The "Emma Ruth" at River Estate Sugar Mill in Mackay, circa 1883.
(John Oxley Library Collection JOL-6298-0001-0011r)

Year Built 1881
Builder John Fowler & Co., Leeds, Lancashire, England, United Kingdom.
Wheel Type 2-4-0T
Works number 4150
Cylinders 5 1/2 x ?
Mill First Used at in Mackay River Estate
ID Number or Name "EMMA RUTH"
Fate Unknown possibly Scrapped circa 1930's.

Built for John Spiller for his River Estate Sugar Plantation in 1881. It was named "Emma Ruth."

The first journey was given a story on the Mackay Mercury and South Kennedy Advertiser of 6 August 1881:

The interesting and important ceremony of formally trying and christening the new locomotive, imported from England by Mr. John Spiller for this estate, took place on the plantation on Thursday last.

There were about seventy gentlemen present, together with a sprinkling of the fair sex, and the greatest interest was taken in the proceedings, which were of a satisfactory character.  For a long time the management of the estate have felt the urgent necessity of having increased facilities for the speedy carriage of the canes from the distant portions of the plantation to the mill, and for that purpose have laid down a line of rails some three and a half miles in length.

Mr Spiller then determined on importing as complete an engine as possible.  Before describing the trial of the engine, it may be interesting to our readers to note the the River Estate comprises 2625 acres and is, as we may have previously stated, the property of Mr. John Spiller.  At the present time there are 1247 acres under cultivation, and this season's crop is estimated to produce 1200 tons of sugar.  The estate is, without doubt, the most complete in the district, and is now manufacturing 10 tons of first class sugar per day.  It is under the management of Mr. Percy Crees and great crdit is due to him for the high class cultivation it presents, as on all sides of the field the cane is well grown and looks remarkably healthy.

The new locomotive is a 2 1/2 inch cylinder, with 3 feet 6 inch gauge, together with pressure gauge spring balance, whistle, and outfit complete.  The makers are Messrs. John fowler and Company, of Leeds, and the engine is capable of drawing 80 tons on a level, or 15 tons up a gradient of 1 in 40, and at a speed of 15 miles per hour.

Mr. Spiller has also procured from England two miles of permanent steel rails and one mile of portable rail, which will be added to the present line of 3 1/2 miles, now running from one end of the estate to the other.  The line is substantially laid on sleepers, and is similar in construction to ordinary lines.  It was put down under the supervision of Mr. Braby, the engineer in charge, to whom much credit is due for the perfect order in which it is kept, and also for the excellent manner in which he has perfected the milll-house.  The cane waggons are 26 in number ; out of these 16 came out with the locomotive, and they will each carry about 23 cwt. of cane.  To expedite their loading, the line is so constructed that the waggons run right alongside the cane carrier, so that a large saving of labor is effected.

In addition to these improvements, Mr Spiller has made a valuable addition to perfect the working of the mill by night, by the introduction of the Grammie Electric light apparatus, the working and effect of which the visitors had a full opportunity of witnessing on Thursday evening.  Not being contented with being the pioneer of the sugar industry, and the first locomotive and railway line together with the electric light, Mr. Spiller has imported for his Pioneer Estate a sun automatic gas machine ; and a stump extractor for pulling down trees.  These are now being successfully worked and the latter is clearing some 500 acres to be ready for the 2000 ton mill, which is to be erected on his Ashburton Estate, adjoining the Pioneer.  The two mills are to be connected by a railway similar to the one on the River Estate, of which nearly 4 miles have been completed.  The Pioneer Estate consists of 4886 acres, and is estimated to produce this season 1100 tons of sugar, so that Mr. Spiller will produce one-fifth of the whole sugar of the district.  To increase the capacity of the Pioneer Mill, a steam tram and large multitubular boiler have arrived from England, the latter is already partially erected.

Unfortunately through ill-health, Mr. Spiller is at present in Tasmania, and was, of course, unable to be present at the inaugural proceedings on Thursday.  The visitors were, however, most courteously received about 4 o'clock by Mr. Henry Brandon.  After a very welcome refresher, the mill was visited, Mr. Brandon and Mr. Crees conducting and explaining the working of the machinery, which was much admired by all present, whilst a heap of about 25 tons of fine white sugar, ready to bag, was pointed out to us.

After the mill was thoroughly inspected, a move was made to the line, where the engine was waiting, with steam up, and in charge of Mr. Crees, Mr. Braby and Mr. Noakes, Messrs. Fowler and Co.'s. representative here.  The ceremony of christening was then performed by Mrs. Henry Brandon.  Before doing so, Mr. George Smith, the Mayor, said he had been asked to make a few remarks on behalf of Mrs. Brandon, before she performed the ceremony of christening the engine.  He deeply regretted, and he was sure they all would, the absence of Mr. John Spiller that day through ill-health.  Mr. Spiller was the worthy pioneer of the sugar industry in Mackay, and he might say in Australia. (Hear, hear.)  He was a gentleman who had set them a good example by his enterprise, and he hoped they would all try and follow that example.  It was intended to call the engine the Emma Ruth ; these being the christian names of Mrs. Spiller. By doing so no better compliment could be paid Mr. Spiller. (Applause.)

Mrs. Brandon then gracefully performed the christening ceremony by breaking a bottle of champagne against the side of the engine.  In naming it the "Emma Ruth" she expressed the hope that Mr. John Spiller's restoration to health would be rapid as the new engine could travel. (Applause.)

Hearty cheers were then accorded to Mer. and Mrs. Spiller, and the company took rheir places on seven trucks, some of them being provided with temporary seats.

After the blowing of the steam whistle, and amidst cheering from both the white and black employees, the train moved slowly along the line.  On getting about half a mile out some very heavy work was met with, the line being carried for some 200 yards over piles, many of which are 20 feet high.  This structure was safely crossed, when a deep cutting was encountered through which the "Emma Ruth" soon forged her way, and accomplished the remainder of the distance at the rate of about six miles miles an hour.  The return journey was made in about half and hour, all on board enjoying the trip, many indulging in the cries so so well known on the London lines of "change here for Brighton," "all tickets ready," &c.  The result of the trip may be safely taken as an indication that the new engine will accomplish all that is required of her.  Of course there was a little shaking experienced during the ride, but, considering that the trucks were not intended to accommodate passengers, they ran very smoothly indeed. 

It being dark when the visitors got back to the mill, the electric light was immediately exhibited both inside and outside the building.  So powerful was it in both places that the opinion was freely expressed that it turned night into day, and so brilliant was its effect that we can quite endorse the opinion.  After cheers had been given for Mr. and Mrs. Brandon, the company dispersed."


 The loco was most likely sold when the original River Estate Mill closed in 1891. The loco next turned up in Forrest in the Otway Ranges of Victoria in 1899 and was used to haul timber from Sanderson's Noonday Creek timber Mill to the Forrest Railway Station. It had been named "Parrot."  There was a steep grade in hauling the timber to the railway station and loco proved to be underpowered for the task.

The loco was sold in 1901 to William Watkins Gunn for his tramway located at Crossover in the Gippsland region of Victoria. It was abandoned at Crossover and presumably scrapped after 1936.


References Stamford, Frank; "Steam locomotives on Victorian timber tramways - Part 2"; Light Railways Issue 210, December 2009, LRRSA p.17-23

1881 'The River Estate.', Mackay Mercury and South Kennedy Advertiser (Qld. : 1867 - 1887), 6 August, p. 2. , viewed 22 Jan 2019,

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  Glen Hall



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