People love a good hoist, just look at the clothes hoists that adorned Australian backyards after the Second World War. But the mightiest hoist of them all was over a century and a half ago and was talked about for decades. I told a version of this story on West Bremer Radio.
We owe it all to possibly Ipswich’s greatest engineer. His name is Thompson Eden who was one of the best-known officials for the first fifty years of the Queensland railways.
He was born in Darlington, County Durham, in the north of England in 1831. His first major job was in London in 1855 when he built gunboats for the Crimean War. This was an amazing engineering feat because the British needed one hundred and twenty gunboats in just ninety days – they got them and won the war.
It was off the back of this astonishing achievement that Eden arrived in Moreton Bay in 1866 and went straight to Ipswich to work at the new railways.
He was in charge in 1867 when a locomotive was taken to the Laidley side of Little Liverpool Range in the Scenic Rim, which is part of the Great Dividing Range, where it was then reassembled. Eden was therefore responsible for the quirky piece of history that the first railway engine to cross the Little Liverpool Range was in fact drawn by a team of bullocks.
Eden was also responsible for building the first steam-crane at the Railway Workshops – this was another technological breakthrough.
He was responsible for the first iron and wooden bridge which spanned Saddliers Crossing at Ipswich from 1875. It was replaced in 1902 by the heritage listed bridge that’s there today.
He was also in charge of putting together the whole of the ironwork of Roma Street Station in Brisbane, and it’s still there today as a monument to his skill.
Eden invented a new style of cast-iron flame plate which, in conjunction with a brick arch, consumed the smoke thus reducing the consumption of coal.
On top of that, Eden was an excellent amateur singer. And he founded – and was superintendent of – the St Thomas Anglican Church Sunday School in North Ipswich.
There was nothing that this man couldn’t do.
But his biggest achievement was in 1870 because it was still being talked about fifty years later.
The government steamer Leonie was brought to Ipswich to be repaired by the railway mechanics, but they had a problem trying to fix a certain pipe. So Eden’s marine-engineering experience with the Crimean War gunboats was needed.
To the absolute astonishment of everyone present, Eden used his steam-crane to hoist the steamer out of the water.
For the next six or seven weeks, the people of North Ipswich marveled at the astounding sight of the Leonie suspended in mid-air while the repairs were done.
As an aside, it wasn’t all plain sailing for the Leonie after that. Because of an error using copper rivets to repair the boiler, it wouldn’t hold water, much less steam. The government was forced to sell the ship. A couple of months later she was still in Ipswich and used to host the betting ring in a very controversial boat race between two railway hands who had possibly worked on the failed repairs. The Leonie’s engineer that day later suffered a fit, fell overboard, and drowned.
Eden’s single hoist was the talk of the town for half a century. The Leonie herself vanished into the mists of time. But not so Thompson Eden – his fame grew because of that astounding hoist that he accomplished one hundred and fifty-one years ago.
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Spring Bluff Station – State Library of Queensland
Thompson Eden – Queensland Times, Ipswich, 21st March 1914, page 7
Large paddle steamer Emu docked at the wharves at Ipswich c1870 – State Library of Queensland