Tuesday, 3 May 2016

"Washington" and "Josephine" Open the Christchurch to Dunedin Railway, 6th Sept 1878 (Part Two)


Double-Fairlie "Josephine",
Burton Brothers Photo, believed
taken during a trial run in 1872.
[Source : OESA Collection, 1979]

Part Two : Oamaru to Dunedin Section

This is the second part of my blog featuring  the first "through" passenger express train to run on the main south line from Christchurch to Dunedin on the 6th September 1878. Click HERE to read the first part. The events described in this blog are entirely factual.

Arrival of "Josephine" and "Rose" From Dunedin

A special double- headed train comprising of the English built "No E26" Double Fairlie 0-4-4-0T locomotive "Josephine" assisted by her sister engine "No E27 Rose" and hauling four carriages and a new guards van had departed Dunedin at 7 am that same morning in order to convey dignitaries and guests to Oamaru to meet the inaugural Christchurch to Dunedin train. The former, as lead engine, was decorated with evergreens with her front plate bearing the conspicuous motto "Advance New Zealand". Both locomotives would henceforth work this section of line. The Dunedin train arrived in Oamaru punctually at 12 o'clock with the Christchurch train headed by "K88 Washington" arriving half an hour later. With Oamaru holding a "high holiday" upwards of 500 persons had gathered to welcome the arrival of the two trains from north and south.


The centrally mounted cab, firebox and controls on
the Double Fairlie "Josephine", taken 1925
[Source : Alexander Turnbull Library] 

Both "Josephine" and "Rose" had been built by the Vulcan Foundry at Newton-le-Willows in Lancashire England in 1872. Josephine had been the first locomotive used on the new Dunedin and Port Chalmers Railway during the latter part of 1872 while "Rose" had hauled the first official train on the 1st January 1873. With a distinctive double boiler and two funnels with the driver and fireman on opposite sides of the boiler in a centrally mounted cab the Double Fairlie locomotives presented a unique appearance.


The old Oamaru Railway Station
[Source : J. Dangerfield]

Some Canterbury / Otago Rivalry

After "much discussion", which in fact lasted the whole time the guests were away banqueting, and showing some strongly entrenched Canterbury / Otago provincial rivalry, it is finally decided that the English built "Josephine" would be relegated to second engine whilst "Washington", the new American locomotive, would continue the journey as lead engine.This at least saved the consist of (now) fourteen carriages from being broken up into two separate trains. With the luncheon over by 1.40 pm we again make our departure. Our driver from Christchurch, Ben Verdon, remained on the footplate of "Washington" along with a local man to show him the road, fireman Tom Scott, and the afore mentioned New Zealand Railways Locomotive Superintendent, Mr Allison Smith.


The old Oamaru Railway Station. The line at left is to the
north while that to right is to the south thus all trains had
to inconveniently reverse out of the station.
[Soiurce : NZ Railways Publicity]

Steep and Prolongued

At this time the Oamaru Railway Station was situated further south than the present station which necessitated reversing out of the old Harbourside Station before running south again. This gave very little run up to pick up speed before tackling an almost immediate steep and prolonged two mile 1 in 50 gradient up the Waiareka Bank [click for UTube video]. This remained a serious challenge for locomotives and enginemen alike until the end of steam in 1971, double heading being the norm.


The Driver of K88 "Washington",
Mr Benjamin Verdon
[Source : The Cyclopedia of NZ]

"Look here Verdon, this won't do"

The Canterbury enginemen knew that their Otago counterparts considered the English Double-Fairlie locomotives to be the better engines and in an effort to prove them wrong "K88" Driver Ben Verdon decided "to put 'Josephine' through her paces."

So Verdon "kept his engine pretty close going up the Waiareka bank just to see what the Josephine could do, and found that she was making hard work of itMr Smith [New Zealand Railways Locomotive Superintendent who was riding on the footplate] noticed it, and said, 'Look here Verdon, this won't do; you mustn't play up on the Josephine.'" to which Verdon replied, "All right; I only wanted to see what she could do." But the damage to "Josephine" had already been done.

