William Stronach Thom - the Engineer who might have built the City Railway.

From Engineering Heritage New South Wales

(By Bill Phippen and Ian Thom)

    A construction diary of a few month period in 1916 has shed light on the work required of a Resident Engineer in that era, and the faltering commencement of work on a massive project which would not be completed for forty years.

    William Stronach Thom was employed as Resident Engineer in the Metropolitan Railway Construction section at the time he kept his diary. Perhaps, had he lived, he might have gone on to have a more prominent role in the project.

SHB - WS Thom portrait.jpg

    At that time railway construction works were undertaken by the Public Works Department (PWD) and handed over to the Department of Railways upon completion. On 1 January 1917 new railway construction work became the direct responsibility of the Department of Railways themselves and Thom was thus transferred from the PWD to the NSWR on that date.

    Thom had been born on 9 July 1870, a grandson of Sir Henry Parkes, and had commenced work with the PWD as a cadet in 1888. His (Railway) record card shows him as always being posted at Head Office in Sydney, but this is not correct, perhaps as a result of the pre-1917 years of employment being copied from PWD records hastily at the date of the changeover. The railway records are properly superannuation records, and there was perhaps little need to record location of appointment.

    Completely absent from his formal record is a period he spent working as a surveyor on the Tweed (1893-1895). Also surveying for Henry Deane, his old boss at PWD, on the design of the Wolgan Valley Railway.[1] Thom’s competent efforts were concentrated on the ‘Sunnyside’ route which was ultimately not the one adopted. His surveyor’s chain survives in the possession of his descendants.

    He also surveyed the North Coast Railway around Gloucester (1907) and Kempsey (1908). He was also Resident Engineer at Macksville in April 1914.

    Thom had been Resident Engineer,[2], for the construction of the Moree to Mungindi line around 1909-12[3] and lived in Moree, initially under canvas, for sufficient time that a daughter was born there, and his older children reported attending school at that place.[4]

    This was followed by a period as Resident Engineer on the Tullamore to Tottenham Railway (1914-1916) before commencing work as Resident Engineer on the City Railway.

    He remained ‘loyal’ during the Great Strike later in 1917.

    After 30 years of Government service, William Thom died of the Spanish Influenza on 20 September 1918, aged 48. His diary is now in the possession of his grandson, Ian Thom.

To see Thom's diary in manuscript use the link below.

WS Thom Diary manuscript

To see Thom's diary transcribed with added images and explanations use the link below.

William Stronach Thom Diary.


  1. The Wolgan Valley Railway – Its Construction. Henry Deane, ARHSnsw.
  2. The Sydney Stock and Station Journal 12 November 1912 p8
  3. Moree Gwydir Examiner and General Advertiser 19 March 1912 p2.)
  4. Personal communication with grandson, Ian Thom.
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