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The Riesling Trail Story

 Chapter 1 - Clare gets a Railway
Clare Gets a Railway
Vice-regal Opening of Clare Railway

Railways in South Australia have been used politcally, not only for the obvious purposes of trade and development. The Wakefield Companion to SA History boldly states that (1)

"Much of the (SA) Railways expansion was due to local political pressures, and many lines ... would probably not have been built if subject to rigorous commercial scrutiny" (p. 443)


In addition, since the (country) narrow-gauge lines were cheaper to lay ... they were likely to remain isolated from the wide-gauge lines radiating out of Adelaide for (the much more comfortable) passenger services.

In 1847, South Australia adopted the 4 ft 8 ½ in (1,435 mm) gauge as law.[2]  But the South Australian Railways used broad gauge (5 Ft 3") on its first steam-hauled railway in 1856.

South Australia first adopted narrow gauge in 1867 with its line from Port Wakefield to Hoyleton.[2]

So political were the pressures of railway expansion, that despite the Railway Commissioner recommending standard-gauge line in 1903, South Australia after Federation was "left with the dubious distinction of three main railway gauges" with the associated problems of break-of-gauge.

The Riverton to Clare Railway


In 1857 the 42 km, 5-ft 3"-wide Gawler railway line was built to Gawler station, which was rural at the time, and extended to Roseworthy and Kapunda in 1860.

  • The main (broad gauge) line left the Kapunda branch at Roseworthy and proceeded to Hamley Bridge, Riverton, and to Burra in 1870 for the transport of valuable copper from Burra for export via Port Adelaide.


By 1907 the Kapunda Herald reported "heavy traffic now passing through to the north.... the staff is taxed to its utmost in dealing with the trade."


Adelaide Observer (SA) Sat 28 Jun 1884 Page 30

On Friday morning a large and influential deputation waited upon the Commissioner of Public Works (Hon. T. Playford), to urge the construction of a line of railway from Riverton to Clare.

Mr. E. W. Hawker, M.P., having introduced the deputation, Mr. J. J. Duncan, M.P., said the railway they were advocating would pass through a portion of the district he had the honour of representing in Parliament.

The deputation originally started with the Stanley people, but the electors of Wooroora were happy to second their efforts.

The railway had a history in the past, but as the Commissioner was aware the result of previous deputations had been nil.

Promises had been given that surveys would be made, and he believed five had been, but there the matter rested.

The deputation were therefore anxious that something more should be done, and a permanent survey of the line made between Riverton and Clare.

The Clare Railway
RAILWAY EXTENSION   Tue 5 Jul 1881.jpg

Below: E W Hawker April 1923

(by Hammer & Son)

E W Hawker April 1923 (Hammer & Son).jpe
A RAILWAY FOR CLARE  Fri 13 Mar 1908.jpg


Northern Argus (Clare, SA) Fri 28 Jan 1910 Page 2

The committees appointed at Auburn and Clare to promote the agitation for

the suggested railway from Riverton to Clare have worked assiduously since their appointment, and as a result of their work a public meeting will be held at the Clare Town Hall to-night.

Members of the Ministry, the members of both Houses of State Parliament for the districts of Stanley and Wooroora, and also prospective candidates for those districts at the next general election will be present.

Speakers from Auburn and Clare will put the case for a railway before the

meeting, and it is anticipated that the arguments put forth will be very convincing of the necessity for a railway.

The Parliamentary party will be met at Riverton on the arrival of the first train from the city, and will be driven through the districts adjoining the proposed line of route as far as Watervale by members of the Auburn Committee.

Members of the Clare Committee will meet the party with vehicles at Watervale in the afternoon, and drive them to Clare.

The meeting will be held at the Town Hall in the evening, commencing at 8 o'clock, and on Saturday morning the party will be driven to White Hut, Stanley Flat, and other fertile spots in the surrounding district.

Thus the first move in the direction of securing the railway will be brought about, and the splendid country through which the legislators will be driven will no doubt convince them of the necessity of the proposed line.

