Sunday, 23 March 2014

Thames Waikato Railway - The first sod turned and more

Casket First Sod Thames Waikato Railway
photo courtesy family member

Thinking about Heritage Week 2014 coming up and driving into the Pak n Save Supermarket at Thames, the Thames Railway first sod turned caught my attention. Railways back in 1878 were an important part of the past NZ history railway survey and construction. 

Of course there was no supermarket there back then and newpapers of the day reported the occasion of the first sod ceremony to be in a spot between Shortland and Grahamstown. (Oamaru Mail 23/12/1878). In those days on the Goldfields there were several settlements - Shortland, Grahamstown and Tararu - known today as Thames.

In fact there were two "First Sod turning" ceremonies. The first at the Thames end of what was to be the Thames Waikato Railway on 21 December 1878 and the second at the Waikato or Hamilton end on 2 May 1879. (New Zealand Herald 02/05/1879) This ceremony was said to have been held in rain in a paddock on Mr. Claude's farm. Mr Claude was Francis Richard Claude - an early settler of Hamilton.

This "first sod turning" got me thinking about more early New Zealand history. For 2014 apart from being another Thames heritage Week, is also a jubilee year for Hamilton. 150 years ago in 1864 the first official European settlers landed from the s.s Rangiriri on the west bank of the Waikato River at Kirikiriroa.

s.s. Rangiriri restored and ceremony March 2010
  held at Parana Park, Hamilton to mark restoration Photo CRB

The relevance of s.s. Rangiriri to Thames Railway is that the first District Engineer of the Public Works Department, overseeing Thames Waikato Railway construction just after first sod turning by George Grey - James Stewart C.E. - was also the designer of s.s. Rangiriri and her sister ship s.s. Koheroa.

Panel about s.s. Rangiriri by restored vessel
                                                                         Photo by CRB 2010
Stewart amongst seventeen papers, written and read to the Auckland Branch New Zealand Institute over 45 years, also wrote one : -  On the Comparative Performances of certain River Steamers, on the Waikato. (Rangiriri with Bluenose).

                                                               James Stewart 1832 - 1914
Stewart and Daniel Manders Beere C.E. (also on the Thames Railway first permanent way survey and first construction) were no strangers to railway survey and construction. When they were appointed to Thames Railway work, both were also on Auckland - Te Awamutu Railway construction, opened 1 July 1880 (Waikato Times 03/07/1880)  

Stewart,  C.E. in capacity as District Engineer, Provincial  and Beere,C. E. as Resident Engineer Hamilton - Te Awamutu Section.  Joining them was Ashley John Barsby Hunter C.E who was put in charge of overseeing the Hamilton Railway Bridge construction. Hunter was to write a paper which was read to the Auckland Branch of the New Zealand Institute in 1883 on  observations made during the sinking of the cylinders for the bridge: - Direct Evidence of a Change in the Elevation of the Waikato District.

                                                                   Hamilton Railway Bridge
                               Courtesy 'Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland  Libraries, 4-3686'

Hunter in addition to being a Civil Engineer, joining Stewart in a partnership in late 1881 and was also an accomplished cartoonist. Many of his cartoons are now in collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand.

Prior to coming to New Zealand Daniel Manders Beere C.E had completed his cadetship in with engineering with his uncle, William Armstrong. Armstrong formed a company Armstrong & Beere in 1855, two years later joined by Hime. The three were interested in photography and today in 2014 some of the earliest photos of Toronto City, taken by these three civil engineers , now in Toronto City Archives  give a good portrayal of what the city looked like in the earliest days.

Beere moved to New Zealand in 1863 and while working for the Auckland Provincial Government and later the Public Works Department, continued photography. Again a portrayal of what the country looked like in those early years of European settlement. Today in 2014 National Library of New Zealand has a number of these in their collections.

Both Stewart and Beere were also no strangers to Thames or the Waikato. Stewart had overseen the construction of Bean Rock and Ponui Passage light houses - both of which aided navigation to and from the Thames Goldfields. In capacity as Inspector of Steamers, Marine Department 1866 - 1872 (when Drury railway work was halted) he passed those " new-fangled steamers" for sea worthiness that were a big part of sea traffic to and from Thames goldfields. Steamers like railway first sod turning also saw special launching ceremonies. The Kuranui Boiler Accident at Thames in 1874 saw Nancarrow, Stewart and O'Neill appointed to a Royal Commission to enquire into the event and machinery and boilers generally (the report led to a first piece of legislation in New Zealand-The Machinery Act 1874).

Kuranui Battery Site
Photo 2010 CRB

Daniel Manders Beere was appointed Goldfields Surveyor (Auckland Provincial Gazette, 1868) and carried out survey work on the newly opened Thames Goldfield. Beere also drew maps of the Thames Goldfields - one for the Thames Miners Guide 1868. The Beere family were active in Thames community activities.

