Australia’s Railway Dog

Bob hitch-hiked across the South Australian railway system in the late 1800s.

There have been a lot of iconic characters in South Australian history. But perhaps none as universally adored as Bob the railway dog, known for his wagging tail, cheerful bark and love of trains.

Bob was born in 1885 and originally destined for a life of exterminating rabbits until fate stepped in.

Along with 200 other puppies, Bob was in a sheep van bound for northern South Australia when William Seth Ferry, a foreman porter at Peterborough Station, exchanged another dog for Bob, keeping the scruffy brown stray for himself.

At nine months old, Bob began “hitch-hiking” on locomotives and became a welcome member of the train crews, picking and choosing where he wanted to go, both in South Australia and interstate.

Bob circa 1887 [Image: State Library of South Australia]

Bob was even an honoured guest at the banquet for the opening of the railway from Peterborough to Broken Hill and appeared at the opening of the Hawkesbury Bridge in New South Wales, according to an article in The Adelaide Advertiser.

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Bob’s story even spread overseas. In a letter to the editor of The Spectator (an English newspaper), E. Cresswall from Adelaide wrote, “I thought perhaps your readers might like to hear about the best-known dog in Australia. His name is Railway Bob and he passes his whole existence on the train, his favourite seat being on top of the coal box. In this way he has travelled many thousands of miles, going all over the lines in South Australia. He is well known in Victoria, frequently seen in Sydney and has been up as far as Brisbane!”

In 2009, Bob was immortalised with a statue on Main Street, Peterborough [Image: Peterborough Art & Cultural Festival]

“The most curious part of his conduct is that he has no master, but every engine driver is his friend. 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, when he starts off on another of his ceaseless journeys. I have not seen him on our line for some time, but noticed with regret last time he was in the station he was showing signs of age, and limping as he walked.”

His breed has never been determined, though German Coolie. Smithfield and Bearded Collie have all been suggested.

A eulogy to Bob, published in The Adelaide Advertiser

Bob died from a suspected heart attack at around 17 years old, soon after visiting a butcher’s shop in Adelaide, where he was a regular customer. His body was stuffed and displayed for many years at the Exchange Hotel, but its current location is unknown.

Bob’s collar remains on display at the National Railway Museum in Port Adelaide. The inscription reads, “Stop me not, but let me jog, For I am Bob, the Driver's Dog.”

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