The committees in charge of the affair are evidently the right people in the right place, and if a persistent agitation is carried on there is no doubt that the railway will eventually be secured.

The Need of a Railway 15 Oct 1910.jpg
The prospect of having a railway


Observer (Adelaide, SA) Sat 18 Feb 1911 Page 43

WATER VALE, February. 11.—Messrs, Coombe, Anstey, Jamieson, Blacker, M.P.'s, and the Hon. E. Lucas, M.L.C., members of the Royal Commission appointed to enquire into the proposed railway from Riverton to Clare, took evidence at Watervale last night.


Chronicle (Adelaide, SA) Sat 18 Feb 1911  Page 11 

Mr. J. E. Isaacson had a comprehensive map of the southern portion of the district, including the large area of land to the west of Rhynie.

His evidence showed that if the line were built in that direction, connecting with the North line at Riverton, it would earn money almost into Riverton.

Mr. S. Dennison gave the Commission an estimate of the probable receipts from the area around Auburn, together with the possibilities in minor products, and hay growing.

Mr. S. B. Castine (clerk of the Upper Wakefield District Council) gave the revenue for the whole district, and interested the Commission concerning the possibility of a large industry being developed in building stone from Meller's quarry.

The Riverton to Spalding Railway Bill

John Wilson writes: ("Riesling Railway")

Sir Richard Butler was determined to have a railway built to Clare, having already achieved parliamentary authorisation to build a collection of railways into his own electorate of Barossa.

  • The Railway lines to Truro, Mount Pleasant, and Sedan were three notable “dud railways” that never paid their way.

    • The Clare Valley was already served by existing lines to the east and west, so that any line to Clare would generate little extra revenue for the Railways Department.

    • There was potential for new revenue by the opening up of pastoral lands north of Clare, for grain production, and thus accordingly was the basis of a railway to Clare, and thence towards Spalding.

  • One of the amazing alternatives considered by Parliament was a zig-zag route connecting Clare, Spalding, Booborowie, and Canowie.

The Parliamentary Bill was for a railway terminating short of Spalding (without a bridge into town).

Parliament extended the line at both ends by deviating the route via Rhynie, and extending the terminus into Spalding.

The immediate beneficiary of this railway was Sir Richard’s son, who won the seat of Wooroora (Watervale to Balaklava) in the next State election.

National Railway Museum map SA Railways.

The Riverton - Spalding Railway


Northern Argus (Clare, SA) Fri 19 Apr 1912  Page 2

The Northern Railways Commission met at Parliament House on Friday morning to take evidence on the proposal to construct a railway to Clare and Spalding.

There were present Mr. E.H. Coombe (chairman), Hon. E. Lucas, M.L.C., and Messrs. E. Anstey, M.P., R. P. Blundell, M.P., G. Ritchie, M.P., and W. Jamieson, M.P.

The Railways Commisioner (Mr. A. B. Moncrieff), in answer to the chairman, said he had gone carefully into the claims of Spalding and Booberowie for the construction of a railway, and whether the starting point should be Riverton or Saddleworth.

Liberal Candidates 26 Jan 1912.jpg

Clare's Prospects

Northern Argus (Clare, SA) Fri 22 Nov 1912 Page 2 THE CLARE TOWN HALL

The prospect of having a railway has awakened the spirit of progress and advancement in Clare; this is noticeable in

  • the alterations and improvements in a number of business establishments,

  • in the new buildings that have been and are being erected in the town, and

  • in schemes for improvements to public buildings and grounds.

It is pleasing to know that the townspeople generally are awake to their responsibilities, and we have no desire to dampen their ardor in this direction.


Any scheme, however, which has for its aim the expenditure of a large amount of ratepayers' money should, we think, be entered upon with a spirit of caution. Inflated ideas of

  • the influx of population and

  • added importance of the town when the railway becomes an accomplished fact,

  • should not be allowed to interfere with the judgment of ratepayers,

  • nor prevent them from taking a common-sense view of what is required for the town...

