The site for the potential township at Railton was first suggested by Surveyor James Dooley in 1864, after he released his survey of the proposed route for the Mersey-Deloraine Tramway Company. It showed his projected tramway line crossing Redwater Creek at Flowery Marsh, where it also intersected his surveyed road between Tarleton and the Kentish Plains. Dooley indicated that this was the place for a railway siding to receive the produce from the Kentish Plains, which he noted in 1864 ‘already had a flourishing settlement of 230 inhabitants.’

Redwater Creek (originally Brandy Creek) was so named because of its colour; presumably from iron-peroxide particles in the water. It forms high on the side of the most southerly peak of the Badger Range, called ‘Kimberley’s Lookout’. After flowing down between the heavily forested hills of New Bed, Stoodley, and Sunnyside, it meanders across some of the low-lying swampy river flats, mainly covered with tea trees, before joining the Mersey River close to Native Rock. It must have been one summertime (when these tea trees were profusely covered with white flowers) that Field’s early stockmen, Wm McCoy, Don Sutherland, and Geo (Chummy) Webb, called the place Flowery Marsh.

In the mid-1850s, James & Mary Cables set up a water-powered sawmill on Redwater Creek at the base of the Stoodley hills to service the timber splitters. In 1860, Amos & Hannah Langmaid opened a limekiln near the present cement works. About 1862 Henry & Priscilla Weeks settled on the banks of the Mersey River, opposite Native Rock, and in the same year John & Ann Nottage became the first settlers in Sunnyside.

Mersey-Deloraine Tramway Co Formed

Early attempts to commence a tramway from the Mersey River to Deloraine in 1853 & 1857 failed. But, following a public meeting in Latrobe in 1862, Surveyor James Dooley undertook a detailed feasibility study that supported a light tramway, using horsepower to pull carriages the 30 miles between the Mersey River and Deloraine.

In March 1864, a provisional private company The Mersey & Deloraine Tramway Co, was formed to sell 10,000 shares at £5 each to raise £50,000 and get this first railway project in Tasmania under way. The Mersey Railway Bill passed both Houses of Parliament in September 1864, stating that if the Company could open this railway line to Deloraine within three years, the government would grant it one square mile of Crown land for every mile of railway track laid. After this Government incentive, the Company was inundated with wealthy southern investors such as John Foster, Askin Morrison, Thos Giblin, John Davies, David Lewis, & Thos Lowes – all having previously been or were currently serving as Members of Parliament. When the Company’s permanent directors were finally appointed, all were from the South. Their Head Office was established in Macquarie St, Hobart, with George Whitcomb as managing director. Had this not been the case, they could never have gained the concession they obtained. In February 1865, Whitcomb visited Kentish Plains, telling settlers the Company intended to commence building the tramway straight away and as soon as the first section from the Mersey River to the Flowery Marsh was finished, they would immediately begin transporting Kentish agricultural produce to the Mersey wharf. He sold many shares.

1865 Construction Commences. When the first tenders were called, however, it was for constructing a 12-mile section from Caroline Creek (3 miles east of Latrobe wharves) to Coiler’s Creek (3 miles east Kimberley). It included a long, wooden bridge to be built across the Mersey River at Kimberley – all to be completed in an incredibly short time: by 1 September 1866. The reason it started at Caroline Creek was due to a dispute. Some wanted the railway line to go to the tidal wharf at Bell’s Parade, others to continue to the deep-water port at Tarleton (East Devonport). Some public meetings had become quite unruly. Once, after the chairman laughed loudly at someone’s comment, the offended speaker quipped: ‘What can we expect from a pig, but a grunt.’

