Locomotive No. 1 brings to life the age of steam travel, which began in 1855 when this very locomotive hauled New South Wales’ first train. The exhibition at Powerhouse Museum recreates a journey from Sydney to Parramatta in 1863. Visitors can peer at the characters and overhear their conversations on a typical 19th century train journey, sitting in the vastly different first, second and third class carriages. A fascinating audiovisual tells the story of Locomotive No. 1 and a history of railways in NSW.
It is extremely rare for any country or state to retain its first locomotive. This locomotive is one of the most significant objects in the MAAS collection, and has been in the Museum’s possession for more than 120 years. Built in England by Robert Stephenson & Co., Newcastle-on-Tyne, it was designed by J. E. McConnell of the London and North-Western Railway Company, and is a very rare survivor of a McConnell goods express locomotive of the early 1850s. It is believed to be the only known example of its type in the world.
The establishment of a railway in New South Wales began in earnest in 1848 when a private company, the Sydney Railway Company, was formed with the objective of building a railway line between Sydney and Parramatta then on to Goulburn to easily and cheaply transport wool to the coast. Work on the construction commenced in 1851 but labour shortages because of the discovery of gold, inflation, local apathy and internal debates made progress slow.
The arrival of 500 railway labourers from England in 1853 whose fares were paid by the Colonial Government solved the labour crisis but the time it took for iron rails to arrive further delayed construction. In January 1855 four locomotives arrived by ship including Locomotive No. 1 which hauled the first passenger train, a special service, from Sydney to open Long Cove viaduct (near the present site of Lewisham) on 28 May 1855.
Comprising eight graceful 30′ (9m) arches, the viaduct was then the largest civil engineering work attempted in Australia. Locomotive No. 1 also hauled the ballast train to construct the line and trips for the Governor, railway commissioners, company directors and railway workers.
The escalating cost of constructing the railway presented the directors of the Sydney Railway Company with insurmountable problems and on 3 September 1855 the New South Wales Government assumed responsibility for its operation. The line from Sydney to Parramatta (with four intermediate stations: Newtown, Ashfield, Burwood and Homebush) was officially opened with great celebration on 26 September 1855 with Locomotive No. 3 hauling the official train, as Locomotive No. 1 was out of service that day. The journey of 14 miles took 50 minutes.
On the first day a total of 3,554 passengers were carried and the fares to Parramatta were 4 shillings, 3 shillings and 2 shillings respectively for 1st, 2nd and 3rd class. The event attracted crowds of people dressed in their finery eager to be the first passengers. The railway proved a great success but the locomotives were too heavy for the Barlow rails then in use.
From 1857 Locomotive No. 1 was used mainly for hauling goods and passengers between Sydney, Campbelltown, Richmond and Penrith. It was withdrawn from service in 1877 after 22 years of operation, having travelled 155,667 miles (250,468 km).
It was later refitted with parts of other engines of its class by the Railways and presented to the Museum on 8 May 1884. Locomotive No. 1 was initially displayed in the Museum’s original building, an Agricultural Hall in the Domain behind Sydney Hospital. Later, in 1893, the locomotive was housed in an engine house behind the Museum’s second home in Harris Street, Ultimo.
From there it was removed for four special occasions: the 50th anniversary of railways in NSW in 1905; the Railways’ Great Industrial and Model Exhibition in 1916; the sesquicentenary of NSW in 1938 for which it was displayed in Martin Place; and the centenary of railways in 1955 for which it was displayed at Central Station.
The six-wheel tender of Locomotive No. 1 was still in service after Locomotive No. 1 was decommissioned in 1877 and was modified to work with Locomotive No. 78. It was restored in 1955 for the New South Wales Railways’ Centenary celebrations and later presented to the Museum for display with Loco No. 1.
In 1980 Locomotive No. 1 underwent an extensive conservation program. Each part was stripped down, cleaned and polished to reveal the individually stamped numbers. This process found conclusively that the locomotive was made predominantly of Locomotive No. 1 parts as well as parts of Locomotive Nos. 2, 3 and 4.
Since 1988 Locomotive No. 1 and tender have been displayed with 1st, 2nd and 3rd class carriages of the day in a permanent exhibition in Powerhouse Museum.