Thursday, August 13, 2009

New Zealand Railway advice books

Back in June, the Pt Chevalier History Group held their meeting at the Walsh Memorial Library in MOTAT, Western Springs. During a talk given by one of the librarians there, mention was made of railway advice books held at the library. These are collections of carbon-copied memos from NZR’s administration to the various stations along the line. The library hold books from 1911 to 1939; they’re not complete (the really interesting one for 1918-1919, covering the influenza pandemic, isn’t there) but what they do hold is fascinating. Even if you’re not someone intrigued by rail history. I am intrigued by said history, so I went in today (free entry this month to Auckland City residents), sat down, and browsed.

Here are some snippets from the first two volumes.

18 January 1912

Concerns were expressed over children over the age of 3 years not being given “proper tickets.” The booking clerks were ordered to ask the age of children when issuing ½ tickets.

31 January 1912

Advance agents for Wirth Bros. Circus were supplied with a free bogie van for conveying their posters, bills, and posting-of-bills tools. When required, the van would be shunted off. This wasn’t a oncer – I saw two further instances, at least, where NZR helped out Wirth Bros. and other performing artists.

3 February 1912

NZR said that porters who worked regularly for any portion of the day as assistant shunters may be supplied with “Wide-Awake Hats”, on application for same.

The carriage of bananas was classified; a bunch to be charged at the same rate as if packed in cases, namely class “D”.

2 March 1912

Ladders, according to the memo, may be charged as class “A”, when this was cheaper than “K”.

11 April 1912

Looking at the books was like stepping back to the early 20th century era of regimented government bureaucracy. It all made sense though, I suppose. For one thing, losing track (excuse the pun) of your clocks was a serious thing. All clocks had to be labelled on the back as to the name of the station on which wall they were hung. If there was more than one clock in the station, then the label had to include the position as well; “Booking Office,” “Luggage Room,” etc.

23 April 1912

A parcel of second single tickets, for Newmarket to Remuera, 500 of them, went missing. The memo advised their serial numbers, and warned sternly of the measures that should be taken if the tickets were found in the wrong hands.

2 May 1912

First notation spotted regarding the issuing of footwarmers to stations at Taumarunui, Rotorua (an increase to 60 each), and 210 to Auckland. This appeared to be a regular thing – a memo at the beginning of winter telling the stations to get out the footwarmers, and a memo at the end telling them to put them away again.

30 October 1912

Carrying fresh fruit on the railway seemed to be a permanent issue. This is the memo from October 1912 – many more in a similar vein are sprinkled throughout the books.

“The attention of all concerned is directed to the Instruction (Appendix 58) in regard to the conveyance of fresh fruit. The fruit season will soon begin, and it is desirous that every care will be taken to obviate damage by careful handling of fruit in transit by rail, more especially to soft fruits such as strawberries, cherries &c. Most of the crates containing strawberries have a strong rope handle around them for the purpose of lifting and it is hoped that staff will bear this in mind and not dump crates down, but deal with them in a more careful manner. Stationmasters and Goods Agents will please take careful notice and report at once to this office every case of carelessness.”

8 January 1913

“Conveyance of Bodies of Deceased Natives.

“The conveyance of the bodies of natives some time deceased has caused complaint, and in the interests of Public Health stationmasters and others must refuse to accept such corpses unless enclosed in a properly hermetically sealed zinc-lined coffin.

“This instruction will not, of course, apply to corpses in a reasonable state of preservation.”

13 February 1913

Railway stationmasters used chloride of lime as a disinfectant, until Newmarket station reported that the stocks had run out. The staff were ordered to use carbolic powder instead.

23 May 1913

In the days before Accident Compo and the department of Occupational Safety and Health – if you worked on the railways and had a bad mishap (but, I gather, it wasn’t serious enough to merit immediate rushing to a hospital), you were allowed four hours off before deduction from your wages if the doctor was some distance away, or an hour if the nearest doctor lived close to the station, workshop, or wherever the accident occurred.

15 July 1913

During a smallpox epidemic, Maori and half-caste passengers needed to produce a certificate from the local health officer before being permitted to travel on NZ Rail.

9 August 1913

The destruction of the Palmerston North railway station gasworks meant that there was a call for conservation of gas used in railcars to the “smallest possible limit.”

It seems that about 5 days earlier, the storage shed used for storing cylinders of gas suddenly went boom, consuming 1500 cubic feet of gas, blowing the gas engineer James Gatfield clear out of the door, burning an arm and his face. (Poverty Bay Herald, 5 August 1913)

2 November 1914

The head office having become sick and tired about being mulcted by claims of lost dogs on the railways, ordered that any dog carried on the rails had to either be confined to a cage or container, or thoroughly leashed and secured.

13 January 1915

The war was on, and stocks of new NZR buttons from Britain had dried up due to the Home Country being just that bit more concerned about their own supplies at that time. So, NZR administration ordered stationmasters to forward as many collected buttons from cast off uniforms as they could. It didn’t matter how tarnished they were – head office intended to have them re-lacquered for re-use on new uniforms.

The fanciful image came to mind of NZ stationmasters hoarding up old buttons before this directive came out …

13 March 1915

Towels supplied for lavatories were being frequently found “in the possession of unauthorised persons … any person found in possession of one of these towels and using it for a purpose other than that for which it was intended, full particulars should be reported to this office.”

Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent would have been dobbed in for sure …


  1. Any word on the ticket price for the "conveyance of bodies of deceased natives"? Perhaps it was on a sliding scale proportionate to decomposition...

    from another person who enjoys railway history but who hadn't heard of railway advice books, but who on a moment's reflection just knows they had to exist!

  2. Cheers, Kuaka. Same here -- I hadn't heard of them before either, but yes, their existence does make perfect sense in a regimented time. I'll see about heading back into the Walsh Memorial Library in a wee while to have a look at another lot, I think. While the free entry offer holds, if I can.