The much-anticipated Mersey & Deloraine Tramway Co opened for traffic on 1 January 1872 and ran from Latrobe 17 miles to Coiler’s Creek. To get to Deloraine, James East of the Bush Inn, Deloraine (later the Railton Hotel), agreed to meet each train with his coach & horses to convey passengers over the unmade roads to and from Deloraine. When James East failed to get the contract to carry the mail to the NW Coast, he stopped meeting these trains on 4 April, causing chaos for getting passengers and goods to Deloraine. Two weeks later, on 19 April (only 3½ months after opening), the Company suspended their train service, citing insufficient traffic and difficulties making transfers to Deloraine.

The M&DT Co still believed the railway could become profitable once the line was completed to Deloraine, so the directors applied to borrow a further £65,000. But neither the previous creditors nor the Government would grant further loans. It was generally believed the Government of the day had previously made a bad deal with the Company, and it was in the public interest to buy back the complete railway line. This had been the case with rival company The Launceston–Deloraine Railway Co when it ran into financial trouble in Oct 1873. The Government took it over and changed its 5’3” gauge to 3’6” to match the new Government-owned Hobart to Launceston line. The Government did negotiate a sale price with Foster & Morrison, and this bill was put to the House of Assembly on 15 Sep 1875. It authorised the Government to purchase the M&DT Company with all its rolling stock for £12,500, to buy back all Crown land granted to the Company for a further £12,500, and then complete this railway through to Deloraine, all for a total cost not exceeding £92,500. This bill passed the House of Assembly without opposition, but a consortium of parliamentarians in the Legislative Council rejected it outright twice over.

Now with no income, the M&DT Co had no way of repaying their huge loans back to their creditors John Foster and Askin Morrison. This led to the Company being seized by the Sherriff under a writ and forced into a mortgage sale in the Launceston Court House on 21 July 1874. Not surprisingly, the only bidders for the bankrupt M&DT Co were Foster & Morrison themselves. Their first offer of £5 was refused, as was their second offer of £50, but their third offer was accepted. Most newspapers simply reported: The Mersey Deloraine Tramway Co was purchased today by Messrs John Foster and Askin Morrison for five hundred pounds (£500). Some called it ‘The M&DT Co Grab’.

What did these two entrepreneurs acquire?

They received the long, one-mile-wide corridor of land stretching from Latrobe through to Coiler’s Creek laid with costly iron rails and sleepers, its rolling stock (steam engine & carriages), and multiple buildings at each railway station. Within this corridor lay the future townships of Railton and Kimberley. In addition, they also received the remainder of the Crown grant which was  a separate area of land totalling 15,546 acres. This covered eastern Sunnyside to Armistead, running south right up the Mersey and Dasher River valleys to the foot of Mt Roland embracing much of Beulah, Paradise, and eastern Claude Road.

In an ironic twist to this colossal purchase, both new owners died within two years. Eleven months after the sale, John Foster (83) died at his home in Davey St, Hobart, on 27 June 1875, and another eleven months later, Askin Morrison (76) died at his waterfront townhouse on 29 May 1876. Both were buried in Cornelian Bay cemetery, Hobart. While it is probable that Foster and Morrison had visited the railway line during construction, it is highly unlikely that either of them ever laid eyes on their 15,546 acres of untouched bushland that stretched across much of the eastern half of the present Kentish municipality. So, who were these two wily old investors? 

John Foster JP 1792 – 1875

Born at Armistead estate, near Settle, Yorkshire, John Foster was educated in Leeds. Six years after his father’s death, eldest son John now (30), his widowed mother Jane (Dowbiggin) Foster, and youngest son Henry (13) sailed in 1822 from London aboard Berwick to become free settlers in VDL. Upon arrival, John and his mother received adjoining 500-acre land grants west of Campbell Town, between Macquarie River and Ashby Rd. They called it Fosterville, where John commenced growing grain, producing sheep and cattle. One evening in Oct 1826, Jane and her two sons were attacked and robbed by five armed bushrangers. The Fosters were able to increase their land grants to a total of 1,500 acres around Fosterville and obtained a massive 12,000-acres of grazing country at Cape Portland, NE Tasmania. In 1832 Foster bought 12-acres of prime property along Hampden Rd, Battery Point, where they erected Wivenhoe, their first Hobart residence.

