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Around thirty years ago my father retrieved a scrap-book placed on a pile of rubbish during an office clean-up at the Department of Motor Transport. It's a fascinating collection of newspaper clippings about cab drivers in central Sydney in the late 1800's, saved just in the nick of time. The creator is unknown.
I was looking though it recently and thought the articles may be of value to people interested in the history of Sydney, so I scanned the pages and have made them available for download (see below).
Although they're newspaper articles, because of the wonderful way journalists wrote back then, it's really a collection of beautifully written short stories about the mayhem and madness of driving hansom cabs in the 1800's and the perils of simply trying to cross the road in those days.
I typed out a few of my favourite clippings – selected in particular because I found them entertaining, or because they contain amusing comments, such as “some ladies, it is well known, are often too flurried on these occasions to think of taking any precaution
”. Wouldn't get away with that one today!
A Runaway Cab
The Australian Star – 5th July 1889
Considerable consternation was occasioned in Pitt Street this morning by a runaway horse attached to cab 691. The cab was on the stand, in front of Tattersall’s Hotel, when the horse suddenly took fright, and bolted down the street at a terrific pace towards Circular Quay. No damage was done till, when opposite the Nord Deutscher Lloyd Steamship Company’s office, the horse was brought to a sudden standstill by the vehicle overturning.
The Sydney Morning Herald – 14th March 1890
There are complaints about the reckless way in which cabmen drive past trams, to the dangers of persona alighting therefrom. One correspondent says there are dozens of narrow escapes every day along the tramline between Park and Oxford Streets. It is, as usual, ladies and children who are chiefly endangered in this way ; but, of course, it is open to anyone getting incautiously off a tram to be knocked down by a rapidly passing cab or other vehicle. Passengers are warned against alighting on the side next the tramline, but there is no way, except that of unceasing vigilance, of guarding against vehicles that pass indifferently on either side.
The noise of the street traffic and the hurry of alighting make it difficult to hear or to look carefully before one always, however ; and some ladies, it is well known, are often too flurried on these occasions to think of taking any precaution. Every tram traveller is familiar with the kind of narrow escape our correspondents describe, but the delinquents in these cases are not always the much-abused cabmen. Omnibuses and other vehicles are as bad, if not worse ; and it is time that the ordinary traffic regulation as to the rate of speed in turning a corner was applied to the passing of the trams. It is quite true that the trams take up a great deal of the street space reserved for vehicle traffic, but the safety of the public is the first consideration. If it can only be ensured at the expense of the care and a little time, the care and the time must be given. It is just as easy to drive slowly past a tram which is nearing a stopping-place as it is to drive slowly when turning a corner, and the danger to the public, if this simple precaution be neglected, is rather greater in the former case than in the latter.
A Larrikin Riot
The Australian Star – 15th May 1889
Cleveland Street, according to proceeding, at the W.P.C. today, was the scene of a dangerous larrikin riot yesterday evening. Two flash young cabbies, John Norton and Thomas McGovern, alias Philip McCrory, confessed to having furiously driven horses attached to cabs in the thoroughfare in question. Both had been racing whilst under the influence, and greatly endangered the lives of a large number of pedestrians. When stopped, arrested, and handcuffed together by Constable Rogers, they became more violent than ever, and were aided and abetted by a crowd of their “pals”, who surrounded the constable and others who were assisting him.
Two of the worthies – Alick Phengue and William Irving – sailed up behind, and called for them to “let the bobbies have it”, advice which was promptly acted upon, and a pandemonium arose, in which the captors and captured were generally played football with, until a gang of corporation laborers came to the rescue. The results were : Norton and McGovern, £3, or a month ; Phengue, £4, or five weeks ; and Irving £2, or 14 days.
In the Buses
To the Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald – 19th August 1889
Sir, – Referring to the article “On the Cars” in a recent issue of your paper, I ask leave to trespass on a few lines of your space in giving some of my experiences in travelling to and from town in the above public vehicles. The inconveniences of them I propose to show are nearly if not quite as great as those suffered by the writer of that article. Firstly, in passing over macadamised roads the passengers are jolted and tumbled about and sometimes precipitated upon the knees of those opposite. The windows rattle and conversation is not easy, and reading is impossible in consequence of the oscillation.
