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B1406 Fire engine, steam pump, No.1378, horse-drawn, metal / timber / paint, made by Merryweather & Sons, Greenwich, England, 1895, used at Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia, 1896-1921. Click to enlarge.

Merryweather horse-drawn steam fire engine from Broken Hill

Before the first motorised fire engines took to the streets in the early years of the twentieth century, the most efficient fire appliance was the horse-drawn steam pumper. This comprised a vertical water tube boiler providing steam for a pumping engine to force water through the hoses onto a fire. All this machinery was mounted on a horse-drawn sprung carriage with four steel-tyred wooden wheels.

The steam fire engine was invented by John Braithwaite, partner in the engineering firm of …


Object No.


Object Statement

Fire engine, steam pump, No.1378, horse-drawn, metal / timber / paint, made by Merryweather & Sons, Greenwich, England, 1895, used at Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia, 1896-1921

Physical Description

This Merryweather steam fire engine comprises a boiler, steam pumping engine and various accessories necessary for generating and maintaining steam pressure in order to pump water. All the machinery is mounted on a sprung carriage which has four steel-tyred wooden wheels and was pulled by two horses.

A coal bunker is fastened on the rear of the chassis and probably doubled as a step or platform for the firemen. The brass-clad, vertical water-tube boiler is mounted at the rear. It was designed so that steam could be raised to a working pressure of 100 psi (689.5 kPa) in eight to ten minutes. The vertical engine and pump are located between the boiler and the seat for the firemen. The water pump is direct-coupled to the engine, and the water cylinder has a bore of 7 inches (17.8 cm). It comprises a single outlet connection, inlet and outlet air vessels and five pump valves, three down and two up.

The chassis of the pumper rides on four wooden spoked wheels, with brass-bound hubs, brass hubcaps and steel facing plates. Iron tyres are fitted to the wheels, and the fore-carriage has a 90-degree turning lock. Suspension is by leaf springs, and there are separate hand-operated wood-block brakes to each rear wheel. The driver was provided with a raised seat and a footboard, while four firemen were accommodated on the long seats behind and at right angles to the driver's seat. The long seats were provided with loose cushions. Two firemen standing directly behind the driver operated the two hand brakes connected to the rear wheels. On the side of the long seats in gold letters are the words 'N.S.W. Fire Brigade'

Two horses originally pulled the steamer, with a single pole between them. However, prior to being received by the museum, the pole had been replaced by a pair of shafts for a single horse. Contemporary photographs of the steamer show that two hose branches were carried at the front beside the driver, above which were brackets with carriage lamps. There was a bell beneath the driver's footrest. A hose was also strapped to each side of the vehicle below the firemen's footrests.


Builder: Merryweather & Sons, Greenwich, England
Date: 1895
No.: 1378
Engine: single-cylinder vertical
Bore: 6.9 inches (17.5 cm)
Stroke: 5 inches (12.7 cm)
Pump capacity: 200 gallons (757 litres) per minute
Steam pressure: 100 psi

Horse drawn steam fire engine pump, metal/paint/wood, Merryweather, London, 1895
(-1)Wheelbase 5 feet, track 4 feet 5 inches, length 11 feet, width 5 feet 2 inches. Height 6 feet 2 inches to top of driver's seat. Four wheels. Patent No 1378. Weight 1 ton 3 hundredweight.
(-2:4)Parts of drawbar, (-5)Fire hose, (-6)Pair of shafts


On painted section of boiler within rectangular box: No 1378 / MERRYWEATHER & JAKEMAN'S / PATENT / 1895. Below this box: M&S No 1378 / W250 - S150.



2135 mm


1560 mm


3380 mm


1000 kg



The first manually operated fire engine was built in 1650 by Hautch of Nuremberg, Germany, but it was not a success. A few years later in Amsterdam an improved engine was devised which had an air vessel and a combined pair of bucket and plunger pumps. A continuous stream of water was produced, with the air vessel used to prevent shock and loss of power to the pump. The water was delivered through a branch and nozzle fitted to the delivery side of the pump. There was no suction outlet, so the engine had a cistern or reservoir into which water was filled by a bucket brigade, which consisted of lines of citizens passing buckets between the town pump and the engine.

