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B2237 Railway carriage, first class, originally third class carriage 16N, later workmans van W363, timber / iron, made by Joseph Wright & Sons of Saltley, Birmingham, England, 1856, used on second railway in New South Wales, the Great Northern Railway between Newcastle and East Maitland, in 1857, re. Click to enlarge.

Railway carriage used on first railway in New South Wales

This carriage was originally one of 12 third class vehicles ordered for the second railway in New South Wales, established by the Hunter River Railway Company at Newcastle in 1853. Taken over by the Government in 1857, this line became the Great Northern Railway. Carriage rolling stock similar to that used in Sydney was ordered from Joseph Wright and Sons of Birmingham in 1856.

The first class carriage is extremely significant in terms of the history of rolling stock in New South Wales and …


Object No.


Object Statement

Railway carriage, first class, originally third class carriage 16N, later workmans van W363, timber / iron, made by Joseph Wright & Sons of Saltley, Birmingham, England, 1856, used on second railway in New South Wales, the Great Northern Railway between Newcastle and East Maitland, in 1857, rebuilt as a first class carriage by apprentices at Apprentice Training College, Public Transport Commission of NSW, Chullora, New South Wales, 1972-1973

Physical Description

This first class carriage was originally built as a third class carriage and was converted into a second class carriage and later into a workman's van. The carriage was rebuilt from the workman's van into the "saloon" configuration of a first class, four-wheel, four-door, 18 window passenger rail vehicle with a seating capacity of 22. It comprises a timber body rebuilt in silver ash, timber roof and underframe with iron wheels, springs and couplings. The frame and wheels are black, the body is varnished timber and the roof is white. Each of the six doors (three on each side) is fitted with brass door handles and grab handles and features the words "First Class" in gold and black block lettering. The number 8 is finished in gold on the side panels closest to the front and rear of the carriage, and the monogram "GSWR", standing for Great Southern and Western Railway, is featured in two places on each side of the carriage. (There is no historical significance to this number, which was chosen at random.) Side chains are not fitted (missing) and the couplings are wrongly welded up. The carriage has no brakes, and footboards run the length of each side. Although the body has been rebuilt, the frame is an original Wright-built frame of 1856, distinguished by the inverted "V" shaped bracket bolted to its side.

The carriage interior does not depict a standard first class carriage of 1855, which comprised three cross compartments, each seating four passengers per side facing each other, with a capacity of 24. Instead the interior has been set out more like a saloon car, with perimeter seating in a large central compartment plus small end compartments, each with one seat. The saloon design featured in the modified Wright-built coupe first class carriage and Picnic Saloon carriages converted in New South Wales in the mid and late 1860s.

The interior features dark green vinyl deep-button upholstery on long perimeter bench seats, plus carpet and wallpaper. A shade or double roof is featured to help keep the carriage cool.



3800 mm


2500 mm


5200 kg



The first class carriage was fabricated by railway carriage apprentices from a workman's van originally built as a third class carriage for the Newcastle-based Great Northern Railway, which commenced operations 18 months after the Sydney railway, on the 30 March 1857. The carriage was built by Joseph Wright & Sons of Saltley, Birmingham, England in 1856.

Joseph Wright was born at Reading, England, in 1792 the third son of William and Susan Wright. He was apprenticed to a stage coach builder in London, showed great ability and in 1828 or 1829 became a coach proprietor and later an operator of Royal Mail coaches over many routes, including London to Birmingham. Wright soon became a partner in the London firm of Wright and Powell, which began to prosper after Powell left in 1834.

Joseph Wright commenced building railway carriages in 1835. He is credited with building the first coaches for the London and Birmingham railway, the predecessor of the London and North Western Railway (LNWR), which partially opened in 1837.

The need for expansion saw Wright purchase 5 acres of land in the village of Saltley, outside Birmingham. This was conveniently adjacent to both the Grand Union Canal and the then recently opened Birmingham to Derby railway line, allowing the efficient transport of both raw materials and finished products.

Production there began in 1845. The Saltley works appears to have been managed by Joseph's eldest son, Henry Wright, assisted by his youngest son, Joseph Wright junior, and the company became known as Joseph Wright & Sons. Joseph senior remained in London, where he managed the carriage works and various contracts he held to run railways. In 1848 an additional lease was taken for more land at Saltley, and by 1853 the works employed around 800 men. Such was the success of the Saltley establishment that the London works were closed by the early 1850s and production concentrated at Saltley.

