Fire engine, steam pump, horse-drawn, metal / timber / paint, made by Merryweather & Sons, Greenwich, England, 1895, used at Broken Hill, NSW.
Before the first motorised fire engines took to the streets in the early years of the twentieth century, the most efficient fire appliance was the horse-drawn steam pumper. This comprised a vertical water tube boiler providing steam for a pumping engine to force water through the hoses onto a fire. All this machinery was mounted on a horse-drawn sprung carriage with four steel-tyred wooden wheels.
The steam fire engine was invented by John Braithwaite, partner in the engineering firm of Brathwaite and Ericsson of London in 1829-30. At first the steamers were not popular due to their lack of power, and the first British fire appliance maker to successfully manufacture one was Shand Mason & Co in 1858. Development occurred quickly and engines were devised which could pump at 200 strokes per minute, more quickly than the fastest manual engine could be pumped. The era of the horse-drawn steam fire engine lasted about 40 years, developing compact lightweight equipment and boilers that could steam quickly.
The museum's steam fire engine was built by the English firm of Merryweather & Sons of Greenwich, No.1378, in 1895. It spent all its working life at the Broken Hill Central Fire Station in Blende Street, Broken Hill, from about 1897. In 1907 the station was connected by telephone and after the alarm was raised bells were set off all over the station, including the stables. This alerted the horses and the doors to their stalls automatically opened to let them out. They lined up under their hanging collars, which the firemen lowered and clasped in place before attaching the reins. The driver mounted the seat of the steamer and the firemen quickly boarded. The front folding doors were opened and the horses bounded out of the station, pulling the fire engine. Contemporary newspaper accounts advise that the two horses which pulled the steamer were called Prince and Kate.
The Merryweather steam fire engine was in service at Broken Hill until September 1921 and was superseded by two motorised fire engines. The following year the steamer was purchased by a Mr Leckie and driven 185 km east from Broken Hill to the town of Wilcannia, an old river port on the Darling River. He had intended to use the steamer to pump water on his property, but it never left Wilcannia and instead took part in local street processions.
In June 1958 the steamer was "discovered" by Howard Knowles, a PMG officer from Broken Hill, in an old woolstore at Wilcannia. Mr Knowles advised the museum of the whereabouts of the steamer and volunteered to locate the owner, Mr Leckie's son, and organised for its donation and removal to Sydney. In 1982 the Merryweather was restored to steaming condition by the apprentices of the Garden Island Dockyard and from 1988 it has been on display in the Steam Revolution exhibition at the museum.
The first manually operated fire engine was built in 1650 by Hautch of Nuremberg, Germany, but it was not a success. A few years later in Amsterdam an improved engine was devised which had an air vessel and a combined pair of bucket and plunger pumps. A continuous stream of water was produced, with the air vessel used to prevent shock and loss of power to the pump. The water was delivered through a branch and nozzle fitted to the delivery side of the pump. There was no suction outlet, so the engine had a cistern or reservoir into which water was filled by a bucket brigade, which consisted of lines of citizens passing buckets between the town pump and the engine.
The development of the leather delivery hose made the engine more effective by enabling the fire to be attacked at close quarters. Later, the introduction of the wired suction hose obviated the use of the bucket brigade.
Around 1724 Richard Newsham of London made the first manual engine in England. It incorporated improvements which made it popular throughout the 18th century. As the 19th century progressed, the inadequacies of the old manual pumps became increasingly apparent. In the larger sizes, requiring perhaps as many as 40 men to work them, they were heavy and clumsy, and even the biggest could not make much impression on a very large fire.
The first steam fire engine was invented by John Braithwaite, partner in the London engineering firm of Brathwaite and Ericsson. This engine was built in 1829-30 and included a boiler and two direct-acting steam pumps mounted on wheels and drawn by horses. The firebox was water-jacketed and was provided with a forced draught by a mechanical bellows, while the exhaust gas issued from a funnel behind the driver's seat. The engine threw 150 gallons (682 litres) of water per minute to a height of 90 feet (27.4 m). The steamers were not popular due to their lack of power, and it was not until after the middle of the nineteenth century that the steam fire engine gained acceptance in Britain. The first British fire appliance maker to manufacture a successful steam fire engine was Shand Mason & Co in 1858. Development occurred rapidly, and engines were devised that could pump at 200 strokes per minute, quicker than the fastest manual engine.
The era of the horse-drawn steam fire engine lasted about 40 years, and during that period there were no serious challengers to its supremacy. The horse-drawn steamers changed little in overall design, though detailed engineering refinements were made from time to time. Inventiveness and ingenuity were exercised in developing compact lightweight equipment and boilers that could steam quickly. The engines were kept with fires banked down or ready for quick ignition and could quickly be brought to life so that a good head of steam was available by the time the engine arrived at the fire.
