Bob, the railway dog’s collar, which is now at the National Railway Museum at Port Adelaide. Photo: Sulzer55, Wikimedia Commons.
Bob, the railway dog. Photo: State Library of South Australia, PRG 280/1/5/301.
Bob, the Railway Dog
27 August 2018
In the 1880s and 1890s a dog named Bob became famous in South Australia for his travels by train. Bob became well-known to railway employees and the public. ‘Bob, the railway dog’ has become part of Australian folklore. When he died in 1895, his death was reported in numerous newspapers.
Bob was born around 1882. There were various stories about Bob’s origins and how he came to be associated with railways. After Bob’s death, Henry Hollamby of Macclesfield, located in the Adelaide Hills, claimed that he had bred Bob and gave some information, which was reported in the Southern Argus.
“As there seems to be a considerable amount of doubt and curiosity concerning the breed, &c, of ‘Bob, the railway dog’, I take the liberty of writing to say that he was bred by me, that I owned his mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. He, when a puppy, was given to Mr James Mott, who kept the Macclesfield Hotel. Bob’s father was a German collie dog. At the time the railway was being made to Strathalbyn he followed some of the navvies to the line and was called ‘Navvy.’ Mr Mott, brought him back from the line two or three times, till at last he lost him. At that time he was about nine months old; the breed was well known here as first class cattle dogs. When any of my children heard ‘Bob’ bark they thought how much he was like his mother in voice as well as looks.”
In 1884 the dog came into the ownership of railwayman William Ferry. He told his story to a reporter from the Advertiser many years later.
“I was a special guard in 1884 and picked Bob up at Terowie on September 25. He had been consigned from Adelaide together with 50 other dogs to a man in charge of the rabbiting party at Carrieton [a town in the Flinders Ranges and on the railway line between Peterborough and Quorn]. I think the police had taken him collarless in Adelaide. I took a fancy to him, and when the train reached Carrieton I wanted to buy him, but the man would not sell. However, he stipulated that he would make an exchange because one dog was as good as another to him. I went on to Port Augusta, and got a dog from the police, took it back next day, and that is how Bob came on the railway. I registered him immediately to establish ownership, and he went, back to Terowie with me that day. Bob remained with me until February 1885 when I went to Peterborough station as foreman porter. He continued to ride on the train.”
In 1889 William Ferry moved to Western Australia, but Bob did not go with him. “When I went to the West in 1889 somebody hid him at Alberton so that I should not get him. I never saw him again after that.” Ferry was the first station master at Mount Barker railway station, near Albany, and remained there for 18 years until he became a farmer.
Terowie was connected to Adelaide by a broad (1600 mm) gauge railway that was opened in sections and finally completed in December 1880. A narrow (1067 mm) gauge line extended from Terowie to Petersburg (now Peterborough) in 1881, making Terowie a break of gauge station. It became an important location where passengers changed trains and for the transhipment of goods. Today Terowie is a quiet town no longer served by railways. Petersburg was already connected from the east to Port Pirie by a narrow gauge line that had been completed in January 1881. More narrow gauge railways were built from Petersburg to the north, reaching Quorn in 1882, Hergott Springs (now Marree) in 1884, Oodnadatta in 1891 and Alice Springs in 1929. Narrow gauge lines were also built from Petersburg to the east, reaching Cockburn on the South Australia–New South Wales border in 1887 and Broken Hill in 1888.
Bob began his railway adventures at a young age. William Ferry was working as a guard on wheat trains operating from Gladstone to Pirie. Bob would see his owner leave each morning, and later went to the station in the evening and waited for him to return. On one occasion Ferry decided to take Bob with him, and since Bob appeared to enjoy it, his owner took him on more trips. During one trip Bob was put on the locomotive and then called back to the brake van over the wagons loaded with wheat. From that time he was inseparable from the railways.
Bob continued his railway adventures. He rode on locomotives, frequently on top of the coal stack in the tender. He also rode in carriages. His friendly temperament enabled him to be welcomed by train crews. From the time that William Ferry moved to Western Australia in 1888, Bob had no master. He befriended many drivers and at night he often followed them home and never left them until they returned to the railway the following morning. Then he would begin another journey.
It was reported after his death that the first engine Bob rode on was number 48. Number 48 was an X Class 2-6-0 engine that entered service on 26 June 1881. There were eight members of the class and they operated on the northern narrow gauge lines of South Australia. They were built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in the United States and were known by enginemen as ‘Yankees’. It was said that Bob was happiest when he was on a Yankee engine. Number 48 was condemned on 10 April 1907.