In April 1865, the Tramway Company accepted A H Swift’s tender for £12,500, the lowest of five others, and immediately advanced him £500 to start hiring employees. Swift had spent the last five years managing the Seymour Coal Co, north of Bicheno on the East Coast. But his quote would prove disastrously inadequate, both in cost and the time needed to complete the project. The Company also hired Stephen Grey, a young civil engineer from Hobart. Both Swift and Grey established their work offices at Redwater Creek, Flowery Marsh, as recommended by Dooley. Grey immediately suggested using a small steam locomotive instead of horsepower, light iron rails instead of wooden rails, and widening the gauge from 3’6” to 4’6” wide. All these recommendations were accepted by the Company and ordered from England, dramatically escalating the costs. These English suppliers required advanced payments within 3 months of their orders, so a lot of the Company’s initial capital was used up, even though delivery of the rails took 2 years and the steam engine 4 years.

To offset this expensive upgrade to ‘real railway’ status, the Government doubled its grant to the Company – now promising two square miles for every mile of track opened for traffic. Half a mile of land would be given along each side of the railway line, the rest granted from selected land around the Mersey and Dasher River valleys. The Company desperately needed these promised land grants as equity against the large loans the Company was now compelled to take.

A H Swift made a dramatic start, engaging 40 workmen from Hobart who arrived by boat in May 1865. Swift employed engineer Tom Townshend to take charge of building workmen’s huts and large storage sheds at Flowery Marsh. C Mills was his assistant and Wm Gwyne, blacksmith. A report on 21 June 1865 stated, ‘A H Swift is progressing rapidly; upwards of four miles having been cleared of timber and scrub. The navvies have commenced on seven different excavations. Mr Swift has nearly 100 men at work and is adding to them daily’. Two months later he had 140 men employed.

Despite such a promising start, 14 months later, in July 1866, Swift was far from finished and out of money. He became insolvent and was forced to lay off his massive workforce. He claimed the Mersey & Deloraine Railway Co, whose only source of finance was shareholders’ money, were not paying him enough to cover his expenses. Nor had they increased his contract price, despite many changes to the original conditions. The M&D Railway Co were forced to engage Cumming, Raymond & Co of Don to complete Swift’s contract, but only as far as the Mersey River at Kimberley. Several months were lost between contractors, the new firm not willing to start until all specifications of their new contract were settled. The Co’s engineer Stephen Grey (41) used this break in his work to marry Sarah Jane Rex (20) at St. John’s Church, Launceston, on 17 Oct 1866 and brought her back to Flowery Marsh where he had built her ‘a home on a hill’ (probably along Kings St).

1867 Railton gets its Name

About April 1867, hundreds of tons of iron rails and fittings arrived at the Mersey River from England and were transported to Redwater Creek. It was the sight of all these stacked rails that prompted engineer Stephen Grey to name the new settlement ‘Railton’. The name first appears on 7 Aug 1867 in the Port Sorell Birth Register when Grey gives the birthplace of his first son, John George Grey, as ‘RailtonRedwater Creek’. In both the northern & southern newspapers, this same son is announced as having been born at ‘Railton near Latrobe’. Two weeks later on 23 August 1867, M&D Railway Co Director John Davies tells their annual meeting in Hobart that he recently visited a place called ‘Railton’ where the principal works were going on. From this date Stephen Grey always uses ‘Railton near Latrobe’ as both his office and residential address.

About the time the rails and fittings arrived from England, so does William Winter, who has the Plate-Layer’s contract. Winter’s contract was to supply and lay 8ft-long 9×4½inch sleepers one yard apart along the formed railway route. Over these hardwood sleepers, he was to lay parallel iron rails 4’6” apart; then hold them fast by driving long spikes through the attached cast iron fittings into the wooden sleepers. William (58) & Mary (54) Winter arrived in Railton with their three sons: Arthur Alfred Winter (26), Walter Wm Winter (25) with new wife Maria, and Joshua John Winter (19). Also with them was William’s older brother Sam Winter (62), who established a sawmill on the banks of the Redwater Creek over ½ mile south of the railway line to supply the timber sleepers needed by his brother. By June 1867 the Winter brothers had laid 2,926 yards (2.7kms) of rails.

