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Author: Tara Oldfield
While indexing records a few weeks ago, one of our volunteers, Marilyn Kenny, came across this written petition asking for the removal of the level crossing in Richmond. She said what caught her attention first was the beautiful lettering, second was the fact that it was related to a topic still being discussed, debated and rectified today. It reads:
"28 March 1878. To the honorable the Speaker and members of the Legislative Assembly of the Colony of Victoria in Parliament Assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned residents and owners of property in the Town of Richmond.
Respectfully sheweth, that under the Act 28 Victoria no 271, power was given to the Melbourne and Hobson's Bay United Railway Company to make a level crossing at Swan Street within the Town of Richmond. That at the time this privilege was conferred in the year 1865, the traffic of the Company was limited in extent, the population comparatively small, and the inconvenience to the public, although felt at the time, was patiently borne with for several years. Repeated remonstrances have since been made to the Company upon the vexations delay to the public traffic by the closing of the gates at the level crossing referred to, but without obtaining any relief. Since the passing of the Act, population has increased considerably, and Swan Street is now one of the principal thoroughfares in the Town. The traffic of the Company has also increased to an enormous extent as exhibited in the following summary of the traffic for One Day of 12 hours - the 17th January 1878.
No. of trains up and down 164 - no. of vehicles detained at the gates 131. Vehicles traffic 404 No. of minutes the gates were closed during each hour from 8am to 8pm 37 - 39 - 30 - 27 - 28 - 28 - 38 - 28 - 35 - 50 - 47 - 36. Time the gates were closed during the 12 hours was 7 hours 3 mins.
Practically closing the traffic in this street, to the great loss, deterioration in the value of property and inconvenience of your petitioners - your petitioners respectfully submit that such a wealthy corporation as the Railway Company referred to, could well afford to alter the levels at this portion of the line, and to do away with the level crossing altogether, but as they refuse to adopt this course your petitioners are compelled to seek the intervention of Your Honorable House to give them relief in the premises by repealing the level crossing at Swan Street in the schedule to the Act aforesaid, or in any other way which in the wisdom of Your Honorable House you may be pleased to adopt. And your petitioners will ever pray." Signed by 1129 people.
Who could say 'no' to such a beautiful petition? By 1885 a railway overpass was built over Swan Street replacing the railway gates as shown in the photos from our Public Transport photographic collection below. It was reported quite gleefully in The Herald in December 1883 that work had commenced on the abolition of the crossing which had caused an "inconvenience, not only to the people of Richmond themselves, but to residents of the districts beyond." The work was undertaken after Sir Thomas Bent, who was Commissioner for Works and Railways at the time, called for a design competition to decide on the best approach for removing the crossing. Though Davidson and Merrit won the competition, the Council undertook their own plans to lower the road by four feet, raising the railway line 12 feet admitting clear passage under the line for vehicles and pedestrians, as detailed here in the Leader.*
"The Swan Street level crossing and the old station at Richmond, which have been a great obstruction to traffic, were abolished early on Sunday morning, July 5, and the Brighton, Hawthorn, and Gipps Land trains now run through the new high-level station." The Australasian Sketcher, Monday 27 July 1885.
Original papers tabled in the Legislative Assembly
This petition is part of the series titled 'Original papers tabled in the Legislative Assembly'. The series consists of original papers tabled including reports, petitions from the public, ministerial papers, division lists of votes under taken and even annual reports related to Departments of State or Statutory Authorities. The series starts in 1856 and all records are on open access. Search the series here. This petition is available under P0 Unit 450.
* Thank you to Andrew Scanlon for providing more detail on the history of the track works in Richmond:
The line was elevated with six tracks crossing Swan Street serving Richmond station which was located next to Swan Street and not over Punt Road. At the time four tracks went to South Yarra and two to Burnley. The date of opening of four tracks to Richmond is listed as October 3, 1883. Refer to works image and construction of the first bridge. In the late 1950's both the Swan Street and Punt Road bridges were rebuilt to their current form and Richmond station shifted to the top of Punt Road to have provision for ten tracks although it would be several years before the expansion was completed in full allowing six tracks to South Yarra and later four to Burnley. See image.