Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 53, September 2009
(by Anne Stewart Ball, Whiritoa. She is the great-daughter of Mr J. Stewart, C.E., Auckland Provincial District Engineer for Railways and did the early survey and overseeing the project.)
Today in 2008 the section from Waitoa to Thames, of the Thames-Waikato Railway completed in 1898, lies desolate with an unused track. The steel tracks across the swamps are gone.
The Railway now fulfils what was said about it by some politicians in its beginnings and by a Royal Railway Commission in 1880. Its appearance today hides the fascinating history of its early beginnings in the years 1872 – 1881.
Those early years were ones of many difficulties in Thames railway beginnings. There were many deputations and petitions urging Government to put the Thames-Waikato Railway on the priority list of Public Works expenditure. There was political manoeuvring in General Government as Ministers discussed and debated whether construction should proceed or not.
When railway survey and construction did begin there were debates and public meetings about what was considered then "scandalous alterations" of a railway work map. To complete the difficulties a "native disturbance" erupted and rumours abounded amongst settlers throughout the provinces that The Wars would break out again. This "disturbance" was neither the first nor the last in the construction of this railway.
Initial difficulties surmounted, the Thames-Waikato railway continued construction. However it was not until 1884 that construction escalated, with completion of the Hamilton railway bridge and the need for connection with the Cambridge railway and Rotorua railway.
While the second phase of Thames-Waikato railway construction 1881 – 1898 has been written about, it is the foundations of the first phase 1872 – 1881 that formed this railway.
"Rumblings" for a Thames-Waikato Link
On August 1, 1867, the Thames Goldfield was declared open and the "gold rush" was on. People flocked to Thames (Grahamstown and Shortland) seeking to make their fortune.
Soon the place was a hum of activity with the population of Thames soaring. The port at Shortland became a busy place with a regular steamer service plying to and from Auckland conveying goods, machinery to work the goldmines, people and gold bullion.
Tramways were built in Thames to carry quartz, timber, and machinery to the goldmines. Amongst these tramways was that from Thames to Tararu. In 1871 J. S. MacFarlane continued it at his own personal expense of £9000. His reasons for completing the Thames-Tararu tramway were twofold:
• to move cargo to and from his steamer fleet at the wharf and
• to show Government that private enterprise could build a railway.
Movement of goods and the growing desire for produce from the Waikato led to the "rumblings" for a railway, linking Thames to the Waikato. By the end of 1872 the "rumblings" had grown into support for a railway. J. S. MacFarlane, funder of the tramway was a strong supporter of this railway.
By the beginning of 1873 a number of deputations presented the case for a Thames-Waikato railway to Auckland Provincial Council and General Government. One of the first of these, was reported to be "one of the most influential deputations which has waited upon His Honor, the Superintendent, since he took office."
Members of this deputation consisted of the Hon. James Williamson, Messrs. Joseph Newman, G. B. Owen and W. Gibbons from the Thames, J. S. Macfarlane, Thomas Morrin, Henry Isaacs, W. C. Wilson, William Aitken, and several others.
This meeting was shortly followed by another which appointed a deputation of interested citizens: Mr. C. F. Mitchell, M.V., Mr. A. Beveridge, M.P.C.; Mr. W. Swan, M.P.C; Captain Sutor; and Mr. Macdonald, (solicitor.) At a meeting held in Auckland, the need for a Thames railway, along with a petition of 1,950 signatures in support, was read to Hon. Mr. Richardson, Minister of Public Works.
Mr. Richardson promised to lay the petition before his colleagues. However he felt that a main objection against Thames railway, would be the country's policy favouring a one trunk line through the whole length of the colony.
The main arguments by supporters of a Thames Railway were:
• Thames was a mining district, with a large population,
• The Waikato, an agricultural district, needed a steady outlet for its produce
• A railway from the Thames to the Waikato would open up a very large district of country for settlement
• A considerable portion of the distance the line would go through an auriferous country, giving opportunities of considerable wealth.
