Notes of an Excursion to the Blue Mountains and the Great Zig-Zag.
The material reproduced below is the content of a small booklet (anonymous) describing a visit to the Blue Mountains and the Great Zig Zag at Lithgow in May 1869, shortly before the railway was opened to Bowenfels (October 19, 1869. If you can set your computer to read the text aloud, the effect will be greater than just reading it yourself.
I have tried to correct all the errors introduced by converting the files from pdf to Word, but I have probably missed a few.
The writer had an opportunity recently of paying a visit, under very favourable circumstances, to the imposing scenery of the Great Barrier range which divides the seaboard of New South Wales from the western interior, and the following jottings are intended not only as a memento of a most agreeable trip, but as recording some particulars of the greatest work in railway engineering which has yet been attempted in these colonies. The excursionists were a party of Victorians then on a visit to the sister colony on public business. The public men of the city were lavishing their hospitalities on the Victorian visitors, and amongst the invitations which the latter received was one from the Hon. the Commissioner of Public Works for an excursion by special train to the far-famed zig-zag and the scenery of the Blue Mountains. The day which had been fixed for the event was preceded by a week’s continuous rain, and the flood which it occasioned in the valleys of the Nepean and Hawkesbury, as well as the injury done to several public works, suggested as a matter of prudence the postponement of the intention for a couple of days. This change we had no reason to regret. The rains had ceased, and a genial sunny day, with just a little crispness in the mountain air, contributed in the utmost degree to our enjoyment. Our start from the Redfern Station, at Sydney, was made at eight a.m. The party consisted of ten Victorians, accompanied by the Hon. the Treasurer and some other well-known citizens of Sydney. The train was composed of a lone saloon carriage, and merely a guard’s box. with breaks. The saloon carriage was fitted with wheels on the Bogie principle, to adapt it to the sharp curves which are met with in the mountains. These carriages are of lighter build than those on the Victorian lines, and the amplitude of glass on either side affords every facility for seeing the country right and left of the railway. The first few miles out of Sydney are not particularly interesting. The country is slightly undulating, with belts of timber here and there, and' occasionally a substantial country residence or a fertile patch under cultivation. The line as far as Parramatta (fourteen miles) has been open for some fourteen years, and thus far one line serves for both the Western and Southern Railways, the Parramatta station forming the junction ; there is also a branch northerly to Windsor and Richmond. Pursuing the course of the Great Western line, the next station of any importance is that of Penrith, about twenty miles distant. The larger portion of the line for this distance was constructed by Messrs. Peto, Brassey and Betts, and the last section was completed about seven years ago. The scenery improves after leaving Parramatta station. The town of Parramatta, as seen from the railway, is remarkably pretty, and the valley of the Parramatta River above the town has a fertile and English look about it. Travellers always look out for the avenue of oaks—the oldest in the colonies—in the “ domain,” once the gubernatorial residence of Sir Charles Fitzroy, and memorable for the grievous accident which deprived Sir Charles of an affectionate helpmeet, and the colony of a most estimable lady. The sad occurrence arose from the horses in His Excellency’s carriage becoming unmanageable, and bolting. At a short distance beyond Parramatta a succession of orange groves are passed, lying in immediate proximity to the line, so that at this season the traveller enjoys the sight of acres upon acres of these beautiful trees, the rich deep green of their shining leaves contrasting finely with the golden fruit with which they are laden. There are no engineering difficulties between Sydney and Penrith. Beyond that point that the line becomes interesting in its engineering aspect. The town of Penrith has evidently sprung into existence from its becoming the halting-place of the numerous drays and wagons travelling into the interior. Here they rested before making the ascent of the Blue Mountains, or after having on their return trip accomplished the descent. At this point, then, commences that portion of the railway works which are certainly the most remarkable of any in the Australian colonies. From the Penrith station the line runs direct towards the ascent of the Blue Mountains, but it has to cross the River Nepean and the Emu Plains in its way. Our train pulled up at the river to enable us to descend, and view the works of the great viaduct across it. This magnificent bridge is of the iron tubular kind, the girders resting upon four massive piers of freestone, of a bright yellow, but about 180ft. apart. The base of the two centre piers in the bed of the river