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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 6 (October 1, 1929)

Inauguration of the Australian Railways

page 34

Inauguration of the Australian Railways


Mr. F. Vogel, of Kogarah, New South Wales, continues his account of the “Inauguration of the Australian Railways,” and, in the following article, deals with pioneer railway construction in Victoria.

Activities of the Early Railway Companies

The first permanent settlement in south eastern New South Wales, then known as the Port Phillip District, was made in 1834. Three years later Melbourne was founded on the shores of Hobson Bay. As a result of the rapidly increasing population, the demand for separation from New South Wales became gradually more insistent and, on 1st July, 1851, the District of Port Phillip was proclaimed a separate Colony under the name of Victoria.

As far back as 1845, proposals for the construction of railways in the Port Phillip District had been submitted to the New South Wales Government, but had not been entertained.

The first practical efforts for the construction of railways were made during the middle of 1852. Previously, neither the population nor the extent of the internal trade held out sufficient inducement for the prosecution of such enterprises, and it was not until the great increase of the population and its concentration in the interior, consequent upon the gold discoveries, that the necessity for railway construction became apparent.

Exaggerated accounts from Europe, of the success of railways under private ownership, having reached the Colony, the public manifested a general disposition for establishing railways by means of Joint Stock Companies. But sufficient consideration was not given the question as to whether the circumstances of a young country, with a limited population, were in favour of the introduction of a system applicable to older and more populous countries. Subsequent experience showed that the colonists had very little inclination to invest their capital in such undertakings, even when the Government guaranteed dividends.

In June, 1852, a deputation waited upon the Governor, Mr. La Trobe, regarding the construction of a railway from Melbourne to Mount Alexander. The deputation asked for financial aid, a guaranteed dividend on the amount of subscribed capital, and considerable land grants.

The Governor replied that on certain conditions, he would grant a sum of £1,000 towards preliminary expenses, but no loan money towards the formation of the railways. He was also willing that a land grant be made to the Company, but stipulated that all arrangements made and assented to, were made conditionally upon the approval of the Home Government.

During the following months it became evident that, immigration, which was rapidly proceeding, was materially hastening the settlement of the colony. Under this stimulus, railway projects were regarded from an enlarged point of view and the provisional Committee of the Company renewed their application for assistance to a much greater extent. Assistance was eventually conceded by the Government. Pending these negotiations, however, a company was projected for the construction of a railway between Melbourne and Geelong. Proposals to amalgamate this Company with the Mount Alexander Company were discussed before either had any legal existence. After considerable delay, the proposal was found to be impracticable, and the contemplated amalgamation fell through.

While these preliminaries were being considered, a third company was formed, the object being the construction of a railway from Melbourne to Sandridge (now Port Melbourne) on Hobson Bay, a distance of about two miles.

Bills for the incorporation of these Companies were submitted to the Legislature. The Melbourne and Hobson Bay Company's Act was assented to on 23rd January, 1853; the Melbourne-Mount Alexander and River Murray Act on 8th February, 1853, and the Melbourne-Geelong Act also on the same date.

page 35

The Act incorporating this Company authorised the raising of a capital of £100,000 and also conferred upon the Company the power to double the capital. The right of purchase was reserved to the Government after the expiration of ten years, upon condition of paying £250 for every £100 of the Company's stock. The Company also received a grant of land, 100 yards wide, along the entire length of the line and sites for the termini at Melbourne and Sandridge.

However, within twelve months, the inadequacy of the Company's capital became apparent and the directors issued shares to the amount of £200,000.

Opening of Australia's First Railway.

The line was completed and opened for traffic on 13th September, 1854, being the first railway opened in Australia. (The first railway was under construction in New South Wales, but was not opened for traffic until 25th September, 1855.)

Making Railway History In New Zealand. The railhead at Ohakune during the construction of the Main Trunk Line, North Island, New Zealand.

Making Railway History In New Zealand.
The railhead at Ohakune during the construction of the Main Trunk Line, North Island, New Zealand.

