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Chapter Seventeen


Management Committee and Vale

Less than a month after Mathieson had left Australia’s shores, The Age launched a scurrilous attack on the railways, reminiscent of their campaign against Speight a decade earlier. The editorialist thought ‘the great weakness of the railway administration arises from its hopeless lack of initiative’.[1] Just as they had a decade earlier when the Railway Standing Committee became a tool to delve into the ‘mismanagement’ suggested by The Age, the Legislative Assembly responded by establishing the Railway Management Committee in August 1901, with Richard Vale as its Chairman.[2]

Billy Trenwith, the Minister of Railways at the time, opposed the motion by drawing attention to the expensive inquiry by Judge Casey only six years earlier, which Vale himself had attacked and parliament had ignored.[3] William Arthur ‘Billy’ Trenwith was the first Labor Member of Parliament in Victoria, and had been given the Railways portfolio in George Turner’s second government from November 1900, although he had to relinquish leadership of the Labor faction to do so.[4]

William (Billy) Trenwith, MLA, Minister of Railways, 1900-1902. Talma Studio photograph, courtesy Victorian Parliamentary Library.

Trenwith was tasked with finding a replacement for Mathieson and tried to tempt David Kirkcaldie, one of the NSW Railway Commissioners. A salary of £2,500 per annum was offered (£1,000 less than Mathieson’s), but the NSW government was disinclined to let one of its three railway commissioners go.

William Fitzpatrick had been made Deputy Commissioner on Mathieson’s departure in May 1901, but the government’s half-hearted search for Mathieson’s replacement meant that by December that year they had to seek parliamentary sanction to extend Fitzpatrick’s term as Acting Commissioner.[5] Meanwhile the Railway Management Committee had been gathering evidence, Vale travelling to Sydney to interview the Chief Commissioner of the NSW Railways in order to make comparisons with Victoria.[6]

The Committee was soon bogged down in petty detail, and in December it was reconstituted as a Royal Commission to dig further.[7] The underlying concern was the ongoing deficit. Under Mathieson’s management, it had been steadily reduced from £584,000 in 1896 to £112,000 in 1901, but politicians continued to get complaints about railway services. Some people distrusted railway management and lamented the perceived lack of ministerial and parliamentary control. Such were Vale and Thomas Bent.[8]

Richard Vale, MLA. Chairman of the Railway Management Committee 1901-1903. Foster & Martin photograph, courtesy Victorian Parliamentary Library.

Before Vale’s Royal Commission into railway management had completed its investigations, the liberal government was defeated in a no-confidence motion. A new ‘reform’ (conservative) ministry was headed by William ‘Iceberg’ Irvine and was inducted in June 1902. William Shiels was made Treasurer and Bent became Minister of Railways.[9] Bent had gone dairy farming at Port Fairy after losing the seat of Brighton in 1894, but had regained it in the 1900 election.[10] Shiels, after a spell as Premier during which he engineered Speight’s suspension, spent years on the backbench and was often unwell.

In August Shiels rallied to the challenge of restoring the State’s finances, and with the aid of a flask of whiskey and a bottle of champagne brought down a budget in the Assembly that proposed drastic measures to reduce spending. Much of Victoria’s revenue raising powers had devolved to the new Commonwealth, and finances were being affected by the most ‘calamitous drought that white man, or even black man, ever saw’. NSW and Queensland were already ravaged and the prospect of a good wheat harvest in Victoria was drying up like the parched paddocks.[11] With this grim outlook, Irvine went to the polls with promises of pay cuts in the public service and railways.

Vale’s Royal Commission report was released two weeks before the General Election of 1st October 1902, and was highly critical of railway management, singling out accounting for assets which made no provision for depreciation or write-offs, unfair disciplinary and appeal policies, the need for faster train services and cleaner carriages, inefficient engine cleaning, inequitable freight rates and the failure to use locally mined brown coal, among other matters.

The findings were typical of lay observation with scant understanding of the real issues affecting railway profitability. Vale had made no secret of his opposition to non-political management, dismissing Mathieson as an ‘independent and irresponsible official with a large salary.’ [12] The Commission’s major finding was that the ‘so-called non-political management of the railways has not been satisfactory…. Your Commission recommends that the future management of the Railway department be placed under the control of a board of three, one of whom shall be the Minister for the time being, who shall be the chairman…[with] power, by a written memorandum, to veto any decision arrived at by the board…’ [13]

The Hon. Thomas Bent MLA. Caricature from The Leader, 1 Nov. 1902, p. 33.

This strengthened Bent’s expressed determination to take control of the railways.[14] But it was a bridge too far for David Syme. Whatever he sought to achieve by his attack on railway management, the spectre of Bent throwing his conspicuous weight around led to an editorial in his weekly, The Leader, which strongly supported the appointment of an independent railway manager.[15] But it was to no avail, as Irving’s government was returned with a sweeping majority by a nervous electorate on 1st October.[16]

Bent was retained as Minister of Railways.[17] A week later he was reported as saying ‘I was told by the Cabinet to wipe out the deficiency, and therefore my task is to make the estimates of revenue and expenditure meet. It is quite possible that 1,000 men may have to go. We have now 12,000 employes.’ He was exaggerating: there were just over 11,000 permanent and temporary employees. [18] But he was not exaggerating his determination to slash expenses.

Rennick Retires

Rennick had had enough, and after nearly 45 years he decided to retire. The last of the original Victorian Railways engineers, he had been toiling since 1858 and had reached compulsory retirement age, although he was at liberty to stay on had he wished. But having taken no holiday for the past sixteen years, and perhaps with a foreboding of trouble to come, he chose to take his family on a voyage to America and the United Kingdom.[19] His last years had been fraught, making a rearguard defence against the folly of narrow gauge.

Rennick had also engineered broad gauge light lines to the bare minimum workable standards,[20] and arranged surveys of nearly 1,500 miles of lines at the behest of the Railways Standing Committee, about half of which were never built. Many that were built were of dubious worth.[21] On his return, he retired to his home ‘The Grange’, in Canterbury, which he had built on ten acres in the early 1860’s, long before the area became a suburb or was provided with a railway. He was a leading local citizen throughout the area’s development, and died at his home in 1915.[22]

Engineer-in-Chief Francis Rennick in 1897. Talma & Co., The Australasian, 4th December 1897, p. 30.

Harsh Restrictions Breed Resentments

Having endured ten years of restrictions on their pay and conditions, railwaymen were fearful of the government’s proposals, and there were murmurings of industrial action. Bent was unsympathetic and provocative: ‘The men can strike if they like…There are plenty of certified engine drivers in the country who would be only too glad to accept employment’.[23] Neither was Fitzpatrick in a strong position to resist Bent’s usurping of his management accountability.

He had been temporarily appointed Acting Commissioner with a salary of £1,500, which was £600 above his salary as Chief Traffic Manager. But his new salary was less than half Mathieson’s.[24] In December 1901 he was attacked in parliament, some members taking up the ‘envenomed assaults’ published by The Age, the ‘the organ of so-called liberalism’, [25] which held him personally accountable for all the supposed railway woes.

Railways Commissioner William Fitzpatrick in 1903. PROV H2202 (detail).

Bent quickly made good the government’s raft of measures to cut the railway deficit, leaving Fitzpatrick and his Heads of Branches the thankless task of implementing the ‘sheaf of orders’ made by the Minister each day. They were placed in ‘perpetual expectation as to what next.’ [26] The outcome was summarised in their Annual Report the following year:-

‘The work of a large proportion of the staff was limited to an average of five days per week, the train mileage was curtailed to the equivalent of approximately 600,000 miles per annum, employees whose services were not actually required were granted extended leave, annual leave was reduced by one-half, the payment of increments to employees in receipt of over £125 per annum was stopped, and various privileges and concessions hitherto enjoyed by the staff were considerably curtailed or entirely abrogated.’ [27]

In his Budget speech, Shiels predicted a State budget deficit of £953,000 for 1902-03 unless drastic cuts were implemented,[28] making a point of saying restrictions would fall across all government departments, not just the railways. But railwaymen bore the brunt, including 45 percent of the savings from withdrawing free passes. The savings were illusory, as without a free pass, most would just not travel. The reciprocal agreement for annual leave free passes between the states was also summarily cancelled, despite Fitzpatrick’s attempt to refer the matter to an Interstate conference.

