Built in 1882, Locomotive 1243 is one of eight mainline steam passenger engines built in Sydney for the New South Wales Government Railways at the Atlas Engineering Works to the design of Messrs Beyer Peacock & Co. of Manchester, England. With a wheel arrangement of 4-4-0, the locomotive is referred to as an Australian eight wheeler, designed for Australian conditions and built in Australia to encourage local industry. In all sixty-eight "Australian eight wheeler" locomotives were manufactured. This was the first class of locomotives on the New South Wales Railways to be built in relatively large numbers.
As the railway network in New South Wales expanded throughout the 1870s a greater demand for motive power was required to handle the increasing passenger and mail traffic. A special locomotive for use in Australia was subsequently designed in England by the locomotive manufacturers, Beyer Peacock & Co. of Manchester based on the very successful British 23 class 4-4-0 tank locomotives, which the company had supplied to the Metropolitan Railway in London. Herman Lange, works manager and successor to Charles Beyer who had founded the famous locomotive works, is said to have personally supervised the development of the "Australian eight wheeler".
Of the sixty-eight "Australian eight wheeler" locomotives built, 30 were supplied by Beyer Peacock and 26 came from the Scottish firm of Dubs & Co. of Glasgow. The remaining eight were locally built by Davey and Company of the Atlas Engineering Works, Hay Street West, Sydney, in order to assist local industry. Locomotive 1243 was the second of these locomotives to be built at a cost of 3 343 pounds using the Beyer Peacock engine No. 125 as a pattern for its construction.
Locomotive 1243 was originally designated a 79 class engine and numbered 176. After much delay it entered service in February 1882 initially working on the main express passengers lines and mail trains on the Great Southern and Western railways. After the opening of the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge in 1889, 176 operated out of Newcastle and later Bathurst. The 79 class engines were the mainstay of the expanding New South Wales railway system for about 20 years. They took over all the through passenger and mail trains, were free steaming and became very popular with the crews. However, the introduction of new more powerful engines and their inability to cope with gradients greater than 1:40 saw the 79 class locomotives moved to the more easily graded branch lines or used as assistant engines. Between 1916 and 1939 Locomotive 176 was transferred to Narrabri West, Dubbo, Nyngan, back to Dubbo then Temora.
During World War II, Locomotive 176, by then renumbered 1243, was transferred to Enfield in Sydney and leased to the United States Army for shunting duty at Regents Park. After the War it moved to Mudgee, Parkes, back to Enfield then to Narrabri West in 1952. By 1954 only 10 of the original 68, 12 class engines remained in service and the following year 1243 was returned to its original green livery for display in the New South Wales Railways' Centenary celebrations at Sydney Central Station. The locomotive received so much attention it was kept in working order for operation as a special excursion train and from 1960 became part of the official Vintage Train together with the Governor's carriage of 1891 now displayed beside 1243 in the Museum. The Vintage Train undertook a variety of special train tours attending town centenaries and local government celebrations all over the State. From the mid-1960s the locomotive had been set aside for the Museum and in 1969 featured in the film "Ned Kelly". It continued in service with the Vintage Train until 1982 and since 1988 has been on permanent display in the Transport exhibition of the Museum.
Assistant Curator, Transport