is about 60ft. by 18ft., tapering upwards. When visited by our party, the contractors were engaged in fixing large iron cylinders at the west end of the bridge, which are to serve instead of stone piers, and to carry another girder of 125ft. span, in the place of the timber approaches hitherto used. The bridge has cost already over £100,000. Both it and its approaches for a long distance had to be carried to some 40ft. above the water level on account of the destructive floods which sweep down this valley, one of which was only subsiding when we visited it. As there is no other way of crossing this valley, the bridge carries the cart road as well as the railroad. Across the Emu Plains the line is carried over embankments and timber viaducts until it commences the ascent of the mountains at a gradient of one in thirty. It would be impossible to take the line up the face of the hill without a considerable detour, in doing which it crosses a precipitous gully called Knapsack Gully, spanned by an enormous viaduct built of light freestone. This viaduct is nearly 400 feet in length. It has five openings of 50ft. span, besides smaller ones, and its height above the bed of the gully is more than 120 ft. It is a very handsome structure as seen from the incline and the plains below it. One peculiarity of it is, that the top of the viaduct is inclined, like the rest of the road, at a gradient of 1 in 30. At a short distance beyond this viaduct the train arrives at the first reversing station—that is to say, after coming to a dead stop, the train is pushed backwards up another steep incline, overhanging the line which has just been ascended; and at the end of a mile there is another dead stop, and then the engine goes forward in the opposite direction up another ascent, from which you look down over the other two portions of the “ zig-zag” with a thrill of wonder and amazement, mingled with awe. On goes the iron horse, however, clambering up the face of the mountain, and presently you come upon the track of the Main Western-road, laid out by Sir Thos. Mitchell, an old inn, known as Wascoe’s, being on the side of both road and railway. From near this point you get a fine view of the valley of the Nepean, lying 700ft. below, and the country stretching far away to the north and south. The course of the railway is now along the mountain ridges, but still ascending at the rate generally of from 1 in 30 to 1 in 40, with perpetual curves, some of which are very sharp—eight chains radius. There are numerous cuttings through hard sandstone rock, and some rather heavy embankments. An idea may be formed of them from the fact that several of the cuttings involved the removal of over 30,000 yards of stone, and one was over 50,000 yards. Beyond Wascoe’s we came to several stations, including the Blue Mountain Inn, the Weatherboard, Blackheath, and ultimately to Mount Victoria, which is the present terminus, and which is distant seventy-six miles from Sydney. A t this point the line is about 3000 ft. above the level of Sydney Harbour. Thus much it has been thought necessary to say about the railway and its construction, but it must not be supposed that the forty miles or so between Penrith and Mount Victoria were passed over by our party of Victorians in merely jotting down in a matter of fact way such notes as these. From Wascoe’s for a few miles it is true that there was nothing in the scenery to attract very particular notice, and time was therefore found for becoming better acquainted with a plethoric hamper, which stood by one of the doors of the carriage, and which was found to be of so generous a nature that it improved on acquaintance immensely. This agreeable intercourse, however, was soon broken in upon by several loud exclamations, and a rush to the windows followed, whereupon ensued a complete chorus of similar cries. The occasion was a passing glimpse of a mountain gorge, stretching away for many a mile clothed with impenetrable forest, over which the eye travelled with eager delight, but before the field glasses could be well brought to bear upon the view a mural rock would interpose between us and the prospect. After the first glimpse, however, others followed in rapid succession, as the road wound about in serpentine fashion along the mountain ridges. The curves are so sharp that we seemed to be frequently running abreast of points in the line which we had passed a few minutes previously. All the mountain scenery and the glens and gorges that are passed to within a short distance of the Weatherboard are similar to what may be seen in most Australian ranges but at this point commences that striking and wonderful scenery which is peculiar to the Blue Mountains. On catching the first glimpse of the great Weatherboard valley (where the famous “ Weatherboard Falls” are to be seen) there was a more eager rush than before to the carriage windows, and the notes of admiration would have to be multiplied exceedingly if all the exclamations were recorded. The breaks in the view from this point become less frequent, or of much shorter duration, although as the train winds rapidly —the sun shining first into one side of the carriage and immediately afterwards into the