The Gold Museum in Ballarat has a Hansom cab (image to the left). Unfortunately, the lighting is a bit strange in there so I couldn’t take lots of detailed photos. (Oh, if anyone does have one they can take lots of detailed photos of )like I do here) it’d be really good to be able to include one.) I presume this is the same one in storage. I don’t know much about horse-drawn cabs so I was curious to find out more about them. I’m sharing what I found because it might be of interest.

The information in the Gold Museum says:
Joseph Hansom of Birmingham, England, invented the Hansom cab in 1833-4. It was patented as ‘Hansom’s Patent Safety Cab’ and, following a number of alternations to the original design, was quickly adopted as a public hire vehicle.

The Hansom cab was introduced into Australia in 1849. It had two advantages over other two-wheeled cabs. The positioning of the doors at the front, rather than rear of the vehicle, helped prevent fare evasion and the driver could control the doors by a foot pedal located near his seat. Secondly, the location of the seat above the axle allowed for a lower floor, permitting ladies to board and alight more elegantly.

The bow-fronted or brougham-style Hansom cab had replaced the earlier square-fronted models by the early 1890s. By 1895, Sydney boated over 1200 Hansom cabs, and over 300 travelled the streets of Melbourne.

This seems to be the square-fronted model if you’re wondering. (It’s hard to find pictures of the fronts.) Compare to the windowed front of the Ballarat cab.

(From “Hansom cab, c. 1900, used in Washington, DC – National Museum of American History”, via Wikipedia Commons.)

Books, TV and films would have us believe that the Hansom cab was the be all and end all of hired-vehicles in the Victorian era. Maybe in London, but we’re not in London. So, how common were they?

The Powerhouse museum has a nice photo of a later Hansom cab, along more information about cabs in Sydney, including this bit:

Australia’s first hansom cab appeared in Melbourne in 1849 but it was not until the 1870s that this form of transport became popular. Named after its English inventor, J. Aloysius Hansom in 1834, hansoms were much more readily accepted in Sydney when introduced here during the 1860s, possibly because of Sydney’s less conservative attitude.

Here it is being introduced in Melbourne (which was then on the small side as cities went):

The Argus (Melbourne), 24 August 1849.

As for Sydney, the Cornwall Chronicle says Hansom cabs were introduced in Sydney in 1853. That’s actually what they said, just one line:
Hansom’s cabs have been introduced in Sydney
(Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston), 11 May 1853.)

Sydney Morning Herald, 19 April 1853.

If you’re wondering, they appeared in Launceston a couple of years later:

The first Hansom’s patent safety cab that has appeared here was driven through the town to-day.
Tasmanian Daily News (Hobart), 2 July 1855.

But then just weeks later!

ACCIDENT.—A man named Foster who was driving his passengers in Hansom’s Cab yesterday by some means or other fell from his seat at the back, and was seriously hurt. He was attended by Dr. Casey, who used every exertion towards his restoration and he is now out of danger.
The People’s Advocate (Launceston), 30 July 1855

Patent Safety. — Foster, who was thrown from the Hansom’s cab last week, lies in a very dangerous state. The man who was charged with robbing him, when he fell, has been liberated for want of evidence.
Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston)., 4 August 1855

Launceston was a little odd in those days.

Now, Launceston  had cabs prior to that. One of the jobs of the nearly formed Launceston municipal council (1853) was to issue licences. Applicants provided their name, residence, the owner of the cab and the area in which they were going to work.  But what what type of vehicle they used, I don’t know. Hackney coaches were one type but there were also “cabs” of an unspecified type.

CABS AND CABMEN.-By a notice in the Gazette it will be seen that the stands for the cabs and hackney-coaches have been distributed in four places throughout the town, a great addition, we may observe, to the convenience of the public. And while we mention the subject, we may take the opportunity of bearing testimony to the civility and attention of our Hobart Town “Jarvies,” as well as to the fairness of their charges. There are now nearly forty of these vehicles, and we do not know a single exception amongst the whole, to civility and honesty.
Colonial Times (Hobart), 27 February 1844

And in London, there were 347 watermen employed upon the various cab stands, 1,793 omnibus conductors, 1,662 drivers of cabs, and 4,546 drivers of hackney-coaches and omnibusses, (Colonial Times (Hobart), 18 March 1845)