Even railway pensioners lost their privilege.[29] Worse, annual holidays were put on hold. It had been up to four years since some had been granted leave, men being needed to cover the jobs of retrenched colleagues.[30] Similarly, increments were denied, an ‘economy’ that particularly hit apprentices. One lad on 7/6d a week (£19/5s per annum) was desperate for a promised 6d week increment.[31] This literal penny pinching had scant impact on the railway deficit, but stoked a growing resentment among railwaymen and their families. Bent was sowing the wind, and would soon reap a whirlwind.[32]

Victorian Treasurer William Shiels (left) and Premier William Irvine. SLV H5996 and Broothorn Studios, NLA.

He was on a ‘crusade’, believing the estimated £400,000 railway deficit for 1902-03 would be ongoing, and that it was symptomatic of an ongoing management malaise.[33] But he was blind to the work carried out over the previous five years which had delivered huge deficit reductions and laid the way for the big productivity improvements soon to follow. He ordered a 10 percent reduction of employees. Acting Chief Traffic Manager Robert Lochhead complied quickly but other Heads of Branches procrastinated, confronted with ‘a task which has occasioned them intense anxiety’. [34]

Fitzpatrick was offended when Bent dressed down Traffic Branch officers in front of him, but the Acting Commissioner’s attempts to moderate his Minister were fruitless. Bent threatened to personally fire any railwayman who did not ‘do what [he]expected’ and even deny their right of appeal. He employed four ‘detectives’ (spies) to secretly observe employees and report any ‘dereliction of duty’, subsequently publishing their reports![35]

Railwaymen Push Back

Bent became ‘an object of enmity’ among railwaymen. The Melbourne Punch quoted a (probably mythical) commercial traveller’s experience:- ‘I was worried all through the trip down with complaints about Bent. The train was late starting, and that was Bent. It travelled slowly, and that was Bent. The lighting was bad, and that was Bent. Then we were bailed up for a time, and I got out to see what was wrong, and found the driver tinkering with a bolt under the locomotive. ‘What’s wrong with it?’ I asked; ‘is it twisted?’ ‘No,’ he said, fiercely, ‘it’s Bent!’’ [36]

But the enmity went to the top, with Norman, the Chief Engineer for Existing Lines issuing instructions that in ‘view of the permanent way and works staff working only five days per week, it is necessary that enginemen and guards be instructed to be on the alert, and keep a sharp look out for signals. It is of importance that fast running be avoided as much as possible…’

In doing so he was exercising engineering judgement. Maintaining to a lower standard required speed restrictions for safety, and Norman was ultimately responsible for the safe condition of the lines. But Bent was furious at the implication that his cuts were making the railway unsafe. ‘This is not the first instance I have noticed of officers of the department trying to cast discredit on the scheme of economy which has been introduced…But they won’t play tricks with me much longer.’ [37]

Bent and Shiels’ economies as seen by Percy Lindsay in The Arena, 30 October 1902.

While some sympathy for the plight of railwaymen is evident in newspaper reports, by and large they sided with the government. This was graphically illustrated by Percy Lindsay’s cartoon in ‘The Arena’, quoting Mark 4:25 with Bent taking the pants from a railwayman and civil servant, as Shiels looks on, saying ‘He’s got no friends’.[38] Railwaymen were prevented by law from writing to the press, and thus effectively muzzled. They were without recourse from constant belittlement by the Minister of Railways.

Another serious aggravation was Irvine’s Constitutional Reform Bill, which proposed to eliminate their right to vote for local representatives in parliament. Instead, two ‘special representatives’ would be voted for only by railwaymen. (Women were denied the vote until 1908). Other civil servants were likewise to be allowed to vote only for one ‘special representative’. This was keenly felt as removing a democratic right.[39]

The Enginemen’s Strike

By February 1903 both the conservative and liberal press was turning against Bent. Penned The Australasian: ‘Mr. Bent, who has practically had a free hand ever since he took charge, finds himself baffled even when he tries to deal with so small a matter as the unpunctual train’ while The Leader complained that ‘in spite of the blusterous vigor exhibited by the Minister [the] condition of chaos appears to grow worse rather than better.’ [40]

Nevertheless, the press continued to pillory railway management and insult railwaymen, reporting any story to back up the stigma of mismanagement, some of their information emanating from a railway ‘leak’. Railway officers were worried. ‘No matter how trivial the matter was, if it cropped up to-day, to-morrow it would be paragraphed in one or other of the papers.’ It was another throwback to the early 1890’s when Speight and Allison Smith endured a similar problem, eventually spotting the informer. [41]

The last straw for the Locomotive Engine Drivers and Firemen’s Association (LEDFA)[42] was the government’s determination to prevent railwaymen from affiliating with the Trades Hall Council. To Irvine’s party, the Trades Hall had morphed into a political organisation, as its links with the Labor Party were by then quite evident.[43] Given that the rules then in place prevented government employees joining a political party, the government insisted the Railway Commissioner would dismiss anyone affiliating with the Trades Hall.[44]

Right or wrong, the two sides hardened their stance, the unionists being buoyed by the May Day parade that year which stretched for two miles.[45] Like the Eureka rebels fifty years earlier, they grievously miscalculated their chances. Bent was already preparing to hire strike breakers,[46] and it was very clear the press was unsympathetic. Syme’s weekly, The Leader, even ran an article comparing railway employment privileges to the assumed lesser advantages of non-government workers. ‘There is no comparison in the sacrifice in such circumstances entailed upon the members of the railway service and the outside workers.’ [47] No mention was made of the working conditions of railwaymen or the responsibilities they carried, the whole tenor of the article being prejudicial.

Catholic Archbishop Carr counselled restraint by both parties. He said strikes were ‘a barbarous means of settling disputes’ but recognised that some were ‘driven by necessity to resort to them’. He advocated compulsory arbitration, which, although applying in other states, had yet to be embraced in Victoria.[48] So with ultimatums given and ignored by both sides,[49] at midnight on Friday 8th May the members of the LEDFA walked off their engines.

Fearing trouble, Fitzpatrick, Lochhead and Thomas Woodroffe slept in a railway carriage at Spencer Street Station, with half a dozen police on guard.[50] Plans were implemented for a skeleton train service, but very few actually ran to start with, services being almost paralysed over the weekend. Onlookers at Princes Bridge on Saturday mocked an unwary amateur engineman who doused himself while filling his engine’s water tank, and shouted derision when another backed onto his train with ‘a mighty bump’.[51]

By Monday only 12 drivers were available, but their trains were heavily patronised by cheering passengers.[52] Next day 23 drivers were at work, including old Tom Dawes, who brought a train from Castlemaine to Maryborough with a man from the Castlemaine Woollen Mills as his fireman. Arriving just after midday, a crowd had gathered with some strikers calling out ‘Come off, Tom!’ But others cheered. They watched him shunting, then with another engine, he backed down on a train for St Arnuad, the local police keeping an eye on things.

‘Come off, Tom!’ call watching strikers at Maryborough as Tom Dawes backs down to the train for St Arnuad. Tuesday 12th May 1903. SLV B21356.

A semblance of service was provided on six country main lines and most suburban lines by Tuesday, aided by about 200 students from the Mechanical Engineering Faculty of Melbourne University who volunteered their labour, as did Professor Kernot.[53] On Wednesday 31 drivers were at work, and a number of fitters offered to go onto the footplate. This was an ominous development for the striking enginemen, as when Allison Smith had attempted to promote fitters to driving a decade before, a threatened strike had prevented the move. With a thousand fitters employed, opening the way for their promotion to driver now seemed unstoppable.[54]

Care had been taken not to allow anyone with rusty or no knowledge of driving and safeworking to man locomotives, and special training classes were provided at North Melbourne. On Thursday services were restored on the St Kilda line with trainee ‘blackleg’ drivers under instruction. Said Fitzpatrick, ‘…the bottom has now been knocked out of the strike. We will do better every day.’ [55]

The Governor, at Irvine’s request, had ordered parliament to reconvene a week earlier than previously proclaimed, to enable the government to introduce its Strike Suppression Bill. The Legislative Assembly debated the drastic provisions of the Bill until 4.30 am Thursday morning. Irvine introduced the Bill by claiming they were confronted with the most ‘momentous crisis that has ever taken place in the history of this State, or of any other of the Australian States’. [56] Given Federation occurred in 1901 and Victoria had only two years of history as a State, Irvine was technically correct! But the armed rebellion at Eureka in 1854 and the several months’ long Maritime Strike in 1890 were far, far worse.

