Melbourne was neither the biggest nor the oldest city in the Australian colonies in 1854. Yet on 12. September of that year the inhabitants gathered to watch cutting edge technology in their town. The opening of the first railway line in Australia.
Let’s take a closer look why modern transportation made its way to that small settlement at the far end of the world a mere 20 years after its foundation.
Victorian Gold Rush
In 1851 Melbourne became the capital of the colony of Victoria after the territory was separated from New South Wales.
But this was only the beginning of staggering dynamics. Gold was found in Victoria in 1851!
More and more people started to come to Melbourne to make their fortune on the gold fields of Ballarat and Bendigo.
Melbourne is located near the mouth of the shallow Yarra River. Sea going ships could only berth at the port facilities in Williamstown. Soon after the gold rush it was no longer big enough to handle the traffic and a new port developed at Sandridge 4 km south of the center of Melbourne.
From both ports boat services ran up and down the river to transport passengers and goods to the city.
The Melbourne and Hobson’s Bay Railway Company was founded in 1853 to provide direct and cheap transport service from the new port at Sandridge to the city.
The route was surveyed and engines ordered in England from the prestigious, first ever engine company of Stephenson.
Shipments were delayed however and a local Melbourne firm was given the contract to build the first engine for the new railway. This piece of 19th century high-tech was built at the far end of the world by what we would consider a start-up company today.
The line was opened on 12. September 1854. The Melbourne-built engine pulled the train along the 4.5 km long track to the new railway pier at Sandridge in 10 minutes. Dignitaries from Melbourne and the colony of Victoria were among the first passengers as well as a regimental band.
From there on, the Sandridge line was a commercial success and helped in the tremendous growth of Melbourne during the boom period of the gold rush.
The Sandridge Line today
Although 160 years have passed since the first train rolled to Sandridge, a lot of the route is still relevant today.
The site of the city terminus station soon developed into one of the busiest train stations in Melbourne, the iconic Flinders Street Station.
The bridge across the Yarra, was improved to double track after only 4 years to keep up with the rail traffic. The current Sandridge Bridge is the third bridge on that site and now is a pedestrian-only bridge.
The Sandridge line itself was converted to a tram line in 1987. Tram 109 now connects the city with the suburb of Port Melbourne, as Sandridge is called today.
The railway pier, now called Station Pier, is Melbourne’s cruise terminal and as the terminal for the car and passenger ferry to Tasmania.
Museum Victoria provides an interesting leaflet you can use to explore the route along the Sandridge railway trail. It provides good guidance and interesting background information as well.
While the Sandridge line was important for the development of Melbourne during the boom years, today Melbournians can take the tram to the beach in just 10 minutes. This might be one of the reasons, the city is consistently among those with the highest quality of life around the world.