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Part 2 of 2

Note - This is a chapter from the book by McKillop and Pearson "History of Railways in Papua New Guinea" - it is obtainable from University of Papua New Guinea Press.

... continuation from Part 1

Rabaul Tramway;

In 1905, Norddeutscher Lloyd (NDL) established a settlement and wharf at Simpsonhafen (Rabaul) on Blanche Bay. The German administration moved their headquarters to Simpsonhafen in 1909 and a flourishing town soon took shape as a trading and service centre for the colony. The town plan included wide tree-lined avenues which provided space for footpaths, a tramline and roadway under the shady trees. The Neuguinea Kompagnie (NGK) built a jetty and large warehouse 300 metres north of the main NDL wharf, while Hernstein & Company established a smaller jetty 150 metres south of the main wharf. A coaling jetty, copra wharf and Tobai wharf on the western shore were also built during German times.

A narrow gauge tramway network was constructed to connect the wharves of the NDL, NGK and Hernsheim & Company to their business houses, administration offices, post office, Chinatown and hospital. The purpose of the Rabaul tramways was to facilitate the transport of goods to the German business houses. As urban street tramways, it appears that the lines were built to the German standard narrow gauge of 750 mm.

Records suggest that wagons were hand-pushed on the tramway. The role of the local Tolai people in railway operation was to provide the manpower for pushing wagons. In 1914 the Sydney Mail reported.:

it is a curious fact that each residence in the settlement has a line like this [photograph of a hand-pushed wagon conveying mail] connecting it with the wharf, so that goods can be conveyed direct from the boat side.

As the seat of German administration and the focus of Australian occupational forces, the Rabaul tramway system is well documented in photographs. They depict a complex pattern of light rail lines on the wharves and into large warehouses, with lines along the sides of most major streets. A recently located photograph provides evidence that the system included a branch line up Namanula Hill to the Governor’s residence. In 1996, a section of this line was uncovered by erosion associated with Rabaul’s volcanic eruption of 1994. Reconstruction of this evidence indicates that the line from the NDL wharf, along Namanula Street and up Namanula Road to Government House was 3.3 km in length, while other street lines added 1.3 km, making a total system of 4.6 km.

In September 1914 an Australian Expeditionary force captured Rabaul. German New Guinea became an occupied territory. This brought a reordering in the relationship between colonial masta and Tolai labourer, as evidenced in this description of unloading operations from ship to tramway trucks:

Above - Maps of Rabaul tramways


Top - Railway lines from Neu Guinea Kompagnie wharf to wharehouse, Rabaul

Bottom - Japanese Naval officers inspecting Australian guard of honour on Rabaul wharf amid railway tracks in 1914.
Australasian Post, 22 September 1960
One fatigue party has been detailed to take out the cargo, and another to transport it to the stores. They are - unaccustomed to wharf lumping - battling with heavy boxes of foodstuffs - dragging along heavy truck loads of necessaries - perspiring till the sweat runs in streams almost down into their boots, but, nevertheless, cheerful - shouting, yelling, and cracking jokes at the stupid kanakas , who are supposed to help, but can do nothing from amazement at seeing so much kai-kai - much more than they ever dreamt could possibly exist - and taken completely off their feet by observing the funny white fellows from Australia doing manual labour.


During the occupation no further development of railways took place. The Rabaul tramlines continued to operate for the next 12 years under German ownership, but without any more capital investment. Because the Germans were unsure of their future they were both unable and unwilling to make any improvements to the capital assets of their businesses. The assets were eventually expropriated for Australian companies and new lines were built by the administration. The subsequent history of the system is discussed in chapter 4.

The port of Kavieng was the second most important after Rabaul, shipping about 1000 tonnes of copra per month from plantations on both the east and west coasts. A short section of narrow-gauge railway was established from the wharf to the customs house and bulk copra store in Kavieng township. A set of railway wheels recently located in Kavieng which were used on the railway are of 600 mm gauge.

Photographs of the Kavieng wharf in the 1930s depict a double tramline with branches, operated by hand-pushed flatcars. Another photograph, dated 1937, shows a labour line standing on a tramline leading away from a jetty.