The Bill provided that any employee removed by the Commissioner ‘for striking or joining, or taking part in the strike… shall, on removal or dismissal, in addition to losing any right which he may have or have had to any pension, gratuity, compensation, or superannuation, or retiring allowance, become ineligible for future appointment to, or employment in the railway service or public service, in any capacity whatsoever.’ [57] This alarming and unjust development prompted uneasy strikers at a number of suburban stations to offer a return to work, and coupled with a steadily improving train service, heralded the impending collapse. After just one week, it was all over.[58]

The Enginemen’s Punishment

The government was merciless in its revenge on the LEDFA and the ‘rebel’ enginemen. Although the obnoxious clauses of the Strike Suppression Bill were withdrawn,[59] 26 of the strike organisers were immediately dismissed and denied future government employment.[60] Of the remainder, a tribunal of two Ministers from the Legislative Council was established to identify any who were guilty of intimidation, coercion or violence, or who had intentionally left their trains in an unsafe condition or damaged property. They were refused rehire, as were enginemen who had a history of indiscipline or incompetence. Most of these men were also denied their compensation, gratuity, or pension rights.[61]

Services were gradually recommenced from Monday 18th May, with preference being given to loyal enginemen and about 220 men who had been hired on double pay during the strike. Then came the ‘passive’ members of the LEDFA, employed on short time until they could be vetted by the tribunal. Despite the reduction in train services that had taken place already under the Irvine government economies, it was decided not to restore service to pre-strike levels, pending the arrival of a new Commissioner.

Up to half the striking enginemen were left without work, the plight of the men leading Cardinal Moran to write:- ‘…for my part I entirely dissociate myself from every one of those attacks made upon the poor people who went out on strike. The whole public Press and influence and wealth of the country, in not only Victoria, but in New South Wales and other States, seemed to be combined in one great effort to crush these poor people…I do not see how the men transgressed beyond their rights in a legitimate way to associate themselves with their unions, as every citizen has the privilege of doing…’ [62]

The Reverend W.S. Rollings, the Baptist minister at Sale, made probably the best non-partisan defence of the strikers, sheeting home responsibility to the government for extreme and unwarranted provocation: Bent in particular. In a published sermon, he condemned the press, especially The Age and The Argus, for distorting the issues, and at some length he outlined how ‘Misrepresentation, retrenchment, practical disenfranchisement, appointment of spies, and an attempted curtailment of their social rights supplied all the elements necessary for revolt…’ [63]

After the strike, Shiels remarked that ‘the past and bitter memories of the Railway department would soon fade away into oblivion.’ [64] Similarly Bent said ‘We have got no time to devote to thoughts of the past. We have now to face the future.’ [65] They were deluded, as their actions fostered a bitterness that would be nursed for a generation or more, sometimes with ugly results.

If the government’s actions were reprehensible, so were those of some LEDFA men. The strikers were generally behaved well, but there were a few instances of vandalism, perhaps the worst example being the cutting of the telegraph wires on the North-East main line in eleven places.[66] Lesser misdemeanours included the blocking of a locomotive blast pipe with stones, and the oiling of rails on a gradient near Castlemaine, both intended to stall trains.[67] Most commonly, enginemen who worked throughout the strike endured frequent verbal abuse, and sometimes violence.

On the first day of the strike, a crew from Korumburra was met by a jeering mob at North Melbourne at the end of their shift. They were kidnapped and coerced into joining the strike, but the driver, Loco. Foreman Holmes, refused. He was kicked and punched to the ground, his volunteer fireman being driven to quit.[68] After this, police accompanied all trains and guarded loyalist enginemen resting between shifts.[69] Stones were thrown at a driver as his engine passed beneath a bridge,[70] and a few other instances of assault were reported.[71]

In the heat of the dispute many strikers lost sight of a loyal engineman’s right to disobey the union, just as they valued their right to disobey the government. Conscientious objection to striking was rejected by unionists, but men like Dawes considered it their duty to keep working. [72] Further, it was hardly a sin for unemployed men with dependent families to avail themselves of the chance of well-paid work at a time when unemployment relief was unknown.[73]

The Tocsin, a socialist newspaper, actively approved and encouraged the ostracism of strike breakers, also recommending workers boycott The Age, which had once been their advocate.[74] It also published lists of ‘blacklegs’, one of whom was so persecuted by his neighbours in Collingwood that he was forced to relocate. Some shopkeepers known to have supported the Irvine government were also boycotted.[75]

If any good came out of the dispute, it was the growing calls for the establishment of an arbitration court.[76] This led to the introduction of a Conciliation and Arbitration Bill in the Commonwealth parliament a few months later,[77] and the establishment of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court the following year.

Eight months after the return to work, 70 members of the LEDFA whom the government blamed for fermenting the strike had been precluded from re-employment, and a further 61 strikers were dispensed with after their service records were reviewed by the special sub-committee of Cabinet. All the rest had been re-employed, but the government had pledged to give permanent employment to those volunteer strike breakers who proved themselves competent after a six months trial.

As efficiencies introduced by the incoming Commissioner further reduced the number of trains being run, the need for enginemen was reduced accordingly. Many of the returning drivers, firemen and cleaners were given less important jobs elsewhere in the railways. In all about 400 men were affected.

A large non-partisan deputation comprising equal numbers of politicians and churchmen met with the Commissioners pleading the case of the removed and downgraded men, many of whom were on the verge of destitution, having also lost their retiring allowances. But the government had debarred the Commissioners from employing 131 of the men, and they could only reinstate others to the footplate as business grew.[78]

The Search for a Commissioner

Seven months after Mathieson’s departure, the government indicated its decision to return to a three man Board of Commissioners.[79] The Irvine government prevaricated when it took over in June 1902, but by February 1903 its experience of Bent’s micro-managing confirmed the wisdom of the former government.[80] In this they were prompted by The Argus, its conservative supporter, which a month earlier had editorialised that:-

‘…the proper system of management is that of New South Wales, where the railways are in charge of permanent commissioners, who adhere as closely to commercial principles as the conditions laid down by parliament will allow, and who have always shown a due regard for the interests of the employes…[Mr. Fitzpatrick] is merely an acting commissioner, whose tenure of office is of the slightest description. He has not sufficient authority to act in so great an emergency as the present’ [81]

The weekly companion to The Argus, The Australasian, noted that:- ‘At best, our railway Ministers rarely stay long enough in office to get beyond the elementary stage. To the acutest of them the railway establishment must be more bewildering than the sight of a mob of cattle to a jackaroo.’ [82]

In the meantime, Fitzpatrick’s term as Acting Commissioner had to be extended yet again. [83] By February 1903 ten applications for Commissioner had been received, including offers from Canada and England.[84] An Act of Parliament establishing a board of three railway commissioners was passed on 11th February 1903.[85] A month later Irvine announced the appointment of a Canadian, Thomas Tait, as the new Chairman of Commissioners, on a salary of £3,500 per annum, the same as Mathieson’s.

Tait was engaged on a four year term.[86] Three days later, on 7th March, Irvine announced that the other two commissioners would be Fitzpatrick and Charles Hudson, each to be engaged for four years on £1,500 per annum.[87] Bent appears to have been unaware of this decision, claiming that same day he knew nothing, and it had not been discussed in Cabinet.[88]

Chairman of Commissioners Thomas Tait in 1903. PROV 2707.

Thomas Tait

Tait was born at Melbourne, Quebec, in July 1864. He finished his education at McGill University and in 1880 he started work as a fifteen-year-old in the Audit Office of the Grand Trunk Railway. He learned shorthand and was promoted four times in two years, becoming a clerk in the General Managers office. From there he joined the opposition Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) as the private secretary to William Van Horne, the Vice President and General Manager.

Van Horne was a railway colossus, and Tait spent four years with him. During that time the dynamic American oversaw the rapid construction of the trans-continental railway across Canada to Vancouver, which was completed at the end of 1885. A promotion took Tait west to Moose Jaw, North West Territories (Saskatchewan), where he was Assistant Superintendent.

Less than two years later he was transferred to Toronto as Superintendent of the CPR Ontario Division, and in March 1893 became Assistant General Manager, at just 29 years old. Two more promotions took him to Manager of Transportation, the number two man of the CPR at 36 years old. He visited England in 1896, studying transportation methods, and developed a system which maximised the loading of freight cars and ensured trains were made up to the full haulage capacity of locomotives.