other—different aspects of the same farstretching views are presented, like the changes of a kaleidoscope. The remarkable valley, or series of valleys, seen from the tops of the craggy eminences over which the line passes, have no counterpart probably in the world. The physical causes which have produced the result before us can only be conjectured ; but the one which suggests itself to the observer is, that after this mountain chain had been upheaved by subterraneous agency, a large portion of the country—an irregular mass extending over many miles in something approaching a horse-shoe form—has undergone a sudden depression, leaving walls of solid red sandstone in almost horizontal strata, towering up hundreds of feet perpendicularly on either side of the enormous gorges, with here and there outlying and broken crags and pinnacles, looking like the ruins of fortresses of some Titanic race. The majestic grandeur of the whole scene fills the beholder with a sense of his own littleness, and as one looks into the depths beneath, where forest trees appear but as twigs, one is tempted to exclaim with Edgar in " King Lear,” “ How fearful And dizzy ’tis to cast one’s eyes so low.” It is here, too, that we see that beautiful phenomenon which has given to this range the name of the “ Blue Mountains.” No artist can exaggerate—indeed, no artist can approach—that lovely blue that pervades the whole valley, deepening as the view recedes, and changing with the hour or the state of the atmosphere into different forms of loveliness, but always inexpressibly beautiful. On this enchanting scene the memory lingers with delight. But we must hasten on our journey. At the Victoria station—a very comfortable one, built of light freestone—we were met by a Victorian friend—Mr. P. Higgins, the well-known contractor—who has had the execution of the works at the further zig-zag, which constitute the descent from the mountain on its western side into the Lithgow valley. By a pre-arrangement between the Hon. the Minister of Works and Mr. Higgins, the line, then approaching completion beyond Mount Victoria, had been cleared for us, and with Mr. Higgins on the engine to pilot us, we proceeded at a good pace on to the Clarence tunnel. For the greater part of the distance the line here runs along a narrow spur of the mountain with the most picturesque views on either side. The valleys still bear the mural craggy character of the great horseshoe, bat more broken and irregular, with not single outliers, but extensive groups of rocks rising at short distances from each other like ruined cities with castles, temples, and stupendous buildings all gone to desolation and decay. Before reaching the Clarence hill the greatest elevation is reached, namely, 3,000 ft. above the sea -level. This tunnel is 540 yards long. It is lined with freestone set in cement, although cut through solid rock. Beyond the tunnel the line begins to descend, and the section containing the heaviest work of all (Mr. Higgins’s) commences. After a small piece of level line comes a cutting, through very hard rock ; then a long and deep embankment; then a cutting, in which between forty and fifty thousand tons of rock had to be removed. Here commences the descending zig-zag—a much more magnificent piece of engineering than the ascending zig-zag near Penrith; it ranks, in fact, amongst the greatest engineering works at present in progress throughout the world. The gradient here is 1 in 42. The road winds to the right- in curves of from 20 to 10 chains radius. Heavy cuttings and embankments follow each other. Some of the chasms are crossed by viaducts. The first of these is a beautiful structure of hard white freestone. It is built on a curve of ten chains radius, has seven arches, five of which are of 30 ft. span. On this viaduct our party stopped for some time, to enjoy the glorious scenery which the eye can take in from this point. At the end of the viaduct commences a tremendous cutting, from which about 100,000 yards of solid stone have been taken, the face of the cutting in some places being 100ft. high. This leads to the first reversing station, where the line terminates abruptly before a massive wall of rock. On clambering round the side of the hill, we discover that if this block of stone had been cut through for the distance of another chain or so a fearful precipice would have been reached. Here, however, the line takes a reverse course down the mountain side. Another beautiful viaduct is soon reached, consisting of nine arches of 30 ft. span. Its length is 330ft., and the height of the piers from the surface of the ground to the rails above is 76 ft. The difficulty of constructing these works must have been enormous. The line is cut along the sides of a steep cliff, and the intervals between the projecting ledges of rock which carry the line have to be bridged over by these viaducts. The viaduct just mentioned must have presented peculiar difficulties. On the rock outside there was not footing room for the scaffolding required to carry on the work. The stones, moreover, had to be lowered down from the cliff above, and the men had to be held on by ropes to prevent their being precipitated into the valley below. After