Pioneer W G Lewcock

Northern Argus (Clare, SA) Fri 7 Feb 1913 Page 3


To the Editor.

Sir — If an additional argument were needed in support of our long hoped for

railway it could be supplied by traveling on the road from Clare to Farrell's Flat. The road is completely ruined with the season's wheat carting.

The teamsters assure me that it is worse than a fallow field. Readers may judge for themselves from the fact that it takes a team of eleven horses to take a load of wheat to the Flat.

It will be impossible to obtain sufficient funds to put the road into decent repair for the winter, or even for next harvest.

Many private assurances have been given that the Riverton to Spalding line shall be constructed, but it is a bit disturbing to find that the work is not included with those specified in the Premier's loan scheme.

The cultivation of the Hill River land has accentuated the question, and there is no doubt but that, to a man, the farmers there would be prepared to sign a guarantee if required.

Meantime the Farrell's Flat road is a desperate problem, and no opportunity should be missed to urge the early introduction of the Bill, and the speedy construction of the line.

I am, sir, &c.


(who else but Councillor Lewcock? Read more)

Pioneer W G Lewcock
W G B Lewcock, Clare_edited.jpg

Left: W. G. Lewcock, nurseryman

Clare Nurseryman W G Lewcock, long term Councillor with Clare, and also Mayor, had about 80 very productive acres by the Farrell Flat Road from Clare where he conducted a much-admired orchard and vinyard, named Hartley Springs.

  • It was in connection with the Clare railway, however, that he did his best work, and W G Lewcock has been styled "the father of the railway."
    Read more on this page

  • It was his persistency in pushing the movement amongst the residents of the town and district (who looked upon the effort to obtain a line as a forlorn hope) that finally assisted to bring the proposal to a successful issue, and there was no prouder man than he when the railway was opened.

  • He was especially thanked for his pioneering work at the Opening of the Clare Railway.

A Royal Commission examined the Clare Railway proposal and determined that a branch-line to Clare would not generate revenue sufficient to cover costs,

  • but extending the line further north towards Spalding would facilitate closer settlement of the pastoral estates,

  • which would in turn generate more revenue;

  • the Riverton to Spalding Railway Act was passed on Fri 5 Dec 1913


"The crowning point is, the Legislative Council has passed the third reading of our Railway Bill, Riverton via Clare to Spalding, certainly a red letter day in the history of our beloved town."

Below: Clare Railway trains from "The Riesling Railway" by John WIlson (2018)

The History of the Railway Branch-Line b
Clare Railway Station part 1
Clare Railway Station Saga - Part 1Read more at Chapter 3
Clare Railway route 2 Apr 1915.jpg
Clare Railway Station Site 26 Feb 1915.j
Clare Railway Station Site 23 Apr 1915.j
Veteran Railway Contractor


History of Tenders.

The Journal (Adelaide, SA) Tue 17 Aug 1920  Page 1

Referring to the matter of the completion of the (narrow gauge) Clare to Spalding Railway, the Premier (Hon. H. N. Barwell)* said on Tuesday morning that the position with regard to the letting of a contract to Mr. Baxter for the plate laying and ballasting on the line was as follows:

—Tenders were called and -the following were received —

  • George Baxter, £44,258;

  • Brennan and Stacey, £40,320;

  • departmental tender. £39,674.

The departmental tender was put in for checking purposes, it being against the policy of the Government to carry out such works departmentally where satisfactory arrangements could be made for doing the work by contract.

  • No tender was accepted; Mr. Baxter's was considered too high.

  • The acceptance of Messrs. Brennan & Stacy's tender was not recommended for reasons which, in the opinion of the Government, made acceptance undesirable.

    • Mr R I Jennings in his biography of W A Webb, noted that Parliament was aware that:
      "huge profits (were) made by some constructing contractors... Two enterprising and notorious contractors ... particularly irked the Railways Committee for their brazen profiteering."

    • The Commonwealth Government had not been so gullible. They built the Transcontinental line for £1,000,000 less than the contractors offered".
      R. I. Jennings, "W. A. Webb, South Australian Railways Commissioner, 1922-1930 "(Adel, 1973), page 32.

