Canterbury railways : full steam ahead : the provincial railways of Canterbury, 1863-76.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
The broad-gauge Canterbury Railways are considered unanimously by New Zealand historians as the origins of the modern-day railway network in New Zealand. Built by the Canterbury Provincial Government in 1863 to relieve transport issues between Christchurch and Lyttelton, the broad-gauge railway later expanded to reach Amberley in the north and Rakaia in the south, opening up the Canterbury Plains and stimulating trade and immigration. Brought under the control of the Public Works Department in 1876 along with several narrow-gauge lines built by the Provincial Government, the broad-gauge was converted to the New Zealand standard narrow-gauge in 1878 and the locomotives and rolling-stock were sold to the South Australian Railways.
Unfortunately, there has been little engagement with the history of the Canterbury Railways in the last fifty years and in particular with the primary sources from the period since the publication in 1964 of W. A. Pierre’s book Canterbury Provincial Railways: Genesis of the NZR. The majority of what has been written in this timeframe has been for the railway enthusiast market, and therefore has contributed to the marginalisation of the part played by the Canterbury Railways in the context of the wider New Zealand history. By engaging with period primary sources held by Archives New Zealand and suitably supported with selected secondary sources, this thesis aims to recover this history within an academic framework considering, among other themes, the prehistory of the railway before 1863, the operation of the CR network and comparisons with other Provincial-era railway operations within this period.
Careful attention shall be given not only to re-telling the history of the Canterbury Railways, but also to the various personalities behind the railway, their motivations and decisions which shaped the development of the Canterbury Railways, the impact it had both on transport within the wider North Canterbury region and its day-to-day operations and its prefiguring of the great Public Works schemes of Sir Julius Vogel. Special mention will also be made of the great railway gauge debate, its origins in Australia and the subsequent consequences for railway-building in New Zealand which was largely influenced by Australia in this particular matter.