Mudgee History | Horse drawn rail train to Mudgee

Road Forward: Sir William Denison wanted the widest possible transport for the colony at the lowest cost. He preferred horse drawn trains, on wooden tracks.
Road Forward: Sir William Denison wanted the widest possible transport for the colony at the lowest cost. He preferred horse drawn trains, on wooden tracks.

 Horse drawn rail train to Mudgee

Looking backwards to the mid 1850s it is difficult to conceive that the three  Hunter River towns, Maitland, Muswellbrook and Singleton, without any railway service of their own were ardent supporters of a light horse  line to Mudgee from the Hunter.

At the time Mudgee also was trainless, and it would be years before their district was connected at Wallerawang on the Western Line.

The interest in the cross country connection to Mudgee was possibly sparked by

Sir William Denison who in 1855 took up his appointment as Governor of New South Wales and nominally, Governor-General of the Australian colonies. 

He wanted the widest possible transport for the colony at the lowest cost. 

He preferred horse drawn trains, on wooden tracks, sharing where possible public roads. 

This was his vision to spread railways throughout the State without involving large costs for iron rails, heavy engines and the like. 

Sir William was impressed with the success of the Norich Horse Train Company in Austria.  They had been conducting horse drawn train services in Austria (Europe) since 1825.  Within  ten years they were using around 600 horses, with one horse generally pulling two or three carriages

One of the first horse drawn trains in Australia was from the opening of Goolwa on the Murray River to Victor Harbour. This line was used to move freight between the shallows in the river and unpredictable currents at the river mouth, 

John Whitton, an Irishman, who was appointed in 1854 as Engineer-in-Chief of  Railways was bitterly opposed to Denison’s  horse drawn trains, and the use of wooden rails.

In 1861 the three towns, Maitland, Muswellbrook and Singleton of the Northern Line were informed by the Government that a sum of 130,000 pounds was to be placed on the Railway Estimates for the construction of a line of railway, from Singleton to Mudgee, a distance of 110 miles. 

The Mudgee citizens were elated with the Mayor pointing out the horse drawn railway line on nearly level of country of rich alluvial soil eminently adapted for location and cultivation. 

The line would pass over beds of coal and extensive forests of ironbark. 

There would be no engineering difficulties in the shape of cuttings and other obstacles that may impede a horse drawn train. 

At the same time an amount of 350,000 pounds were upon the Estimates for a horse railway from Grafton to Tenterfield.

The  preliminary survey of the Singleton-Mudgee horse rail line, was carried out in February 1864, by P D Brown, railway engineer, commencing at Muswellbrook passing through Denman, Wybong, Wappinguy, Merriwa, Collaroy, Cassilis, Durridgerie, Wilbertree to Mudgee, at a cost 5337 pounds. 

The engineering survey followed immediately when it became known that the cost has risen to 426,000 pounds plus another 130,000 pounds if the line was to be extended from Mudgee to Wellington.

The Legislature Assembly of the New South Wales were anxious to make a decision on the proposal and met in April, 1864.

Thomas Dangar, Member for Upper Hunter, from April, 1861 to November, 1864, although hesitate supported the proposal.

A full supporter was Samuel Henry Terry, member for Mudgee from December 1859 November, 1869. 

In his speech he said that in the town of Mudgee alone there were two soap and candle manufacturers, four tanneries, six brick manufacturers, three quartz crushing machines, two banks and a newspaper.

On the motion being put in the Assembly it was lost.  Eleven voted for, twenty six against.   

It was obvious that the day of the horse drawn train in N.S.W. was over. 

By Roy Cameron,  OAM