In 1843 John Foster (51) expanded his operations to Victoria, acquiring Boisdale estate in Gippsland and, over the next decade, seven other notable properties, totalling 180,000 acres. To transport cattle, sheep, and wool, he purchased several ships and a schooner, as well as a hotel at Port Albert, Victoria. A newspaper referred to John Foster in 1853 as ‘one of the wealthiest men in the colonies’. Foster became a JP in 1836, a Police Magistrate in 1848. After becoming director of the Douglas River Coal Co, their large 2,096-acre property at Bicheno gradually passed into his hands. With his good friend Askin Morrison, they were jointly involved with Hobart Gas Co, several banks and insurance companies, co-founders of the Tasmanian Club, and co-owners of the Kangaroo ferry service across the Derwent River. In Victoria, Foster had similar associations with banks and insurance companies. During most of the time they were jointly financing the Mersey-Deloraine Tramway Company, Foster was a member of the Legislative Council (1868-1874).

Quite late in life, Foster (71) married a younger widow Ann Riddiford on 18 April 1863, with whom he had six children; two before they married. Their firstborn was accidently killed aged 6. Their five surviving children were: Henry Foster (b1862), Jane (b1863), Frances (b 1866), John Dowbiggin Foster (b1867), & Askin Morrison Foster (b1868). This last child named to honour the long comradeship he had with his bachelor business partner.

Askin Morrison JP (1800-1876)

Born in Gortmore, County Tyrone, Ireland, Askin Morrison sailed from London in Dec 1828 aboard the Orelia, arriving in Hobart Town in May 1829 with a large quantity of merchandise from which he made a significant profit. After selecting land at St Peter’s Pass, near Oatlands, he sailed to England and Ireland several times, returning with merchandise to sell in Hobart. In 1832 he chartered the Caroline, sailed to Canton, China, and returned with a cargo of tea, from which he was reputed to have made £10,000 profit. By 1835 he established an importing/exporting business on the Hobart waterfront. He entered the whaling trade, with several vessels built expressly for him at the Domain shipyards, which he owned. For many years Morrison was also one of the largest exporters of wool and whale-oil to London. Morrison got to know Foster when he brought his wool south to sell in Hobart. Both were big-time entrepreneurs, bachelors, and owned houses close to each other in Hobart. As their friendship flourished, they became joint investors in the banks and businesses mentioned earlier. They co-owned the twin-screw steamer Kangaroo that was the sole means of ferrying horse-wagons and carriages across the Derwent River between Hobart Town and Bellerive. Morrison was made a JP in 1837 and served in both Houses of Parliament (1851-1860).

His best-known properties were St. Peter’s Pass near Oatlands, Rosny at Bellerive, and Runnymede near Richmond where he loved to breed fine horses. His shipping business was in Morrison St (named after him) on the Hobart docks; close to the townhouse where he died. Being unmarried, his will provided for his personal secretary/clerk and servants, left a legacy of £150 to his 8-year-old godchild Askin Morrison Foster, with the remainder left to a nephew Andrew Morrison who had immigrated to Victoria, married and had 5 children.

Managing Foster’s Estate & Family

John Foster had appointed two trustworthy Hobart businessmen, Justin Browne and Neil Lewis, as his trustees. His will provided for all his young children to be educated in England and that his properties in Tasmania and Victoria were not to be distributed to them until Sept 1889, when his youngest child reached the age of 21. Accordingly in 1876, the year after her husband’s death, Ann Foster sailed with their five children: Henry (14), Jane (12), Frances (10), John Dowbiggin Foster (9), & Askin Morrison Foster (8) to England. The family set up home in a fashionable part of Brighton, where, sadly, Ann died six years later. Orphaned, but well-educated, all the Foster offspring remained in England for 13 years, not returning to Tasmania until August 1889 just before youngest son Askin turned 21 on September 23rd.