The productivity gains achieved made his name known in North American railroad circles, and he was also involved in negotiations with the Dominion government in Ottawa. Tait was given a glowing recommendation by Sir Sandford Fleming, the CPR’s Chief Engineer during the building of its trans-continental line, and later a Director. Fleming was an advocate of the Trans-Pacific telegraph cable which was completed in 1902. This cable facilitated negotiations between Irvine and Tait.[89]

Charles Hudson

Hudson was born in London in 1853, and began work at age sixteen with the Great Western Railway, and after nine years migrated to New Zealand. He joined the New Zealand Railways about 1880, working as secretary to the Commissioner of the North Island system and later as an audit inspector. He was promoted to Assistant General Manager in 1895 and six years later accepted the position of General Manager of the Tasmanian Railways, commencing on 1st July 1901 with a salary of £1,000, a marginal improvement on his New Zealand Railways salary of £900.

Less than two years after accepting the position in Tasmania, Hudson accepted the offer of a Deputy Commissionership of the Victorian Railways. The £500 salary increase was too good to refuse, but the Tasmanian government tried to keep him with a counter offer to match the Victorian salary of £1,500 within in three years. They were disappointed, and Hudson steamed across Bass Strait on 29th May. He brought particular skills in financial matters, assuming oversight of the accounting and stores branches.[90]

Locomotives for the Twentieth Century

When Tait arrived in June 1903, Newport’s prototype DD class 4-6-0 locomotive had been making a good impression for nearly eight months, but despite the urgent need for powerful new locomotives, no approval had been given to build more. Plans were already being prepared for a suburban tank version of the DD, which would be better suited to heavily graded lines like that to Box Hill and beyond.[91]

Woodroffe had also been pleased with the performance of No. 499, the pattern 2-8-0 Consolidation locomotive from Baldwin. He had called tenders for 15 more of these V class engines even before No. 499 went into regular service on Korumburra coal trains. Phoenix won the contract in February 1901 while they were completing the order for ten AA class 4-4-0s. The first of the Phoenix V class was delivered in November that year, with the others following at approximately monthly intervals until December 1902.[92] But the supply of new locomotives of large and modern design remained just a trickle.

In mid-1899 Woodroffe had requested 75 new locomotives, but in the three and a half years following only ten had been obtained.[93] In the six years between 1894 and 1900, no new locomotives had been delivered, except for two narrow gauge engines in 1898. The Age put this down to ‘pettifogging careless’ mismanagement that necessitated the ‘the haulage of nearly two tons of dead weight for every ton of live load…[but] there has been nothing to prevent our management from working towards bigger trucks, more powerful locomotives, larger trains and better filling of the trucks’. [94]

Nothing? Just ten years of financial privation! Probably stung by this malicious criticism, Woodroffe prepared a report detailing the state of the locomotive fleet.[95] In this he referred to the accomplishment of Norman’s branch in relaying the main lines from Melbourne to Wodonga, Serviceton, Colac, Traralgon and Echuca with 80 lb rails, suitable for heavy locomotives of greater power.[96] All but a few existing locomotives were small light lines types, of 26 different classes, with many thirty to forty years old. The use of small locomotives on the main lines was inefficient due to their limited power. But the heavy locomotives then available could not be used on the 60 lb lines that comprised the rest of the network. For locomotive purposes, it was tantamount to a break of gauge.

This was why more DD class locomotives were urgently needed. They had power equivalent to ‘heavy’ engines like the AA, that were restricted to main lines, but spread their weight over ten wheels so they could run over 60 lb lines. Only four types of engine were needed for the foreseeable future – the E for suburban traffic, the AA for main line passenger trains, the V for heavy trains on light lines, and most of all, the DD, which could go practically anywhere.

AA 544 drifting through Pascoe Vale with the up Sydney Express circa 1900. The largest 4-4-0s in Australia, the AA’s dramatically reduced the need for double heading. PROV H1137.

Forty new engines were needed immediately: a bold call in the middle of the Irvine government’s savage economies. But in December 1902 Woodroffe found an advocate in Bent. Despite his insistence on staff redundancies and withdrawal of privileges, he secured an £80,000 budget for ten more AA class 4-4-0s from Phoenix. This second batch had slightly larger boilers and large capacity bogie tenders to better suit them for long non-stop running.[97] Sufficient funds remained for the building of four more DD class 4-6-0s.

Woodroffe was ready, having already ordered the material pending a contract being granted. It was a start, but he pushed for more, graphically demonstrating the situation with a diagram depicting every engine in the fleet, showing a total of only 43 locomotives to the four modern designs against the remaining 517 in the fleet, most of which were small light lines designs, 109 of which he considered unworthy of any significant expenditure on repairs.

The diagram prepared by Chief Draftsman Eugene Siepen in March 1903 to support the case for building more DD class 4-6-0s.

The Cabinet approved construction of 39 more DD’s in February 1903 and tenders were subsequently called. That from Phoenix was the lowest, but Woodroffe and his men believed Newport could build them cheaper, and obtained permission to quote. [98] Phoenix desperately needed a follow-on contract to keep their business going after the last of the AA class was due to be outshopped by mid-1903. With little prospect of contracts from the mining industry, which was in the doldrums, the spectre of closure was looming over Phoenix, with 160 men facing unemployment.[99]

The Phoenix quote was £48,000 above that of Newport, but Bent contrived a ruse to favour the Ballarat company. Shortly before the enginemen’s strike Bent ‘discovered’ that men at Newport were members of unions affiliated with the Trades Hall, and he ruled that the Railway’s tender would be disqualified unless the men resigned from their union.[100] It did little but delay a decision, as did the strike. During that turmoil Bent was forced to take a low profile while Irvine directed the government response throughout. On the eve of the enginemen’s walk-off, the Minister of Railways told journalists the matter was ‘altogether in the hands of the Premier’. He reiterating this a few days later, telling them:- ‘The Premier’s in there. He’ll tell you everything.’ [101]

Tait Arrives

Tait arrived on 1st June 1903, travelling by train from Sydney, where he had disembarked from the S.S. Miowera.[102] Bent and the government had been dithering over the tenders for more DD class locomotives since the previous February, but just three weeks after the Canadian assumed control Cabinet approved the building of ten DD’s at Newport. These were to the same basic design as the prototype No. 560, but with a few minor modifications. The government nevertheless prevaricated on awarding contracts for the remaining 29 engines for which tenders had been received.[103]

Bent was at odds with the new Commissioner in less than a month, overstepping his authority by receiving a delegation complaining of Tait’s decision to close the non-paying Lubeck to Rupanyup branch. This put him immediately at odds with Shiels, who insisted Tait was to have a free hand.[104] Irvine was not impressed either, and two weeks later announced a Ministerial reshuffle, allowing Shiels, who was in ill health, to relinquish the Treasury portfolio and replace Bent as Minister of Railways.

Bent retained his portfolios of Public Works and of Health, but only became aware of the demotion when he read about it in The Age. [105] An editorial in Syme’s weekly The Leader observed that during the interregnum between Mathieson’s departure and Tait’s arrival, ‘the Minister was allowed to take a much more active part in the administration of the railways than is contemplated by the system of business control, and this experience of personal power has apparently had a heady influence.’ [106] But the railways had not seen the last of Tommy Bent!

Drought breaking rains were promising a big wheat crop, which was a cause of concern to Tait and Woodroffe. The locomotive fleet was barely up to the task. Finally, at its meeting on 18th August, Cabinet decided to award a contract for five DD locomotives to Phoenix. The news was acclaimed at Ballarat, with bunting being flown from City Hall to the bewilderment of the Phoenix Manager. Someone had forgotten to inform him!

The contract meant that 160 jobs would continue, worth from £300 to £350 per week to the local economy.[107] Phoenix had purchased new machinery in the sanguine anticipation of further locomotive contracts. But the finishing of their first two DD’s was delayed waiting the wheels, which still had to be imported and then finished on Newport’s lathe. It required the intervention of the Premier to urge a reluctant Woodroffe to send the needed wheel sets up to Ballarat![108]

The Taits Make an Impression

Just after the close of the financial year, Shiels announced an expected Treasury surplus of £153,000. It was a vindication of the government’s tough decision to squeeze the public service and railways, and a remarkable turnaround from the predicted State budget deficit £953,000.[109] But there was no intention to relax, and from the outset Tait made it clear that his remit was to ‘make the railways pay’. [110] An ailing Shiels took over as Minister of Railways on 1st July 1903, and gave Tait a free hand.

The Chairman’s first move was to allocate responsibilities to the other Commissioners: Fitzpatrick for the Traffic, Locomotive and Telegraph branches, and Hudson for the Accounts and Stores branches, including matters of a financial nature. Tait took on oversight of the Existing Lines Branch, staff and matters of an executive nature. He also retained general control over the whole service. Soon he discovered that the Existing Lines Branch was overmanned and determined to make further reductions.

