12 November 2016

Wellington horsepower

Excerpts from the childhood diaries of Wellington journalist Pat Lawlor (1893-1979), and his accompanying equestrian memories as set out in his nostalgic Old Wellington Days (1959):

3 November 1903

'...Saw the horses swimming when I was round the rocks...'

Oh, those wonderful days of long ago when there were no motor cars; the days when horses abounded, many of them aristocrats. When Sunday came, the stable owners around the city gave their charges a special treat, a swim in the harbour at Oriental Bay. It was great to watch them, though you had to be wary when they came out of the water. Also, it was not wise to be taking a dip at the time when the horses were in the water. This is just where the trouble commenced. Soon there were so many horses in the bay of a Sunday that mere man just had to wait his turn. In 1907 John Fuller approached the Harbour Board for a time limit on the horses' Sunday dip. The Board decided that dobbin had to be out of the water by 8.30am on Sundays.

Another great outing for the horses in the week-ends was to give them an airing on the town belt. This privilege endured until the twenties. I remember Coley's horses being let loose from their stable in Hawker Street to thunder down the hill and take a sharp turn to upper Majoribanks Street. In a few minutes they would be kicking up their heels on the grassy slopes of Mount Victoria.

12 March 1904

'...Saw the tram horses being changed...'

The changing of the guard it might have been called for this transposition attracted the attention of passers-by. There may have been another changing-over place at the Thorndon end of the city but my particular memory is of the considerable area of ground at the Newtown end of the Basin Reserve where the trams would be halted, the horses unyolked to make way for a fresh team to pull the conveyance over the balance of the journey. The whole operation might take five or ten minutes while the passengers would wait with patient interest in the proceedings. The fresh horses, already equipped with their harness always looked so alert alongside their tired predecessors who, even so, were now aroused to fresh interest in the fact that a feed and a rub-down was waiting for them...

The concession cards in the days of the horse trams represented good value particularly for long distance passengers - one shilling for eight rides for the whole or any portion of the journey.

4 May 1904

'...Got a ride in a hansom cab...'

And what a rare, spanking ride it was with an uncle of mine who picked me up in lower Cuba Street. Off we went down Thorndon way with the wind in our faces, a grand horse in front, and a merry-faced cabby "on top". As he helped me in I told him it was my first ride. He had a sunburned face and a scarlet flower in his buttonhole. My uncle called him Jack. Perhaps he was the famous Hell-fire Jack (Jack Watters) but I think he used to drive a landau. It may have been W. Read who was the last man to drive a hansom cab in the city. Anyway, whoever it was, he made that horse fly. With the folding apron in front of me and my uncle by my side, I felt safe in spite of the many bumps in the macadamised roads. Every now and then the cabby would shout down through the trap-door to ask me how I was liking it, and I invariably answered "bosker".

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