday.[153]

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.[154] 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.[155] 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.’ [156]

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.[157] A photograph of Spencer Street Station about 1860 shows stacks of sleepers ready for laying, but they are quite roughly cut and shaped.[158]

That the wooden bridges and culverts 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.[159] The same floods that caused washouts on Snell’s line caused washouts on the Government lines.[160] 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.[161] 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. By 1909 seventy five percent of the 16,000 miles of railway in Argentina was owned by British companies, and comprised an investment of £170,000,000.[162] There was no intrinsic reason why the same could not have occurred in South-Eastern Australia.


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.[163] 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 1855. Born at sea in 1820, Darbyshire received his training during the railway mania of the 1840’s in the firms of three giants of English railway engineering: Charles Vignoles, George Stephenson and John Rennie. In 1839 he joined Vignoles’ firm on the survey of the London and Dover line, then moved to the Midlands to work with George Stephenson’s firm under the supervision of Frederick Stanwick, an exceedingly thorough and diligent engineer.

Darbyshire’s experience as a junior assistant engineer on the construction of the difficult Manchester to Derby line through the Pennines was formative. He was exposed to all aspects of railway construction, including the supervision of contractors with large gangs of navvies. For months they worked day and night, so they ‘would scarcely have their clothes off at all’. After that he joined John Rennie’s firm, again surveying new lines in England. In 1853 he emigrated to Victoria with his wife Maria, the voyage taking 94 days. He found employment in the Surveyor General’s Department.[164]

George Christian Darbyshire, Engineer-in-Chief, circa 1860. PROV H1839A.

Captain Clarke recognised Darbyshire as the ablest of his staff, despite him not having the formal qualifications of several others with railway civil engineering experience. Placing him in charge of 16 survey teams in 1855, by the end of that year they had mapped out routes for over 600 miles of railway. Stanwick had trained Darbyshire well as a practical engineer and from 1st May 1856 he was appointed the first Engineer-in-Chief of the Victorian Railways.[165]

On the government takeover of the MMA&MRR, Captain Clarke was made a Trustee, and was adamant that the Sandhurst and Ballarat should be solidly built with duplicated lines, thereby enabling the safe movement of large volumes of traffic. His report to the Legislature in August 1857 was instrumental in convincing the parliament to seek a loan of £8,000,000.[166] Clarke was ‘deeply indebted’ for Darbyshire’s assistance, noting he was ‘thoroughly acquainted with every practical detail, and able to undertake any professional operation himself’, and that he had formed ‘a well-qualified staff of active and intelligent men, who have, as a whole, cheerfully carried out the duties allotted to them.’ [167]

But Clarke returned to Britain in 1858, while the new trunk railways were building. It was not long before his key role was forgotten, and Darbyshire, as Engineer-in-Chief became identified with them. He and Swyer were among twelve railway engineers officially appointed on 6th May 1856.[168] Some of them had ‘C.E.’ (Civil Engineer) after their names, but The Age complained Darbyshire had no professional qualification.[169]

Among the twelve, 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’s career with the Victorian Railways was brief but he remained an antagonist of their engineers for nearly forty years. Charles Swyer was probably the most experienced civil engineer of them all, but he did not get along with his Chief and resigned after five months.[170]

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.[171] 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, as well as consulting as an architect. He was made Treasurer of the Victorian Institute of Architects shortly before his resignation from the Victorian Railways.[172]

All these engineers were young men looking for career opportunity far from home. Darbyshire had three men on his staff who, while not well known, proved themselves capable by designing what was at the time the largest bridge in the Australasian colonies. Robert Adams C.E. and William Edward Bryson C.E. were among the twelve, and were employed as Draftsmen, later being joined by William O’Hara.[173]

Although the Saltwater (Maribyrnong) River at Footscray could have been crossed with a timber bridge, as the Yarra River was by the M&HBR, Captain Clarke was adamant that a more permanent structure was warranted as it would carry practically the all the railway traffic of the colony. The bridge was designed in the Engineer-in-Chief’s office as a single tubular iron span of 200 feet.[174] Bryson was responsible for the masonry abutments and Christy for specifications of the girders, which he made with reference to plans of similar bridges made by the Manchester form of William Fairbairn and Sons.[175]