The Commissioners had a ‘little list of those who would be least missed’ and wanted to end ‘political surveys’ ordered by the Railway Standing Committee. Only a quarter of the lines surveyed at their request since 1894 had so far been built.[111] By March 1904 Tait was pressing strongly for the abolition of the Committee. The Age which had been a great supporter of the Committee, now agreed that most ‘people will be inclined to the view that the committee serves no purpose beyond providing fees for its members, and that it should be abolished altogether.’ [112]

Tait quickly made it clear that he would not be browbeaten by politicians. His taciturn manner could be disconcerting. Members of Parliament looking for favours were called ‘departmental trotters’ but Tait would offer them a cigar. Once lit, he would sit back in his chair behind his great desk and say ‘Well?’ A little unnerved, the visitor would make his request and Tait would express his sympathy but firmly remind the caller that he had been hired to run the railways on commercial principles.[113] Tait had no intention to be a ‘Minister’s Deputy’ and was always ready to pack his bags, knowing he would be welcomed back by the Canadian Pacific Railway.[114]

In 1890, during his posting to Toronto with the CPR, Tait married 19 years old Emily St Aubert Cockburn,[115] the daughter of George R. Cockburn, the president of the Ontario Bank and former Member of Parliament for Toronto. Emily seems to have been a lady well versed in social etiquette. Her brother had served in the Governor General’s bodyguard, and was awarded the Victoria Cross in the Boer War.[116]

Soon after arriving in Melbourne, Emily was drawing the attention in the society pages. The 32-year-old was variously described as tall and graceful, pretty, smart, well dressed, bright and elegant. Within weeks she and her husband were guests at a Vice-Regal reception, and she was a center of attention at the Flemington races. Later she also made a splash at the Caulfield Cup.[117] Initially residing at Menzies Hotel, the Tait’s later found a home in St Kilda.[118]

Tait Passes his First Big Test

The upcoming bumper wheat harvest was not going to catch Tait unprepared. The locomotive fleet had been somewhat strengthened since the last big harvest in 1901, with an additional order of ten AA class 4-4-0s, and the 15 Phoenix V class 2-8-0’s. Newport Workshops was also instructed to hurry construction of DD class 4-6-0s so that five would be available for the 1903-04 harvest. These thirty engines would do the work of sixty of the older locomotives Woodroffe was looking to scrap. Nevertheless, orders were given to ensure every serviceable locomotive was repaired and readied for the surge in traffic, including 40-year-old veteran B and O class engines.

The situation with the truck fleet had also improved since 1901. A new design of all-steel ‘I’ class truck, with a carrying capacity of 15 tons and a six ton tare was being churned out of Newport. By the end of October 1903 there were 140 ready, with a further 75 in hand. It was expected all would be available for the harvest. The expectation was realised, the new trucks being dubbed ‘Tommy Bents’. They had a load to tare ratio of 2½ to 1, instead of 2 to 1 for the best of the other ‘I’ trucks, and a proud Commissioner Fitzpatrick considered them the best 4-wheeled stock ‘in any part of the world’.[119] Many railwaymen were not so sure.

‘Tommy Bent’ all steel 15 ton capacity ‘I’ truck loaded with bagged wheat at Melbourne Goods, circa 1904. PROV H2200.

However, regardless of how many locomotives and trucks were available to carry wheat, unless trucks could be quickly unloaded and returned upcountry for another load, the railway network would quickly become congested. Tait therefore turned his attention to the ports, arranging for ship loading to be undertaken by day and night, with electric lighting installed at three Williamstown piers. The Harbour Trust also made four berths at Victoria Dock available.

If stevedores were unwilling to work three shifts, Tait noted that as the piers were railway property he was prepared to use railway employees to load ships. And to further hasten the turnaround of trucks and prevent blockages at port sidings, new By-Laws were promulgated mandating demurrage charges on consignees. If their trucks were not unloaded at the port within eight hours, demurrage would be charged. At upcountry sidings just three hours were allowed for loading 15 tons of bagged wheat into waiting trucks, after which charges were applied.

The demurrage charges would be strictly enforced, and ship owners would also be charged if their vessels overstayed at a berth. To assist the lumpers move the heavy bags of grain, electrically driven conveyors were introduced. [120] These arrangements were welcomed by growers, but a storm broke over the Commissioners’ decision to increase grain rates.

Irvine’s government had decided to scrap the subsidy granted the Victorian Railways in 1899 in response to a directive to lower grain rates. That would have resulted in an estimated £80,000 shortfall in railway revenue, so Tait announced an increase in grain rates. He explained that the cost to farmers would amount to an average of about 1½d per acre of their crop.[121] But encouraged by The Age and The Argus, farming interests denounced the new charges,[122] and MP’s from country districts made things uncomfortable for the government.

A compromise was reached whereby only half the subsidy would be withdrawn, and as railway rate increases would bring in £20,000, the railways would bear half the shortfall. But the Commissioners would not budge in their determination to raise rates on small consignments of grain. At a private conference with over thirty interested country MP’s, Tait favourably compared the new rates with those in NSW and Canada, and explained the measures being taken to clear the expected bumper harvest.

His ‘exhaustive and lucid’ presentation won them over, one MP commenting ‘Mr Tait seemed to have a good grip of the subject, and, in fact, he convinced me that the grain rates are not unreasonable.’ [123] Tait knew the vicissitudes Canadian farmers endured in growing wheat ten times further from ports than Victorians, and his stories of coping with savage winters on the Prairies were sobering. ‘The farmers here really don’t know when they are well off. A season or two out there would enlighten them.’ [124]

South Gippsland coal was also being carried below cost. The introduction of the big V class Consolidation locomotives and five more of the giant ‘OO’ class bogie coal hoppers had improved efficiency. A train of six OO’s, each of 45 tons capacity, released 27 standard 10 ton I trucks for wheat traffic.[125] But something had to be done about the rates, and the Commissioners increased them from ½d. to ¾d. per ton mile, which was the same as the rate for carrying unsubsidised NSW coal. The miners objected, of course. Ex railway commissioner K.L. Murray had been appointed Chairman of the Jumbunna Coal Company. He led a delegation to Premier Irvine. The Premier gave them little hope, because ‘the Chief Commissioner had applied himself with great diligence to the question’.[126]

V class Consolidation locomotive and six ‘OO’ class 45 ton coal hoppers discharging on the North Melbourne coal stage. Circa 1903. A 10 ton all steel ‘I’ truck is on the bottom road. PROV H1122.


The commissioners inspected the newly completed Mildura line, which at 351 miles was now the longest in Victoria. Their train left Melbourne on 11th October 1903 with the Heads of Branches and other officials accommodated in a Boudoir car and a composite ABab sleeper, as the journey took nineteen hours. The last 14 mile section north of Yatpool had been ‘completed’ just eight days before the inspection train passed over. They arrived at the site of Mildura station which had yet to be built.

Tait must have had confidence in the ‘track force’, his new name for the track gangs. They had laid track at the rate of 1¼ to 1½ miles per day, on some sections skipping every alternate sleeper. The missing sleepers had probably been inserted before the Commissioners arrived, but the line was far from finished. After greeting excited locals, some of whom had never seen a train, the inspection party boarded the P.S. Trafalgar for the voyage down river to Wentworth, arriving there in the record time of just 26 hours after leaving Spencer Street.

The Victorian government intended to extend the railway to that town at the confluence of the Murray and Darling Rivers. There was much local agitation in favour of the extension but it was not to be.[127] The line was opened for traffic as far as Mildura two weeks later, on 27th October. A rudimentary station had been built for the official opening by the Governor on 13th November. Two trains carried about 125 dignitaries and politicians, most being accommodated in sleeping cars. The Premier did not attend, nor did Bent, who was prevented by an injury.[128]


Tait found himself in charge of a basically British railway system, with little scope or need for a radical transformation on North American lines, but he could introduce American methods and terminology. In October 1903 the Traffic Branch was renamed the Transportation Branch, Yard Inspectors became Yard Masters, track inspectors became Road Masters, works inspectors Works Masters. The Existing Lines Branch became the Way and Works Branch, and the Locomotive Branch was renamed the Rolling Stock Branch. He would like to have changed the nation’s currency too, as he found it difficult to ‘talk in English money’.

