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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 4 (July 1, 1939)

“The … Speed of the Rushing Trains” — Tales of Long Ago — A Railways Magazine of 1853

page 17

“The … Speed of the Rushing Trains”
Tales of Long Ago
A Railways Magazine of 1853

(Photo. courtesy London and North Eastern Railway) “Dominion of New Zealand,” one of the streamlined “Dominion” class locomotives used on the record-breaking “Coronation Express” running daily in either direction between King's Cross Station (London) and Edinburgh (392 ¾ miles) in six hours. This locomotive is fitted with a New Zealand Railways chimes whistle, presented to the L.N.E.R. by the New Zealand Railways Department.

(Photo. courtesy London and North Eastern Railway)
“Dominion of New Zealand,” one of the streamlined “Dominion” class locomotives used on the record-breaking “Coronation Express” running daily in either direction between King's Cross Station (London) and Edinburgh (392 ¾ miles) in six hours. This locomotive is fitted with a New Zealand Railways chimes whistle, presented to the L.N.E.R. by the New Zealand Railways Department.

What is probably the first Railways Magazine ever published—“Eginton's Railway Miscellany”—appeared in London over 85 years ago, Dec., 1853.

The “Miscellany” is most entertaining. It belongs to the days when travel at about 30 miles an hour was considered a marvel of speed, and the electric telegraph was a “new invention.” Its contents include stories, poems, anecdotes, current topics, articles dealing with various subjects—wars then in progress, literature, and modes of travel old and new. A glimpse is also given of the amusements and recreations enjoyed by people of that time.


The reasons given for introducing such a magazine seem, at this date, rather amusing. It was to compensate travellers for the loss of the stirring adventures which attended them in days of travel by coach and to make up for the loss of scenery now marred by “the speed of the rushing trains.” The “Railway Miscellany” was stated to be as far in advance of the “old-fashioned, heavy-going ‘monthlies’,” as the Rail was ahead of the Road, and through it a railway journey would be made supportable for the traveller. It was designed to meet also the needs of the general public.

The Rail and the Road.

“The glories of the road are lost in a complete and eternal eclipse,” says the opening sentence of the Editorial. Then follows a picture of times long past, when Watling Street—much of which is believed to be pre-Roman—was the only highway in England. Commencing at Dover it passed through Canterbury and Rochester to London; thence onward to Chester, and farther.

In the course of time new roads were formed, but Watling Street remained the favourite haunt of desperadoes and outlaws, who, pouncing suddenly on the traveller, despoiled him of everything, and then fled to the forest.

In the 16th century the roads became the subject of legislative enactments, yet so slow was communication between the distant provinces that the abdication of James II was not known in the Orkneys until three months after his flight.

Members of the New Zealand Railways staff at Frankton Junction over forty years ago.

Members of the New Zealand Railways staff at Frankton Junction over forty years ago.

Edinburgh was still thirteen days from London, as late as 1712; and not until 1763 were turnpike gates established all over England. A few years later a coach began to run, three times a week, from Manchester and Liverpool to London. Nominally, three days were occupied on the journey, but bad weather sometimes delayed the traveller for ten days, or even a fortnight.

Toward the close of the 18th century, Macadam by his invention revolutionised road making, and early in 1800 the coaching system reached its zenith; but still, it was a very slow and laborious way of travelling.

Even as late as about 1850, the stage coach from York to London—a distance of barely 200 miles—took ten days in summer and twelve in winter. The writer goes on to speak of George Stephenson and his invention, and at this point his imagination runs rather wild, as he pictures a traveller from New Zealand page 18 page 19 standing on a broken arch of London Bridge, at a time so distant that the name of Stephenson will be “a myth and a mystery, his origin lost in the uncertain past.”

In Lighter Vein.

The next pages of the “Miscellany” turn to a lighter topic—“Recollections of a Railway Traveller,” by the author of “Cousin Geoffrey.” This sketch begins with a picture of a traveller—safely through the anxiety and bustle of departure—settling back comfortably in the railway carriage, and opening his “new treasure,” the “new-born pet of Parnassus”—the “Railway Miscellany”; “revelling in its dainties” and “elegant compactness.”