These were sent to England for perusal by I.K. Brunel, who had been engaged as Inspecting Engineer, charged with supervising the making and shipping of all railway plant ordered by the colony. His fee was a commission of five percent of the capital costs, which hardly encouraged economy! Brunel was arguably the greatest engineer of the age,[176] but was no skinflint; his seven foot gauge lines were among the most expensive constructed in Britain. He was reported as having expressed some initial concern, but the plans sent from Melbourne required only minor changes, and he expressed his approval. Adams was given high praise as the ‘ablest engineer in Victoria’.[177]

Isambard Kingdom Brunel. A portrait by Robert Howett beside the anchor chains of his great ship the SS Great Eastern in 1857. City of Birmingham Archives.

The girders were made by Fairbairn and shipped to Melbourne. Great difficulty had been experienced with the foundations of the bridge: after boring through 80 feet of mud a solid bottom eluded the engineers, and £25,000 was spent making a raft of concrete. Total cost was £90,000, but even the trickle of Stony Creek near Yarraville was graced by a masonry and iron bridge worth over £16,000. Against these works the M&HBR’s wooden crossing of the Yarra appeared humble indeed![178]

The wrought iron railway bridge over the Saltwater River at Footscray circa 1860. Its design was approved by I.K. Brunel, consulting engineer to the Victorian Railways. It had a span of 200 feet. Sands, Kenny & Co., State Library of Victoria.

Darbyshire’s surveys for the Sandhurst and Ballarat lines allowed gradients that would be regarded as unusually steep for a British main line 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 main line 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.

Locke’s ruling gradient was regarded by most English engineers as the maximum desirable, but it was only achieved by boring numerous long tunnels.[179] 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, his 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.[180]

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.[181] With a few exceptions these are still the worst main line gradients in Britain, but their steepest main line 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.[182]

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. [183] It was against this background that Darbyshire contemplated the task of building lines over the Great Dividing Range in Australia.

Darbyshire was 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.[184] 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 English railways.

Moorabool Viaduct on the Geelong to Ballarat line, circa 1865. It was necessitated by Darbyshire’s survey, and was the largest bridge in Australia for over twenty years. PROV H1471.

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![185] For decades this unlikely location boasted the biggest bridge in Australia.[186]

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. No. 6 crossing the wooden trestle bridge at Batesford, 9th March 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. But 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.[187]

Although 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. They laid track with up to eleven changes in gradient per mile, being virtually laid over the ground.[188] The G&MR also approximated the lay of the land, with fifty percent more gradient changes per mile compared with Darbyshire’s Sandhurst line.[189]


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 contractors, Cornish and Bruce. Darbyshire’s was inexperienced in the writing of contract specifications, and the unscrupulous partners Cornish and Bruce were adept at bribery and the exploitation of loopholes.[190] The matter was debated for two days in Parliament, with Darbyshire being criticised for lax supervision.

The Age had opposed his appointment four years earlier, and now called him the ‘autocrat of the railways’ : no doubt his brusque manner alienated some journalists and politicians! Darbyshire demanded the government acquit him of any blame and not receiving it, he resigned 24 hours later, on 11th May 1860.[191] Settled on a property at Werribee with a comfortable two story house he named ‘The Grange’, and with marketable skills in engineering and surveying, Darbyshire had no need of a government job. He also ran sheep and served as President of the Wyndham Shire.[192] But he would not be the last senior railwayman forced out of the service only to grasp new opportunities in the young colony.

George Christian Darbyshire’s two storey pre-fabricated corrugated iron home at Werribee, near the railway station. Shipped from England to Victoria before 1860, it was named ‘The Grange’. Werribee Historical Society.


While Darbyshire had been 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.[193] 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.[194]

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.[195] 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’.[196] 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.[197]

The imported engines were typical English 2-4-0s, 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.[198] The M&HBR then comprised a single track of a mere 2¼ miles from Sandridge to the Elizabeth Street Station[199] (later renamed Flinders Street). The line swung away from Elizabeth Street Station on a very sharp curve which was seen to be a mistake even before the line was officially opened.[200] 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).

One of eleven 2-4-0WT (well tank) locomotives built by Robert Stephenson & Co., Newcastle-on-Tyne, for the M&HBR from 1854 to 1863, photographed at Sandridge (Port Melbourne) circa 1860. SLV b21231.

