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Home RUNNING JOURNAL Reflections Cover Photo : Mal Rowe


It is now fifty years since the Zoo horse tram ceased to operate. The line was opened on 10th March 1890, and ran between the junction of Gatehouse Street with Royal Parade, Parkville, to the main gates of the Zoo, a distance of .62 of a mile. The double track through the Park was almost flat, the plan of the route was like an elongated “5” and finished near the main entrance to the Zoo, where the car shed and stables were situated.


Two open cross bench cars, about the same size as a cable trailer, drawn by two horses were used on the line. These cars had canvas curtains which could be drawn horizontally in case of inclement weather. They were given Northern group numbers 252 and 253.


Gongs, the same as fitted to the cable dummies, were installed at each end on the hood over the end platforms, where the driver stood. The driver was obliged to lead the horses from one end to the other at each terminus, and he also attended to the collection of fares.


Transfer tickets were available between the Brunswick cable line and the Zoo line, but this concession was withdrawn on 7th March, 1921.


It is presumed that the open cars were built for the proposed horse operation of the St. Kilda Esplanade line, they were similar to some of those in use in America and in English watering places at that time. A newspaper report of 1889 states that they were used on the St. Kilda Road, High Street and Brighton Road routes, but proved unpopular; apparently they were built as soon as the Brighton Road fleet of cars was completed, for it is almost certain that the builders numbers were 324 and 325.


In view of the opposition by the Council and citizens of St. Kilda to a horse operated tramway, the Melbourne Tramway & Omnibus Company must have decided to put the cars to use by building a light line along the road through the Royal Park. The decision to build this line was probably made in the light of the Company's experience with the horse drawn omnibuses, which operated on the Brunswick route prior to the cable cars. At various times, and especially on holidays, the Brunswick horse omnibuses were diverted from Royal Parade to service passengers to and from the Zoo. Several larger buses drawn by three horses were in use on the Brunswick route.


The Zoo line track was not paced with wood blocks as used on the cable lines, but was in the nature of a tarred Macadam road, and was, as far as can be remembered, fairly rough, and with a deal of loose metal lying about.


At some later date the Company transferred two cable car trailers from the Port Melbourne line. The drawbar equipment and the guards from around the wheels were removed and this lightened the weight by six cwt. The cars were numbered 42 and 43 (builders numbers 452, 453). The original fleet at Port Melbourne was twenty cars but as patronage did not come up to expectations many of the cars were transferred elsewhere.


Early in 1919 experiments with a petrol driven motor were conducted on one of the closed cars with a view to replacing the horses, but the scheme was not satisfactory and was abandoned.


The Victoria Police strike took place early in November 1923 when great damage was done to shops and other buildings in the City. The Zoo horse tram shed and the four cars were destroyed by fire, the horses escaped, but this put an end to another of Melbourne's boom time enterprises. It is difficult to say whether the line could have survived the depression years prior to the last World war, as at that time there was little or no interest in retaining something just for its novelty or historical interest. But, of course, had it been retained until the present time, it surely would have become one of Melbourne's most popular attractions.

The Zoo Horse Tram A.E. Twentyman - Volume 10, Number 5 October 1973

Photo: Driver Richardson of West Brunswick and two passengers pose beside Zoo horse tram No. 43 at the Royal Parade terminus. (R.W. Green Collection)


Photo: A crowded open cross bench car rumbles through Royal Park on a sunny Melbourne day. (P.W. Duckett Collection)


Photo: Car No. 43 at the entrance gate of the Melbourne Zoological Gardens. (M.G. Rowe Collection)


Photo: The aftermath of the fire which destroyed the Zoo horse tramway shed and cars - 4th. Non., 1923. (Melbourne Sun)