The Sorrento Steam Tram

Recently a Mr. C.G. Dennis had a letter published in the "Trust Newsletter", recording the passing of the last tangible item of the Sorrento Tramway. This was the Ocean Terminus Shelter Shed, used by passengers in the 1890-1920 period when the horse and steam trams were running from the Front Beach station to the Ocean Reserve. Mr. Dennis continues, "Perhaps the shelter was too practical a structure to seem of historic importance, it certainly was a haven to the local resident and tourist alike, and yet, rather that its maintenance and preservation, it has been wrecked and removed."

For our interstate and overseas readers, the township of Sorrento, is situated 58 miles south of Melbourne, near the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. It has, for many years, been a popular bayside resort and before the turn of the century was served by a number of bay excursion steamers.


The Sorrento steam tram at Ocean Amphitheatre terminus, showing passenger shelter which was demolished early 1972

It was due to the labours of the Hon. George Cappin that Sorrento became such a popular seaside resort. he was instrumental in floating the Ocean Amphitheatre Co. Ltd. which purchased and developed a strip of land fronting Bass Strait at the Amphitheatre Back Beach, (The Ocean or Back Beach is only seperated from the Bayside Beach by a narrow peninsula which at Sorrento is only one mile wide). The company also constructed the Sorrento Baths, several small cottages and the Continental Hotel. Coppin was also actively interested in the Bay Excursion steamers and it was natural that he provided some method to transport the steamer passengers. This was achieved in 1890 with the commencement of operations of the Sorrento Tramway Co. Ltd.

The line was laid to a gauge of 3ft. 6 ins. using steel rails on hardwood sleepers, it was double tracked throughout its length which was just over one mile. The tramway commenced at a platformed terminus, cut into the cliff face which overlooks the Sorrento pier. It then proceeded South past the Tramway Running Sheds, across open ground to the corner of Portsea Road and Back Beach Road, from where it ran down the centre of the main street in true tramway tradition. On crossing Melbourne Road the tracks slewed to the eastern side of the road, and finally approached the Amphitheatre terminus on a rising grade.


Steam tram crossing Portsea Road before proceeding up the centre of the main street of Sorrento

Only Passengers were carried on the tramway, which operated during the tourist season, beginning on the 1st November and ending about the 30th June. An open cross bench four wheel horse car provided the local service in the morning and after 7 p.m. when the steamers were running. The peak traffic was handled by the steam trams. In later years two trains were used, each being hauled by a small industrial Baldwin 0-4-0 locomotive pulling up to four crossbench trailers each. It was usual over one season for the Tramway to carry about 30,000 passengers at a fare of 6d. return.

In 1903, the Company passed from the management of George Coppin to a Syndicate led by Mr. J.E. Bensilum, another local identity, who continued to maintain and improve the tramway and built another four steam tram trailers. These later four trailers being readily identified by their 'arch-roofs' against the clerestory roofs of the four original cars. When the 30 year lease came up for renewal in 1920, there was considerable local opposition to the tramway and long arguments raged in the local press and local council chambers. The Tramway Company, instead of losing money while the arguments continued, sold their assets and abandoned the tramway.

It is reported that the rails, sleepers and fastenings were sold to the Warburton Timber Company and the Australian Cement works at Faynsford. The locomotives and trailer trucks were transported to Noojee in 1920 for use over the Loch Valley Timber Company's leases.

The foregoing in only a brief outline of the activities of the Sorrento Tramway Company Ltd. in order to give readers an insight into Victoria's smallest and most neglected tramway system. The auther hopes with further reasearch, to presend a more detailed account at a later time.

REF: 1. The Bulletin of the Australian Railway Historical Society No.278-December 1960 - article entitled "The Sorrento Tramway" by Mr. N.E. Wadeson.
2. The Penisula Story Book 1 - published by The Nepean Historical Society.
3. Local Newspapers, Company records, copies of which are in the possession of the author.

G'day Fergie
We are very happy that our search for a tractor has been successful and Wallan local Des Laffan has sold us a re-conditioned Grey Fergie and new slasher.


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