We learn that the Works Department is making arrangements for the construction of a temporary tramway from the Redfern terminus to Hunter-Street, to be used by visitors to the International Exhibition. They expect to be able to get the motors from America, and it is probable that the rails and other material can be obtained in the colony.    Evening News (Sydney Friday 21 February 1879.)

Four  steam powered motors were imported from Philadelphia. The man charged with the task of putting them into service was Edward Loughry. Many thanks to his grandson Michael for the following information.


The rails were produced by the Eskbank Iron Company at Lithgow and laid on red gum planks.

Some saw the trams as the only positive to come out of the Exhibition, held at the ornate Garden Palace.

Sydney International Exhibition.

We are divided into two parties here; those who say that the Exhibition is a gigantic fraud, and others who swear that it is an unpararalleled success, “by which I mean to remark, and my language is plain”, that the former have the greatest amount of truth on their side. It is a big thing no doubt – too big for this small colony -but what good will come of it at last nobody knows. The £800,000 which it will cost the country will only have one immediate result – the introduction of a tramway system around the city. This, to Sydney with its long, straggling suburbs, will be a great boon. The tramway now working from Redfern terminus to the Exhibition is as great a novelty to many as the show itself.

Straggling suburbs eh? Well, it’s all relative I guess.

Anyway, the innovative transport system was a great success, as reported in The Evening News on Tuesday, September 30 1879;

The steam tramway, which first came into operation on Sunday last is receiving a lion’s share of public patronage. On Sunday last no less than 2700 persons travelled on it, yesterday the number exceeded 3700, while today the patronage is larger.

Lots of people missed out and had to  fall back on the omnibuses….not nearly as exciting.  Given the  fashions of the day, I can understand why there are only men on the ‘upper deck’.

Omnibus in Sydney
Horsepower (photo- Powerhouse Museum)
Sydney's Exhibiton steam tram.
All aboard!

Below is a tram travelling along Broadway.

Steam tram in Sydney 1879
Oh the excitement!

And here is an engine  hauling two carriages in Market Street. It must have been an amazing sight for Sydneysiders.

Steam tram in Sydney 1879
Crowded carriages as visitors made their way to the Exhibition.
Steam tram in Sydney

Inevitably there were traffic concerns, especially when a  horse-drawn omnibus  was confronted by a steam puffing  ‘monster’  at a street crossing without warning;

And yes, only a few weeks later there was a serious accident. A horse-drawn cab shied at the sight of an approaching tram. The terrified horse backed the  cab onto the line where it crashed into the tram;

The steam-motor came into collision with it and smashed it  and knocked it right over on the side, breaking the shafts off, so that the horse remained standing.  

The occupants of the cab, a couple called Green and their two children, were badly shaken. Mrs Green was  cut on the forehead from the broken glass of a window.  However, the person who came off worst was the driver, Mr Fogarty. He was knocked unconscious. He was taken to the infirmary with injuries to his, wrist, forehead and back.  The steam tram and its passengers apparently escaped unscathed.

Despite such mishaps, the trams were so popular that they became a permanent feature, with an ever expanding network.

I was delighted to discover that one of those very first steam trams survived, and is on display at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.

Early Sydney steam tram
What a beauty.

Eventually the steam trams  were superceded by electric models. Finally, they too disappeared.


  1. It’s interesting to see all in one place the changes is systems like this. I can remember the electric trams in Toronto when I was little. The trams still run, with updated cars of course. One memory, when I was around 4 years old, is of the time of the friend my mom and I were visiting got her coat caught in the tram door as it closed and she was getting off. It could have had serious consequences, but someone acted quickly and stepped down on the step to cause the door to open again. I just checked on Wikipedia and it said that in 2016, ridership on the streetcar system totaled more than 95 million. That’s quite the crowd.

    • Pauline

      We have been waiting for our trams for a long time and are very sick of the city being torn up as the track are laid down. Wow, 95 million certainly is a lot!

  2. I’m just glad I don’t live in Toronto. We have enough people here in London Ontario.

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