Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The Forgotten Enginemen of the Dunedin & Port Chalmers Railway Coy., 1872-73 (Part One)


Un-Named Men on the Footplate of Double-Fairlie 
Locomotive "Josephine" at Wickliff Terrace, 
Port Chalmers, believed taken during a trial 
run in Sept. 1872. Burton Brothers Photo.
[Source : OESA Collection, 1979]

The still extant and quite unique Dunedin & Port Chalmers Railway Company (D&PCR Coy) 145 year old double-ended Fairlie locomotive "Josephine" of 1872 now resides in pride of place in the entrance foyer of the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum here in Dunedin New Zealand. My Blog on the history of this very special locomotive can be read HERE. This Blog is also timely with Josephine's annual 'Birthday Party' being celebrated at Toitū on Monday the 23rd October 2017 [Link].

But the early Enginemen of the formative D&PCR Coy., including "Josephine's" first driver and fireman, have been rather neglected. Recent contact with a family descendant of one of these men prompted me to further explore these now forgotten enginemen. This connected me to another family descendant and, as is quite often the case when I write about people, more contacts may yet come forward with further information and even photographs.

This blog is therefore an attempt to tell something of the story of these almost forgotten Enginemen or at least acknowledge their individual contribution to the railways. These men hold the great honour of having served on Otago's first 3ft 6in gauge railway then, after 1873, with the formative Otago Provincial Government Railways, and after 1876 with the New Zealand Government Railways. The three Enginemen are Messrs Amos, Thomas, and Gatwood but also including Fireman Graham. The three Enginemen appear to have all been recruited in England, coming over with "Josephine" and her sister engine "Rose" in the sailing vessel "Wave Queen" in 1872.

So, what do we know of the railway itself? A railway linking Dunedin with its port had earlier been considered when in 1864 the then Otago Provincial Engineer, Mr Swyer, costed an eight to nine mile line for the Provincial Government at around £9,500 per mile and recommended a railway rather than a "horse tramway". His objections to the latter were considered "to be quite visionary". After many amendments this proposal did not proceed.

But in October 1869 Consulting Engineer Mr J Miller F.S.A., M.P.C, and again on behalf of the Provincial Government, submitted "The Dunedin and Port Chalmers Railway Report" prepared to a new plan and costed at £7,500 per mile or just £60,000. The latter recommended the use of "Fairlie" type locomotives and various types and quantity of railway vehicles. Originally to be gauged at 4ft 8½in using 55lb rail, the gauge was later reduced to 3ft 6in to comply with the NZ Railways Act 1870 which now (and sensibly) specified a standard gauge to be used throughout New Zealand.

The Line from Dunedin to Port Chalmers
[Source : "Dunedin & Port Chalmers Railway"
by Tom McGavin, NZR&L Soc. 1973]

On the 25th January 1870 an agreement was then reached with private contractors to build the line at their expense, with the Otago Provincial Government guaranteeing a return on their investment of 8% pa. In early 1871 the promoters, now being Messrs "Proudfoot, Oliver, and Ulph", formed a private company in England called "The Dunedin and Port Chalmers Railway Company, Limited".

The Company then, as per the Provincial Government agreement, sought advice on the design and supply of the requisite locomotives and rolling stock from London based Consulting Railway Engineer, the Scottish born, Robert Francis Fairlie C.E. The "Otago Witness" of the 30th September 1871 indeed confirms that, "all the plant is being constructed under the supervision of Mr Fairlie, Inventor of the bogie engine, consulting engineer to the promoters".

The "Fairlie" engine had been designed especially for narrow gauge light railways. Already successfully in use since 1869 on the narrow gauge Ffestiniog Railway in Wales and further proven in locomotive trials in early 1871, the "famous Fairlie system" would prove admirably suited to the new 3ft 6in D&PCR Co. line. While some New Zealand railwaymen would perhaps hold a very different opinion Otago railwaymen were, as noted in a previous blog, always fiercely loyal to their unique Double-Fairlie locomotives. The quite unique 'double-ended' Fairlie design with two swivelling bogies, a central low firebox, and side tanks aiding traction certainly had some advantages which a conventional locomotive could not compete with.