• It was considered that any difficulty in the way of making the survey, with regard to the "natives", could be managed if left in the hands of Mr. James Mackay.
• Equally suitable places for the Waikato terminus of the railway would be Ngaruawahia and Hamilton.
Some railway supporters also saw Thames as being the shipping port for the Waikato. Others saw the terminus for this railway at the Waikato end being at Cambridge.
Not all were in favour of a Thames-Waikato railway. Some felt it was a waste of Public money.
• That it was better to spend the money on one main trunk line.
• That the lines already under construction (the Waikato Railway) should be completed first before money was expended on branch lines.
• That the capital which would require to be invested would be productive if spent on the great trunk or southern line, and it extended to Ohaupo via Ngaruawahia, or as far into the delta as possible, following the route recommended by Mr. J. Stewart, C.E., in his recommendation to the House of Representatives.
• That once completed the Thames railway would not make working expenses which would be a loss.
Their objections were voiced in the newspapers of the day. The proposal for the Thames Railway continued onwards.
First Thames-Waikato Railway Survey
Shortly after those deputations, the services of Mr. D Simpson of Thames were engaged in February, 1873, by Mr. J Carruthers, C.E., Colonial Engineer. The task was to complete a preliminary survey of the proposed Thames-Waikato railway route with the view to construction. Also to assess the improved navigation of the Thames River (Waihou). This was what was then known as a flying survey.
Making a flying survey across the proposed route Shortland to the Waikato Simpson encountered the opposition of Ohinemuri Maori. In fact he deemed it prudent to proceed no further in that location as his life had been threatened by a Chief Hohepa and others.
Undertaking a second flying survey at the Waikato end, Simpson found unlike the Ohinemuri end, support from Maori of that location, for the proposed railway with willingness to help cut the lines.
By August, 1873, Simpson had completed the stages of the flying survey of the proposed line for the Thames-Waikato railway and to fix a terminus at the Waikato end. Carruthers and Simpson reported the following to Government:
• The survey commenced at the terminus of the Grahamstown and Tararu line.
• Nearly a level line across from the Thames to Waikato.
• Little engineering difficulty.
• Difficulty with the "natives" at Ohinemuri.
Simpson was of the opinion that the swamps would be easily drained where the line was to run across them. Also important for railway construction the nearby ranges had a good supply of quality timber and best quality ballast was available at both the Grahamstown and Hamilton ends.
Proposal Before Government
With a considered reasonably favourable flying survey to go by, the deputations stepped up their lobbying activities, not deterred by the August, 1873, Statement of the Minister of Public Works.
In February, 1874, a large deputation with members from Waikato, Thames and Auckland met with the then Premier, Mr. Julius Vogel to urge the Thames railway construction. Mr. Vogel indicated to the deputation that their representations would be bought before the Government, and would receive most careful and impartial consideration. A further deputation met with the Superintendent, Auckland Province, a few days later.
It was reported from Parliament in July, 1874, that Mr. O'Neill gave intention of moving: "Whether the Government considered it advisable to construct a railway from the Thames to the Waikato."
Also in 1874 Mr. James Stewart, C.E., was appointed District Engineer for all railway works for the Auckland Province. This also included that of the proposed Thames-Waikato Railway.
The next four years saw Thames-Waikato railway a "hot topic" in debates, manoeuvring and election campaigns by the then politicians. In 1875, topic of discussion in the House was a proposed Railway Bill to enable private companies to construct branch and other railways.
More conjecture, debate and discussion and in October, 1876, resulted in another setback with the negation of the second reading of the Thames and Waikato Railway Bill.
Into 1877 and a "glimmer of hope" for this railway. Government ordered surveys to be carried out for a railway between Thames and Waikato. Amongst the surveyors was Mr. Carrand from the Government Survey Office and it was reported that surveys were being undertaken as rapidly as possible.
November, 1878, saw the Railway Construction Bill passed. In Supplementary Estimates, continued services, £30,000 allocated to the Waikato-Thames line. (Chargeable on the Public Works Fund, continued lines authorised by "the Railway Construction Act,").
