State Library and Tasmanian Archives Blog

The Railway Rate, a Riot, and the Railway Hotel at Longford

A black and white photo of a bridge.
Tasmanian Archives: Photograph – Longford Railway Bridge and columns. c.1863 (1863-65), NS1442/1/10

On the 1st March 1874,  a large and rowdy mob marched through the streets of Longford, Northern Tasmania, making a great racket by shouting and banging on instruments made of ‘kerosene tins and marrow-bones.’  The mob stopped in front of the Prince of Wales Hotel, yelling at the landlord Mr Bryant and threatening to smash his windows with stones. The mob was angry because bailiffs were staying at the hotel, and they did not believe that these bailiffs deserved such comforts.  Mr Bryant eventually managed to subdue them, but the mob instead turned their attention to the nearby windows of the sub-collector of the railway rate, William Mason, where they ‘fired a salute at the back windows … and demolished about a dozen squares of glass.’  Still unsatisfied, the mob moved next door to Dr Appleyard’s house, and launched missiles ‘as large as hen’s eggs’ smashing windows and some woodwork. The angry mob then disappeared, it is reported, ‘as if by magic’. 

The catalyst to the extraordinary rock-throwing actions of the rowdy mob was the collapse of the Launceston and Western Railway Company, only three years after the line had officially been opened; but the real salt in the wound for the Longford townsfolk was that the Tasmanian State Government, who had helped finance the Company and later agreed to take over, now demanded that shareholders pay the State for any losses accrued.  The Launceston and Western Railway Company was set up as a joint stock company, with many shareholders in the towns and agricultural areas throughout northern Tasmania, who sought to benefit from the rail.  The Railway Rate (as the repayment came to be known) was collected on two occasions by bailiffs who travelled around in carts (happily referred to as ‘the plague cart’), forcing their way into houses to collect money and seize items that would be sold.  In Longford, two wagon loads of goods per day were sent on by train to the Commissariat Stores in Launceston, where they were to be auctioned.  Horses, carts, tools, and household furniture were amongst the items that were taken.  In the days before the window smashing, in Longford the bailiffs collected from a Mr H. B. Nickolls 2 tons 2 cwt.[hundredweight] of flour (21 bags), and from George Lloyd at the Blenheim Hotel, they took two bags of sugar, two cases of gin, and a case of schnapps. Meanwhile, Dr Appleyard’s windows had been a target of the rowdy mob because he had the audacity to pay the Railway Rate to the bailiffs without complaint, and indeed had been encouraging others to do the same. 

It is little wonder then, that as the bailiffs moved about the town of Longford, they were greeted with shouts of ‘who stole the donkey?” and “bring him a coffin!”  As they passed a group of cricketers, they were enthusiastically met ‘with a loud volley of hisses and groans, and the word of warning was quickly given “Look out for the stumps and bats!”’ 


The agricultural lands around Longford are rich and productive. However, in the mid-1800s there was not much in the way of good infrastructure; roads were unreliable, particularly in the wet months, and fresh produce was not getting to Launceston and its ports quick enough.  In the 1850s, demand for fresh produce grew, thanks to an influx of people to the Victorian Gold Rush.  A railway line was a good way of circumventing these problems; a train line between Deloraine and Launceston would cover the rich farming regions around Perth, Evandale and Longford, and another line (planned for later) running down to Hobart to Launceston would ensure the timely delivery of fresh produce to the mainland. 

And so, in the 1860s, a group of northern business owners formed a Railway Committee and petitioned the State Government to provide permission for the railway to be built and to help finance it.  By 1865 the Tasmanian State Government had agreed, and two years later, the Launceston and Western Railway Company was founded. The first sod was turned in January 1868 in Launceston, by the Duke of Edinburgh.  

Bait for the Iron Horse

The Iron Horse, that gallant steed,
To go must have the means;
His food – although he wants no feed
Of corn, or any beans.
He grazes not, the Iron Grey,
Whom never more did foal;
Nor do you for him store your hay;
His provender is coal.

The surface of this English ground,
Coal measures underlie:
Well-named, for there doth coal abound
In measured quantity.
Which at our present pace, if we
Continue to to consume,
the Horse of Iron starved will be
Long ere the crack of doom.

Of England’s wealth, of England’s might,
Coal is the needful source:
From coal car towns derive their light –
To coal we owe our force.
Yet do we half the world as well
With light and force supply.
For alien cash the coal we sell-
which that cash ne’er should buy.

The Prodigal his candle burnt
At once at either end.
From his example we have learnt,
How fuel to expend
Prosperity’s tremendous blaze
Is fed by coal, no doubt:
And would forthwith, if we could raise
No more of it, go eat.

