Trams of Australia

Early history of transport links to Glenelg

Road service

The distance of six or seven miles from Glenelg to Adelaide, at that time a dense forest, was travelled at first in the most primitive ways. Many people made the journey on foot; others more happily circumstanced rode on horse-back; while some even enjoyed the luxury of a bullock dray.

The first public conveyance was operated about 1845 by Thomas Haymes, and consisted of a small, roughly-constructed spring cart, drawn by a skewbald Timor pony. Fares were 1/6 single and 2/6 return. Whenever the passengers numbered five or more, and the road, by reason of wet weather, happened to be more than usually rough, the passengers were forced to walk part of the way in turns. It was not unusual for the whole trip to be done at walking pace, and it frequently happened that the walkers reached town before the conveyance.

After two years of this tedious mode of travelling, John McDonald, mine host of the St Leonard's Inn, set up an opposition conveyance in the form of a cart, drawn by two horses, tandem fashion.

For a few years the Adelaide-Glenelg route boasted no more pretentious mode of transport than this, but in 1853 John McDonald showed further evidence of his enterprising spirit by contracting with Charles Matthews, of Franklin Street, Adelaide, to build for him an omnibus. The new bus was christened the "O.G." and for the modest fare of 2/- would carry passengers to Adelaide from Glenelg or vice versa.

This, of course was a decided improvement, but the road was still little better than a track, and after a rainfall it was almost impassable. The sides of the track had to be ploughed frequently to keep it drained, and seaweed was carted from the beach to form a less slippery surface.

Railway service

The tramline as we know it today would never have existed had it not been for the railways. Trains were originally run by the Adelaide Glenelg and Suburban Railway Company Ltd. who later amalgamated with the Holdfast Bay Railway.

The institution of a railway service from Adelaide to Glenelg was originally the result of private enterprise. A company was floated, styled "The Adelaide, Glenelg and Suburban Railway Company." Lines were laid from Victoria Square, Adelaide, to Jetty Road, Glenelg, a distance of just under seven miles.

On 4th August 1873, the first train was run and the occasion was celebrated by a banquet at the Pier Hotel, Glenelg. A second railroad Company was formed in 1880, and on 24th May another line was opened, extending from North Terrace, Adelaide to Glenelg, a distance of seven miles, twelve chains. This new Company was called "The Holdfast Bay Railway Company".

Within a few months the interests of the two lines merged into one and, in November, 1881, Parliamentary sanction was obtained for the amalgamation of the Companies under the title of "The Glenelg Railways Company Ltd." The rolling stock consisted of eleven engines, twenty-six carriages and nine goods wagons and employees totalled about fifty. The South Australian Railways purchased both lines in 1899 and operated them until 1929.

When the South Australian Railways took over the line in 1899, they continued railway services from Victoria Square to Glenelg. Electrification of the Glenelg Railways was first suggested by a Mr. Bradford in a report to the State Government in 1904. Mr. W. G. T. Goodman prepared a detailed proposal in 1909, but the electrification bill was defeated in Parliament as was a similar bill in 1912.

Conversion to tramway

In 1924, the Railways Commissioner (Mr. W. A. Webb) suggested the Glenelg and Port Adelaide railways be given to the Municipal Tramways Trust for electrification. Extra loops were laid in Glenelg for railways railcars in 1925, but they were not used. Finally the Glenelg Railway Transfer Act was passed in 1927 authorising the M.T.T. to take over the Glenelg lines and electrify them. Only the South Terrace line was completed, opening on 14th December 1929.

Not only does the line provide important service to the south- western area, it is now something of a show-piece for interstate and overseas tourists.

Source: extracts from "The Bay Line", by Roger T. Wheaton

Thanks to Dewi Williams for entering the text of this document.