Merryweather Steam Trams
by John Garner
The following article has been sent to us from Wellington, New Zealand
Wellington, with a population of only 19,000 people, launched its steam-trams in August 1878 with the new trams that had arrived from Merryweather & Sons Limited, of Greenwich, London, England. It was claimed to be the first steam-worked street rail system in the Southern Hemisphere.
Eight locomotives had been ordered and given the names of Florence, Wellington, Hibernia, Zealandia, Victoria, Anglia, Scotia and Cambria. These locomotives cost £975 each, the last being placed in service 8 November 1879.
Fleet Name Builder’s Arrived
Number Number in Wellington
1 Florence 60/1877 1-7-78
2 Hibernia 61/1877 5-7-78
3 Wellington 62/1877 13-7-78
4 Zealandia 63/1877 22-8-78
5 Victoria 64/1877 -10-78
6 Cambria 85/1878 -11-78
7 Scotia 87/1878 21-12-78
8 Anglia 86/1878 31-12-78
Specifications as built: Track gauge: 3 feet 6 inches. Wheel arrangement: 0-4-0. Wheelbase: 4 feet 6 inches. Length over buffers: 6 feet 7 inches. Wheel diameter: 2 feet. Cylinders: 7 inches with 11-inch stroke. Firebox: 2 feet 2 inches x 2 feet area, 4.33 square-feet of grate. Firebox surface: 24.5 square-feet. 790 flue-tubes, 1-3/4 inches diameter outside, 3 feet 6 inches long. 126.6 square-feet of heating surface. Total heating surface: 151.1 square-feet. Water tank condensers on the roof. Diameter of barrel of boiler: 2 feet 6 inches. The engines were resplendent in claret livery and gold lining and each one pulled a four-wheel trailer.
Jibbing and restive horses soon brought the steamers into displeasure with the public. Citizens had been advised to have their grooms walk the horses quietly down to the tramline to get them accustomed to the snorting puffer. A few of the horses took little notice of the steamers but others took fright and dashed their buggies against the locomotive. Despite this the steamers continued their service, but accidents followed because drivers were unable to control the reaction of horses to the steam trams.The drivers of the horse-drawn hansom cabs, of the time, also objected to the steamers, as they no longer had control of the urban transportation business. They commenced driving two or three abreast in front of the trams, or would cut across the tracks in order to make the tram driver pull up.
Shying and bolting horses became less frequent, but the tramway’s noisy cinder-spraying machines were never really accepted by Wellingtonians. After another embarrassing accident, the steam operation closed in January 1882 and the trams locomotives were sold.
By then, two locomotives, Anglia and Scotia, had been sold to the Dunedin, Peninsular & ocean Beach Railway Company Limited in December 1880. Of the remaining six locomotives, one was retained to drive a chaffcutter for the horse trams (either Zealandia or Florence), the Hibernia was purchased by the Foxton-Sanson Tramway in 1884 who on sold it to a flaxmiller, E.S. Thynne who used the engine for driving the mill’s machinery on the banks of the Rangitikei River at Parawenui, near Bulls. According to reports, the Hibernia was lost when the river flooded and is probably still buried under the river shingle. The Wellington went to a sawmill in Taranaki, the Victoria to the Tamaki Sawmilling Company in Woodville in 1886, then on sold to the Napier Harbour Board in 1896, becoming NHB No. 2, and the Cambria to the New Zealand Timber company, which became the Kauri Timber company in 1883. The Zealandia was sold to the Kauri Timber Company to haul logs (date unknown) and the Florence to the Kauri Timber Company in 1897. Florence operated until c1923, Zealandia until sometime around 1918, Cambria until 1911, Victoria sometime about 1896 and Anglia in 1915. None of these locomotives exist today.
This article appeared in the September 2000 GIHS Newsletter