In 1884 Melbourne’s first tramway- a horse tramway in Fairfield- was built to promote land sales in the area (100 years of Melbourne’s trams, pg 1). Two horses pulled a carriage containing about twenty passengers along rails, providing considerable more comfort than the horse bus, which ran on the bumpy roads.

In 1869 the Melbourne Omnibus Company set up a horse bus service from the city to Fitzroy. By 1881 the 12-14 seaters carried passengers within a three mile radius of the city and some even extended as far as Prahran, Brunswick and Moonee Ponds (100 years of Melbourne’s trams, pg 4.) However the horse tram was far more comfortable than the horse bus. It’s fixed rails ironed out the humps and bumps of Melbourne’s early roads. The first line ran through Kew and Richmond and another service ran through Royal Park to the Zoo.

The horse tram route through Royal Park to the Zoo is clearly marked in the 1912 Moultons directory of streets for Melbourne and suburbs

The horse tram route through Royal Park to the Zoo is clearly marked in the 1912 Moultons directory of streets for Melbourne and suburbs  

Private companies operated tramways in Sandringham, Coburg, Brunswick, and Caulfield. Occasionally Sandringham used large double decker cars which could seat forty or more, and needed three horses to pull it. ‘When a tram came off the tracks, passengers had to disembark and help lift the tram back onto the track.’  (A short history of the Victorian railways trams : St. Kilda – Brighton – Sandringham – Black Rock – Beaumaris; p12). On weekends, trips to the beach could prove exceedingly popular, much to the detriment of the horses, as a Black Rock resident noted in The Argus;

‘At night the loads imposed upon the horses became scandalously heavy. At about 20 past 8 o’clock the tram from Beaumaris came to a full stop at Black Rock. The three poor horses pulling it became quite unable to proceed any further. There must have been considerably over 100 persons on it.’

There was also a horse tram in Sorrento, operating from 9.30am to 12.30 and then again after 7pm. ‘The horse tram…had to be clear of the road for the 1pm steam train which left front beach terminus on the arrival of the steamer. The horses were well aware of this requirement and looked on the sounding of the ship’s siren as a signal for a speedy return to depot least they come face to face with a locomotive on it’s outward journey.’  (The Sorrento tramway, pg 4)

A horse tram outside Continental Hotel, Sorrento in approx. 1900.

[Horse tram outside Continental Hotel, Sorrento], H83.94/320

Sorrento's horse drawn tram
[Horse drawn tram at Sorrento, sign on back reads: ‘To the back beach’, passengers sitting inside others getting on], H83.94/386

The Camberwell Citizen reported that the last metropolitan horse tram stopped on January 31, 1916, along Burwood and Riversdale Roads, and that the fifty horses were offered for sale at Kirks Bazaar. The Zoo line, the longest surviving of Melbourne’s horse tramways, ceased in 1923, when the depot burned down during a police strike.

The article announcing the arrival of electric trams in Box Hill.

 Camberwell and Hawthorn Advertiser, 16 September 1916

 Written by Paul Dee, Newspaper Librarian; Collection Development & Discovery

This article has 6 comments

  1. Fascinating! Thanks for the info, Paul.

  2. The Ballarat Tramway Museum collection includes the Ballarat Tramway Company’s Horse Tram No. 1, from 1887. This is believed to be the oldest operating tram in Australia. It will be out on the track at the Ballarat Botanical Gardens on Sunday 25 January.

  3. Love this. But what do you mean a the Zoo tramline ‘burned down’? I imagine lines of fire on the road like an old-fashioned cartoon bomb fuse….does it mean the depot burned down? Or am I being thick as usual?

    • Thanks for your comment Kaz- Yes good point; that was a bit vague. I checked in “100 years of Melbourne’s trams”, and can confirm that the depot burned down. I have amended the post- thanks. I hope your imagination is still intact.

  4. Takes me back – NOT that far Back! – to 1973. My thesis was on the History and Development of Melbourne Tramways. Spent a considerable amount of time researching at the Museum, Library and in the Board room of the MMTB. 🙂

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