By the 1850s the Wrights had developed a high reputation for workmanship and innovation. They developed eight-wheel carriages and were at the cutting edge of carriage design at the time. As British railway companies became larger, through extensions and amalgamations, many set up their own carriage and wagon works and became less reliant on private builders such as Joseph Wright & Sons. To offset this change, the Wrights turned to the fast growing overseas railways, many of them British-engineered and British-run, whose promoters looked to Britain for rolling stock. Consequently, Joseph Wright not only supplied the first railway carriages for New South Wales and Victoria but for Bulgaria, Chile, Denmark, Egypt, India, Norway, Paraguay, Spain and Sweden.

By the late 1850s rivals with newer works and more up-to-date plant had begun to compete with Joseph Wright & Sons. The firm expanded and became a limited company, attracting additional capital. Unfortunately, in 1859 Joseph Wright suffered an untimely and accidental death from gas poisoning; this was not an unusual cause of death in the early days of domestic gas supply. Nevertheless, the plans he had put in place were carried out by his sons, who formed the Metropolitan Railway Carriage & Wagon Co Ltd in 1862. The following year the registered office of the company was changed from London to Saltley, and in time the manufacturing base extended to horse trams and then steam trams.

The village of Saltley developed into the world's greatest concentration of railway carriage and wagon manufacturers, with the Metropolitan, Midland, and Brown & Marshall firms all within a 2-kilometre radius. By 1900 the Metropolitan Company's Saltley works had become the largest of its kind in the United Kingdom. It became the Metropolitan Cammell Carriage & Wagon Works in 1929 and was later part of the Metro-Cammel Group.

During the Second World War the company's record office was damaged and many of the records were lost. After the war the remaining records were donated to the Birmingham Central Library. The old Wright factory was closed in 1962 and production was concentrated at the nearby Midland works. The company traded under the Metropolitan-Cammell name until taken over by GEC-Alsthom in 1989; in 1998, after GEC withdrew from the partnership, it became Alstom (without the H) Transport. The building of carriages in Saltley eventually ceased after 159 years.



The first passenger carriages in England, other than the open box types used for the "lower classes", were just road stage coach bodies built on a four-wheel underframe. Until the early 1840s, passengers could still ride on the outside box seats of the coaches, as they had done on the road. By the 1850s British carriages had become standardised into compartment carriages on four or six wheels. During the late 1840s saloon-type carriages began to be used, especially as "Smoking" cars and for family groups.

The president of the Sydney Railway Company, Sir Charles Cowper, initially urged that the rolling stock for the first railway in New South Wales should follow the American practice of cheaper and lighter vehicles, as both countries had similar geographical size and requirements. Departing from the rigid-type wheelbase of the fixed axle and wheelset English design, the bogie carriage was introduced in America in 1831 and by 1850 was virtually in standard use there, with end platforms and a saloon-type interior. The advantage of the bogie carriage was its ability to accommodate lower standards of track construction and maintenance. However, the English influence prevailed and four-wheel carriages dominated the New South Wales railway scene until the 1880s. From that time the bogie-type carriages were most often used. After 1892 there were no regular rosters of the four-wheel carriages, but they were pressed into service on holiday, charter and excursion trains. The last regular use of the carriages was on the isolated Lismore line until 1914.

The original order from the Sydney Railway Company to its London agent, James McConnell, was for twelve 6-wheel second class carriages, painted dark green, also known as "Queen's colour". The carriages that arrived were of the four-wheel type, and the finish was varnished timber. The reasons for these changes are not known.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald's shipping news of the time, the first shipment of four second class carriages for the opening of the railway arrived on the Peruvian 505-ton barque Belle Islena on 26 September 1854. The 1754-ton ship Ebba Brahe, which arrived on 6 January 1855, carried another two carriages, while the last six carriages were transported on the 916-ton ship John Fielden, which arrived on 13 January 1855. These last carriages were unloaded at Campbell's Wharf at East Circular Quay on 28 January 1855 together with Locomotive No.1.

In all, 290 four-wheel passenger carriages were used on the New South Wales railways, comprising one sleeping, 24 first class, 49 composite, 156 second class and 60 third class carriages. Of these 109 were imported from Wright's Birmingham works and the remainder were built locally by P.N. Russell & Co; R.A. Ritchie; Hudson Brothers; Thomas Braid; and Moyes and Donald; and one was from the Newcastle workshops.

