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3 corrections, most recently by doug.butler - Show corrections

THE PASSING OF THE

OMNIBUS.

By A. W. GREIG.

To-day the control of the street pas- senger traffic of the city passes out of the hands of the Melbourne Tramway and Omnibus Company Limited, and the occa- sion is not inappropriate for a review of the earlier stages in the development of an organised means of public locomotion, such as was initiated by that body not far short of half a century ago.

The earliest "omnibuses," so called, to

ply in the streets of Melbourne were run in the late forties by hotelkeepers at

Brighton and St. Kilda, making only one or two trips daily for the benefit of sea- side residents; but the increase of popula- tion in the early fifties, and the conse- quent rapid suburban expansion, gave oc- cupation to several omnibus proprietors, one or two of whom were in quite a con- siderable way of business. In March, 1855, a Mr. Fulton is spoken of as "the pro- prietor of the numerous omnibuses now to be seen running in almost every part of Melbourne," and in 1858 Alfred Ford had six 'buses, employing twenty horses, on the Collingwood line alone. But in those

days of unmade roads lighter two wheeled vehicles must have had many advantages, and we find Fulton advertising the with- drawal of his 'buses from the St Kilda road, "in consequence of want of sufficient public support," while Ford appears to have boen anxious to retire from the busi-

ness altogether, and offered to dispose of his plant by public raffle. The vogue of the omnibus declined in the sixties, and towards the end of that period it seems to have practically disappeared from the streets, its place being taken by the ' omnibus cab "

It was at this juncture that the problem of organised street conveyance was taken in hand by Mr Francis Boardman Clapp, an American (happily still with us), who had come to Victoria as a young man in   the stirring days of 1853 and had been for some years interested in the coaching busi- ness besides being an importer of Ameri- can buggies and harness. In association  

with one or two business men, Mr Clapp made arrangements towards the end of 1868 to import a few omnibuses of the type then running in New York, and with the first of these, which arrived in February, 1869, and some others brought from Syd- ney, a line was opened from Smith street Collingwood, to Spencer street on the 23rd March following. Before this event, how ever the undertaking had been trans- formed into a limited company, the flota- tion of which was accomplished in a couple of davs the public taking up the ten thousand shares ofiered to them with an avidity which argued some weariness of the regime of the cabman and a desire for the inauguration ot a more satisfac- tory means of transport.  

The scheme put forward by the Mel-  

bourne Omnibus Company, of which the

first directors were William McCulloch, Henry Hoyt, and F. B. Clapp contem- plated a system of suburban lines connect- ing with one another at a central point with a uniform 3d fare. The novelty of the somewhat gaudily decorated "Broad- way stages"' which were afterwards so     familiar in Melbourne streets may have partly accounted for the crowd which hung round the company's office in Burke     street east on the opening day, wait-   ing an opportunity to ride, but the new omnibuses were recognised as a public convenience, and were in hands capable of making them a commercial success, notwithstanding the failure of earlier efforts in the same direc-  

tion.

There was some futile opposition on the   part of the cabmen, who hastily reduced  

fares, organised services at regular inter- vals and held meetings to protest against the "monopoly that is being forced on the district by a few speculators '-to quote a speaker who voiced the grievances of the cabmen of Collingwood, but the omnibus had "come to stay,' and the system was steadily expanded, until in the early eighties the company had 165 vehicles run- ning on 15 suburban routes and giving em- ployment to 470 men and 1,600 horses.  

It is difficult to realise that these Omni- buses, which from beginning to end served some section of the Melbourne public for forty seven years, were yet from the very first regarded by their promoters in the light of a temporary expedient. As early as 1860, when street tramways had only just been introduced to Europe from America by George Francis Train, a syn- dicate of which Mr Clapp was a mem- ber, approached the City Council with an offer to construct and work "street rail- ways" in Melbourne. Legal difficulties were raised, and the project remained in

abeyance for some years. It was considered afresh when the Omnibus Company was in process of formation, and although the promoters felt that even then the time was hardly ripe for such an innovation, the tramway idea was thenceforth kept       steadily in view. We have it on the best authority that "every property (the com pany) bought, every building it put up was carefully planned with a view to the future tramway system, " while agents in Europe and America kept the management in touch with the development o£ tram way working in other parts of the world. In 1872 only three years after the forma- tion of the company, a bill was prepared for Parliament authorising the construc- tion of a tramway system, but its intro- duction was prevented by the opposition of the municipalities, who wanted the

scheme delayed until they themselves could secure power to deal directly with the mat- ter. In 1877 Mr. Clapp obtained a Vic- torian patent for the method of propulsion by an underground cable, introduced in San Francisco four years earlier; and in the same year a definite step forward was made by the reconstruction of the Mel- bourne Omnibus Company as the "Mel- bourne Tramway and Omnibus Company Limited." Finally, in 1882, after "knock- ing at the door"-to use the phrase of Mr. Sprigg, the secretary of the company for ten years, Parliament was petitioned for leave to bring in a bill, with the result that tramway construction was actually commenced in Melbourne in January,

1885.

The introduction of trams meant, of

course, the ultimate doom of the omnibus, but its passing has been a very gradual process, and has all but extended over the full term of thirty-one years of the Tram- way Company's lease of the lines. As new tram-lines wore completed, the 'bus estab- lishment rapidly decreased, but openings were found here and there for the horse drawn vehicles as "feeders" from districts not directly served by the tram. Until within the last ten years the company maintained quite a considerable stable at Prahran; and it was only with the de- velopment of the secondary system of

suburbon electric tramways, which is now growing into importance, that the invasion of the last stronghold of the omnibus began. The very last survivors of the great fleet of yellow 'buses which rattled through Melbourne in the early eighties were some half dozen which continued to run from the North Carlton tram terminus   through East Brunswick until they in their turn were driven off the road, less than two months ago, by the progress of the construction of the Brunswick and Coburg Tramway Trust's new line.

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