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Eddy, Edward Miller Gard (1851–1897)

by R. M. Audley and K. J. Cable

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Edward Miller Gard Eddy (1851-1897), by unknown photographer

Edward Miller Gard Eddy (1851-1897), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, PX*D 624

Edward Miller Gard Eddy (1851-1897), railway commissioner, was born on 24 July 1851 in England, son of Edward Miller Eddy, marine engineer. After elementary schooling, he became a junior clerk in 1865 with the London and North Western Railway. Promoted in 1866 to the general superintendent's office, Eddy worked under G. P. Neele, a pioneer of the scientific construction of railway timetables. On 29 October 1874 at the parish of St Mary, Chester, he married a widow, Gwen Ellen Lowndes, née Roberts (d.1882); they had a daughter and three sons. In 1875 Eddy became district superintendent of the Chester and Holyhead section of the railway. His success in improving the running of trains over this difficult area led to his promotion as Southern division superintendent in 1878. Assistant superintendent from 1885, he became involved in the famous 'railway races' to Scotland, valuing their publicity aspect and using them to gain money from his board to improve safety. Eddy introduced reforms designed to reduce costs and increase traffic. In 1887 he was seconded to the ailing Caledonian Railway as assistant general manager. Next year he accepted the position of chief commissioner of the New South Wales Railways at a salary of £3000 with a future increase left to the 'justice of the Government and Parliament'. He wrote: 'I take so much delight in my work, and I can see how, in a country which will owe much to the judicious management and extension of its railways, I could be of great service to the Colony, and also obtain credit for myself'. Described by the acting agent-general Sir Daniel Cooper as of an 'open, clear countenance; six feet high; nice firm manner', he arrived in Sydney in October.

The Government Railways Act of 1888, which established a board of three commissioners, was an attempt by the Parkes ministry to create an efficient management structure for a system which had been bedevilled by political interference at every level. That political aspects, ostensibly removed by the Act, still lingered, become evident when the appointment of W. M. Fehon as second commissioner precipitated the fall of the Parkes government in January 1889. Although Eddy was not affected directly by the change of government or by the subsequent royal commission, the imbroglio made him wary of parliament. In this political and economic context the commissioners were expected to 'make the railways pay'.

One of Eddy's first acts was to arrange for a complete examination of locomotive and rolling stock by R. P. Williams and William Thow of the South Australian Railways. Major changes were recommended and Thow was appointed in May 1889 as locomotive engineer. An abortive attempt was made with Henry Hudson and a consortium of British manufacturers to set up a local locomotive building plant. Eddy's administrative reforms were immediate and numerous, but his proposed staff changes and reductions were resisted. Parkes protected Eddy but by 1890 industrial relations were worsening. A series of disastrous accidents brought Eddy into conflict with William Schey, general secretary of the Amalgamated Railway and Tramway Services Association. In 1891 Eddy had H. C. Hoyle, the association's president, dismissed for making an off-duty political speech. When Schey and, later, Hoyle entered parliament they subjected the chief commissioner to remorseless criticism. Schey launched a major attack in 1892, alleging nepotism and financial mismanagement. Completely exonerated by the subsequent royal commission, Eddy found that he was separated from the union movement.

But he was benevolent employer, providing many educational and welfare programmes for railway workers and their dependents. Eddy was the driving force behind the establishment of the Railway Institute. The sense of identity which he encouraged among his employees may have contributed to the very spirit of the unionism that he opposed; it certainly led to the development of a mystique about him that railwaymen have nurtured to the present day.

Despite political obstruction and criticism and economic depression Eddy extended the railway system. He introduced more powerful locomotives, better rolling stock, improved facilities at stations, better public relations and an active advertising campaign which encouraged new traffic. While unsuccessful in bringing the railway to the centre of Sydney, he enlarged the tramway network, and permitted the first experiments in electric traction.

Before Eddy's term of office expired in 1895 he returned to England. At the International Railway Congress in London he read an important paper based on his Australia experience. His several offers to remain in England included the general managership of the South Eastern Railway, but the urging of the colonial government and demonstrations of public support determined him to 'sink all personal considerations' and accept re-engagement, even though his promised salary rise was not forthcoming.

The effects of the 1890s depression and the beginning of the long drought eroded finances and the volume of traffic and Eddy found himself with less parliamentary support. His health, indifferent for some years, began to deteriorate. Formerly a keen sportsman with an especial interest in cycling, he now had to abandon much physical activity. A painful condition diagnosed as a kidney complaint made even standing difficult for any long period. He collapsed on 21 June 1897 on Wallangarra station while journeying to Brisbane, where he died later that evening. His body was sent back to Sydney for burial in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery. He was survived by his four children and by his second wife Ellen, née Wilkinson, whom he had married on 15 April 1886 at Walsall, Staffordshire, England.

Like Richard Speight in Victoria, Eddy was essentially a railway manager rather than an engineer. A man of careful penmanship, and with an accountant's eye for figures, he was able to leave the mechanical side of the railways to those whom he recognized as technically competent. He nevertheless retained firm overall control and enlisted the complete loyalty of a wide range of subordinates, giving shape and form to a system which had grown irregularly in its first forty years. Between 1888 and 1897 a profit of nearly £3 million had been earned and the percentage of working expenses to gross earnings had declined from 66.69 to 54.47; the New South Wales railway were well prepared to face the challenges of the new century. The Eddy Memorial Railway, and Tramway Orphan fund was established in 1904.

Select Bibliography

  • G. P. Neele, Railway Reminiscences (Lond, 1974)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1887-88, 6, 625, 1892-93, 5, 159, 543, 1894-95, 1, 303, 341, 4, 623, 1895, 3, 595
  • Engineering Review (London), 21 Jan 1895, p 207
  • Engineering (London), 25 June 1897, p 860
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 26 June 1897
  • Sydney Mail, 3 July 1897
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Mar 1960
  • Sun (Sydney), 21 Aug 1979
  • personal file, Chief Commissioner E. M. G. Eddy (Public Transport Commission Archives, Sydney).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

R. M. Audley and K. J. Cable, 'Eddy, Edward Miller Gard (1851–1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/eddy-edward-miller-gard-6084/text10421, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 28 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Edward Miller Gard Eddy (1851-1897), by unknown photographer

Edward Miller Gard Eddy (1851-1897), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, PX*D 624