Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A town named Hamley Bridge - part 1

This is an article that I wrote for the Adelaide and Districts Family History Group's magazine, Compass in 2011.

amley Bridge is a former Railway town 76kms north of Adelaide. It is nestled between two Rivers, Light River (named after Colonel William Light) and Gilbert River (named by E J Eyre after Thomas Gilbert, the colony’s first storekeeper, who proposed the toast, ‘Mrs Hindmarsh and the Ladies’ at the Proclamation of South Australia in 1836). When I moved to Hamley Bridge 22 years ago, there wasn’t much information on the town readily available. Apart from two books written for town celebrations, (which are few and far between) there wasn’t anything else, not even the railways had kept much. The older residents spoke fondly of growing up in Hamley Bridge, so in 1999 when the Government was handing out Federation grants, a neighbour and I approached the local school for support in achieving a grant for a local history book. We were successful and started to interview the residents with students and helped the school produce a book titled “Memories of Hamley Bridge”. With the residents ‘memories’ and sources such as Trove, I have been able to piece together the ‘History of Hamley Bridge’ which I have put online via my two websites and Facebook.

The Naming of Hamley Bridge

Before Hamley Bridge was ‘named’ it was a mainly farming district known as the Hundred of Alma, which covered a vast area. The Hundred of Alma was proclaimed in 1856 at 138 square miles. When the Railways decided to extend the Northern railway line up to Burra for the mining industry, a bridge was required to cross the Light River. With the span from bank to bank being over 300 feet, it was decided to build a Warren iron girder bridge.
This was to be the largest engineering projects in the colony at the time. The ironwork was designed and made in England.

Lieutenant Colonel Francis Gilbert Hamley
Circa 1869
Photo - SLSA
Lady Edith Hamley
Circa 1868
Photo - SLSA
The foundation stone of the Railway Bridge was laid on July 25th 1868 by Lady Edith Hamley, wife of the Acting Governor, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Gilbert Hamley. The occasion was in the presence of a large number of spectators including His Excellency the Acting Governor, Members of the Ministry and various invited guests from Adelaide. Lady Hamley’s speech was recorded as an ‘extempore speech’. So from this moment onwards it was called Hamley Bridge in honour of Lieutenant Hamley’s time in South Australia. The bridge took nearly a full year to build. When the bridge was completed it was formerly opened by His Excellency the Governor, Sir William Ferguson on July 5th 1869 and the county of Hamley Bridge was proclaimed. For the opening, a special train from Adelaide carried many guests through to Tarlee and return to Hamley Bridge where a luncheon had been prepared in the goods shed.

The Railway Industry

Original Railway Bridge
Circa 1872
Photo - SLSA
In 1869 the first train steamed into Hamley Bridge on its way to Tarlee. The station was situated a few hundred yards north of the bridge and was named the Alma Railway Station. It only had one platform and a small weatherboard office and waiting rooms. Clydesdale horses would shunt the wagons in the rail yard. 

In the 1870’s the narrow gauge railway system to the north had been spreading inland from Port Wakefield, tapping the agricultural districts at Bowmans, Balaklava, Halbury and Hoyleton. It was inevitable that the railways would join, and in September 1878 work commenced on the construction of a narrow gauge line from Balaklava to Hamley Bridge. In just over one year, the first narrow gauge steam train chuffed into Hamley Bridge, thus creating a break of gauge station on 17 November 1879. 

Transhipping Team
Passenger Overpass Bridge
The railway line from Hamley Bridge to Balaklava was opened on January 15th 1880. When the narrow gauge western system commenced and Hamley Bridge became a junction as well as a break-of-gauge station, Hamley Bridge immediately took on a new importance. This was when the present stone railway station was built and the additional platforms were added. There were five in all. Two platforms were set aside for the exclusive use of the narrow-gauge trains on the Balaklava line. All traffic of the western system had to be handled at Hamley Bridge. There was a transfer shed at the junction, a boiler house and a locomotive depot. A reservoir was built next to the station to supply water to the elevated water tanks for the steam engines. A signal cabin was built at the end of the platforms. The town then rapidly became a railway town. The railways helped support the whole community with the numerous jobs that were required and the town was also supported by a fertile agricultural district. The district expanded, and in its heyday was a business centre much above average for its size. It was the home of several important industries. 

By 1888, there were three daily passenger trains in each direction, passing through Hamley Bridge, here is sample of a timetable:

Adelaide          dep. 7.10am       2.30pm     4.45pm
Hamley Bridge arr.  9.30am       4.45pm     6.55pm
                              to               to            to
                              Pt Augusta B/Hill      Terowie

Hamley Bridge dep. 9.45am     10.55am     6.15pm
Adelaide           arr.  11.58am   11.07pm     8.29pm
                              from         from           from
                              Terowie     B/Hill        Pt Augusta

The Two Railway Bridges

In 1921 the Railway’s Commissioner set out to totally rehabilitate the system, including upgrading tracks, introduction of bigger and heavier locomotives, new rolling stock and equally important the conversion of the western division from narrow to broad gauge. The original Railway Bridge was replaced in 1925 to enable these heavier locomotives. On November 8 1925 the new steel bridge was placed in service and was the highest bridge in the Southern Hemisphere for many decades. 1927 saw the removal of the break-of-gauge, and all lines were converted to the broad-gauge system. The last narrow-gauge train rolled out of the station on July 30, 1927 bound for Balaklava. The narrow-gauge rails were pulled up. With this plus with the depression, Hamley Bridge had a grievous blow.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed reading the articles - good selection of photos

    Rene (Kadina)