Friday, 19 September 2014

Waikato Railway, Engineer Volunteer Militia and the Thames Influence

Green & Colebrook (Firm). Interior view of the Railway Bridge over the Waikato River at Ngaruawahia, 1910 - Photograph taken by G & C Ltd. Price, William Archer, 1866-1948 : Collection of post card negatives. Ref: 1/2-000786-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

The railway Auckland – Mercer was still being completed at the beginning of 1874 when a start was made to the next stretch Mercer to Ngaruawahia (or Newcastle then). For this stretch it was not Brogden’s or “Brogden’s navies” undertaking survey and construction but the Public Works Department with the Engineer Militia and other contractors.

The “Turning of the First Sod “on 10 January 1874 with a shamrock, thistle and rose placed ceremoniously upon the first sod which marked the start of construction. Along with a flax leaf. The flowers represented the nationalities of those who were to be involved in the construction of this railway.

Ngaruawahia was the chosen venue for this ceremony. Principal Maori Chiefs present were, Major Wiremu Te Wheoro, Sub- Inspector Hori Kukutai, Irihia Te Kauae, Rewiti Waikato, Karaka Ngahiwi, Anuaru Patene, Hakiriwhi Te Purewa, Paora Te Ahuru, and Rev. Wiremu Patene. Also present were those who had or would have Thames involvement in the future - Messrs Charles O'Neill, M.H.R., J. Sheehan, Dr. Pollen, James MacKay, Thomas Macffarlane, Esq and those of the Militia – Colonel Lyon, Major Jackson, Major Cooper and Major Mair. (New Zealand Herald, 12 January 1874, Page 3 )

Portrait of Wiremu Te Morehu Maipapa Te Wheoro (also known as Major Te Wheoro), Ngai Naho Chief and Member of Parliament for Western Maori, 1879-1884.'Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-2736

Major William Mair photo courtesy

Major Jackson, M.H.R. photo courtesy

The New Zealand Herald reported that a body of 130 men had been enrolled in the Engineer Militia by Major Cooper to begin operations.

“About 60 men, known as the Auckland Corps, No 2, are stationed at Rangiriri, under the command of Captain Howell, and the No 1 Company (from the Thames), numbering 70 men, under the command of Captain Rowe, are stationed at Taupiri.” (New Zealand Herald 12 Jan 1874)

The Mercer Ngaruawahia route of approximately 31 miles was organised into three sections  :-

  •       Mercer to Rangiriri
  •         Rangiriri to Taupiri
  •        and Taupiri to Ngaruawahia

Main street of Mercer. Price, William Archer, 1866-1948 : Collection of post card negatives. Ref: 1/2-001037-G. Alexander Turnbull Library,
Wellington, New Zealand.

Over relatively flat land, the railway route ran across the Whangamarino Swamp, more swamp from Rangiriri to Huntly including Toles Hill Swamp and the Taupiri Gorge along the Eastern Bank of the Waikato River. The “lay of the land” necessitated a number of bridges to be constructed, along with some heavy embankments and cuttings. The largest of the railway bridges crossed the Waikato River at Ngaruawahia.

Hochstetter, Ferdinand Christian von. 1867. "New Zealand, its physical geography, geology and natural history, with special reference to the results of Government Expeditions in the provinces of Auckland and Nelson ... Translated from the German original ... by E. Sauter ...With additions . Stuttgart. "British Library HMNTS 10492.i.14."
 Page 347

For the Engineer Volunteer Militia in their work of formation of the railway, fell the preparation tasks of swamp drainage, earthworks, cuttings, embankments, culverts, line formation and ballasting of the permanent way in readiness for the rails. From newspaper reports it would appear the men were in three Companies. No 1 E.V.M. with Captain Rowe ( from Thames), No 2 E.V.M with Captain Howell in 1874 , followed by Lieutenant Eyre supervising in 1875 and No 3 E.V.M with Captain Schofield commanding. (Waikato Times 21 May 1874)

Captain Samuel Charles Schofield In New Zealand Militia The Cyclopaedia of New Zealand, Vol 2, Auckland Province. Christchurch: Cyclopaedia Company Limited, 1902.
courtesy NZETC
Messrs Briton and Martin were the contractors for the Mercer Rangiriri Section. Mr. John Taylor contractor with Mr. David Glendenning Manager of Works for the Ngaruawahia Railway Bridge with first piles reported being driven, in January 1875. (Auckland Star 25 Jan 1875) This was the first railway bridge at Ngaruawahia.

