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LAST week marked the 160th anniversary of the opening of the Geelong to Melbourne rail line in June 1857 — the first rail service to be established in country Victoria.
Geelong’s first elected mayor, Dr Alexander Thomson, had been one of the major proponents of establishing the rail service, having introduced a Bill into the Victorian Legislative Council to incorporate the Geelong and Melbourne Company.
Work started on the line in 1853, and in September of that year the Victorian Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe laid the foundation stone at the Geelong station.
When the railway had extended as far as Lara, which was then known as Duck Ponds, excursion trips to the You Yangs were organised to help finance the venture.
The rail line was being built at the height of the gold rush, meaning there was a shortage of labour. In June 1854, the state government hired 100 convicts to work on the project. The convicts were housed in a prison hulk, an old sailing ship that was moored in Corio Bay near Cowie’s Creek.
The line as far as Williamstown was opened on June 25, and a train travelled to Melbourne and back before a celebratory banquet and ball were held at the Geelong railway station.
Unfortunately tragedy struck during the outward journey to Melbourne. Just after the train left Geelong station, Henry Walters, the railway company’s superintendent of locomotives, was fatally injured when he was knocked from the train as it passed under the overpass near the Ocean Child Hotel.
The train stopped briefly and then continued on its journey to Williamstown, arriving just after noon.
When the train returned to Geelong the banquet started, and about 4000 people were said to have been catered for.
The official caterer was a Mr Hooper, from the nearby Terminus Hotel, who provided ham, chicken, tongues, lobster salad, bread, pastry and fruit.
The Geelong to Melbourne rail line was taken over by the Victorian Government in 1860.
This article first appeared on www.geelongadvertiser.com.au
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