Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (College of Arts and Science)

Schools and Centres

Arts & Sciences

First Supervisor

Professor Deborah Gare

Second Supervisor

Dr Jane Davis


This thesis examines the circumstances surrounding the building of the Great Southern Railway as a land-grant railway in the colony of Western Australia in the 1880s and its purchase by the government in 1896. In the early 1880s the steamship companies bringing mail and passengers from overseas and the eastern colonies, preferred Albany to Fremantle, adding an uncomfortable three to four day journey to the capital Perth. To overcome this difficulty, the government proposed to build a railway from Albany to the existing network at Beverley. This railway was to be funded by grants of land to the private company building the railway. As background to this decision, the first part of this thesis examines the way governments used the technology of railways in Europe, North America, and the eastern colonies of Australia to solve social and economic challenges.

In their desire to link Perth to Albany and expand the agricultural development of Western Australia, the colonial government offered twelve thousand acres of crown land for every mile of railway constructed from Beverley to Albany. The second part of the thesis outlines how the capital was raised, the railway built and was operational by 1889, earning the West Australian Land Company approximately three million acres of crown land.

Part three of the thesis examines the reason for the company’s difficulties and the impact of self-government in 1890. Competition from the government meant the West Australian Land Company was unable to sell its land, forcing the company to seek relief from its debts. I dispute the historical interpretation that the government purchase was to rescue a failed project, arguing the price paid was competitive and the purchase motivated by philosophical and political pressure. The thesis concludes with an evaluation of the land-grant scheme and an assessment of its impact on the development of the colony.

Files over 3MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."