Missionaries were a key force in the efforts of colonialists to forge their subjective people into their own likeness. While their attention was focused on pastoral care, education and health, a commercial base from plantation development or exploitation of forest resources served to fund God’s work. Thus, missionaries followed as their commercial competitors and established railways to transport their produce from field and forest. From 1901 through to the Second World War, sawmilling in New Guinea was dominated by missionaries who were prepared to work for higher goals than mere commercial profit. Isolation from external markets limited sawmilling activities to the small domestic market. Under these circumstances, the returns to logging and sawmilling were not attractive and few commercial ventures lasted for more than the initial period of hope. Logging and timber enterprises were left to German missionaries.

The movement of large logs from the forest to a central sawmill and the dispatch of sawn timber required efficient transport. The use of rivers to float logs downstream was rarely practical because of New Guinea’s shallow, fast flowing streams, while some of the most valuable species ( kwila for instance) were too heavy to float. Railways were therefore indispensable for the early timber operations. Compared with the plantation railways, the missionaries chose heavier lines of 700 mm gauge for hauling heavy logs. However, they initially relied on manpower for the haulage task.

Methodist missionaries were the first to establish themselves in New Guinea. George Brown founded a station at Port Hunter in the Duke of York Islands in 1875. They established Ulu plantation to generate income for their work. A light railway, about 300 metres in length and of 600 or 610 mm gauge was constructed from the copra shed to the wharf. Plantation workers pushed flat trucks over the line. The construction date of the railway is not known, although the plantation is believed to date from 1875. It was probably destroyed by heavy fighting in the area during 1944. The line was rebuilt during the 1950s and was still in operation in 1982.

Lutheran Immanuel Synod;

The Methodists were established prior to the German proclamation, but were seen as foreigners. A more German spiritual presence was favoured. In 1886 the Lutheran Immanuel Synod of Adelaide sent Johann Flierl to commence mission work in Kaiser Wilhelmsland. He initially established a station (Simbang) at Finschhafen. Despite suffering from malaria, Flierl stayed on after the NGK withdrew its administration from the area. To escape the disease problems of the coast, Flierl established an inland station on Sattelberg mountain in 1892.

The primary intent of the Lutheran missionaries was evangelical, although coconut plantations and sawmills were also established. A photograph exists of the Rev. Pilhofer with "mission-helpers" posing in front of a light railway line at Sattelberg. No further information on this operation has been located.

German Lutheran missionaries in Morobe established a small sawmill at Butawung, near Finschhafen in the early 1920s. It operated through the 1930s, cutting 15-30,000 super feet of timber per year. A railway for the transport of logs and/or timber is reported.

Sacred Heart Mission Railways;

The first Catholic missionaries, from the French Most Sacred Heart of Jesus order, arrived at Matupit Island in Simpsonhafen in September 1882 and established a mission station at Vunapope, near Herbertshoehe (Kokopo) in 1889. Under the leadership of Monseigneur Couppe, the Vicariate Apostolic of the Bismarck Archipelago, they actively sought commercial ventures. The mission established plantations, undertook sawmilling and investigated the possibility of starting a brewery. By 1900, they had planted 460 ha to coconuts on three Gazelle plantations and they dominated the sawmilling industry in the Islands region for over 70 years. Sacred Heart missionaries also played an important role in mobilising labour for other plantations. In 1902, the German administration reported:

Thanks to the service of the Mission of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, a large new area has been opened up for labour recruiting in the territory of the Sulka tribes around Cape Orford.

At the Sacred Heart Mandres plantation at Weberhafen, in the Wide Bay area of New Britain, it was reported in 1901 that the "the jungle is full of magnificent Eucalyptus trees" and that the Bishop planned to start a sawmill there. The Toriu River sawmill and a 700 mm gauge timber logging railway was operational by 1902.

