Early Hawkesbury motoring history – 1900 to 1918

After much experimentation during the latter half of the nineteenth century, the motor car as we know it was constructed in 1885 by Karl Benz. Benz, along with Gottlieb Daimler and Armand Peugeot made the production of cars a reality, with the first car being sold in 1891. While Europe was the centre of the new motoring industry, developments were taking place all over the world, including Australia. As well as locals building primitive cars, cars were also imported in Australia by the end of the 19th century.

The first mention of a car in the Hawkesbury came from the following reports in the “Windsor & Richmond Gazette”

A motor car passed through Windsor, from Sydney on Sunday evening, and returned to Sydney on Monday. It scared nearly every horse in the district, and several accidents were nearly happening” (W&RG 8 June 1901)

 “Mr Philip Charley came into town on Monday in a motor car, and half Richmond took fright when the vehicle sped along at a rapid rate without outward visible means of locomotion.” (W&RG 28 September 1901)

“Mr Phizackerley went through Richmond in his motor car last week. During this visit he stayed with MR H Skuthorp, whose niece Mr Phizackerly married. The car was a wonder to all beholders, and kicked up dust wherever it went.” (W&RG 24 May 1902)

These reports are typical of the reports that featured in Australian newspapers of the time about this new-fangled invention – the rapid speed, kicking up of dust and the effect on horses being the major impact of cars travelling at this time. The only people in Sydney who could afford a motor car at this early time were members of the rich and wealthy “elite”, such as Mr Samuel Horden, a member of the famous retailing family. The Hawkesbury district was far enough out of Sydney that it gave these pioneer motorists a chance to have a long drive to the area, either as a day trip or as an overnight excursion. Early in the 20th century, motor cars travelling through the Hawkesbury were few and far between, and were considered a novelty. The novelty factor started to wear off when local residents started to notice the impact that the motor car was having on horses in the district, as seen in this report from the Gazette:

“A motor car came through Windsor on Saturday morning last [February 28] at about 7 o’clock at a terrific rate, and returned about 9 o’clock. The pace it was going frightened several horses, and there were a couple of runaways. Mr W Hawkin’s horse bolted from the Post Office, and was caught near the Chinamen’s gardens. Another horse bolted with a little girl in a cart, and but for several horses ‘playing up’ in front of the Royal Hotel, blocking the street and stopping the runaway, the child might have been killed. The car also ran over a fox terrier dog near the post office, and we hear that the canine has since succumbed to its injuries. The police should not allow this matter to escape their notice.” (W&RG 4 March 1905)

For most local residents, a horse was either their only means of transport, and they did not appreciate the possibility of their animals being seriously injured by a motor car. This view was reflected in articles from the Gazette, which went from having a curious interest in the motor car to being very critical of the high speeds obtained, along with the horse accidents caused by the cars:

“If scorching motor fiends and cycling fanatics, who are a menace to respectable traffic were ‘put in the stocks’ until their frenzy cooled off, the public would be safeguarded. Really, it is time that some of them were made and example of.” (W&RG, 23 May 1908)

It did not take long for some Hawkesbury residents to realise that if they could not afford to own a motor car, then they could be involved with the repair and maintenance of motor cars:

“Mr JM Gates has just turned out of his workshop a job which is the first of the kind ever done in Windsor. A motor car belong to Mr Cox, of Rockdale, was put into ‘dock’ for repairs , and Mr Gates has turned it out in splendid condition. All the machinery was overhauled and adjusted, and the car ran a trial trip up to Kurrajong Heights with very satisfactory results. Then it went back into the shop and was painted, and all the cushions trimmed, the whole job showing excellent workmanship.” (W&RG 7 July 1906) At this stage of the motor cars’ development, bodies were wooden and based on horse carriage principles, which allowed local country coach works such as the Gates business to do any repairs or trimming for upholstery.