Railway Bridge (Waikato Bridge) over the Waikato River at Ngaruawahia, 1910. Price, William Archer, 1866-1948 : Collection of post card negatives. Ref: 1/2-001156-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
The Waikato Times reported in December 1874, almost a year since formation had begun, no time being lost in formation of this railway with No 1 E.V.M Company hard at work .With the heavy clay and rock cuttings and preparations for a ballast quarry at Taupiri along with another heavy cutting near the lake at the back of Rangiriri (Lake Waikare) being worked with “dobbins”. (The Waikato Times 5 Dec 1874) Railway construction in 1874 was labour intensive and the use of “dobbins’ would have provided some other assistance. (see Parkinson R.M., 1902 for description of a “dobbin”)

Lake Waikare in 1907 (ACIXG DECOYS ON LAKE WAIKARE, THE NEAREST DUCK-SHOOTING RESORT TO AUCKLAND C. -Beattie. photo Otago Witness , Issue 2805, 18 December 1907, Page 25 Courtesy 
Another aid to less manual handling and with view to getting ballast into the trenches at minimum cost was the implementation of works at the quarry which included a self-acting tramway and hoppers emptying direct into waggons beneath. Some of these were to the designs of Stewart C.E., District Engineer, Public Works Department. (The Waikato Times, 29 Sep 1874)

Huntly South, ca 1910s. Price, William Archer, 1866-1948 : Collection of post card negatives. Ref: 1/2-001753-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

It would seem from newspaper accounts of formation, construction by the Engineer Volunteer Militia was not all ‘hard graft”,with other events providing light entertainment. The Otago Witness reported a visit from the Governor by a welcoming party which included 60 Engineer Militia men with their band. (The Otago Witness 25 April 1874) The Daily Southern Cross reported the results of a rifle match at Ngaruawahia between the Engineer Volunteer Militia and Waikato Militia, the E.V.M. being the winners. (The Daily Southern Cross, 23 Dec 1874) Also popular was the boat race between two crews (The Waikato Times 28 Apr 1874), and the Ngaruawahia Regatta. (The Waikato Times 1 Apr 1875 page 2)

By September 1875 the Engineer Volunteer Militia were disbanded (The Waikato Times 2 Sep 1875) Some went on to other railway contracts working the unfinished formation to Ngaruawahia and the Ngaruawahia - Ohaupo section of the railway. The railway formation work and the manner in which the men conducted their activities were spoken highly of including in the Public Works Statement.   (Public Works Statement 1874)

As to the roles of James Stewart C.E., district engineer and the resident engineers Breen, Clarke and Beere of the Public Works Department , they were that of organising a railway “ ready to go” to be handed over to the Railways Department on completion. The ensuring of plentiful timber sleeper supply- thousands of them. (tender advertisements appeared regularly in newspapers to fufill the quota for 31 miles of railway) Also ballast sources, buildings and bridges.

Papers Past National Library NZ
Stewart was to observe the following on the sinking of cylinders for the Ngaruawahia Railway bridge in a paper read to the Auckland Institute in 1875:-

“The other proof of subsidence now submitted was discovered only a few weeks ago in sinking cylinders forming the piers of the Waikato Bridge at Ngaruawahia, sixty miles from the sea. The bed of the river there is pumice sand and gravel. A stratum of hard sandy clay underlies this, dipping to the south. Below this is a hard and compact bed of shingle and coarse green-sand without a trace of pumice. The cylinders were sunk into this shingle by the pneumatic system, and reach several feet below extreme low water in Auckland Harbour.”

