Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

A Ride In An Omnibus

A Story with a Moral

Horse buses outside the old Sydney Railway Station, corner of Devonshire and George streets, 1895.
Horse buses outside the old Sydney Railway Station, corner of Devonshire and George streets, 1895. The above photograph of an omnibus loaded with passengers, is likely to be similar to the vehicle described in the article below.

Omnibuses in Newcastle had been licensed since 1877 and in that same year a Cab Stand was established on the south side of King-street, between Watt and Bolton streets. Omnibuses were to approach the stand by way of Watt-street, but on leaving the stand, were to proceed down Bolton and so into Hunter-street. An Inspector of vehicles had been appointed and omnibus drivers were fined if they failed to follow the rules. In 1880 driver Henry Morris was fined 10s for neglecting to keep his lamps lighted and William Griffiths for passing another vehicle in the same direction. They could also be fined for loitering with the aim of gathering more customers before setting off. In 1884 there were more than 140 omnibus drivers licensed for four-wheelers in the Newcastle district

The article below was perhaps written in a similar style to some of the short stories written by Australia's famous story-teller and poet Henry Archibald Hertzberg Lawson (better known as Henry Lawson).

In his memoirs Lawson recalled that he first came to Newcastle in company with Mr. Dean of Dean and Clarke, carriage painter contractor. "Mr. Dean wanted me to go back to Newcastle with him that night, but I wouldn't for pride or something. Strange that I should get homesick in those days. The cure came very slowly. If Clarke or Dean ever read this book, I want them to know that I have kindly recollections of them. Especially Mr. Clarke, who was my immediate boss. Dean was at Redfern mostly. It was on the first trip to Newcastle with Mr. Dean that I got my first breath of the ocean, and, as the steamer rose to the swell outside the heads I drew a breath as deep as the sea itself. " [1]

Lawson lived in Newcastle for about six months in 1883 when he was apprenticed as a 16-year-old to Hudson Brothers, a large construction and railway engineering company at Wickham

The following article, published in the Newcastle Morning Herald on 3 February 1888, was anonymous and signed only "HHC".

A Ride In A Bus

"IT WAS A VERY SULTRY EVENING, and our expansive brow was beaded with perspiration as we stood on the pavement outside the Ship Inn, trying to decide a knotty question that had suddenly presented itself. A moment before we had pursued and captured, with a thrill of delighted astonishment, a small coin which had hitherto escaped detection by secreting itself in the remotest corner of our capacious pocket. True, this unexpected find was but a coin cursed by an irritated parson, who had collected a cask-full, as the smallest possible donation bearing the image and inscription of Her Gracious-known to the vulgar as a "thrum," and in toney circles as a thruppenny piece. Victoria threepence 1899But, in our case, it acquired an increased value from the fact that it was our last coin of any description, and pay Saturday was still in the dim perspective.

The sudden acquisition of wealth brings with it a burden of responsibility - a burden, we may remark en passant, so heavy, that it is merely the pure unselfishness of some of our statesmen which prevents them from passing some portion of their loads on to the shoulders of their poorer creditors. This is a very beautiful side of human nature, and one might very profitably enlarge upon the subject - but we have no time to go moralising up every side street in our present narrative, which is merely a plain record of facts.

As we before remarked, it was a very sultry evening, and we had been panting along in the direction of Wickham, when the responsibility of suddenly acquired wealth pulled us up short. By one of those, strange coincidences no fellow can understand, we bottomed on that "thrum" just at the moment we arrived opposite the Ship Inn. Now, the discovery might have been made outside a coffee-palace, or multum-in-parvo palace, or a foreign bible for the heathen depot - but it wasn't.

The pious and white-haired hero of the story books which delighted our youthful eyes would have yanked out that hidden wealth at the very moment a poor "lone, lorn widdy,'' with an impossible family in tow, ran against him, whose pitiful tale of woe would have made the noble boy part with his "thrum;" or, failing the widdy, a blind man's dog would have pushed against his legs, and the pleading eyes and damp, cold nose of the old mongrel would have scooped the pool. But none of these touching incidents have ever come under our notice; and we repeat that we found that "thrum" at the door of of a pub. That's the plain fact. It was not found in the orthodox style of the heroes of our youth, and it was not very romantic ; but, if the fact is wanting in poetry, it is lengths ahead of pious fiction in originality - although the number of pubs in Newcastle makes the odds largely in their favour when and where ever a perspiring pedestrian unearths a forgotten "thrum."