Two locomotives of the "Fairlie" design, being named "Rose" and "Josephine", were then ordered from the "Vulcan Foundry Company" of Newton-le-Willows in Lancashire England as works numbers 636 and 637 respectively. The names were selected by Mr Richard Oliver, the Company General Manager and one of the promoters, while on a visit to England on behalf of the company. Both locomotives, being supplied in kitset form, were shipped out on the 853 ton iron clipper ship "Wave Queen", departing from Bristol England (having first called at Liverpool) on the 27th April 1872 and arriving at Port Chalmers New Zealand on the 28th August 1872 after a "fair passage" of 98 days.

But prior to their arrival, and back at Port Chalmers, a contractors' "locomotive" drawing waggons was reported to have passed through the new Port Tunnel on Thursday the 27th June 1872. We then read that this "temporary" locomotive" had been constructed by Messrs Easton and McGregor, Engineers of Port Chalmers, "out of a [modified English manufactured] steam crane, for the promoters of the Dunedin and Port Chalmers Railway."

The design of this decidedly "Heath Robinson" locomotive is worth relating; "They placed the boiler and machinery of a steam crane upon an ordinary waggon, to which they added a few toothed wheels to give motion to one pair of wheels which were thus converted into driving wheels; and with this novel locomotive, which would have pleased George Stephenson himself.... they have contrived to do an amount of work that would otherwise have involved a heavy cost or most vexatious delay".   

A few days later it was further reported that, "At first it worked rather stiffly but now it is in fine trim, and takes along ten tons with ease." and had, "already done good work ballasting the line and taking from the Port towards Dunedin any plant required." At a speech given in 1928, Mr W.F. Sligo Retired Railway Foreman, states that the engine "assisted in ballasting the line up to Black Jack's Point." As to performance, "Its consumption of coal for a day's work is about the price of two horses' feed". Contrary to an initial report, this was not the first "locomotive" constructed in New Zealand [link]. It was however noted that the "Wave Queen" with "the real locomotives for the line" would arrive shortly.

Accompanying the two 'Fairlie' locomotives on the "Wave Queen", along with a considerable quantity of railway plant, were the afore-mentioned George Amos, an Engineer; John Thomas, a Locomotive Driver; and Frederick Gatwood, an Assistant Engineer. All three men would play a leading role in the assembly of at least "Josephine" then the working of the two locomotives on the line before and after the official opening. Thomas Graham, an experienced railwayman, would initially be employed as a fireman.

The Port Chalmers Line emerging into the cutting having just passed
through the Port Tunnel and heading towards Blanket Bay.
[Source : Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira]

We know that No 2 "Josephine", having been completed in a shed on the pier by Mr Amos, got up steam for the very first time on Tuesday the 10th September 1872, her whistle being heard from the Port Chalmers pier at "half-past ten in the forenoon". At 5pm that same day, and with "about 30 gentlemen out of the crowd in attendance", "Josephine" made a successful trial run through the new Port Tunnel to Blanket (Sawyers) Bay and return, being accompanied by the cheers of the local populace.

The No 1 "Rose", having been fitted up by the firm of Messrs Easton & McGregor, being Engineers, Millwrights, Blacksmiths & Founderers of Port Chalmers, would be steamed for the first time the following day, being the 11th September 1872. At 3.30 pm that day she was taken on a trial trip in light steam from Port Chalmers with "Josephine" coupled on at front as lead engine, the journey to Blanket Bay and return being made at a speed of about twenty miles per hour. The cry "In Heads", being in deference to public safety, was made as the locomotives proceeded through the port tunnel. The footplate crew are not named.

On the 18th September "Josephine", being driven by John Thomas, hauled the first ever goods train on the line - a shipment of three hogsheads of beer from Burke's Brewery to Port Chalmers. Thereafter both locomotives ran daily ballasting and works trains down the line.

Double-Fairlie Locomotive "Rose" passing
Burke's Brewery with a passenger train, circa 1873
[From an old print]

Then on Saturday the 26th October, with George Amos driving and John Thomas in charge of the brake van, "Josephine" conveyed, "by invitation of the contractors" several members of the Legislative Council and House of Representatives, including promoters Messrs David & George Proudfoot & the General Manager Mr Richard Oliver, from Port Chalmers through to Dunedin in one of the first class carriages, the line now being in a sufficient state of completion but not fully ballasted. With speed restrictions and stoppages the down journey of just under eight miles took "forty and a half minutes" with the return journey being "accomplished much faster".

