Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 43, September 1999

(This article combines information contained in two books by Graham Stewart, "The End of the Penny Section" and "Fares Please!" These are two of Mr Stewart's excellent books recording the history of urban trams and tramways in New Zealand. The Society is grateful for his permission to reproduce the information in our Journal)


The Thames Goldfields were opened in 1867 and from 1869 onwards the Auckland Provincial Government built a number of horse and gravity tramways connecting the gold mines with the ore-crushing batteries along the sea front. In general passengers were not carried and the freight was mainly ore for treatment and firewood to feed the hungry boilers of the batteries.

The first urban steam tramway in New Zealand was at Thames. It was operated by the Grahamstown and Tararu Tramway Company and opened on 28 December 1871.

The new steam tramway served both the township and, at each of its extremities, the wharves from which steamer service to and from Auckland sailed. Both freight and passengers were catered for. Indeed, some of the scheduled passenger runs were mixed with a short rake of ore or merchandise wagons in the rear of the passenger cars. The company's line was connected with the Provincial Council's tramways, thus serving several mines and batteries.

There were two locomotives, the first being a second-hand Chaplin-geared vertical boilered locomotive, first used by the Kawakawa Coal Company but discarded by that company as having insufficient power for the traffic offering. Being a standard gauge (4 ft 8½ inch) locomotive, it was altered to the Tararu Company's 3 ft 6 inch gauge by the Auckland firm of Fraser and Tinné Phoenix Foundry. Delivered to Thames on 2 December 1871, it went to work immediately. The Chaplin locomotive was an inexpensive design for light intermittent shunting duties. The route was level and speeds were low, largely because of track conditions.

The second locomotive which was built by Fraser and Tinné was placed in service on 23 December 1872.


The horse tramways constructed in 1869, carried quartz to the batteries along the Karaka, Waiotahi, Moanataiari and Tararu Creeks. To honour a visit of the Governor, Sir George Bowen, and Lady Bowen to the workings on the Tararu Creek tramway on 13 January 1870, the Provincial Engineer-in-Chief, Charles O'Neill, engaged Mr Elliot of Auckland to build a tramway carriage. Three days before the vice-regal visit the elaborate tram carriage, with polished mottled kauri panels, was placed on the rails at the foot of the tramway, and fern arches were erected across the line in readiness for the big day.

When His Excellency with Lady Bowen and their children arrived at the tramway, the fine carriage was lying on the brink of the creek, 9 metres below the line. A final trial run that morning had nearly ended in disaster. Fortunately the 20 passengers, including a few women, scrambled through the broken windows, suffering only cuts from glass. At a speed of 3 to 4 kilometres an hour, the tram had rounded a curve on the downward journey to find a branch lying across the rails. The carriage was thrown off the line and crashed through a plankway intended only for pedestrians, dragging the horse over an embankment about 9 metres above the creek. A tree halfway down the bank prevented the carriage from turning over and so saved the lives of the occupants. Had the car travelled only a metre or so farther down the line, it would have been hurled into the creek below. Help was soon at hand and after the felling of a few trees, the carriage was lowered to the foot of the bank. Damage was slight considering the drop sustained, truly a testimonial to the builder. The Governor and Lady Bowen seemed, apart from the fact of the accident, not at all disappointed at having to walk up the tramway. They stopped at the scene to have the situation explained, before moving on to the mining sites.

Later in the month members of the Provincial Council questioned the expenditure on such an elaborate vehicle, and asked for an inquiry. A report to the Council in February 1870 gave the cost of the carriage as £166 9s 6d, and the shed to house the vehicle as £60. Newspapers were now referring to the tram as 'the celebrated mottled kauri carriage'.


In August 1871 the Superintendent of the Auckland Province granted, for a period of ten years, to the Grahamstown and Tararu Tramway Company, the right to construct, maintain and use a tramway, to be laid down on the highway between Grahamstown and Tararu, the said tramway to revert to the Superintendent absolutely at the end of ten years.

Tenders were called for the construction of the tramway and the following advertisement appeared in the New Zealand Herald in August.