Mr. Baxter was informed that his tender was too high, and he thereupon made a fresh offer to do the work for £41,381.

A few days later a letter was received from Mr. Baxter stating, that, as a result of the increase in the basic wage, he was unable to proceed with the work for the amount of the tender.

  • He made a further offer to do the work for £45,869.

A fresh departmental estimate was prepared in view of the increase in the basic wage. This amounted to £46,402.

This last offer by Mr. Baxter was accepted.

He had now, however, after having been summoned to the Industrial Court (where, an award of 14/ a day minimum was made against him), intimated to the Government that be could not proceed with the work at the contract price.

The Government would at once consider whether, in the circumstances, the work should now be proceeded with departmentally.

* In 1902, Barwell married Anne Webb in Clare, South Australia and together they had one son and three daughters.

Barwell's decisiveness during his premiership was illustrated when he addressed the state of the South Australian Railways, which by 1922 had decayed to the point of imminent total collapse, endangering state finances.[3]

He forced the funding of a £5 million rehabilitation program through parliament and recruited a brilliant American railroad executive, William Alfred Webb, to lead it. He strongly supported Webb in applying business operating principles to the railways' operations.

Veteran Railway Contractor 4 Jul 1923 -2
Veteran Railway Contractor 4 Jul 1923 -1
Who was Mr Baxter?

The Register (Adelaide, SA) Wed 4 Jul 1923 Page 9


Mr. Abraham Baxter estimated that in all his undertakings, (in NSW, Victoria, and South Australia, including construction of the mine at Broken Hill)


Recently Mr. Baxter was associated with his son George, of Adelaide, in the making of the new tunnel at Sleep's Hill (An Adelaide Engineering Feat 1879 – 1914).

Incidentally it may be stated that Mr. George Baxter has latterly had control of works for his father.

His deceased father (Abraham Baxter, pictured left) was interested in brick works at South Yarra, a slate quarry at PercydaJe, and lime works at Curdie River (all in Victoria), as well as a coal mine in New South Wales.

When Lord Brassey, who was known to Mr. Baxter as a boy, made his trip to Australia in The Sunbeam, Lady Brassey and the family were taken to Broken Hill by Mr. Baxter by train (to view the mine he built), and then proceeded to Melbourne, whither The Sunbeam had gone previously.

Mr. Baxter subsequently spent a week with his wife on the boat as the guests of Lord and Lady Brassey, and when Lord Brassey was Governor of Victoria he and his old friend Abraham Baxter often met.


Below: The Sunbeam, a British luxury yacht launched in 1874, for Lord Brassey, later Governor of Victoria.

Mr Baxter, contractor
Clare Railway Station yard.png
History of Tenders
The Sunbeam around the world
Lady Brassey & The Sunbeam

From the blog of the Australian National Maritime Museum:

On Monday 4 July 1887, an elegant steam yacht glided into the waters of Sydney Harbour, having left England the year before.

The harbour was alive. Its breezes filled the sails of hundreds of yachts that had turned out in welcome and rustled along the shoreline where a lively atmosphere sprang from the large crowds who had been anticipating the yacht’s arrival for days.

Onboard was Lord Thomas Brassey, future governor of Victoria and founder of the volunteer naval reserves.

Despite Lord Brassey’s stature, however, the adoration of the Sydney crowd belonged to his wife, the celebrated travel writer Lady Annie Brassey, and to the vessel itself.

Anna "Annie" Brassey, Baroness Brassey was an English traveller and writer.

The yacht was the Sunbeam and it had already carried the Brasseys over many sea miles, having completed, a decade earlier, the first circum-navigation of the world by a private steam yacht.

Australians and international audiences alike had followed this historic journey through Lady Brassey’s best-selling book, A Voyage in the Sunbeam (1878), which was published in nine editions and seventeen languages.

The success of the book had taken its author by surprise and encouraged her to publish three more accounts of the family’s adventures onboard the much-loved Sunbeam.