The development of the leather delivery hose made the engine more effective by enabling the fire to be attacked at close quarters. Later, the introduction of the wired suction hose obviated the use of the bucket brigade.

Around 1724 Richard Newsham of London made the first manual engine in England. It incorporated improvements which made it popular throughout the 18th century. As the 19th century progressed, the inadequacies of the old manual pumps became increasingly apparent. In the larger sizes, requiring perhaps as many as 40 men to work them, they were heavy and clumsy, and even the biggest could not make much impression on a very large fire.

The first steam fire engine was invented by John Braithwaite, partner in the London engineering firm of Brathwaite and Ericsson. This engine was built in 1829-30 and included a boiler and two direct-acting steam pumps mounted on wheels and drawn by horses. The firebox was water-jacketed and was provided with a forced draught by a mechanical bellows, while the exhaust gas issued from a funnel behind the driver's seat. The engine threw 150 gallons (682 litres) of water per minute to a height of 90 feet (27.4 m). The steamers were not popular due to their lack of power, and it was not until after the middle of the nineteenth century that the steam fire engine gained acceptance in Britain. The first British fire appliance maker to manufacture a successful steam fire engine was Shand Mason & Co in 1858. Development occurred rapidly, and engines were devised that could pump at 200 strokes per minute, quicker than the fastest manual engine.

The era of the horse-drawn steam fire engine lasted about 40 years, and during that period there were no serious challengers to its supremacy. The horse-drawn steamers changed little in overall design, though detailed engineering refinements were made from time to time. Inventiveness and ingenuity were exercised in developing compact lightweight equipment and boilers that could steam quickly. The engines were kept with fires banked down or ready for quick ignition and could quickly be brought to life so that a good head of steam was available by the time the engine arrived at the fire.

The first self-propelled steam pumper was built by P.R. Hope of New York in 1840. It bore a close resemblance to the early railway locomotives of the period. While pumping was in progress, its driving wheels were jacked clear of the ground to act as flywheels. In Britain, experiments were also carried out with self-propelled steam vehicles; however, there was little point in this as in 1865 the Locomotive Act restricted the speed of road locomotives to 4 miles per hour in populated areas and insisted that a person precede the locomotive on foot carrying a red flag. Horse-drawn vehicles were exempt from these limits, so self-propelled steamers were not introduced until the Act was repealed in 1896. Petrol-engined appliances soon followed, and the self-propelled steam pumps stood no chance given that they had to be maintained permanently "in steam".

The museum's steam fire engine pump was made by English company Merryweather & Sons. This firm can be traced back to the 18th century, when a Samuel Hadley took over a fire engine works in London's Long Acre in 1769. Samuel's son, Nathaniel, joined the firm in 1790, and two years later an engineer named Charles Simpkin joined the partnership. Simpkin patented several improvements to the manual engine design that were to become standard practice, including valves made of metal rather than leather, the provision of a steerable fore-carriage and road springs, so that engines could be towed to the fire by horses, rather than being dragged by perspiring firemen.

Henry Lott, son of Squire Lott of Twyforde Abbey, Berkshire, who joined the company in 1791, married Simpkin's widow. He became a partner in the firm and later took control of Hadley, Simpkin and Lott. In 1807, a 14-year-old apprentice, Moses Merryweather, a Yorkshireman apparently related to Captain James Cook, was taken on by the company. Moses married Henry Lott's niece in 1836 and took over the company after Henry Lott died.