From the river for some distance the line was built on piles over land that was often flooded,[201] and further on it was laid at ground level, at one point right through the middle of the Melbourne Cricket Ground! Light weight iron rails of 55 lb per yard were used.[202] 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 the impacts from the wheels of passing trains kick the rails out of true, both horizontally and vertically. The damage increases with train speed, and 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, and also increases the stress on rail joints. Unless fish plates are kept tightly bolted the rail ends become crimped from the hammer blows of passing wheels. The rigid English 2-4-0 well tank 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.[203]

The Yarra River, downstream from the Falls Bridge. The Falls are visible in the midground. Cole’s Wharf is just visible. circa 1858, by R. Daintree & A. Fauchery. SLV H84.167/11.

In the first six months of operation goods traffic on the M&HBR grew rapidly from a trickle to several thousand tons per month.[204] Rapid growth continued, and in the 12 months to 31st October 1857 the line carried over 107,000 tons of freight and 462,000 passengers.[205] But 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.[206] 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…’ [207] (Railway terminology in parentheses).

The same day Elsdon responded with the assurance that the Sandridge line was about to be relayed 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.[208] 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.[209] He also engineered the line with light 55 lb rails laid on longitudinal hardwood sleepers to provide extra support,[210] but passengers complained of rough riding.

Elsdon 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.’ [211] 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.[212] 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.[213] 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.’ [214] 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.’ [215]

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


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,[216] and was another feather in Elsdon’s cap, as was his design for the company’s Melbourne goods shed then being erected.[217]

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,[218] 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![219] 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.[220]

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 hulks 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.[221]

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.[222] He was engaged as a consulting engineer for the Collingwood Gas Company[223] and the Public Abattoirs,[224] and also established himself as an architect, designing the Mariner’s Church for the Seaman’s Mission,[225] the St. Kilda Public Baths[226] and the Sandridge Wesleyan Church,[227] at least the last mentioned gratis.

The shareholders of the St. Kilda and Brighton Railway Company engaged Elsdon to check the measurements and calculations of their consulting engineer, Charles Swyer, prior to the construction contract being finalised.[228] (The line was built by William Randle, who had previously built the Sydney to Parramatta line).[229] Swyer’s estimated cost of the line had been substantially exceeded, primarily due to extra works, including a viaduct over St. Kilda Road which was insisted on by the colonial and municipal governments.

The line was opened prematurely at the director’s decision, leaving Swyer to bear the brunt of criticism.[230] Anonymous letters published after train services began on 19th December 1859 complained of shoddy work, especially on the viaduct,[231] but the track took some time to consolidate and the Engineer-in-Chief considered it safe.[232] Swyer was not retained once construction was finished: Elsdon was engaged instead,[233] but Swyer defended his professional reputation.[234] This led to an exchange of insults in the newspapers[235] and Swyer subsequently quit Victoria and took up the post of Provincial Engineer in Otago, New Zealand.[236] Elsdon had firmly established himself and was later admitted as a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers.[237]

By the end of 1860 Victoria had five separate railway administrations. The four private and the government railways comprised 27 miles of duplicated and 36 miles of single main line. Melbourne was linked with Sunbury and Geelong, and suburban lines radiated to Williamstown, Sandridge and Brighton via St. Kilda. But of the engineers primarily responsible for this accomplishment, 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. Private enterprise and American technology had been abandoned. Had they been pursued, these two important paths of railway development might have significantly lowered costs and hastened progress.