Hackney coaches are a four-wheeled enclosed vehicle. There’s a photo of one here and a picture here:

(“Hackney-coach, about 1800”, from Wikipedia Commons)

Actually hard to find useful pictures of them. The word “cab” comes from cabriolet, which is a two-wheeled vehicle with a folding hoods. A photo here and a picture here:

“Gentlemen’s Carriages: A Cabriolet” from Wikipedia Commons

I went looking for some photos to see what was actually in use, but ah, some problems. First, most online photos don’t have the vehicles types tagged, when they do, it’s a small, blurry thing, and when they’re tagged and you can actually make out the vehicle then…

This  photo from the State Library of South Australia of King William Street in Adelaide in 1865 has in the description “lines of Hansom Cabs wait for customers”.  I don’t think they’re Hansoms.

They seem to be a two-wheeled vehicle with a hood .

The Internet would have us believe that Hansom cabs replaced Hackneys coaches. But did they?

In accordance with announcement an inspection of cabs and carriages licensed to ply for hire within the city, was made by the Mayor and the Inspector yesterday. Eighteen hansom cabs and hackney carriages, and twenty-seven Melbourne cars wore examined, but only six were passed.
Brisbane Courier, 14 December 1865

(What is a “Melbourne car” anyway?)

The horses in Melbourne are remarkable for their beauty. Almost all are thoroughbred, and have pedigrees more or less illustrious ;the weeds go into the city cabs and carriages, and the better sort are ridden by the wealthy youth. Hansoms have been introduced, but the ordinary hackney vehicle is a kind of one-horse waggonette. Omnibuses, to which there is no conductor, ply in all directions, notices being posted at the street corner as to their destination. In such arrangements, Melbourne is far ahead of London.
(Melbourne) Herald, 5 November 1885

(So is “hackney” being used for something other than a four-wheeled vehicle more resembling a coach?)

From the last published return of the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, it appears that the proportion of drivers to hackney carriages remains about the same us in previous years, viz., 13 men to 10 carriages. There are rather more than 11,000 hackney drivers and about 11,000 hansoms and clarences in the metropolitan police district, that is the area within a radius of 15 miles from Charing Cross, exclusive of the city of London.
(Brisbane) Telegraph, 6 October 1887

This one from Brisbane in 1872 shows a flat, open-sided vehicle. (Cut from a photo from the State Library of Queensland)

Brisbane again, in 1883. (Cut from a photo from the State Library of Queensland.

A cab stand in Hobart.  A bit blurry but they look similar to the Adelaide vehicles.  (I think it’s 1870s, or maybe earlier, from Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office.)

Similar era.  “The Savings Bank, Murray Street, Hobart showing Cab stand” (From the Tasmania Archive and Heritage Office.) They’re not Hansoms. I don’t know what they are. Landaus??

Again in Hobart but from the later end of the horse-drawn cab’s existence. These are a different type of vehicle again, with a back that folds down. (From Tasmanian Archive & Heritage Office.)

I suspect, when it comes to vehicles, for hire that the owners or drivers went with what they had, and probably preferred locally manufactured vehicles. (The Ballarat cab at the top was made in Melbourne.) Rather than upgrading unnecessarily to new-fangled, imported things that you fell out of and got robbed.

Outside the Registrar General’s Office, Sydney c.1870. (From the State Library of NSW). That’s more like a Hansom. They seem a bit low, but it might be the angle.

Sydney again, 1880s. OK that’s a Hansom cab. (From the NSW State Archives.)

And finally a photo from Launceston:

That’s on display in the Queen Victoria Museum. The accompanying panel says it was in use well into the 20th century. (Actually, it has the decade, but I forget what it said now.)

So, Hansom cabs were definitely in use but they certainly weren’t the only form of vehicle for hire, and not necessarily the most common either.

2 thoughts on “Hansom cabs, introduction, commonness and photos, or not”

  1. A Melbourne Car is almost certainly an Albert Car or Low-Back Car which came into widespread use in Melbourne in the 1850s right up to the 1880s when the Hansom cab and the waggonette took its place in public favour. I can supply you with more details if you’d like them

Leave a Reply