The features of Wright-built carriages used to determine their authenticity are as follows.

" Laminated side frames (later colonial-built vehicles did not have laminated frames, probably because more suitable solid timber was available).
" End and centre spring shackle hangers (colonial-built vehicles had only end hangers).
" Hand grabs and door handles.
" Marking of inverted "V" plates on the outside of the underframe held by three bolts securing the W-guard to the frame (colonial-built vehicles had semi-circular plates).
" Louvre ventilators were fitted over the doors only, and lights were built over the windows. Placing louvres only over the doors was a Wright characteristic.

All carriages of this early period had the standard link draw hook coupling with side chains. The original buffers were probably not sprung and only had rubber pads behind the wooden buffer face to cushion the end loading shocks. The original first (three compartment) carriages had a 12 foot wheelbas, while all the remaining carriages and luggage vans were 11 foot. All the wheels were 3 feet 6 inch diameter.

A total of eight first class carriages were ordered by the Sydney Railway Company for the line between Sydney and Parramatta, which opened in 1855. Six of the carriages had three equal compartments, and two were the coupe style, with unequal compartments.

First Class Carriages
The standard first class carriages on the Sydney railway of 1855 had three compartments, each seating eight passengers.. The carriages were 20 feet over the body, had a 12 foot wheelbase and a mass of 5 tonnes. They had footboards which ran the full length of the carriages, double roofs and curved body sides below the window rail. There are no records of the exterior finish of the carriages. The earliest specification surviving is for an 1859 composite carriage which stated that the whole of the framing body and carriage, inside partitions, panels and inside and outside roofs were to be of "East India or Moulamein teak" with floor boards of "white deal". The body and carriage were to have one coat of size and four coasts of body varnish, while the inside was to have one coat of size and one coat of varnish.

Coupe Carriages
The two coupe carriages were originally numbered 1 and 2 and accommodated 20 passengers in two large compartments and one small compartment. They weighed 4 tonnes and were recognisable by the shape of the wall at one end. It is assumed that of the two coupe carriages ordered, one would have been given a superior finish for use by Vice-Royalty; referred to as the State Carriage, it carried the Governor on the morning of the opening of the railway on 26 September 1855. According to secondary sources, it was upholstered in brown cloth and "daisy tufts" and was lined with paper mache. There were a dozen hat pegs and a four candlepower Colza oil lamp. Another source said there was a saloon with seats around all sides in place of the normal full-size compartments; this description begins to fit the carriage as rebuilt by the apprentices for the Museum. However, no primary material has been found describing the interior of these carriages in 1855, and it is assumed by railway historians that these descriptions refer to a carriage used after 1867 and that the original Vice-Regal carriage was similar in layout to the other coupe carriage

Museum's first class carriage
Before fabrication into the Museum's first class carriage, it was workman's van W363. By following through the Railway's numbering system in 'Coaching Stock of the NSW Railway' Volume 1 by Cooke, Estell, Seckold and Beckhaus, published in 1999, it is possible to trace the history of the carriage. It apparently began service as third class carriage No.16N (the N standing for Newcastle) on the Great Northern Railway, which began as a private concern called the Hunter River Railway Company. This company was formed on 10 October 1853 with the aim of building a railway from Civic (Honeysuckle Point) in Newcastle to what is now Victoria Street, East Maitland. The first contract for construction of the railway was let a year later. As happened to the Sydney Railway Company, raising sufficient capital proved too great a problem and control of the railway passed to the New South Wales Government on 30 July 1855. Some 17 days after they took control, the Railway Commissioners ordered three locomotives, 30 items of rolling stock and 50 goods vehicles for the line. The rolling stock was obtained from the same suppliers as the Sydney railway, Joseph Wright & Sons of Birmingham, England. The carriages comprised 12 second class and 12 third class carriages. These were similar to the Sydney vehicles except that the Newcastle carriages were heavier, the third class ones being 5.2 tonnes instead of 4.6 tonnes. The locomotives and rolling stock for the Newcastle line were delivered from England on two ships, the John Fielden and the Dundonald.

The Hunter River Railway was renamed the Great Northern Railway by the Governor, Sir William Denison, when it was opened for public traffic on 30 March 1857. The Chief Engineer, John Whitton, advised the Government that the Honeysuckle Point terminus needed to be extended to the wharf at Newcastle to make the line an economic proposition. This extension was opened on 19 March 1858, and one from East Maitland to West Maitland opened on 27 July 1858.