                                                  Advertisement in Thames Miners Guide 1868

It was twenty years after the turning of the sod in 1878 that the Thames Waikato railway was finally completed. This railway went by a number of names – Auckland Thames railway, Frankton Thames railway. The report of the Railway Commission in 1880 also evidenced a number of names for this railway judging from the various deputations presenting their case for a railway. In hindsight these would have been the sections of the railway eg Grahamstown – Te Aroha, Paeroa – Te Aroha, Hikutaia – Kopu. During the twenty years, this railway construction also saw a number of District Engineers. 

Following the retirement of James Stewart from the Public Works Department in 1881 William Henry Hales became District Engineer. The Cyclopaedia New Zealand, Wellington Province wrote: -
“In 1881 he went to Auckland as district engineer and remained for ten years. When Mr. Blair, the late Engineer-in-Chief was taken ill, in 1891. Mr. Hales was recalled from Auckland, placed in charge and appointed acting engineer-in-chief. A year after he became Engineer-in-Chief, and some six or eight months later still he was appointed Marine Engineer for the Colony.”

William Henry Hales 1830 - 1909
In The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Wellington Provincial District]
The Cyclopedia Company, Limited, 1897, Wellington
courtesy of NZETC

During Hales tenure as District Engineer, the Hamilton railway bridge opened on 4 February 1884. The Waikato Times reported: -

“The engine, one of the six wheel or F class, arrived from Auckland about 2.30 p.m under engagement to the contractors, Messrs Mullinger and Brett, having on board the District Manager of the Auckland railways. On arrival at the Hamilton station the Resident Engineer, Mr D. M. Beere, and the contractors got on the engine. Several trucks were attached, and in these a number of people disposed themselves, hoping to share the honour of being among the first to cross the bridge in the first train.”  (Waikato Times 05/02/1884

A photo was taken of the Hamilton railway bridge in 1884

Upon Hales moving to Wellington in 1891, the replacement District Engineer appointed was Charles Ranken Vickerman. Vickerman had been assistant District Engineer to James Stewart from 1877 and was involved in survey of the Rangiriri – Te Awamutu section of what became the Main Trunk Line.

Charles Ranken Vickerman 1855 - 1940

The Cyclopaedia New Zealand, Auckland Province wrote on Vickerman’s role following Hales.: - 

 “Mr. Vickerman was left in charge of the Auckland district; in the following year, was appointed resident engineer, and has had charge of the various railways and building works erected under the new system of co-operative labour since that time.” ( Cyclopaedia New Zealand, Auckland Province)

Vickerman was in capacity as District Engineer see survey begin on the Paeroa Waihi Railway and construction begin in 1900 with the Karangahake railway tunnel one of this railway’s first projects. Vickerman also saw the Thames Waikato railway finally completed and opened on 19 December 1898.

The opening was a large occasion with hundreds taking part, including a number who had been present at the first sod turned twenty years before. The New Zealand Herald reported the names of these : -
“The following gentlemen from Auckland who were present at the turning of the first sod of the railway were also present: Hon. W. McCullough, Major Murray, Messrs. W. .T. Speight, F. E. Baume, W.Blomfield, R. Farrell, S. C. Macky, John Brown, T. Browne, James Brown, P. C. Chen], 0. Humphreys. W. Frater, J. M. Mennie, J. Thompson, W. J. Napier, W. Wilkinson, M. Casey, J. Scott. P. Brophy, J. McCabe, A. Myers, J. Leydon, H. Murdoch, Weir, Smart, and R. McDonald Scott." ( New Zealand Herald, 20 /12/1898.)
Present were the HON. A.J. Cadman, Minister of Railways, who had also been present at the first sod turning and a proponent of railways since Drury railway days. Also there was Thames Mayor Elect Henry James Greenslade.

Two days later at his installation as Mayor, Greenslade was presented with a casket containing a piece of the first sod turned for Thames Waikato railway twenty years before. (Thames Star, 21/12/ 1898)

                                      Casket First Sod Thames Waikato Railway

                                                                    Photo courtesy family member

The first sod - a relevant part of the past in Thames Waikato railway history. A footnote to this was that in 1885, the kauri wheel barrow used for the first sod turning at Thames in 1878 was also used for the first sod turning of the North Island Trunk at Punui. Hales, Stewart and Beere were present – a photograph taken by Beere is a record of the occasion – in National Library of New Zealand.

Reference Source:

1 comment:

  1. Ashley Hunter C.E. was also a noted political cartoonist for a number of publications in the 1890s, and although successful in this respect, it's pretty clear he saw it as a 'sideline.'