Steam Powered Whims

This interesting article is reproduced from the combined sources of a book titled “Steam in the Forest” written by Maurice Southcombe and information gathered together over many years by Phil Wyndham. Also recent contact with Mark Stephen, the Great-Grandson of Harry Stephen, has allowed us to enlarge this fascinating piece of history. Although it is not directly related to the timber industry around Pickering Brook, it deserves a place on this website. These huge steam traction engines were used in various forms at many mills to power machinery or to haul timber because they were so powerful.
Some were modified into giant tractor “whims” and were developed during the transition from horses to motorised power in the industry. Steam traction engines were used to clear land around the district and Archie Anderson had two of them. He was responsible for clearing land around Pickering Brook using these monsters. A few were modified to become “motorised whims” and used for dragging logs through the forest to the mill landings.
It appears they were unique to Western Australia and only four of these huge “whims” were ever built. A true piece of Timber Industry history.

No record of the early days of steam in this State would be complete without mention of the steam tractor engine

Evidently Mr. Wanliss of the Rockingham Timber Company was one of the first to use this method of transport. In the “Enquirer” of the sixteenth August, 1871 is recorded the fact that Mr. Wanliss imported from Melbourne, an eight horsepower traction engine called the Thompson’s Road Steamer and it arrived in this State aboard the schooner “Azelia”. After its arrival, it was used by the company for general haulage concerned with the building of the line and also hauling materials to and from the mill. One of its jobs a few months later was to haul the new loco, the “Governor Weld”, from Perth to Rockingham where it was assembled.

This tractor caught the attention of the then Colonial Secretary, Sir Luke Leake who showed great interest in this new form of transport.

In the “Enquirer” of October 1st, 1877, a news item states that in company with Mr. Lee Steere, Sir Luke traveled to Jarrahdale by train from Rockingham where he was welcomed by the manager Mr. Steedman. A gloom was cast over the visit by the fact that a Mr. George Vackner had been killed in the mill the day before, having been caught in a belt and severely mutilated. The report went on to say that Sir Luke met up with an old friend in a new guise, The Thompson’s Road Steamer, now stripped of its wheels and used to drive the saw-sharpening machinery in the mill.

Imported portable and traction engines played a significant role in logging and milling timber from Australian forests. Although steam power units were a fire hazard in summer, they nevertheless proved popular, because the engines could be fired from offcuts and waste timber – virtually free fuel. Several Australian-built steam machines called “whims” worked in the forests near the Yarloop district of Western Australia from the late 1890’s. They could straddle a log, then lift and transport it to a sawmill.

The idea for these whims was conceived by an employee of Millar’s Timber Company, Harry Stephen, around 1896. He obviously thought that there must be a better way to haul the logs through the forest to the mills.

This Is His Story

Harry Stephen (Henry Charles)
Early Family History
Peter Stephen (His Grandfather)

This is the earliest ancestor of that name that we know about. He was born in 1781. In December 1808 he married Ann Duncan. Their children were a daughter Christian Stephen, born in 1817, a son Charles Stephen, born in 1819, Henry Charles Stephen, born in 1920 and James Stephen born in 1822. The table stone in section E, No. 13 at St. Machar’s churchyard records the death of two of their children. No names or dates are given. They probably died in early childhood. But it appears that there were other children, besides the two who died, born between the marriage in 1808 and Christian’s birth in 1817. Peter Stephen’s name is commemorated on the old table stone No. 13E at St. Machar’s churchyard. He is listed as having various occupations, July 1841 fireman, August 1841 engineer and later millwright & engineer. He died in 1845 at Albney. A thorough search for Albney as spelt on the gravestone failed to bring to light the place where he died.


Henry Charles Stephen (His Father)

Henry Charles Stephen, chainmaker and blacksmith, married Mary (Nee Collie), the daughter of John Collie, ropeworker, and his wife Margaret Simpson, in Aberdeen on the 19th August 1841. They had 10 children:
Margaret (Mattie) Simpson was born on 22nd July 1842
Mary Ann born in 1844 (died in infancey)
Henry Charles (Harry Senior) born in 1845
Ann born in 1847 (died in infancey)
Mary born in 1850
Charles born in 1852
Juliet (Julie) born in 1854
James born in 1856
Joanne born in 1858
John born in 1863
Harry’s mother died suddenly of apoplexy when John was four months old. She was only 41 years old. They lived at 13 York Street, Aberdeenshire.

Henry Charles Stephen Snr (Harry)

Henry Charles STEPHEN (known as Harry) was a very busy man. He was an engineer, shipwright, bridge builder and worked his way out to Australia on a Ship called ‘Peri’ (Official No 62273) – working as a carpenter. During the trip to Australia they stopped in at the Canary Islands. Whilst there, Harry became involved in a scuffle and got stabbed in the process. It appears it was not very serious and he survived okay. Eventually arriving in Australia in 1869 (possibly into Geelong).

