Railways have been a significant part of New Zealand life, yet their treatment in
historiography often does not reflect this. I argue for a greater appreciation of
railways, focusing upon their role in shaping the developing colony in the nineteenthcentury.
I introduce the existing literature to indicate contributions with which greater
engagement is required and to identify directions requiring further research. The
provincial ‘prehistory’ of railways preceding the Vogel boom of the 1870s requires
particular emphasis; railways figured prominently in the settler imagination even
though physical construction was minimal. I then show that the forces unleashed by
Vogel were more than economic and offer tentative conclusions regarding the
railway’s role within a range of fields. The railway was a site for contesting morality,
it deepened the colonial project and identity, and it defined the contours of daily life.