Francis Webb Sheilds

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Francis Webb Sheilds
Born (1820-10-08)8 October 1820
Died 18 January 1906(1906-01-18) (aged 85)[1]
Other names Francis Webb Wentworth-Sheilds[2]
Occupation Rail Engineer
Known for Sydney Railway Company
Spouse(s) Adelaide Baker (m.1860)
Children Francis Wentworth-Sheilds
Parent(s) Rev. Wentworth Sheilds
Isabella Plunkett
Relatives John Gore Sheilds (brother)

Francis Webb Sheilds (8 October 1820 – 18 January 1906)[3] was a civil engineer on the Sydney Railway Company during its construction but before its opening.

In Great Britain and Ireland, Sheilds worked on a number of railway projects, including the then 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) Dublin and Kingstown Railway. He considered himself to be a born railway engineer.[4]

City Surveyor[edit]

Sheilds was the Sydney City Surveyor in 1843 for a few years where he worked on water works. He resigned, 1849,[5] in order to take up a post with the Sydney Railway Company.

Sydney Railway Company Engineer[edit]

Sheilds main claim to fame is that he persuaded the Company, the Government and the other two mainland colonies, Victoria and South Australia, to change the gauge of these railways from 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) to 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm), Sheilds being Irish and 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) being the Irish gauge, leading via tortuous steps to the national break of gauge.

He resigned in 1850[6] when his pay was cut due to financial difficulties of the Company.

His replacement, a Scot named James Wallace, recommended a change back to 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm). The other two mainland colonies having ordered rolling stock refused to follow suit.

Sheilds' recommendation, helped by the Board of Trade, is the origin of all the breaks of gauge between 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) and 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) in Australia. Having shown that gauge wasn't all that important, other states including parts of South Australia adopted the supposedly cheaper narrow gauge of 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Obituary. Francis Webb Wentworth-Sheilds, 1820-1906.
  2. ^ Burke's Peerage assumed by Royal licence the prefix surname Wentworth 1877
  3. ^ "Death of the Archdeacons Father". Wagga Wagga Express. NSW: National Library of Australia. 6 March 1906. p. 2. Retrieved 20 June 2014. 
  4. ^ "ABSTRACT OF THE EVIDENCE TAKEN BEFORE THE SELECT COMMITTEE ON RAILWAYS, &c.". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 13 July 1848. p. 2. Retrieved 27 August 2011. 
  5. ^ "SYDNEY.". The Courier. Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia. 10 March 1849. p. 2. Retrieved 3 July 2014. 
  6. ^ "Advertising.". The Sydney Morning Herald. National Library of Australia. 13 December 1850. p. 1. Retrieved 3 July 2014. 
  • Wentworth-Sheilds Family History details
  • Hagarty, Donald; Australian Railway Historical Society. New South Wales Division (2005), The building of the Sydney Railway : the known story of the work of six men – a naval surveyor, four engineers, and the contractor who, with many others, built the first railway from Sydney to Parramatta 1848–1857, Australian Railway Historical Society, New South Wales Division, ISBN 978-0-9757870-1-4 

External links[edit]