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


end notes

  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, 6 March 1830, p. 4. The news took another three weeks to be reported in Sydney.
  4. Geoffrey Blainey, The Tyranny of Distance, Melbourne, 1966, pp. 233-244. 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 NSW, 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,. pp. 1-2.
  9. Alfred W. Bruce, The Steam Locomotive in America, New York, 1952, p. 44.
  10. E.L. Ahrons, The British Steam Locomotive 1925 – 1925, London, 1975, pp. 76-77. The ‘Jenny Lind’ type 2-2-2 Single built by E.B. Wilson & Co. of Leeds from 1847, weighed 24 tons, with cylinders 15×20” and driving wheels of 6’ diameter.
    See:- John Ott’s Locomotive Art Prints
    The ‘Yonah’ was a typical American type 4-4-0 built by Rogers, of Patterson, New Jersey in 1849, weighing 19 tons, with 12×18” cylinders and 5’ diameter driving wheels.
  11. Christian Wolmar, The Great Railway Revolution: The Epic Story of the American Railroad, London, 2012, p. 80.
  12. Robert Ritchie, Railways; Their Rise, Progress, and Construction, London, 1846, pp. 346-356.
  13. Bruce, p. 34.
  14. Gauge Act
  15. See Graces Guide:- Francis Webb Wentworth-Sheilds
    J.A. Mills, The Myth of the Standard Gauge: Rail Gauge Choice in Australia 1852-1901, Griffiths University, 2007. griffith research-repository pp. 98, 105.
  16. Don Hagarty, The Building of the Sydney Railway, ARHS Sydney, 2005. p. 86. Sheilds’ letter on railway gauge to the Sydney Railway Company Directors is printed in full.
    John Gunn, Along Parallel Lines: A History of the Railways of New South Wales, MUP, Melbourne, 1989, pp. 17, 21.
  17. Mills, pp. 106-112; 125-126.
    Sally O’Neill, Henry Coathupe Mais,Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol 5, MUP, 1974.
  18. Hagarty, pp. 100, 105-106, 131-132.
  19. Hagarty, pp. 135-137.
  20. Sydney Morning Herald, 13 January 1853, p. 2; 7 July 1853, p. 2.
    Ahrons, p. 94 for the significance of the L&NWR ‘Bloomers’.
  21. Hagarty, pp. 140-141.
  22. Argus, 15 July 1853, p. 4. Records the voyage of the SS Argo, which steamed from Southampton to Melbourne in a record 65 days. As noted, the voyages of Mais and Wallace took 115 days.
  23. Mills, p. 108.
    Gunn, p. 26.
  24. Hagarty, pp. 413, 417-418. Wallace brought a sample of Barlow rail with him from England.
  25. Mills, pp. 106-109.
  26. Leo J. Harrigan, Victorian Railways to ’62, Melbourne, 1962. pp. 193-193. A good summary of events.
  27. See Museums Victoria:- The Australian Telegraph Network 1854-1877
  28. 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.
  29. Argus, 11 August 1852, p. 4.
    Mills, p. 127.
  30. ibid, p. 128.
  31. ibid, pp. 126-127.
    Hagarty, p. 151. Snell wrote to the SRC in early April 1853.
  32. Adelaide Times, 21 November 1853, p. 3. Refers to a letter sent from the South Australian government to the Colonial Secretary on 6th June 1953.
  33. Jill Eastwood, ‘Charles Joseph LaTrobe’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol 2, MUP, 1967.
    Argus, 13 July 1853, p. 4.
  34. Mills, p. 112.
    Hagarty, pp. 160, 187. Wallace ordered locomotives form Robert Stephenson & Co. on 4 March 1853. The locomotives were delivered only a month after the Secretary of State’s request was received in Sydney.
  35. Hagarty, p. 217.
  36. The Canterbury Provincial Railways had three 5’3” gauge lines radiating form Christchurch, totalling over 50 miles. The Launceston and Western Railway was also built to 5’3” gauge, with a line of 43 miles. Both the New Zealand and Tasmanian lines were converted to 3’6” gauge in the mid 1870’s.
  37. Argus, 27 September 1854, p. 4.
  38. Argus, 13 May 1854, p. 4.
  39. Argus, 11 August 1852, p. 4.