Owing to the non-arrival of engines from England, orders were placed with a local firm for the construction of a locomotive (it is claimed that this was the first built in the Southern Hemisphere), but it turned out to be a partial failure. An article which appeared in a contemporary newspaper gives an amusing account of the opening ceremony:—

“Sir Charles Hotham and Lady Hotham and a considerable number of distinguished officials having taken their places in the train, which contained only four carriages, the signal was given to proceed. The steam was turned on, but the ‘iron horse’ would not budge an inch. Great was the dismay depicted on the faces of the engineer and driver. The valve was opened to its widest extent, and the panting of the overladen ‘steam horse’ was quite alarming. The band of the 40th struck up a merry tune to hide the confusion, but still the train would not move. Accordingly a whole host of policemen and railway porters set to work and pushed it along the line by main force for a hundred yards, when it again came to a dead stop. More police then came on, and a stout gentleman in a dress coat, ready for the banquet, came behind and applied his shoulders vigorously to the buffer of the last carriage, and, at last, by slow degrees, the train moved amid shouts of laughter from the assembled thousands in Flinders Street.”

For some time passengers only were carried on this historic line, and even this traffic was suspended for a whole month pending the arrival of locomotives from England.

In March, 1856, the Company obtained an Act enabling it to construct a short branch railway to St. Kilda on the Bay, and this was opened for traffic on 13th May, 1857. The Company subsequently acquired several short private lines from Melbourne to the Bay, and became known as the “Melbourne and Hobson's Bay United Railway Company,” possessing 16 1/2 miles of railway. In 1878, the Government purchased the Company's properties (these being then the last private lines existing in the Colony), for the sum of £1,320,820, but the lines were not handed over to Government control until 1st July, 1879.

page 36

The Mount Alexander and River Murray Railway Company.

This Company was projected in 1852, with a capital of £750,000, but, as this proved insufficient, it was increased to £1,000,000. The Government advanced £5,000 towards the payment of preliminary expenses before one shilling had been subscribed by the shareholders, and not more than £1,500 of that sum had been expended, when the Bill, the details of which did not receive sufficient attention from the Legislature, was passed.

The Act conferred upon the Company a complete monopoly of the chief railway enterprise of the country. The Government could exercise the right of purchase only after the expiration of ten years, and between that time and twenty-one years, on condition of paying £250 for every £100 of the capital stock of the Company, or a sum equal to 25 years’ purchase of the annual divisible profits, estimated on the average of the three preceding years.

For some time after the passing of the Act, the whole of the capital consisted of the balance of the £5,000 granted from the Public Treasury. Although the Government had guarantee share-holders for 25 years, a dividend of five per cent. on their paid up capital out of the public revenue, the directors had to announce at their first half-yearly meeting that only £2,281 in shares had been subscribed. During the ensuing months sufficient shares were sold to enable the Company to commence work, and a contract was let for a portion
Motor generator sets and switches in the Hutt Valley Sub-Station. The illustration shews a 324 k.w.d.c. generator in the foreground and a 225 k.v.a. single phase alternator in the background.

Motor generator sets and switches in the Hutt Valley Sub-Station. The illustration shews a 324 k.w.d.c. generator in the foreground and a 225 k.v.a. single phase alternator in the background.

of a branch line from Melbourne to Williamstown. Within twelve months of the incorporation however, the directors realised that their position was hopeless, and offered to dispose of the Company's rights and privileges to the Government, which, however, declined to accede to the Company's terms.

The directors then made a final effort to obtain sufficient funds to complete the Williamstown branch line, and, although they sold additional shares, increasing the number on the share register to 5,127, representing a subscribed capital of £130,000, it was found to be insufficient to complete the line. The directors recognised that their only hope of being able to finish even this small portion of their undertaking entirely depended upon an effort to raise money in England, but this expectation also failed them.

At it was impossible to raise the necessary capital in the Colony, the Government was again approached with a view to purchasing the Company's property and assuming its liability. After lengthy negotiations, it was agreed upon that the Government pay to the Company the amount of capital then paid up by the shareholders, payable in debentures issued at par, bearing interest at five per cent., payable in October, 1873. The Government also agreed to execute unfinished contracts and discharge all reasonable liabilities. In March, 1856, the Legislative Council passed the necessary measure to enable the Government to take over the Company's properties.

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“Oh! what a goodly scene. …!” —Coleridge. (Photo, G. S. Desgrand, Brisbane.) The majestic setting of the Dart River, at the head of Lake Wakatipu, South Island, New Zealand. (Reached by rail and Government lake steamer from Invercargill or Dunedin.)

Oh! what a goodly scene. …!”
(Photo, G. S. Desgrand, Brisbane.)
The majestic setting of the Dart River, at the head of Lake Wakatipu, South Island, New Zealand. (Reached by rail and Government lake steamer from Invercargill or Dunedin.)