The “new” wagonette.
The “old” wagonette.
Back in 2002 my friend Rob lived near Sandon in Victoria. In the course of following his passion for driving horses he found, as many of us have, that horses and carriages are like peanuts – when the urge strikes, it’s almost impossible to stop at one! So naturally, he put together his own small collection of vehicles. These wagonettes were kept for a few years, then sold when Rob’s life direction changed course.
The wagonette was invented in middle of the 19th century, and because it was such a good family vehicle it remained popular for nearly three generations. It was comfortable to ride in, pretty easy on the horse, and Rob’s examples were typical – with room for two up front and another four on lengthwise seating in the rear. We went for a drive in the newer of Rob’s wagonettes in 2003 (although both vehicles were about a century old, so the terms “new” and “old” are purely relative). Very pleasant, clopping along with the hood up to keep the sun off, enjoying the view of the countryside, with Rob driving and a couple of friends chatting in the back.
December 2002, and the Geelong – Ballarat stagecoach rumbles into town. Sovereign Hill open air museum is a recreation of 1850s Ballarat, set in a time when the discovery of gold had turned parts of the Victorian countryside into thriving towns and tent cities. The American designed Concord thoroughbrace coach was introduced to Australia by Cobb & Co, and proved much more suitable for Australia’s crude roads than the steel-sprung English coaches.
The body of the coach sat on thoroughbraces; long loops of leather that ran between upright supports – “jacks” – which stood up from the undercarriage. As the wheels rode over ruts, the body swayed instead of bouncing, giving a certain amount of shock-absorption and reducing the impact and fatigue that broke steel springs.
A broken thoroughbrace could also be repaired pretty easily, whereas a broken spring required the services of an expert blacksmith.