Two years after taking over Swift’s work, in June 1868 Cummings, Raymond & Co had completed their contract of excavating hillsides and building many small bridges, but only to the edge of the Mersey River at Kimberley. A couple of months later, William Winter completed his ‘plate-laying’ contract to the same river, laying a total of 23,390 railway sleepers. During this construction phase, a railway store at Railton, run by Moses & Esther Phillbrook, supplied the navvies (many of them living in tents) with their necessities.

1868–1871 Railway’s Financial Woes Deepen. By now the Company had run out of money and two wealthy entrepreneur shareholders, John Foster and Askin Morrison of Hobart, had loaned it £10,932 at 7½% interest. Their security was based on the Government’s promised crown land grants to the company. But critics were crying: What use will this railway be? It begins in the bush and ends in the bush. So in June 1868, the Government revised its agreement with the M&D Railway Co. If the Company would extend its present line at both ends and open the railway from Latrobe through to Coiler’s Creek as first proposed, then the Government would immediately advance the huge Crown land grant to the Company so that it could borrow more money to quickly complete the line through to Deloraine. This new deal called for two long 200ft railway bridges over the Mersey River at Sherwood, near Latrobe, and Kimberley. Under these arrangements, Foster & Morrison were happy to continue with further loans.

Wm Andrews won the contract for both extensions – the Latrobe end to be completed by 12 March 1870 and the Coiler’s Creek end by 8 May 1870. Andrews employed 120 men and used two pile-driving machines worked by horsepower but was 8 months late on the Latrobe extension and 12 months late finishing Coiler’s Creek. Andrews claimed the delays were due to a shortage of labour during last harvest season and continued bad weather. Floodwaters had washed a 60ft gap in the partially completed bridge at Sherwood, and Coiler’s Creek had encountered very hard rock, requiring the river to be diverted into a new channel. Such slow progress had greatly increased the Company’s financial borrowing. Its balance sheet for June 1869 showed the Hobart creditors Foster and Morrison had now loaned it £19,684.

The steam engine (or ‘iron horse’) manufactured in Manchester, England, arrived at Latrobe on 10 Nov 1870 aboard the schooner Ellen. The remaining rolling stock was made locally in Latrobe, with axles and wheels imported from Victoria. Beside wagons, there was one 1st & 2nd class carriage capable of carrying 16 passengers, one goods truck adaptable as a 3rd class carriage, and a guard’s van. In June 1871, after 6 years, the Company’s engineer Stephen Grey resigned, suing the Company for £1,780 back-pay. His replacement engineer Ryton Oldham had to come from Melbourne.

1871 June Government Inspection. Before operations could commence, the railway line needed government approval. In June 1871 civil engineer S V Kempt made this assessment and reported that the Company would meet the Government requirements of completing a railway line through to Coiler’s Creek, providing they implemented his list of recommendations. These included widening some cuttings, repairing embankments trodden down by Field’s cattle, improving drainage, tarring all timber work, and building shelter sheds at landings like Railton. The actual distance of railway was 16 miles & 75 chains, making the company eligible, upon completing these improvements, to receive a grant of 21,080 acres of Crown Land. But Kempt noted the railway line would have limited commercial value until it was completed through to Deloraine. The Company reaffirmed its fullest intention to complete the line to Deloraine as soon as possible.

Opening & Closure of the Line

At the official opening, late in 1871, the little locomotive unfortunately lost steam and all the invited guests had to walk back down the track to their horse-drawn vehicles. On 1 January 1872, the railway commenced carrying public traffic from Latrobe to Coiler’s Creek, with a connecting coach service to Deloraine, running over an unformed mud track to Elizabeth Town. The new railway service ran for 3½ months, then stopped on 19 April 1872, citing there was not enough freight or passengers to keep running.

The Company had spent £64,258 building this railway, with its two wealthy entrepreneurs, John Foster and Askin Morrison, owed a staggering £49,807. As soon as the Government issued the title deeds for 21,080 acres of Crown land, the entrepreneurs expected repayments. Just how the massive Crown land grant passed into the hands of its creditors is told in more detail next time. As a result Railton’s rosy future lay in ruins for further 13 years.

Next: Railton & the Impact of the Foster Factor.