After working in Australia for some time, Harry’s father passed away on October 1879, leaving his younger sibling on their own in Aberdeen. He called for his two sisters and a brother to come out to Australia. Juliet, Joanne and Harry eventually came out to Australia in December 1880 on the ship ‘Northampton’. One married her sweetheart, who followed her to Australia. This is thought to be Joanne and she married James Cumming, Juliet married Robert Millar. John married Elizabeth Finlayson. His younger brother Charles, died at sea in 1874 coming out to Australia on the same ship – ‘Peri’.


Harry’s younger brother Charles, died at sea in 1874 coming out to Australia on the same ship – “Peri”.

One year after arriving in Australia, Harry married Elizabeth Theresa Wool on the 14th April 1870 in Melbourne. Eliza, who was born in c1855 in Cork, Ireland, was only 15 years old and Harry was 24. They had 11 children in all but unfortunately 5 died at birth.

All of their five sons would become engineers in the fields of either mining, construction, steam engines or electrical.

Henry Charles (also known as Harry junior) born in March 1871 in South Melbourne, married Agnes O’Conner in 1898, died 1917.


James Bartholomew born in January 1873, married Selena Anker in 1903, died 1915. Children: Elsie 1903, Ernest 1904, Sadie 1905, Evelyn 1909, George 1911.

Elizabeth born 1874, died in infancy

George Alexander born 1875, married Alice Mackay 1906, died 1949. Children: Millicent May 1907


Charles born 1877, died in infancy


Millicent May born in the town of Millicent, South Australia on 31st May 1879. Married Frederick Herbert Stammers on 10th March 1909 at Gosnells, Western Australia. They had one child Alice, named after Alice Mackay born December 1907. Millicent died in Melbourne on the 23rd October 1938.

Charles born 1877, died in infancy

Ernest born on 23rd March 1882, died on 10th November 1882 in Sydney.

Charles Edwin Millar born in Como, Sydney, on 10th March 1884, married Amelia Lynda Moss in 1911. Children: Doreen 1913, Lorna 1915, Audrey 1926, Lola 1927, Henry Charles 1931.


John Collie born 1886 died 1931, Married Mabel Fisher in 1920. Children: Raeburn 1922, John Davis 1924.

Harry Stephen & Family November 1885

At some time, with his wife Elizabeth and 2 boys (Charles and John), he worked in New Zealand also working on railways and bridges – possibly soon after the Maori wars.

On his return to Australia, briefly working as a boat builder on the Yarra River.

The Millar brothers, Emerson, Charles and Edwin first arrived in Australia with their father in the late 1850’s from Dublin. Apparently after doing quite well in the Victorian Goldfields, they returned to Ireland where Charles and Edwin completed engineering degrees. The family then returned to Melbourne, where Charles and Edwin set up C. & E. Millar Trading Co., as a construction company building railways, harbours, bridges, etc.

HENRY standing at rear, JAMES sitting on right, GEORGE at front, MILLICENT on left & CHARLES standing on Harry’s leg. ELIZABETH was believed to be pregnant at the time with JOHN

He became involved and worked for two brothers, Charles and Edwin Millar, who were very active building railways and bridges in most of the eastern states of Australia. They worked together on the construction of a number of railway lines and bridges including:-




Illawarra Railway and railway bridge over the Georges River at Como 1884. The Contractors were Messrs. C. & E. Millar and the bridge formed part of the first stage of the Illawarra railway. It was built by Harry Stephen who was superintendent of the works and Mr. Maddox, who was the Government engineer. At some time during the construction Harry was pulled from the job to commence and build a new steam powered launch called the “Active”, for Millar’s. The bridge is of the lattice girder type, made from wrought iron. The horizontal girder members are U -shaped, joined by criss-cross vertical sections. A common type of rail bridge construction in that era, which were constructed mainly between 1871 and 1888. The bridge stands on five pairs of piers, fourteen feet apart, supplied by Stockton Forge Co. They are iron cylinders, 11ft (3.35 M) diameter, each filled with concrete. These piers range from 70ft (21M) to 114ft (34.7M) to bedrock. An unusual feature is the stone abutment on the northern bank. The total bridge span is 954ft. (290.8M), made up of six spans each of 159ft (48.5M) The bridge is thirty five feet above the water level It weighed nearly 1113 tons and cost sixty six thousand, one hundred and thirty six pounds, two shillings and one penny ($132,272) to build. Design work was by John Whitton, Colonial Engineer. It took 2 years to build and was finished in September 1885 and officially opened on 20th January 1886. On completion it was subjected to a strength test more severe than any other applied to any of the numerous railway bridges which the colony possessed at the time. It came through with flying colours. A train of three engines and tenders, aggregating to a total of nearly 200 tons, was used. With the three engines, standing on each span of the bridge and also running at a speed of 25 miles over the structure, the deflection averaged from 1/8in to 1/4in. At the time it was one of the heaviest and longest in the colony.


