Bob the Railway Dog (also known as “Terowie Bob”) is part of South Australian Railways folklore. He travelled the South Australian Railways system in the later part of the 19th century, and was known widely to railwaymen of the day.
Bob first experienced the railway life, when, as a young dog, he took a fancy to the workers building the railway near Strathalbyn and followed some of the navvies to the line. He was brought back to his owner, the publican of the Macclesfield Hotel, two or three times before finally disappearing; he was about 9 months old at the time.
His true railway career appears to commence not long after being consigned from Adelaide along with fifty other dogs to Quorn, to be used to exterminate rabbits near Carrieton. Bob was, it was believed, picked up as a stray in Adelaide. He was swapped (though it has been suggested he “broke pack”) for another dog, obtained as a stray from the Police in Port Augusta by William Seth Ferry, then working as a Special Guard at Petersburg as Peterborough was then known. Ferry “registered him right away” and is recorded as noting he acquired Bob on 24 September 1884.
Eventually William Ferry was promoted to Petersburg Assistant Station Master in February 1885, by which time Bob became accustomed to train travel.
He was known to venture to and from Petersburg often sitting in the front of the coal space in the locomotive tender, travelling many thousands of miles. According to the Petersburg Times ” His favourite place on a Yankee engine; the big whistle and belching smokestack seem(ed) to have an irresistible attraction for him….he lived on the fat of the land , and was not particular from whom he accepted his dinner”
He did not like suburban engines, because of their cramped cabs, but was known to clear out third class compartments for his sole use by “vigorously barking at all stations, usually succeeding in convincing intending passengers that the coach had been reserved of his special benefit”. “His bark was robust and often caused strangers to believe that he was being aggressive when he really intended to be friendly”. He had no master, but was befriended and enabled by the engineers (for whom he seemed to have a special affinity) and trainmen, and permitted to “ride for free, like a politician.”
Some sources suggest that Bob’s travels took him to all mainland states of Australia, being seen as far afield as Oodnadatta, Queensland, and even Western Australia (given there was no railway connection at the time, this is unlikely). However, he was noted as having “several river trips up the Murray and around the coast”. He was present at the opening of the railway between Petersburg and Broken Hill, as a “distinguished guest.
A memorial to Bob has been given pride of place in Petersborough South Australia.