Sir Thomas Brassey.jpg
Construction Economies
Broughton River Rail Bridge rt19726-2237
Construction Economies

John Wilson wrote: "The line was built with economies that doomed it to inefficient operation.

  • There were tight curves (15 chains (990 ft; 300 m) radius north of Clare),

  • 1:60 grades,

  • second-hand 60 lb (27 kg) rails, and

  • reinforced concrete bridges that were designed for light axle loading".


The major bridge over the Broughton River, just south of Spalding, still stands, and in 1993 it was heritage listed.

  • The contract drawing is signed by Joseph Moncrieff.

  • Its 5-arch design was, by engineering standards, more than a decade obsolete when the contract was signed in 1918.

When larger locomotives were introduced on the South Australian Railways in 1926, the Spalding line and bridge was unable to carry their greater weight.


Chronicle (Adelaide, SA) Sat 13 Jul 1918  Page 13

The first section of the Riverton to Spalding railway was opened at Clare on Thursday by the Governor.

  • There were two trains on the day, one for His Excellency, The Governor, Sir Henry Galway, the other for children and other such members of the public.

  • A large official party, including the Premier and all the Ministers, went up by special train on Thursday morning, reaching Clare shortly after noon, and the ceremony was performed on arrival.

  • Free train rides to Clare were provided for children on the route of the line, and the children at Clare were also given a ride.


The Riverton-Spalding railway was authorised under on Act of 1913.

  • Contracts were let for the construction of the line between Riverton and Clare in three sections, and

  • the work was carried out by Mr. George Baxter, except for a portion done departmentally by the Chief Engineer for Railways.

Boy Scouts who formed a guard of honour
Clare railway - first day of construction
Labor News Riverton Clare Railway 20 May
Proposed opening of Riverton to Clare Ra

The length of the line opened that day was 28 miles 5 chains, and it cost £252,300.

  • It is estimated that the total cost would amount to £286,300 when completed.

  • The ruling gradient of the line is 1 in 60, and the sharpest curve is of 20 chains radius.

  • The earthworks were fairly heavy, there being a large number of rock cuttings.

  • The only waterways of any importance which were crossed were Pine Creek (four 20-ft. spans), and near Auburn, where Rice's Creek is crossed, on ten 10 ft. openings, and the Wakefield River by six 30-ft. spans.

  • Three public road crossings are carried underneath the railway and one over the railway by a bridge, and there are a number of level crossings.


A reservoir was constructed near Clare to meet railway requirements.

  • Passenger stations, goods sheds, etc., have also been provided at Auburn, Watervale, and Clare respectively, and two 15,000-gallon overhead tanks at the Clare station.

  • Waiting and goods sheds were provided at Rhynie, Undalya, and Sevenhills.

  • The length of line from 28 miles 5 chains (near Clare) to Spalding still to be constructed will be 24 miles 8 chains, and

  • a contract has been let to Mr. D. J. McClelland for the earthworks for a length of 22 miles 2 chains to a point on the Clare side of the River Broughton.

Ceremony at Clare.

After a night of soaking rain, delightfully clear and sunny weather prevailed for the opening, and it was regarded as a happy omen by many people that the ceremony had coincided with the great national festival of the United States at a time when admiration of what America is doing to assist the cause of the Allies is so much in the public mind.

  • The town of Clare made holiday, and was thronged with people from all parts of the district.

  • From one end of the main street to the other the roadway was overhung with bunting, the Stars and Stripes having a prominent place among the other patriotic emblems.

Visitors to Clare for the opening of the Railway
First Train Journey 5 Jul 1918
Clare Railway Station 11 Aug 1917.jpg
Clare to Spalding Railway 6 Jan 1922.jpg

The path leading from the railway terminus to the centre of the town was also be-flagged, and the station itself was bright with color.

  • A loyal and hearty welcome was awaiting his Excellency, who was met on arrival by the Mayor of Clare (Mr. G .J. Harmer) and members of the town council.