Moses lived to the age of 79, though his son, Richard, headed Merryweather & Sons from 1859. On Richard's death in 1877, the company was taken over by his younger brother, James Compton Merryweather, probably the most flamboyant fire engine enthusiast of the entire family. During the period J C Merryweather was at the head of the company, the name of Merryweather was predominant in the manufacture of fire-fighting equipment. James was an engineer by training and this, together with the fact that he promoted his products with remarkable fervour, no doubt helped the development of the company. He wrote inexhaustibly to get the name of Merryweather into print and travelled the world learning about fire-fighting methods and requirements in other countries and building up a thriving export business. His activities earned him the well-merited nickname of "The Fire King" and he was still working in the factory a week before his death in 1917 at the age of 77. His workmen mourned him as a just and good employer who would often wander through his factory, addressing them all by their first names and genuinely interested in their welfare. There was no son to succeed him, and his place was taken by John Henry Osborn, who had been the overseas representative of the company.

Merryweather's first steamer was built in 1861 and was called the "Deluge". This fire engine had a massive 30 horsepower single cylinder engine with a bore of 9 inches (22.9 cm) and a stroke of 15 inches (38.1 cm). It drove an outsize twin-cylinder pump which had bores of 16.5 inches and strokes of 15 inches (38.1 cm). "Deluge" won the large-engine class in a trial of steam fire engines held in London's Hyde Park in conjunction with the 1862 International Exhibition.

A second Merryweather steamer emerged from a newly acquired factory in Lambeth in 1862 and was christened "Torrent". A more powerful engine, the "Sutherland", was introduced in 1863. It had twin steam cylinders and was capable of projecting a steady jet of water 160-170 feet high (48.8 m- 51.8 m)) through a 1.5 inch (38 mm) nozzle.

For many years Merryweather built steamers and pump engines with horizontal cylinders placed in front of the boilers. In 1885 the twin cylinder "Greenwich" model was produced (named after the new factory that the firm had opened in 1876). The "Greenwich" Patent Double Cylinder High Speed Steam Fire Engine could deliver 750 gallons (3,410 litres) of water per minute. Even more popular was the "Greenwich Gem", introduced in 1896 at the London Fire Tournament, which was built in sizes from 200 gallons (909.2 litres) to 500 gallons (2,273 litres) per minute. Also in 1896, the company introduced its "Hatfield" reciprocating pump, which had three cylinders mounted 120 degrees apart inside a hexagonal casing.

Merryweather's first self-propelled steamer was completed in 1899, and the last horse-drawn steamer was produced in 1902. The self-propelled fire engine market was dominated by Merryweather's "Fire King" which had a coke or oil-fired boiler and carried 100 gallons (455 litres) of water, sufficient for about half-an-hour's running, plus fuel for four hours' operation. These engines were exported all over the world until about 1922. By 1905 Merryweather were producing motorised fire pumps, and the steam days were over.

Shand Mason, Merryweather's main rival in steam fire engine production in England, did not attempt to compete with the Merryweather firm in the production of self-propelled engines and stuck rigidly to the steam engine. It slid into an inevitable decline, and Merryweather took it over in 1922.



Following the discovery of an extremely rich lode of silver, lead, zinc and gold by Charles Rasp in 1883, the town of Broken Hill was surveyed in 1886. The Broken Hill Fire Brigade was established in 1887 as a volunteer organisation of fifteen men. The first fire station faced Argent Street on a site that was later to be occupied by the Town Hall. The station's equipment at this time only consisted of a small, six-man hand-operated curricle engine and 300 feet (91.4 m) of hose.

In 1891 the Broken Hill Municipal Council (incorporated in 1888) had the Central Fire Brigade Station in Blende Street erected. This consisted of a fine two-storey stone building which had on the ground floor a watch-room, engine room, stables for two horses, as well as a bedroom and bathroom. On the first floor were two bedrooms, a bathroom and a recreation room. Up to 1892 the brigade was dependent for its water supply on private tank storage. However, once the Stephens Creek Water Supply Scheme came into operation, water was available "to a fair extent" from the water company's mains-hydrants. Nevertheless, due to water restrictions the brigade was not allowed to have "wet drill" off the mains, and all water from the hydrants opened for the brigade to fight fires had to be paid for by the council!