By 1904 ‘automobilism’ was seizing the public imagination, the first Australian car race taking place at Sandown racecourse in March and reports of a world speed record of 90 mph at Daytona Beach in Florida.[129] But what worked on roads would do so with less friction on rails. Tait had renamed track gangs the ‘track force’, and these were equipped with petrol driven trolleys (‘oil motor cars’) and hand-cars, enabling gangs to get to their work sites faster and with less effort, thereby increasing productivity and reducing the numbers employed. [130]

The methods Tait had pioneered on the CPR were quickly adopted in Victoria. Consignors were encouraged to load trucks to their maximum weight, and trains were built up to the full load allowed their locomotives. This meant fewer trains were run, but those that did were well loaded and there was a reduction in the movement of empty trucks. The results were dramatic. Despite the cuts in train miles that Bent had ordered for the 1902-03 year, Tait was able to reduce the goods train miles by a further ten percent in his first year.

Yet grain was promptly railed to the ports and loaded on ships as fast as they were able to carry it away. A good harvest raised the volume of goods carried to pre-drought levels. Goods traffic in 1903-04 was almost identical to that of 1901-02, but the task was accomplished with a 17 percent reduction in goods train miles. The increased rates also produced a four percent rise in goods revenue compared to the pre-drought year.[131]

Tait was impressed with the new ten-wheeled DD class prototype, but wanted alterations. The first of the new order was exhibited at Spencer Street on 19th October, having been built in just eleven weeks, with no time to make changes. But an easy change was accomplished with the second, which appeared a month later. The traditional green livery with yellow lining and polished brass work was replaced with a red-brown colour described as ‘Canadian Red’, lined out in white and black.[132] Ostensibly less prone to show dirt, more likely the change was a quick and cheap way to advertise the Victorian Railways was under new management!

Tait’s first substantial alteration to the DD design was the provision of a wider, roomier cab for the crew, similar to those then being used on the CPR. It was introduced on No. 588, which was placed in service on Christmas Eve, 1903.[133] The final change was the raising of the running plate above the wheels to make the working parts more accessible. This was provided on all the second group of ten engines manufactured at Newport in the second half of 1904 and quite changed the locomotive’s appearance from its British Kitson lineage.[134]

Phoenix built Dd 608 with the Canadian cab but still with low running plate and splashers over the driving wheels, with a mixed train at Northcote in 1912.

The DD class was then built continuously until 1920, a total of 263 making them the most numerous of any locomotive in Victoria. Another idea Tait brought across the Pacific was the establishment of a Railway Institute. He had been instrumental in encouraging McGill University to establish a railway training course to equip young men for railway careers, and the three main Canadian railway companies contributed $12,000 annually to support this initiative.[135]

Towards Profitability

From the beginning, Tait was confident in the value of Victoria’s railway assets. Challenging the pessimists fixated on the railway debt, he quoted an authority that for every £1 invested in railways the wealth of the country increased by £5. He considered the Melbourne suburban railway system ‘one of the best in the world’ and was convinced of the Victorian Railways potential. The editorialist at The Herald penned that Tait was a ‘better judge than some journalistic phrase-maker under pithy instructions from his chief to “go for” Speight, Mathieson, Fitzpatrick or whoever else it chanced to be who showed the least sign of backbone at the Railway department’.[136]

Shiels was delighted with the improved financial outlook, but by February 1904 he was a very sick man, suffering acute angina. After spending most of the previous month confined at home, he bowed to the inevitable and retired as Minister of Railways, also declining to contest the next election.[137] In a former role as Premier he had engineered Speight’s removal, but now he heaped praise on the new railway commissioners. Tait and his colleagues were ‘the best board of managers that the Victorian railways ever had… we have never had before railway managers so keenly scrutinising and keeping such a firm grip on the expenditure of the department.’ [138]

The financial results reported later that year supported his view. The financial year ended with an operating ratio (working expenses to revenue) of 52.6, compared to 60.1 for 1901-02. It was the best result for 24 years. Not since 1879, when the railway network was only a third the size and yet to grow numerous ‘cockspurs’ (branch lines), had it been operated so efficiently. Most welcome of all, after interest charges had been met there was a small surplus of £519. This was a big improvement on the previous year’s deficit of £304,094 and the first profit since that of the Speight administration in 1889. [139]

But while productivity improved quickly in Tait’s first year, the prospects for employees were not so bright. Dozens of tradesmen at Newport were found to be surplus, and either put off or reduced to labourers.[140] About 180 casuals had been put off, and the longer hours forced on operating staff during the drought year of 1902-03 were still being endured in mid-1904, with some signalmen required to work a ten hour day. Some enginemen would work seven hours one day, then seventeen hours the next.

Dd 620 with the Canadian cab and high running plate, resplendent in Canadian Red livery, drifting into Hawthorn with a down suburban train, not long after it was outshopped from Newport in November 1904. PROV H1134.

It was a situation the Commissioners regretted, but one they had inherited and felt unable to alter until business improved further.[141] Tait made a good impression on the enginemen, being approachable and concerned for their welfare, as was Hudson, who opposed the withdrawal of privileges to railwaymen when General Manager of the Tasmanian Government Railways.[142] But they were constrained by a government still determined to get the State back on a sound financial footing.

Shiels’ replacement as Minister of Railways was Bent, taking the portfolio for the third time in his parliamentary career. Along with Shiels and also on the grounds of ill-health, Irvine resigned as Premier. [143] The depleted government therefore handed Bent the reins of State! Many in the labour movement were glad to see Shiels and Irvine go,[144] but Bent had been their willing lieutenant and now he was Premier. Those on the conservative side were sad to lose the two ‘strongest members’ of the Ministry, and doubted the ability of Bent to hold it together.[145]

Newport Ascendant

Bent had a predilection to favour private companies, and on becoming Premier requested Tait to agree to a follow-on order for the Phoenix Foundry, as their existing order for five DD class locomotives was well advanced.[146] Two months later he announced he had decided to give Phoenix another order for an additional five locomotives, but another month passed with no action and Phoenix was running out of work.

The Railway Commissioners and Woodroffe were opposing the Premier, making it abundantly plain that Newport was building the DD class engines for £3,232 each, or about a thousand pounds below the expected Phoenix price. Bent was in a bind, and announced he had ordered a thorough investigation of costs. But Newport had been carefully costing its work and the proof was already evident.

Leading a government determined to watch the State’s finances, Bent could not knowingly pay an inflated price. So the next day he made a political compromise, and awarded Phoenix a contract for just two more locomotives. It provided work for one hundred men over the winter, but they desperately needed a large follow-on order.[147] Exerting political pressure through their local Members of Parliament, a Select Committee was set up to investigate construction costs.

Chief Mechanical Engineer Thomas Hale Woodroffe circa 1903. PROV H2706.

In November Woodroffe was called to give evidence. He showed that the five DD class engines ordered from Phoenix in August 1903 had cost £4,324 each, whereas the ten built concurrently at Newport had been manufactured for £1,092 less per engine. Furthermore, with new machinery and improved labour productivity, a second order for ten DD engines was given in July 1904 and these were being delivered by Newport for just £3,023 each. No overseas builder could match that price, the cheapest American and German bids being approximately £3,300.[148] So when Phoenix delivered DD 634 two days before Christmas 1904, it became the last of 352 locomotives the Ballarat foundry had built for the Victorian Railways.[149]

The Dawn of the Second Age

At the end of 1904 there were 28 DD class locomotives in service, 20 AA class and 16 V class: 64 large modern locomotives. They were able to do the work of twice that many of the little old engines from the early days. Woodroffe was preparing to build many more big locomotives and many more high capacity trucks. There were long lines of obsolete engines cluttering Newport Workshops, including some of the first built under Meikle’s supervision when Woodroffe was an apprentice. Scrapping of these locomotives was occurring out the back of the workshops while big new DD’s emerged from the erecting shop at the front. It was visible evidence that an era was passing.

Obsolete Locomotives Waiting Scrapping at Newport Workshops, February 1904. PROV H3541.

Great change was taking place in civil engineering too. Norman was working towards relaying the main lines to carry locomotives even more powerful and heavier than the DD. In the 1903-04 financial year alone, nearly 70 miles had been relaid with new 80 lb rail, and seven miles with 100 lb rail. Added to this, the safety enhancements had continued apace, so that by mid-1904, interlocking of points and signals had been installed at 493 stations, yards and junctions. The Electric Staff safeworking system had been installed on most busy single lines.[150]

But funds were still tight, and work on the new station at Flinders Street had slowed, with only the subways and new platforms completed by 1904. With time to think about the proposed building, the Commissioners had decided a fourth floor would pay for itself in additional rents, and plans were altered accordingly.[151] For the time being they advised against electrification of the suburban lines, but new works would be carried out with future electrification in mind.[152] Tait was also preparing to introduce petrol or steam omnibuses as feeders to suburban trains as a cheaper alternative to electric trams.[153]

Although the Australian public was becoming familiar with automobiles, another event which was to radically change transportation in the new century nearly went unnoticed. The first flight of a heavier than air motorised aeroplane in December 1903 took two months to rate a mention in an Australian newspaper, and even then was not widely reported.[154] But 1904 marks the end of the first age of railways in Victoria. By 1904 the Victorian Railways were also on the cusp of radical changes which would mark their second age, but the advances about to come would be built on the foundation laid down in the 19th Century during their first age.

