Saturday, 30 July 2016

Pioneer Railway and Tramway Survey & Construction Auckland Province , NZ 1862 - 1908

Morrinsville - Matamata section - Photo 2008 courtesy Chris Ball 

For some in New Zealand history was given the role of “ Trail Blazer”. - the  early Pioneer engineers and surveyors of the 19th Century. They explored, measured, drew maps and plans and recorded in diaries, reports and papers ,their observations.

 Engineers and surveyors were  involved with  what was then known as Railway and Tramway Survey and Construction in the Auckland Province, New Zealand during the years 1862 - 1908.
 Theirs was the job of preliminary and permanent way surveys; construction of the railway ( formation and permanent way) ; construction of bridges, culverts and drains associated with the railways; Readying the buildings such as goods sheds, signal buildings  and railway stations. They specialised in this field during those early years of railway and tramway construction.

 Unknown photographer
Waihi Railway Station was opened in 1905 - Waihi Station in 2008 photo courtesy Chris Ball 2008
The role of the Engineer in charge could be said to have been “problem solver”. It could be said it was a role that needed a “thick skin” and “common sense” approach. Instances of these needed skills were:-
  • An incident with a member of a Survey Party being shot. Messrs Sheehan,  Puckey, Thomson and Stewart  called for and meetings to sort it out - an incident which occurred in a land survey camp impacting on the nearby proposed Thames Waikato Railway route.( Otago Witness 06/09/1879 )
  • A meeting with local settlers over location of station and then terminus of railway - main trunk line at Te Awamutu.
  • The “notorious bridge dispute " near Waharoa on the Morrinsville - Matamata  section I Rotorua Railway with its final diplomatic outcome in the end of dinner speeches given by all parties. A mandate received to take the railway through to the Mamaku and on.( New Zealand Herald  17/08/1885)  
Prices first locomotive ordered 1883 for Piako County Tramway ( AKA Waiorongomai Tramway) Never used on this  Tramway was sold to Smythe Bros timber contractors - drawing ASB
 As well as " problem solving"  there were  all the other things  that went with constructing a railway “ready to go.” It was the engineer in charge and assistant engineer in charge who  organised the purchase and supply of rails , nuts, bolts and plates; ordered sleepers - wooden in those days - thousands of them ; ordered locomotives and rolling stock, organised construction of railway bridges - some little more than a baillie bridge and others a little bigger or complex  such as Ngaruawahia railway bridge, Hamilton railway bridge and Kauaeranga railway bridge.
At the end of the day there was only one decision that could be made for the railway route.

early locomotive foreground and Helensville Station background photo 2011 - photo courtesy Chris Ball

On the Railway Route

The Railway engineers and surveyors were often away from  home for  days, weeks and sometimes months. Often there were no roads on  the routes they were taking for this was "raw terrain " - They were finding the “best route” for a railway.
  • Night base was a tent or “blanket roll" in the bush.
  • Early days of travel from Auckland  Southwards and Eastwards  was by steamer and horse.
  • A short cut route was used from the Piako  County Tramway  ( AKA Wairongomai Tramway) near Te Aroha through to the foothills of the Mamaku, where the Rotorua Railway was being surveyed.
Battery Remains near Waiorongomai near Mount Te Aroha 2009 - photo courtesy Chris Ball

Life in a Survey Camp

  • Railway Engineer Survey  Teams were close-knit. Often lifelong work and friendship links were formed.

  • Food and sleep  after  a day's work  was essential. The terrain was often dense bush, swampy ground.
  • Getting pegs and equipment ready for the next day's work. Writing up day diaries, drawing draft railway maps , checking the days curves and gradients
  •  Conversations, swapping professional ideas and keeping abreast of developments,  chequers and chess.
  • It is known that the Survey Camp was where the dreams of use of this new invention electricity were shared -electric power to run machinery  and a town, electric tramways.
  • There was often a cook preparing the meals for the surveyors.