How long ere all our looms are still,
Our forges cold, each one?
How much yet longer hath, O Mill,
Our Iron Horse to run?
What tons on tons are yearly drawn,
By millions from our store
Of fast decreasing coal, which gone,
That Horse will go no more!

The cost of meat is something dire,
As costly, soon or late,
It may be soon, will grow the fire,
In the domestic grate.
John Bell may have to blow his nell
Ere many winters roll.
Lest food the Iron Horse should fall,
Economise your coal.

Tasmanian Archives: ‘Bait for the iron horse’: Launceston Examiner 3 Sep 1866, p.3.
This poem was originally published in May 1866 the satirical British weekly magazine Punch, or the London Charivari.  Here, the railway is described as a hungry coal-eating iron horse.

The development of the railway was met with great excitement and the expectation of prosperity.  It was hoped that the Railway line would greatly benefit the communities that the train line passed through.  Such was the excitement, that in 1866, well before construction on the railway had even begun, the proprietors of the Northern Hotel in Longford- John and Jane Clarke– were so enthusiastic at the prospect of having the railway line through the town, that they renamed their Northern Hotel the Railway Inn.

A letter formalising the Licencing of the railway hotel.
John Clark formalises the licensing of the ‘Railway Hotel’, 1 December 1866. Tasmanian Archives, Minutes of meetings of the licensing bench: LC365/1/1

Indeed, they were not the only ones in Longford to do so; there was a tussle between the pubs of Longford as to who had the right to the name, the Railway Hotel. In the 1860s Longford was a thriving centre that boasted 24 hotels and inns to quench the thirst of the many farm workers who worked in the surrounding farms.  Records show that it was the Clarkes who officially claimed the name ‘Railway Hotel’ first; however, Mr John Wright, who was building a new hotel in 1866, placed a ‘Railway Hotel’ sign out the front of his new establishment. However, this was not properly licenced, and so Mr Wright was forced to rename his hotel, which was to become the Prince of Wales Hotel; the very one that was in March 1874 to be the target of the stone-throwing mob.

Ironically, however, the Clarke’s Railway Hotel ended up being a significant distance from the railway line itself, and from the Longford station; it was more that 2kms away. Early railway surveys had proposed that at a later stage, a trainline between Hobart and Launceston would eventually be built.  This Main Line Railway would wind it’s way through Longford, connecting with the Launceston and Western Railway to Campbell Town and then on to Hobart. This would have meant that the main Longford Train station would be in the town centre itself, rather than on its outskirts. [See image] 

A map of northern Tasmania, existing railway lines and a proposed railway line are highlighted.
Tasmanian Archives: Plan 7812200 (8290) Parish map for northern Tasmania – showing proposed and existing railway lines – including Longford to Conara Junction, P1330/1/11361 (1872-1946)

However, this proposed line through Longford was not to be; in reality, when the Launceston and Western Railway line was officially opened on the 10th February 1871, the company was already in serious debt. A large amount of money was spent on various engineering endeavours, far more than was anticipated.  At Longford, the bridge across the South Esk River cost £30,000- which is a significant amount of money.  This, coupled with expenses for the construction of carriages, and train engines that were brought out from England, meant that the Launceston and Western Railway Company went well and truly under, and was eventually taken over by the Tasmanian State Government, forming the Launceston and Western Railway Department.

2 old black and white photos of the Longford railway bridge. a man stands beside one of the two white columns at the start of the bridge.
Crowther Library, State Library of Tasmania: Railway bridge, Longford [Tasmania] : [photographer not identified], [between 1871 and 1880]

When it came to surveying the new Main Line Railway in the early 1870s, engineers and planners had learned to avoid building railway bridges over rivers where at all possible. The proposed Main Line track was thereby re-routed away from Longford to avoid having to cross the South Esk River multiple times. It was Western Junction, just to the east of Perth, that ended up being where the Main Line and the Launceston and Western Railways converged. Construction began simultaneously from the northern and southern ends of the Mainline Railway in 1873, and was completed by November 1876.

So where did this leave Longford? It would appear that community enthusiasm for the rail was curtailed somewhat.  Many people, some of whom no doubt participated in the breaking of windows in March 1874, continued to refuse to pay the Railway Rate – otherwise referred to as the ‘tyrannous exactions of the Crowbar Government and an obsequious Parliament’; many were still holding out paying the rate in September 1874.  One of their main grievances was that the Mainline Railway had no financial cost to those communities along the track; in direct contrast, in 1872 the Tasmanian State Government agreed to meet the interest charges on the capital for the Mainline Railway, which further fueled tensions and the angry community reaction to the Railway Rate.

