Wednesday, 8 November 2017

The Forgotten Enginemen of the Dunedin & Port Chalmers Railway Coy., 1872-73 (Part Four)


Marble Gravestone of Thomas & Margaret Graham,
Anderson's Bay Cemetery Dunedin
[Source : Dunedin City Council]

Mr Thomas Graham - Locomotive Fireman 

This Blog is a continuing instalment in my series entitled "The Forgotten Enginemen of the Dunedin and Port Chalmers Railway". To go to my short history of the D&PCR Co. click HERE. In this blog series we explore these "forgotten" enginemen, their early lives, their engineering and railway backgrounds, their employment with the D&PCR Co., and their subsequent railway and post railway careers and lives. 

Our third biography, having been pieced together from a number of published and online sources, charts the life of Mr Thomas Graham, being initially employed as a Locomotive Fireman for the D&PCR Co. As we shall read, Mr Graham went on to have a long and fulfilling railways career in the south which, along with his then driver Mr John Thomas, included a couple of notable railway firsts. 

Graham appears to have been born around 1843 but I have been unable to locate him in Scottish Baptismal records. And without more accurate information searching census records could prove a costly exercise. His obituary at least confirms that he was born in West Calder, Scotland. On the 7th July 1872 Graham arrived at Port Chalmers on the sailing vessel "William Davie", having left the Clyde on the 6th April 1872 with a complement of 390 passengers, many being assisted immigrants. Oddly his name does not appear on the passenger list so I wonder if perhaps he worked his passage?  

His first work in Scotland had been that of a "plate-layer and Engine Driver" but with which railway company is unknown. The two likely possibilities, based on where he was born, would be the Caledonian Railway Company or the North British Railway Company.

The most likely scenario is that he was directly employed in Otago by the D&PCR Co. upon his arrival based on his previous railways experience and qualifications rather than having been engaged for this work in Scotland. His obituary dated 1919 states that, "his first work in Dunedin was as fireman to Mr Jack Thomas (who, it is understood, is still living), when they worked the first engine running to Port Chalmers. This engine was one of the two double-engined Fairlies...".


The double door firebox on Double-Fairlie
Locomotive "Josephine", 2016
[From my own collection]

The "first engine running to Port Chalmers" is well recorded in published accounts of the D&PCR Co., with John Thomas as driver and Thomas Graham firing when the Double-bogie Fairlie locomotive "Josephine" hauled the first 'public' timetabled train on the line from Dunedin to Port Chalmers on Wednesday the 1st January 1873.

The boiler configuration on the Double-Fairlie's, as can be seen on the preserved 145 year old "Josephine" above, included a centrally mounted firebox with two firing doors and two boilers, each extending to the 'front' and 'rear' of the engine. Thus firing was to the side on the rather cramped footplate on the fireman's side of the boiler, hardly an excessively large area by any means, especially when wielding a shovel of coal on a moving locomotive. I daresay a short handled coal shovel was in order.

And while Thomas Graham may have been fireman on the first public trip on the 1st January 1873 and again on the 16th July 1873, his obituary also states that he "was one of the original engine drivers on the Dunedin-Port Chalmers railway". Knowing that he had previous driving experience in Scotland and therefore the requisite locomotive drivers ticket this statement may still be correct even if he is not specifically noted as a driver on the line in earlier published accounts. It may well be that he was initially only a relieving driver. At any rate, Graham would appear not to have undertaken any driving or firing on the D&PCR Co. line until the afore-mentioned opening trip on the 1st January 1873 and as of July 1873 was still working as John Thomas' regular fireman.

On the 17th July 1873 Thomas Graham is noted as being the fireman ["stoker'] and John Thomas the driver when the first recorded fatality occurred on the line itself. A man named Angus McPherson, being under the influence of alcohol, was found to have been run over and killed. There was confusion at the Coroner's Inquest over Graham either shutting off steam upon approaching the curve where the body lay or not shutting off steam. Graham claimed he did not and the Guard stated under examination that he did as he was prompted to put on the brake in the guard's van. But I can find no evidence of Fireman Thomas Graham being asked for his evidence. Perhaps if it had gone onto a criminal court this would be the case but after driver Thomas was given a good character reference, and with his conflicting evidence simply being put down to "confusion", the jury duly returned a verdict of "Accidental Death".

