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Charles Augustus Goodchap (1837–1896)

by J. H. Forsyth

This article was published:

Charles Augustus Goodchap (1837-1896), by unknown photographer

Charles Augustus Goodchap (1837-1896), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 08229

Charles Augustus Goodchap (1837-1896), commissioner of railways, was born on 2 April 1837 in Kent, England, son of William Goodchap, architect. Educated at Huntingdon Grammar School, he arrived at Sydney in 1853 and became a clerk in the Colonial Secretary's Office. In 1856 he transferred to the Land and Works Department and in 1859 joined the railway branch of the Department of Public Works. In 1870 he became chief clerk for railways, secretary in 1875 and succeeded John Rae as commissioner on 29 January 1878. He attributed a disastrous collision at Emu Plains next day to the 'dangerous state of disorganization' in the railways and to Rae's unwarranted cancellation of the 'Working Orders' after a near collision at Bathurst in 1877.

Goodchap was commissioner in a railway boom: in 1878-86 over 1300 miles (2092 km) of track were opened, passengers quadrupled, freight doubled and earnings rose from £902,987 to £2,208,294. Despite the increased traffic and inadequacies of the Redfern terminal, management improved. Goodchap claimed that his most important innovations were the introduction of interlocking points and signals and the 'absolute block' system of signalling. He also instigated the training of employees in first aid for the Railway Ambulance Corps and the construction of large maintenance and repair workshops. However, a feud between Goodchap and the engineer-in-chief, John Whitton, was damaging and the administration was hampered by political pressures conducive to extravagance in the construction of new lines and patronage in appointments. In debates on Henry Parkes's Government Railways Act, 1888, Goodchap's administration was criticized and he was accused of being more interested in building new lines than in making the railways profitable. The Act set up a corporate body of three railway commissioners to manage the railways and remove them from political influence. On 27 October 1888 Goodchap resigned when, contrary to expectation, he was not appointed to the new commission. Parkes noted that he had 'no practical knowledge' and that the lines were in a dangerous state. Goodchap's employees gave him £500 which he donated for a library for railway employees. Parkes's suggestion that he visit Europe and America as a travelling commissioner was dropped after opposition in parliament.

Goodchap went to England in 1889 and in his absence was elected as a protectionist to the Legislative Assembly for Redfern. Defeated in 1891, he was nominated to the Legislative Council in 1892. In 1871 he had been a founder and honorary secretary of the Civil Service Co-operative Society and in 1885 was appointed to the Civil Service Board on which he supported his friend Archibald Fraser. He was a member of the Union Club and briefly honorary treasurer of the Australian Jockey Club. Unmarried he died from diabetes and pneumonia at his home in Potts Point on 20 October 1896 and was buried with Anglican rites in Waverley cemetery. His estate was valued at £739.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1888-89
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1877-78, 4, 185, 192, 1887 (2nd session), 2, 154, 314, 1888-89, 2, 597
  • R. L. Wettenhall, ‘Early Railway Management Legislation in New South Wales’, Tasmanian University Law Review, vol 1, no 3, July 1960, pp 446-74
  • Bulletin, 5 May 1880, 30 June 1883
  • Illustrated Sydney News, 30 Sept 1882
  • Australasian, 28 Apr, 27 Oct 1888
  • Town and Country Journal, 3 Nov 1888, 2 Mar 1889
  • Henry Parkes letters (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

J. H. Forsyth, 'Goodchap, Charles Augustus (1837–1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 20 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Charles Augustus Goodchap (1837-1896), by unknown photographer

Charles Augustus Goodchap (1837-1896), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 08229

Life Summary [details]


2 April, 1837
Kent, England


20 October, 1896 (aged 59)
Potts Point, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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