Then there were the people management issues, some needing tact and diplomacy, typical of a District Engineer’s tasks. The Waikato Times reported the following:-

“ Mr Whitaker appeared on behalf of Mr W H M Lovell, who had applied for a license for a house at Taupiri, and asked leave to withdraw the application in consequence of a letter signed by Mr Jas Stewart the district Engineer, in which that gentleman objected to the opening of a licensed house in consequence of the number of men employed by the Government on public works some of which, such as blasting men were of a dangerous character, and that it might be a serious inconvenience to the Government were a license granted in the neighbourhood. Mr. Whitaker stated that though the letter had not been formerly lodged as an objection his client would withdraw the application in deference to the opinions expressed in it.” (The Waikato Times 9 Dec, 1875) - Note: This after the disbandment of the E.V.M.

Successful tenderer for $16888.6s.1d, (The Waikato Times 2 Sep 1876) was contractor Daniel Fallon who made rapid progress in laying the rails for the permanent way. Finally with John Taylor completing Ngaruawahia Railway Bridge construction, this was opened with a Public ceremony in December 1876 (The Waikato Times 30 Dec 1876, page 2) and the Railway to Ngaruawahia on 13 August 1877. (New Zealand Herald 14Aug1877, p 2)

Image sourced from the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre

"MacCallum Mhor" was driven across at the opening of the Ngaruawahia Railway Bridge - The other two engines being "Jeanie Deans" (driven by Stewart) and " Madge Wildfire" ( driven by Fallon) Railway Locomotives, in those early days of railway construction in New Zealand , were named - sometimes for place names.

Two years and eight months from start of formation by the Engineer Volunteer Militia for the approximately 31 miles of railway. Across swamp and rivers needing bridges; through areas needing cuttings and embankments; and through bush in parts.

What could be said, in hindsight, to be fast Auckland Provincial Railway construction then by all, including Captain Rowe and the Engineer Volunteer Militia from Thames.

Reference Sources:
  • Parkinson, R.M. Light railway construction. 1902. (accessed November 05, 2009).
  •  In Transactions and Proceedings NZ Institute, Volume 10, 1877: By James Stewart, C. E. “Art. III.—Observations on the Evidences of recent Change in the Elevation of the Waikato District.” Also on Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand 1868 1961 - on National Library New Zealand website
Associated Journals House Representatives – AJHR’s
  • In Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives , 1875 Session I, E-03 PUBLIC WORKS STATEMENT, BY THE MINISTER FOR PUBLIC WORKS, THE HON. EDWARD RICHARDSON, 3RD AUGUST, 1875.
  •  In Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1876 Session I, E-01 PUBLIC WORKS STATEMENT, BY THE MINISTER FOR PUBLIC WORKS, THE HON. EDWARD RICHARDSON, TUESDAY, 25TH JULY, 1876.


Papers Past, National Library NZ 
  •  NZ WAIKATO RAILWAY. New Zealand Herald, 12 January 1874, Page 3.
  •  Telegrams. Otago Witness, 25 April 1874, Page 18
  •   BOAT RACE. Waikato Times, 28 April 1874, Page 2
  •   NGARUAWAHIA AND MERCER RAILWAY. Waikato Times, 21 May 1874, Page 2
  •   THE WAIKATO EXTENSION RAILWAY. Waikato Times, 29 September 1874, Page 2
  •   WAIKATO RAILWAY EXTENSION. Waikato Times, 5 December 1874, Page 2
  •   THE Daily Southern Cross. Daily Southern Cross, 23 December 1874, Page 2
  •   AUCKLAND. Star, 25 January 1875, Page 3
  •   NGARUAWAHIA REGATTA. Waikato Times, 1 April 1875, Page 2
  •   PUBLIC WORKS IN WAIKATO. Waikato Times, 2 September 1875, P 2
  •   PUBLIC OPENING OF THE NGARUAWAHIA RAILWAY BRIDGE. The Waikato Times 30 Dec 1876, page 2
  •   OPENING OF THE RAILWAY TO NGARUAWAHIA. New Zealand Herald, 14 August 1877, Page 2