Did your Ancestor work for the Victorian Railways?
The first railway in Australia started in 1854 and ran from the city of Melbourne, on the banks of the Yarra river, to Sandridge (now known as Port Melbourne). The Victorian Railways became a major employer in the State and they kept excellent records. The good news is many have survived at the Public Record Office of Victoria (PROV).
In using these records, it's worth noting that the Railways employed a significant number of women. In their annual reports, they also listed all staff who departed the organisation during the year which provides another useful resource for information about your railway ancestors.
Victorian Railways Employee records
PROV holds Railway employee records from 1859 through to 1990. However, in order to locate your railway ancestor’s records it is generally necessary to know in which branch they worked. The Triennial List of Railway Employees published in the Victorian Government Gazette provides this information as well as their:
Date of Birth;
Date of Entry (to the Railways); and
Salary at the date of publication.
So even if you do not go so far as to view their employee record at PROV, finding their information published in the Gazette is still worthwhile.
The triennial list was published in the Gazette from 1884 until 1929. Although the employee names are not indexed, it is usually the first item in the Gazette and is published alphabetically thus making it easy to find an ancestor’s name.
Victorian Government Gazettes from 1851 to 1901 are online at Findmypast and these have been indexed by name which makes them easily searchable. Up until 1901 it is the fastest way to find your ancestor's branch in the Railways. Once you have your railway employee's Branch you can then locate the relevant file/s in PROV's online catalogue. (See below for instructions.)
If you are looking for railway employee records post 1901, then click here for Anne’s Family History Blog which provides a table of references for each triennial list with links to the relevant Gazette pages for the years from 1894 to 1929.
If your family member commenced and completed their Railway employment in the years between the Triennial lists, your best bet is probably to look for them in the Victorian Railways Annual Reports (see below for more information).
Above: Extract from the 1908 Victorian Railways Employees List in the Victorian Government Gazette.
Show me how
By way of illustration, let's say I am looking for Charles Frederick Bunnett in the above extract from the 1908 Railways employee list. From the published information, I can see he was a Lad Porter in the Transportation Branch. He was born on 10 February 1890 and commenced work with the Victorian Railways on 9 May 1903. In 1908 he was earning the princely sum of 3 shillings per week.
On the PROV website, I use the following search box for his branch, i.e. Transportation from 1908 to 1908 and click Search.
From the Search Results list, Click on the desired collection. In this case I'm going to start with Staff Register, Transportation Branch 1883-1921.
The following screen will appear listing all the files in this group. In this case there are three registers to choose from. Given there is no further detail to inform which register I want, I would tick all three boxes then Click the Order selected entries box.
Unfortunately the records are not online, however, they can be viewed in PROV's North Melbourne reading room. If you can't get to North Melbourne, PROV has a copy service.
If you do go to North Melbourne to view your family member's personnel records, following is an example of what you will see for your trouble. I equate it to a military service style record. I particularly like the changes in position which tracks the person around the State from station to station.
Above: A sample Victorian Railways employee record. Courtesy of PROV.
Female railway employees
In searching through these records I was surprised to see so many females in the Railway Employee lists. They were mostly Gatewomen in the Existing Lines Branch or Women in Charge of Stations in the Traffic Branch. The Gatewomen were employed to manually open and close the railway gates when a train approached a level crossing. They were usually employees' wives, daughters, etc. and it is good to see them recorded as permanent employees in the Railways' statistical reports.
It is notoriously difficult to find information about female ancestors because they seldom left a footprint equal to or better than their male relatives. So if your ancestors lived near a railway line, it is worth searching for the lady or ladies in the family to see if they earned an income from working with the Railways as Gatewomen, in charge of stations or some other role.
I quickly found multiple entries for a distant cousin, Margaret Skermer, by searching the Victorian Government Gazette in Findmypast. Her entry in the 1887 Railway Employees List told me she was employed in the Traffic Branch as a Gatewoman, her husband John was a Repairer on the Railways and he was deceased. (In 1887 the employees' branch name was on a previous page.) Details in later lists provide additional information for Margaret's employment.
Above: An extract from the Victorian Railway Employee's List in the 1887 Victorian Government Gazette. Courtesy of Findmypast. Later years list more information.
Victorian Railways Annual Reports
As mentioned above, the Victorian Railways listed all their employee appointments and removals, quarter by quarter, in the appendices to their annual report. From the reports I viewed online, there were several pages of them in each report. Victorianrailways.net has a large collection of the annual reports which are online and free to view. As mentioned above, if your person started and finished their employment between the triennial reports listed in the Victorian Government Gazette, the Annual Reports are your next best option.
Above: Extract from the Victorian Railways' 1902 Annual Report showing departing employees for the third quarter 1902. Courtesy of VictorianRailways.net.
How did you go?
I hope you found this post useful and you found your Railway employee ancestor in the online Victorian Government Gazette, in the offline records at PROV or in the Victorian Railways annual reports. If you were successful, do let me know in the comment box at the bottom of the screen. If you know anyone who has Victorian Railways employees in their ancestry, don't hesitate to share this post.
Happy ancestor hunting.
Your Family Genealogist
I first published some of the above information in the Heraldry and Genealogy Society of Canberra's Ancestral Searcher magazine in 2017. It has been updated and extensively expanded for this blog post.
Public Record Office of Victoria