The Victorian Railways 1904. 3,380 route miles, 550 locomotives, 1,200 carriages and vans, 10,025 goods trucks. © Andrew Waugh.

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


End Notes

  1. Age, 22 June 1901, p. 4.
  2. Ballarat Star, 21 August 1901, p. 2.
    See Federation University of Australia:- Richard Taylor Vale
  3. Victorian Parliamentary Debates (VPD), 1901, Vol. 97, pp. 794-96. 14th August.
    Herald, 19 June 1916, p. 3. Noted in a eulogy for Vale.
  4. Bruce Scates, William Arthur Trenwith, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 12, MUP, 1990. Trenwith carried on as Minister of Railways after Turner resigned in February 1901.
    Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate:- William Arthur Trenwith/
  5. VPD, 1901, Vol. 99, p. 3749. 19th December.
  6. Age, 18 November 1901, p. 6.
  7. Herald, 18 December 1901, p. 2.
  8. Advocate, 5 July 1902, p. 20.
  9. VPD, 1902, Vol. 100, p. v.
  10. Weston Bate, Sir Thomas Bent, Australian Dictionary of Biography, MUP, Vol. 3, 1969.
  11. Weekly Times, 9 August 1902, pp. 23-24.
  12. Bendigo Advertiser, 16 December 1898, p. 2.
  13. Herald, 11 September 1902, p. 4. (Summary of findings)
    Ballarat Star, 12 September 1902, p. 1. (Full report)
  14. Advocate, 5 July 1902, p. 20.
  15. Leader, 20 September 1902, p. 21
  16. Geoffrey Serle, William Shiels , Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 11, MUP, 1988. Serle incorrectly states Shiels was also Minister of Railways.
    Weekly Times, 9 August 1902, pp. 23-24.
  17. VPD, 1902, Vol. 101, p.iv.
  18. Argus, 9 October 1902, p. 5.
    Report of the Victorian Railways Commissioner for the year ended 30th June 1903, Victorian Parliamentary Papers (VPD) 1903, No. 19, Appendix 23, p. 39. Actual total 11,056.
  19. Argus, 6 February 1903, p. 5.
  20. Argus, 21 March 1903, p. 17.
  21. Victorian Railways Annual Reports 1894 to 1904.
  22. Argus, 30 March 1915, p. 6.
    Don Gibb, Canterbury: A History, Melbourne, 2019, pp. 43, 72-73.
  23. Bendigo Advertiser, 12 August 1902, p. 3.
  24. Yackandandah Times, 19 April 1901, p. 3.
    Leader, 14 December 1901, p. 21.
  25. Advocate, 28 December 1901, p. 16.
  26. Argus, 9 October 1902, p. 5.
  27. Victorian Railways: Report…30 June 1903, VPP 1903, No. 19, p. 10.
  28. Age, 19 December 1902, p. 4.
  29. Ovens and Murray Advertiser,11 October 1902, p. 10.
  30. Argus, 9 October 1902, p. 5.
  31. Tocsin, 18 June 1903, p. 4.
  32. Hosea 8:7.
  33. Ballarat Star, 14 October 1902, p. 2.
  34. Argus, 9 October 1902, p. 5.
  35. Argus, 28 November 1902, p. 5.
    Leader, 29 November 1902, p. 24.
  36. Melbourne Punch, 13 November 1902, p. 4.
  37. Age, 29 October 1902, p. 8. Norman explained that his instructions were the same as those issued after the retrenchments of 1892.
  38. Arena, 30 October 1902, page 1.
  39. Gippsland Times, 21 May 1903, p. 3.
    Herald, 2 April 1903, p. 1.
  40. Australasian, 7 February 1903, p. 34.
    Leader, 28 February 1903, p. 21.
  41. Ovens and Murray Advertiser, 28 February 1903, p. 1.
  42. This was the widely reported name of the Association, but it officially changed its name in 1902 to the Victorian Locomotive Engine Drivers’, Firemens’ and Cleaners’ Association. See Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Employees:- AFULE History.
  43. Tocsin, 30 April 1903, p. 4.
    Melbourne Punch, 23 April 1903, p. 3.
  44. Herald, 30 April 1903, p. 4.
    Tocsin, 30 April 1903, p. 4.
  45. Leader, 2 May 1903, p. 26.
  46. Herald, 1 May 1903, p. 6.
  47. Leader, 2 May 1903, p. 23.
  48. Argus, 4 May 1903, p. 5.
  49. Herald, 8 May 1903, p. 5. The union ultimatum.
    Australasian, 9 May 1903, p. 36. The Premier’s ultimatum.
  50. Herald, 9 May 1903, p. 3.
  51. Age, 12 May 1903, p. 6.
  52. Herald, 11 May 1903, p. 4.
  53. Herald, 12 May 1903, p. 4.
    Kerang New Times, 15 May 1903, p. 2. The engines are Old R class 0-6-0s.
    Mount Alexander Mail, 13 May 1903, p. 2.
    Bairnsdale Advertiser and Tambo and Omeo Chronicle, 12 May 1903, p. 2.
    Ballarat Star, 13 May 1903, p. 1.
  54. Herald, 13 May 1903, p. 4.
    Age, 14 May 1903, p. 6.
  55. Herald, 14 May 1903, p. 4.
  56. VPD, 1903, Vol. 104, pp. 1, 4.
  57. VPD, 1903, Vol. 104, p. 52. Irvine quoting Clause 4 for the Bill.
  58. Herald, 15 May 1903, p. 4; 16 May 1903, p. 4.
  59. Australasian, 23 May 1903, p. 36.
  60. Herald, 16 May 1903, p. 4.
  61. Leader, 2 May 1903, p. 23; 23 May 1903, p. 23. All employed prior to 1883 were entitled to pensions amounting to one-sixtieth of their salary for every year of service up to a maximum of forty-sixtieths. Others were entitled to compensation amounting to a month’s salary for every year of service.
  62. North Eastern Ensign (Benalla), 22 May 1903, p. 2.
  63. Gippsland Times, 21 May 1903, p. 3.
    For the complete text, see Trove:- The Case for the Men
    Also of interest, see Trove:- Christ and the Railway Crisis
  64. Age, 22 May 1903, p. 5.
  65. Herald, 20 May 1903, p. 4.
  66. North Eastern Ensign (Benalla), 22 May 1903, p. 2.
  67. Mount Alexander Mail, 12 May 1903, p. 2; 14 May 1903, p. 2.
  68. Argus, 11 May 1903, p. 9.
  69. Mount Alexander Mail, 12 May 1903, p. 2; 13 May 1903, p. 2.
  70. Mount Alexander Mail, 12 May 1903, p. 2.
  71. Age, 23 May 1903, p. 9.
  72. Geelong Advertiser, 15 May 1903, p. 2.
  73. Ballarat Star, 12 May 1903, p. 1.
  74. Tocsin, 18 June 1903, p. 4.
  75. North Eastern Ensign (Benalla), 22 May 1903, p. 2.
  76. Coburg Leader, 23 May 1903, p. 4.
    Tocsin, 4 June 1903, p. 14.
  77. Age, 6 July 1903, p. 6.
  78. Age, 24 February 1904, p. 5.
  79. Leader, 14 December 1901, p. 21.
  80. Age, 5 February 1903, p. 5.
  81. Argus, 2 January 1903, p. 4.
  82. Australasian, 7 February 1903, p. 34.
  83. Argus, 2 January 1903, p. 4; 24 January 1903, p. 13.
  84. Age, 5 February 1903, p. 5.
  85. Argus, 12 February 1903, p. 8.
  86. Argus, 4 March 1903, p. 5.
  87. Age, 7 March 1903, p. 11.
    Daily Telegraph (Launceston), 9 March 1903, p. 5.
  88. Ballarat Star, 6 March 1903, p. 6. There may be other explanations.
  89. Argus, 4 March 1903, p. 5.
    Melbourne Punch, 7 April 1904, p. 22.
    Susan Johnston, Sir Thomas Tait, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 12, MUP, 1990.
    See Graces Guide:- Sandford Fleming.
    See Wikipedia:- Sandford Fleming.
  90. Daily Telegraph (Launceston), 23 May 1901, p. 3; 9 March 1903, p. 5.
    Mercury, 25 May 1901, p. 5.
    Argus, 30 May 1903, p. 12; 25 March 1909, p. 7. Information about Hudson’s career is sketchy. Where there is conflict, the earlier reports are preferred.