It was inevitable that local Hawkesbury residents would eventually purchase motor cars, but as mentioned earlier, the price made them out of reach for most people, except for the wealthy. One of the wealthiest Hawkesbury resident was Philip Charley, who had made his money by being one of the first investors and shareholders in BHP, and who lived in a palatial residence, “Belmont” on the banks of the Hawkesbury River at North Richmond. It was no surprise that in April 1906 Charley purchased a small De-Dion Bouton, which was superseded a few months later by a 4-cylinder Talbot.

1906 Talbot
1906 Talbot

As well as their own travels, the Charley family used their car to help their fellow Hawkesbury residents:

“Mrs Main has, as were are glad to hear, successfully undergone the necessary operation in Dr Armstron’s private hospital in Sydney, whither she was taken by Mrs Philip Charley by motor car. Mrs Charley’s kindness thus obviated transhipment from house to rail and from rail to house to hospital – a really nice, neighbourly act.” (W&RG, 22 June 1907)

Philip Charley became well known in the Hawkesbury for his extended trips to all parts of New South Wales and other Australian states, with the Gazette reporting trips to Tuggerah, Shellharbour, Moruya and Rockhampton, as well as being the first motorist to reach the summit of Mt Canoblas near Orange.

His car ownership reached a new level in 1908, when Charley became the first person in Australia to import “The Best Car In The World” – a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost.

1907 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost
1907 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost

With ownership of such a magnificent vehicle it was no surprise to discover that Charley was appointed Commander of the newly formed Australian Volunteer Automobile Corps in 1908. The vehicles in the Corps were provided at no cost by the owners, and were to be used for both reconnaissance and transport duties. The AVAC was disbanded in 1915 when the Army decided to purchase its own cars and other vehicles.

nswavcc_11
Australian Automobile Volunteer Corps parade, Victoria Barracks 1911

As well as his work with the AVAC, Charley would informally host at “Belmont” other motorists, and would make sure that his Rolls-Royce was always prominently positioned when any photos of these meetings were held.

Around this time the Speedwell Cycle and Motor Cycle Deport in George Street Windsor advertised that they could supply motor cars for local customers, with prices ranging from £275 to £500. It appears that there were no sales of these vehicles to local residents, nor were there any details given as to the identity of the vehicles sold. Speedwell motorcycles were manufactured in Sydney by Bennett and Wood Ltd, the owners of the George Street depot, but they never manufactured cars. It can only be assumed that either Speedwell was importing cars themselves, or were selling second-hand cars.

Now that cars were being sold and used in the Hawkesbury, they needed to have regular supplies of petrol to ensure that they could be used regularly. The Automobile Club of Australia negotiated with hotel owners in country regions to stock petrol, effectively making these establishments Australia’s first petrol stations. The Fitzroy Hotel in Windsor, which was managed by Robert Judd, in 1911 became one of the first establishments in the Hawkesbury to sell petrol. (W&RG 6 May 1911)

‘Plume’, ‘Pratt’s’, ‘Taxibus’ and ‘Gargoyle’ were some of the brands that were sold, not by being pumped through bowsers, but by being stored in tin cans.

Plume motor spirit 2-gallon tin can

Other local hotels, such as the Royal Hotel in Richmond, wanted to also provide services for motorists, and did so by offering a hire car and driver for social groups who wished to tour the Hawkesbury. (W&RG, 13 February 1914) The hire-car business became so popular that by 1914 SF Dunston and AS Middleton had purchased two cars each to cater for all of the tours that they were providing in the district. (W&RG, 6 March 1914) As well as being a status symbol for residents like Philip Charley, the motor car quickly became a necessary part of working life. Doctors in the Hawkesbury realised that the speed of a motor car compared to a horse could mean the difference between life and death when responding to a medical emergency. By 1911 Dr Fullerton, Dr Callaghan and Dr Chisholm had motor cars, along with auctioneer and stock/station agent JE James. Apple and orange farmers were also realising the value of trucks and lorries in transporting their fruit from the farm to the rail terminus at Richmond, from where they were transported to the Sydney markets, with a trip from Kurrajong to Richmond taking only a couple of hours in lorry, compared with a full day for a bullock team and dray. (W&RG, 1 October 1910)