On January 17th 1885, the launching of a new vessel took place at the wharf, near the great iron bridge, in Como. The vessel was a steamer of 150 tons, register with a capacity of 200 tons. She was 115ft overall, 100ft keel, 19ft beam, with a displacement of almost 200 tons. The top sides are kauri and the bottom of spotted gum, with ironbark keel and keelson. It is worthy to note that in all the copper sheathings, not an iron fastening of any kind was employed. There are 36 iron knees, which were manufactured and fitted in Como. She was later fitted with surface condensing engines of 40 horsepower. It was built by Harry Stephen for Messrs. C. and E. Millar, and was intending to convey railway material from South Australian ports. The christening was performed by Miss Firth and the vessel was named the “Active”.

During this time of the railway bridge construction, there was also another steamer operating on the river named “Harry Stephen”. It was built in 1883 for Millars and was named after Harry. In late 1884 it was sold to interests in Fiji.

In 1972 it was closed when the new concrete dual-track railway bridge constructed to the west of the original Como Railway bridge opened for use. Barriers were erected to stop public access and there were rumours the bridge was to be demolished. In 1980, a group of Oatley residents put forward the idea of reopening it as a pedestrian and cycle way and the proposal quickly gathered support. The National Trust took no chances and listed it for preservation. In 1985, the old bridge was given a new lease of life when it reopened as a walking and cycle path. Kogarah and Sutherland councils combined to fund the project, which was completed exactly 100 years after the bridge opened. It is Heritage listed with the National Trust.

Forth River Swing Bridge Tasmania

The original eight span bridge was constructed in 1885. It comprises of a timber ballast deck which is supported by two 1900mm deep wrought-iron girders with lateral and diagonal cross-bracing noted at regular intervals.

This historical railway bridge is the oldest surviving swing bridge in Australia.


Don River Bridge Tasmania

Built in 1886 the original five-span Don River Bridge in Tasmania, comprised a ballasted timber deck supported by two 1900mm deep riveted wrought-iron girders with lateral and diagonal cross-bracing at regular intervals. 


Adelaide River Bridge

The drawing for this bridge over the Adelaide River were signed by Engineer-in-chief H. C. Mais of the South Australian Railways in 1885. It was the largest on the first stage of the North Australia Railway between Darwin (then Palmerston) and Pine Creek. The bridge is of steel lattice girder construction, 155m long, approximately 4m wide, spanning the Adelaide River. The bridge carried the railway line of the former North Australia Railway, on wooden sleepers. The bridge is built in five 31m spans, on transoms supported by four pairs of cylindrical cast iron piers embedded in concrete foundations, with concrete abutments at both ends.

Completed in 1888, it played a significant role in the development of the Top End of the Northern Territory and had a strategic role during World War 11. The bridge was fabricated by James Martin of Gawler, South Australia and erected by the main contractors for the railway, Charles and Edwin Millar. Harry Stephen was employed by the Millar brothers during the construction of this bridge.

On 8th December 1888 the locomotive “Silverton” hauled the first scheduled train across the bridge. The bridge was used by rail traffic until the NAR closed in 1976. In 1941/42, longitudinal wooden decking was added to the bare railway lines and sleepers, to allow military and other road transport access across the river in times of seasonal flooding. The bridge was further upgraded in 1952 and continued to be used by vehicles during the Wet season until 1980, it was then closed as a new concrete bridge had been built next door.

Harry would tell his sons about working on the Adelaide river bridge. At night he could hear the local aboriginals holding corroborees and playing didgeridoos further along the river on the river bank. The aboriginals would often visit the workers store and take flour.

A few years later he left Millar’s and moved his family to Tasmania and built a steam ship, the “Red Gauntlet” at Leith in Tasmania. Official No 79291. It took 9 months to build and was launched on the 19th August 1890. At 1.30 p.m. the word was given for the launching with one blow of the adze and at the same moment 11 year old, Miss Millie Stephen broke a bottle of wine thus christening the vessel. Harry operated the steamer along the West and North coast of Tasmania, carrying mostly small goods, potatoes, chaff, oats, sundries and occasional passengers between Launceston and Strahan.

This steam ship was later sold to Joseph Bradshaw of Melbourne in 1893, later it was sold to Burns Phillip in June 1896, then scrapped off Thursday Island by Customs, June 1902.After selling his steam ship, he apparently re-joined C. & E. Millar’s in Melbourne.

The Millar Brothers expanded their operations into Western Australia in 1884 when they secured the contract to build railway line from the Beverley to Albany railway. Because of this contract they were granted logging leases for supply of timber to construct the railway. They built two sawmills at Torbay and produced up to 1000 sleepers per day. That railway was completed in 1889. Other railway contracts were secured, including the Clackline to Newcastle (now Toodyay) railway. This meant they expanded further into the timber sawmilling industry. However because of a slump in orders they closed operations at Torbay in 1893.