  91. Victorian Railways, Chief Mechanical Engineers Branch. ‘Diagram Showing New & Proposed Types of Locos also Existing Serviceable & Unserviceable Engines as referred to in Report 30th July 1902.’
  92. Norman Cave, John Buckland and David Beardsell, Steam Locomotives of the Victorian Railways Volume 1: The First Fifty Years, Melbourne, 2002, p. 195.
  93. Age, 20 February 1903, p. 5.
  94. Age, 1 November 1902, p. 4.
  95. Argus, 2 January 1903, p. 5.
  96. Age, 24 December 1902, p. 5.
  97. Age, 20 February 1903, p. 5. Funds for four DD’s were available and material ordered.
  98. Age, 20 February 1903, p. 5.
  99. Ballarat Star, 28 April 1903, p. 6.
  100. Bendigo Independent, 29 April 1903, p. 2. The Phoenix tender was £195,000, against the Newport tender of £147,000.
  101. Ballarat Star, 8 May 1903, p. 6.
    Age, 11 May 1903, p. 5.
  102. Argus, 28 May 1903, p. 5.
    Herald, 1 June 1903, p. 4.
  103. Herald, 22 June 1903, p. 4.
  104. Argus, 2 July 1903, p. 6.
  105. Age, 13 July 1903, p. 4; 16 July 1903, p. 6.
    Leo Harrigan, Victorian Railways to ’62, Victorian Railways, 1962, p. 274.
  106. Leader, 11 July 1903, p. 21.
  107. Ballarat Star, 20 August 1903, p. 6.
  108. Robert Butrims and David Macartney, The Phoenix Foundry: Locomotive Builders of Ballarat, ARHS, Williamstown, 2013, pp. 132-32
  109. Argus, 6 July 1903, p. 4.
    Age, 19 December 1902, p. 4.
  110. Melbourne Punch, 19 November 1903, p. 5.
  111. Leader, 6 June 1903, p. 24; 4 July 1903, p. 21.
    Herald, 1 August 1903, p. 3.
  112. Age, 23 March 1904, p. 7.
  113. Melbourne Punch, 18 June 1903, p. 4; 19 November 1903, p. 5.
  114. Herald, 1 August 1903, p. 3.
  115. Susan Johnston, Sir Thomas Tait, (Thomas and Emily married on 10 December 1890).
    See WikiTree:- Emily StAubert Cockburn.
  116. Argus, 4 March 1903, p. 5.
    Melbourne Punch, 7 April 1904, p. 22.
  117. Table Talk, 16 July 1903; 10 September 1903, p. 20; 22 October 1903, p. 19.
    Melbourne Punch, 4 June 1903, p. 22; 16 July 1903.
  118. Melbourne Punch, 7 April 1904, p. 22. The house was ‘Orwell’, in Robe Street, St. Kilda.
  119. Australasian, 31 October 1903, p. 30.
    Age, 26 January 1904, p. 8.
  120. Australasian, 31 October 1903, p. 30; 21 November 1903, p. 12; 19 December 1903, p. 7.
    Williamstown Chronicle, 31 October 1903, p. 3; 28 November 1903, p. 2.
    Leader, 31 October 1903, p. 36. Includes a photograph of a ship loading conveyor.
  121. Age, 20 October 1903, p. 5.
  122. Ovens and Murray Advertiser, 21 November 1903, p. 4.
    Age, 13 November 1903, p. 5; 17 November 1903, p. 5.
  123. Herald, 19 November 1903, p. 4.
    Argus, 17 November 1903, p. 5.
    Australasian, 21 November 1903, pp. 12, 36; 19 December 1903, p. 5.
    Leader, 28 November 1903, p. 8.
  124. Melbourne Punch, 7 April 1904, p. 22.
  125. Victorian Railways: Report…30 June 1903, VPP 1903, No. 19, Appendix 3, p. 19; and 30 June 1903, VPP 1903, No. 19, p. 10. The payload had been increased from the 40 tons of the prototype to 45 tons.
  126. Age, 1 September 1903, p. 5.
  127. Argus, 10 October 1903, p. 17.
    Adelaide Observer, 10 October 1903, p. 32.
    Barrier Miner, 14 October 1903, p. 2.
    Mildura Cultivator, 17 October 1903, p. 9.
  128. Mildura Cultivator, 21 November 1903, p. 8.
    Chronicle (Adelaide), Saturday 28 November 1903, p. 43. Photograph shows the portable building, an Adelaide Express Boudoir car, and an ABab Portland sleeping car.
    Victorian Railways: Report…30 June 1904, VPP 1904, No. 32, p. 4.
  129. Australasian, 19 March 1904, p. 22.
    Leader, 19 March 1904, p. 17.
  130. Australasian, 3 October 1903, p. 35.
    Argus, 17 October 1903, p. 14.
    Victorian Railways: Report…30 June 1904, VPP 1904, No. 32, p. 9.
  131. Victorian Railways: Report…30 June 1904, VPP 1904, No. 32, pp. 6, 9.
  132. Cave et al, p. 202.
    Geelong Advertiser, 7 December 1903, p. 2. This appears to be the first reference to the new livery.
  133. Age, 20 October 1903, p. 4. The first of ten DD’s ordered in June was exhibited at Spencer Street on 19th October, having been built in just eleven weeks, but no comment was made about a change of livery.
    Cave et al, pp. 198, 201-202. Notes the change in colour was introduced in September 1903, and the new cab design made on 1 September 1903. The Canadian red livery was probably introduced with No. 584, which entered service on 17th November 1903. The photo of No. 582 as built shows a polished brass dome.
    VPD, 1903, Vol. 13. p. 1572. 1 December. No newspaper reference to the first appearance of the new Canadian red livery can be found, but Mr. Smith, MLA, said that ‘during the last few months many of the locomotives had been painted…Canadian red…’
  134. Cave et al, pp. 198, 202.
  135. Herald, 26 March 1904, p. 6.
  136. Herald, 14 September 1903, p. 2.
  137. Ovens and Murray Advertiser, 23 January 1904, p. 1.
    Herald, 9 February 1904, p. 4.
  138. Age, 18 February 1904, p. 6.
  139. Victorian Railways: Report…30 June 1904, VPP 1904, No. 32, p. 6., Appendix 14, p. 27.
  140. Bendigo Advertiser, 20 February 1904, p. 5
  141. Bendigo Independent, 8 July 1904, p. 2.
  142. Ballarat Star, 7 August 1903, p. 1.
    Table Talk, 31 August 1905, p. 9.
  143. J.M. Bennet and Ann G. Smith, Sir William Irvine, Australian Dictionary of Biography, MUP, Vol. 9, 1983.
  144. Tocsin, 28 January 1904, p. 6; 25 February 1904, p. 9.
  145. Ovens and Murray Advertiser, 13 February 1904, p. 2
  146. Ballarat Star, 26 February 1904, p. 2.
  147. Ballarat Star, 29 April 1904, p. 2; 26 May 1904, p. 2; 11 June 1904, p. 4.
  148. Horsham Times, 15 July 1904, p. 3. Bent and Tait arranging the second order.
    Age, 3 November 1904, p. 10. The overseas quotes included transport and assembly. Quotes per engine were: Saxon Co. (Germany) £3300; American Locomotive Co. £3350; Baldwin £3543: Clark, Padley & Co. (USA) £3895; Beyer Peacock Co. £3805: North British Co. £3900.
  149. Cave et al, pp. 57, 202.
  150. Victorian Railways: Report…30 June 1904, VPP 1904, No. 32, p. 10.
  151. Victorian Railways: Report…30 June 1904, VPP 1904, No. 32, p. 10.
    Age, 19 December 1904, p. 5.
  152. Leader, 20 June 1903, p. 21.
  153. Ballarat Star, 30 December 1904, p. 3.
  154. Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 17 February 1904, p. 9.
    The Capricornian (Rockhampton), 19 March 1904, p. 4. The Wright Brothers are generally recognised as the first to have made a powered fight, but many were trying and just who was first is debatable. That’s another story.