Photography obsessed writer and urban explorer. Lover of nature, art and long weekends. Adelaide, South Australia.
Published June 16th 2019
A Heartwarming Story
Bob The Railway Dog is an Australian icon - Bob was a dog that led a truly amazing life. He was a train hopping / train loving pooch. He was adored by everyone who met him, but it was the railway workers who loved him the most.
His story as a train traveller started in 1883. He was born into a litter of working dogs bred by farmer Henry Hollamby. Mr Hollamby told The Southern Argus in 1895 that, as a puppy, "Bob was given to Mr James Mott, who kept the Macclesfield Hotel. At the time the railway was being made to Strathalbyn, and he followed some men to the line." This marked the beginning of Bob's fascination with the railways. The publican couldn't train him and couldn't contain him. Bob strayed and was caught in Adelaide and at 9 months of age, was put onto a train headed for Terowie in the north of South Australia.
He was one of 50 stray dogs specially transported in an attempt to reduce the number of feral rabbits which plagued the farms in the state's north.
He never made it as a rabbit hunter at Terowie though. When the train stopped at Peterborough train station, a train guard, William Ferry, liked the look of Bob and swapped him over for another dog. William and Bob became best friends and Bob fretted when William went off to work on the trains. William was allowed to bring Bob to work with him and the legend of Bob The Railway Dog began.
Bob loved the sound of the train's whistle and would up and run to the train line whenever he heard the steam whistle's sound. He would hop aboard and claim his favourite spot - riding on the coal pile in the tender. He once accidentally jumped on board a steamer boat when he heard the whistle and ended up cruising between Port Pirie and Port Augusta!
William Ferry trained Bob to do all kinds of tricks and he was a popular sight for train travellers and children in country towns. His tail would wag and he'd greet thousands of people with a happy bark and all the children would call out 'There's Bob! Good old Bob' as the train went through.
He was admired by thousands of people, but no group loved him more than the staff of the South Australian Railways. They took turns looking after him and become ferociously protective of him. This was most evident when a sheep farmer dognapped him. The railway workers gathered in great numbers and searched until they found him and returned him to the trains.
The farmer was threatened with prosecution - he was told that Bob was the property of the South Australian Railways and that he'd be locked up if he didn't return the dog.
To prevent Bob being taken again, one of his guardians made him a special collar and inscribed it "Stop me not, but let me jog, for I am Bob, the driver's dog".
In a letter to the editor of an English newspaper, a Mr Cresswell from Adelaide wrote, "The most curious part of his conduct is that he has no master, but every engine driver is his friend. At night he follows home his engineman of the day, never leaving him or letting him out of his sight until they are back on the Railway Station in the morning, when he starts off on another of his ceaseless journeys."
He travelled freely on trains, trams and even on the River Murray steamboats. He was seen regularly in Victoria, Sydney and even Brisbane! His whole existence was spent riding around with engine drivers.
It's hard to guess how many trips and how many miles Bob did while riding on the trains. It's most likely to be in the hundreds of thousands of miles. It was on one of his regular trips to his favourite butcher in Adelaide that Bob sadly passed away, aged seventeen. It was July 29 1895. He got off the train at the Adelaide Station and headed over to Hindley Street for a sausage treat from his friend. He left the shop, barked at another passing dog and died.
After Bob died, his body was stuffed and his collar put on him. He was displayed at train stations for people to pay their respects. His body was placed in a glass case and was, for many years, on display at the Exchange Hotel. Unfortunately, he went missing and hasn't been located since. But, his collar is on display in the National Railway Museum in Port Adelaide.
With all of Bob's incredible travels, Peterborough was always his home. The local community fundraised for 18 months and erected a life sized bronze statue in Bob's honour. The statue, made by South Australian sculptor Silvio Apponyi was unveiled on 20th November 2009 and is a popular place for people to stop and learn about this iconic and much-loved dog.
Tokens such as bones, dog biscuits, Christmas presents and Easter eggs are often placed between his front paws. Anonymous admirers dress him up for special occasions - Christmas, Australia Day, Valentine's Day etc. He has become a great favourite with travellers passing through Peterborough and appears in many family holiday snaps.