Omnibus, horsedrawn, metal / wood / vinyl, Sydney Tramway and Omnibus Company, Australia, 1898
In the 1880s Sydney's main streets were laid with durable hardwood blocks over which the steel-tyred buses and other vehicles rumbled on their way, accompanied by the clip clopping of countless horses hooves. Built in 1898 and hauled by two horses (at peak times, or up steeper hills like William Street to Kings Cross, four horses were used to pull the extra load of passengers) this 24-passenger omnibus operated in Sydney's first public transport system. It was run by the Sydney Tramway & Omnibus Company which serviced most of the eastern suburbs of Sydney. Upstairs seats, reached by a vertical iron rung ladder were the domain of male passengers until the advent of a 'safety stairway' in about 1890, allowing women to enjoy the freedom of upper deck travel.
The sign-writing on the bus indicated that the fare for the Macquarie Place - Woollahra route was two pence or 'tuppence' each way. Drivers recognised regular passengers and usually only slowed at the bus stop to collect them or allow them to alight. The plodding pace of the horse buses, the increasing cost of feed and the intense competition from cable and electric trams, brought the horse bus era in Australia to an end by about 1910.
The larger omnibus companies in Sydney, such as the Sydney Tramway and Omnibus Company Limited, built, operated and maintained their own 'buses. The Waverley and Woollahra United Omnibus Company operated from a depot in Woollahra which boasted separate blacksmiths', coachpainters', painters' and saddlers' shops. While smaller horse bus proprietors sometimes built and operated their own vehicles, they were often forced to merge with larger operators such as the Sydney Omnibus Company (formed in 1869), with the smaller depots being maintained as "satellites" of the larger operators.
The early growth of the coachbuilding industry in Australia was based on the structure and practices of the industry in England. From the 1850s, American coachbuilding practices and horse drawn vehicle styles exerted an increasing influence on the local industry, initially resulting from the repeal in 1849 of the British Navigation Acts, which had prevented trade with countries other than Britain.
For the Australian horse bus proprietor who built his own vehicles, the most significant aspect of this American influence was the availability of carriage building machinery. A range of specialised machinery was imported from the United States for use in Australian coachbuilding workshops, most of it designed to facilitate the production of wheels.
A typical Australian coachbuilding workshop in the latter half of the 19th century comprised five divisions of activity, each supervised by a skilled tradesman.
The body maker or body builder was responsible for the design and preparation of the body frame, panels and shafts or poles to which the harness would be attached. Sometimes this tradesman would work with the blacksmith to construct the undercarriage (traditionally referred to as the "carriage"), although a specialist "carriage builder" may be employed for this purpose.
The wheelwright turned the wheel hubs or centres on a lathe, drilled the hub to house the cast iron axle box, cut mortises to receive the spokes and fitted felloes (sections of wheel rim extending over two spokes) or, on smaller wheels, semi circular "half rims".
The wheels were then ready for the blacksmith to cut, shape, heat, forge and "shrink" the steel tyres onto the wheels by the rapid cooling by cold water of a red hot tyre dropped into place over a wheel rim. Each tyre contracted as it cooled and imparted enormous strength to the wheel structure as the tyre tightened around the frame of felloes of half rims. The axle and all other "ironwork" for the vehicle such as springs (a horse bus of the late 19th century was mounted on elliptical leaf springs), shackles, steps and lamp irons were prepared by the blacksmith.
The trimmer made the hood, side curtains, seat squabs and cushions using leather, imitation leather ("leatherette"), horsehair and canvas. Finally, the painter prepared fillers and mixed paints and primers in preparation for painting the vehicle by brush. The coachpainter's most valued expertise lay in the steadiness of hand and wrist action employed in the detailing of his paintwork which was especially important for a commercial vehicle such as an omnibus. Lettering striping and scrollwork gave each vehicle an attractive and distinctive appearance. The finished job was covered in two coats of protective clear varnish.
ST & O C (Sydney Tramway and Omnibus Company) is printed on the side of the vehicle in the Powerhouse Museum's collection.
The omnibus, which owes its name to the dative plural of the Latin "omnis", meaning "all", is a public street vehicle designed to carry many passengers. It is in the wagonette class of vehicle and is characterised by an enclosed body with paneled sides, and a door at the rear providing access to longitudinal seats facing each other. The first omnibus was built in Paris in 1819 though it was not so named until about 1828 when a bath house proprietor named Baudry referred to the vehicle he operated for his patrons as "L'Omnibus". The early Parisian omnibuses were built by George Shillibeer, an English coachbuilder who lived in Paris. Shillibeer retruned to London and began building omnibuses there, the first one operating on 4 July 1829.
In that year, the first rear-entrance omnibus was put into service in New York City by Abraham Brower. By 1831, the prototype for an American version of the omnibus was built by John Stephenson. Later designs carried passengers on the roof, initially knifeboard seats which were mounted longitudinally back to back and from about 1880 on garden seats which were fixed transversely in rows. Access to the upper deck was obtained via a steel ladder mounted on the rear of the vehicle and later by an enclosed curved staircase.
The omnibus was introduced to the streets of Sydney from the late 1840s. London-built horse buses travelled the length of George Street, charging passengers a fare of sixpence. Other regular servies ran to Paddington and Surry Hills and by the 1880 to Randwick, Double Bay, Bondi, Coogee and Kogarah. By 1894, there were 290 omnibuses operating in Sydney. Most of these followed the Stephenson design originating in New York and were fitted with knifeboard seating and curved rear staircases.
The largest omnibus company operating in Sydney towards the close of the 19th centruy was the Sydney Tramway and Omnibus company which built and operated its own buses "of good design and proportionally light", though they were pulled by up to four horses.. and desptie the introduction of steam trams 20 years earlier on routes close to the city, s to Its significance as a means of transport lay in its being the first form of socialised public transport lies Soin his own although it was 91Operated by Sydney Tramway and Omnibus Company