The vagon of Secondo Tonellato – part 2


In this blog, Alex Bennett continues his story about the vagon or railway carriage that Secondo Tonellato bought to accommodate his wife, Elisabetta, and five children when they arrived in Adelaide in 1935.

In the second instalment of this article about the vagon we learn of some possible cracks in the story that Prince Albert, the Duke of York the future King of England travelled in this particular carriage in during the Royal Tour of 1927.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia: State Car 4 Royal Tour 1927.

Unfortunately, in the only available photo of the Royal couple on the Royal Train during the 1927 tour it is clear that the roof shape is raised in the centre and quite different to that of the vagon.  It is assumed that all cars in the royal Train were of the same type but this not definite.

The following article from The Adelaide Chronicle may provide an alternative explanation for the Royal connection of the vagon.


The Railways Commissioner’s inspection car, which was completed a few days ago in readiness for use by the Duke of Gloucester while travelling on the South Australian Railways has many modem improvements. The internal woodwork is finished in Queensland walnut, Tasmanian blackwood, and rosewood veneer. The observation department at the rear end of the carriage has comfortable lounge chairs upholstered in blue. A settee is finished in the same colour, and above it is a concealed wireless set. – Next to this compartment is the Commissioner’s private cabin, which will be used by the Duke. It is fitted with a special double wardrobe, and opens into a miniature bathroom with shower and porcelain wash basin. The other compartments have seats which can be converted into berths, an upper berth each, wardrobes, and wash basin. A small dining saloon is at the front end of the car, and the kitchen has fuel cooking appliances and a refrigerator. A small lounge fitted with comfortable chairs completes the car, which Is 78 ft. long. (Adelaide Chronicle, October 1934)

While it is believed that the “Willochra” was part of the 1927 Royal Tour train it is possible that the vagon was part of the Duke of Gloucester’s Royal Tour train and used on his visit to Adelaide in October 1934.  The Duke later became Governor General of Australia.  This carriage was decommissioned after the Royal Tour which fits the time line for its purchase by Secondo Tonellato in 1935.

We do know from reports of veneti who knew the vagon that it was much more luxurious than any other train carriages of the time.  For example, Lino Tonellato remembers it because he lived in it:

It was a royal carriage because all the … every window had hunting dogs and the dogs and the …… and the horses, you know, hunting and that … Oh yeah, all carved  in the mirror. (Lino Tonellato 6 July 2010)

The vagon was unfortunately destroyed by fire in the 1960s and  a few of the etched windows are all that remains now.

Dino Piovesan holds one of the windows from the vagon, May 2013.  Photo courtesy of Alex Bennett

Dino Piovesan brought one of the windows to an event in 2013 and it was beautiful – bevelled glass with etchings including hunting scenes, with deer with mountain peaks in the background – tantalising evidence that the vagon at some time was fit for a king.


Alex Bennett
18 April 2021



2 thoughts on “The vagon of Secondo Tonellato – part 2”

  1. Thankyou Madeleine for all the wonderful memories your blogs have given me. Secondo Tonellato was my nonno and I remember playing in the vagon as a child. I remember the interior being very luxurious with beautiful timber and leather pulldown seats. I gave loved reading and remanising sometimes laughing sometimes crying. I have lived on Frogmore Road all my life. Born , still live and probably die( not too soon I hope) here. Again thank you for the memories.
    Denise Doyban ( nee Santin)

  2. Here I was, thinking about those poor Tonellatos living in a railway carriage all those years. Now we are told it was a luxurious carriage fit for a duke. Ha Ha only Joking. Good on you Secondo for spotting a good bargain and giving your family some comfortable accommodation.

    In fact some of the Ballestrins also lived in a “vagon” out Virginia way.

    No doubt they were tough times back in the 1920’s and 30’s.

    Well done to those pioneers. We are forever grateful to them.

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