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Fremantle area tramways were planned from 1904 and began running in 1905.


The tramcar barn in 2019

The first Board of the Fremantle Municipal Tramways and Electric Lighting Board was elected 18 June 1904. Fremantle Mayor Frank Cadd was in the chair, and there were two councillors each from Fremantle and East Fremantle, including Elias Solomon.

Carbarn built 1905 for the Fremantle Municipal Tramways and Electric Light Board. Architect: J.H. Eales; builders: Abbott & Rennie.

Hitchcock (1929: 94-95, 97):
The Fremantle Tramways and Electric Lighting system is a municipal enterprise owned conjointly by the Fremantle and East Fremantle Municipal Councils. It had its inception in 1904 when, under the authority provided by a special Act of Parliament, the councils entered into an agreement with Noyes Brothers to design and superintend the construction of the scheme. Prior to that stage being reached, representatives of the municipalities of Fremantle East Fremantle and North Fremantle had held preliminary meetings to discuss the possibilities of the scheme and to consider the advisability of undertaking the work. Early in the proceedings North Fremantle decided not to join in the venture, so that it was left to the other two councils to continue the negotiations. Satisfactory arrangements having been made, the next step was the election of a board in the terms of the Act as, until that was done, the proposed agreement with the contractors could not be finalised. An election was held in June, 1904, Councillor Nicholas acting as returning officer for the Fremantle portion of the election and Mayor Angwin, M.L.A., performing the same duty for the sister municipality. The first board was constituted.:-

Frank Cadd, Mayor of Fremantle (ex officio); E. Solomon, representative of Fremantle owners; C. S. Nathan, representative of East Fremantle owners; R. J. Lynn, representative of Fremantle occupiers and Harry Bennett, representative of East Fremantle occupiers.

The ownership of the system was vested in Fremantle and East Fremantle Councils in the proportions of six sevenths and one seventh respectively.

Nine days after the election the Board ratified the agreement made between the councils and Noyes Brothers. The necessary material was ordered and on February 6, 1905, the construction work was commenced.

first tram

Photograph from the Local History Collection, Fremantle Library. Chalmers (p. 18) has this to say about the photo:

[The p]hotograph ... shows Mary Samson at the controls of the leading tram. [George] Bland Humble, the recently retired Town Clerk, is to her right and driver R.J. Shanahan is to her left. Shanahan joined the tramways from the W.A. Government Railways that year. Shanahan was a member of the Volunteer Fire Brigade and the Irish National Foresters Lodge. He also played for Fremantle Cricket Club and won the Bussey Medal several times in the Highland Games competition. The other two trams can be seen behind the leading tram. The day was completed by the opening of the electric lighting system at 2.45 p.m. [end]

Tram routes 1906, from Chalmers: 18.

Hitchcock continues:
On November 30 of that year tram traffic was opened on the South and East Fremantle routes, Beaconsfield and Marmion Street routes being completed shortly afterwards. The work was completed on April 11, 1906.
Soon afterwards an arrangement was made with the North Fremantle Council under which the board undertook to supply that municipality with electric light and power, the North Fremantle Council to convey the current to its customers within its borders. During the second year of operations the question was raised of the extension of the tramway system to North Fremantle and in that connection the North Fremantle Council again preferred to be a customer rather than a partner in the scheme, and opened negotiations for laying down its own system. That line was opened for traffic on September 30, 1908. Later the Melville Road Board entered into a similar agreement with the board in respect to both electric light and tramway extensions in its district, but on October 1, 1928, that section of the tramway system was taken over by the board, the Melville Road Board finding that the loss on operations was too great a drain upon its resources.
In 1909 the board found it necessary to duplicate the South Fremantle route and most of the East Fremantle line and later extensions were made to the Beaconsfield line.
That the undertaking has proved a good investment is evidenced by the fact that it has paid full interest and sinking fund on its borrowed capital, written off preliminary expenses and large sums for depreciation, besides contributing profits to the municipalities amounting to over £28,000. The progress of the town since that public utility came into existence is illustrated by the following figures. In the firstyear of its operations the gross revenue of the board was £23,706, last year it was £137,760. The gross profit in the first year was £2,192, last year it was £26,968. In the first year the trams earned £19,266 and carried 1,963,636 passengers and in the year ending August 31, 1928, they earned £56,729 and carried 6,082,611 passengers. The first manager and engineer was Albert Mitchell, who held the position until his death in 1926. Since his demise the system has been operated under the joint control of the secretary, J. T. Bold, the tramways engineer, J. Ridgway, and the electrical engineer, H. Richardson. The present [1929] board consists of:-
F. E. Gibson (Mayor of Fremantle), ex officio, J. F. Allen (chairman), J. Cooke, H. J. Locke and R. Rennie. J. T. Bold has filled the position of secretary and accountant since the inception of the undertaking.


