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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 1, Issue 6, March 1964

The Dun Mountain Railway

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The Dun Mountain Railway

Dun Mountain deposits of chrome ore were by no means as extensive as first supposed. The geological survey Report on the Dun Mountain (Bulletin 12) issued in 1911 says of the chrome deposits there, that "the quantity mined there was by no means great and very little now remains." (4).

Mr. Long Wrey

Mr. Walter Long Wrey, chief promotor of the Dun Mountain undertaking, seems to have transferred his attention to Marlborough. MacIntosh's history of Marlborough records that in 1866 he induced the Provincial Government there to advance him £1000 with which to proceed to England to get interested people to build a railway from Picton to Blenheim. If he succeeded, the £1000 was to be a bonus to him and if he failed the money was to be repaid, the Provincial Government taking over a certain Wrey property as security. Four years later, no railway, and no Mr. Wrey being in sight, the mortgaged properties were sold at public auction for £135/15/0. A brook named the Wrey, however, still trickles down the side of Nelson's Dun Mountain.

In the course of this historical investigation, it would appear that Mr. Wrey was a man of limited training and knowledge, but of very sanguine outlook.

In 1865 Joseph Cock, of Colstock, Cornwall, was sent by the London Directors to report on the Dun Mountain Copper Mine. He arrived in Nelson with a son aged 17, John Honeycombe Cock. On Joseph Cock's return to Cornwall, John remained in Nelson as a junior clerk in the employ of Nathaniel Edwards and Company. In 1880 the firm became J. H. Cock & Co., and Joseph Henry Cock, who for nine years had worked in the London branch of Nathanial Edwards, joined his brother, John Honeycombe Cock, in Nelson.

Ceased Operations.

In 1865, the Dun Mountain Mining Company ceased operations after expending £72,000. On March 23rd, 1872, 10 years after the opening of the Dun line, the assets of the Dun Mountain Copper Mining Company were advertised for sale in "The Examiner" and comprised the following items: 3390 acres of land; 13½ miles of railway rails at 30lb., about 633 tons in all; 11-roomed house in Nelson; seven other houses along the line; a railway house let at £3/10/- a week; 45 railway trucks, etc.

On May 18th, 1872, "The Examiner" announced that the whole of the above assets had been sold to Mr. R. Levien for £4750. Mrs. Ruth Allen's "History of Port Nelson" records, "the last remnant of the Dun Mountain railway, continued in operation until 1901, was the old one-horse tram that ran westwards along Hardy Street from Trafalgar Street by way of Rutherford Street and Haven road, to the Tasman Hotel at the Port."

Although Lock's history of the Nelson City Council notes that the city fathers in 1883 complained that this ancient conveyance was "the most unsightly and dangerous thing of its sort in the colony," it faithfully ran a half-hourly trip to the Port against the more stylish three-horse Palace-cars starting from the Masonic Hotel across Trafalgar Street, and there was even a second tram which was put into service on special occasions, with a passing loop outside the Theatre Royal to prevent traffic congestion. Both trams, however, had primitive seating accommodation on the roof as well as inside.

It was not until a year and ten months after the opening of the Dun line that New Zealand's first steam railway began operations on December 1, 1863, with the opening of the Christchurch-Lyttleton line. About ten years later the Colonial Government had its own first section of railway opened, that from Auckland to Onehunga.

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The opening of the Dun line 100 years ago was a small thing in itself, but it was, nevertheless, a focal point and driving force from which railway construction started in New Zealand. It created a "railway consciousness" and established a basis of costs for railway construction.

Urge for Coast Line.

The discovery of minerals in Westland made Nelson very aware of the need for better communication with that area. At a public meeting early in 1863, Mr. Charles Elliot, editor of "The Examiner", strongly favoured a railway and stated that Mr. Fitzgibbon, the engineer of the Dun Mountain Company, had informed him that the body of men recently discharged by him were as competent and efficient for such an undertaking as could be found anywhere. (5). A select Committee reported to the Provincial Council on the railway proposals, and in July, 1863, by 11 votes to 10, adopted this report. This involved borrowing £300,000 for the purpose of building the line from Nelson to the Four Rivers district, (later called Hampden, now Murchison), a distance of 85 miles. This proposal required the sanction of Parliament, and the Ministry in office did not favour this, in view of the small majority in its support. The Maori War also made the time unpropititious for borrowing. The dislike of working on borrowed money was the chief reason for the high opposition vote in the Nelson Provincial Council.

In 1865 the gold rush to the West Coast stimulated the Provincial Council to further effort. The proposed line was to run from Nelson to Cobden, at the mouth of the Grey River, with a branch line to Inanguahua and Westport, 207 miles in all.