  40. Argus, 19 August 1852, p. 4; 31 August 1852, p. 2.
    K.A. Austin, The Lights of Cobb & Co, Sydney, 1976, pp. 130-131.
  41. Courier (Hobart), 25 March 1854, p. 2.
    See Graces Guide:- James Moore (1826-1887)
    Banner, 9 June 1854, p. 9.
  42. Argus, 13 September 1854, p. 5.
    Norman Cave, John Buckland and David Beardsell, Steam Locomotives of the Victorian Railways Volume 1: The First Fifty Years, Melbourne, 2002. pp. 2-3.
  43. Harrigan, pp. 38-40.
  44. Age, 2 December 1854, p. 5.
  45. Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 4 December 1854, p. 4.
  46. Harrigan, p. 40.
  47. Harrigan, pp. 1-6.
  48. H.G. Turner, A History of the Colony of Victoria, Volume II, 1854-1900, London, 1904, p. 6.
  49. Victorian Government Gazette, No. 21, 26 May 1852, p. 525. Notice was given of an application to the Legislative Council for an Act to incorporate the Melbourne and Mount Alexander Railway.
  50. Harrigan, pp. 2-3, 31.
  51. Gunn, p. 19.
  52. Sydney Morning Herald, 27 September 1855, p. 4.
  53. George Tibbits, Charles Sawyer, move slider to 126-127/142, Biographical Index of Australian Architects, Faculty of Architecture and Building, University of Melbourne.
  54. Argus, 16 February 1855. p. 5.
  55. Blainey, Tyranny of Distance, pp. 214-217.
  56. John L. Weller, A Perspective of Transport Finance in the United States, Traffic Quarterly. October 1975, pp. 481-495.
  57. Argus, 10 June 1852. p. 4.
  58. Harrigan, pp. 2-3, 31.
  59. Harrigan, p. 33.
  60. Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 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.
  61. See Wikipedia:- Edward Snell (engineer)
    Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 4 July 1856, p. 2. 13 May 1856, p. 1.
  62. The Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 17 July 1856, p. 4. Quoting a letter from the G&MR’s London agent, A. Thompson, of 29th December, 1854.
  63. Argus, 17 October 1855, p. 4; 5 November 1855, p. 4; 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.
  64. Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Assembly upon Railways, Victorian Parliamentary Papers (VPP), 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”.
  65. Cave et. al, p. 10.
  66. Select Committee …upon Railways, VPP 1857, p. 25.
  67. 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 VR passenger engines
  68. These locomotives were quite small, with 12” diameter cylinders cf 15” cylinders for the other G&MR 2-2-2WT and 0-6-0WT designs. Their names are those of the King and Queen of the fairies from ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’.
  69. Philip Dunn collection. Specifications for two 2-2-2 and four 0-6-0 locomotives sent to R & W Hawthorn, and that builder’s plan of the 2-2-2WT.
  70. ibid.
    Cave et al, pp. 9-10, 15. The claim on pp. 10, 15 that ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Cyclone’ were 2-4-0s is incorrect. They were 2-2-2 Singles.
  71. John Marshall, The Guinness Book of Rail Facts and Feats, 2nd edition, London, 1978, p. 37.
  72. Select Committee on Railways, VPP 1871, D 5, Appendix E and H.
  73. Argus, 22 October 1869, p. 7. Thomas Higinbotham’s remarks, stating the M&HBR used 55 lb/yard rails laid on longitudinal sleepers. This would almost certainly indicate Vignoles rail was used, spiked direct to the sleepers.
  74. Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 5 July 1854, p. 4; 17 July 1856, p. 4.
  75. Hagarty, pp. 417-418. Shows diagrams.
  76. See Graces Guide:- William Henry Barlow
  77. Gunn, p. 29.
  78. Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 5 July 1854, p. 4.
  79. Select Committee …upon Railways VPP 1857, pp. 24, 30.
  80. Ron Stewien, A History of the South Australian Railways, Volume 1: The Early Years, ARHS, Victoria, 2007. pp. 130-135. A detailed discussion of Barlow rail.