Bob reportedly travelled far and wide, selecting different trains. He would catch long-distance trains, as well as suburban trains and trams in Adelaide. Bob travelled on various railway lines throughout South Australia. Sightings of him were also reported in parts of Victoria, in Sydney and in Brisbane. It was stated that Bob was a guest at a banquet held the opening of the railway from Peterborough to Broken Hill in January 1888, and that he was at the opening of the Hawkesbury River Bridge in New South Wales in May 1889. However, newspapers of the time do not contain reference to Bob appearing at these events.
Reports indicate that Bob had several accidents. He is known to have fallen from an express train between Manoora and Saddleworth. One of his feet was injured and Bob limped to Saddleworth, where he was bandaged by the Station Master.
At one time Bob was stolen by a sheep farmer and put to work. Bob was herding sheep near the railway line and when he heard a train’s whistle he ran to the engine and was recognised by the locomotive crew. They told the farmer that Bob belonged to the South Australian Railways and that if he did not give up the dog he would be prosecuted for theft. Following this a special collar was made with the inscription: “Stop me not but let me jog for I am Bob the drivers’ dog.”
Bob died on 29 July 1895. In Adelaide he had been a frequent visitor to a butcher shop in Hindley Street owned by Mr Evans. On this occasion Bob was in Adelaide following a recent trip to Broken Hill. In the afternoon he was given a meal by an employee of the shop. Shortly afterwards, at around 3.10 pm, Bob barked at another dog, let out a whine, then fell down dead. Some reports suggest that he was run over by a meat delivery truck, while others say it is likely that he had a heart attack.
The South Australian Register paid the following tribute.
“There is only one privileged individual in the province permitted at all times to use the Government railways without payment, and, further, without a ‘pass’. Even the late Chairman Smith has been asked for his ticket, and the importunate porter would take no excuse; but ‘franked’ on all lines, and on engine, in van, or carriage alike, the one constant traveller, who acts as though he believed the railways were made for him, is our hero. You may meet him today on the Serviceton line, and next week at Oodnadatta. He is well-known in the Adelaide station, and his friendly salute is often heard from the open window of a carriage on the Port line, as he enjoys a suburban trip. He is always welcome in the porters’ room, but his favourite place is on a Yankee engine; the big whistle and belching smokestack seem to have an irresistible attraction for him. His acquaintances on all lines are numerous, and he often engages in such lengthy salutations that the train by which he has been travelling starts without him; but he is never left behind, as he has a perfect knowledge of how to mount a train in motion.”
Remembering Bob the Railway Dog
After Bob died his body was stuffed. Wearing his collar, it was displayed at various railway stations and at the Exchange Hotel in Adelaide. The collar was later kept in the office of the Australian Union of Locomotive Enginemen and is now at the National Railway Museum in Port Adelaide.
A life size bronze statue of Bob was unveiled in Peterborough by Ruth White, Mayor of Peterborough, on 20 November 2009. The statue was created by sculptor Silvio Apponyi and followed 18 months of fundraising. There is also a Facebook page dedicated to Bob <https://www.facebook.com/bobtherailwaydogsa>. Today Bob is commemorated as a unique dog and his railway adventures are recalled.
Australian Steam, V9 <>.
‘Bob, the dog who was the friend of all’, Chronicle, 27 April 1939.
‘Bob, the railway dog’, Adelaide Observer, 17 August 1895, p. 30.
‘Bob, the railway dog’, Southern Argus, 22 August 1895, p. 3.
Bob the Railway Dog, <>.
Bob the Railway Dog <>.
‘Bob the railway dog: icon of Australian history’ Australian Geographic, 7 October 2011, <http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/history-culture/2011/10/bob-the-railway-dog-icon-of-australian-history/>.
‘Death of “Bob”, the railway dog’, South Australian Register, 30 July 1895, p. 6.
Marshall, B & J Wilson, Locomotives of the S.A.R., Mile End Railway Museum, Adelaide, 1972.
‘More about “Bob”’, Petersburgh Times, 30 August 1895, p. 4.
‘Out among the people, Advertiser, 19 August 1942, p. 8.
‘Owned Bob, the railway dog’, Advertiser, 13 November 1936, p. 31.
Quinlan, H & JH Newland, Australian railway routes 1854 to 2000, Australian Railway Historical Society, New South Wales Division, Sydney, 2000.
Wikipedia, Bob the Railway Dog < >.
This photo shows Bob sitting on the top of V Class 0-4-4 tank engine No. 9. This locomotive was built by Beyer, Peacock & Company in England and entered service with South Australian Railways in February 1877. It spent many years shunting at Peterborough locomotive depot until it was finally withdrawn on 16 April 1955. During that year it was put on display at Naracoorte, where it remains today as a static exhibit, and is the oldest locomotive in South Australia. Photo: State Library of South Australia, B 6422.
Bob, the railway dog with two lamps. The photo was taken at Terowie on 31 December 1892. Photo: State Library of South Australia PRG 117/5/1.