In 1872, the Otago Provincial Council ordered two locomotives to operate trains on the newly built Dunedin to Port Chalmers railway, the first line to be built to the new national gauge standard of 3 feet 6 inches. Consulting engineer, Robert Fairlie persuaded the railway to order locomotives of his design. Built at the Vulcan Foundry in England, two locomotives were shipped to New Zealand in kitset form. Arriving at Port Chalmers in August, they were unloaded onto the wharf where they were excitedly assembled. The railway’s No.2 Josephine was assembled first due to it being closer to the end of the wharf, and after two weeks of assembly the double-ended locomotive raised steam on 11th September 1872. After a short test run, Josephine was used to help finish the construction of the line while No. 1 Rose was completed.


At the official opening of the Dunedin to Port Chalmers railway, Rose was given the honour of hauling the first official train. Both locomotives continued in service until the railway was amalgamated into the Government system, becoming class “E”. In 1879 Josephine was used as an assisting locomotive on the hilly, winding section south of Oamaru on the first train to use the newly completed Main Trunk Line between Dunedin and Christchurch. This historic train trip was hauled by a more powerful American built locomotive. There was much discussion over whether Josephine or the new American locomotive should lead but power over sentiment ruled and the American loco lead the train.  Unfortunately, Josephine had to be removed from the train at Palmerston, as the driver had forced her to take too much of the load and the hard-working machine developed mechanical problems. The downside of the Double Fairlie design was double the number of moving parts which were more prone to breakdowns.

Josephine (Flickr)

In 1875 the government placed an order with Avonside Foundry in Bristol for six new Double Fairlie locomotives. Larger and more powerful than Josephine and Rose, the Avonside locomotives proved more successful on the lightly laid lines of the period and were the most successful Double Fairlies to ever operate in NZ.

After quarter of a century chugging around the Dunedin district, Josephine was taken over by the Public Works Department for use in railway construction at various locations. In 1900, the now elderly locomotivewas transferred to the North Island and used in the construction of the North Island Main Trunk Railway before returning to Dunedin for the construction of the Otago Central Railway. In 1917 Josephine was sold to the Otago Iron Rolling Mills Co. as scrap but no one was keen to demolish the old workhorse and when one of the company’s boilers failed Josephine was recommissioned as a temporary steam supply.  It has to be said that both Rose and Josephine had a reputation of being rather unspectacular performers. Rose suffered an accident in 1878 and was withdrawn from service, never to be repaired. It is presumed she was scrapped or disposed of in the manner of the day. All Double Fairlie locos were officially withdrawn by 1906, but they continued to be maintained and used for many years. In 1920 the incompetent Railways Department discovered they were still being used in various locations and they were immediately removed from service and scrapped.


After 1917 Josephine languished at the Otago Iron Rolling Mills yard at Green Island (a Dunedin suburb). She was still there in 1926 when the company had her cosmetically restored, including the fitting of balloon funnels, which the locomotive never had in service. In 1925 Josephine was installed as an exhibit at the New Zealand and South Seas International Exhibition in Dunedin and afterwards was presented to the Otago Early Settlers Association for display at their museum. This is believed to be the first example of railway preservation in New Zealand.

In the 1960s, after decades exposed to the elements on the lawn outside the Early Settlers Museum, Josephine was literally falling to pieces. In 1966 the Evening Star newspaper launched an appeal to raise funds for the historic locomotive to be restored. School children played a major part in the campaign by contributing money they raised through running stalls and various railway focused events. When enough money had been collected, Josephine was restored at Dunedin’s Hillside Railway Workshops and returned to the museum in March 1968 and displayed in the park area next to the museum, where she again deteriorated in the elements.

In the 1970s, finally realizing the old machine was an important relic of Otago’s history, she was cosmetically restored again, this time with correct-style funnels, and placed inside a protective glass room adjoining the museum. She is one of the oldest preserved locomotives in New Zealand, giving way to the older A67, built in 1873, at Dunedin’s, Ocean Beach Railway, and the only surviving provincial Government locomotive. There are no current plans to restore the engine to operational condition. If steam was ever raised and Josephine was able to chug along tracks again, the historic ‘push me-pull me’ would surely be a unique attraction for tourists to the city.

Ceidrik Heward

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