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Bob the railway dog
Bob the Railway Dog. Photographer, George Hiscock, 1892. SLSA: B 45576

In 1882 Bob, a scruffy brown German collie dog covered with thick shaggy hair, was born in Macclesfield, South Australia. He travelled the railways of Australia winning the hearts of those he met. Over 130 years later Bob the Railway Dog is still adored and his legendary antics still told in books, websites, articles - he even has a Facebook page!

Much has been written about Bob over the years. But the story goes that railway guard William Seth Ferry of Peterborough took a shine to Bob and picked him from a horde of dogs on their way from Adelaide to Carrieton where they were to be released to hunt rabbits. In a dog swap Guard Ferry become the new owner of Bob but Bob had other ideas. Though he was loyal to his owners, he was a free roaming spirit and there begins the tale of Bob.

Bob would go on to ride the trains across Australia for many years, sitting on the coal-stack. He was the engine drivers' buddy jumping on and off trains as he pleased. He would go home in the evening with the drivers and return in the morning for his next adventure. In 1895 an article in The Children's Hour tells us that "Bob loved to ride the Yankee engines, and it seemed that the locomotive that belched the loudest, whistled the shrillest, and smoked the blackest was his favourite." (p. 137)

'Bob, The Driver's Dog,' a now well-known poem (see below) written around 1892, embodies all that Bob was, a dog with a wandering spirit and cheeky bark, who would hear the call of the train whistle and jump aboard the trains he loved to ride.

Bob, The Driver's Dog
Advertiser, 17 August 1895

After spending many happy years riding the railways of Australia, Bob passed away in 1895. Many would shed a tear when they heard the news of Bob's passing. Children living beside the railway tracks loved Bob. So the opening words of an article in the September 1895 journal, The Children's Hour, "Railway Bob is dead!" (p. 136) were quite harsh. There was no beating around the bush back in those days and it is an interesting reflection on how society's views of talking about death have changed over time. Because of his wandering spirit, Bob wore a special collar with the following legendary inscription: Stop me not, but let me jog, For I am Bob, the railway dog. You can still see Bob's collar on display at the National Railway Museum, Port Adelaide.
Even though Bob is no longer with us, he still holds a special place in Australian folklore.

Bob and the State Library

Bob has held a special place in the hearts of Library staff for over 30 years thanks to the enthusiasm of Barbara Holbourn, who was Pictorial Curator from 1984-2000. Barbara is a great dog-lover. She and her husband Stan would not have moved to Adelaide from England in 1964 if their Dalmatian Jason hadn't been allowed to come too. And the ship they travelled on was called 'Terrier'.

When Barbara began indexing the Library's photographs she was immediately taken by the images of Bob. She devised the subject heading 'Bob (Dog)' so that the images could be readily brought together by researchers. She frequently used them herself when demonstrating the pictorial collection on videodisc from 1992 and online from 1998.

After Barbara's retirement Beth Robertson, now Manager of Preservation, took over the responsibility for promoting Bob. This has included fund-raising for the bronze statue of Bob by sculptor Silvio Apponyi that was unveiled at Peterborough in 2009.

Bob, the railway dog' at Port Augusta [B 6422]
Bob, the railway dog' at Port Augusta, c1887. SLSA: B 6422


Written by: Tracey Parnis, Communications Project Officer