more cutting, we come to another viaduct, 300ft. long, built on a curve. It has eight arches. Then more cuttings, from which nearly 50,000 tons of stone were taken ; then a heavy embankment; then another cutting of 25,000 yards, and a face of rock 43ft. or 44ft. high. After more cuttings and embankments we come to the prettiest piece of tunnelling conceivable. It is cut through a spur of the mountain-side on a curve of only eight chains radius. A s it is built for a single line only, it is narrower than the tunnels in Victoria, and of a most elegant form. Being lined and finished off in a style as near to perfection as it is possible to conceive, the work, as well as the pretty egg-like shape and the elegant curve, command universal admiration. A little further on was another tunnel, but, as it was found to have been much shaken by the blasting, Mr. Whitton, the engineer-in-chief, determined to have the whole superincumbent rock removed. Mr. Higgins accordingly prepared to do so, and it was managed in this wise. Three large T shaped chambers were cut in the outer rock from the inside of the tunnel, and in these two tons of powder were deposited. Fifteen drives were also made into the rock from above the tunnel, in which, at a depth of from 20ft. to 30ft., were deposited another ton and a half of powder. All these cells were connected with a galvanic battery, placed at a distance, and the blasting was effected by bringing the opposite poles of the battery into contact. Lady Belmore performed this interesting operation under the direction of Mr. Cracknell, the superintendent of telegraphs. A dense cloud of dust and stones rose in the air in an instant after Lady Belmore closed the circuit of the battery, and a deep rumbling shook the adjacent rocks and hills. The entire mass was shattered, the roof of the tunnel fell in, and by degrees the whole was afterwards removed, leaving instead a perpendicular wall or face of rock, rising to a height of 110ft. A little further along the descent we come to another cutting, from which 50,000 yards of rock have been removed, leaving a perpendicular wall of eighty feet in height, and from this point to the end of the second reversing station of the zig-zag, a large breadth of level ground has been formed from the cutting down of the overhanging rocks, over which ample space is made for the reversing and shunting of the trains. Near the end or point at which the two rails meet, there are some charming little bits of rock scenery, with natural waterfalls. One of these has been utilised. I t was a natural grotto of semicircular form, with overhanging and projecting rock- work, over and down which the water fell in musical murmurings, while from the ledges and crevices of the rocks the lichens and ferns grew in pretty tufts and lines. “ Here, in cool grot and mossy cell, Might iural fays and fairies dwell.” But practical railway engineers must not be poetical, and in this lovely grot they saw the elements of a “ tank so Mr. Whitton ordered a wall to be built enclosing the recess, and retaining the accumulations of the waterfalls. Engines were surely never watered from such a “ tank ” before, and the application of this term to such a lovely spot seems an outrage on Nature's handiwork. The lower line of the zig-zag is composed of cuttings and embankments of considerable magnitude, two , of these embankments, almost united into one, containing together the enormous quantity of 120,000 yards of earth and stone ; but, as a whole, this part of the line is less striking than the two upper portions of the zig-zag. From the top of the first descent to the bottom of the third, a length of less than four miles by rail and only a mile and a half as the crow flies, there is a difference in level of about 500 feet. From thence the line goes on descending into the Lithgow valley, on the way towards Bathurst, and soon attains a descent of several hundred feet more. After having inspected these magnificent works under the guidance of Mr. Higgins, our party returned by the shortest practicable route to the head of the zig-zag; but this route was by a steep ascent of the mountain side, in which steps had been cut here and there to facilitate progress, and had to be reached through a charming little fern-tree gully, in which was the loveliest of pools, and another grotto studded with ferns and lichens. By the time this clamber was over everybody looked neatly done up, and a few pocket flasks came into requisition as we collected by degrees at the rendezvous. Here the engine and carriage met us, and after a brief interval we were steaming away again for Mount Victoria. Near the station at this bustling terminus is a very respectable hotel, and hither we were conducted. After a wash and a short ramble to look at the numerous drays and wagons loading for the interior, and a run on the part of some of us to the “ one tree hill,” dinner was announced, and e sat down to an entertainment not merely substantial, but sumptuous, which had been provided by our friend Mr. Higgins, who insisted on taking that portion of the hospitalities out of the hands of the Ministers to whose kindness we were indebted for the excursion. Dinner discussed, and the