A popular local attraction in the district was the Hawkesbury racecourse, and crowds increased for meetings due to the number of spectators who drove to meetings. Over 100 cars would be parked at the racecourse, and by 1913, the number of cars attending meetings was so large that a special entrance to the course for cars was created near Kirwan’s cottage, with local police controlling the flow of traffic. (W&RG, 15 March 1913)

Another problem with so many more cars visiting the Hawkesbury was the speeds at which they were driven. The speed limit through Windsor was only 15 mph. To enforce this limit, First-Class Constable Bailey was stationed on Windsor Road in front of McQuade Park, and and took down the registration number of any cars that were travelling above the speed limit (W&RG, 22 March 1913) Without any equipment to accurately measure speed, Bailey must have been relying on guesswork to determine the speed of the cars. Eventually notice boards were placed on all of the roads leading to Windsor to inform motorists of the speed limit in the town.

Mention was made earlier of Mrs Philip Charley transporting a sick person to hospital, thus making here the first female Hawkesbury resident to drive a motor car. When licencing of drivers was introduced just prior to World War 1, the first female to gain a driver’s licence was Mrs Brebner, wife of the electrician at the Hawkesbury Agricultural College. Mrs Brebner received her licence in July 1913. (W&RG, 12 July 1913) Around this time, local clergymen also realised the need to have a motor vehicle to attend to the spiritual needs of their congregation. Reverend L Marshall and Reverend DA Gilsenan each buying a Model T Ford. It was Reverend Marshall’s experience with the Model T that lead to the creation of the first Hawkesbury district agency selling motor cars. Set up by J Vance Marshall, of Pitt Town, the agency sold Model T Fords.

Marshall Agency
Marshall Agency advertisement, December 1914

Hayes and Son in Windsor quickly followed suit, and by early 1916 their Windsor cycle shop was also a motor cycle repairer as well as being a Ford agent. They also stocked tyres, tubes and petrol as well. (W&RG 7 January 1916)

The 20hp Model T Ford, with its rugged construction, high fuel reliability and affordable price became a very popular car in the Hawkesbury. A perusal of the 1915 “Holderness Motorist’s Guide for NSW” motor car registration list shows that of the 33 motor cars and lorries registered for use in the Hawkesbury, 7 of them were Model T Fords. The other most popular makes of vehicles were 4 IHC trucks, 3 Buicks and 3 Vauxhalls. Several well-known Hawkesbury identities and families feature in the list, eg Maurice Pulsford, Henry Peck, Robert Walker and John Onus to name a few.

With the outbreak of World War 1, the motor car became part of showing support to Australian troops who had served overseas, and were being repatriated home, as noted in this article from the Gazette:

“The committee of the Soldier’s Welcome invite owners of motor cars and other vehicles to take part in the procession on the 18th inst. Everybody is asked to fall in, and make a monster showing. The order of procession is published in this issue.” (W&RG, 10 March 1916)

The only example of a Sydney dealer placing an advertisement occurred in March 1917, when Hupmobile dealer Isaac Phizackerley placed the following advertisement.

1917 Hupmobile advertisment
1917 Hupmobile advertisement
17HUP
Restored 1917 Hupmobile Model N

While the war in Europe had stopped the importation of all Euroean and British cars, American cars were still being shipped to Australia. Phizackerly was mentioned earlier in this blog post as one of the earliest motorists to visit the Hawkesbury, as well as being the dealer who sold Philip Charley his Rolls-Royce Ghost.

This blog post is a slight revision of an article that I contributed to the first issue of the journal of the Hawkesbury Historical Society Inc – “Spanning the centuries of Hawkesbury’s History” in 2006.

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One thought on “Early Hawkesbury motoring history – 1900 to 1918

  1. Hi Graham,

    I am writing a book on Australian military history and have included a section on the AVCC. I would love to use one of your photos in the book but I need to find out how to attribute it. Could you please contact me ASP on phil_rutherford@ozemail.com.au. Thanks immensely.

    Phil Rutherford

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