Rail section is now two years into an extensive overhaul of A1819, a 1934 steel panelled carriage. This is the first major carriage restoration Rail Section volunteers have undertaken in a long time. The worn out state of the car and the 1980’s graffiti scratched into the wooden panels don’t betray the far more glamorous passengers this car once carried.
Since the beginnings of royalty coming to the shores of New Zealand, the railways, being both the most comfortable and fastest means to travel over land, have featured in transporting royals from town to town. While it is impossible to tell now, the carriage we are now restoring once carried members of the royal family.
Winding back the clock to 1934, it was announced that the Duke of Gloucester was to conduct a tour of the North and South islands and the Railways Department was to provide royal trains for both islands. Being well before the introduction of a rail ferry, the NZR had to put together two full trains without it costing too much. (They were a government department after all).
As part of the regular programme of building carriages, 5 new first class cars were under construction at Addington Workshops. These were to receive the numbers A1819 – 1823. Instead of being fitted out as originally intended, the shells of these cars were used as a quick and cheap way to meet the needs of the royal couple and their staff. The cars became:
A1819 – Royal Dining Car
A1820 – Kitchen Car
A1821 – Dining Car
A1822 – Staff Sleeping Car
A1823 – Staff Car
The cars were all fitted out with temporary partitions made of cheap plywood to provide the interior layout. Our car, A1819, the Royal Dining car, was also equipped with two mahogany stained dining tables, eight dining room chairs, a small serving table, a wine cupboard, and a storeroom. (There is little trace of this layout now. After the royal tour finished, the car returned to Addington workshops in June 1935 where the interior was knocked out and the cars were fitted out as first class cars. This was just a small part of the preparations, many cars were either modified while still under construction, rebuilt or pressed into service as is. )
Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester arrived in Wellington on 15 December 1934. During his time in Wellington, he laid the foundation stone of Wellington station before travelling by rail to Hawke's Bay and then by road through Gisborne and Rotorua to Auckland The rail trip took him over the Rimutaka incline, a well published photo of this survives.
From Auckland the Duke travelled back through Taranaki to his ship in Wellington.
His trip on our car most likely started at Inangahua Junction, with the train travelling through Westport and Greymouth to Ross, before doing an overnight run over the Midland line to arrive in Timaru the following morning. The train then travelled South towards Invercargill before taking the route of the Kingston Flyer up to Queenstown. From here the Duke’s tour travels by road, but possibly finished his trip 5 days later in our car with a ride from Ashburton to Lyttleton via Christchurch to board his steamer.
Little survives of the South Island rail tour these days. No photos of the train survive, only the NZR’s records, newspaper clippings and an itinerary held and published by Archives NZ. Not too long ago, on a Facebook group some photos appeared of drawings done for the North Island and South Island trains. In the world of the old NZR, nothing could exist without at least one drawing having been done of the object, and two have survived. They clearly show our car, one of only two of the twelve cars in the South Island train that the Duke would have travelled in. The drawings also contain a few other gems, there being 715’ 7 3/8” (218m) from the centreline of the engine driver’s seat to the centreline of the lounge door of the royal car. This excluded the Westland section, where the two AB class engines were substituted by two of the older A class engines, making the length 706’ 5 ½” (215m).
From surviving reports the tour went well, with the Duke leaving throngs of enchanted people in his wake with his charm, although one Australian newspaper did complain that the road convoy did travel a lot faster than what the reporter considered safe!
As for our A1819, after its return to Addington workshops to be converted to a 1st class car, it lived a long and uneventful life, being converted to 2nd class before earning a retirement at MOTAT together with its close sister, the former AF1816, whose claim to fame is that it once tried to demolish Auckland’s main signal box. But that, as they say, is a story for another day…
-By Rick Schreuder