In 1895 the Millar brothers, Charles Gibson and Edwin Frank, obtained further leases on the timber in an area on the south coast of Western Australia west of Albany. A new company was created, Millar’s Karri & Jarrah Forests Ltd., registered in London with its head office in Albany. They opened several sawmills in the area and built the town of Denmark. The town was created to house the families of those working at the sawmills. Wood was used to build workers homes, several stores and the town bridge. A high demand for timber from Europe and around the world and the nearby gold rush kept the sawmills busy. The timber was being used in construction of all types. Denmark was populated at that time by over 1000 timber workers and their families. They then expanding initially with mills from Torbay and Denmark, then right up as far as Yarloop.

A few years later milling was at its peak and Denmark had a thriving population of around 2000. The demand for karri timber was high all around the world and a new railway line was built to aid transportation. Timber was sent along the Nornalup-Albany Railway and was exported by boat. Denmark town was alcohol free, a ‘dry town’.

However this all proved to be very lucrative and they rapidly purchased and took over many mills throughout the south-west of Western Australia, including Canning Mills and Barton’s Mill at Pickering Brook. In 1902, seven major saw-millers merged with the Millar organisation to form Millar’s Karri and Jarrah Company and in 1910 the new company was operating 26 sawmills, 350 miles of railway, 3 shipping ports, over 1,000 horses and 40 locomotives. 1,500.000 acres of forest country was under its control. In 1912 the name was changed to Millar’s Timber and Trading Company Limited, and then finally named Millar’s (W.A.) Pty Ltd. in 1972.

The forests were being harvested at a tremendous rate and without thought for sustainability. The easily accessed mill-able trees were soon all cut down leaving the families and workers short of a livelihood. The Millar’s closed down the Denmark mills and school and the company town of Denmark was no longer ‘required’. The church was closed and the Millar’s started to close down the town and were set to demolish the buildings. Only a few mill workers and their families remained. Alfred Randall is the local hero who saved Denmark, he petitioned the Government to protect all that had already been achieved and to pay out the Millar’s. In 1907 the WA Government bought the town (land, buildings, the mills and the railway) for £5,000 ($10,000) from the Millar’s after a long negotiation period. They made it possible for people to settle again in Denmark but growth was slow.


The Stephen family and the Millar’s became very close over the years, including going on fishing trips together. They even named their fourth son after one of the brothers – Charles Edwin Millar Stephen. Harry’s other two sons, Henry (Harry Jnr.) and George worked for Millar’s, as fitters in the company’s workshop, when they were operating at Torbay.

All the Stephen family moved often, depending on where the next contact was that Millar’s had. They would sell up everything and move on to a new place – they did not have time to collect things – so many things got lost, given away or left behind.

Harry was a very well respected employee of the Millar Brothers and he moved to Western Australia sometime around 1895 to work as their consulting engineer. He worked on the steam engines and other projects that Millar Brothers then operated.

Some of the forest areas around the Denmark in south-west Western Australia were inaccessible to teams of horses. Harry, while working as a consulting engineer for Millar’s, he devised a “flying fox” method of carrying a 10 ton log across steep ravines and creek crossings. It was powered by a donkey engine and was easily transported to another site. It enabled large logs to be dragged out of difficult places to areas that were frequented by teams of horses with whims.


While working for Millar’s, the idea of a steam powered whim was conceived by Harry Stephen, around 1896. He obviously thought that there must be a better way to haul the logs through the forest to the mills. So he set about designing his steam whim (or steam transport log carriage, as he called it).

Millar’s were interested in the idea and gave him every assistance, including the use of the company’s workshop. The wooden framed prototype steam whim he built circa 1897, was possibly constructed at Torbay or Denmark, but this cannot be confirmed.

This original whim, or “steam transport log carriage” consisted of a wooden framework and platform approximately 25 x 7 feet wide, over four large wheels, almost 10 foot in diameter at the front and 11 foot diameter at the back. Power was provided by an 8-inch bore single-cylinder steam engine powered by a vertical boiler. Firewood was carried on an extended platform behind the boiler. A steam winch and steel rope and chains were used to lift the logs, which were secured under the whim by chains and quick-release hooks. The whim could carry approximately 19 tons at a time. One man was employed to steer the machine and another to look after the boiler. The steering arrangement did seem to be very practical as the steerman had his front was facing rearward. This whim became the first mechanised form of log-carrying in Western Australia.

Having worked out the concept for his invention, he applied for a preliminary patent application for it whilst living in Torbay in March 1897, but never proceeded any further with the patent application: although the nameplates on the side of the whims proclaimed them as “Stephen’s Patent”. The patent application appears to have been lodged before any prototypes had been built because the prototype steam whim did not have several of the items mentioned in the specifications :- “trunnioned boiler”; “sliding carriage” underneath the body frame and the “driving mechanism” was not wire rope as described, but a link belt running over cogged wheels to prevent slipping.