generous consideration of our entertainers briefly but cordially acknowledged in sparkling bumpers, we hastened to the railway carriage in order to be back, if possible, in time to pass the down train at Penrith siding. By this time the sun was fast falling in the west. It was a glorious sunset, and the scenes upon which we gazed for the next half-hour will never be effaced from our memory. The successive openings between the rocks as we passed now revealed to us the great valley under quite a different aspect to that of the morning. The bright blue had now changed to a glowing purple, which, as the sun reached the mountain tops, behind which he was about to sink, became richer in colour and contrast every minute. A marvellous effect was produced by the lines of a falling shower from a small volume of cloud between us and the setting sun. These lines as they travelled on presented colours and forms of indescribable beauty. The rapid motion of the train and the sharp and frequent windings gave us constantly changing views of this gorgeous spectacle, and it was with great interest we watched the departure of the last segment of the sun’s disc. As soon as the great orb had disappeared, there seemed to arise from the other side of the mountain tops the light of a grand conflagration, streaming upwards ; then a flood of crimson glory seemed to roll along the mountain summits, lighting up the peaks, and throwing a tinge of its brightness on to the mass of far-stretching purple which filled the valleys, while the towering crags that rose in their grandeur from the valley’s sides reflected the crimson light from the glowing heavens. Then horizontal streaks of purple cloud appeared, intersecting the great sea of fluid gold which seemed to rest on the mountains’ brows. The wondrous effects which followed in the rapid changes of the scene were indescribably beautiful. As we came towards the last of the openings from which the view could be obtained, the purple tints had risen up from the valley, and gradually absorbed mountain and cloud, covering the whole as with one majestic robe, while the line of still bright crimson reposed in decreasing breadth above it. When at last the railway cuttings intervened, we all turned from this view of sunset in the Blue Mountains with the exclamation that it was the grandest we had ever beheld. The ride back to Wascoe’s was accomplished at a high rate of speed (the descent being rapid all the way). Here it was found that we could not reach Penrith in time to admit of the down train passing, and the line being a single one there was no other passing-place between the zig-zag and Penrith. This turned out rather a fortunate accident for us, as it afforded us another treat seldom enjoyed. From the top of the hill over the zig-zag we had a view of the lights in the distant town of Penrith, and of other scattered lights glimmering in the darkness about the Emu Plains. Here we waited until we discerned the lights of the down train, and watched its progress as it came on towards us. As it climbed the Lapstone-hill we saw it gradually ploughing its way up the zig zag beneath us, so that we could almost have dropped a stone from our train on to the roof of the approaching one. We made way for it by jamming ourselves up at the end of the upper reversing station, so that it came end to end with us, but had still ample room for starting again up the ascent which we had just come down. We then descended the remainder of the zig-zag, and soon made our way to Penrith, and from thence ran into Sydney at a capital pace, finishing our day’s excursion by nine o’clock. Of the pluck and enterprise of the colony of New South Wales in conceiving and carrying successfully through such a gigantic undertaking, it is unnecessary to speak. The works themselves proclaim it. The wear and tear of rolling stock in the ascent and descent of these hills is, of course, enormous. The wooden breaks require constant renewal, and the tyres will of necessity be subject to rapid destruction. The large extent of valuable country existing to the westward of the mountains furnished the ground for undertaking so costly a piece of engineering, and will alone justify the heavy cost of maintenance ; but this paper is not intended to be critical. It is intended only to give to those at a distance a general idea of the undertaking, while it records as a memento for the excursionists the incidents of one of the most instructive and delightful trips which it had ever been their good fortune to enjoy. It should be mentioned that for many of the figures given above (which were not all noted down at the time) the writer is indebted to a copy of the drawings and sections of the descending zig-zag, supplied by Mr Whitton, the engineer-in-chief, with a courtesy and kindness which was quite akin to that shown by the members of the New South Wales Government, and which has left the whole of the party of Victorians who shared them their permanent debtors.
https://johnsbluemountainsblog.blogspot.com/2013/12/links-to-all-blog-entries-and-relevant.html All Blue Mountains blogs and videos
All New England and other Geology blogs and videos
Song Studies. Bible studies based on hymns and songs