The first self-propelled steam pumper was built by P.R. Hope of New York in 1840. It bore a close resemblance to the early railway locomotives of the period. While pumping was in progress, its driving wheels were jacked clear of the ground to act as flywheels. In Britain, experiments were also carried out with self-propelled steam vehicles; however, there was little point in this as in 1865 the Locomotive Act restricted the speed of road locomotives to 4 miles per hour in populated areas and insisted that a person precede the locomotive on foot carrying a red flag. Horse-drawn vehicles were exempt from these limits, so self-propelled steamers were not introduced until the Act was repealed in 1896. Petrol-engined appliances soon followed, and the self-propelled steam pumps stood no chance given that they had to be maintained permanently "in steam".
The museum's steam fire engine pump was made by English company Merryweather & Sons. This firm can be traced back to the 18th century, when a Samuel Hadley took over a fire engine works in London's Long Acre in 1769. Samuel's son, Nathaniel, joined the firm in 1790, and two years later an engineer named Charles Simpkin joined the partnership. Simpkin patented several improvements to the manual engine design that were to become standard practice, including valves made of metal rather than leather, the provision of a steerable fore-carriage and road springs, so that engines could be towed to the fire by horses, rather than being dragged by perspiring firemen.
Henry Lott, son of Squire Lott of Twyforde Abbey, Berkshire, who joined the company in 1791, married Simpkin's widow. He became a partner in the firm and later took control of Hadley, Simpkin and Lott. In 1807, a 14-year-old apprentice, Moses Merryweather, a Yorkshireman apparently related to Captain James Cook, was taken on by the company. Moses married Henry Lott's niece in 1836 and took over the company after Henry Lott died.
Moses lived to the age of 79, though his son, Richard, headed Merryweather & Sons from 1859. On Richard's death in 1877, the company was taken over by his younger brother, James Compton Merryweather, probably the most flamboyant fire engine enthusiast of the entire family. During the period J C Merryweather was at the head of the company, the name of Merryweather was predominant in the manufacture of fire-fighting equipment. James was an engineer by training and this, together with the fact that he promoted his products with remarkable fervour, no doubt helped the development of the company. He wrote inexhaustibly to get the name of Merryweather into print and travelled the world learning about fire-fighting methods and requirements in other countries and building up a thriving export business. His activities earned him the well-merited nickname of "The Fire King" and he was still working in the factory a week before his death in 1917 at the age of 77. His workmen mourned him as a just and good employer who would often wander through his factory, addressing them all by their first names and genuinely interested in their welfare. There was no son to succeed him, and his place was taken by John Henry Osborn, who had been the overseas representative of the company.
Merryweather's first steamer was built in 1861 and was called the "Deluge". This fire engine had a massive 30 horsepower single cylinder engine with a bore of 9 inches (22.9 cm) and a stroke of 15 inches (38.1 cm). It drove an outsize twin-cylinder pump which had bores of 16.5 inches and strokes of 15 inches (38.1 cm). "Deluge" won the large-engine class in a trial of steam fire engines held in London's Hyde Park in conjunction with the 1862 International Exhibition.
A second Merryweather steamer emerged from a newly acquired factory in Lambeth in 1862 and was christened "Torrent". A more powerful engine, the "Sutherland", was introduced in 1863. It had twin steam cylinders and was capable of projecting a steady jet of water 160-170 feet high (48.8 m- 51.8 m)) through a 1.5 inch (38 mm) nozzle.
For many years Merryweather built steamers and pump engines with horizontal cylinders placed in front of the boilers. In 1885 the twin cylinder "Greenwich" model was produced (named after the new factory that the firm had opened in 1876). The "Greenwich" Patent Double Cylinder High Speed Steam Fire Engine could deliver 750 gallons (3,410 litres) of water per minute. Even more popular was the "Greenwich Gem", introduced in 1896 at the London Fire Tournament, which was built in sizes from 200 gallons (909.2 litres) to 500 gallons (2,273 litres) per minute. Also in 1896, the company introduced its "Hatfield" reciprocating pump, which had three cylinders mounted 120 degrees apart inside a hexagonal casing.
Merryweather's first self-propelled steamer was completed in 1899, and the last horse-drawn steamer was produced in 1902. The self-propelled fire engine market was dominated by Merryweather's "Fire King" which had a coke or oil-fired boiler and carried 100 gallons (455 litres) of water, sufficient for about half-an-hour's running, plus fuel for four hours' operation. These engines were exported all over the world until about 1922. By 1905 Merryweather were producing motorised fire pumps, and the steam days were over.