  81. Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 17 July 1856, p. 4. Quoting a letter from the London agent on 14 February 1854.
  82. Bell’s Life in Victoria and Sporting Chronicle, 27 June 1857, p. 2.
  83. Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 13 May 1856, p. 1.
  84. Geelong Advertiser, 1 February 1861, p. 2.
  85. Geelong Advertiser, 11 December 1860, p. 2.
  86. Bell’s Life in Victoria and Sporting Chronicle, 27 June 1857, p. 2. The special was on 25th June 1857.
  87. Williamstown Chronicle, 8 September 1860, p. 2.
  88. Argus, 2 July 1857, p. 6.
  89. Argus, 16 October 1857, p. 5.
  90. See Wikipedia:- Edward Snell
  91. Argus, 17 February 1860, p. 1.
  92. Geoffrey Serle, The Golden Age, Melbourne, 1977, p. 280.
  93. Bell’s Life in Victoria and Sporting Chronicle, 27 June 1857, p. 2.
    Werribee District Historical Society. Werribee Railway Station (page down)
  94. Argus, 28 September 1857, p. 5.
    Robert Lee. The Railways of Victoria 1854-2004, Melbourne, 2007, p. 30. Lee’s emphasis needs balance with the many railway accidents incurred in the early days.
  95. Age, 8 October 1857, p. 4.
  96. Argus, 10 June 1857, p. 6. (Quoting a Geelong Advertiser article).
  97. Harrigan, p. 34.
  98. Argus, 3 October 1857, p. 1.
  99. Argus, 14 December 1857, p. 1.
  100. Harrigan, pp. 36-37.
  101. Argus, 22 December 1854, p. 3; 21 November 1855, p. 4; 27 October 1856, p. 9; 1 January 1858, p. 5; 27 November 1858, p. 4.
    Ballarat Star, 2 January 1858, p. 2.
  102. Argus, 11 August 1852. p. 4.
  103. Harrigan, p. 31.
  104. Argus, 24 March 1853. p. 9; 17 June 1856, p. 4. The 1853 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.
  105. Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 12 April 1854, p. 4.
  106. Banner, 12 May 1854, p. 8.
    Argus, 7 June 1854, p. 5.
  107. Argus, 27 September 1854, p. 4. The Commissioners were Francis Murphy, Chairman, President of the Central Road Board, Charles Pasley, Captain Royal Engineers, and Archibald Ross, Captain Commanding Royal Engineers.
  108. Harrigan, p. 10.
  109. Argus, 13 June 1854, p. 7.
  110. Betty Malone, ‘John Foster’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol .4, MUP, 1972.
  111. Lee, p. 13.
  112. Argus, 3 June 1854, p. 5.
    Banner, 9 June 1854, p. 9.
  113. Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 24 October 1854, p. 4.
  114. Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 2 October 1854, p. 4.
  115. Argus, 27 September 1854, p. 4.
  116. ibid.
  117. ibid.
  118. ibid.
  119. Argus, 10 October 1854. p. 4.
  120. Ian Mudie, Riverboats, Adelaide, 1961, pp. 23, 66.
    State Library of South Australia. Steam Navigation on the Murray River.
  121. Argus, 4 October 1853. p. 5. Hopwood’s Ferry became Echuca and Maiden’s Punt became Moama, on opposite banks of the river.
  122. Argus, 8 April 1854. p. 5.
  123. Argus, 18 November 1854, p. 4.
  124. Argus, 11 August 1852, p. 4; 24 March 1853, p. 9.
  125. Argus, 25 August 1852, p. 4.
  126. Argus, 11 September 1855, p. 4.
  127. Argus, 16 February 1855, p. 5.
  128. Argus, 23 August 1855, p. 4.
  129. Argus, 3 December 1856, p. 7. The cost of the viaduct has not been found, but the new bowstring truss bridge over the Yarra and the new curved approaches to it were estimated to cost £12,000. It seems reasonable to assume the viaduct cost was of a similar magnitude.
  130. Argus, 16 February 1855, p. 5.
  131. M. Churchward, James Harrison (1816-1893), Museums Victoria Collections.
  132. Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 17 March 1855, p. 2.
  133. Age, 30 May 1855, p. 4.
  134. ibid.
  135. Argus, 6 June 1855, p. 6.
  136. Argus, 30 May 1855, p. 4.
  137. Argus, 10 May 1855, p. 5.