We leave the traveller so doing, and passing over the next page, which contains a poem—“New Year's Eve, or Thoughts for the Thoughtless”—come to something which is of present-day interest—the first of a proposed series of articles on “Living Literati,” or “the claims of contemporary writers considered and compared.”

“It is our intention,” states the writer, “to offer to our ‘gentle reader’ a general review of the living lions of our land. In noble, well-assorted, shining pairs will they appear before you,” so that by aid of comparison criticism may be rendered more piquant.

As subjects for this ordeal, Sir E. Bulwer-Lytton and Charles Dickens, being novelists, were chosen first; because “the whole world reads novels.”

In this criticism, Dickens comes second. The author of “Pelham” and the author of “Pickwick” were both “rich in genius, wit, humour, eloquence, poetry, industry and daring.” Both were dear to England. To what, asks the writer, is due the difference of their present position? The answer given is that because of the discipline of mind resulting from his school and college education, Lytton had more resource within himself than had Dickens. Dickens, being self-educated, his genius was soon exhausted. Such, very briefly, was the judgment pronounced 85 years ago, in the “Railway Miscellany.”

A critic of a later date, Dr. W. J. Dawson, writing of Dickens, says: “New reputations rise and wane, but the time can never come when the great creative artist is dethroned and finally forgotten. It is as a great creative artist that Dickens takes his place with the immortals.” A guess at the respective popularity of Lytton and Dickens today, may be made from the fact that in one of the principal cities of New Zealand the Public Library records taken during a certain period, show that Lytton was asked for twice, and Dickens—thirteen times.

Sight-seeing in London in 1853.

The next article—“London, its sights and how to see them,” is addressed to one who may be leaving London, in which case it will “agreeably recall scenes of the busy stage he is quitting,” but more particularly to the traveller who for the first time is approaching the great city of London.

The reader is advised to take one of “our cheap, convenient cabs,” and, starting from Leadenhall Street to make the Marble Arch, Hyde Park, his goal.

Passing many notable buildings and places, the cab moves on through Pall Mall, reaches Regent Street and turns into Oxford Street. The traveller is warned that here he will see a most painful sight — “panting, worn-out, wounded horses” dragging unmerciful loads; two miserable hacks trying to pull an omnibus carrying from 20 to 30 passengers.

At length the goal—Marble Arch—is reached, and returning by the way he came, the traveller arrives back at his hotel. He dines comfortably, and then wonders how he may best spend the evening.


“What are the best evening amusements?” The best are the cheapest. The reader is told that for one shilling he may enter the Polytechnic Institution—open from 7 to 10 p.m.—where the most interesting objects were to be seen—models of engines, and endless curiosities of art. Every new topic, event, or discovery was illustrated, explained, or
(Rly. Publicity photo.) First-class sleeping compartment complete with hand basin provided with hot and cold water, on one of the latest passenger cars in service on the New Zealand Railways.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
First-class sleeping compartment complete with hand basin provided with hot and cold water, on one of the latest passenger cars in service on the New Zealand Railways.

commented on. The chief attraction of the moment was a series of lectures by Mr. Carpenter, on “The Rail, the River, and the Road.” These lectures were illustrated by dissolving views, the first of which represented a time so lawless that peaceful subjects found it expedient to travel in companies. Then followed carriages in various degrees of progress, until the summit of excellence was reached in the mail coaches of about 16 years before. Then, just when road travelling was pronounced perfect, the rail superseded it altogether.

The traveller might also spend a profitable evening by visiting the Gallery of Illustration, where he would see a “moving panorama”—“The Ocean Mail.”

The next pages of the “Miscellany” contained a story—“Don Savaedra De Escolar. A Tale of the Peninsula War,” founded on fact, by E. J. Brabazon. Then followed “Military Anecdotes,” from the notebook of Henry Curling. One of these stories was of General Picton, who, when mortally wounded, threatened to shoot the surgeon who attended him if he reported him as unfit for duty. The surgeon shrugged his shoulders, shook Picton's hand, and withdrew. So it came about that the gallant general died, as he had wished to do, amid the blaze of battle.