However (we detest wandering statements), there was the Ship Inn, and there were we on the doorstep with a healthy thirst and the prospect of a long walk ahead of us. We peeped in through the door to note if there were any glasses to be seen which could hold enough liquid to satisfy our consuming thirst. For, as we remarked before, it was very - [Oh, get inside and spend your threepence-Ed.]-

Well, if we had irrigated our parched and drought-stricken interior at the expense of our last "thrum," and in defiance of those cautious principles and, pious precepts which were early installed into our receptive mind, we should have been spared a painful experience, and a long suffering public would have been still. [Great St. Enery and long-suffering editors! Are you going to introduce that bus, or is this a patent medium ad – Ed]  - We were about to mention when we were rudely interrupted, that the knotty question we were endeavouring to decide when we first introduced ourselves to your notice was, whether we should expend our newly-discovered wealth, upon the irrigation of our interior, or charter a bus for Wickham. What trivial incidents control the ordering of our lives ! Whilst we hesitated, a gruesome looking vehicle staggered round the corner of Watt-street [If this is the bus, pray get into it without another oration on the steps.--Ed.] and the sweet voice of the John was heard inviting perspiring humanity to get up behind.

The musical' notes of " Ti-i--zil - Week-am", (Tighes Hill – Wickham) tailing off into a moan suspiciously like "set-em-up," was wafted on the sultry zephyr, and our fate was sealed. We skipped across to the fountain for a refresher, and patiently awaited the arrival of the musical Jehu and his ferry team. We had a start of about fifty yards, but in twenty minutes the hearse had drawn level with us, and we climbed unnoticed through the back entrance. We entered in this unassuming manner, because we had noticed that every time the horses stopped to think, the double-voiced vocalist had a difficulty in getting under weigh again.

Upon finding we were the only corpse -- we mean the only victim bound for the peaceful haven of Ti-i-i-zil (Tighes Hill), we tried to open a conversation with the pirate on the box during one of the pauses when he recovered breath for his next whoop.

We had noticed that the hearse was licensed to convey ten bodies - eight inside and two in front. Our natural curiosity expressed itself in our first query. "Where do you pack your dead when you have your full complement on board ? " we enquired, with our best company smile. He glared stonily at us for a moment in silence, and then muttering something about "a bloomin' ijiot bin in the sun," he cracked his whip viciously, and shouted his war-whoop with such persistent energy that it was quite impossible to renew our conversation.

After a prolonged silence, we looked out to note any change in the scenery, but we discovered that the after-part of the hearse was still on the spot where we had climbed aboard. Now, we were in a hurry to reach port, and as the Ship Inn was still in sight we had serious intentions of slipping out as quietly as we had entered, and investing our capital in a stimulant which might nerve us to outstrip the hearse. But, before we had time to effect a masterly retreat, two ladies of abnormal proportions entered and wedged us in a corner. Then, by twos and threes, other victims climbed in, until we numbered twelve inside and a double row of three on the box. Our natural simplicity led us to believe that we should now commence to move; but, no, the driver beamed at us through the window with a smile of placid content, whilst we squinted at the great beads of perspiration trickling down the bridge of our nasal organ, and made frantic efforts to wrench our arms free to get at our handkerchief. We breathed silent curses upon the avaricious brigand who still continued to roar out invitations to heated pedestrians to squeeze into his wretched, wobbling, bumping, shandrydan. " When will this procession arrive at the cemetery we whispered fiercely to a cheerful idiot who sat smiling" opposite us. "'Oh, they're never in any hurry until they're full." " Full!" We groaned, and at that moment the procession stopped short, and another hearse from the opposite direction drew up alongside, and the two bandits in charge engaged in an earnest discussion, while of us, those who could manage mopped our faces and sighed.

During the stoppage we caught sight of a mystery which we had long attempted to solve. It was a man in uniform, whose noble figure was propped up against a verandah post, as he calmly surveyed us. It was not anything particularly gorgeous about his appearance that fixed our attention, for his uniform was merely a cross between a tram-conductor's and a clothier's dummy. Neither were we fascinated by his beauty; but-in spite of the fact that his fierce little eyes glared straight into his distended nostrils, and his low-comedian whiskers were absurdly out of proportion with his broad expanse of cheek - there was a je ne sais quoi air about the man which could not fail to impress one with the idea, that there was a surprising amount of official dignity concealed under a modest exterior. "Who is that distinguished-looking officer " I enquired, pointing him out to my cheerful vis a vis. He followed my glance, and smiled gently, not to say derisively. " He's a cove with a very good billet," he replied, with a mysterious wink at our fellow-victims; some says he's a public buildings' inspector but no one knows for certain what he is." "It's a pity he isn't a traffic inspector," we howled, as a fat woman who was standing up, attempted to balance herself on our corns as the hearse moved forward with a terrific jerk.

Charles Lowell, omnibus driver "There's Bill comin' up behind yer, Charlie," shouted our pirate to his friend, as he slowly moved on. "'Ang it out, and let 'im pars yer, then you'll get yer twenty minutes." We craned our neck forward, and there, sure enough, was Charley 'anging it out for a passenger, who had alighted and was half-way down a side street before he had discovered that she was out of his hearse. Then Charlie got his whip neatly entangled round his traces, and before he had again urged on his wild career, the guileless Bill had passed him and the twenty minutes were gained. Our own hearse had by this time drifted as far as the tram terminus, and here we stopped, whilst two specimens of insanity hauled themselves inside after blandly inquiring if there was any room for them.