  138. Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 29 September 1855, p. 2; 1 October 1855, p. 2.
  139. Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 29 May 1855, p. 2.
  140. Argus, 27 September 1854, reporting the findings of the Inquiry into Internal Communication, appointed by the Legislative Council and tabled 26 September 1854.
    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’.
  141. Cowie’s Creek, Hovell’s Creek, Little River, Werribee River, Skeleton Creek and Koroit Creek.
  142. Age, 27 June 1855, p. 6.
  143. Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 4 June 1855, p. 2.
  144. Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer, 1 October 1855, p. 2.
    Argus, 5 November 1855, p. 4; 20 November 1855, p. 6. The ship Aallottar arrived Geelong 2 November, and after discharging most cargo was light enough to cross the bar on 16 November so the two locomotives could be unloaded at the pier.
  145. Argus, 27 October 1856, p. 9., 11 September 1855, p. 4.
  146. Argus, 29 November 1855, p. 6; 18 March 1856, p. 4.
    Harrigan, p. 13.
  147. Harrigan, pp. 17-18.
  148. Argus, 17 February 1860, p. 1.
  149. Victorian Railways: Report of the Board of Land and Works November 1862. VPP 1864-65, No. 45, p. 12.
  150. Harrigan, p. 37.
  151. Victorian Railways: Report… November 1862, VPP 1864-65, No. 45, p. 13.
  152. Geelong Advertiser, 26 October 1860, p. 2.
  153. Geelong Advertiser, 1 October 1860, p. 2, 16 October 1860, p. 2.
  154. Victorian Railways: Report…31 December 1864, Appendix No. 2, VPP 1864-65, No. 48. pp. 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.
  155. Papers Relating to the Chewton Station, Railway Breaks, etc., VPP 1864-65, A 22. p. 2.
  156. Victorian Railways: Report …November 1862. VPP 1864-65, No. 45, p. 14.
  157. Victorian Railways: Report …31 December 1867, VPP 1868, No. 46, Appendix No. 1, p. 17.
  158. PROV H 1476. This is reproduced in Chapter Three.
  159. Geelong Advertiser, 1 February 1861, p. 2; 11 February 1861, p. 2.
  160. Geelong Advertiser, 1 February 1861, p. 2.
  161. Heritage Council Victoria, Victorian Heritage Database Report: Little River railway Station and Goods Yard, Statement of Significance, May 2, 2000.
  162. ‘The Railways of Argentina: A Remarkable Record of British Enterprise’, The Railway Magazine, June 1913, p. 467.
  163. Cornwall Chronicle, 14 May 1856, p. 3.
  164. See Graces Guide:- Frederick Swanwick
    Argus, 7 July 1853, p. 2.
    See Wikipedia:- George Christian Darbyshire
    Argus, 28 March 1881, p. 1. Records Maria’s death after a long illness.
    Age, 1 December 1893, p. 5.
  165. Harrigan, pp. 13-14.
  166. Harrigan, p. 20.
  167. Brian Harper, The true history of the design of the Melbourne, Mount Alexander and Murray River Railway, Australian Journal of Multi-disciplinary Engineering, Vol 3, No. 1, 2004., p. 87.
  168. Age, 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.
  169. Argus, 2 May 1856, p. 5; 15 May 1856, p. 6. Also; Age, 8 May 1856, p. 2. Age, 1 December 1893, p. 5. Darbyshire gave evidence in the Speight v Syme case. Harrigan, pp. 11, 14.
  170. Argus, 6 October 1856, p. 5.
  171. Age, 17 October 1856, p. 4.
  172. Age, 1 February 1856, p. 3.
    Argus, 6 October 1856, p. 5.
  173. Harper, p. 87. Outlines their former careers.
  174. See Wikipedia:- Princes Bridge Opened in 1851, the Prince’s Bridge had a single span of 150 feet.
  175. See Graces Guide:- William Fairbairn and Sons
    Colonial Mining Journal, Railway and Share Gazette, 3 February 1859, p. 3.
  176. Victorian Parliamentary Debates (VPD), 1871, Vol. 2, pp. 640-641. Brunel’s commission was over £15,000.
    Harrigan, pp. 14, 16, 76.
  177. Colonial Mining Journal, Railway and Share Gazette, 6 January 1859, p. 9, 3 February 1859, p. 3.
    Argus, 9 September 1857, p. 5.