At last Construction begins
In December, 1878, it was reported that the Thames Waikato Railway was to begin immediately at both ends.
The first sod of this railway was turned by Sir George Grey in a ceremony at Thames on December 21, 1878. (Twenty years later the Thames-Waikato railway was finally completed. On this occasion Mr. H. J. Greenslade, Thames newly installed Mayor, was presented with a silver casket containing a piece of the first sod.) At the end of April, 1879, another first sod was turned at the Waikato end in Hamilton, Sir George Grey again performing the task.
Following the Thames first sod turning ceremony, construction activity began early in the new year of 1879 On January 3, Mr. James Stewart, C.E. (District Engineer) with Mr. Daniel Beere, C.E., arrived in Thames to start railway surveys.Preparations for construction of the first section of the Thames-Waikato railway had began.
Tenders for supply and delivery of 100,000 sleepers were called for. These required to be delivered to be delivered at Grahamstown, Shortland, Kirikiri, Puriri, Hikutaia, or Paeroa. That same month of April, 1879, the tender of J. J. O'Brien, Thames £8398 was accepted for the construction of the Shortland section of this railway.
By May, 1879, it was reported that although the surveyors employed on the Thames-Waikato railway had reached the Te Komata block, survey was halted. Maori Chief Tukukino was in opposition to it and Government felt it better to conciliate, pending land settlement negotiations. Meanwhile construction preparations continued on other sections of the railway route. However construction was to face even more "difficulties" for what could be said to be an ill-fated railway.
Railway Map "Rumblings"
Political mayhem burst forth about the same time as the Komata opposition. Sir George Grey, a long time supporter of the Thames Railway was fighting for his leadership in Government. The "what then" was considered by some, a brand of quirky, dictatorial individualism that Grey brought to the House, was drawing opposition in the election year of 1879. Politicians addressing their constituents in public meetings decried Grey's administration and used the Thames railway to strengthen their cause.
Comments reported in newspapers were many such as the following of Hon. Mr. C.C. Bowen to his constituents: "He characterised the turning the first sod of the Thames Railway as a gross breach of constitutional law and principle, as showing that people were living under the grossest tyranny"
In the midst of the many addresses to constituents at meetings up and down the country came another political "disturbance" towards the end of July, 1879. Questions of alleged tampering with railway maps were asked in Legislative Council. Hon. Mr. E. Richardson moved for the appointment of a Select Committee, to enquire into certain allegations which had been made.
The Select Committee carried out their investigations and reported their findings to the House of Representatives. It had been found that:
• No alteration was made in the map subsequently to its being laid on the table of the House.
• The map was prepared in the Public Works Department in compliance with the terms of the request made in question by the Hon. Mr Richmond on the 3rd September, 1878.
• As the map was originally prepared, it contained no portion of the east way line between Te Aroha and Grahamstown.
• This portion which appears in different tint from the line between Te Aroha and Hamilton, was added under instructions from the Hon. the Minister of Public Works.
• The map in question was not therefore what was asked for by the Hon. Mr Richardson and what in the footnote upon the map it purported to be, viz., a distinctly colored copy of the map attached to the Public Works Statement.
• In opinion of the committee, in all cases of returns made to order of this House, finished in compliance with a question put to a Minister, the permanent heads of departments, finishing such returns should certify to the accuracy of the same."
Meanwhile at the "railway face" (to coin an expression), construction preparations for the Thames railway continued. Nobody had ordered a halt and there was work to be done. It was announced that tenders for the first section of the railway were at Hamilton and would be called for immediately.
It was also stated that the route had been finally fixed to strike the river (Waihou) at the landing place opposite Aroha rather than a few miles down stream. In addition the construction on the third section, Kauaeranga Bridge, and a section of the railway to "natives" on piecework were to be let.
Designs and plans for a railway bridge across the Kauaeranga were prepared and tenders for this advertised at the beginning of September.
