Mourilyan Mill Fowler

Rare Fowler ‘Patent Drive’ locomotive


The Mourilyan Mill Fowler locomotive displayed at the Australian Sugar Heritage Centre, Mourilyan on 23 August 2004.

This wonderful old locomotive is the only known surviving example of the Fowler ‘Patent Drive’ mechanism.


John Fowler & Co, Leeds

Builder’s Number & Year

4668 of 1883

Wheel Arrangement



This locomotive was built by John Fowler & Co. Ltd, the famous Leeds, UK builder of traction engines and small industrial locomotives, for the Mourilyan Mill, near Innisfail. It assisted construction of the mill and railway system and then settled into life hauling stick cane to the mill, and sugar to Mourilyan Harbour, until being ousted by more powerful steam locomotives by 1913.

The Mourilyan Fowler is an example of the early Fowler 'Patent Drive' locomotive, which featured raised cylinders and valve gear operating onto a drive axle well above rail level, and transferring power down to the side rods by a vertical jackshaft. This design was apparently intended to reduce maintenance on light lines by keeping the cylinders and crosshead well above the dirt and dust of ground level. (Having gone to such lengths to raise the cylinders and valve gear, maybe the Fowler engineers should have gone further and devised a gearing system to increase the power of this otherwise diminutive machine.)

In 1924 it was sold to machinery dealers Miller & Co of Melbourne, where it was overhauled and made available for sale. Perhaps fortunately no buyer emerged and the little loco remained in storage, incredibly, until as late as 1976 when it was sold to Bruce Macdonald and transferred to the Goulburn Steam Museum. Here replica builder’s plates were cast using the builder’s number 4667 as this number had been found stamped on various components, but in 1982 the original Fowler construction records were rediscovered which showed that Builder’s Number 4668 had in fact been delivered to Mourilyan Mill.

Around 1977 the little Fowler was sold to the Australian Sugar Heritage Centre at Mourilyan, very near to its old home at Mourilyan Mill. Here it is displayed alongside ‘Townsville’ (Hudswell Clarke B/N 1099 of 1915) among other exhibits and resources highlighting the history of the Australian Sugar Industry. Some further history of the Fowler loco is provided by the Australian Sugar Industry Museum on its website.

The Mourilyan Fowler is the only surviving Fowler Patent Drive locomotive in the Australia. While similar arrangements are common on mountain-climbing rack locomotives, I am not aware of any other ‘conventional’ (adhesion) locomotives with jackshaft drives preserved elsewhere in the world; anyone with knowledge of any such examples is welcome to contribute information.

Bruce Belbin provides a good history for the Mourilyan Fowler in his article in ‘Light Railways’ magazine of June 1998 which details the Mourilyan locomotive fleet, including the section ‘A Remarkable Survivor’ dealing with Fowler B/No. 4668.

The Fowler Patent Drive mechanism was designed to elevate much of the motion and valve gear above the dust and grime closer to rail level.

Fowler 4668 is displayed with the driving wheels suspended above the rails; I believe an electric motor is used to demonstrate the Patent Drive in motion.

Unfortunately it wasn’t working at the time of my visit on 23 August 2004.

A broadside view of the Mourilyan Mill Fowler, showing the rear wheels resting on the rails while the driving wheels are raised

Behind the loco is an ancient 4-wheel whole stick cane carriage, while a ‘Furphy’ water cart is displayed at right.

(Alas my first-generation digital camera struggled to capture this view against the backlight.)

Fowler 4668 is displayed alongside ‘Townsville’ (Hudswell Clarke B/N 1099 of 1915) at the Australian Sugar Heritage Centre, Mourilyan.

Comparison with ‘Townsville’ shows the diminutive size of the older Fowler locomotive.

Detail of the replica builder’s plate made in the 1970’s with the incorrect builder’s number 4667.

The old Fowler records were later rediscovered, revealing this locomotive’s true identity was B/N. 4668



Light Railway Research Society of Australia Inc. Web site (as at 8/7/2016):

'Preserved Australian Sugar Cane Locomotives' list by John Browning



'Light Railways - Australia's Magazine of Industrial & Narrow Gauge Railways',

Number 141, June 1998, published by Light Railway Research Society of Australia Inc.


Wikipedia page for John Fowler & Co,

retrieved 15 September 2018

Page updated: 15 September 2018

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