He applied for a patent for his invention on the 26th March 1897. It was No. 1548 from H. C. Stephen, of Torbay, for a “steam transport log carriage”. However it appears that he never went any further with the application so a patent probably was never issued.

Note: When doing his research, Phil Wyndham tried to obtain a copy of Harry Stephen’s patent application from the “Commissioner of Patents” in Canberra, and he ran into typical government bureaucracy. He was not allowed to see a copy of the patent application as it was still pending. Phil pointed out (at that time) that it was now 90 years since it had been lodged and was therefore irrelevant. He still had no joy so he wrote to the local Federal Member of Parliament, who in turn wrote to the then Minister of Science, Barry Jones, who granted permission for him to have a copy of the patent application. So after 4 months he finally got his copy.


This prototype formed the basis of a steel framed whim. An order was placed on 11th January 1898 with Melbourne manufacturing firm, Geo. W. Kelly Company (later Kelly & Lewis) to make a steel framed steam powered whim. A horizontal boiler at the rear powering a single cylinder, which in turn drove via various gear and clutches, the rear driving wheels, the steering and lifting winches. The driving wheels were 2.70m (9’0″) diameter and the front wheels 2.40m (8’0″) diameter. The whole machine was nearly 8.00m (26’0″) long. The wheels were fixed to large arched axles similar to the standard bullock drawn whims. The logs were carried underneath the steel frame between the wheels, but it could still carry 19 tons of timber.


The Melbourne manufacturing firm, Geo. W. Kelly Company (later Kelly & Lewis) became one of Australia’s largest engineering firms manufacturing a diverse range of products from centrifugal pumps to air compressors, steam and internal combustion engines, power station condensers and structural steelwork. Two of their notable ventures were a V8 engine for the Royal Australian Air Force and the manufacture of the KL LANZ Bulldog tractor. The ownership has changed over the years but they are still operating currently in 2019, renowned for their pumps.


Whilst waiting for this whim to be made in Melbourne, Harry was busy with other projects that the company were contemplating. In May 1898 an exploring party consisting of a Mr. McKenzie, and Harry Stephen, representing the engineering and shipping sections of Millar’s Karri and Jarrah Company, left Albany in the “Dunskey” for Deep River. They were to examine the timber resources between Deep River and Denmark, with a view to taking up a considerable area of timber should the inspection warrant it. The trip was expected to last two to four weeks.

The completed steel framed whim was shipped to Western Australia where it was immediately put to work.


Driving the monster was both an art and a science and there were only five men who succeeded. They were Harry Stephen Senior, Harry Stephen Junior, Jim Stephen, George Fisk and George Scott. The crew of a steam whim consisted of a driver, a fireman to operate the whim, and a faller and swamper on the ground to prepare and attach the logs for carrying. To carry the logs, the steam whim would straddle the log, the 2 sets of steel cables, front and rear would be passed under the log, which would then be raised into the carrying position by the steam winches, before being secured by chains with quick release fasteners. The whim then proceeded to the nearest railway, where it would release its log, ready to be loaded onto the railway wagons. The steel framed whim seems to have undergone quite a few changes during its working life. The steel framed wheels do not appear to have been very satisfactory, as a photograph taken in 1900 shows it with four wooden wheels. Various other amendments seem to have been made, presumable from experience whilst working with the whim. The boiler was also changed to a vertical type.

At dawn it would steam off into the forest at 7 m.p.h. to commence hauling up to 12 huge logs to the railway landing, in a days work. The whims made their own roads through the bush, like an elephant pad, butting down scrub and small trees as it went at 4 m.p.h fully loaded. They were as tall as a double-decker bus and fully loaded weighed as much as a DC6 airliner. The driver steered by steam, worked the winches by steam and drove it along by steam. His mate would feed firewood into the boiler, rather like stoking up a chip bath-heater. Fellows called swampers went ahead, cutting wood and stacking it by the track for him to collect as he went. The main problem with the machine was water – it would boil away about 150 gallons on a three mile trip. When it could the machine would stop by a creek to refuel.

These whims were restricted as to where they could work. They could not work during winter when the ground became too soft to support the weight of the whim when loaded, and in our long dry summers they had to work within easy reach of a stream to replenish their water supply at frequent intervals.

Hiarry lodged a second application for a patent for his invention. This was announced in the Western Mail Newspaper (Perth, W.A.), for the week ending Saturday 13th May 1899. It was No. 2518 from H. C. Stephen, of Torbay, for an “auto-motor jinker principally for conveying heavy logs”; dated May 12th.