At this time another "disturbance" broke out. This time a surveyor was shot and left for dead.
A survey party was surveying, on behalf of the Government, was working in a block of Government land between Paeroa and Te Aroha, near what was called the Thames River (now called Waihou). The news broke on August 30, 1879, that the survey party had been fired upon by Maori. All sorts of rumours and stories circulated. Amidst these, the incident was investigated and various meetings followed.
McWilliams, one of the men of the Survey party, was shot in the thigh and a small shot in the chest, He feigned death and after being rescued was taken to Thames Hospital. Hon. Sheehan (Native Minister), Messrs. Puckey (Government Native Agent at Thames), Thomson, Stewart (District Engineer) and others arrived in the Ohinemuri on September 3 to have meetings with the hapu concerned - Ngatihako and Ngatikoe.
Sheehan addressed the natives at Paeroa. He was reported saying he would take the perpetrators of the outrage. Also with that objective achieved he would open a road, construct a railway and a telegraph line from Grahamstown to Ohinemuri. It was said the native Chiefs held a meeting in Komata, to determine the course to take with the two offenders.
Other developments were also reported : "Rewi has sent a telegram to Tukukino, of Ohinemuri, requesting him to give the native offenders up. Messrs Stewart and Beere have 'made a hurried examination of the probable railway line through Patiroa, and Mr. Beere has been instructed to go up and commence the first two miles of the railway towards Komata at once. This will be carried until its junction with the survey at Hikutaia."
Meetings on what to do with the offenders continued. Politicians' addresses to constituents continued. The debate on the railway map continued in the House of Representatives. Railway construction plans continued into 1880.
Mr R. R. Hunt of Ngaruawahia and Mr Richard White, late contractor for the Wynyard pier, were the accepted tenderers for formation of the section advertised at the Hamilton end of the Thames railway line. They lost little time in commencing the contract and by mid-February 1880 were opening out and employing labour. Hunt and White later (1883) gained the contract for formation of Morrinsville – Te Aroha section.
Plans and designs began for the Hamilton railway bridge across the Waikato River at Hamilton. The completion of the bridge was considered essential before completing construction of the Thames- Waikato Railway. If not, it would increase the cost of making the railway as the rails would have to be bought on to site by carting on the ground instead. Before bridge construction could begin the depth at which the cylinders would reach solid foundations needed to be determined. The geological structure of the Waikato River bed revealed interesting results confirming previous evidence found when sinking the cylinders for the Ngaruawahia railway bridge.
Boring operations were completed by the contractor, Mr. E Wilson in April, 1881. Mr. Ashley Hunter, C.E., was appointed to the Public Works Department in October, 1881, to superintend the construction of the Hamilton railway bridge. The accepted tender in November, 1881, to erect this iron bridge, was from Mr. W Simms, Thames—£5519 13s 6d with work beginning shortly after.
The first engine, one of the "six wheel" or "F" class crossed the bridge on a trial trip on February 5, 1884, the occasion being marked by a large gathering wanting to be first to cross the bridge.
Returning to 1880, the early months saw concerns that work would halt on Thames-Waikato railway construction. The engineers were being kept busy by the Public Works Department on other projects. Hunter, only recently appointed Supervising Engineer of this line was ordered to Wanganui. D.M. Beere was kept occupied with the Raglan Road and other works. However also there was also instructions to continue with the second section survey that would connect with the then current works with the Thames River. Stewart was kept occupied also with other works including the Government ordered exploration and survey of the Cambridge Rotorua road route.
Meanwhile what work and contracts had been let continued and by August it was reported that:
"The Grahamstown contract of the Waikato-Thames railway is completed, and the Shortland contract nearly too, the Waikato contract extending 12 miles east from Hamilton, is progressing favourably. A survey of this line has been completed from Hamilton to Te Aroha, and in the Thames Valley for 13 miles from Grahamstown, leaving about 19 miles still unsurveyed."
November saw the formation to within three miles of Morrinsville with it being felt no engineering difficulties from there to the Waihou River at Te Aroha.
