Horsedrawn vehicle, full size, governess cart, wood / metal / textile, made by Angus and Son, used by May Hillier, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1918
The governess cart was especially designed for children in the care of a nursery governess or willing aunt, and all the occupants sat within the cart as though in a tub. It was one of the safest owner-driven vehicles as it is almost impossible to overturn.
The body of the cart, referred to as being tub-shaped, hung between a pair of elliptic springs on a cranked axle, ensuring its centre of gravity was kept low. This, together with access to the vehicle made via a rear door with a low step, provided safe mounting for small children. The children were therefore away from the cartwheels and the danger of being run over if the horse should move forward, and the possibility of being kicked by the horse was eliminated. Once the children were inside the vehicle with the door shut, they were relatively safe and unlikely to fall out, as was possible from the high seats of a gig or dogcart. The seating arrangement also meant that they could be seen at all times by the driver.
The governess cart appeared in Britain in about 1900, towards the end of the horsedrawn vehicle period and just before the rise in popularity of the motorcar. They have apparently survived in great numbers in Britain.
The use of the governess cart in Britain was usually confined to country lanes, private or estate roads and by-roads. However, the main difficulty with this vehicle is its awkward, off-set driving position from the rear of the right-hand longitudinal seat, which is not conducive to maximum control of the horse. Although there is a recess in the seat for the knees, the driver had to adopt a half-twisted posture that could become very uncomfortable. Also, the rear door makes it difficult to stop a restless horse from moving off while the driver is entering or leaving the cart. Perhaps the original promoters thought a family who could afford a governess would also have a groom to assist at these times by holding the horse.
The governess cart or 'tub trap' formed the most common means of rural transport in Ireland well into the second half of the twentieth century. Other local name variations in Britain for this vehicle included the 'digby' in Northern Border counties of England and a 'jingle' in the West Country. Most governess carts had their body work grained and varnished rather than painted. Some had spindle sides to reduce the weight, while others had basketwork bodies, and some models had fixed or removable 'heads' or covers of wood or canvas.
Assistant Curator, Transport
The governess cart was constructed in large numbers in Britain at around the turn of the 20th century and many were still being made in the 1920s. They were originally designed to enable governesses to take their young charges for drives in comparative safety. The origin of the vehicle is unclear. The body resembles the rear half of some of the small wagonettes popular in the late nineteenth century and it may have developed from these or from the 'inside car', a traditional trap from the north of England in which the passengers sat sideways, facing inwards.
This governess cart was made to order 1918 by the Sydney coach building firm of Angus and Son for Mr Ernest Hillier Esquire of 162 Pitt Street. Angus and Son at this time had their showrooms at 163-165 Castlereagh Street, Sydney and a factory in Sloane Street, Newtown. The original invoice dated 9 November 1918 stated that the governess car should be 'similar to picture submitted but with full panel sides and not lazy back as shown. Lump irons, rubber tyres, to suit 14 hands pony, trim green cloth, paint dark green, line apple green' The cost of the governess cart complete with a pair of lamps and the supply and fitting of an umbrella basket to carry an umbrella was 64 pounds and 12 shillings.
The firm of Angus and Son was established in 1858 when William Thomas Angus appeared as a coach builder at 76 Judge Street, Sydney. By 1863 he had become associated with William Holt and the firm known as Angus and Holt of Enmore Road and at 267-269 Castlereagh Street, Sydney. In 1867 Angus had his own business at 185 Castlereagh Street and his private residence was in Stanmore Road, Marrickville. In the early 1870s his son William joined him in business and it became Angus and Son. From 1884 until the early 1900s their showrooms were located in Castlereagh Street, Sydney while their Sloane Street, Newtown factory, employing over 90 tradesmen, was claimed to be the largest and most modern in Australia.
At the time the governess cart was built in 1918 Angus and Son were diversifying into the motor trade industry. As their invoice indicated the firm were 'motor engineers, importers of motor cars and accessories and motor body builders'. They were also the sole agents in New South Wales for Armstrong Whitworth 'pleasure cars and motor lorries', American Jackson motorcars, Brown motorcycle, the Detroit Electric, Lever Spring suspension, premier shock absorbers, Kopalapso the 'One Man Hood', and Burford lorries.
The governess cart was a birthday present from Mr Ernest Hillier, the well-known confectioner, to his wife, May.
Ernest Hillier was born in England and educated at a private school. He travelled the world during the first decade of the twentieth century and while in Australia met his wife Magdalen May (May) at a dance at the Petersham Town Hall. Ernest went on to San Francisco and learnt the confectionary and soda fountain trade there. He sent for May and her mother as chaperone and they were married in Vancouver, Canada and lived in San Francisco for 3 or 4 years. The Hilliers moved back to Sydney in 1912 and lived in May's family's home 'Osneath' cnr Young & Gibb Street, Croydon, which they eventually purchased.
Ernest Hillier built up a large confectionary business in Sydney with a factory at Bourke Street, Woolloomooloo. It was a single level building and said to be one of the first refrigerated factories in Australia. Hillier had difficulties sending his chocolates to Melbourne as they would melt in transit. He eventually had 20 confectionary shops, the main outlet being at 162 Pitt Street, a building of 4 levels which still survives in the Pitt Street Mall and which was sold in the 1940s.
Ernest Hillier ordered the governess cart from the coach building firm of Angus and Son in 1918 as a 34th birthday present for his wife, May, who had been born on 13 June 1884. It was used for shopping to take May and her two young children, Lucille Miriam, aged 2 born in 1916 and Rob Hillier born in 1913, aged 5. It would have been an ideal vehicle to carry young children.
In 1920s the Hilliers moved to a waterfront property in Vaucluse, but during the Great Depression the business declined. The market fell out of the Sydney quality chocolate trade, and Ernest closed his shop. In 1938 he moved his business to Melbourne and established a shop in Collins Street. He found that Melbourne people were more affluent at this time and it was a better market.
In the meantime the governess cart was taken down to the Hilliers' country retreat, a shingle-roofed polo cottage, called 'Gwandalan', at Riverside Ave, Burradoo, 3.6 km south of Bowral (off the main road near Chevalier School). It was used there during the Second World War, especially after 1940 when petrol rationing was brought in. The governess cart remained in the family and was used by Lucille Hillier, who in 1942 married Broughton (Bill) Throsby.
The governess cart was moved from Burradoo to Mt Ashby, Bowral, in the 1950s. At the inaugural Bong Bong picnic races Lucille Throsby won best horse-drawn vehicle.
The governess cart was originally upholstered in green cord felt, with cushions, and was restored in the 1960s.