John Fowler & Co. b/n 5265

Don River Railway


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Fowler b/n 5265 of 1886 (in grey works undercoat) seen inside the Van Diemen Railway Society workshop at Don on 8 May 2003.

The loco was nearing the end of a protracted rebuilding that saw it restored from dereliction and returned to regular use for the first time since 1912.


John Fowler & Co, Leeds

Builder’s Number & Year

5265 of 1886

Wheel Arrangement



This wonderful old Fowler locomotive is clearly a resilient machine, having survived through the decades despite setbacks and against the odds! It was ordered for a gravel tramway at Kiama, NSW, where it was steam tested on delivery, but the business venture failed before the loco saw any use. The local council began liquidating the gravel tramway assets in 1889, with the Fowler loco sold in 1890 to a railway construction contractor building routes for the Queensland Government Railways.

After some years in Queensland, the Fowler loco is thought to have been transferred to Tasmania by 1898 for breakwater construction duties at the entrance to Macquarie Harbour on the west coast. (This fearsome harbour entrance was the scene of several shipwrecks and had to be navigated by convict transport ships when transporting their human cargo to the natural prison of Maria Island, earning the name ‘Hells Gates’. Modern tourist cruises around Macquarie Harbour feature a visit to the convict prison at Maria Island, and to Hells Gates – where railway remains can be clearly seen rusting away atop the harbour breakwater.) The Fowler had finished in breakwater construction duties by 1912, apparently never finding any further use!

By 1944 the Fowler loco was stored in Hobart Station yard. Photos show it kept company with ex-Queensland Government Railways 4D9 No.131, where these two antique machines must have been an intriguing site. Around the 1940’s it was purchased by a contractor for a dam construction project, but never taken – and incredibly, remained stored at Hobart Station yard until 1972 when donated to the Van Diemen Railway Society for preservation.

The Fowler loco was initially transferred to the Emu Bay Railway’s workshops in Burnie, arriving in 1974, where it was dismantled for restoration. In 1981 it was relocated to the Don River Railway workshops at Don. A protracted rebuilding - including fabrication of a new boiler - came to fruition in September 2007 when Fowler b/n 5265 was returned to service at the Don River Railway. It now wears lined blue livery, no doubt proving popular with younger visitors and the star of the show in ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ days at the Don River Railway.

Alas I haven’t had an opportunity to photograph this locomotive in operation, but the shed / workshop scenes on this page provide a good idea of the good proportions of this handsome Fowler engine – a wonderful old survivor.

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Fowler b/n 5265 features an ornate copper-top chimney. Modern train braking equipment has been added at some stage.

Photo kindly contributed by Chris Thompson and dated 26 November 2015.

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The Don River Railway has a well-equipped workshop – it’s just a pity that their tools get in the way of photographs!

Photo kindly contributed by Chris Thompson and dated 26 November 2015.

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The wheel centres and outside Stephenson valve gear are clues to the loco’s 1886 vintage.

The loco also features attractive tapered buffers.

Photo kindly contributed by Chris Thompson and dated 26 November 2015.

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Builder’s Plate detail, as captured on 26 November 2015



McCarthy, K. 'Gazetteer of Industrial Steam Locomotives, Illawarra District NSW',

prepared by Ken McCarthy for the Illawarra Environmental Heritage Committee.

Published by Australian Railway Historical Society (NSW Division), December 1983.


Wikipedia page for John Fowler & Co,

retrieved 28 November 2018


Page updated: 19 October 2021

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