Photographs of the Toriu River operation depict a substantial steam-operated sawmill. One photograph shows at least 14 local labourers hauling a "record Eucalypt trunk" by rope over a bridge on the railway. Four Europeans pose in front of the log dressed in white safari suits and pith helmets. The Toriu River operation closed in 1917. The railway and sawmill was moved to Kurindal a few miles north. This mill cut 800,000 super feet of timber in 1923-24.

In 1928 the operation moved west again to Ulamona mission, in the shadow of Mount Ulawan, an active volcano known as The Father. Here, a 700 mm gauge logging railway was constructed from the sawmill inland behind Sule for approximately 10 km. A line of lighter construction was laid over 100 metres from the mill down to the jetty to carry the sawn timber for loading onto ships.


Top left - Road through Tunnel Hill Top right - Kavieng wharf with at Rabaul. This was to form part of tramlines and flat cars. an extensive light rail network on the Gazelle Peninsula.
Courtesy: Burns Philp.

Historishes Bildmaterial our dem
Archives des staatlichen Museums fur
Volkerkunde, Dresden. PNG National
Library photo 332.

Bottom - Boluminski Highway, New Ireland 1914.
MacKenzie, p. 294.


Sacred Heart Mission Logging Railways

Top - Mission labourers hauling a record Eucalyptus deglupta log on the Toriu River logging railway, c. 1910. German missionaries supervise.
Historishes Bildmaterial our dem Archives des staatlichen Museums fur Volkerkunde, Dresden. PNG National Library photo 314.

Bottom - View of the Toriu River sawmill, c. 1910.
Ibid. PNG National Library Photo 313


A steam locomotive was imported for the Kuriendal logging tramway in 1928. It was transferred to Ulamona with other equipment shortly afterward. A second steam locomotive, reported to be Arn Jung Locomotivfabrik B/No. 8644/1938, arrived in 1938/39. This was an 0-6-0WT of 700 mm gauge supplied to "Emile Nolting Oliva". A diesel-powered locomotive was reported at Ulamona in 1943. It is known that the Jung locomotive was converted to an 0-6-0 diesel mechanical unit. It was still in service at Ulamona in 1986. Post-war, a steam locomotive was reported to be abandoned with shrapnel holes in the boiler.

By 1966, logging was taken over by tractors, skidders and trucks. The logging railway was abandoned, but railway operations continued at the sawmill. The diesel locomotive and about 500 metres of track remained in operation into the 1990s.

At their Vunapope headquarters, the Sacred Heart Mission established a sawmill and timber dressing shops where timber from the Toriu River, Kurindal and Ulamona operations was prepared for the domestic market. The complex was in operation by 1921, and was progressively expanded over the years. It was served by a 700 mm gauge railway system from the jetty to copra sheds and timber yards, over which trucks were hand-pushed. The origins of the railway have not been identified, but it was reported in 1943.

A new jetty, some 100 metres in length, was opened in 1962. Field inspections by the authors 1980 and in 1991 identified some 550 metres of railway with several branches serving a ship repair yard, timber dressing facilities, timber storage sheds and a copra store. In 1980, a bogie wagon was still in use for moving timber around the yard and there were four wagons in storage. Two flat wagons were still there in 1991, although the railway was no longer in use.


Above - Map of Vunapope Railway


Top - Ulamona sawmill, West New Britain. Diesel 0-6-0 locomotive built on frame of Arn Jung steam locomotive and logging trucks, c. 1960.
PNG National Archives

Bottom - Timber stacks and railway yard, Ulamona sawmill,c. 1960.
PNG National Archives


Societas Verbi Divini

The most commercially active mission was the Catholic Society of the Divine Word (Societas Verbi Divini, SVD). Bishop Eberhard Limbrock arrived at Friedrich Wilhelmshafen in 1896 as Apostolic Prefect. The SVD combined commerce with missionary work in order to make their operations as independent as possible from overseas financial sources. Limbrock believed that the mission could not fulfil its spiritual aims without the "civilising" influence of industrial work habits. By 1914 the SVD had 18 mission stations in the Sepik-Ramu area with more land under coconuts than the NGK. They also operated significant sawmilling ventures.