Summary of the Month.

Passing over several pages, which contained an Historical Ballad and also a lengthy review of a book—“The Constituent Assembly of France,” by N. de page 20 page 21 Lamartine, we come to “Summary of the Month,” wherein, under “Court and Fashion” it is noted that the Queen and the Royal Family were at Osborn during the first three weeks of the month, after which they left for Windsor where the Christmas season was to be spent. The festivities at the castle would be on that “liberal and enlightened scale for which the castle has, during the present propitious reign, been so justly celebrated.”

Under “Politics,” the news related to the resignation of Lord Palmerston from the post of Home Secretary and to his subsequent return to that office.

In “Foreign Affairs” much of the space was given to the Turko-Russian war, which still engrossed public attention “to the exclusion of almost every other topic.”

“Colonial News” noted that “in Australia a glut had succeeded—in Melbourne, Sydney, and Adelaide—to the famine which about six months before seemed to threaten the destruction of the colony.”

Musical and Theatrical Notices.

Readers of the “Railway Miscellany” who were travelling to London for the first time, probably felt a thrill of excitement on seeing the list of musical and theatrical performances from which they might choose entertainment. There were Promenade Concerts, and a “musical pictorial entertainment” called the “Hibernia”; the latter was designed to familiarise people with the beauties of Ireland, and was “enlivened by songs and legends of the Emerald Isle.”

Drury Lane, The Lyceum, The Haymarket, The Adelphi, and other theatres were staging most attractive plays. All who were interested in “the half reasoning elephant” were strongly recommended to go to Astley's, where “these noble creatures” were performing in a piece entitled “The Wise Elephants of the East.” “Billy Button's Journey to Brentford” was also being given at “this favourite Amphitheatre.”


This list was evidently made with a view to meeting a great variety of tastes. It ranged from Madam Tussaud's Waxworks to the British Museum and included the Zoological Gardens, Regent Park, where “during the current week and until the 6th of January, admission would be 6d. Recently added to the Gardens was ‘an astonishing creature known by the name of Ant-Eater.’”

It was doubted whether in any city of the world, amusing and instructive entertainment could be procured as reasonably as in London.

The Origin and Progress of the Railway System.

Theatrical Anecdotes, and a poem—“To a Desponding Belle”—filled the next pages, following which came an article—even more interesting to-day than in 1853—“The Railway System; its Origin, Progress, and Moral Issues.”

“The impossibilities of to-day are the practices of to-morrow.” With this apt quotation the writer opened, for he believed that its truth was illustrated in an unusually striking manner by the “wonderful appliances now available for rapid communication, which are included under the general term of Railway System.”

The reader's attention was called backward to the time when, only a hundred years before, the traveller in the Chester stage had plenty of time to observe the country through which he passed on his way to London, for he was six days getting there.

Travelling facilities were gradually improved by the setting up of turnpikes or toll-gates; the money thus collected being used for the upkeep of the roads. The establishment of mail coaches, under Palmer of Bath, and the introduction by Macadam, and others, of new methods of road making, helped greatly towards the comfort of the traveller. Toward the close of the 18th century, tram-roads—for the purpose of conveying heavy material in different directions—were extensively employed in mining and colliery districts. After a time castiron plates and cast-iron rails with flanges and edge, were substituted for wood.

In 1805 an iron tram road was opened between Wandsworth and Croydon, and it was proposed to extend the system along the turnpike roads. But there were difficulties in the way; and had the invention of the steam locomotive not superseded the tractive power of horses, it is probable that the tram roads would have been used only for conveying coal from the pit mouths to the place of shipment.