To the average observer of human nature, there is nothing more calculated to make one curse the stupidity of his fellow-men than the spectacle of some moon-faced imbecile weighing sixteen stone or more, smilingly entering a densely-packed vehicle with the hoary gag, " Can you make room for a little 'un ?"

Again and again did that howling fiend on the box elevate his whip, and pull up, until (this is a solid fact) we numbered sixteen inside and six in front, whilst three; who got a free passage by clinging on to the steps; brought our total up to twenty-five, crushed in a hearse designed to accommodate twelve in moderate comfort., Then, and only then, did the shriek of " Ti-ii-zil" and "Week-am" (Tighes Hill – Wickham) cease to entrap more victims. The rickety old hearse swayed-and creaked like a Geordy collier in a gale of wind, and the bumping of the springs jarred painfully upon our back bone. But our greatest misery was the impossibility of defending ourselves from the idiots who had crowded in last. They stamped upon our corns, they fell upon our chest, jogged their elbows into our eyes, and committed all kinds of atrocities upon our, defenceless person in their efforts to maintain their equilibrium.

At last we were left a complete wreck, with our new hat jammed down over our ears; and in mute despair we remained in that position until the hearses stopped once more. A woman was enquiring if we could make room for her. She carried a parcel of cheese, which sent forth a malignant and aggressive odour. This was the last straw. We shrieked out that we were willing and anxious to make room for the lady and her cheese, her ox,. her ass, her maid-servant and man-servant, goats, fowls, and garden stuff, and any other furniture she was desirous of dragging into that cursed lop-sided vehicle, if any powerful gentleman would only break us out of the corner where we were jammed like a bale of wool. Two at once took the contract, and, after the loss of one coat-sleeve and a few buttons, we were landed safely to windward of the lady we had obliged. On alighting we tried hard to escape the eagle eye of the driver, for we were sorely in need of a refresher before pursuing our journey on foot; but we failed to dodge him, and the bitterest drop in our cup was having to yield up our last coin after such a woeful experience of a Newcastle bus.

As we fumbled in our pocket for that unlucky "thrum," we tried the effect of a little gentle sarcasm upon the brigand whose hand was outstretched to grasp our little all. Omnibus Fare 1878 We reminded him that he was not pushing enough, and that a few passengers stowed along the axles would have saved his springs from the danger of violent concussion. We also drew his attention to the fact that a dozen or so could be accommodated on the roof, and that a couple porched upon each horse as outriders and a few more astride of the pole would add more dignity to the procession, and the increase of fares would enable him to afford his horses the luxury of an occasional square feed. We concluded by pointing out that a new patent India-rubber hearse offered expansive prospects as to the number of victims it would allow him to crush into it. But our suggestions failed to arouse the slightest show of interest in the greedy pirate He merely remarked, " Shut yer 'ead and chuck us that 'ere fare. We "chucked" it sadly, and he drove off - repeating the same mysterious remark which terminated our previous conversation; and as we toiled along painfully in the wake of that cheerful vehicle we solemnly cursed with tearful eyes the hardened miscreant who had left us -- crushed, parched, and beggared, on the dusty road to Ti-i-i-zil and Week-am.

It was our intention to tack a little moral on just here, but we have forgotten the hang of it. However, those of our readers who are in the habit of finding long-forgotten " thrums" can pick out the moral for themselves. So far as we are concerned, the moral is this: When next we find ourselves burdened with the responsibility of newly-found wealth we shall not hesitate in sight of a smiling Hebe and a foaming tankard, but walk right inside and hearken not to the voice of the charmer on the dismal hearse. (signed) H.H.C [2]

Notes and Links

1). The thrum or threepenny piece mentioned in the article was likely a British threepenny piece perhaps similar to this one

2). The Australian Threepence was minted from 1910 to 1964 prior to the changeover to decimal currency in 1966. For the first 5 years the three pence was minted in London. For the rest of the life of the coin it was mostly minted in Australia at either Melbourne or Sydney. Australian Coin Collecting Blog

3). Our New Chum Reporter on the Special Trains Newcastle Morning Herald 12 October 1883

4). Henry Lawson wrote about Hudson Bros., later, in “Second Class Wait Here” referring to them as Grinder Bros. In Newcastle he spent much of his time strolling along the waterfront and visiting Nobbys to watch the ships sail in and out of the harbour. When his work with Hudson Bros. ended, Lawson became in turn photographer’s assistant, builder’s labourer and house painter. SOURCE: Newcastle Morning Herald 15 June 1946 Lawson Once Worked at Wickham, by Ian Healy

5). Including those in Darby-street, there were approximately 55 inns and hotels operating in Newcastle in 1883 -85

6). Select here to find the location of Hudson Brothers at Wickham

7). The horse drawn omnibus gave way some years after the advent of the horse drawn tram. Evenutally this mode was superceded by the steam tram

8). Lone, lorn widow


[1] Volume 182: Angus & Robertson manuscripts by Henry Lawson - A Fragment of autobiography, volume 2, ca. 1899, p. 32

[2] Newcastle Morning Herald 3 February 1888