This sketch is from one of the pen and ink drawings with which Mr. Brookes used to illustrate his letters to his parents in England. It is dated October 31, 1862, and shows the surveyors' camp in the bush between Mangawai and the site of Port Albert, the party to which Mr. Brookes was then attached being engaged in putting

The Terrain faced

Swamps –often in places a bottomless hole that sucked up the ballast ( the original main trunk section Ohaupo - Te Awamutu seemed to suck it up. Towns people could see the railway almost there and could not understand why the process was not quicker. They did not know that before the permanent way could be completed, the swamp holes Had to be filled and levelled in the formation.)

Rivers and Streams – finding the best and most economical route with consideration for flood, tidal and being able to build as few bridges & culverts as possible. As far as possible the product and resources of the area were utilised eg The stone near Rotorua township for culverts.
Culvert ( constructed from local materials ) Rotorua Railway Eruera Street - photo 2005
The Eastern Ranges - Spanning the Eastern Coasts of the Auckland Province, NZ ( Coromandel, Kaimai, Mamaku, Urewera) Finding the “best route “with the least difficult construction. problems were hard rock, narrow deep valleys and ravines. A suitable route through the Mamaku for the railway took months.
                                           Looking toward the Mamaku Range photo 2010 - courtesy Chris Ball

Dense Bush

In parts

Conditions experienced during  construction

Snow and Storms -

 Waiorongomai Tramway, Rotorua Railway
 Floods -
 Thames, Waikato, Kaipara and Waihi. In 1907 there was flooding that impacted on many of the railway lines, causing widespread damage.
 Tarawera Eruption -
 Rotorua Railway
The first NZ attempt to precisely measure earth deformation due to a specific geological event.
Rock Falls

Karangahake Tunnel, Waihi Railway. Three railway construction workers lost their lives during  this  tunnel's construction.
Entrance to railway tunnel Karangahake - now a cycleway on the Hauraki Rail Trail - photo 2012 courtesy Chris Ball
  People Danger
Requiring some good diplomatic skills to avert life  threatening situations.  The “notorious bridge dispute " near Waharoa on the Morrinsville - Matamata  section I Rotorua Railway.

Measurement  tools of railway surveyors

There were no  GPS or  computers that we  have today. A Theodolite - essential equipment, also a chain
Measurements taken, were recorded in a daily diary.
Railway maps were drawn by hand,  with curves and gradients in detail


Construction Aids

( Certainly nothing like this state of art equipment)
         Modern Track laying equipment - something those early pioneer railway surveyors and engineers did not have - photo 2013  on the Hamilton Morrinsville section of railway courtesy Chris Ball

There were no cranes, computerised cranes  helicopters, Hiab trucks, plate laying machinery back in those early days of railway survey and construction.
Construction aids for  railways, even  in the early 1900s,  were still very labour intensive.  It  was miner’s pick and shovel, lift and carry. Use of horse,  truck, fiddlestick”, and where possible " ballast  train.”  Construction labourers on the railways numbered eighty persons  plus labour force - some experienced in formation, some in permanent way, plate laying, rail laying.


The Railway engineer surveyors

These were the Railway engineer surveyors  of the Auckland Province 1862  - 1908. Some of them were surveyors only, some engineers only and some held qualifications as both engineer and surveyor.
Daniel Manders BEERE
Gerald Butler BEERE
Edward Holroyd BEERE
William Henry HALES
Ashley John Barsby HUNTER
Duncan William McARTHUR
Charles O’NEILL
Frederick James UTTING
Thomas SHAW

The New Zealand Institute of Surveyors (NZIS) was  originally established in 1888 to monitor and maintain the professional and ethical conduct of surveyors in New Zealand.  Railway Surveyors joined the Institute. Many of them also belonged to the NZ Institute sharing their skills and knowledge, along with writing papers which appeared in the annual Transactions and Proceedings.