Overcrowding is an everyday occurrence, and I know of one occasion when 17 souls (including children) were carried inside. It is a common thing for three or four children to be crowded in after the bus was full. Eleven persons is the licensed number, this being more than enough ; and at times the situation is aggravated by the presence of stout ladies or gentlemen, who occupy two seats instead of one. I am at a loss to understand the reason for the drivers stopping for passengers when the bus is full, and carrying more than their proper number. It is also a frequent practice for parents to feed their children with biscuits, fruit, etc. en route, the back seats and floor being left behind them with the debris, making it very uncomfortable for those who follow them. Another peculiarity about these buses is that they are lighted with candles, the grease from them being dropped on the seats in the process of illumination. Finally, there is a fare-box behind the driver which projects to a greater distance inside than is necessary. Many good hats have suffered by a collision with this obstacle.
A Caution to Drivers
The Australian Star – 3rd June 1890
An elderly man named Roderick Moroney was, at the Central tis afternoon, charged with having driven carelessly on May 13 in George Street, to the danger of Frederick Naldrett, an officer of the Transit Commission. The evidence went to show that on the date names the accused was driving down George Street in his buggy. He was urging his horse at a furious rate – 13 miles an hour one witness said – and when near Hay Street someone cried out “For God’s sake look out.”
It was too late, however, for the vehicle hit up against Naldrett, who was in the midst of the traffic, on duty, knocked him down, and rendered him senseless. He was taken to the hospital, where he remained until very recently, suffering intensely from the effects of the accident. The evidence of one witness went to show that the accused was under the influence of drink when arrested. Several witnesses were called for the defence, but the bench found the case proved, and fined the prisoner L10, with the option of three month’s gaol.
A Cabman’s Nasty Fall
The Australian Star – 14th March 1890
Thomas Morris, driver of cab No. 1059, had a somewhat marvellous escape yesterday afternoon from meeting with a very serious accident. He was driving his cab along Oxford Street shortly before 4 o’clock when his horse suddenly slipped, and he was thrown with considerable force right over the animal’s head on to the roadway. In his descent Morris’ head came into violent contact with some projection from the shafts, and when picked up the unlucky fellow was found to have sustained most ugly and extensive wounds on his head.
The man was taken to the hospital, where the painful injuries were dressed by Dr. G.L. Davidson and the patient placed in the accident ward for further treatment. As an idea of the extent of the wounds on the head it may be mentioned that the doctor was compelled to put in no fewer than 14 stitches.
Walk Over Crossings – A Caution to Cabmen
The Australian Star – 10th October 1889
Conspicuously placed at pretty well every main and important crossing in the city hangs a board bearing the above instructions to drivers of vehicles. But it would seem that drivers, and more especially cabdrivers, regard the warning with the utmost indifference and contempt. In our own experience we do not remember to have noticed one single instance in which the warning was regarded, and we have been watching this thing very carefully for some time. Busmen are amongst the worst offenders in this respect, and it is a wonder that some people are not killed every day at 1 o’clock at the junction of Woolloomooloo Street and Hyde Park by one or other of the buses that, loaded with passengers homeward bound to lunch, dash furiously over the crossing.
And at almost every other populous intersection in the city the same evil exists. If you remonstrate with a driver who has narrowly missed crushing your life out you get about L5 worth of obscenity in return, as he dashes onward to the next crossing. The evil can be remedied if the traffic officers will only enforce the bylaw, which just now seems to be regarded without one atom of respect by those whom it is intended to govern. Today a lad named George Harrison prosecuted a cabman named Thomas Quinlan, at the Central, for having endangered his life by running over his back. The accused was a cabman, and on September 23 he was driving at the rate of seven miles an hour on his wrong side round the corner from Bathurst Street into George Street. Harrison was crossing, and before he could dodge the cab he was knocked down and the vehicle, which contained two passengers, passed over the small of his back. He had been in the hospital ever since, and even at the present time was weak and ill from the effects of the injuries. There was not a word in extenuation of Quinlan’s conduct, and the bench, remarking that he had broken two bylaws, fined him L5, or in default, one month’s gaol.
A Fall Amongst Thieves
The Sydney Morning Herald – 8th April 1889
Wm. Moore, a joiner, fell amongst thieves in Liverpool Street on Monday afternoon. Their names are Wm. Kinsela, or “Matches”, and John Farrington, a cabman. They called him a loafer, which he resented by producing a £1 note. Farrington snatched it away from him and passed to Kinsela, who ran away, and was arrested by Constable Smillie in a lane off Goulburn Street. The same officer arrested Farrington shortly afterwards. The case being very clear, and the prisoners being well known, they were sentenced to three months each with hard labor.
