The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 6 (September 1, 1937.)
In these days of almost incredible progress, we are constantly hearing and reading of the amazing speed records of trains on the continent of Europe and in England and America. Photographs of the “first engine employed on a public railway,” and the scene at the opening ceremony provide the greatest possible contrast, and picturing, as they do, the introduction of the era of travel by steam, they are rich in romantic appeal.
Beneath the brave little engine with her two carriages we read: “The first engine employed on a public railway. It was built by George Stephenson, and was drawn on the Stockton and Darlington railway till 1858, and is now placed on a pedestal in front of the Darlington Station.” Beneath this explanation are photographs of three distinguished looking gentlemen, who, from left to right, are George Stephenson, Edward Pease and Ira Newbun—“Pioneers of First Public Railway.” Englishmen have distinguished themselves in many spheres, but among this illustrious company none is greater than the genius of the steam-engine, and certainly none has conferred a greater benefit on mankind.
According to present-day standards the engine and carriages present an exceedingly quaint appearance, the former with its stovepipe funnel. There is no cab for the driver, and the various gadgets and controls are erected above the boiler and furnace. The carriages, as can be seen, are open too, and continued to be so for many years. Accustomed as we have always been to comfortable, closed-in carriages, it does not at once strike one what it would mean to travel in an open carriage, exposed to every wind that blows—particularly in a climate such as that of the Old Country—and also to the heat of the sun.
There was another inconvenience, too, as a little story related, by an old lady now resident in New Zealand, goes to tell. The incident took place many years after the first train commenced to run. This old lady said that her family, who were Scotch, possessed a much prized Paisley shawl. Unfortunately, her mother donned it when going for a train journey. “Sparks were flying” evidently, for one burnt a hole in the precious shawl!
The coach rather dubiously dubbed the “Experiment,” however, was modelled on an ordinary coach, and so, of course, was closed in. Possibly the “Experiment” was reserved for important folk, or perhaps it was a carriage “de Luxe,” or merely “first class!” And it seems highly probable that the seats in front and behind, in which, in an ordinary coach the coachman and footman sit in stately immobility are in this case occupied by servants who accompany travellers of high estate!
A photograph of the time-table states that the “Experiment,” which commenced travelling on Monday, the 10th of October, 1825, “will continue to run from Darlington to Stockton, and from Stockton to Darlington (Sundays excepted) setting out from the Depot at each place at the time specified, (viz.): On Monday from Stockton at half past seven in the morning and will reach Darlington about half past nine; the coach will set off from the latter place on its return at three in the afternoon, and reach Stockton about five.” The time-table for the remaining days of the week is then specified, and underneath, the charge for the carriage of parcels is stated as follows: “Passengers to pay is. each, and will be allowed a package not exceeding 14lb., all above that weight to pay at the rate of 2d. per stone extra. Carriage of small parcels 3d. each. The Company will not be accountable for parcels of above £5 value, unless paid for as such. Mr. Richard Pickersall at his office in Commercial Street, Darlington; and Mr. Tully at Stockton will, for the present, receive any parcels and book passengers.”
The atmosphere on board the train as she chugs her way across the bridge is evidently a very festive one, and those privileged to travel on “the first train”—the official party, and so on—are waving flags, and excitement is running high. The train is a lengthy one, consisting of eight carriages, the engine belching forth a column of smoke as she bravely puffs her way towards her desfination, a distance of 38 miles, at about twenty miles per hour.
The commencement of the first railway service has a unique connection with New Zealand, for, at the Gisborne jubilee celebrations, some years ago, Mr. Ginders, a native of Darlington, related that he and two other boys, tremendously thrilled with this extraordinary invention of “modern science,” were, the day before the official opening, viewing it with ill-concealed awe. She was just about to be given a trial run in preparation for the great event of the morrow, and the engine-driver, thinking the boys might as well be usefully employed, called out “Here you youngsters, what about getting water from the creek over there for the engine?” The “youngsters,” of course, delightedly complied, and were forthwith supplied by the engine-driver with three buckets. After many laborious trips from creek to engine, the requirements of the latter were satisfied, and as a reward for their labour the three boys enjoyed the unique privilege of being passengers on “the first train in the world” the day before she ran officially.
The following letter from the Otago Rolling Mills Association to the Otago Early Settlers' Association provides some interesting information with regard to the “Josephine.” It reads as follows:—
“The ‘Josephine’ lay in our scrapyard for quite a period, sentiment alone preventing us from cutting her up. Then one of our main boilers gave out, being finally condemned. These mishaps usually occur during rush periods and our case was no exception to the rule. However, we overcame the difficulty by bringing the ‘Josephine’ into commission, special permission having been granted by the Inspector of Machinery. Owing to reduced boiler pressure she was far from being economical, and although her appetite was abnormal in the way of fuel consumption, she, like most old people, suffered from chronic indigestion, necessitating quite a few internal operations. She seemed to be particularly susceptible to appendicitis, for she was constantly having her tubes removed, but contrary to usual practice, insisted on having them replaced.
A very early visitor to our shores describes the beauties of the train ride of between eight and nine miles from Dunedin to Port Chalmers, along this “arm of the sea,” with the wonderful virgin bush on the other side, and we can picture the “Josephine” busily plying back and forth in these very early days between the township and its port, and it is gratifying to know that after such a long life of faithful service every courtesy and consideration was accorded her in her old age.
A very novel entertainment had been arranged in honour of his visit in the form of a railway excursion. Wooden railway lines had been constructed some miles out into the country from Inver-cargill, and the engine steamed out of the station amidst great excitement. All went merrily—till the return journey, when the engine refused to budge. Investigation proved that the rain had caused the wooden rails to swell.
Other old identities, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Cudby, of Lower Hutt, have recollections of the commencement of the train service from Wellington to Lower Hutt. Mr. Cudby's father, of Boulcott Farm fame, was the contractor for the laying down of the railway line, and Mrs. Cudby, as a schoolgirl of tender years remembers the official opening at Wellington. The children of the private school she attended were given a half-holiday in honour of the occasion—a rare event in these days. The tiny railway station was where Dealy's Hotel now is. There was great jubilation as the train, with the official party aboard, steamed out of the station towards Lower Hutt.
And as for the Old Country, a special train which ran recently from Reading to Paddington, the London terminus of the Great Western Railway, to enable artists to keep a broadcasting engagement, completed the journey of 36 miles in 30 minutes 30 seconds. For 29 miles the train averaged 81 miles per hour.
Speeds even exceeding this have since been attained on the British Railways. Other trains on the Continent and in America also reach an incredibly high speed, and engines and carriages are the last thing in streamlined perfection. All this is indicative of the wonderful progress of our age.