Due to the "liberality of Mr Proudfoot" and the non-availability of the Harbour Company's steamer, an unscheduled trip took place on Tuesday the 29th October with passengers from the "S.S. Rangitoto" being conveyed to Dunedin but neither the locomotive used or driver is noted. A train was also intended to run on the Prince of Wales' birthday, being the 9th November 1872.

No 1 "Rose", and being "gaily decorated" is recorded as holding the honour of hauling the first official train from Dunedin to the newly named Lady Bowen Pier at Port Chalmers at the opening of the line by The Governor of New Zealand, His Excellency Sir George Bowen G.C.M.G. on Tuesday the 31st December 1872 at 12 noon. A stop was made on the way at Burke's Brewery. As to whether they imbibed some of the local beer is not recorded but it was, after all, a celebratory occasion. The return journey to Dunedin was completed in 22 minutes, "the quickest journey yet made". A cold collation was then provided in the University Hall with "about 16 gentlemen" [i.e. no ladies invited!] in attendance with effusive speeches and official toasts being given.

Non-timetabled public trains appear to have then run for the rest of the afternoon as the advertisement for the opening ceremony states that, "After 2 o'clock pm the trains will run between Dunedin and Port Chalmers at frequent intervals".

The Old Dunedin Railway Station
Burton Bros. Photo, circa 1874
[From an old print]

But the No 2 "Josephine", with John Thomas driving and Thomas Graham as his fireman, would have her moment of fame the following day, being Wednesday the 1st January 1873, when she is recorded as having hauled the first scheduled public train on the line from Dunedin to Port Chalmers. This was always a matter of great pride to Mr Thomas and a fact that his descendants have never forgotten.

Thereafter a regular timetabled service of six daily "up" and "down" mixed passenger and goods trains continued until the company was taken over by the Otago Provincial Government Railways on the 10th April 1873 at a cost of £187,106

From the 1st January 1873 fares were set at 2s for a single passenger ticket or 3s return travelling First class and 1s 6d single or 2s return travelling Second class. General goods would be conveyed at 5s per ton with "Special Goods at Special Rates" upon enquiry.

Unfortunately the line met with at least three early fatalities. Firstly Robert Carr, a labourer, died in hospital on the 3rd October 1871 after being injured from a fall of earth whilst engaged in the excavation of the Port Tunnel the previous day. Another labourer, named John Long, would be fatally injured by a blast in the Port Tunnel at half past one on the afternoon of the 28th March 1872. Two powder fuses were set but only one lit. Re-entering the tunnel to set the second fuse after the first blast the 'unlit' fuse unexpectedly exploded causing a stone to fall on his head killing him instantly. The first fatality on the line itself would be Angus McPherson who, under the influence of alcohol, was run over by a train near Burkes on the 17th July 1873. 

But what specifically do we know of our railwaymen, Messrs Amos, Thomas, Graham and Gatwood? This weekly Blog series will further explore these early D&PCR Co. Enginemen, including their often surprisingly peripatetic and fascinating subsequent careers and lives which proved to be both long, and sadly in two cases, suddenly cut short in the prime of their lives.


Copyright : This blog may not be reproduced without my specific written permission and / or that of family descendants. Excerpts may however be quoted for non-commercial and academic use provided this site is acknowledged. Please feel free, however, to publicize this Blog.

Sources :

- Papers Past / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
- Archives New Zealand (Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga)
- Heritage New Zealand / Pouhere Taonga
- "The New Zealand Railways Magazine", 1934
- Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Dunedin
- McNab Room, Dunedin Public Library
- "Dunedin and Port Chalmers Railway - New Zealand's First 3ft 6in Gauge Line" by TA McGavin, 1973
- "Josephine and Her Friends" by JA Dangerfield, c.1994
- Genealogy.com
- Trove (National Library of Australia)
- Auckland War Memorial Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira
- With thanks to Thomas and Gatwood family descendants for their generous assistance

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