  • Sir Henry Galway, who was attended by his private secretary (Mr. Legh Winser), inspected the guard of honor provided by the district Scouts, under Scoutmaster the Rev. H. Hopton.

  • Hundreds of school children from Clare, Sevenhills, Penwortham, Watervale, Armagh, Stanley Flat, Auburn, Rhynie, and Undalya, were drawn up near the platform, with Mr. C.F. Johncock, the Clare head teacher, in charge.

  • There was a large crowd in the station yard, and hundreds viewed the proceedings from the top and sides of a high cutting, which formed a sort of natural amphitheatre close to the main platform.

  • Most of the visitors from down the line had arrived by a special train with 10 coaches from Riverton, in which even standing room was at a premium.

  • Among those who travelled by the official special train from Adelaide were the Premier (Hon. A. H. Peake, M.P., Member for Alexandra,) and the other members of the Ministry, the leader of the Opposition (Mr. J. Gunn M.P.), members of both branches of the Legislature, the Mayor of Adelaide (Mr. Glover), the Railways Commissioner (Mr. T. McGuire), and other officers of the department.


The children began the ceremony with "The Song of Australia" and "God bless our splendid men." 

  • The Minister of Railways (Sir Richard Butler) invited the Governor to open the line.

  • Ribbons of blue and old gold were held across the rails by his Excellency and Mr. W. B. G. Lewcock, a veteran identity of Clare, who is popularly spoken of as "the father of the railway," the successful agitation for which he initiated some years ago.

  • Cheers were given as a decorated engine, on the front of which the Royal Coat of Arms was emblazoned, steamed up and severed the silken barrier.

Importance of Transport Facilities.

The Governor, in congratulating the district upon at last having obtained connection with the capital by the iron road, said the ceremony of opening a new line is always an occasion of pride and rejoicing, and one that gives rise to the most legitimate hopes of further development and of increased prosperity.

To-day such a ceremony seems to have a fresh significance. We have, of course, always known the importance of transport facilities, but never before has the public at large had so striking an object lesson in the matter as in the war now raging.

We know that the mother country has suffered from shortage of food, while here bags of wheat are stacked sky high, but we realise with sorrowful impatience that no amount of wealth here can benefit them there unless we are assured of safe and adequate means of transport.

This burning question is being rapidly settled. We have confidence, that the increase of shipbuilding on the one hand, and on the other the increasing destruction of the submarine, will, before long, re-establish the safety of our sea route. (Cheers.)...


His Excellency then formally declared the line open.

Opening of Clare Railway edited.png
Clare and Spalding Railway Line 13 Jan,

The Attorney-General, in moving a vote of thanks, said the completion of the line marked another step forward for South Australia.

The country through which it ran was prosperous at any time, and

  • its future possibilities in the way of production were indeed great.

  • It was an ideal part of the State for closer settlement, and

  • with railway facilities there should be a marked increase in population along the line.

  • An increase of productivity was necessary in every part of the Commonwealth if they were to make up for the losses due to the war.


Mr. R. D. Nicholls (Mr. Barwell's colleague as member for the district), who has also been a strong advocate of the line, seconded tho motion, which was carried.

Cheers were given for the King, the Governor, and Lady Galway, the new railway and the men of the A.I.F.

A formal address of welcome and loyalty was presented to his Excellency by the Mayor of Clare (Mr. G .J. Harmer) from the residents of the town and the districts of Clare, Upper Wakefield, Rhynie, and Gilbert.

Keep reading:


  1. Prest W. ed. (2000) The Wakefield Companion to South Australian History, Wakefield Press, Adelaide.

  2. Wikipedia - Rail gauge in Australia


In this series:

The Story of Clare's Riesling Trail


Chapter 1: Clare gets a Railway

Chapter 2: Clare to Spalding Line

Chapter 3: Clare Railway Station saga

Chapter 4. Clare Railway declines

Chapter 5: Riesling Trail Planning & Building



Joseph Knappstein | Clare Museum

The 1890’s saw a wine boom in Australia.

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