Fremantle City Library image no. 538, c. 1906. Text:
High Street, looking East. Note: Carbarn built 1905 for the Fremantle Municipal Tramways and Electric Light Board. Builders: Abbot and Rennie; Architect: J.H. Eales.
Partial view of W.F. Samson's home, corner High and Cliff Streets, built c1885-c1887. Demolished 1954/1955 by Elder Smith.
Bank of New South Wales, corner High and Cliff Streets (Lot 19). The building first appears in the rate records in 1899 as a Bank Chamber and three rooms. In use until 1926. 1926-1960 - Swan Wool Scouring Co. of W.A. Ltd., occupiers. 1974-November 1983 - Abrugiato Pty. Ltd. occupiers. December 1983 - Fremantle Gazette offices. See: 725.24 Miscellany File.
Hotel Fremantle, erected 1898 to the designs of Wilkinson and Smith. Dalgety's building 1902/1903: architect J. Talbot Hobbs.


Fremantle Library image no. 2417, 1905:
On the right are the terraced houses, Ardmore Flats (1895/1900) and the Church of Christ. On the left is Edmund Hall (St Patrick's Boys School) and Lenaville, corner High and Ord Streets, in the distance. A crossing loop was installed at this intersection and used for many years. Taken 11 August 1905.


Fremantle Library image no. 687, 1907:
High Street, looking East, after an unusual accident when a tram (No 12 on the Marmion Street route) left the track at loop trailing points and crashed into a house in High Street on 27 May 1907. The driver, Thomas McNamara was seriously injured and a passenger, Frank Fallon (65) was killed when the tram rolled over. On the left is Edmund Hall, erected 1882; and 'Lenaville', on the corner of Ord and High Streets, is in the centre background. 'Lenaville' was built in 1885 for Henry Blinco, the chief warder at the Fremantle Prison. The terraced houses at the right front, Ardmore Flats (No 213-215 High Street) were built between 1895 and 1900. On the left of these buildings is the Church of Christ, opened March 1898.

The following summary is taken from the Lost Perth Facebook page 2016, which names no author.

Lost Perth:
The Fremantle Municipal Tramways began operations in 1905 with tracks laid past the Sail & Anchor in the attached photo [below] expanding to North Fremantle in 1908, and into Melville in 1915 as seen in the attached photo [below] of a Fremantle Tram climbing Leopold Hill Canning Highway to Melville. The North Fremantle line closed in 1938 and was replaced by diesel buses. The rest of the network reached its peak usage during World War II.
Canning Road, Bicton, via Point Walter Road, to Point Walter reserve, Bicton
On 15 December 1915, simultaneously with its opening of the extension of the East line to Stock Road, Bicton, the Melville Roads Board opened a second new route, to Point Walter in Bicton. The opening of this route helped to develop Point Walter into a popular resort and place of entertainment. Along with the trams came electric lighting, and, soon afterwards, well patronised shops and restaurants. Entertainment at Point Walter included McNamara's Band. There were also panoramic views of the Swan River, frequently dotted with the sails of racing yachts.
Over time, increasing numbers of motor car owners chose to seek entertainment further away from Fremantle than Point Walter. As a result, the Point Walter resort fell into disrepair, and patronage on the Point Walter line declined. In 1939, the line was closed.
After World War II, the system operated quite profitably for the Council. using their own power from their plant on South Mole as seen in the attached photo [not]. However, the decision of the Western Australian State Government to nationalise the southwest electricity systems from private and council ownership to the newly formed State Electricity Commission in the early 1950s meant that the price of power to the trams increased markedly, to the extent that supply was extremely costly to the Council.
As a result, and without any fanfare at all, the whole system was closed after the last tram ran into the Carbarn in Queen Victoria Street on a Sunday night in November 1952.
Trams were palmed off to camping sites, caravan parks around the state, with some saved and preserved by the Perth Electric Tramway Society, at its heritage tramway in Whiteman Park.

The following five photographs are from the Lost Perth Facebook page 2016.


The carbarn under construction. The builder was Richard Rennie, who was also on the Tramways Board around 1930.