Although the performance of the steam whim was limited, Millar’s must have considered it worthwhile. Between 1904 and 1906, two larger wooden-framed machines were built at Millar’s workshops at Yarloop. These larger whims were over 9.00m (30’0′) long, had a track width of approximately 4.00m (13’0″), 3.4m (10’00”) wheels that had 40cm wide rims and could haul logs of up to 18.00m (60’0″) long and 1.50m (5’0″) diameter, or 4.80m (15’9″) girth at mid-point, weighing up to 30 tons.

These whims were too big for the Midland Workshops, where no-one was able to forge the 8 foot arched axles. They were made at Yarloop by a master blacksmith who did the job with his steam hammers. Even so, the axles still had a tendency to snap when 26 tons of whim hit a rut. Visions of the wounded machine being horse-freighted city-wards was pooh-poohed by Norm Smith. He said they just draped their blocks and tackle over a tree, man-handles the machine clear of the ground, unbolted the axle and carted it off to the Yarloop blacksmith.

They took 12 months to make and cost a small fortune but there was big money to be earned in the timber country at the time. One photograph shows “to carry 30 tons” written on the side. A Jarrah log 18.0m long would weigh around 30 tons depending on its girth.

The steel framed whim and the two larger wooden framed whims appear to have operated for Millar’s mills in the Yarloop area, mainly Hoffman’s and Mornington. In 1911 one at Beam Landing Gully Hoffman and the other at the old school landing. This could have been because any breakdown, such as a broken wheel or axle could be fixed at the Yarloop workshop. It appears that one whim may have also operated down near Denmark on the south coast. One whim was powered by a compound steam engine, one high and one low pressure cylinder. The other two were much more powerful and one had two 7inch cylinders and could do 15 m.p.h.

Miss May Usher used to scramble aboard the steam powered whim and sit up in it with her uncle Harry Stephen. She fell in love with a strapping young tree faller, Norm Smith and married him. Years later Norm remembers driving these monsters was both an art and a science and he could only remember five men who succeeded; Harry Stephen senior, his sons Harry junior & Jim, and George Fisk and George Scott who drove them thereafter till about 1918.

In a tape recording by George Fisk about him driving these monsters, he states that the one he drove was powered by a compound steam engine, one high and one low pressure cylinder. The other two were both much more powerful than the one he drove. As a matter of fact one had two 7 inch cylinders on it, and she could do 15 miles per hour through the bush driven by Jimmy Stephen.

His eldest son, Henry Charles (Harry Jnr) was married to Agnes Frances (nee O’Conner) in November 1899 at Strahan, Tasmania.


After working with his father in the timber industry for many years, he eventually left and apparently ran a business called the Grosvenor Refreshment Rooms at 326 Hay Street on the corner of Hill Street in East Perth. Documents show they applied for a liquor licence in 1909 prior to selling the business in 1910 to Laura Emily Finey. Harry and his wife then went farm working at Shackleton. On the railway between Quairading and Bruce Rock, a small railway siding area was developed privately called Shackleton, in 1913. So it is probable that Harry took up land or worked on a farm, about this time. Because 3 years later his address was given as Shackleton when he completed a medical examination to join the Australian Forces on 1st February 1916.

He enlisted on the 13th March 1916 to No.55 Depot Company, at Blackboy Hill, Western Australia as a Private. Whilst Harry Jnr was in the 16th Battalion in France, he was killed in the first advance on German lines at Bullecourt on 11 April 1917, when the tanks failed and our troops suffered many losses. He was 45 at the time. He was awarded the British War Medal No.45551, the Victory Medal No.45031 and the Memorial Plaque & Scroll No.310063. After Harry Jnr was killed Agnes returned to Melbourne and remarried Giovanni Valli in 1922.

Their second son, James married Selena Anker 1903, and they had 5 children; Elsie, Ernest, Saide, Evelyn and George. Unfortunately James was fatally burnt in a fire at his camp whilst he was working as a fitter/engineer at Lake View lease Trafalgar gold mine, Kalgoorlie in November 1915. No information came forward as to how the fire started. It spread and destroyed two other camps in the vicinity. Luckily the occupiers were both working night shift and were not injured.

George, the third son, started a 4 year appenticeship at Messers Finlayson Bros. Engineering and Foundry in West Devonport, Tasmania in 1889, then 1893 he moved to Broken Hill working for Baxter and Sadler. George left Broken Hill in 1895 to join the family who were now in Torbay, WA. He worker for Millar’s Karri and Jarrah Forest as an advanced fitter in Denmark. Later working at Hannan’s Brown Hill Gold Mine, Great Fingall Mine and Belleview Propriety, before sailing to South Africa with a mate and worked at the Robinson Gold Mine in 1905, and on to Aberdeen where he meet Alice Mackay. 3 weeks later he proposed and married Alice Mackay at Old Aberdeen 7 August 1906. Late in 1906 he and Alice sailed to Australia. George started worked with Golden Horseshoe Gold Mine, soon after their daughter Millicent was born at Boulder City. August 1907 he was now working at the Lancefield Gold Mine and later for Cosmopolitan Propriety Ltd at Kookynie. In March 1910 he was now in charge of the erection of gas-producing and electricity plants for the municipality of Kookynie, WA.


