Bob the railway dog: icon of Australian history

By Josephine Sargent 7 October 2011
Reading Time: 4 Minutes Print this page
Bob the Railway Dog had an insatiable thirst for train travel – he was a dog for all Australians.

THIS SCRUFFY GERMAN COLLIE was born in 1882 with four seriously itchy paws. At just nine months old, Bob left his home at the Macclesfield Hotel, South Australia, and began his canine career as a hitchhiker on railway locomotives – often taking himself on interstate trips and being welcomed everywhere by friendly train crews.

Peterborough History Group chair Heather Parker says Bob the Railway Dog, as he was later known, was adored throughout his home state and beyond.

“He had a wonderful temperament and loved people, particularly the engine drivers,” she says. “He’d start off going in one direction, he’d get off and think about it for a while – he could pick and choose where he wanted to go – and hop on another train. He liked Broken Hill and he had a friend down in Hindley Street, Adelaide, who used to give him food.”

Adelaide’s The Advertiser said in 1939 that, until his death at the distinguished age of 13, Bob travelled freely – “like politicians” – on the trains, suburban trams and even the Murray steamers. He also attended official functions, The Advertiser reported. “He was a 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 NSW.”

Bob was happiest on a Yankee engine, said The Petersburg Times: “The big whistle and belching smokestack seem to have an irresistible attraction for him; He lives on the fat of the land, and he is not particular from whom he accepts his dinner.”

A dog’s life

‘Bob, the railway dog’ sitting on top of the driver’s car of a stationary locomotive at Port Augusta Railway yard, circa 1887. Railway staff stand in a group alongside the vehicle. (Photo courtesy of the State Library of South Australia.)

News of the travelling dog soon spread, even as far as England. In 1895, shortly before Bob died, an E. Cresswell, of Adelaide, wrote to an English magazine, The Spectator, to share Bob’s story.

“His name is Railway Bob and he passes his whole existence on the train – his favourite seat being on top of the coal box,” the author wrote. “He has travelled many thousands of miles, going all over the lines in South Australia. He is known in Victoria, frequently seen in Sydney and has been up as far as Brisbane!

“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, where he starts off on another of his ceaseless journeys.”

Bob started life in the litter of working dogs. The farmer who bred them, Henry Hollamby, told The Southern Argus in 1895 that, as a puppy, “[Bob] was given to Mr James Mott, who kept the Macclesfield Hotel…At the time the railway was being made to Strathalbyn, and he followed some men to the line.” This marked the beginning of Bob’s fascination with the railways.

The publican attempted to round up the runaway on many occasions, but Bob wasn’t interested. He later roamed to Adelaide, where he was captured with 50 other strays. The ragged bunch was bound for Carrieton, 300 km away, where they were destined to become rabbit hunters, but Terowie-based train guard William Ferry took a liking to Bob and offered to buy him.

The rabbiter, however, proposed a swap, one dog for another. William travelled 130 km north-west to Port Augusta, found a stray dog loitering by the police station and Bob was his.

Bob the dog – train jumper

A Statue of Bob the Railway Dog in the Main Street of Peterborough, South Australia. (Photo credit: Sulzer55/

Soon, Ferry was transferred from Terowie to Petersburg – now Peterborough – as a porter and a guard, with Bob always by his side as he worked on the trains. By the time Ferry was promoted to stationmaster in WA in 1889, seven-year-old Bob had already graduated to jumping trains alone. Ferry took the job and left the intrepid Bob behind.

In 1924 The Register noted that Bob had earned such a reputation that a brass plate was made for his collar; on it was engraved, “Stop me not, but let me jog, For I am Bob, the railway dog”.

When the intrepid Bob died in 1895, his body was stuffed and, wearing this collar, was displayed at various railway stations. Today the collar can be found at the National Railway Museum in Port Adelaide, while a statue commemorating Bob was unveiled in Peterborough in 2009.