Meanwhile, back in Tasmania over that same period, Foster’s trustees Brown & Lewis had the mammoth task of managing the late John Foster’s many properties. They were forced to open an office for Foster’s Trustees at 27 New Wharf, Hobart, and employ a manager.

Over the same period, the whole Kentish community had been bitterly disappointed by the collapse of this highly anticipated new rail service. Its ‘Iron Horse’ and several decaying carriages were left to rot and rust at the Latrobe terminus. However, the enterprising William Winter & Sons turned their horse-drawn wagons, used previously to transport sleepers and rails, to now carry produce and passengers between Railton & Latrobe. While limited to horsepower, this service proved to be greatly beneficial for Kentish people especially in the years (1878-1884) following the first discoveries of gold in the Minnow River and silver-lead at Mt Claude. Scores of new arrivals in Kentish began taking up land around New Bed, Sunnyside, Stoodley, Beulah, Paradise, and Claude Road. They began clearing their bush blocks right up to the boundaries of Foster’s Estate, which remained unattended, virgin bush.

It was the same in Railton. The boundary of Foster’s railway corridor ran the length of Dowbiggin St, so nothing was for sale between Dowbiggin St and the railway line. When the Winter family, who had done very well from their plate-laying contract, wanted to buy land around Railton, the twelve blocks their family purchased were all south-west of Dowbiggin St. They stretched from the present Cement Works south-west to beyond the road to Kentish Plains. It is on the banks of Redwater Creek, a good ½ mile south of the Railton Railway station, that the first little township formed. It commenced with Winter’s sawmill, flour mill and employees’ huts. Gradually they added a school, three churches, a general store, Post Office, Temperance Hotel, and hall. This busy little township, retaining the name Redwater Creek, stood in stark contrast to the lonely, neglected railway station at Railton where someone said ‘there was nothing but a hut and a dog kennel’.

1882 New Railway Project authorised

Despite Winter’s helpful trolley system, frustration continued to grow because there was no proper railway line from Deloraine to the NW Coast, let alone the increasing need for a branch line to Kentish. On 17 September 1879, the largest meeting ever seen in Sheffield formed the Sheffield Railway League, which petitioned the Government to extend the line from Deloraine and construct a branch line from Railton to Sheffield. With agitation increasing right across the Mersey region, in Sept 1882 the Government authorised the extension of the recently built Launceston-Deloraine Line through to Formby (West D’port) for £120,000. It included £6,000 to acquire back from Foster Trustees a 2 chain-wide (40m) narrow strip down the centre of their original mile-wide rail corridor. The whole Kentish community received this news with immense satisfaction. 

In Oct 1883, Fergus & Blair’s tender of £94,079 was accepted to construct 37 miles of railway from Deloraine to Formby. The first sod was turned on 19 Nov 1883, and the line opened Saturday 30 May, 1885. Working under engineer Ryton Oldam, Angus Campbell oversaw reconstructing the old M&D Tramway section, while James Hill built new railway station buildings at Railton. In Jan 1884, the last horse-drawn wagon trip from Railton to Latrobe was made on the old 4’6” gauge, so that Fergus & Blair could change it to 3’6”. This occurred a year ahead of the actual opening day, with the Company immediately commencing to transport trainloads of Kentish potatoes to Latrobe wharves.

1885 Opening the New Deloraine-Devonport Line

Opening Day on Sat 30 May 1885 was declared a public holiday, with everyone coming dressed in their finest outfits. More than 700 people travelled on two trains headed for Latrobe & Formby—one from Launceston, the other full of parliamentarians from Hobart. A couple of minutes before the ministerial train reached Railton, its whistle blew. This was signal for stationmaster Wm (Bill) Tolson to heartily ring his new railway bell as the steam train pulled up at the platform. For most, this was an awesome experience; all marvelling at such modern progress. Because of a dispute, some fences were not finished, and a few days after the rail service commenced, three cows were killed near Railton on the way down the coast and three more were killed, in the same spot, on the return journey. But this new railway line would bring life at last to Railton, and the birth of the present township was underway.

Next: The Rise of Railton, the Finish of Foster’s Estate