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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 44

Chapter XI. Railways, Telegraphs, and Post-Office

Chapter XI. Railways, Telegraphs, and Post-Office.

We have now sketched briefly the political history of the colony, the settlement of the people on the land, their progress in agriculture, and the consequent growth of their manufacturing and commercial interests, and we are led to consider next the present condition of the islands, their public revenue and expenditure, their undeveloped resources, and their possible future. While the provincial governments had the control of their respective land funds, large amounts were annually expended in the formation of roads, building bridges, and carrying through other public works. In Canterbury, the local government, under the presidency of Mr Moorhouse, had the boldness to expend a quarter of a million of money in connecting, by means of a railway tunnelled through the high intervening range, the seaport of Lyttelton with Christchurch, the provincial capital. The local road-boards also constructed a great length of good roads. Many of the works executed were creditable specimens of engineering. We append an illustration of the Wanganui Bridge, constructed by the provincial government of Wellington. The general government page break
Wanganui Bridge.

Wanganui Bridge.

page 83 have since 1870 constructed up to 30th June 1879, 1145 miles of railway, at present in actual operation. The longest continuous line is from Amberley, 34 miles north of Christchurch going south, viâ, Christchurch and Dunedin, to Kingston on Lake Wakatipu, in the interior of Otago, a total distance of 491 miles, as far as from Edinburgh to Dover. There are also 230 miles of branch-lines. The total length of constructed lines in the South Island was, at 30th June 1879, 809 miles. The Christchurch and Dunedin trunk-line also forms a continuous service to Invercargill and the Bluff, the most southerly harbour, where the English mail, viâ Suez, is landed, and afterwards sorted in the railway post-office van while on the journey. There is thus a considerable saving in the time of distribution of letters and papers. It is only about two years since the gaps in this trunk-line have been completed, and already the amount of traffic is surprising, accompanied, as it has been, by a constant grumbling and outcry for more waggons and locomotives to meet the urgent demand. While we write, no fewer than 99 separate passenger and goods trains depart from and arrive at Dunedin station daily.

The gross revenue in the South Island last financial year was £601,181, which, after defraying all working charges, left a free balance of £172,682 available towards payment of cost of construction, being at the rate of three per cent, for the year. The number of passengers carried during the year was 2,018,871, which is tantamount to every man, woman, and child in the South Island having each enjoyed eight railway trips in the course of the twelvemonth. In the North Island the gross receipts have been £156,762, and the working charges and maintenance £116,879, which leaves a smaller proportion of free revenue than is the case in the busy South Island. The difference arises from the fact of the railways in the North Island being as yet only fragmentary and isolated portions of a grand scheme.

The total cost of construction of the railways up to date, has been in the South Island £5,757,188, and in the North Island, £2,300,000, making a total expenditure of £8,057,188, say 8 million, or an average of £7000 a mile of constructed railways, a remarkably low average when the difficult nature of part of the country, involving heavy works, amongst others several expensive tunnels, is considered. The traffic receipts are increasing rapidly every month, and the gross revenue for the current year has been estimated by the Hon. Mr Macandrew at £950,000. This is more than ten per cent, on the capital page 84 cost, a proportion England has not yet reached after forty years' growth. The working expenses in the colony in proportion to the traffic are greater than in England; but as the development of the traffic proceeds, the proportion will become more favourable. At present, the cost of maintenance and working charges is 70 per cent, of the gross revenue. There is every reason for believing that, within a few years, if the government avoid political and unprofitable lines, the railway revenue will not only pay five per cent, on the whole capital cost, but yield a further profit to be applied to the service of the state in lessening the burdens of ordinary taxation.

The astonishing result attained in the brief period of the existence of our railway scheme, is a forcible proof of the industrial activity of the people and the remarkable productive power of the colony. Victoria, which has had a system of railways in operation for twenty years, was only last year rejoicing in the fact of the gross revenue touching for the first time the annual amount of a million sterling. Besides the railways, it must be remembered that the road-boards have constructed in past years 10,000 miles of roads, at an outlay of four or five millions.

Before the present admirable scheme of railways was projected, local enterprise made several efforts. Of these, the Canterbury tunnel, already referred to, was successful. In Nelson a railway to the Dun Mountain mines was constructed, which was lifted long ago, the speculation proving abortive. In Southland, the provincial executive entered into a strange vagary of a wooden line, the rolling stock of which had curiously constructed wheels, which were expected to revolutionise railway working throughout the world. The thing proved a failure, and the permanent way was condemned and lifted before the present system was adopted. The engine-driver used to stop discreetly if he saw a passenger coming. One day a settler's wife was on her way to Invercargill with some eggs and poultry. The driver hailed her with the question: 'Are ye for a ride?' 'Na, na!' said the good woman; 'I'm in a hurry the day.'

In addition to the railways, likely to prove a source of national profit, over and above the great indirect advantages in stimulating settlement, trade, and production, the state possesses its own system of telegraphs. The returns of the transactions in this department afford another safe indication of the extent of business carried on in the colony. In thirteen years the number of miles of telegraph has increased from page 85 700 to 3543, and the number of miles of wire from 1400 to 8444. In 1878, the number of private messages was 1,201,982, yielding a revenue of £81,435; and of government messages, 246,961, valued at £26,949. Every year the usefulness of the system is being more and more developed. The Minister of Public Works estimates the revenue for the current year (1879-80) at £90,000. New Zealand, both in the number of miles of railway and telegraph, exceeds the older and more populous colony of Victoria. There is now direct telegraphic communication between London and the colony.

Akin to the railways and telegraphs is the department of the Post-office, the arrangements of which are very complete. Every facility is given in the way of establishing local post-offices, of which there are now 814. The government also have grudged no outlay in establishing the most expeditious means of conveying correspondence between Great Britain and New Zealand. There are three postal routes. The leading one is by San Francisco. Large and well-appointed steamers leave Auckland for America every four weeks. The voyage through the Pacific, touching at Honolulu, in the delightful kingdom of Hawaii, is a pleasure-trip of 23 days. The traveller may then by railway cross the continent, and next by Atlantic steamer reach London in 19 days. The whole time occupied by the mails is 42 days. The shortest time between Auckland and London in 1878 was 39 days. Passengers having leisure may take the journey more easily and break its tedium by a visit to Utah, or a sojourn at the modern marvel of cities, Chicago, or in other of the American towns.

The mail route next in importance is that by the Brindisi line, going on by Suez, Galle, and Melbourne, reaching the colony in 53 days. A third route may be taken viâ Sydney, Brisbane, Singapore, Galle, and Suez, which occupies still longer time. Fortnightly mails can be relied on, as the San Francisco and the Brindisi lines are timed to leave London at fortnightly intervals.

The number of letters received in the colony in 1878 was 8,236,062, being an increase of 19 per cent, on the previous year. The number of letters despatched was 7,288,699. The number of post-cards received and despatched was 254,183. The rates of local postage are higher than in Britain, being twopence per half-ounce. The ocean postage to London is sixpence by San Francisco, and by Brindisi eightpence. The attaching the Australian and New Zealand mails to the page 86 Indian and Eastern service is a mistake: two days are lost by diverging to Galle, and the Australias are now sufficient in importance to justify an independent steamer from Aden.