Queensland Railway’s major workshops were located at Ipswich from the 1850s to the 1990s, the workshops employed a large workforce and were an important skill centre for over 140 years. Generations of skilled craftsmen built, repaired and overhauled locomotives, wagons and carriages. Blacksmiths, carpenters and metalsmiths – including tin and coppersmiths used their skills and knowledge to produce a wide variety of products. It was here that many tinsmiths would have learnt their skills, apprentices were trained across all the trades. The tinsmiths custom made oil cans in a huge array of forms to meet the needs of the locomotive mechanics as well as fittings for the carriages. You can see remnant examples of their work throughout The Workshops, functional articles such as drip trays and exhaust vents, as well as some very early lamps and oil cans in the museum’s collection.
We had been told that this was the last place in Queensland where tinsmiths were trained and Chayle Timbs, Visitor Experience Manager at The Workshops Museum tipped us off re: the annual Workers Reunion, which provided the perfect opportunity to speak with some current and ex QR staff. Several men recalled the tin and coppersmiths shop which was in a caged off area beside the carriage workshops. One man told of his father Peter Nunn who had worked as tinsmith there for 48 years and 7 weeks, beginning as an apprentice. Unfortunately however the tinsmiths cage had been pulled down the year before. We have included Richard Stringer’s © image from his volume ‘Industrial Cycle’ Page 36, c1979. A further link to a mention on ephemeral-male here.
Amongst the artworks commissioned for the site, two evocative quotes embedded into the pavement at the gateway to The Workshops encapsulated the human story – ‘sometimes several generations of a family worked here’ and ‘ at the end of each day 1,000 bicycles streamed out through the gate’. Our 36Mb powerpoint of the day is downloadable here.