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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 6, Issue 2, 1998

Nelson's First Railway and the City Bus

page 44

Nelson's First Railway and the City Bus

by Mike Johnston

Nikau Press, 1996. 104 pages, illustrated. $29.95

After his magnificent work on the Marlborough gold fields, Society stalwart Mike Johnston has in this book returned to an aspect of his earlier research on the Mineral Belt, the subject he covered in High Hopes (1987). The Dun Mountain railway is a fascinating part of Nelson's history and, as usually happens with such research, more information has come to light since the earlier work was published. The augmented story certainly merits this separate telling.

The book begins with an examination of the claims made for the place of the Dun Mountain enterprise at the beginning of New Zealand railway history, an argument which hinges on how it is defined. Mike gives a useful resume of the evolution of rail transport to put the debate in context.

The railway, which was constructed to transport ore from the Mineral Belt, opened in 1862 and included a public passenger service which ran between the town and the port. While the Dun Mountain Company ceased operation and sold its assets in 1872, the City Bus continued to run until 1901. Much of the new information relates to this service and its various operators. In addition to the practical details, there are many stories of incidents and accidents which help to illuminate the social history of Nelson over this time period.

The work is underpinned by Mike's characteristic depth of research and attention to detail, while his clear writing style brings his subject to life. Well illustrated, with many historical photographs, contemporary art works and both original and specially drawn plans, the book also includes a separate chronology and statistics relating to the railway and the export of chromite.

Dawn Smith