The SVD expansion into plantations included the venture at Saint Anna mission, near Aitape in today’s West Sepik Province. In accordance with SVD policy to become self-reliant, the station head, Br Edward Irlenbush initiated a program to clear virgin forest at St. Anna on July 27, 1903, for a large plantation.

Plantation railways, probably to the SVD "standard" gauge of 700 mm, were constructed to service the fields. A 1935 photograph of the plantation depicts a substantial railway line through well-maintained coconut palms.. A 1 mile (1.6 km) line running from the St Anna boathouse to the plantation drier was reported in 1939. There were four 4-wheel light trucks.

German New Guinea’s most ambitious industrial enterprise was established in 1905 by the SVD mission at Alexishafen, on Sek Harbour, 15 km north of Friedrich Wilhelmshafen. Father Limbrock purchased what was described as swampland at Alexishafen, where a large steam-powered sawmill was in operation by the end of 1905. Its initial purpose was to cut timber for mission houses and schools for what was to become the SVDs headquarters in 1909. A school for catechists was established, together with a boarding school for boys and girls. A huge timber cathedral was completed in 1932.

The equipment for the sawmill and railway, including a steam engine, were ordered from Germany. They arrived in Friedrich Wilhelmshafen in October 1905 and were transported to Alexishafen on lighters borrowed from the NGK. The steam engine, weighing 4.5 tonnes, was the centre of much attention when it commenced operations on 5 December, 1905:

the utmost excitement prevailed amongst the black helpers ... though they had no idea what the ’strange objects’ were for. They were especially bewildered as to what the "great pot" - as they called the locomotive - would do. All were gathered about this enigma, when suddenly the whistle sounded for the fist time. At first they opened their mouths and eyes to their utmost, holding their ears, while some ran away in terror. The astonishment, however, reached its height when the locomotive was set in motion, and all the other machines were likewise started. The natives regarded it as a great honour to be assigned to assist at a machine, and made it their ambition to learn everything necessary about it as quickly as possible.

At first logs were cut within the immediate area of the mill, but it was soon necessary for a 700 mm gauge railway to be constructed some 4 km into the forest to haul logs to the mill. There were a number of substantial bridges including a roofed bridge spanning the Biges River. Log bogies were hauled by oxen. Other photographs depict German colonial officials riding on 4-wheel flatcars hauled by donkeys or mules, while buffalo are shown hauling V-hoppers for the haulage of sand and gravel for construction projects. The SVD owned 37 railway trucks in 1919. In 1921-22, the sawmill cut over a million super feet of timber.

Passenger transport on the railway was improved in the 1920s. In 1929, District Officer AJ Hunter travelled from Alexishafen to Danip, the mission outstation, on a ...


Top - This classic photo depicts a group of SVD missionaries on a flatcar hauled by a donkey team crossing a substantial bridge at Alexishafen, c. 1914.
Courtesy, Missionaries of St. Michael, Germany

Bottom - A buffalo-drawn hopper wagon transports material from a construction site at Alexishafen.
Word - SVD Mission

.... rail car provided by Bishop Wolff. In 1935, the SVD imported an aeroplane from MIVA in Germany to service its outlying mission stations. An airstrip was constructed 3.8 km from Sek and was linked to the station by a tramline. The rail motor was presumably a boon to those with the privilege of travelling by air.

Alexishafen mission, the sawmill and the railway were destroyed by bombing during World War II. The railway was not rebuilt, any salvageable equipment being transferred to Marienberg.


Above - Map of Marienberg Railway

Marienberg Sawmill and Railway;

SVD missionaries, led by Father Franz Kirschbaum, established a station at Marienberg on the lower Sepik River in 1913. They selected a prominent hill overlooking the mighty river, about 60 km from the mouth. It was the first European settlement on the Sepik. The station was in its infancy when an Australian flotilla sailed up the Sepik and captured the German stations at Marienberg and Angoram. A sawmill was established to cut timber for station construction from an early date. A first-hand report in 1922 found an operating sawmill, a number of permanent houses. a large church and farm produce, including goat and mare’s milk. .