In June 1910, George was sailed with his family to Nicaragua, Central America for an appointment as Engineer at La Leonessa Gold Mine. After 3 years the family left and travelled to the UK with George now working in a Tin mine in Helston in Cornwall. With the out break of WW1, this put an end to their plans to return to Australia, he soon found work at Abernethy’s Iron Foundry at Aberdeen. The foundry was engaged to repair ships damaged by enemy action, it was classed as priority war work. George was an Australian Munitions Worker during World War 1, (AMW number 3023).

After the end of WW1, George took up an offer for work as a Smelter Mechanical Engineer at Namtu with Burma Mines Ltd, later to be called Burma Corporation Ltd. He retired in 1939 just prior to WW11 and passed away in January 1949.

Charlie Gibson Millar died from an aneurysm on the 18th February 1900, at Las Palmas, Canary Islands. He had been suffering from heart disease and was cruising in his steam yacht “White Heather”. He had made his money as a contractor, and built railways and bridges all over Australia. He built the Sale to Moorwell line in 1876, and the Dimboola to Murray Bridge line. And then the Pine Creek railway, up in the Port Darwin district. He made good money out of them. He also had sawmills in Western Australia. He was the chief director, and looked after everything. The Millar brothers built over 600kms of rail line to service their logging operations and built up a fleet of 33 locomotives with all associated log wagons etc., and they also owned quite a few steam traction engines. The saw mills sent an enormous quantity of timber to the English and other foreign markets. This still continued long after his death. He practically owned Chateau Terung vineyard and every year he sent home a large quantity of Victorian wine. At the time of his death in 1900 it was estimated he was worth somewhere about 1 million pounds ($2,000,000).


The most important period in Millars history was until the outbreak of the 1st World War I 1914. They had twelve mills operating and had built up the export market so that over 70% of the timber was exported.

Millar’s originally put out tenders for building of two Lighters ( barges ) for the transportation of timber products, these were unsuccessful and Millar’s gave Captain H C STEPHEN aka Harry the job to built two lighters, the Jarrahdale and Rockingham. Jarrahdale dimensions were 135.8 x 27 x 8.5 feet and weighing 172 tons, built 1903 and Official no. 120039 and Rockingham dimensions were 138 x 26.8 x 7.5 feet and weighing 167 tons, built 1903 and Official no. 120040

They were built on the beach between the jetties, the Rockingham was the first vessel to be launched at Rockingham.

On St. Patrick’s Day in 1904 a large gathering assembled to witness what was the first launching in Rockingham. The 200 ton lighter was built by Captain Harry Stephen for Millars’ Karri and Jarrah Company. At 4.30 p.m. the word was given for the launching and at the same moment 25 year old, Miss Millie Stephen broke a bottle of wine on the vessel’s bow, and named her “Rockingham”. The newly named boat glided gracefully into the water. Both were still in service till around 1949. At the end of its life, the Rockingham, was sunk off Rottnest Island.

The steam powered whims were used at Mornington Mills and later at Hoffman’s Mills. They worked constantly from the time they were built in the late 1890’s until 1914, when most of the operators went off to the war, together with many other timber workers.


James and George were fitter/mechanics for Millar’s at Torbay, and moved around various Millar mills. It is not known what happened to George after World War 1, but he died in 1948. After the war, the steam whims never appeared to have operated again and they were superseded later by crawler tractors.

What happened to the original prototype steam whim in unknown but there is a story that it was destroyed by a vandal with a chainsaw. The last of the wooden steam whims built in 1906 was purchased by the Standard Quarry Co. (Vic.) in 1912 for transporting stone from place to place. The other wooden framed whim was destroyed by a bushfire in the 1930.


The efforts of Charles Craig, superintendent of Millar’s mills, kept the steel framed machine intact in the bush near Cookerup, protected by a firebreak, until the 1964 when the nearby Millar’s Hoffman’s mill closed down forever. In 1965 scrap iron merchants reduced to scrap, in a matter of days, what could have been a most historical souvenir of the Timber Industry. So ends another chapter in the history of steam in the timber mills.

However the two brass name plates were salvaged by steam enthusiasts Bob Moss and Len Purcell. Later they were presented to the Yarloop Workshops Museum in 2008 and 2014. These were displayed with a number of other brass/cast iron plates, on two framed panels in the dining room at the workshops restaurant. Sadly, all these were destroyed in the fire in January 2016. This information was kindly supplied by Jeff Austin.


A banquet was held at the Yarloop Hotel in August 1908, to farewell Harry Stephen. He was moving to Gosnells and intended later to go to Japan on business.