So Different to the Flat and Dreary Plains of Canterbury

While the line as far south as Oamaru had been opened in February 1878, that portion between Oamaru and Dunedin must now pass through "country of so different a formation to the flat and dreary plains of Canterbury... as contrasted with the ever recurring tussocks of the Northern Province." The line south to Moeraki covers 26 miles and cost £156,000 (£6,000 per mile) to construct while the 46 miles from there to the junction with the Port Chalmers line cost £385,000 (£8,369 per mile). "The line is all gradients and curves, and the construction, particularly in the last 14 miles, was of the heaviest nature."

1,000 Acre Paddocks

After Waiareka the line passes through a number of large estates, a notable one being the Totara Estate which is divided up into 1,000 acre paddocks, "unbroken by any fence". We are informed that this is now on the market in small blocks as part of the break up of the once great estates thus giving prospective landowners a chance to own their own block of highly productive land for sheep farming and grain. A little further on at Kakanui "a white stone quarry" is also observed with "a machine specially contrived for the purpose of sawing out blocks... which only have to be lifted into the [railway] trucks and they are ready to be carried away." The land above this limestone formation is particularly rich and is selling for between £30 to £35 an acre.

Leaving Kakanui the line then passes through a short tunnel into the valley of the Otepopo river, "...a very picturesque spot". Then through to Hampden, the line now crosses The New Zealand Land Company's estate, being characterised by heavy cuttings, the first major earthworks observed on the line south. Hampden is a little village "which some think one day will become the centre of a flourishing agricultural district."

"Such As It Is"

The character of the country "is still rolling downs sloping to the seashore backed by ridges of brown-looking hills." The seaside harbour settlement of Moeraki, "such as it is", is noted as having a jetty and just two houses. A little branch railway runs out to the jetty, being constructed for half its length upon trestles in the sea. The writer observes that two months previous, and after a severe gale, a cutter had been thrown against the jetty where it remained jammed even now.


Puketapu [Pukeitapu] Hill, Palmerston, 1898
[Source : The Cyclopedia of New Zealand]

The "Pretty" Town of Palmerston

To avoid the "precipitous Horse Range", the line now diverges to the sea shore where it runs for some miles to Shag Point. We next ascend Pukeoiti Hill at an elevation of 115 feet. Through further heavy cuttings we break into the Shag Valley and Palmerston District which affords us with a splendid view. The conical shaped Mount Pukeitapu overlooking Palmerston is a distinctive feature. Fears had been expressed that the opening of the line to Dunedin would "injure" the "pretty" town of Palmerston but it has the advantage of being situated at the junction of the main road with the road leading to the Dunstan Goldfields. Already, a ten mile branch line to Dunback is being planned.

"We Can't Stay"

We arrive at Palmerston at 3.45 pm, having covered the 36 miles from Oamaru at an average speed of 25 miles per hour. According to the official programme, there was to be another banquet here but with the Mayor of Palmerston on the train the corporation members seemed at a loss to know what to do in order to "receive" the Governor. Thus the latter remained in his carriage and did not alight. But all hopes "of escaping another speech" were dashed when the Governor was informed that the councillors were going from carriage to carriage looking for him, the vice regal carriage not having pulled up alongside them. So there was nothing for it but to be "addressed", the Governor getting out of his carriage and listening to the speech before giving a brief reply adding, "we can't stay". But after the battle of the two engines there is, according to the reminiscences of Driver Ben Verdon, a slight delay before departure while the fitter, who had travelled up with "Josephine", is required to undertake repairs and get her ready for work again.


Waikouaiti Railway Station, 1878
[Photo Credit : Waihemo Museum]

Now Behind Time

Now behind time the Railway Commisioner, Mr Conyers, insists on the train getting underway again, being farewelled at 4 pm by the usual cheers. Traversing the nine miles to Waikouaiti, the undulating countryside is much like between Oamaru and Moeraki. The tidal river lagoon here obviously proved troublesome for the contractors with no less than three bridges required to be built in the space of a few hundred yards.

And Now The Heavy Work Commenced

"We now find our passage barred by heavy looking wooded mountains, rejoicing in the uneuphoneous [pleasant or agreeable sounding] name of Kilmog. Up the sides of it we climbed and now the heavy work commenced. The curves are something dreadful, the engines often disappearing in a cutting long before the tail end of the train had come round a curve."