The Evening News – 2nd May 1890
James Free was charged, on remand, in the Central Police Court, today, before Captain Fisher, with having carelessly driven two horses attached to a bus, to the danger of passengers. Constable John Fullerton stated, that at about twenty minutes to 8 o’clock on Saturday night, he saw the accused driving a bus through the Haymarket toward the railway station near another bus at a furious pace. He ordered them to stop. The two vehicles were racing at the time. Accused pulled up a little, and collided with a third bus, which was going towards Circular Quay. One of the horses had its hip broken, and had to be killed. The pole of accused’s bus went into the other bus and jammed some of the passengers, one of them being a crippled old lady, into the corner.
The street was crowded with people at the time of the occurrence. When he charged the accused at the police station he replied “I suppose I’m guilty.” Constable Young gave similar evidence. Agnes Childs, residing at Child’s Hotel, Waterloo, stated that she got into the accused’s bus at Market Street, and was helped out of the bus after the accident. Lena Millington, another passenger also residing at Child’s Hotel, who was a passenger, corroborated the previous witness. William Mancell, bus driver, employed by Mr. Neilson, stated that on Saturday night he was driving his bus and saw the accused and another bus driver racing and one of them so injured his horse that it had to be destroyed. Other evidence for the defence having been heard his Worship remarked that there was no doubt but that serious accident happened, but on the evidence before him he was of the opinion that another person was to blame, and discharged the accused.
Serious Cab Accident – A Young Woman Injured
The Evening News – 2nd November 1889
Shortly after noon today a cab accident happened in the vicinity of Dawe’s Point Battery, whereby a young lady named Maria Neylan had a miraculous escape from what would have undoubtedly been death. The young lady, who is a dressmaker, and 25 years of age, engaged cab No. 351 in Bourke Street, Wooloomooloo, and instructed the driver to convey her to the Illawarra Company’s Wharf, where she was to board a steamer bound for Columbo at noon. While the cab wax proceeding along York Street, a collision occurred with another vehicle, which it is supposed caused the driver of the cab to be thrown from his seat, for the horse appeared to become uncontrollable, and eventually bolted.
On went the infuriated animal at a terrific pace, and this, combined with the load screams of the passenger inside the cab, caused great consternation along York Street, and several attempts were made to stop the runaway, but without success. On nearing the residence of Captain Hixson, Miss Neylan grasped the situation of the impending result, and with great presence of mind jumped out of the cab. Those who witnessed this act saw the poor girl roll over and lay motionless on the road, as if she were dead, bleeding from a wound on the forehead. Assistance was at once procured, and the girl taken into the “mess room” at Dawe’s Point Barracks. The horse dashed down towards the water’s edge, where its mad career was brought to a sudden termination by coming into violent contact with an iron fence, which prevented the vehicle and horse being thrown into the water. Sergeant M’Donald, of No 4 Station, took Miss Naylan to the Sydney Hospital, where she was admitted by Dr T. F. Wade. The young woman was much shaken and knocked about, and it was deemed advisable to detain her in the hospital. A little boy was playing on the road when the horse was approaching, and Sergeant McDonald seeing the imminent danger, immediately ran to the child, and saved him from being killed.
A Warning to Cabmen
The Evening News – March 23rd 1889
At the Central Police Court this morning a cabman named Thomas Fegan, 23, was charged with assaulting Robert William Scales, a special constable, while in the execution of his duty. Special Constable Scales deposed that yesterday he spoke to the prisoner for trotting his cabhorse round a corner. He (the accused) then got off his cab and asked witness who he was talking to. He then struck witness on the face with his fist. Witness was attended at the hospital for the injuries sustained. When asked what he had to say, the accused stated that the witness struck him first and he retaliated in self-defence. He was a thoroughly respectable man, and had been driving a cab for five years. He had never been before the court previously but for loitering. He had three witnesses who would prove that he was struck first. These witnesses were called but failed to answer. The accused then begged for a remand, as he was positive something must have detained his witnesses. It was no good, however, and he was sentenced to four months gaol. The constable’s face bore strong testimony to the violent and brutal nature of the assault, it being dreadfully contused.
The Runaway Cabs Newspaper Clipping Scrapbook
To open a slideshow of the newspaper pages click on any of the images below. There are 50 pages in total.
To view any of the pages at full screen size, click on the download icon. This will open the page up in a new tab. From there you can zoom in to read the page, or right-click and select "save image as" to save the image to your computer.