    Harper, pp. 89-89.
  178. Harrigan, pp. 17-18.
    Colonial Mining Journal, Railway and Share Gazette, 6 January 1859, p. 9.
  179. Ritchie, pp. 141-144.
  180. ibid. p. 1.
  181. ibid, p. 358. A ruling grade is the steepest on a given section of railway. It determines the maximum load a locomotive can haul over that section.
  182. Brian Reed, ‘The Norris Locomotives’, Loco Profile No. 11. Windsor, U.K., 1975, p. 58.
  183. O.S. Nock, Locomotion: A World Survey of Railway Traction, London, 1975, p. 58.
  184. Victorian Railways, Diagram of Gradients and Curves, Melbourne, 1927. pp. 1-3, 40, 127-128.
  185. Harrigan, p. 82.
    VPD 1871, Vol. 13, p. 1515. Costs given by W.A.C. a’Beckett.
  186. Harrigan, p. 82. Mr. R.G. Ford, Engineer for Construction, VPP 1882-83, No. 33. 1 June 1881, p. 208. Watson claimed it to be the biggest bridge in Australia, twenty years after its erection.
  187. Ahrons, pp. 145, 158.
    Cave et.al. p. 50.
  188. Cave et.al. p. 194. The Flinders Street – Brighton line was built by the Melbourne & Suburban, and the St. Kilda & Brighton railway companies, 1859-1861.
  189. Diagram of Gradients and Curves. p. 119.
  190. Lee, pp. 44-45.
  191. Ballarat Star, 16 May 1860, p. 2.
    Argus, 17 May 1860, p. 1.
    E.E. Morris, Memoir of George Higinbotham, London, 1895. p. 40.
  192. Ballarat Star, 1 October 1864, p. 1.
    Bacchus Marsh Express, 28 January 1871, p. 3.
    Argus, 28 March 1881, p. 1.
    Camperdown Chronicle, 14 September 1881, p. 4.
    Geoff Hocking, Wyndham –our story, Hong Kong, 2013, p. 183.
  193. See Graces Guide:- William Elsdon
  194. Argus, 13 September 1854, p. 5.
  195. Argus, 6 December 1854, p. 8.
  196. Argus, 6 December 1855, p. 6.
  197. ibid, p. 6.
  198. Cave et.al, pp. 4-6.
    Argus, 6 December 1854, p. 8. (The importation of coke).
  199. Age, 9 October 1855, p. 1.
    Argus, 2 October 1866, p. 5.
  200. Argus, 13 September 1854, p. 5.
  201. Murray, p. 8.
  202. Keith Dunstan, The Paddock that Grew, Melbourne, 1988, pp. 16-17.
    Argus, 25 May 1857, p. 5 (Elsdon’s letter); 22 October 1869, p. 7.
    Report from the Select Committee on Railway Extension, 1865, VPP 1864-65, D 24. Evidence by Pollard – ‘The Hobson’s Bay Company at first made a cheap permanent way, using 67 lbs. rails, and sand ballast.’ Elsdon’s letter of 1857 is the more reliable.
  203. Argus, 6 June 1855, p. 6.
  204. ibid.
  205. Harrigan, p. 45.
  206. Argus 6 December 1855, p. 6.
  207. Argus, 26 May 1857, p. 6. Letter from Thomas Fulton.
  208. Argus, 25 May 1857 p. 5; 22 October 1869, p. 7.
    Harrigan, p. 41.
  209. Murray, p. 8.
  210. Argus, 22 October 1869, p. 7.
  211. Argus, 6 December 1855, p. 6.
  212. Argus, 22 October 1869, p. 7.
  213. Murray, p. 15.
  214. Argus, 28 September 1857, p. 5.
  215. Argus, 25 May 1857, p. 5.
  216. Argus, 15 September 1858, p. 7.
  217. Argus, 2 June 1858, p. 6; 15 September 1858, p. 7.
  218. Harrigan, p. 44 lists all the Hobson’s Bay locomotives.
  219. Argus, 24 March 1862, p. 5.
    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 short and skinny!
  220. Cave et.al, p. 5.
  221. Argus, 6 December 1855, p. 6.
    Argus, 11 March 1904, p. 6.
  222. Argus, 14 July 1859, pp. 4-5.
  223. Argus, 24 June 1859, p. 4.
  224. Argus, 22 September 1859, p. 6.
  225. Argus, 31 July 1860, p. 4.
  226. Age, 29 November 1860, p. 5.
  227. Age, 1 March 1861, p. 5.
  228. Argus, 14 August 1860, p. 6.
  229. See Graces Guide:- St.Kilda and Brighton Railway Co
  230. Argus, 29 February 1860, p. 1.
  231. Age, 2 April 1860, p. 3.
  232. Age, 4 May 1861, p. 6.
  233. Argus, 15 February 1861, p. 6.
  234. Age, 3 April 1860, p. 5.
  235. Argus, 1 May 1861, p. 5; 3 May 1861, p. 7; 9 May 1861, p. 5; 21 May 1861, p. 5.
  236. Tibbits.
  237. See Institution of Civil Engineers:- William Elsdon