Commuting by Cable: 'Mind the curve'
In 1885 Melbourne introduced the cable tram for citizens to commute. Summary by Damien Parer.
Mind the curve warned the passengers to hold on while the tram went around a bend. The warning became synonymous with cable trams.
Commuting by cable synopsis
Using historical footage this documentary records the story of cable trams in Melbourne from 1885 to 1940. Enthusiasts have recorded the tram routes and operation of the cable and maintenance of the cable system.
commuting by cable curator's notes
The documentary will fully satisfy the curiosity of the most dedicated transport enthusiast. It is a remarkably detailed account that is also useful as a history of Melbourne. The music used to recreate the period is also a delight.
Cable trams were operated by 'gripmen’ who used a device to lock onto the moving underground cable to propel the tram forward. The term 'grip’ was taken up by the film industry to describe the role of the person in the camera department who operated camera mounts such as dollies and cranes.
Notes by Damien Parer
This clip shows various forms of public transport available in Victoria’s state capital, Melbourne, in the late 19th century up to and including the introduction of the cable-haul tram system in 1885. The clip includes shots of children and adults in and on horse-drawn vehicles, bicycles and a steam-hauled train. There are also shots of the first cable trams and views of several suburban Melbourne streets. Also shown in the clip is a newspaper article that announces the opening of the Richmond tramway, lists rules and regulations and explains the Bell Punch system for collecting fares. The clip concludes with a coloured map illustrating the extent of the tramlines on the completion of the cable tram system in 1920. The predominantly black-and-white film footage has a voice-over narration and is accompanied by lively music of the period.
Educational value points
- Part of the history of public transport systems in Australia is depicted in the clip. The horse-and-buggy taxis of the 1840s swiftly gave way to the horse-drawn omnibus. The development of intercity railways in the 1850s led to the development of fixed rail transport in city streets, which saw the horse-drawn tramcar replaced in Sydney by the steam tram. Melbourne sidestepped this development and in 1885 the cable tramway began operation, supplemented in the 1920s by an electric system with overhead wires. The Flinders Street-to-Richmond line became part of what is claimed to be the largest integrated cable tramway system in the world.
- Scenes of 'Marvellous Melbourne’ shot in the 1880s show how Melbourne had developed from the 1860s into one of the great cities of the world following the 1851 discovery of gold in Victoria. Victoria’s gold fields attracted immigrants from all over the world and as the alluvial gold ran out large numbers went to Melbourne looking for work. Wealth from the gold fields funded new impressive civic and commercial buildings, and manufacturing industries developed. Melbourne’s population of 280,000 in 1880 almost doubled to 490,000 by 1890.
- Public transport contributed to Melbourne’s growth and its citizens’ way of life. Cable trams provided affordable public transport, which encouraged worker mobility. The resulting growth of suburbia included the introduction of shopping strips along tram routes. Mass transportation promoted the development of Melbourne’s central business district and influenced its cultural and sporting life, including the establishment of Bourke Street as the entertainment hub of Melbourne, where lively venues such as the Eastern Market and the Royal Theatre were to be found in the late 19th century.
- The person most responsible for the development of Melbourne’s cable tram system was Francis Boardman Clapp (1833–1920). Clapp was a US businessman who came to Victoria in 1853; in 1857 he bought and operated Cobb and Co’s Melbourne-to-Ballarat coach line and by 1859 he was the largest mail contractor in Victoria. In 1869 his Melbourne Omnibus Company introduced horse-drawn public transport to Melbourne and, following the passing of the Melbourne Tramway and Omnibus Company Act 1883, the company began constructing the cable tramway system in 1884. The first line, Flinders Street to Richmond, opened in November 1885 and the last, Windsor to St Kilda Esplanade, opened in October 1891.
- New Zealander George Smith Duncan (1852–1930) was a key person in the development of Melbourne’s tramway system. Duncan engineered the Roslyn line in Dunedin, NZ, the first street cable tram to operate outside the USA. His proposal for the Roslyn line in 1879 included a design for a 'pull curve’ that enabled cable cars to travel uphill and around curves while still gripping the steel cable. In 1883 he was invited by Francis Clapp to be the consulting engineer in the construction of the Melbourne tramway.
- Early cable trams, which required cables running in two directions, are shown in operation. The cables were housed in tunnels constructed at a depth of 1.2 m beneath the road, and powerhouses were required to house the steam engines that moved the cables. The cable tram consisted of two sections, the open 'dummy’ at the front and the closed car behind. The dummy housed the grip mechanism that attached or detached the tram from the moving cable beneath the road.
- When the final extension opened in 1920, the Melbourne tramway system consisted of 17 routes through inner suburban Melbourne, including 75 km of double track and 1,200 cars, arguably the most extensive cable system in the world. It was known to be comfortable and efficient with a smooth and frequent service. The cable tramway system finally ceased operating in 1940, when cable tram technology could no longer support the required passenger load, and was superseded by electric trams.
- The clip shows rules and regulations for passengers, published in a daily newspaper by the Melbourne Tramways and Omnibus Company when the Richmond tramway opened. Information about the Bell Punch system, which the conductor used to register fares, is explained. The conductor would punch a hole in the ticket, which indicated how many sections the passenger intended to travel. The conductor’s call to 'mind the curve’ was a warning for passengers to be aware that the cable tram was approaching a bend.
Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia
This clip starts approximately 1 minute into the documentary.
Archival footage shows various forms of public transport in Melbourne in the late 19th century, including shots of children and adults in and on horse-drawn vehicles, bicycles and a steam-hauled train. There are also shots of the first cable trams and views of several suburban Melbourne streets. The predominantly black-and-white film footage has a voice-over narration and is accompanied by lively music of the period.
Narrator As the second-last decade of the 19th century dawned, new and more efficient methods of mass suburban transport were sought. Until this time, horse-drawn vehicles and bicycles were the principal forms of transport.
We see a steam train pull up at a station, then shots of the first cable trams and finally a cable-haul tram – accompanied by views of several suburban Melbourne streets.
Narrator Steam-hauled railways had developed since the 1850s but a lighter form of fixed-rail transport was needed for the streets of the cities. Hence, the street railway, or tramway, was developed, initially with horse-drawn vehicles used in Hawthorn, Kew and Royal Parade, steam trams, which were experimented with in Sydney and then finally an innovative form of propulsion contained, not on the vehicle, but in a tunnel under the roadway – a cable-haul tram.
We see pictures of George S Duncan and FB Clapp and a newspaper article announcing the opening of the Richmond tramway, listing rules and regulations and explaining the Bell Punch system for collecting fares. The clip concludes with a coloured map illustrating the extent of the tramlines on the completion of the cable tram system in 1920.
Narrator Two men, Francis Clapp and George Duncan, could rightly claim to be the fathers of Melbourne’s cable tram system. Clapp, after seeing the results of a line in New Zealand and reading reports from the United States, was convinced that Melbourne was suitable for cable trams. He invited Duncan, an engineer who’d been engaged in the building of the initial line in New Zealand, to formulate plans for a service in Melbourne. After lengthy debate and deliberation by Parliament, the first cable tramline in Australia opened with minimal fuss on 11 November 1885.
By 1920, when the final extension was opened, some 17 routes were in operation, with their associated engine houses, covering more than 46 miles of double track and servicing most of the inner suburbs of Melbourne.