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 estab- lished in a continent of which every politi- cal 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, engi- neer-in-chief of railway and tramway con- struction in New South Wales, summarised the result of an investigation of contem- porary evidences which he had made in a lecture delivered before the Sydney Uni- versity 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 recollections 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 colo-
nies remain as dark as before.
The original intention of the three prin- cipal colonies—New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia—was to adopt the Eng- lish standard gauge of 4ft. 8½in. and be- tween November, 1849, and February, 1850, New South Wales and South Australia actually passed legislation to that effect. 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 of 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 the mother colony appeared to make so strong a point of it, Victoria and South Australia agreed to follow suit. Between January 20 and the end of February, 1853, acts were passed incorporating several 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, named Wallace, arrived from Great Britain, apparently just a few days before the Irish gauge was statutorily established. Now, this Mr. Wallace was, for some reason, a fanatical admirer of the standard gauge, and did not rest until he had reconverted the New South Wales Government to it. The other colonies had all this time been pro- ceeding rapidly with railway construction work based on the Irish gauge. But, in abso- lute disregard of good faith, the New South Wales Parliament, in August, 1855, repealed the act of July, 1852, adopting the Irish gauge, and deliberately went back to the gauge it had previously forbidden under severe penalties. By this time Victoria had had the Port Melbourne line open for nearly a year, had made considerable progress in building additional permanent way, and had ordered large quantities of Irish-gauge roll- ing-stock in England. South Australia, also, was making fair progress. Earl Grey, who was then Secretary of State for the Colonies, had strongly advised all the colonial Govern- ments to adopt the standard gauge, but as their predilection for the Irish gauge seemed so strong, he waved his opinion. He was naturally very strongly impressed with the desirability of securing a uniform gauge for the whole continent, no matter what it was. When, therefore, New South Wales wished to change its policy a second time he for a while firmly opposed it, but on being assured that a great deal of railway material had 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, he once more, but against his better judgment, gave way. "Is there any possible defence of the action of the mother colony?" asked Professor Kernot, "or any possible blame or responsibility on the part of Victoria or
The wasteful folly of its proceedings was strongly represented to the New South Wales Government at the time. By Janu- ary, 1857, the Sydney-Parramatta line, which had been opened for traffic sixteen months before, was taken over by the Government, and, Mr. Wallace having resigned, Mr. John Whitton was appointed engineer-in-chief. Mr. Whitton, fully alive to the certainty of future trouble if uniformity were not secured before the expense of repairing the
initial mistake became prohibitive, begged earnestly for a return to the Irish gauge.
But he begged in vain. The blunder was acknowledged, but as the undoing of the work would have cost some thousands of
pounds, and it was at that time believed 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 he felt a great wrong had been done to Victoria, and that he was anxious to have it known that the responsi- bility for it in no way attached to him. Remonstrances against the vacillating and dangerous conduct of New South Wales were made in Victoria to the Imperial Govern- ment, but though the home authorities must have fully understood that the two junior colonies had already built extensively on the faith of what was understood to be a de- finite agreement with New South Wales, they finally decided to assent to the act which settled the reversion to the standard