"The Yankee K laughs at the Josephine on the first
through train from Christchurch to Dunedin".
[Source : "The New Zealand Railways Magazine", 1934] 

Frantic Gesticulations

"At the Maori kaik [settlement], a group of Natives are assembled waving mats, sticks, meres, and anything apparently they had been able to lay [their] hands on. One man in particular caused great amusement, by his frantic gesticulations on the edge of a cutting, where he jumped about, flourishing a greenstone mere, as if anxious to execute a war dance for our special delectation [pleasure and delight]".


Double Fairlie "Josephine", as seen at Beaumont on
the Roxburgh branch line during her later service
 with the NZ Public Works Department, 1914.
[Source : G.W. Emerson]

In A Fearful State

By the time the train had reached Seacliff high above the sea "Josephine" was "in a fearful [mechanical] state. The fitter wasn't able to do her any good; so she was cut off and left behind. We [subsequently] got on very well..." Naturally the Canterbury enginemen were delighted. But for the unknown driver of  "Josephine" to have been beaten by Verdon driving a flashy American locomotive would have been very hard to stomach. Her crew felt that she had been unfairly made to take too much of the load and that this had contributed to her failing. One could also argue that "Washington" completing the journey on her own on the steep climb over the hills to Dunedin with 14 carriages, albeit at a slower speed, proved beyond doubt which was the more reliable locomotive.

It must however be said that the Double Fairlies quickly developed a reputation for being rather unspectacular performers. And with the complication of two driving mechanisms geared to separate driven axle units and the added maintenance of steam and exhaust pipes fitted with swivel and expansion joints plus wheels that "shimmy ecstatically from rail to rail, the flightiness and non-reliability of the [Double Fairlie] type is evident."


A steam train passing passing Waitati Station and Presbyterian
Church at Blueskin Bay after descending from Mihiwaka but 
before the equally difficult and twisting climb up to Seacliff. 
Taken pre 1909.
[From my own collection]

One of the Heaviest Pieces of Railway Work

Our coastal views are cut short by a short tunnel before descending some miles down steep gradients to Blueskin Bay which we reach around 5.33 pm. A point to mention here is that braking on the train was primitive and consisted of a hand brake on the locomotive and another on the guards van. It was the responsibility of the guard to apply his brake as and when the locomotive was braking. There is no mention of a specific "brakesman" on this journey but it became normal practice to have a driver, fireman and brakesman on the footplate before the advent of Westinghouse air brakes after the turn of the last century.

We now travel on the flat until we reach Waitati Station. From here commences one of the heaviest pieces of railway work in New Zealand, having only being completed at the end of 1878 at a cost of £68,000.  

The Sparks Would Fly

Our newspaper correspondent now refers to an "overheated axle box at Blueskin [Waitati] Station" which required a stop of a few minutes. Mr Conyers had apparently observed sparks and suspected an overheated axle box as being on fire and requested the train stop for an inspection. But in his reminiscences, Driver Ben Verdon refers to this as being caused by making speed down one of the steep and twisting gradients on the line to make up lost time and that "In the 'Six-Wheelers' the front carriage used to swing till the wheels touched the frame, and then the sparks would fly."

From the Waitati Station, "a fourth class passenger station with sidings and other adjuncts" we now commence "the Purakanui section" by crossing the Waitati river via a seven span bridge of 93 feet and then the Orokonui Inlet by means of a "substantial timber bridge" comprising of three 30 foot spans.


The Dunedin Railways "Seasider" service
traversing the steep cliffs high above the ocean
[Source : Dunedin Railways]

Don't look Down!

We now ascend a steep gradient to the Blueskin Cliff. "The speed is decreased, and very necessarily so, for not only is the way narrow and actually over-hanging the sea, but there is not an inch of straight rail at any point.... so long was the train that when passing through the heavy cuttings... the engines disappeared before the last three carriages had come out of a smaller cutting behind."

"The dizzy depths of the sea below which washes the foot of the rocks are enough to appal [sic] weak nerves, and I would suggest to all tremulous people who may happen to travel on this line to keep well inside the carriage doors."