By 1939, Marienberg was the service centre for a string of eight mission stations along the Sepik. Their timber needs were met by a steam sawmill located in the bush at Nazareth behind Bonam village. A 700 mm gauge railway, about 6 km in length, transported sawn timber from the mill to Marienberg station for shipment. Motive power was by buffalos. However, grades were in favour of the load. Wagons were allowed to free-wheel downgrade and the buffalo were hitched up again at the bottom. Oral sources indicate that two trips were made from the mill to Marienberg each day.

In 1942, Japanese military forces occupied the Sepik region. They occupied Marienberg and Nazareth, although the sawmill was not made operational. Fierce battles and Allied bombing in 1944 resulted in the complete destruction of Marienberg station.

The SVD missionaries returned after the war and set about rebuilding their station. A new sawmill was established on the river bank adjacent to the station using salvaged equipment from Alexishafen and Japanese operations in the region. The logging railway survived the war, but all draught animals were killed. It saw limited post-war use, with local villagers employed to operate the line. They hauled log wagons up the grades, then rode them free-wheeling down the grades. Forestry officers visiting the mill in 1951 report that most logs were brought in by truck or floated down the river, but the railway was used to bring in heavy kwila logs. The sawmill complex at Marienberg was expanded into an extensive industrial enterprise during the 1960s. A network of railway lines was established to serve the various facilities: a log pond on the river, sawmill, joinery shop, workshops, timber storage sheds and jetty. However, rails from the Nazareth line were taken up to construct power poles at the station.

The missionaries sought to install industrial discipline among the local workers. Time discipline was promoted through strict working hours signalled by a siren. In the joinery shop, volunteer lay workers from Austria trained local workers in carpentry skills. For a brief period, Marienberg became an enclave of Western energy and efficiency, with 60-70 people employed in industrial endeavour. Ships regularly called at the jetty to load timber for mission houses on the Sepik, the Wewak Hospital, private houses in Wewak town, mission stations in the Wewak Islands and Wuvulu Islands.

The thriving industrial operation at Marienberg came to a sudden end shortly before Independence. The Sepik area was a focus for rising nationalist sentiments and long-standing resentments over the hierarchical power structures at Marienberg surfaced in a claim for increased wages. A strike resulted and management called in government Labour Officers to help resolve the conflict. Workers returned, but the underlying resentment of landowners over their lack of involvement in management and decisions affecting their future, remained.

The mission offered to hand over the business to the landowners. A 12 month trial period was initiated for landowners to carry out logging and operate the sawmill. However, they had not developed the expertise to manage such an enterprise. The sawmill and related industries collapsed.With the failure of the sawmilling enterprise, relations between the mission and surrounding villagers deteriorated. Claims were made for the return of mission land, stealing of mission property occurred and sabotage of mill equipment was alleged. In 1989, the sawmill, equipment, remaining railway lines and a single railway truck stood rusting as forest regrowth gradually reclaimed the area. Two Polish priests tended the spiritual needs of a declining flock and guarded the remaining mission property against an increasingly hostile community. On the manse walls, faded, fungus-ridden photographs and pith helmets bore testimony to the hopes and values of a colonial era. The mission community, despondent and reduced to bare subsistence living, hoped for an industry revival which might once more generate employment opportunities.

c3.Marist Brothers;

On the island of Bougainville the missionary zeal was in the hands of the Marist order, which had Franco-German origins and had links with Oceania rather than the rest of New Guinea. The Marist missionaries entered Bougainville from the Solomons and they generated a sense of affinity among their followers in the two areas. Several short railway lines were established by Marist missionaries in the 1960s and these are covered in Chapter 6.


Top - Donkey-powered train on the Alexishafen railway. The train has just crossed the covered bridge over Biges River on the line to the airstrip.
Allied Forces South West Pacific, Geographical Section, Terrain .Study, Madang No., Vol. 2, photos

Bottom - Labourers pushing a log from the Sepik River to the sawmill at Marienberg, c. 1955.
PNG National Archives

Note - This excerpt is from a chapter of the book by McKillop and Pearson "History of Railways in Papua New Guinea" - it is obtainable from University of Papua New Guinea Press.


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