Horse-drawn hansom cabs were the forerunner of the motorised taxi though there operation overlapped for many years. Two passengers rode snugly enclosed in a cab, with little room for luggage. They were popular with young unchaperoned courting couples and as a result gained a 'shady' reputation. This Sydney hansom cab is an example of a popular design made between 1880 and 1915. It is one of Sydney's last working hansom cabs and was purchased by the Museum in 1937. The cab was personally delivered to the Museum by the driver and owner Mr J. Connor, pulled by his horse Darkwing.
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.
Cab drivers wore three-piece suits, with a gold watch-chain, smoked pipes and tilted their bowler hats at a jaunty angle. They sat high at the back of the cab with the reins passing through a support on the front of the roof. From the driver's position the cab's front-opening doors could be controlled, preventing passengers getting out before they paid their fare. The better hansoms had large rubber-tyred wheels, stained-glass side windows, diamond patterned leather upholstery, thick carpet inside, white rubber matting on the platform, lacework, tasselled window blinds and even a vase of flowers inside.
The use of hansom cabs in Sydney reached their height in the 1890s but competition from trams and the introduction of the telephone reduced the need for short runs to deliver messages and leave calling cards. Motor cabs initiated the death knell for the horse cab though many, like this one, survived well into the 20th century.
Cuffley, Peter, "Buggies and Horse-drawn vehicles in Australia", Pioneer Design Studio, 1981.
Simpson, Margaret, "On the Move: a history of transport in Australia", Powerhouse Publishing, Sydney, 2004.
Curator, Science & Industry