"Having rounded the cliff, which is quite a quarter of a mile in extent, the dangers are not yet over, as the track has been hewn for some yards out of an almost perpendicular mountain side. To effect this, men had to be slung down from the top in ropes to hew the rock with pick and chisel; blasting could not be resorted to on account of its unreliable character."


Navvies excavating the rock face with picks
and shovels high above Blueskin Bay, 1876
[Source : NZ Railways Publicity]

Chose to go by Sea Rather than Risk Their Lives

Passengers had already speculated "a great deal" on the journey south how the train would negotiate this sheer solid bluestone cliff, Access around this seemingly impenetrable obstacle was in fact only achieved by cutting a narrow "siding" or ledge cut out of the cliff at a height of about 400 feet above the sea. A fault line through the cliff was crossed by girders under which the sea could be observed from the footplate looking down on the landward side of the engine. But danger also lay above with the risk of rockfalls onto the line or in fact onto any passing train. A strict speed limit of 10 mph had been imposed but not always adhered to. The great English railway writer, Charles Rous-Martin could recall being "...on the footplate when we have rounded the point at 25 or 30 miles an hour." Some prudent travellers in fact chose to go by sea rather than risk their lives traversing this dangerous obstacle. Just prior to 1900 a tunnel would replace this short section of line which was then consigned to history, thankfully with no record of any mishap.


The Dunedin Railways "Seasider" service
emerging from the Cliff Tunnel. The line
had originally skirted around this bluff.
[Source : Dunedin Railways]

Magnificent Views

The line above Purakanui Bay affords us with magnificent views of the bay and across the sea to the headlands of Waikouaiti and Moeraki. A large embankment constructed with 100,000 cubic yards of earth and rubble, being the largest in the Colony, carries the line at an elevation of 80 feet above a precipitous cliff. The approaches to this section are, on either side, through very heavy rock cuttings of 12 chains in extent, the highest portions of which are 60 feet.

A steam train has reached the summit at the wayside
Mihiwaka Station after having just emerged from the
dreaded climb through the tunnel, circa 1920's.
[Source : National Library of New Zealand]

The Deborah Bay Tunnel

We now enter the 66 chain long (1.33 kilometer) Deborah Bay Tunnel, being constructed at a cost of £57,000. At first we descend through the tunnel at an easy gradient of 1 in 995 before descending more steeply at 1 in 60 for the last 50 chains (1 kilometer). The time taken on the descent takes just four and a half minutes while the ascent would have taken seven and a half minutes. A marble plaque above the south end records "Commenced 8th June 1877; finished August 1877". [This tunnel is now commonly referred to as the Mihiwaka Tunnel and remained a feared obstacle by locomotive crews on northbound trains until the end of steam in 1971].


Port Chalmers with the Main South Railway
descending down the gradient to Sawyers Bay
in the foreground, taken in 1880
[Photographer : D.A. De Maus]

Under the Port Chalmers Cemetery

Emerging from the above tunnel the line now twists and turns as we travel through various cuttings and across a 60 foot embankment sloping down to the sea before travelling through the short but curved 4 chain long "McGregors Tunnel". Magnificent views of the Otago Harbour with Mansford Town below [now known as Carey's Bay] soon come into view before we enter the 10 chain long short radius "Mansfordtown Tunnel". After emerging from this tunnel [which now passes under the Port Chalmers Cemetery] we descend on a steep 1 in 50 gradient through a deep cutting across the hillside before the town of Port Chalmers and harbour opens up below us. Apart from tall ships in the harbour we will also, if we are quick, observe close to the line the distinctive and decorative bluestone bell tower of the 1872 Presbyterian Church. We continue cautiously down the gradient for about a mile before we reach Sawyers Bay, almost at sea level, being the junction with the Port Chalmers Line. We are now 6 miles distant from Dunedin.


The Sawyers Bay Railway Station and
Signal Box,,taken circa 1950
[Source : Hocken Collections]

The Final Leg of the Journey

The final leg of the journey follows the formation of the erstwhile 1873 Dunedin and Port Chalmers Railway Company line from Sawyers Bay as it first plunges into the short Sawyers Bay tunnel before meandering around the various small and very picturesque bays of Dunedin's inner harbour.


