The Sleeper Cutter’s Mark

Paul Vonthien's Marking Hammer

Paul Vonthien (1871–1945) the owner of this marking hammer, was one of twelve children born in Jindera to Carl (1833–1908) and Helene Vonthien (née Lindner 1834–1878). Paul was to follow his brother Carl Heinrich (Harry) to the Western Australia gold-fields in the mid–1890s, and stayed on after Carl died in Fremantle in 1895.

After a time working on a mining lease in Western Australia he joined the workforce constructing a new railway line between Port Augusta in South Australia and Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. This line was part of the Trans-Australian Railway and was completed in October 1917 providing a link between the east and west of Australia and was the first major work of federated Australia. Tracks were built simultaneously in both directions. Although World War I made it difficult to source labour and materials by 1916 more than 3400 workers were employed and 2.5 million hardwood railway sleepers in total were laid.

Paul was said to have laid the first sleeper for the line within Western Australia and his initials can be seen on the head of his hammer. This mark was to identify who had cut the sleeper as the cutters were paid for each sleeper they had cut, as expressed by Ron Kerr in his poem The Sleeper Cutter.

Branded with the sleeper cutters own mark
Under the eye, of the railway clerk
Stamped by hammer, on the end to be seen
To show who had cut this sleeper beam.

Although the maker of the hammer is unknown it was hand-made, so it is possible to imagine that one of the blacksmith’s in Jindera and surrounds was the maker and it travelled with Paul across the Nullabor where he certainly left his own mark on Australian railway history.