Francis Morton's straining pillars

Posted by John Pickard on

For some inexplicable reason, the South Australian and Queensland Railways used imported British fencing technology in many of the lineside fences erected between the 1860s and 1900. These fences are notable for massive cast iron straining pillars, heavy T-posts, and in some cases, stranded galvanised wire.

While meandering along country roads in the Darling Downs of southern Queensland looking for interesting fences, I hit the jackpot: Morton's straining pillars.

Francis Morton & Company Limited

 Francis Morton established his iron works in Liverpool (England) some time before the 1860s. It operated as Francis Morton & Co. before being restructured on 1 July 1864 as Francis Morton & Company Limited.

The company manufactured a wide range of iron goods including patent strained fences, iron buildings and bridges, and decorative gates for landed estates. They exported their products, including fencing, to Australia in the 1860s and 1870s.

Morton's straining pillars

The company manufactured several different straining pillars, all notable for their massive underground structures.

(Francis Morton and Company Limited (1879) Fencing department [Edition 9A]. Liverpool, Francis Morton and Company Limited. Page 18)

Morton's straining pillars and the Queensland Railways

The pillars occur in derelict and damaged lineside fences near Allora.

Morton's straining pillar with wrought iron stay. Without excavating them (requiring a back-hoe and crane) the underground structures remain hidden.

Massive square extensions of the windlass axles for a spanner or key to tension wires.

Original galvanised stranded wire used in the fence.

Why use such expensive and unnecessary technology?

The biggest mystery about these pillars, and those used by the South Australian Railways, is why. It is difficult to see the need for such massive pillars and their underground structures, that are best described as "overkill on steroids".

Wood strainer posts sufficed perfectly well in Australian fences from the 1840s, and were considerably cheaper. Similarly, galvanised stranded wire was not used by farmers. There was no need, as iron or steel plain wire worked perfectly well.

One possible explanation is that the railway engineers were trained in Britain, and were familiar with the technology. It was inappropriate for Australia, but there may have a colonial cultural cringe rejecting the local approaches to fences.

Important but neglected historic heritage

Any surviving fences with Morton's pillars are important historic heritage. Unfortunately this is rarely if ever recognised, and the fences are damaged or bulldozed for convenience during railway maintenance.

1 comment

  • Fascinating stuff – I came across one of these straining posts on a walk here in Kent (England) proudly embossed with ”Francis Morton’s Patent No 1 Liverpool” and a bit of internet searching for me here. Thank you for the information.

    Jeremy R Young on

Leave a comment