The expected prosperity that the train was thought to bring to Longford and its surrounds was dampened somewhat, and in the paying of the Railway Rate, it could be argued that economic prosperity went backwards slightly. For the public houses and inns of Longford, this meant that they were left to compete with each other for customers, and come up with new strategies to win over the train travellers who would alight away from the heart of the town.  The Blenheim Hotel, for instance, used to offer free transport from the train station to the hotel.  Meanwhile, when it became apparent that the railway line was never going to pass anywhere near the centre of Longford, the Railway Hotel changed its name to the Racecourse Inn, after the Longford racecourse that operated nearby.  This name change is not without irony; a nod to good old reliable, non-iron, hay-eating horse, and a rebuke to the great ‘Iron Horse’ that never arrived.  

An old black and white photo of a motel seen from the road. Text on the hotel reads: "Racecourse Motel"
Jack Thwaites Collection, Tasmanian Archives: Photograph – Longford – Racecourse Hotel (1950), NS3195/2/1962

Further Reading

The Tasmanian Archives holds a significant collection of Tasmanian Railway records.  This includes plans and surveys, photographs, films, and employee records.  It also includes Civil records such as tracks, lines and crossings, and buildings such as stations, yards bridges, and Mechanical records such as drawings of steam engines, diesel engines, carriages, and rolling stock.

For a comprehensive survey of railway records in the Tasmanian Archives, please see our Guide to Records on Tasmanian Railways.

Archival Records, Tasmanian Archives

1867-1904       Launceston and Western Railway Company (NG3081)

1873-1885      Launceston and Western Railway Department (TA244)

1872-1890       Tasmanian Main Line Railway Company (NG1453)

Letter from Mr Boothman expressing satisfaction on James Coulter’s handling of the Launceston & Western railway rate for 1873 (1974), LMSS25-1-18

Ivan Badcock, “Launceston & Western Railway Company Ltd”, notes for a talk to the Tasmanian Family History Society,  (18 Apr 2006), LMSS516/1/1.

Secondary Items

Nick Anchen, Locomotive enginemen of Tasmania (Melbourne : Sierra Publishing, 2016)

Nick Anchen, Railways of Tasmania’s wild west (Ferntree Gully, Vic. : Sierra Publishing, 2014)

Nick Anchen, Tasmanian Railways 1950-2000 (Melbourne : Sierra Publishing, 2020)

Brian R. Chamberlain, The Launceston and Western Railway Company Ltd., 1867-1904 (Launceston, Tas. : Regal Press, [1985?])

Greg Cooper, Grant Goss (compiled by), Tasmanian railways 125 years, 1871-1996 : a pictorial history (Devonport, Tas. : CG Publishing Co., 1996.)

Mark and Angela Fry, On splintered rails : the era of the Tasmanian bush-loco 1873-1974 Volume 1 (Launceston, Tasmania : Mark Fry and Angela Fry, 2017.)

Mark and Angela Fry, On splintered rails : the era of the Tasmanian bush-loco Northwest Coast and Central Coast Volume 2 (Launceston, Tasmania: Mark Fry and Angela Fry, 2020.)

Nic Haygarth, The Norfolk Plains: a history of Longford, Cressy, Perth and Bishopsbourne, Tasmania (Longford, Tasmania : Northern Midlands Council, 2013.)

G. W.Hudson, Old Longford (Longford, [Tasmania] : Norfolk Plains Group of National Trust, 2004.)

Scott Whitaker, Railway hotels of Australia. Volume four, South Australia, Northern Territory, Tasmania and Western Australia (Bowen, Queensland : SRW Publishing, 2019)


  • Dr Alicia Marchant is an archivist for the State Library and Archive Service.

2 thoughts on “The Railway Rate, a Riot, and the Railway Hotel at Longford”

  1. Lisa Hutton says:

    Today I stumbled across a marvellous list of items seized in lieu of payment of the railway rate: Tasmanian Parliamentary Paper No 64 of 1875. It only covers the second half of 1873 so there may be others similar.
    Items seized ranged from bushels of wheat to microscopes – it’s a great read for anyone interested in what a selection of ratepayers of northern Tasmania owned.

  2. Lisa Hutton says:

    Great fun!
    One of my ancestors, Hagley shoemaker John Hutton, was prosecuted in March 1874 for failing to pay the rate (13 shillings in his case).
    A little unfair when it appears that only landowners had been asked for their opinion in the 1865 vote on the project (they were overwhelmingly in favour). The railway rate was also levied on tenants like my gg grandfather who had no goods to send to market – the major argument advanced by the project’s proponents.

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