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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 7 (December 1, 1930)

Fifty-Seven Years Ago — Auckland's First Train

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Fifty-Seven Years Ago
Auckland's First Train

Hale and hearty, though eighty-three years of age, Mr. Wm. Baker, of Claudelands, Hamilton, vividly recalls Auckland's first two-carriage train which blazed the railway trail in the run to Onehunga on the day before Christmas, 1873. Being the official issuer of tickets on that pioneer trip, which was regarded as a development extraordinary at the time, Mr. Baker has a happy recollection of the event. He was bred and born at Dover, and came to New Zealand on the ship “St. Leonards,” which arrived about ten weeks before the local train venture, prior to which he was employed in connection with the Domain dairy. Having been a signalman and guard on the London-Chatham-Dover service for six years, he had credentials for railway service.

Crowd at Ellerslie Races.

Giving his recollections to a representative of the Auckland Star, Mr. Baker said: “The train started from Fort Britomart, which was the high embankment just about the foot of where Anzac Avenue now is. I remember we used to have to climb up there what we called ‘Jacob's Ladder,’ and the Presbyterian Church (St. Andrew's) was on the crest before it was shifted to its present location. When the time came for the train to start on December 24, Mr. Hardington, who ran coaches between Onehunga and Auckland, suspended his service, as he thought it would be no use competing against the regular train. The contractors for the railway line ran the first train, and continued to do so for some little time until the railway was taken over by the Government. We left Fort Britomart on the first trip at 8 a.m. and carried a big crowd, as the races were on at Ellerslie. We continued past the racecourse, and also brought back people from the Onehunga terminus. Several trips each way were done that day without a hitch, the speed being 15 miles per hour. The driver and fireman were original employees of the contractors. We nicknamed the driver subsequently, ‘Hell-fire Jack,’ because he often exceeded the speed limit, doing, at times, up to 25 miles per hour. The staff, including myself, had uniforms. The guards were Sam Markwell and Page. Also on the initial trip were Mr. Lioyd, traffic clerk, Mr. W. Jones Smith, manager, and the first stationmaster, who was distinguished by his tall white hat. We ran a regular daily service after that, and also ran two trips on Sundays. The engine, which had been used in making the railway permanent way, was christened affectionately ‘Ada.”

“After about nine or ten months,” continued this pioneer, “the Government took over the Auckland-Onehunga railway. When the main line was extended to Mercer I was made stationmaster at Penrose station, where I remained for two years when I bought a farm at Tuakau. The first district engineer was Mr. F.B. Passmore. I will never forget one funny incident which occurred at the Onehunga office a few days after the first run,” commented Mr. Baker. “Mr. Wesley Spragg's brother was approached by a lady for a ticket. ‘Single?’ he queried. ‘Oh, no, I'm married,’ she replied. Young Spragg thought the joke too good to go unchronicled, and it appeared in the newspaper, the manager seriously advising him later that he was not to make public such amusing situations that might create embarrassment.”

About seven years ago Mr. Baker presented the Auckland Art Gallery with the photograph of the first Auckland-One-hunga train, and recently he also gave a copy to the Hamilton library.

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