Fremantle Municipal Tramways and Electric Lighting Board 1945:
Back row: from left: V Ulrich, J P; C A Bold, Electrical Engineer; J E Ridgeway, Tramways Engineer; J E Gustafson, JP; C W Jerrat, Secretary and Accountant. Front row: from left: J Cooke, JP; F E Gibson, MLC, Mayor of Fremantle, Chairman; A Hines, O B E. Fremantle Library text and photo #1854 by FR Peterson.

tramways board 1951

Fremantle Municipal Tramways and Electric Lighting Board 1951:
This was the Board in the Commonwealth Jubilee year. Back row: from left: C W Jerrat, Manager; W F Samson, JP; J E Gustafson, JP; C A Law, Secretary. Front row: V Ulrich, JP; The Hon Sir Frank Gibson, MLC, Mayor, Chairman; A Hines, OBE. Fremantle Library text and photo by FR Peterson.

Beaconsfield line photos


South Street showing the barely finished installation of the tramway. The photographer (Keane?) is on the top of the hill near where Sea View Street is now, looking towards the 'Lefroy's Hill' cutting (at present-day Field Street) in the middle distance and the Carrington Street intersection on the far horizon. Davies Street, if made then, and it probably was, would be to the right at the bottom of the dip in the road. Click on the image for larger size. Photograph from the Fremantle City Library Local History Collection LH002423. This is the Library's caption:

Fremantle City Library:
The original terminus in South Street at Davies Street, looking east. Note the cutting through what was known as Lefroy's Hill. Pans for the sanitary service are stacked outside the fence of the Pine Grove Nursery. The large roof on the right was Grosvenor Hospital. Horse and sulky to the right. Taken 28 July 1905.

Note that the terminus is not where the camera is but down the hill a bit further away. If you look very closely at the photograph you can see a workman down where the terminus is. There is another photo, 2426, taken the same day, down there looking back up the hill to the west, and you can see the workman clearly - as well as the same driver, horse and gig, which I assume has transported the photographer and his equipment out here. I think it's very likely, tho the Library does not say so, that the photographer was George Edward Keane.


Here's the same driver, horse and gig from above. They've now driven down to the 1905 terminus (the line was later extended to Carrington Street) to allow the photographer (Keane?) to take a photo back up the hill to the west. The same workman is (dimly) visible in photo 2423, above. It's called the 'Davies St terminus', so Davies Street must be off to the left at this point. Just visible on the right are the pines in the Pine Grove Nursery, also seen above in photo 2423.


This is a later photo taken at the same point in the Beaconsfield line - the Davies Street terminus. Again, the pines in the Pine Grove Nursery are visible on the right, so the photograph is looking to the west up to Sea View hill. The photograph is from the Fremantle Library Local History Collection, and is number LH00959 - tho 959 works better in the library's current Spydus search system.
Chalmers has a caption for this photo. He writes that this is the 'Beaconsfield Terminus: driver Charles Fagbert and conductor Jack Letts, and gives two dates, for some reason: 1908, 1910.
The Library has the date c.1909 for the image, with this caption: 'A tram facing East at the Beaconsfield Terminus in South Street at Davies Street. Pine Grove Nursery, run by H. Ritz, is on the right. The driver is Charles Fagberg and the conductor Jack Letts. On the front of the tram is an advertisement for A.O. Kopp, jeweller in High Street until World War I.'

South Fremantle line photos

The Davilak Hotel before the tram tracks were installed ...

... and during installation ...

High Street

Tram tracks being laid 1905. Looking east along High Street at the corner with Market Street. The buildings on the corners are substantially the same today. Note the wooden blocks with which the streets were paved.

Tram tracks being laid 1905. Looking west along High Street at the corner with Market Street. The date 1853 in the corner building is the date the Higham business was established. The Hicks building further down the street was later the RSL Wyola Club, and is still extant. Note the wooden blocks with which the streets were paved.

Other images

When the Fremantle tram tracks were removed, some of them were installed as light standards at the Bowling Club in Ellen Street. Some of them are still in situ in 2021, but can't have long to go, as there are no longer any lights on them.

In 2021 the sign in the photo has been discarded and is lying against the eastern fence of the greens.

Ceremony for the opening of the tramline along Beaufort Street to Eighth Avenue.

Click/tap for larger size.

References and Links

Sir Frederick Samson (mayor 1951-1971) loved movies and built his own small cinema in his house using seats salvaged from the last Fremantle tram.

Chalmers, John 2001 [1997], A Ticket to Ride: A History of the Fremantle Municipal Tramways, 2nd ed., Electric Tramways Society.

Hitchcock, JK 1929, The History of Fremantle, The Front Gate of Australia 1829-1929, Fremantle City Council.

Wikipedia page for Trams in Fremantle

Perth Electric Tramway Society website

Remembering Perth's Tramways Facebook page

High Street photos courtesy John Dowson, Old Fremantle, pp. 172, 173.

Garry Gillard | New: 21 June, 2015 | Now: 27 February, 2024