TENDERS will be received up to TUESDAY, the 15th instant, for the CONSTRUCTION of a TRAMWAY between Grahamstown and Tararu. The Engineer will be in attendance at 9 am on TUESDAY, the 8th instant, to point out the route, after which date, plans and specifications can be seen at the office of Messrs. DANIEL SIMPSON AND SONS, Civil Engineers, Owen Street, Grahamstown.

In September 1871 60 men started work on a track along the beach above highwater level for the Grahamstown and Tararu Tramway Company. The company had been formed to exploit the abundance of traffic offering on the coast. From Curtis Wharf, at the foot of Albert Street in Grahamstown, the line ran northwest to the deep-sea wharf at Tararu Point.

The line was laid down by J S Macfarlane and Company of Auckland for around £10,000, for line and rolling stock.

A four-wheeled steam locomotive (Chaplin type) with a vertical boiler was bought from the Bay of Islands Coal Company at Kawakawa and shipped to the Fraser and Tinné Phoenix Foundry in Auckland for overhaul and alteration to the gauge.

The population of Thames was 12,238 when the line was opened and on St Andrew's Day, all the gigs, traps and horses in the district were taxed to the limit conveying people to the Caledonian sports at Tararu. Taking advantage of the gala occasion, the tramway company opened its new line by using horses for locomotion. Locals crowded the trucks fitted up for passenger accommodation, and the mottled kauri carriage, which had passed from the possession of the Provincial Government to the private company, carried anyone who could pay sixpence. Directors of the tramway company had threatened to put their engine on the line, but the Highway Board opposed the move because there would be so much horse traffic on the road.

Two days later the little Chaplin locomotive made a trial trip to Tararu and back at a good pace with the handsome mottled kauri carriage attached. The New Zealand Herald of 4 December 1871 said in a report from Thames:

TARARU TRAMWAY: The formal opening of this line could not be said to have taken place until today (Saturday 2 December), in consequence of the absence of the steam engine, which was landed today from the vessel, and at once placed on the line, and is now running from Grahamstown to Tararu, much to the delight of troops of urchins, who were trying their powers of endurance against that of steam. The engine worked beautifully on its maiden trip, going at the rate of from 6 to 8 miles per hour, under the charge of Mr Fraser, who has had the repairing and overhauling of it since it was sent from the Bay of Islands.

Every hour from nine in the morning until five at night this forerunner of New Zealand steam trams would puff away from Tararu with its kauri charge in tow. From Grahamstown the iron horse would leave on the half-hour from 9.30 am until 5.30 pm.

Regular damage to the Tararu Wharf and beach by the heavy seas that lashed the coast in storms brought about the abandonment of both wharf and tramway after a few years. On the last day of May 1874, a heavy gale partly destroyed the Tararu Wharf, and a large section of the tramway, between the goods wharf and the Marine Hotel, was washed away.

The Thames Star reported the closure on 11 November 1874: "The Tararu tramway closed yesterday on account of there not being sufficient traffic to make it pay now the daily passenger trade to Tararu has ceased through the sale of the 'Golden Crown' steamer. The steamers at present in the trade are generally able to bring passengers to Grahamstown and Shortland on account of their light draught."

It was fitting that one of the earliest locally built tram carriages had been made with the most famous of New Zealand timbers, the kauri.

After closure, the line slowly deteriorated as ownership was challenged by the Thames Borough Council after the assets had been taken over by the Bank of New Zealand. The line was not removed until June 1885.


(1) Chaplin Type

Year Built 1870

Withdrawn 1874

Builder: Alexander Chaplin and Company, Cranstonhill Engine Works, Glasgow, United Kingdom. Believed to be Maker's No. 1182. Outshopped in April 1870 to the order of G.E. Stevenson of Liverpool for export.

Imported by the Bay of Islands Coal Company, Kawakawa, placed in service on 28 January 1871. The first steam locomotive to work in the North Island. Found to be not powerful enough for the coal company requirements and sold to the Grahamstown and Tararu Tramway Company. Shipped to Auckland and altered to 3 feet 6 inch gauge at the Fraser and Tinné Phoenix Foundry.

