Railway in PNG: a big story in two halves


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The first recorded railway in German New Guinea was a short line from a warehouse to a jetty on Mioko Island in the Duke of York Group, off the east coast of Kokopo.

Trucks were apparently pushed over the line by hand. Nearby, on the Manuan plantation, there was a narrow-gauge railway, about 1200 meters (m) long in 1927 with two trucks.

When railroad historians Bob McKillop and Michael Pearson published their research in a book in 1997, this line was still in service.

The Neuguinea Kompagnie (NGK) established extensive 600mm light rail systems to transport produce across their extensive plantations.

In 1888 they opened a new tobacco station at Stephansort on Astrolabe Bay, about 40 km south of Friedrich Wilhelmshafen (now Madang) and the station became the company’s center of operations in 1891 .

The railway equipment, imported from Germany, was operational in 1893.

Initially, a railway line was constructed from the Stephansort Plantation, northwest through the forest country to Erima on the left bank of the Jori (or Gori) River, a distance of about 4.5 km. In Erima, a “large administrative building, dryers and secondary buildings” are located. The line then ran northeast to the port facilities at Erimahafen.

There were several extensions to the system.

To support the planned extension of the tobacco plantation on the right bank of the Jori River in Erima in 1895, railway tracks were laid along the main paths through the plantations, bringing the total length of the system to 16 km.

The system may have totaled 24 km in 1897.

The operating power of the railroad was supplied by oxen. The rolling stock consisted of boogie wagons for transporting tobacco (there were 16 left in 1927) and several boogie wagons for management personnel.

German directors, their families, and visitors rode in these well-furnished ox-drawn carriages, driven by Malay chauffeurs.

The Emma Forsayth*-Richard Parkinson Partnership purchased large tracts of farmland on the Gazelle Peninsula to establish coconut plantations from 1882.

The following year, the NGK established a main station at Herbertshohe (Kokopo) and set about establishing extensive coconut plantations.

A narrow-gauge railway, 300 meters long, was built at the NGK’s Herbertshohe station to connect the landing place with a cotton store in 1893.

The line was extended to 1000m the following year when a new pier was opened.

The railroad was listed in Expropriated Properties in 1927 as the Timbur Concentration Depot.

In 1905 Norddeutscher Lloyd (NDL) established a colony and wharf at Simpsonhafen (Rabaul).

German administration moved its headquarters to Simpsonhafen in 1909, and a thriving town soon took shape as a commercial service center for the colony.

A narrow-gauge streetcar network was built to link the NDL, NGK, and Hernsheim & Company docks to their business houses, administrative offices, post office, Chinatown, and hospital.

The purpose of the Rabaul trams was to facilitate the transport of goods to German trading houses.

The only German property on the west coast of New Britain was the 500 ha plantation at Pondo.

Photographs from 1933 show operations on the railroad, with European travelers on trucks pushed by New Guineans. A 1936 Rabaul Times report covered a trip on a well-maintained narrow-gauge railway inland to the factory.

The rail system, reputed to be 700mm gauge, comprised around eight to 10km of lines through the plantation before the Pacific War, but was being dismantled in 1963. Rolling stock then included a diesel locomotive and ” a dozen” flat cars.

The last section was closed in 1970. On the island of Garowe in the Vitu group on the east coast of West New Britain, the Meto plantation was served by a railway which dates from German times.

NGK established an early phosphate mining business on the Isle of Mole in the Purdy Group south of Manus Island.

In 1888 it was reported that track and rails had been completed to transport phosphate across the reef surrounding the island for loading onto ships.

Kavieng Port was the second largest after Rabaul, shipping about 1,000 tons of copra per month.

A short section of narrow gauge railway was established from the wharf to the customs and bulk store in Kavieng Township.

The Bougainville Islands were transferred from the British-administered Solomon Islands to German New Guinea in 1886.

A number of Bougainville plantations have been established by Australian or British companies. The Numa Numa plantation, originally created by a Dutch planter, was to become the largest in the country.

The Choisel plantations began the first clearing at Soraken in January 1913, with Baniu, Arigua and Teopasino being established soon after.

These plantations used extensive light railroads to transport green copra from the fields and processed copra to their docks.

The Numa Numa Railway carries the most distinct German heritage.

The lines are said to have been raised by the Japanese in 1943 and used to mount heavy guns in the mountains.

A wheel set recovered from Numa Numa observed in Wakunai was 600mm caliber and marked O&K.

The most ambitious industrial enterprise in German New Guinea was established in 1905 by the SVD mission in Alexishafen at the port of Sek, 15 km north of Friedrich Wilhelmshafen (Madang).

Equipment for the sawmill and the railway, including a steam engine, was ordered from Germany. The engine weighed 4.5 tons and was the center of attention when it was commissioned on December 5, 1905.

*Emma Forsayth was known as Queen Emma.

The Neuguinea Kompagnie (NGK) faced competition from other German trading companies, individual traders, and entrepreneurial missionaries.

The legendary Emma Forsayth, who would become widely known as Queen Emma, ​​arrived from German Samoa in 1879 to establish a trading station on Mioko Island.

In partnership with her brother-in-law, Richard Parkinson, Queen Emma established a successful business empire with many plantations on the Gazelle Peninsula.

The remains of Queen Emma’s wading pool on Mioko Island still exist.

Mioko Harbor is the most scenic harbor and from the paddling pool it offers a two-dimensional view of the inner lagoon, one to the south and the other towards Kavieng.

Queen Emma established her commercial station adjacent to the main station at Godeffroy.

Deutche Handels-und Plantagen Gesellschaft (DH&PG) took over Godeffroy & Sohn in 1884. Nord Deutsche Lloyd (NDL) and Herrnstein & Company also established plantations and trading businesses.

With heavy financial losses to the NGK, the German government stepped in to take over the burden of civil administration in 1889.

The seat of imperial government was established at Herbertshohe (Kokopo), then at Simsonhafen (Rabaul) in 1909.

The administration sought to encourage the villagers to produce copra in order to “train the natives in the habit of work” and to overcome their “natural tendency to indolence”.

There were other lines; The Marienberg Sawmill and Railroad by SVD Missionaries in the Lower Sepik River in 1913, Methodist Missionaries at Port Hunter in the Duke of York Islands in 1875, Sacred Heart Missionaries at Matupit Island near Rabaul and the Marist Brothers in Bougainville.

SOURCE: End of the Line: A History of Railways in Papua New Guinea by Bob McKillop and Michael Pearson.

Tomorrow: Railway in Papua


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