The opportunity arose for Broken Hill Council to improve its firefighting equipment occurred when a steam fire engine, built by the English firm of Merryweather & Sons of Greenwich, England, in 1895, with engine number 1378, was imported into Australia and arrived by sailing ship in Adelaide, South Australia. It was ordered by the Merryweather agents in Australia, A.W. Dobbins & Co., of Gawler Place, Adelaide. This firm imported all manner of items into the colony including bicycles, sewing machines, American organs and German pianos. A thorough test of the engine was undertaken in Adelaide on behalf of the council by Superintendent Booker of the Adelaide Fire Station to ensure that the council wasn't buying a "pig in a poke". Due to his favourable report council decided to purchase the engine which arrived in Broken Hill from Adelaide by goods train in late June 1896.

The Broken Hill Barrier Miner newspaper of 26 June 1896 went on to say that, "The inventor of this particular class of fire engine claims that it is especially adapted for country volunteer fire brigades, for whom a light and simple steam engine, with ample accommodation for firemen, as well as a fair amount of gear is a desideratum. The mechanism of this engine is of the simplest character, so that any person who has worked a portable engine, or anybody of ordinary intelligence, can easily work it and keep it in order."

A few days later it was tried out in the brigade yard behind the Town Hall but there was initial disappointment at the length of time the boiler took getting up steam though this would improve as the firemen became used to operating the engine. In September 1896 a special demonstration trial of the pumper was held at the South Australian Brewery in Broken Hill. In ordinary cases the fire in the boiler was lit before leaving the station, so that the steam had time to increase on the way to the fire. However, the engine was tested at the brewery and lit from scratch. Within 9 minutes enough head of steam had been raised to pump water 70 feet (21.3 m) in height over the brewery and a distance of 126 feet (38.4 m) horizontally to the ground. Any concerns were subsequently allayed that this new firefighting appliance was "equal to all requirements".

On 21 June 1897 the 'Barrier Miner' reported that the new steam fire engine, installed at the Broken Hill Central Fire Station in Blende Street, was ceremoniously christened by the Mayoress, Mrs Holdsworth. A bottle of champagne was broken over the pumper which was named Victoria in celebration of the Queen's record reign. After refreshments the official party watched a demonstration of the engine throwing water over the nearby Town Hall flagstaff tower. Clearly, introduction of the steam pumper was a welcome and much appreciated improvement on the hand-operated curricle used by the brigade.

In 1908 new horse stalls were erected at the brigade station with a flooring of concrete covered with bricks and a gutter to enable the stables to be hosed out. Timber partitions between the stalls were about 4 feet (1.2 m) high with the higher parts covered in galvanised iron to stop the horses from "indulging in their destructive appetite for timber", that is, chewing on the wood. Speedy opening swing doors were also included.

Hale quick-hitching harnesses

In 1910 operation of the Broken Hill brigade was taken over by the Board of Fire Commissioners of New South Wales. Further improvements in the engine's equipment were made in the same year with the addition of Hale quick-hitching harnesses patented in the USA by George C. Hale, chief of the Kansas City Fire Department. The harnesses and collars were suspended over the pole of the steam fire engine by means of spreaders. Once the alarm bells rang in the station this alerted the horses, and the doors to their stalls automatically swung open to let them out. They lined up under their hanging collars, which were then lowered. All that was needed was to harness the horses to the engine, undertaken by four firemen who buckled the reins and clasped the collars together. The driver mounted the seat of the steamer and the firemen quickly boarded. The front folding doors of the station were opened, and the horses bounded out of the pulling the steam fire engine. Contemporary newspaper accounts advised that the steamer was pulled by two horses, Prince and Kate. Prince was a dappled brown horse which had been working with the steamer for the past 10 years, virtually since its arrival at Broken Hill. It was said he had attended about 500 fires. Kate was a younger horse, sired by the racing stallion, Friendship.

Operation of the Merryweather

Over the years the steamer was sent out to fight fires in timber yards, houses and hotels around Broken Hill. It also assisted in underground mine fires by pumping water down shafts, such as the fire in September 1897 at Broken Hill's Block 12 mine.

