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Sixsmith, William (1815–1893)

by H. Z. Palmer

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

William Sixsmith (1815-1893), locomotive driver, was born on 18 November 1815 at Wavertree near Liverpool, Lancashire, England, son of William Sixsmith. As a boy he worked on the construction of the Liverpool-Manchester railway and joined the locomotive branch on the opening of the line. He became an engine-driver on the Liverpool-Manchester and later the Liverpool-Birmingham lines. He then drove engines on the construction line for the Paris-Rouen railway and was similarly employed under Sir John O'Neill in Ireland. He claimed to have driven trains containing the Duke of Wellington and King Louis-Phillipe.

Lured by gold Sixsmith migrated to Sydney with his family and wife Maria, née Townsend, whom he had married in Birmingham in 1841. He soon travelled 'alone and on foot' to the Ovens goldfield where he had no luck. He made his way to Melbourne and worked his passage back to Sydney as a coal-trimmer on a coastal steamer. He was employed as driver on the ballast engine by William Randle, contractor, on the construction of the Sydney-Parramatta line.

On 26 September 1855 wearing a black silk top hat Sixsmith, with William Webster as fireman and Richard Darby as guard, drove the vice-regal train carrying Governor Denison and party to Parramatta to mark the opening of the first railroad in New South Wales. He was presented with a silver watch. When the government took over the railways, Sixsmith transferred to the service in September at 14s. a day and was listed as driver number one. By 1878 his salary had risen to 15s. a day. He drove trains over almost every mile of line in the colony but served chiefly on the Sydney-Goulburn and Sydney-Bathurst runs. He won repute as a skilful, safe and reliable driver. On 1 December 1885 he retired with a pension of £69 10s.

Sixsmith died at Redfern at the home of his only surviving son, George, on 24 October 1893 and was buried in the Anglican section of Rookwood cemetery. He was also survived by seven daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • Dept of Railways, The Railways of New South Wales 1855-1955 (Syd, 1955)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1872, 1, 300, 1878-79, 5, 174
  • Old Times (Sydney), June 1903.

Citation details

H. Z. Palmer, 'Sixsmith, William (1815–1893)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 15 June 2021.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

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