The Institute of Local Government Engineers of New Zealand, was formed in 1912.This was the  first New Zealand based professional engineering body.  In 1913  the New Zealand Society of Civil Engineers was formed and both bodies merged in 1914. Railway Engineers were also members of the  NZ Institute. A number of them also belonged to their respective Institute overseas. On the establishment of the New Zealand engineering body many of the Railway engineers became very active as members. It had been a long held dream of many of them to see this happen and a topic of discussion in those early survey and construction camps.
The Engineer Volunteer Militia were involved with the construction of the  section Mercer to Ngaruawahia and Ngaruawahia to Te Awamutu. In charge of the construction crew were:-
Captain HOWELL
Captain ROWE
Contractors who constructed the railways are another story - perhaps another blog?
                 Some of the measuring tools used by Surveyors & Engineers   Bean Compasses measurement tool in

The Railways and Tramways of Auckland Province  constructed 1862 - 1908

  •   Waihoihoi Tramway
  •   Drury Railway
  •   Drury to Onehunga and Mercer
  •   Tararu tramway
  •     Waikato Railway Mercer to Te Awamutu and Kihikihi ( eventual Main Trunk )
  •    Kawakawa to Taumarere
  •     Kaipara - Riverhead
  •      Kaipara railway & Extension  Henderson - Helensville
  •    Cambridge railway
  •    Thames Waikato railway
  •    Paeroa Waihi railway
  •    Whangarei railway
  •    Piako County tramway AKA  Waiorongomai Tramway
  •    Rotorua railway  ( section I Morrinsville - Lichfield ; section II Lichfield Rotorua)
  •    Reconnaisance Survey Gisborne Rotorua railway
  •    Auckland Electric tramway
  •    Last section of the Main Trunk railway
During construction there were many debates about end of routes, gradients, guage (The Public Works policy of 1870, which was to rule all subsequent railway construction in New Zealand, chose 3ft. 6in). which wood for sleepers.
Railway and tramways were the technology of the mid to late 1800's and early 1900's. They were the means in a newly settled country to transport more easily goods, produce and people. The Auckland Electric Tramway was said to have surpassed  the dreams and plans of even its promoters and was the means for many years of moving commuters to and from work. The Waihi Railway opening in 1905 made a big difference for the transport of goods and supplies through the Karangahake Gorge to the burgeoning gold mine industrial processing site at Waikino and the town and large goldmine at Waihi.
Waihi Railway in 2008 - photo courtesy Chris Ball

A Heritage left for us Today

The Railway Engineer Surveyors, as a hobby:-
  • drew or painted pictures or cartoons
  • wrote  papers on variety of topics for professional organisations.
  • took photographs
  • took up wood carving, woodturning, making whip handles ( horses ) - these donated to local fundraising fairs.
  • drew maps
Today some these  are in our National Library, Museums, Archives and other Libraries. Modern day writers, researchers and family historians use and refer to them in their works.
  • The photographs and maps of Daniel Manders Beere
  • The maps  and papers of James Stewart
  • The cartoons of Ashley Hunter
  • Henry ( Harry)Roche’s eyewitness account of Tarawera Eruption
  • Papers by Stewart and Hunter in Transactions & Proceedings NZ Institute ( now Royal Society of New Zealand)
A number of the railways have gone or morphed into new uses. Many of the railway and tramway routes today
Have become tramping tracks or cycle ways.  However the modern users can thank those early surveyors and engineers for it is their work that formed the permanent ways and constructed the foundations of the tracks- sometimes with tons of ballast filling those swamp holes, the culverts constructed way back then.  Yes it is a Heritage Legacy from those Railway engineer surveyors :-
        Dreamers and builders of destiny, Makers of steel tracks across Horizon.” ASB

Reference Source:
  • FRONTIER TOWN. A HISTORY OF TE AWAMUTU. 1884- 1994 Laurie Barber
  • CYCLOPAEDIA NEW ZEALAND, Vol. 2, Auckland Province
  •  Early New Zealand Engineers, Furkert, F.W., Reed, Wellington, 1953
  • LAND OF THE THREE RIVERS – CENTENNIAL HISTORY OF PIAKO COUNTY, Vennell C.W. and More D, Wilson & Horton, Auckland N.Z. , 1976
  • THE FOUNDING YEARS IN ROTORUA – A HISTORY OF EVENTS TO 1900, D.M. Stafford, Ray Richards and Rotorua District Council, 1986






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