In Canada and elsewhere land grants to the constructing company had paid for the railways, and the Provincial Government decided to adopt this principle for Nelson. The first 20 miles from Nelson was to be built under guarantee by the Provincial Government, the remainder by a grant of 10,000 acres of adjacent land for every mile of construction, plus mineral and timber rights over the land.

Contract Signed.

Mr. Henry Wrigg, an English engineer with considerable experience in railway construction (and afterwards Chief Engineer to Auckland Province until the abolition of the provinces in 1876), was engaged in 1867 to make a reconnaissance survey of the line, and his report was published in May, 1868. (7). Mr. Wrigg reported that the flat land along the route amounted to only about 150,000 acres, and would be quite insufficient in itself to attract capitalists to build the line, but with the mineral rights extended to include both the Brunner and Buller coalfields "the amount of wealth awaiting collection would be enormous" and the project could not fail of success.

With enabling legislation enacted by Parliament and with the Wrigg report, supplemented by reports on the coalfield and other natural resources of the area, the result was, that by the end of 1868, a draft contract for the undertaking, plus a power of attorney to the provincial agent in London, were in being. The provincial agent, Mr. John Morrison, promptly set to work in 1869. The first contractors approached were the firm of Sir Charles Fox and Sons, and they went fully into the project with Mr. Morrison and Mr. A. Fitzgibbon, then in London (formerly engineer for the Dun Mountain line.) On finding that the West Coast and Brunner coalfields were not included in the endowment, as strongly recommended in the Wrigg report, Mr. Fox lost interest, as did another prospective contracting firm. However, this omission was rectified by the Provincial Council, and by June, 1870, the contract was ready for signing with John Brogden and Sons. A money market crisis at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussion War brought more delay, but early in 1871 the contract was signed, and passages for their engineers to Nelson booked.

"By Some Mischance"

By some mischance, the sailing of the ship with Brogden's party on board, was delayed, and during this period, word was received in London of the impending arrival of Mr. Vogel, New Zealand's page 4Minister of Public Works, whose declared intention it was to borrow many millions to implement his great public works policy. Under legislation just enacted by Parliament, Mr. Vogel had power to approve or disprove of the Nelson-Cobden land grant railway project. Mr. Vogel had no Public Works Department engineers to advise him. Vogel's sole figures as to railway costs were those based on the Morrison-Fitzgibbon-Fox discussion of 1869 (see Hansard Vol. 7, pages 574, 575, 1870, and the Fitzgibbon Survey and estimate of the projected Nelson-Foxhill line (see Hansard Vol. 9, 1870, pages 543–546.)

On his arrival in London, Mr. Vogel immediately contacted Messrs. Brogden & Sons, the Nelson contractors, and offered them contracts to build trunk railways throughout New Zealand. Said the Vogel report, presented to Parliament in September, 1871: "During the whole of my stay, I was actively engaged in negotiations with Messrs. John Brogden & Sons, respecting the construction of railways in New Zealand." (9 and 10.)

The wide investigation and fact-finding work done by the Nelson Provincial Council's engineers was utilised by Vogel as a basis of costs for his public works policy throughout New Zealand. Brogden duly arrived in New Zealand on July 20, 1872, and commenced on the Picton-Blenheim line. (11.) Mr. John Blackett, Nelson's provincial engineer, was lost to Nelson, being appointed by Mr. Vogel to be acting engineer-in-chief.

Chain of Events

To recapitulate, the unbiased observer can follow a distinct chain of events in railway construction in New Zealand. First and foremost, the Dun Mountain railway, which immediately inspired the projected railway to the south-west, this to be followed by the Nelson-Cobden project, to end up in Vogel's public works policy throughout New Zealand. With the abolition of the Provincial Council in 1876, Nelson lost its Crown lands and mineral resources, and thereby all chance of building its own railway.

The plaque that was unveiled on February 3rd, 1962, to commemorate New Zealand's first railway will remain for future generations to see, but it will not serve its true purpose if what it really represents is not realised by our people.

(5)—"Votes and Proceedings", Nelson Provincial Council, 1863 Session X and 11.

—"Votes and Proceedings", Session XV, 1867.

"Votes and Proceedings", Session XVI, 1867.

"Votes and Proceedings", July 24, 1867.

(7)—"Examiner", May 5th, 1868.

—"Votes and Proceedings", Page 6, 1870.

"Hansard" Volume 7, 1870, pages 574–575.

"Hansard", IX, 1870, pages 532–534. 546–574.


—"Examiner", September 6th, 1871. 13th, 1871.

"Hansard", Page 213, September

(10)—"Hansard", September 12th, 1871 page 373.
(11)—"Examiner" July 20th, 1872.