The idea of the “steam-horse being harnessed to carriages and eventually supplanting the stage coach,” was in the minds of but few, and was first brought before the public in 1820, when Mr. Thomas Grey published a work proposing “a general iron railway, or land steam conveyance to supersede the necessity of horses in all public conveyances.” He maintained that the railway would be much superior, both as regards economy and speed, to “all the present pitiful methods of conveyance by turnpike roads, canals, and coasting traders.” Ridicule was heaped on Grey's suggestion. “Men contended that even if a speed of 15 miles an hour were attained, the dangers of bursting boilers and broken wheels would be so great that people would suffer themselves to be fired off upon a rocket, sooner than trust themselves to the mercy of a machine going at such a prodigious rate.”

However, the growing wants of society, caused by the progress of commerce, demanded some new and more rapid mode of inter-communication throughout the country.

page 22

The Stockton and Darlington railway—opened in 1825—was the first established for public traffic; and though horses were still employed as the motive power, the number of passengers travelling between the towns was increased at least forty-fold, and an average speed of ten miles an hour was attained.

To the success of this railway may be traced the beginning of all the others, and the name of its originator—Mr. Joseph Pease—“must never be forgotten in the history of this now mighty, world-wide system.”

Beginning of the Modern Railway.

About a year after Joseph Pease's success, a company composed chiefly of Liverpool merchants, obtained permission to make a railway between Liverpool and Manchester. Then arose the question—should the motive agency be horse-power or steam? Horse-power being rejected, a committee of four engineers was set up to report on the comparative merits of locomotive or stationary steam engines.

As a result of this report, the company, in 1829, offered by advertisement a premium of £500 for the best locomotive that could be constructed according to given specifications; one of which was that the engine should be capable of “drawing on a level line a train of twenty tons, including the tender, at the rate of ten miles an hour.”

Three engines were offered for competition, and having been duly tried, the “Rocket,” produced by Messrs. G. and R. Stephenson, was “held immeasurably superior to both the others, and attained with a load of seventeen tons an average speed of seventeen miles an hour.” When the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was actually opened, later in the same year, “Stephenson triumphantly drove his engine at the undreamt-of rate of thirty-six miles an hour.”

Before long the advantages of the railway system were sought for in other parts of England, and within the next twenty years trains were running in Scotland, Ireland, on the Continent, throughout the United States of America and even in British India.

Moral Results.

This writer of 1853 believed that his “glorious system of national intercourse” had already produced great moral results, in that the social, politacal, and commercial interests of all Europe were becoming more than ever closely united; local distinctions and district prejudices were fast vanishing away. People who had never thought of moving out of their own county, were beginning to travel to other parts of the country; and so, by becoming better acquainted with their fellowmen, long-cherished animosities would be lulled, and friendships cemented; and selfish, short-sighted patriotism would be exchanged for an enlightened philanthropy.

The concluding article in the “Miscellany” stated that on the London and North Western Railway, and its branches, twenty-four millions sterling had been expended. A description was given of a journey that might be taken on this line, also an account of the history connected with the towns and country seats that would be passed.

(Photo., Thelma R. Kent.) New Zealand's first Mission House, erected in Walmate North over a hundred years ago.

(Photo., Thelma R. Kent.)
New Zealand's first Mission House, erected in Walmate North over a hundred years ago.

Impressive Contrasts.

In the “Railway Miscellany” a speed of over thirty miles an hour was accounted “rushing,” and travellers wishing to view the sights of London, were advised to take a “cheap, convenient cab.” Between those ideas and these—taken from a recent number of an English magazine—the contrast is very striking—“ ‘Surrey Flying Services Ltd.’ Flights over London. Viewing such landmarks as Battersea Power Station, Buckingham Palace, Houses of Parliament, St. Paul's, and Dockland. Alternative route over Southern Counties, seeing Richmond, Hampton Court, Epsom Grandstand, etc.”

“Travelling from place to place by air permits a far wider range for your tour whilst here. You can make your own itinerary, and enjoy, by yourself or with your chosen friends, the privacy of your own Aeroplane. Our modern ‘planes of two-seater to ten-seater capacity are at your disposal at any time of the day or night, at very moderate terms (from 4d. a mile).”

Finally, to the intending visitor from overseas is put the question—“Why not fly Home?”