The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 6 (October 1, 1929)
“The Manawatu” — A Story of Pioneer Railway Enterprise in New Zealand
A Story of Pioneer Railway Enterprise in New Zealand
The series of articles on “The Manawatu,” extracted from a thesis written by Mr. G. A. Mill, for the Degree of Master of Arts in History, is concluded with the following instalment.
The end of the Company alone remains to be told with the valedictory references which must always be appropriate when a body of honest enterprising men have carried through successfully, to the benefit of a large district, an extensive and difficult operation.
The end was not unexpected. The twenty-one years from the opening had passed, and the Government could purchase without penalty. On December 7th., 1907, notice was served on the Company by the Premier (the Right Hon. Sir Joseph Ward), of the intention of the Government to take over the line at the expiration of twelve months’ notice. However, the Company was in no hurry to sell, probably wanting the receipts from the holiday traffic or to complete the financial year on February 28th., 1909. As the result of negotiations, the Company agreed to give possession of the line on December 7th., 1908, but payment was not to be completed till February 27th., 1909, and for the use of the railway between December and February the Government were to pay the sum of £15,000, being the estimated quarter's profit.
On August 20th., an Imprest Supply Bill was passed through the House providing for the payment of £500,000 on August 31st., to retire those debentures which the Company had been unable to cancel. A Bill, known as the “Wellington and Manawatu Railway Purchase Bill,” became law on September 25th. The price was to be £900,000, and the value of all stores on hand based on cost prices. The Company was to assign all contracts to the Crown, to maintain the plant intact and to maintain all insurances. Another section provided that servants of the Company might become permanent officers of the New Zealand Railways with superannuation.
The last annual meeting was held on March 18th., 1909. It was reported that that portion of the year during which the Company had operated the line had been exceedingly profitable, establishing records and making the balance-sheet a very pleasant document to shareholders and Government alike. Of the trio (Messrs. Wallace, Plimmer and Travers), who, by their enthusiasm, caused the formation of the Company, all lived to see the completion of the line, but not one was still alive in 1909. Of the directors as a whole, one hears little but praise. Their honest, noble-minded purpose, and thorough and vigorous prosecution of it, earned them much respect. A spirit of thankfulness and generosity was evidenced by the carrying of votes for additional honoraria to the directors and auditors and a bonus on page 29 the basis of service to the staff. Mr. Hannay, the General Manager, in the farewell address, epitomised the matter by saying: “The last fifteen years of my life have been very strenuous, but very happy.” Messrs. Kirkcaldie and Hannay were appointed liquidators at a salary of £1,000 each. The balance-sheet presented to the last annual meeting showed cash balances that totalled £432,550. To this total must be added the estimated value of the assets remaining, viz.:—
|Thorndon Freehold Land||£10,260|
|Balances due on Land||£24,296|
|Wellington Corporation Debentures||£9,579|
giving a total of £513,228 for the assets. Liabilities totalled 8,228. Thus £505,000 7s. 1d. remained for distribution, or £2 19s. 4/10;d. in the £.
Although the cost of the line on the balance sheet of 1908 was £1,047,181, minus £218,805 written off, making the amount £828,376, yet the line had been built at a cost much under that of the cheaper portions of the Wairarapa line. The line has been written down for taxation purposes at rock bottom, while much useful improvement had been paid for out of revenue and not put down to capital.
Sir Joseph Ward considered the purchase a bargain. For this price, or lower than the cost of similar Government sections and not much (£300 per mile) above the average for New Zealand, he was obtaining a railway better equipped with efficient rolling stock than almost any other line in the Colony. So declared not a few members in the debates on the Bill.
At the final distribution on March 24th, 1909, the shareholders received for each £1 share paid up, the sum of £3 0s. 1/2d.
Mr. Kirkcaldie said at the last shareholders’ meeting: “Taking into consideration all moneys paid to shareholders to date, and assuming that the liquidators distribute 55s. per share, shareholders will have received an average dividend equal to 12 1/2 per cent. per annum upon their money, invested at simple interest; and assuming that a further 4s. 6d. or 5s. a share be paid, the investment will be equal to 13 1/2 per cent. per annum since the final call was made.” Truly this was a remarkable record for an investment company whose directors, according to Mr. J. Plimmer, Senr., “should be prepared to lose their money.”page 30
In the annual report of 1906, Mr. Kirkcaldie is credited with the following statement: “It may be interesting to shareholders to know that before the opening of the railway the cost of sending a ton of potatoes from Otaki to Wellington was £5. The railway now carries the same quantity for 7s…. Since the railway commenced operations it has carried up to the present year 4,726,326 passengers, 5,500,563 sheep, 217,868 cattle, and 105,530 feet of timber. This will enable you to form some conception of the benefits the railway has conferred on the Colony.”
In 1888 the traffic had been worth £45,563, but in 1908 it was valued at £162,208.
In a virgin state, with neither access nor transport for any of its natural products, the land was almost as useless as a desert. To-day most of the land has been cleared and some of the flats are known all over the Colony for the quality and abundance of their pasture. Dairying is the staple industry, and some of the land used for this pursuit is valued at over £70 an acre, and what is more, changes hands at this figure. Well might the pioneers have spoken the words used by Kipling in his poem “The Settlers”:—
After us cometh a multitude,
Prosper the work of our hands,
That we may feed with our land's food
The folk of all our lands.