Big Lizzie

Big Lizzie is now 100 years old and we remember the important part she played in the clearing of the land for the establishment of Red Cliffs.

In early 1915 Frank Bottrill commenced construction of Big Lizzie to replace the camel trains which carried wool and other heavy loads in the sandy terrain. Fabrication and assembly of the huge prime mover and two trailers was carried out by Bottrill over a period of 12 months, with casting and machining done by A.H. McDonald Co. of Richmond, Vic.  Financing was provided by Ralph Falkiner.

Big Lizzie played an important role clearing the land to establish Red Cliffs.

Early in 1916 Big Lizzie left Richmond expecting to be in Broken Hill by early 1917. The route chosen through Victoria was via Kilmore, Heathcote, Elmore and Echuca, where it was proposed to cross the Murray River into NSW. Navigating through the city on hard surface roads was the first problem they faced. All damaged roads & infrastructure were to be repaired.  Later the prime mover broke through a bridge near Kilmore causing a dent in the drinking water tank which is still evident to this day. When Lizzie reached the flooded Campaspe River a suitable crossing site was needed.  It took 3 weeks of de-snagging and earthworks below the weir near Elmore before Big Lizzie could cross the river.

Bottrill was unable to cross the Murray at Echuca because of floods, and the lack of permission to cross the approach bridge to the town, so he headed for Swan Hill. He arrived at Kerang in January 1917 and spent 5 months there carrying out modifications and repairs, and it was August that year before he reached Ouyen. In October 1917 Big Lizzie arrived in Mildura to find the Murray River in flood, so without a bridge to cross the river, completing his journey was out of the question for several months at least.  Bottrill sought work in the area, as his funds would have been exhausted.

By August 1920, Big Lizzie had commenced clearing scrub for the proposed 6,000 ha irrigation area of Red Cliffs. This was to provide 700 Soldier Settlement blocks for veterans of World War 1. A gang of up to 16 men was employed to handle the four heavy cables which were attached with loops and hooks to as large a number of trees or stumps as possible. Repairs to damaged cables etc was carried out on the front platform of Big Lizzie, which was equipped with blacksmith’s forge, anvil and toolbox.

Clearing work at Red Cliffs was completed in 1924 and Big Lizzie was driven to Western Victoria to find more work clearing land. But this venture was not a success and Frank Bottrill and his wife abandoned Big Lizzie on Glendenning Station. In 1938 the Blackstone engine was sold and moved to Pyramid Hill where it was used to drive stone crushing equipment until 1942. It was finally broken up for scrap in 1945.

In 1971 (the year of Red Cliffs Golden Jubilee) a committee was formed to negotiate the purchase and return of Big Lizzie to Red Cliffs. Big Lizzie and one trailer now hold pride of place in Barclay Square Red Cliffs. The second trailer has been returned to the district and is undergoing restoration. The shelter over Big Lizzie was erected in 1988 by Mildura Shire Council as a Bicentennial project.


  • Prime Mover – 10.36 metres long, 3.35m wide, 5.49m high
  • Weight – 45 tonnes payload 10 tonnes
  • Turning Circle – 61 metres
  • Trailers(2) – 9m long, 3m wide, 2.13m high
  • Payload – 35 tonnes each

Mechanical Details:-

  • Power Unit 44.74 kw (60 hp) Blackstone water cooled single cylinder crude oil engine.
  • Bore, 228 mm, Stroke, 450 mm, 215 RPM.
  • Single flywheel, 2.13 m diameter, Weight 3 tonnes.
  • Gear Box 3.15m long, 1.37m deep, 0.91m wide.
  • Oil Capacity 430 Litres.
  • 4 forward speeds 3.2, 2.4, 1.6, 0.8 km/h.
  • 2 reverse speeds 0.8, and 0.4 km/h.
  • Crude Oil 19,800 litres.
  • General purpose water 3,400 litres
  • Drinking water 1,000 litres

More information can be found in Ron Maslin’s book “Big Lizzie – The Story of a Man and a Machine”

17 thoughts on “Big Lizzie

    • Hi Peter!
      The slats form a solid surface for the wheels to go on, somewhat like caterpillar tracks, so it didn’t sink into sand easily. Each plank was anchored by a cable in its centre to the wheel so it could follow the contour of the wheel. Google ‘dreadnaught wheels’ for more detail.

    • Wire ropes held the slats in a see- saw style arrangement .
      They dispersed the 45 tonne weight over a bigger foot print to stop it bogging into the sandy ground of its proposed route.

  1. How is the restoration of the second wagon going? I think it was the second wagon that sat on our family farm for many years prior to it being transported back to Red Cliffs.

    • Hi John!
      The second Big Lizzie trailer is close to being finished. Discussions are continuing as to it’s placement in Red Cliffs.
      If it could speak what stories it could tell as its over 100 years old!

  2. Hi, I’m trying to locate the original photo, or a copy in good condition, of the Bottrills which is in the display next to Big Lizzie.
    Thank you,

    • Hi Liz!
      Sorry for the delay in our reply. The new photo display near Big Lizzie has been created by the Big Lizzie Committee. I will forward your message on to them as they are not part of our Society. Get back to us if necessary. Chris.

    • Thanks for your enquiry, Christopher! I have no mechanical knowledge, but have referred to the “Big Lizzie” book by Ron Maslin. He says: The original power unit was a sixty horse-power Blackstone crude oil engine. The bore was 14 inches and it was started by compressed air stored in a cylinder adjacent to the engine. Ignition was by a hot bulb heated initially by a large blowlamp. Fuel was injected simultaneously into the hot bulb and the combustion chanber by compressed air and a compressor pump was built into the engine and driven from the crankshaft.” The original engine was removed in 1938 and sold for use in a quarry and, in 1945 broken up for scrap. The engine has never been replaced. Chris, Red Cliffs & District Historical Society.

    • Hi Bob! Thanks for your query. We have referred to Ron Maslin’s book on Big Lizzie and we have concluded that it is 2 wheel drive. We quote re steering: “The steering gear, which was rather advanced for the period in which the machine was made, is unlike the turntable type steering of traction enginees and waggons, more of the automotive type. It uses king-pins, knuckles and tie rods of massive size.” (We think a type of rack & pinion steering.) Perhaps someone from the Big Lizzie Committee may be able to be of help.

    • Trust you received my reply to your previous query, Bob.
      There are 2 opinions as to how Big Lizzie got her name. One is that she was named by Frank Bottrill’s wife. The other that she is named after a large gun on a battle ship used in WW1. As the Bottrill’s were committed Seventh Day Adventists, we don’t expect they would have named it after a gun. From what I can find, the name appears in the press in Dec 1916, when she was on her journey north from Melbourne. I cannot say conclusively whether it was the Bottrills, the public or the press who gave her the name.

  3. In the specs here, it says 60hp. I was pretty sure when I looked at this a couple of years ago, there was a plaque on the engine that said 8hp. Not sure how 8hp could even move this thing, but am I correct that it says that?

    • Thanks for your enquiry. Checking in the book “Big Lizzie” by Ron Maslin, on P. 65 he says “The original power unit was a sixty horsepower Blackstone crude oil engine.” The engine was later removed (1938) and used to drive machinery at Pyramid Hill quarry where it was used until 1942. It was broken up for scrap in 1945.

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