At this stage Gosnells had just been opened up as a new developing area south of Perth. Harry Stephen purchased six acres of rich chocolate loam in Gosnells, not far from the banks of the Canning River. On it he built a nice family residence named “Craithe” and created an orchard growing oranges, stone fruits, apples and pears. This property was just at the very approach to Gosnells, though actually in the district of Maddington.

On the Wednesday 10th March 1909 Miss Millicent May Stephen, his only daughter, married Frederick Herbert Stammers of the Vivien Mine at Lawlers. It caused a great deal of interest, being one of the earliest weddings to be held in Gosnells and if was registered as wedding number 2 in the district of Canning. The ceremony was performed by Rev. A. S. C. James in the drawing room of her father’s residence in Gosnells. The Stammers family later opened a supermarket on the corner of Canning Highway and Petra Street, Palmyra, Western Australia. Millicent and Frederick later moved to Morwell in Victoria to live.

Charles, their second youngest son, at the age of 27, married Amelia Lynda Moss (21) on Tuesday 10th October 1911 at Yarloop. She was the eldest daughter of Mr. John Ralph Moss, Traffic Manager for Millar’s Karri and Jarrah Co., Ltd., at Yarloop.

In 1898, at the age of 14 he served 5 years Apprenticeship Training at Millar’s Karri & Jarrah Company at Yarloop. He then moved to the goldfields working as a mining engineer and electrical fitter for the Great Boulder Perseverance Gold Mine at Kalgoorlie from 1908 till 1909. Then a year as general engineer and electrical fitter, at the Crown Brown Gold Mine in Kalgoorlie from 1909 till 1910. Finally returning back to Millar’s Yarloop in 1910 till 1912. Whilst there he met his future wife, married her and moved to Whim Creek where he worked as the foreman engineer for the Whim Well Copper Mine at Balla Balla from 1912 till 1913.

In 1913 he went back to the timber industry working for the Public Works Depot building the State Sawmill No.1 at Manjimup. Then in 1914 till 1915 he was employed as foreman of Engineering and Electrical Plant for the Western Australian Government. His last known Australian address in 1915, was Gosnells before he moved to work in the United Kingdom because of the war – serving the British Government.

Harry Stephen Senior died the 8th December in 1915 aged 70, at St. Helen’s Private Hospital in Stirling Street, Perth. He was buried in the Presbyterian Section D. A. Plot 604, of the Karrakatta Cemetery, Perth, Western Australia.

His wife, Elizabeth, died on Wednesday 24th August 1938, at St. Hilary’s Private Hospital in Moorwell, Victoria, at the age of 84. Her daughter Mrs. Millicent Stammers also lived in Moorwell, and died two months later on 23rd October 1938 aged 59.


Steam Traction Engines

Steam traction engines were also later used by the Millar Bros. in the Denmark area for hauling logs. These were equipped with a drum inside one of the rear wheels, and on to this was wound several hundred feet of thick steel rope. When the going got too rough for the tractor to haul the log it would couple the rope onto the log then move ahead, paying out the rope until it reached a large tree. After having backed the wheel against the tree, the wheels were put out of gear and the drum gear engaged. The log was then winched along until all the rope would be wound in, then the process would be repeated. In this fashion the log would eventually reach the landing.

Another worthy of mention, is the one purchased by the Buckingham’s, another milling company, during 1880’s. This remarkable machine was first used in the Kelmscott-Roleystone area as an ordinary steam traction engine. At some time later it was converted to a winch and used for pulling logs. At a still later date it was again converted, this time to a geared locomotive. This latter role was evidently very successful for it continued this work for some years before it was discarded.

The Adelaide Timber Company also used one of these converted steam traction engines as a loco up until the mid 1930’s. This one was known as “Snorting Liz” and was a familiar sight at the Wilga mill for many years.

The steam traction engine was also in great demand during the early days of “Group Settlements” in the 1920’s and was used extensively for tree-pulling and clearing operations. Steam traction engines were used to clear land around the district and Archie Anderson had two of them. He was responsible for clearing land around Pickering Brook using these monsters.

Every endeavour has been made to accurately record the details however if you would like to provide additional images and/or newer information we are pleased to update the details on this site. Please click here to email us at We appreciate your involvement in recording the history of our area.

Reference: Article: Steam in the Forest by Maurice Southcombe
Australian Tractors by Graeme R. Quick
Phil Wyndham
Mark & Harry Stephen
“A Life In Interesting Places” by Millicent May Kirkby
Pickering Brook Heritage Group

Images: 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 15, 25, 26 46, 49, 56, 57 Mark & Harry Stephen
3, 12, 13, 14, 47 Internet
16, 17, 18, 19, 20 Battye Library
21, 22, 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 63 Phil Wyndham
34 Rail W.A.
35, 36, 37, 38 Australian National Achives
48 Rockingham Museun (Wendy Durant)
58 Rails Through The Forest
59, 62 Kalamunda & Districts Historical Society
60, 61 Tom Price