Remembering “Bob the Railway Dog”

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Bob the Railway Dog is part of South Australian Railways folklore. He traveled the South Australian Railways system in the later part of the 19th century, and was known widely to railwaymen of the day.

Bob first experienced the railway life, when, as a young dog, he took a fancy to the workers building the railway near Strathalbyn and followed some of the navvies to the line. He was brought back to his owner, the publican of the Macclesfield Hotel, two or three times before finally disappearing; he was about 9 months old at the time.

His true railway career appears to commence not long after being consigned from Adelaide along with fifty other dogs to Quorn, to be used to exterminate rabbits near Carrieton. Bob was, it was believed, picked up as a stray in Adelaide. He was swapped (though it has been suggested he “broke pack” for another dog, obtained as a stray from the Police in Port Augusta by William Seth Ferry, then working as a Special Guard at Petersburg as Peterborough was then known. Ferry “registered him right away” and is recorded as noting he acquired Bob on 24 September 1884.

Eventually William Ferry was promoted to Petersburg Assistant Station Master in February 1885,by which time Bob became accustomed to train travel.

‘Bob, the railway dog’ at Port Augusta

He was known to venture to and from Petersburg often sitting in the front of the coal space in the locomotive tender, travelling many thousands of miles. According to the Petersburg Times ” His favourite place on a Yankee engine; the big whistle and belching smokestack seem(ed) to have an irresistible attraction for him….he lived on the fat of the land , and was not particular from whom he accepted his dinner”.

He did not like suburban engines, because of their cramped cabs, but was known to clear out third class compartments for his sole use by “vigorously barking at all stations, usually succeeding in convincing intending passengers that the coach had been reserved of his special benefit”. “His bark was robust and often caused strangers to believe that he was being aggressive when he really intended to be friendly”. He had no master, but was befriended and enabled by the engineers (for whom he seemed to have a special affinity) and trainmen, and permitted to “ride for free, like a politician.”

Some sources suggest that Bob’s travels took him to all mainland states of Australia, being seen as far afield as Oodnadatta, Queensland, and even Western Australia (given there was no railway connection at the time, this is unlikely). However, he was noted as having “several river trips up the Murray and around the coast”.

He was present at the opening of the railway between Petersburg and Broken Hill, as a “distinguished guest at the Melbourne Exhibition in 1881”. Given he was not acquired by Ferry until 1884, it is not clear if this was indeed “Bob”.

Bob is noted as having several accidents in his career.

In his early career, he had a number of falls, after which he refined his skills jumping up onto, or from one locomotive to another, even as they moved. On one occasion he is reported to have fallen from an engine travelling between Manoora and Saddleworth, and managed to walk with an injured leg, two miles to Saddleworth.

In Port Pirie, his tail became jammed – just where is not known. In another incident, he is reported as losing an inch off his tail after slipping off, and on another journey, his coat caught fire.

During a stay in Adelaide, he is reported to have spent time at Goodwood Cabin, and, after tripping down the cabins stairs, rolling under and out the other side of a passing train.

During one of his visits to Port Augusta, he is said to have caught a steamship to Port Pirie, after apparently confusing the ships whistle with that of a locomotive.

The Petersburg Times records that “only during one winter did he look miserable, when some employé (on probation) cut off all his hair except that of his neck and tip of his tail. He was supposed to look like a diminutive lion, but his voice betrayed him”.

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