Shand Mason, Merryweather's main rival in steam fire engine production in England, did not attempt to compete with the Merryweather firm in the production of self-propelled engines and stuck rigidly to the steam engine. It slid into an inevitable decline, and Merryweather took it over in 1922.
The museum's Merryweather steamer spent all of its working life at the Broken Hill Central Fire Station in Blende Street, Broken Hill, a mining town in western NSW. Following the discovery of an extremely rich lode of silver, lead, zinc and gold by Charles Rasp in 1883, the town was proclaimed in 1885 and surveyed the following year. The Broken Hill Fire Brigade was established in 1887 as a volunteer organisation of fifteen men. The first fire station faced Argent Street on a site that was later to be occupied by the Town Hall. The equipment of the station at this time consisted of a small six-man hand-operated curricle engine and 300 feet (91.4 m) of hose.
In 1891 the Broken Hill Municipal Council (incorporated in 1888) erected the Central Fire Brigade Station in Blende Street. This consisted of a fine two-storey stone building which had a watch-room, engine room, stables for two horses, bedroom and bathroom on the ground floor. On the first floor were two sleeping rooms, a bathroom and a recreation room. Up to 1892 the Brigade was dependent for water supply on private tank storage. On completion of the Stephens Creek Water Supply Scheme, water was available to a fair extent from the water company's mains-hydrants. However, the brigade was not allowed to have "wet drill" off the mains, and all water from hydrants opened for the brigade to fight fires had to be paid for by the Municipal Council.
The museum's Merryweather steam fire engine pump, built around 1895, probably arrived in Broken Hill in 1897, as it first appeared on an inventory of fire appliances for that station on 23 August 1898. At the time calls to the station were made via a system of mine whistles which indicated the troubled district. However, in 1914 street fire alarms were installed in the city. In 1903 extensive additions were made to the fire station, with the engine room enlarged and extra horse stalls and living quarters made available.
By 1907 the station was connected by telephone, and alarm bells were set off in the fire station. This alerted the horses, and the doors to their stalls automatically opened to let them out. They lined up under their hanging collars, which were then lowered. Four firemen buckled the reins and clasped the collars. The driver mounted the seat of the steamer and the firemen quickly boarded. The front folding doors were opened, and the horses bounded out of the station pulling the steam fire engine. Contemporary newspaper accounts advised that the steamer was pulled by two horses, Prince and Kate. Prince was a dappled brown horse which had been working with the steamer for the past 10 years, virtually since its arrival at Broken Hill. It was said he had attended about 500 fires. Kate was a younger horse, sired by the racing stallion Friendship.
Apparently Broken Hill Fire Brigade was called out more frequently to fires that any other single station in the State. It is not surprising that a second steam fire engine arrived in Broken Hill in 1910, ordered from Britain and built by Shand, Mason & Co of London. This engine was an improvement on the Merryweather as it incorporated Shand Mason's patent "double vertical" engine which was capable of delivering 260-300 gallons (1,182 - 1,364 litres) per minute.
In 1915 further additions were made to the station, and in the same year the first motorised unit, a Willy-Rees Roturbo, was acquired. A second motor was purchased in 1919, and over the years a number of other motors and pumpers, all made by Dennis, were used. In 1922 both the old steamers were sold. Unfortunately the handsome stone fire station was partly demolished and converted into a new city council library. The Board of Fire Commissioners erected a new fire station in 1962.
The museum's Merryweather steam fire engine was in service at the Broken Hill Central Fire Station from about 1897 until September 1921. In 1922 both the Merryweather and the fire station's other steamer were sold. The Merryweather was purchased by a Mr Leckie and driven 185 km east from Broken Hill to the town of Wilcannia, an old river port on the Darling River. The journey took numerous changes of horses. Mr Leckie intended to use the steamer to pump water on his property outside the town, but it was never put to this use and never left Wilcannia. Instead it took part in local street processions.
In June 1958 the steamer was "discovered" by Howard Knowles, a PMG officer from Broken Hill, in an old woolstore at Wilcannia. Mr Knowles advised the museum of the whereabouts of the steamer. He volunteered to locate the owner, Mr Leckie's son, and organised for its donation and removal to Sydney. The engine was sent to Harbour goods yards in Sydney, arriving on 15 September 1960. Five days later it was collected and taken to a museum store, where it stayed until restoration was commenced in 1982. The fire engine was restored to steaming condition by the apprentices of the Garden Island Dockyard. In 1988 it was placed on display in the Steam Revolution exhibition.