BREAK OF GAUGE.
A WILFUL BLUNDER.
Though it is not quite 57 years since the first railway line was opened for traffic in Australia very few people possess more than the haziest knowledge of how so many different gauges came to be established in a continent of which every political division was occupied by people of the same race. The history of the subject is indeed clouded in some obscurity. But in December, 1902, Mr. Henry Deane, engineer-in-chief of railway and tramway construction in New South Wales, summarised the result of an investigation of contemporary evidences which he had made in a lecture delivered before the Sydney University Engineering Society ; and about four years afterwards the late Professor W.
C. Kernot read a paper on the same topic before the Victorian Institute of Engineers In the discussion which ensued on Pro- fessor Kernot's paper Mr. H. C. Mais who prior to 1853 was for a time engineer to the Sydney Railway Company, was able to give some of his personal recollectious on cer- tain aspects of the question and an adden- dum to a report by Mr. (afterwards Sir) Andrew Clarke (surveyor-general of Vic- toria) was produced. From these sources it is possible to obtain a fairly complete know- ledge of the facts though the motives underlying so extraordinary a piece of per- versity as the laying down of diverse gauges in neighbouring and friendly colonies
remain as dark as before.
The original intention of the three principal colonies-- New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia was to adopt the English standard gauge of 4ft. 8½in. and between November 1849 and February 1850 New South Australia and South Australia actually passed legislation to that effort. In 1852, however, Mr. Shields, the New South Wales engineer-in-chief strongly urged his Government to change to what is known as the Irish gauge of 5ft. 3in., and the advice
was accepted. An act passed in July that year imposed a penalty of £10 per mile per day of running on any person building a railway of any other gauge and authorising the surveyor general to remove such a line forthwith and restore the site to its former condition. The change was sudden and apparently inexplicable ; but, as Hie mother colon) ippoarcd to linke so strong n point of it i letona and s0ulh Austrnln ngreed to follow nut lîetween lamían 20 and tht end t f I cbniarv IS.*,! acts «vere passed ini*orporatin(. scierai rail way companies in Victoria, and appointing the 5ft. 3in. gauge. South Australia fell into line two months later. The Melbourne- Port Melbourne line was constructed on this basis and in December 1854, opened. The locomotive used to haul this the first train in Australia, is by the way, reported to have consisted of nothing but a portable engine placed on a truck, of which it turned the driving wheels by means of a belt.
Meanwhile a disastrous event had hap- pened in Sydney. A new engineer-in-chief mnicd A\ lillee nmicd from t.reat Ilntntn nppircnll) just n fiw da)s before tile lnsh gauge was statutorily established. Now tins Mr Will ice w is for some retain a fan iticil admirer of the st indanl t itige uni! did not rent until he bad reeon« ertcd the New "south Wales l,o\ornmcnt to it Hie tiber colonies bal nil this time been pro cceding rapid)) willi riilwa) construction work bison on the lnsh gai|,e lint in aliso hilt disi-c[,ard of c,ood faith the New Smth Walts 1-Trliimr.Lt in «neust 1S55 repelled the ict of lull \$T2 niloptini, the limb ginge and dehbenitili went back to the Kirnte it had pre« loiisl) forbi bleu undi r se« ero jit II dtie« Hy this time A letón i bail liad the 1'ort Milbournt line open for ncirli a «c-ir hud m«de considinble progress in bull,line id liltnnal ptnnancnt w i> and hu! ordered hrgi quantities of lnsh-giuge rill lngstotk in 1 nfland South \ustrahd also «« is mai tug fair progress luirl (,re) wb, «« us tbt n -«i critnr) of State for the Colonies had stronfj) ndvisul all the coloni ii Go« ern ments to adopt the standard gauge, but as their predilection for the Irish gauge seemed so strong, he waved his opinion. He was natur.üK «cry strongl) impressed with the diwrabibt) of securing uniform gauge for the »«hole continent no nutter what it ««as When, therefore, New South Wales wished to change its policy a second time he for a while linn!) opposed it, lint on licing assured that a great dial of rvilwu« lintern! hil been ordered in England for the standard gauge--though how this could have been done in face of the statute of July, 1852. has never yet been credibly explained once more, but ngitnst his botte* judgment gave way. "Is there any possible defence of the action of the mother colon« * it.ked l'mfissnr Kernot ir nn« puss bli billin or n-ponsiluht) on (hi i-irt of A'icton i or
South Australia ?"
The wasteful folly of its proceedings was strongly represented to the New South Wales Government at the time. By January, 1857, the Sydney-Parramatta line, which hil bcui opened for tnftlc Mtleen months liefori was tnkin o«cr liv the (loicrnmuit and Air Wallict hn«ing resigntd, Air lohn \Miitton wis appointed cnginecr-in-c Im f Air Whitton full« ulm to the ccrtaint« of future trouble if nniforniit) "»in. nit secured before the expense of repairing the
initial mist ike bccum prohibitive beffc,cil currently for a return to the Irish gauge.
But he begged in vain. The blunder was îicknow li le-d but us tin unloing of the «lork wotil 1 baie cost som« thoiunnds ni
pounds, and it ««TIS at that Hint bein «ni, that the railway systems of the colo-
nies would not meet for centuries, in- structions were given that the standard gauge should be adhered to. Professor Kernot had this information from the lips of Mr. Whitton himself, who gave him to understand that lie ft It a tri it ««Tong lind Ixnn dom to A tetona, and that lie wa» anxious to han it known that the n-spnnsi Ililli!) for It in no wiy attached to lum Hi iiionslnnei-s against the vacillatm*; nuil dingcrom. rtimlut t of New South Wnleswere miidi li} A li lona lo the Imperial (.overn ment, but though the home authorities must have fully undtrMood that tin two junior colonies bad al read) built ettcnsivel) on the f nth of what was undiintood to be a de- finite ngreonit nt willi New -south W'dtis Uley finalls decideil to ntwont to the net which settled the reversion to the standard