Specifications as built: Wheel arrangement: 0-4-0. Gauge: 4 feet 8½ inches. 12 horsepower. Cylinders: 6 inches x 13 inches. Geared 1 to 2. Driving wheels diameter: 3 feet 1 inch. Wheelbase: 6 feet 4 inches.

Overall length: 13 feet 3 inches. Weight: 8 tons. Vertical water tube boiler steamed at 85 to 100 lbs to the square inch pressure. The two cylinders were mounted vertically ahead of the boiler and drove a crank shaft which was geared to one of the axles. The wheels were coupled by circular section side rods.

Given the nickname Jumping Jenny by the locals because of the unevenness of the coastal track.

(2) Fraser and Tinné Type

Year Built 1872

Withdrawn 1874

Builder: Fraser & Tinné Foundry, Auckland.

Specifications as built: Wheel arrangement: 0-4-0. Gauge: 3 feet 6 inches.

The first purpose built New Zealand locomotive. Placed in service in December 1872.


There is some doubt where the engines were taken after the line closed. Various newspapers reported as follows:

Eight months after the line closed, the Evening Star, on 5 July 1875, reported serious storm damage to wharves and the coast line. The report mentioned damage to the Grahamstown Wharf and went on to say: "A serious breach was made in the sea wall at the head of the wharf, the immediate result of which was to cause the engine shed of the Grahamstown and Tararu Tramway Company to tumble in two. The line of rails was so undermined that the two locomotives were in danger of falling over. They were, however, secured by ropes, but the place is now a great wreck."

The Thames Advertiser on 5 August 1876 reported that a company was being formed in Napier to purchase the tramway and rolling stock of the Grahamstown and Tararu tramway, to lay tracks down Carlyle Street and Hydrabad Road to the Spit, about 2 miles: "The road is dead level, and would effect a great reduction in the cost of cartage." The newspaper made further comment: "As the plant is lying in idleness at present, the owner will no doubt be glad to get rid of it. We believe it was intended to make it useful between the Puke Landing and Paeroa next summer if there was sufficient inducement."

The Thames Advertiser on 26 April 1879 reported the following: "The little engine which formerly did service on the Grahamstown and Tararu Tramway, and which had been purchased by Messrs O'Brien and Company, the railway reclamation contractors, was taken out of the shed where it has reposed since the tramway ceased operations, cleaned, and steam got up. The diminutive iron horse worked very smoothly, and its performance satisfied its new owners, who intend employing it to draw the trucks which are to be used to convey the materials from the Piako hill to the beach."

The newspaper report did not identify the engine as either the Chaplin or the Fraser and Tinné.

The New Zealand Herald of 13 October 1880 reported: " Two of the passenger carriages formerly used on the Tararu railway have been brought up from the Thames. They have been taken to Whangarei, where they will be used on the Kamo - Whangarei line. One of them was shipped by the SS Waitaki, and the other by the SS Argle last evening."

Two passenger cars and 12 wagons were sold to the Paeroa horse tramway in the 1890s. Some historians maintain the Fraser and Tinné locomotive was sold to the Kare Kare Timber Milling Company on the west coast near Auckland where it worked until about 1886. The remains of a locomotive were later found buried under sand at Kare Kare. This is not necessarily the Tararu locomotive.

The Auckland Weekly News of 19 February 1881 featured a story on the New Zealand Timber Company's property and operations on the Coromandel Peninsula which covered about 25,000 acres:

"The locomotive which is to be used on the railway is the largest and newest of the two formerly in use on the Tararu and Grahamstown Tramway at Thames, and it is now undergoing a thorough overhaul and refitting by Mr T.T.Masefield. It is to be shipped next week, and will at once be set to work to enable the contractors to complete the plate-laying and ballasting of the line."

Chaplin's Patent Steam Engines and Boilers

chaplins steam engine


Various Sizes always in Stock or Progress




Chaplin's 12-horsepower vertical boiler locomotive. The Grahamstown & Tararu locomotive was identical except that it had spoked instead of solid wheels.

thames coat of arms

The coat of arms as used on Thames borough Council correspondence for many years