Governess cart used by May Hillier

Made by Angus and Son in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1918.

The governess cart was especially designed for children in the care of a nursery governess or willing aunt, and all the occupants sat within the cart as though in a tub. It was one of the safest owner-driven vehicles as it is almost impossible to overturn.

The body of the cart, referred to as being tub-shaped, hung between a pair of elliptic springs on a cranked axle, ensuring its centre of gravity was kept low. This, together with access to the vehicle made via a rear door with a low step, pro...


Object No.


Physical Description

Horsedrawn vehicle, full size, governess cart, wood / metal / textile, made by Angus and Son, Castlereagh Street, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, used by May Hillier, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1918

The governess cart is a tub-shaped two-wheeled horsedrawn vehicle. It has three distinct features: a cranked axle, making it a low-entry vehicle; a rear door and low-hung step, which enabled small children safe access to the cart; and inward facing seats on each side. The vehicle seats four on longitudinal seats with the driver sitting at the back on the right. There is a decorative whip socket for the whip attached to the right hand side near where the driver sits. The 16 timber-spoked wheels are shod with solid rubber tyres over which are mudguards. The cart features double elliptic springs and the rear door is monogrammed with the initials 'MH' for May Hillier. The cart is fitted with a woven cane umbrella basket and umbrella at the rear and a pair of small square carriage lamps at the front. The governess cart was restored in the 1960s, the outside is painted a dark green, the wheel guards are black with green trim and the interior was probably re-upholstered then with fabric similar to the original beige corded material. This fabric covered the seat and back cushions and the interior walls of the carriage, the wooden floor is covered with dark green carpet over rubber underlay.



1400 mm


1800 mm



The governess cart was constructed in large numbers in Britain at around the turn of the 20th century and many were still being made in the 1920s. They were originally designed to enable governesses to take their young charges for drives in comparative safety. The origin of the vehicle is unclear. The body resembles the rear half of some of the small wagonettes popular in the late nineteenth century and it may have developed from these or from the 'inside car', a traditional trap from the north of England in which the passengers sat sideways, facing inwards.

This governess cart was made to order 1918 by the Sydney coach building firm of Angus and Son for Mr Ernest Hillier Esquire of 162 Pitt Street. Angus and Son at this time had their showrooms at 163-165 Castlereagh Street, Sydney and a factory in Sloane Street, Newtown. The original invoice dated 9 November 1918 stated that the governess car should be 'similar to picture submitted but with full panel sides and not lazy back as shown. Lump irons, rubber tyres, to suit 14 hands pony, trim green cloth, paint dark green, line apple green' The cost of the governess cart complete with a pair of lamps and the supply and fitting of an umbrella basket to carry an umbrella was 64 pounds and 12 shillings.

The firm of Angus and Son was established in 1858 when William Thomas Angus appeared as a coach builder at 76 Judge Street, Sydney. By 1863 he had become associated with William Holt and the firm known as Angus and Holt of Enmore Road and at 267-269 Castlereagh Street, Sydney. In 1867 Angus had his own business at 185 Castlereagh Street and his private residence was in Stanmore Road, Marrickville. In the early 1870s his son William joined him in business and it became Angus and Son. From 1884 until the early 1900s their showrooms were located in Castlereagh Street, Sydney while their Sloane Street, Newtown factory, employing over 90 tradesmen, was claimed to be the largest and most modern in Australia.

At the time the governess cart was built in 1918 Angus and Son were diversifying into the motor trade industry. As their invoice indicated the firm were 'motor engineers, importers of motor cars and accessories and motor body builders'. They were also the sole agents in New South Wales for Armstrong Whitworth 'pleasure cars and motor lorries', American Jackson motorcars, Brown motorcycle, the Detroit Electric, Lever Spring suspension, premier shock absorbers, Kopalapso the 'One Man Hood', and Burford lorries.


Angus and Son 1918



The governess cart was a birthday present from Mr Ernest Hillier, the well-known confectioner, to his wife, May.

Ernest Hillier was born in England and educated at a private school. He travelled the world during the first decade of the twentieth century and while in Australia met his wife Magdalen May (May) at a dance at the Petersham Town Hall. Ernest went on to San Francisco and learnt the confectionary and soda fountain trade there. He sent for May and her mother as chaperone and they were married in Vancouver, Canada and lived in San Francisco for 3 or 4 years. The Hilliers moved back to Sydney in 1912 and lived in May's family's home 'Osneath' cnr Young & Gibb Street, Croydon, which they eventually purchased.

Ernest Hillier built up a large confectionary business in Sydney with a factory at Bourke Street, Woolloomooloo. It was a single level building and said to be one of the first refrigerated factories in Australia. Hillier had difficulties sending his chocolates to Melbourne as they would melt in transit. He eventually had 20 confectionary shops, the main outlet being at 162 Pitt Street, a building of 4 levels which still survives in the Pitt Street Mall and which was sold in the 1940s.

Ernest Hillier ordered the governess cart from the coach building firm of Angus and Son in 1918 as a 34th birthday present for his wife, May, who had been born on 13 June 1884. It was used for shopping to take May and her two young children, Lucille Miriam, aged 2 born in 1916 and Rob Hillier born in 1913, aged 5. It would have been an ideal vehicle to carry young children.

In the 1920s the Hilliers moved to a waterfront property in Vaucluse, but during the Great Depression the business declined. The market fell out of the Sydney quality chocolate trade, and Ernest closed his shop. In 1938 he moved his business to Melbourne and established a shop in Collins Street. He found that Melbourne people were more affluent at this time and it was a better market.

In the meantime the governess cart was taken down to the Hilliers' country retreat, a shingle-roofed polo cottage, called 'Gwandalan', at Riverside Ave, Burradoo, 3.6 km south of Bowral (off the main road near Chevalier School). It was used there during the Second World War, especially after 1940 when petrol rationing was brought in. The governess cart remained in the family and was used by Lucille Hillier, who in 1942 married Broughton (Bill) Throsby.

The governess cart was moved from Burradoo to Mt Ashby, Bowral, in the 1950s. At the inaugural Bong Bong picnic races Lucille Throsby won best horse-drawn vehicle.

The governess cart was originally upholstered in green cord felt, with cushions, and was restored in the 1960s.


Hillier, May 1918-1950


Credit Line

Purchased 2002

Acquisition Date

26 March, 2002

Cite this Object


Governess cart used by May Hillier 2016, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 24 January 2018, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Governess cart used by May Hillier |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=24 January 2018 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

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