Online Education - Term 4, 2000

Activity 7 - Transport in the 1850s

Read the information below titled Transport in the 1850s. Download a copy of the Cloze activity from the Junior School Server and fill in the missing words that best fit so that the sentences make sense based on Transport in the 1850s.

Transport in the 1850s

Travel, in the early days of Australia’s European history, was rather difficult. In Europe, many roads joined the larger towns and cities which were often close together. However, in Australia, there were not many good roads and there were great distances between the towns and settlements. Even in 1850, the year before the goldrush started, Melbourne had poorly made roads.

When gold was discovered, thousands of men gave up their jobs and set off for the diggings. The cost of a horse and feed was too much for most of them and up to 80,000 moved around the goldfields on foot, trudging along with a bundle or pushing their possessions on a hand-cart or wheelbarrow.

Most supplies were taken to the goldfields on drays, pulled by either bullocks or horse teams. In winter, it cost 150 pounds a ton to transport goods from Melbourne to Bendigo and the trip took up to fourteen days to make using bullocks.

Many drivers preferred the two-wheeled dray as it could travel over rough ground, dodging stumps and holes. The four-wheeled wagon had a larger turning circle and was difficult to pull out of mud. It was also more difficult to make as it needed a front axle which was able to turn left and right. While slow, bullocks were often used, as they were very strong and could work on half as much food as a horse. They were also easy to harness. Six to eight bullocks usually made a team although as many as forty-two have been recorded.

Public transport began with the carrying of mail, at first by horse, and then by light carts. As early as October 1851, a coach service ran from Melbourne to the Ballarat diggings. It cost twenty-five shillings to make the journey in one direction, the equivalent of twenty-five hours of work. Another way to reach Ballarat was to take the steamer to Geelong and then the coach from there at a cost of 3 pounds or sixty hours’ work. Coach horses were changed at ten mile (16 km) intervals and during the early days, involved at least one stop overnight.

Travel by coach was not only expensive but difficult, over rough roads and steep gullies. The roads were so bad that passengers often had to get out and walk or help push the coach through a mud hole or creek. The accident that occurred most often was a broken metal spring which meant a long wait for repairs or continuing the journey another way.

In 1853, the first Concord coach was imported from the USA by Cobb & Co. It was able to handle the Australian conditions much better. It was lightweight and its body rested on leather straps. This made them last longer and they were able to travel over bad roads at speed. Unfortunately, many passengers became ‘seasick’ because of the rocking motion of the coach. The early Concord coaches carried up to fifteen passengers and in 1858 some of the larger Concords were able to carry as many as thirty-two people.

In 1862 the Leviathan coach was built in Ballarat for Cobb & Co. to make the journey to Geelong. It was believed to have a passenger capacity of between fifty-six and eighty-nine people. It usually needed eight to twelve horses to pull it but drivers found it hard to manage the horse as the lead horse was so far away from the coach. 

The gold rush made it possible for people to make a great deal money and the streets of Ballarat started to fill with many two-wheel gigs and four-wheeled carts called phaetons. The coachbuilding industry grew in Ballarat and provided jobs for many workers. Until the arrival of trains in 1861, transport in Ballarat was totally dependent on the power of animals.

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