On 6 June 2012, Dr Ruth Kerr delivered her annual speech on John Kerr’s historiography at the Queensland Day Dinner, hosted by the Royal Historical Society of Queensland.
John Douglas Kerr was an esteemed historian, statistician and writer. He was also renowned for his knowledge of the history of Australian railways.
Dr Ruth Kerr spoke about her late husband’s research and article, The Calooli Creek and Thannae Railway, Tin Can Bay: Queensland’s First Private Railway and First Queensland-built Locomotive, published in November 1970 the article appears in Queensland Heritage, the Library Board of Queensland journal (volume 2, number 3, pages 14–20).
The founder of the railway, William Pettigrew, was born in Ayrshire, Scotland, in 1825 and came to Moreton Bay in 1849. Although a qualified surveyor, William Pettigrew turned his attention to the timber trade and four years later he built the first steam sawmill on the Brisbane River at William Street, Brisbane.
In October 1872 William Pettigrew travelled to Cooloola Creek where he proceeded to locate a suitable terminus and commenced surveying a railway. By January 1873 construction of the railway had started and this private railway ran from Tin Can Bay inlet about nine miles southwards, tapping valuable Kauri pine forest. In a letter to the Governor, dated 5 August 1873, William Pettigrew and Co detailed the work involved with the development of the railway line from Thannae to Tin Can Bay.
The Mary Ann was the first steam locomotive built in Queensland. It was constructed at the John Walker and Co’s Union Foundry in Maryborough. The engine was named after the daughters of William Pettigrew and William Sims who were joint owners of the Pettigrew and Sims Sawmill at Dundathu. The Mary Ann was designed to haul pine logs from the Cooloola forests to Tin Can Bay along the line constructed of wooden rails laid on timber sleepers. The sleepers and rails were milled with a circular saw hauled by the locomotive. On 30 October 1873, after three miles had been constructed, an official opening was held.
A full size replica of the Mary Ann was built as a tourist attraction for the City of Maryborough in 1999 by Wm Olds and Sons Pty Ltd. The replica is operated by volunteers of the Maryborough Whistle Stop Inc on the 3 foot 6 inch gauge Queensland Rail tracks in Queens Park, Maryborough. For more information on the Mary Ann, visit the Olds Engineering website.
Within its collection, Queensland State Archives holds the letter to the Governor from William Pettigrew and Co, dated 5 August 1873, concerning the railway line from Thannae to Tin Can Bay. With the letter William Pettigrew enclosed a photograph of the locomotive engine the Mary Ann. The letter and photograph are available on Image Queensland.
To read John Kerr’s 1970 article The Calooli Creek and Thannae Railway, Tin Can Bay: Queensland’s First Private Railway and First Queensland-built Locomotive visit the University of Queensland website.