Construction commenced on the section beyond Pietermaritzburg in 1883, Howick being reached in 1884, then Estcourt 1885, Ladysmith 1886 and Charlestown (the Transvaal border) opened 7 April 1891.
For more details, see The Birth & Development of the Natal Railways by E D Campbell, (Shuter & Shooter PMB 1951).
The Colony of Natal: An Official Illustrated Handbook & Railway Guide by J Forsyth Ingram (Sir Joseph Causton & Sons London 1895) has a good map of the Natal railway system at that date including details of agricultural production in each area.
Railway workers of varying levels of skill were imported from Britain specifically for the development of the Natal rail network. The selected lists below show contingents of platelayers* ‘engaged by the Crown Agents for service on Natal Government Railways’ and brought out, most with their families, in 1885 on these and other vessels. The date shown is that of arrival at Natal and where not otherwise stated all were accompanied by wives and in some cases, children.
Some of the passengers' names shown here appear in the Natal Civil Service Lists, giving clues as to their later careers. It’s evident that many of them settled permanently in Natal.
*A platelayer fastens or repairs fastenings on railway lines. The term derives from the rectangular metal plates that bolt or rivet the ends of the lines to each other so joining the expansion gap that causes the familiar clickety-click as the train wheels pass over them. The plate is known as a fish-plate.
SS NORHAM CASTLE 12 February 1885
(Sailed 22 souls, Landed 22, 14 adults)
MEXICAN 25 February 1885
(Embarked 10 souls, Landed 10, 7 1/16 adults)
TROJAN 13 March 1885
Huggins J H & wife
Brusby (?) M single
Double (sic - perhaps Doubell) J
(Embarked 12 souls, Landed 12 souls, 7 11/16 adults)
SPARTAN 24 May 1885
Lake H C
(Embarked 9 souls, Arrived 9 souls, 4 12/16 adults)
ATHENIAN 10 April 1885
(Sailed 3 souls Landed 3, 2 9/16 adults)
More railway workers subsequently arrived on the Roslin Castle.