Graham's obituary does appear to be badly written but states; "On the erection of the second engine, about a year later, Mr Graham was appointed driver." This second engine is referred to as "Josephine" but we know that "Rose" was in fact the second engine to be completed. But the inference is that around twelve months after public services commenced on the line Graham was appointed permanent driver of one of the locomotives, most likely for the "Rose".

Graham is specifically noted as driving the 7.15 pm up train from Port Chalmers on the 14th May 1875 so we can certainly confirm that he was then driving locomotives, the old D&PCR Co line now being run by the Otago Provincial Government Railways.

It was at this time, specifically on the 25th June 1875, that Thomas Graham married his wife Margaret Ward, a "Native of Glasgow", at Knox Presbyterian Church Dunedin .


Otago Provincial Government Railways Double-Ended Fairlie
Locomotive E25 built by "Avonside" England in March 1875
[Source : SA Rockliff Collection]

By now working for the New Zealand Government Railways but still based in Dunedin, Thomas Graham is reported as having been driving the Avonside built 'Fairlie' No. E25 (being originally supplied to the Otago Provincial Government Railways in 1875) on the evening of Saturday the 28th June 1884 and up to 1.25 am the following morning. A woman 'of doubtful repute', being one Emily [sic Ellen] Adams, a native of Ireland, was later found dead on the line but apart from some evidence that the cow catcher had made contact with the deceased "no concussion or shock" had been felt on the engine despite the body obviously having been run over more than once at slow speed and no object had been noted on the line. A verdict of "Accidental death" was given and that the line "be more closely fenced".    

A further inquest into a railway fatality involving Thomas Graham, who was required to give evidence, occurred the following year. On the night of Saturday the 24th October 1885 John Robertson met with his death on a railway journey between Dunedin and Abbotsford, Graham being the locomotive driver. The jury were told that the deceased fell between the carriage and the brake van when the train was still travelling very slowly at about 3 to 4 miles per hour as it approached the platform and was thus run over and killed instantly. The Jury returned a verdict of "Accidental death", adding a rider that "they thought the rule prohibiting people jumping off trains while in motion should be strictly enforced." 

But on Wednesday the 2nd February 1887 Graham would save a life, being that of 18 month old John Gray. As the 11.40 am train approached the Pelichet Bay Station the driver, Thomas Graham, noticed the child lying between the sleepers on the line. Although within only twenty yards of the child he quickly shut off steam and managed to bring the locomotive to a stop with the cow catcher just striking the child on the forehead but only causing a slight wound. A miraculous survival for the child.

Graham continued in the railways service and appears to have remained based in Dunedin where he ended his railways career, retiring on superannuation about 1907. Thomas Graham passed away at his Dunedin residence on the 3rd May 1919 aged 76 years and is buried with his wife Margaret, who died in 1923, in the Anderson's Bay Cemetery. He left his widow, four married daughters and seventeen grandchildren.

At a University Club luncheon given in July 1928, Mr W.F. Sligo (Past Night Foreman of the Dunedin Locomotive Dept.) recalled those early D&PCR Co. days noting the achievements of John Thomas but also that ; "...Mr Thomas' first fireman was a man named Tom [Thomas] Graham." From this statement we can fairly safely assume that the latter was known to his friends on the railway simply as "Tom".

And the last word comes from his obituary; "Old railway men will miss him, for he was an honest, straightforward man, and held in high esteem by all who knew him."


Copyright : This blog may not be reproduced without my specific written permission. Excerpts may however be quoted for non-commercial and academic use provided this site is acknowledged. Please feel free, however, to publicize this Blog.

Sources :

- Papers Past / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
- Archives New Zealand /Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga
- Heritage New Zealand / Pouhere Taonga
- "The New Zealand Railways Magazine", 1934
- Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Dunedin
- McNab Room, Dunedin Public Library
- "Dunedin and Port Chalmers Railway - New Zealand's First 3ft 6in Gauge Line" by TA McGavin, 1973
- "Josephine and Her Friends" by JA Dangerfield, c.1994
- Genealogy.com

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