R6331 Hansom cab, c1900



This is a two-wheeled hansom cab, designed to be pulled by a single horse and to carry one or two passengers and a driver. It was built around 1900. The cab measures 2.3 m (height) x 1.3 m (width) x 4.4 m (length). The single-seat passenger compartment has two full-length doors at the front, and glass windows on either side and at the rear. It is upholstered with diamond-patterned leather seats, a cloth head lining and folding blinds on the windows. The lower part of the coupé body is painted red and the top part is black. The driver's seat is up high, at the rear of the cab. There is a lamp on either side, above the large, red-rimmed wheels. Close to the wheels, at the front, are metal step plates for passenger use.

Acknowledgements: Reproduced courtesy of Powerhouse Museum.

Educational value
This horse-drawn carriage is a hansom cab, originally known as a hansom safety cab and invented in 1834 by English architect, Joseph Aloysius Hansom - a hansom cab seated two to three passengers in an enclosed compartment; passengers communicated with the driver through a small trap-door in the roof.
The hansom cab was the primary type of vehicle for hire in many parts of the world for much of the 19th century and into the 20th century - hansom cabs were lightweight, fast and relatively agile, and could be pulled by a single horse, so were more popular than four-wheeled hackney carriages, which required more horses and were more expensive to hire; the use of hansom cabs declined from about 1910 because of competition from cable trams, bicycles and finally the motor car taxi.
The design of the vehicle gave top priority to the comfort of the passenger rather than the driver - when the doors were closed passengers in the compartment could enjoy protection from any adverse weather (and a high degree of privacy if they closed the blinds); however, the driver was totally exposed to the weather.
This type of hansom cab was in use in major Australian cities well into the 20th century, and this particular cab was one of the last on the road in Sydney - the owner, J Connor, who drove hansom cabs from the time of their heyday in the late 19th century, sold it to the Museum for £6 in 1937, and used his horse to deliver it.
The cab is a reminder of an era in which horse-drawn vehicles were the most common type of transport on Australian roads - there were also vehicles drawn by bullocks and camels, and, increasingly from the 1870s, bicycles; this carriage was probably built before the first motor cars appeared in the late 19th century; horse-drawn vehicles were used for carrying both passengers and freight, but there was little room in hansom cabs for both.
Horsedrawn vehicles
© Curriculum Corporation and Powerhouse Museum, 2008, except where indicated under Acknowledgements