Commissions and Recommendations
More 1880 rumblings were about to bring a halt to planned future railway works. The Government was faced with burgeoning civil service growth rate and the need to "cut back" on public spending. Two commissions were appointed to address the situation. One the Civil Service Commission to look at staffing arrangements and numbers. The other a Royal Commission to report on economic value and paying probabilities of current and projected Public Works.
Thames-Waikato railway, amongst others, did not fare well in the Royal Commission Public Works Report. Splitting into two sections, this railway, the report had this to say;
• Hamilton – Te Aroha: Recently occupied by Europeans with small existing population. Work premature. Can only support present construction of three to four miles towards Morrinsville, which forms part of the railway to Cambridge. Recommends the remainder stand over for some time but if a settlement increase over next two or three years, work to proceed as soon as available funds.
• Grahamstown – Te Aroha: Good water communication between these two points makes railway communications unnecessary. Reclamations at Grahamstown and Shortland before the construction of the actual railway along with expensive reclamation for the two station sites regretted and unjustifiable.
For interested citizens and local bodies it was again back to lobbying and deputations for completion of the Thames-Waikato railway – what could be said to be a long slow process of another 18 years. The section Morrinsville – Te Aroha was completed by 1886. Gold had been discovered in the Te Aroha area, there was a Sanatorium at Te Aroha and the construction of the Rotorua railway, which linked to the Thames-Waikato railway branch line. Incidently the Rotorua railway (begun by private enterprise) from conception of idea in 1881, took only 14 years to completion in 1894.
The outcome of the Commissions, also saw, for the next twelve months staffing cuts and restructuring for the Engineers of the Railways Department.
Last activities in 1880 by Stewart, District Engineer and Beere were:
• Defining the route of the railway in order that property owners could make fencing arrangements which would not be interfered with by the prosecution of the work.
• Inspection of the survey line between the Piako and Waitoa Rivers for decisions on any necessary deviation as a result of the Waitoa Highway Board taking possession of the railway line for the Thames Road. Sorting out of what was considered an eccentric crossing - this addressed by shifting and pegging out the line one chain north of the survey.
The beginning of 1881 marked the changes for the Public Works Department and railway survey and construction in the Auckland Province. In March, 1881, Stewart was retrenched with 176 other Departmental Officers. Stewart then established a private engineering practice and went on as Engineer in Charge of Waiorongomai Tramway preparations and Engineer in Charge for the Thames Valley and Rotorua Railway Company.
Stewart was joined by Hunter in 1882 and in partnership as Stewart and Hunter, carried out works that were wide and varied, including completion of the Rotorua Railway which was taken over by the Public Works Department in the late 1880s. March 1882 also saw Captain Gerald Beere joining the engineering staff of Stewart and Hunter. Captain Beere's brother Daniel Beere resigned his position as resident engineer for Waikato in February to take an extended holiday. He returned briefly and as resident engineer supervised some of the Thames-Waikato railway works which managed to be achieved.
And so to the end of this first era, in February, 1881, for the ill-fated Thames-Waikato railway. To encourage construction and perhaps to set an example, the owner of a very large estate indirectly offered Government to form, fence and erect culverts and bridges for the section running through his property.
In the new era the railway made it to Te Aroha in 1886. A contract was won by Messrs Larkin and O'Brien for the Kopu – Hikutaia section in July, 1885. However, it was 1895 before the Hamilton-Paeroa link was completed and December, 1898, before link with Thames opened--at long last forming the desired loop Auckland – Hamilton – Thames.
The loop that now brings the writer back to 2008. Walking the disused track today, makes one think about those early surveyors, engineers and railway construction contractors who made that Railway – Steel Tracks across the swamp.
Acknowledgements: National Library of New Zealand, Auckland and Institute Museum Library, Te Aroha Museum, MOTAT, Auckland, Waihi Library, NZ Institute of Surveyors, University of Waikato Library, Hamilton Public Library.