Another steamer added to the brigade

It is claimed that the Broken Hill Fire Brigade was called out more frequently to fires than any other single station in New South Wales so it wasn't surprising that a second steam fire engine arrived by train in Broken Hill from Sydney in February 1909. Ordered from Britain and built by Shand, Mason & Co of London, this engine was an improvement on the Merryweather. It incorporated Shand Mason's patent "double vertical" engine which was capable of delivering 260 to 300 gallons (1,182 to 1,364 litres) per minute and was said to have weighed two tons.

Broken Hill fire alarms

One interesting aspect of fire-fighting operation at this early mining town was the alarm system of mine whistles instigated in about 1889. A code of blasts from the Jamieson's shaft of the Propriety Mine indicated the troubled district. For example, one short whistle and a pause signified the line of lode, one long tremulous whistle and a pause, was for the southern part of the township, while two short whistles and a pause indicated around Railway Town. The whistles would be continued until the bell at the fire station was heard in response. Individual mines also had their fire alarm whistles which were also sounded.

In October 1914 public fire alarms were installed at 11 locations around Broken Hill and comprised white painted metal boxes with the lettering "N.S.W. FB" and a brass handle to open the door. Inside, a lever had to be pulled down which sent a signal to a mechanical switchboard at the station. Known as the Kirkby open circuit alarm system, it was developed by the Australian inventor, Edward Hope Kirkby (1853-1915). Kirkby's system was a great improvement from having to run a mile or more to the station to alert the brigade or find someone with a telephone. This was in addition to the mine whistles which were still in use then.

More new appliances

In 1915 further additions were made to the station, and in the same year the first motorised unit, a Willy-Rees Roturbo, was acquired. In November 1917 a new motorised fire engine was installed, featuring a double delivery pump and two branches while another one arrived by train in August 1919 which comprised a Commer-Simonis motorised pumper. On arrival in Broken Hill, the new appliance was driven from the railway station to the brigade. The pump was manned, and drill gone through to test it. The force of the water was so strong that the firemen had to struggle to maintain control of the nozzles on the hoses and it was reported that at times the water shot high above the buildings pumping 300 to 400 gallons (776.9 to 1,035.9 litres) per minute.

By 1919 steam-operated units weren't quite finished with at Broken Hill as a second-hand, 350-gallon (906.4 litre) capacity Shand Mason steam pumper arrived from Sydney to supplement the other equipment. However, the motorised units had replaced the steam ones by 1921.

Sale of the steamer, its use and restoration

In July 1921 a steam fire engine in good working order (known to have been the Merryweather) was advertised for sale by tender together with two horses, two sets of harnesses (single and double), a hose cart and a spring cart.

The Merryweather was purchased by a Mr Leckie and driven 115 miles (185 km) east from Broken Hill to the town of Wilcannia, an old river port on the Darling River. The long journey over rough roads necessitated numerous changes of horses. Mr Leckie intended to use the steamer to pump water on his property outside the town, but it wasn't put to this use and never left Wilcannia. Instead, it took part in local street processions.

In June 1958 the steamer was "discovered", in an old woolstore at Wilcannia by Howard Knowles, a postal officer from Broken Hill. Mr Knowles advised the Museum of the whereabouts of the steamer. He volunteered to locate its owner, Mr Leckie's son, and organised for its donation and removal to Sydney. The engine was sent by rail to the Darling Harbour Goods Yards in Sydney, not far from the Museum in Ultimo, and arrived on 15 September 1960. Five days later it was collected and taken to the Museum's store where it remained for 22 years before restoration was commenced in 1982. The fire engine was restored to steaming condition by the apprentices of Sydney's Garden Island Dockyard. In 1988 it was placed on display in the Powerhouse Museum's 'Steam Revolution' exhibition together with a photograph of it operating at Broken Hill being pulled by Prince and Kate.


Credit Line

Purchased 1960

Acquisition Date

23 October 1960

Cite this Object


Merryweather horse-drawn steam fire engine from Broken Hill 2023, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 8 June 2023, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Merryweather horse-drawn steam fire engine from Broken Hill |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=8 June 2023 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}