Bob The Railway Dog

Jan 29, 2024 0 comments

In the heart of South Australia's railway history, a charming and loyal canine companion left an indelible paw print on the tracks – Bob the Railway Dog. A beloved icon, Bob's tale is one of love, friendship, and adventure, as he became a fixture among the steam engines and railway workers in the late 19th century.

Bob was born in 1883 at Macclesfield, South Australia. The scruffy, brown-and-white mixed-breed dog was fascinated with the railways from an early age. While still a pup, Bob would often wander away from home following railway tracks to watch workers lay the line. Several times he had to be brought back to his owner, until one day, when he was nine months old, Bob ran away.

Photo credit: State Library South Australia

Bob found himself in Adelaide, some sixty kilometers away, where he was caught by dog catchers and put on a truck along with fifty other canines and sent northwards as part of a rabbit control program. When the train stopped at Terowie, a stationmaster named William Ferry was taken by Bob’s charm and took him to the bustling railway town of Petersburg, now known as Peterborough.

Ferry trained Bob to do all kinds of tricks, and later when he was guard on the narrow gauge Northern Lines, took Bob thousands of miles with him in the guard's van. Sometimes Bob rode with the engineman generally riding in the coal tender. Later, Ferry became Assistant Stationmaster at Petersburg but Bob continued to ride the trains alone.

Bob was known to venture to and from Petersburg often sitting in the front of the coal space in the locomotive tender, travelling many thousands of miles. According to the Petersburg Times "His favourite place on a Yankee engine; the big whistle and belching smokestack seem to have an irresistible attraction for him... he lived on the fat of the land, and was not particular from whom he accepted his dinner."

'Bob, the railway dog' sitting on top of the driver's car of a stationary locomotive at Port Augusta Railway yard. Photo credit: State Library of South Australia

Bob did not like suburban engines because of their cramped cabs, but was known to clear out third class compartments for his sole use by "vigorously barking at all stations, usually succeeding in convincing intending passengers that the coach had been reserved of his special benefit".

“The most curious part of his conduct is that he has no master, but every engine driver is his friend,” wrote The Spectator in 1895. “At night he follows home his engine man of the day never leaving him or letting him out of his sight until they are back on the Railway Station in the morning, where he starts off on another of his ceaseless journeys.”

Other famous Australian dogs:
The Red Dog of Pilbara
Dog on The Tuckerbox

For many years Bob rode engines all over the state, sometimes venturing as far afield as Oodnadatta in Queensland. He was present at the opening of the railway between Petersburg and Broken Hill, as a "distinguished guest at the Melbourne Exhibition in 1881".

Bobs Collar at the National Railway Museum. Photo credit: Sulzer55/Wikimedia Commons

After spending many happy years riding the railways of Australia, Bob passed away in 1895. Shortly after his death, a poem was published in The Advertiser, the second stanza of which reads as follows:

For free from thrall I travel far,
No fixed abode I own;
I leap aboard a railway car;
By every one I'm known;
Today I'm here, tomorrow brings
Me miles and miles away;
Borne swiftly on steam's rushing wings,
I see fresh friends each day.

His body was preserved and later displayed at the Exchange Hotel, Adelaide. Bob wore a special collar made for him by the railway workers. The leather collar had a brass plate with the inscription: “Stop me not, but let me jog, For I am Bob, the drivers dog”. His collar is on display in the National Railway Museum, Port Adelaide, along with photographs and other artifacts. There is also a statue of Bob at Petersburg’s Main Street.

Statue of Bob the Railway Dog at Main Street Peterborough. Photo credit: Sulzer55/Wikimedia Commons

# ‘Stop Me Not, But Let Me Jog; For I Am Bob, The Driver’s Dog’, State Library South Australia
# Bob the Railway Dog, Australia's famous train hitchhiking pooch, immortalised in print, ABC News
# Bob the railway dog: icon of Australian history, Australian Geographic


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