|THE INDUSTRIAL RAILWAY RECORD
© DECEMBER 1965
FROM WELLINGBOROUGH TO
Although the first locomotives in many British colonies were probably of contractors’ types (rather than main-line) for use in building the early railways it is unlikely that many had seen previous industrial service in Britain. One exception to this was Hunslet 405 of 1887, a 3 ft 3 in gauge 0−4−0 saddle tank with outside cylinders 9 in. by 14 in. and 2 ft. 4½ in. diameter wheels, which was delivered new to Rixon‘s Iron & Brick Company Ltd. at Wellingborough on 14 January 1887 where it was No. 3. Five years later it returned to its makers for conversion to 3 ft. 6 in. gauge and resale to contractor Thomas Oliver who named it IRIS. Details of its activities during the next few years are not known, but shortly before the turn of the century IRIS was shipped to Lagos where it was to be used on the construction of the Lagos Government Railway. (Spares were sent by Hunslet to T. Oliver at Rishworth, Yorkshire, in August 1897; the next recorded consignment went to the L.G.R. in November 1899. - Hon. Ed.)
The first section of the L.G.R. from Iddo to Otta was authorised in 1895 and work commenced the following March. Further sections were authorised in 1897 and 1899 and the line from Iddo to Ibadan, 123 miles, was opened on 4 March 1901. Iddo, the coastal terminus of the L.G.R.‚ was connected to the town of Lagos, on Lagos island, by the 2 ft. 6 in. gauge Lagos Steam Tramway.
The first new locomotives for the L.G.R., 1 and 2, were also built by Hunslet, works numbers 654 and 655 of 1896. These were 0−6−0 side tanks, and six similar locos, 3 to 8, followed from the same builders between 1903 and 1907. IRIS was not allotted a number but retained its name, and was the only saddle tank and the only four-coupled loco on the L.G.R. Its working life with its third owner was not long and it was shown as "not maintained in good working order" in the report to the Government for the half-year ending 30 September 1903. Similar reports followed in the next three years, and authority for IRIS to be written off was given on 21 March 1907. IRIS was the only loco to be withdrawn by the L.G.R. before it became part of the Nigerian Railway on 3 October 1912.
However, after this, IRIS must have remained in Ebute Metta works yard for a number of years as it is recorded that "Old plates recovered from scrapped boiler of IRIS were used for balance weight purposes in the rebalancing of ‘103 Class’ engines. All old plates used up by 24 March 1915." Such was the fate of IRIS, probably the first locomotive in Nigeria.
As recorded in "The Ironstone Railways and Tramways of the Midlands", the original Rixon’s tramway was the predecessor of the present Wellingborough narrow gauge system. The story of IRIS provides a link between the last remaining steam operated narrow gauge ironstone line in Britain and the main line railways of what was, until gaining its independence, recently, the largest British colony in West Africa.