John Whitton (1820-1898)


The colony has a great deal to thank Mr. Whitton for in laying the basis on sound lines of the railways of New South Wales. He was connected with them from their initiation, and had many a hard fight to carry out his ideas…”
Sydney Morning Herald, 21 February 1898

John Whitton’s 1887 Map of NSW Railway Network

Upon his arrival to Sydney and appointment as Engineer-in-Chief of NSW Railways in 1856, English railway engineer John Whitton was effectively handed the responsibility of taking a NSW rail network in its infancy and expanding it across NSW. It was Whitton who first conceived of the idea of the Eveleigh Railway Workshops in the 1870s as the centre for the construction and development of the NSW railway system.

Despite constant issues with government committees throughout his 35-year career with NSW railways (1856-1890), Whitton successfully implemented several significant and fundamental elements to the expansion and improvement of the NSW rail network and administration, earning him the place in NSW rail memory as the ‘Father of NSW Railways’.

Under Whitton’s tenure, the NSW rail network expanded from 37km of track in 1856, to over 3500km by his retirement in 1890. Whitton was also responsible for adoption of a uniform railway track gauge throughout NSW, conversion of locomotive fuel from wood fire to coal to reduce emissions that damaged passenger clothing and property along the rail line, construction of the Blue Mountains line and the Zig Zag Railway at Lithgow, and expansion of the NSW rail to the Queensland and Victorian borders.

“He was a man of the strictest integrity and of great firmness of character, and he successfully resisted all political pressure, insisting on controlling the lines in what he deemed the best way, even though his opinion clashed with that of the Government of the day.” Sydney Morning Herald, 21 February 1898


1898 'DEATH OF MR. JOHN WHITTON.', The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), 21 February, p. 4. , viewed 22 Apr 2021,

C. C. Singleton, 'Whitton, John (1820–1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 22 April 2021.