Dunedin Railway Station in the 1870's
[Hocken Collections]

Failing To See How They Would Reach Dunedin

Having earlier travelled "at [such] a comparatively slow pace" and "on many occasions the train [being] on two curves at once" left many passengers shaking their heads and failing to see how they could possibly reach Dunedin by the time fixed. Even much later in the day, and after Waitati, the probability of being up to an hour late was believed quite possible.


Inaccuracies aside, this is the only illustration of  the
arrival of the train in Dunedin. The Governor is shown
being greeted as he steps from his carriage.
[Source : "Otago Centennial 1848 -1948"]

"Snorted Loudly Up To The Platform"

With an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 people waiting at Dunedin and the train now over an hour late the crowd endured this "severe trial" with "the utmost good humour and order prevailed". A signal from Pelichet Bay indicates that the engine is finally approaching as it now runs along the causeway. Our train now has but a short distance to travel before "Washington" "snorted loudly up to the platform" of the original Dunedin "Metropolitan" Railway Station at 6.37 pm, well past the original scheduled arrival time of 5.30 pm. The original wooden passenger station lay where Queen's Gardens is now situated, facing the road of the same name. The line further south then continued along what is now Crawford Street.



The old Dunedin Railway Station at lower left,
taken from the spire of First Church.
Burton Brothers Photo, 1874
[Source : OESA Collection]

Ten Million Pounds

Waiting on the platform at the Dunedin Railway Station are "... the Volunteers with the guns, which belched forth a salute to the Governor, while the band played "Home, sweet home". The town was already illuminated, and the crowd [dense]. Rockets were whizzing through the air, Roman candles burning in every direction, and glowing above all was the dazzling electric light, which shone from four or five buildings in the principal streets of the town. Most of the large places of business were also illuminated in various ways, the best of them being the portrait of Sir J.[Julius] Vogel at the Prince of Wales' Hotel, in a sea of fire." [This is highly significant as Sir Julius Vogel had been a great promoter of railways during his tenure as New Zealand Premier during the 1870's, raising ten million pounds in London for the purposes of funding roads, railways and infrastructure].


Sister Locomotive Rogers K92 on
the new turntable at Dunedin
(not installed till after Sept 1878)
[Source : Hardwicke Knight Collection]

Such was the crush of people at the station that Driver Verdon could not manage to get the engine through the crowds of people "for about two hours", then, lacking a proper turntable, had to break the engine and tender to get the engine turned for the return trip the following day. Then both Verdon and his fireman Tom Scott were forced to sleep in chairs till 7.30 am the next morning, proper accommodation being impossible to obtain. A pit inspection the next morning showed that "Washington" had suffered no damage and made a successful trip back to Christchurch "without any difficulty".

Quite a Feat

The full journey south has taken us twelve and a half hours and but for the delay at Palmerston would have taken just twelve hours. Despite the claims by the crew of "Josephine" that they were given an unequal challenge, I feel all credit must still be afforded to K88 "Washington".

And to run a small to medium sized locomotive such as K88 "Washington" over this whole distance, including traversing a highly challenging line with tight curvature and steep gradients, for an almost continuous twelve and a half hour period was indeed quite a feat. Mr Allison Smith would have been well pleased with the performance of his "Yankee K" and of his capable locomotive crew.

The success and reliability (and speedy delivery) of the "K" class led the way to not only the ordering of further American built locomotives but also the adoption over the ensuing years of many American locomotive features and equipment into New Zealand locomotive design.    

And What of "Washington" and "Josephine"?

The third Blog in this four part series [click here for link] takes a detailed look at what became of K88 "Washington" and the final blog will feature what became of the double-ended Fairlie "Josephine". The answer is quite surprising if not unbelievable as both survive today, one being in full working order. That both survived, as we shall read, is almost beyond belief.


Sources :

- Papers Past / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
- New Zealand Electronic Text Collective / Te Pūhikotui o Aotearoa
- The New Zealand Railways Magazine, 1934
- "The New Zealand Listener", 1983
- New Zealand Historic Places magazine
- "New Zealand Railways to 1900", by C. Rous-Marten (from my own collection)
- "Otago Centennial 1848 - 1948" (from my own collection)

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