The twelve Newcastle third class carriages were numbered in sequence after the twelve Newcastle second class carriages, 13N to 24N. However, by December 1858 the third class carriages had been renumbered in their own sequence from 1N to 10N (the Museum's carriage becoming 4N). Then, as with the Southern lines, all the third class carriages were reclassified as second class in July 1863, as third class travel had been abolished. Within two years the carriage numbers 3N to 10N had been rebuilt into four-compartment, eight-door second class carriages with a seating capacity of 40 passengers. The Museum's carriage became second class carriage 24N, only to be renumbered again in 1889 as 261 and finally 261A in 1892. This marked the end of the period of four-wheel passenger carriages, and the vehicle was converted to workman's van WV71A in November 1909 and renumbered W363 in about 1914.

The initial discovery of the surviving rebuilt-Newcastle second-class carriage/workman's van was made by Mr John Forsyth, Archives Officer with the then Public Transport Commission of NSW. Mr Forsyth was conducting a heritage train tour in 1968 and spotted the carriage in the yard at Casino, in northern New South Wales, as the train arrived in the evening. He went out that night to examine the carriage by torchlight and found it was probably a very early Wright-built vehicle and still in use by the railways as a workman's van inhabited by a ganger or fettler. The workman's van carried the number W363 and its external appearance was that of a 2nd class carriage with a four-door configuration. However, when it had been converted to a workman's van in 1909 all the internal partitions and fittings had been removed.

The Museum was advised of this significant discovery and then approached the Railway Commissioner to ensure its preservation and have it returned to Sydney. In October 1970 Norm Harwood, the Keeper of Exhibits, Transport & Engineering, at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, inspected the carriage with Mr Forsyth and realised its significance. Workman's van W363 was officially condemned by the Railways in December 1970.

The task of converting the dilapidated van into a first class carriage like the ones used on the Sydney railway system in the early period was began by the Apprentices Section, Wagon Works, at the Clyde Railway Workshops in 1972 under the direction of Mr E. Cuskey, Supervisor of the Section, and his fellow teachers. The carriage later became a prime project for apprentices at the newly-established Public Transport Commission of NSW. Apprentice Training College at Chullora, under the Controller of the College, Mr Woodward. Mr Forsyth supplied undated drawings entitled "four wheel old style" first class carriages, for both the three separate compartment configuration, seating 24 passengers, and one in the saloon style with perimeter seating and single seat compartments at each end seating 22 passengers. The latter configuration was chosen for the apprentice project because internally it looked markedly different from the second class carriage which had already been rebuilt by apprentices between 1965 and 1967 and the third class carriage undertaken in 1947. The cost of rebuilding the carriage was jointly funded by the Railways and the Trustees of the Museum.

On Thursday 23 September 1976, the Chief Commissioner of the Public Transport Commission, Mr Alan S. Reiher, officially handed the restored first class carriage to the Museum's President of Trustees, Sir John Hurley, at the Commission's Apprentice Training College at Chullora. The handover was undertaken at the College's prize-giving day and included the presentation of awards to apprentices. Apprentices in the Car and Wagon section, including blacksmithing, coach painting, sheet metal, electrical and trimming trades were all involved in the rebuilding of the carriage. At the time there were 1500 apprentices in training with the Public Transport Commission.

In 1980 the carriage was displayed as part of an historic train at Central station for the 125th anniversary of rail in New South Wales. It was exhibited at the Royal Easter Show at Sydney Showground from 10 April to 21 April 1981 with a number of other pieces of rolling stock including the Museum's third class carriage and Locomotive 1243. In 1988 the carriage joined Locomotive No.1 and the second class and third class carriages on display in the Galleria area of the Powerhouse Museum.

According to Mike Newport, of Alstom's Washwood Heath Works in Birmingham, who provided information on the Wright firm, there is only one Joseph Wright & Sons coach body in preservation in Britain today. Apart from the three carriages in Sydney (the museum holds second class carriage B1664 and thord c;ass carriage B1614 as well as the first class carriage), the only other known survivors are the frames of two carriages in a museum in Sweden.


Credit Line

Gift of Public Transport Commission of NSW, 1976

Acquisition Date

22 September 1976

Cite this Object


Railway carriage used on first railway in New South Wales 2023, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 7 February 2023, <>


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