By Walter Rice Ph.D.

An original Mornington grip (dummy) and trailer, 1883, The design is very similar to the San Francisco cable trains of the period. Note, the large quadrant grip.

Editor’s Notes – The San Francisco Municipal Railway became the sole operator of cable car service in the world with the closure of the Mornington line in Dunedin, New Zealand, March 2, 1957. Dunedin, also, had the first cable car system outside of the United States opening in 1881. It is not only the longevity of Dunedin’s cable cars that make them important, but also the system’s technological advances. Faced with a grade too heavy (13%) for a let-go curve George Smith Duncan, a key promoter of the Dunedin system, invented the pull curve whereby the cable car negotiates a curve without letting go of the cable. Cable traction was now practicable for systems that required turns where coasting was not an alternative. (The current San Francisco cable car system has eight pull curves. Click here for a map that shows the locations of these pull curves.)

Two months after Dunedin’s original cable car line – the Roslyn Line, Rattray Street – opened there was a runaway. This led Duncan to create the slot brake or as referred to in New Zealand the "dolphin" brake. Operated manually by means of a screw thread, a steel wedge was forced into the cable slot stopping the car. The current San Francisco version is operated by the gripman pulling back a lever (red in color) that forces an 18-inch steel wedge into the railed cable slot.

Following are four features that deal with the Dunedin system:

  • The first provides a brief background on George Smith Duncan.
  • The second article written by G.C. Ditchfield, noted New Zealand cable car authority, entitled ENDLESS WIRE ROPE TRACTION IN DUNEDIN, N.Z. traces the in some detail the Dunedin system’s first twenty years.
  • The third piece the MORNINGTON CABLE that was printed in the Dunedin Corporation Transport Magazine, 1948 offers a description of this line.
  • Fourth, SOME DUNEDIN CABLE CAR RECOLLECTIONS by R. J. McCracken provides a series of anecdotes about Dunedin’s cable car system. From Tramway Topics

Please note that spelling and language usage is that of New Zealand and the time period of the piece. The measurement a "chain" refers to a length equal to 66-feet.

The Cable Car Museum owes special thanks to Wayne Duncan for providing the Museum these materials. WER

Cable Tramways of Dunedin, New Zealand

Opening Date
Roslyn (1.4 miles)
February 6, 1881
October 26, 1956
Mornington (1 mile)
March 23, 1883
March 2, 1957
Maryhill Extension (½ mile)
March 18, 1885
October 29, 1955
Elgin Rd. Extension (.9 mile)
October 6, 1906
January 22, 1910
Stuart Street (1.2 miles)
October 6, 1900
July 31, 1947

Note: At various times different companies operated the above services. After 1939, the operator was the Dunedin City Corporation Transport Department.

Click here to view map of Dunedin's cable car, horsecar and steam tram lines.

George Duncan Smith, Dunedin born, first suggested a cable tramway for Dunedin in 1879. Duncan only 29 years of age, engineered the first street cable tramway to operate outside the United States.

This was the Roslyn line that served Dunedin from 1881 to 1951. Duncan designed the "pull curve" which enabled cable cars to travel up-hill and around curves while still gripping the steel cable. He went on to design the Melbourne cable tramway system.


By G.C. Ditchfield

Dunedin with its steep hills rising abruptly from the narrow strip of flat land on which was located the principle business and industrial area of the city, was ideally suited to the development of a system of wire rope hauled tramways or cable cars. On this range of hills are located the suburbs of Roslyn, Mornington, Maryhill, Balaclava and Kaikorai Valley, which, in the early 1900's were served by no fewer than five separate cable tramways.

Unlike the fixed counterbalanced Kelburn cable line in Wellington, Dunedin's cable trams were hauled by stationary steam engine propelled, endless wire ropes that ran between the rails beneath the ground.

First put into operation in San Francisco in 1873 by Andrew S. Hallidie, this system permitted the "dummy" or grip car to take a gradual but vice-like grip on the moving "rope." Heart of the operation lay in a device called a gripper. This was a lever-operated mechanism that enabled the driver or gripman to take hold or let go of the traction rope at any point.

Braking systems, both manipulated by long levers, operated wheel brakes and a softwood track brake. As an additional safeguard, a system of ratchet and pawls on the car axles prevented the run back of uphill cars.

A Fell centre-rail brake was also used on the Rattray Street line for the steep descent into Kaikorai Valley.

First Stirrings

By the late 1870's it was abundantly clear to the citizens of Dunedin's rapidly expanding hill suburbs, that some better means of transport other than "shank's pony" was necessary to scale the heights between the town and their homes.

It was true that David Proudfoot's steam and horse drawn cars had been rattling along the level parts of the city since 1879 but the precipitous hillsides determined that a different method of haulage be used.

It was this situation which first led to the construction of a cable tramway to the township Roslyn, an event which was to prove of singular import and influence in the development of endless wire rope traction throughout the world.

Roslyn Line (Rattray Street)

To trace the line's early history it is necessary to go back to the year 1879, when Messrs. Reid and Duncan put a proposal before Roslyn Council to run a tramway through the borough.

"Methods of propulsion" they stated, "were undecided." Those under consideration were Centre Rail (Fell system), Compressed Air, or Endless Wire-rope traction.

"Wire-rope traction appeared to be most favourable," they added, "f'or it was conveyed in a conduit under the roadway and offered no obstruction to road traffic as did the centre rail method. Not enough was known about the Compressed Air method as yet."

The gradient would be as steep as 1 in 6 and the venture, it was estimated, would cost £23,000.

Hesitant Start

Although the Roslyn Borough Council sanctioned the proposal and the public felt the need for a tramway to dispense with the long gruelling uphill climb, the idea was not without dissent. Some said, "No tramway would pay unless it carried a few tons of bricks in addition to ladies and gentlemen on each trip." Considerable delay thus occurred in the formation of a Company. Investors were hesitant to subscribe the capital of £10,000 necessary, and by March 1880 only 3,710 shares had been sold.

In view of this it was decided to call a public meeting of "persons interested in the proposed tramway to Roslyn." This was held on March 2, 1880, when Messrs. Reid and Duncan outlined their plans.

Because the original plan was too costly, this had been discarded, they said, and a revised plan, estimated to cost around £8,000 was now proposed.

The line would run from the "Shamrock Hotel" (opp. corner Maclaggan and Rattray Streets) to site of the old toll bar at Roslyn. From here a line was to be laid to Mornington, and in the future to Maori Hill, Kaikorai Valley, and Halfway Bush (Wakari) at an estimated cost of £1,200 per mile. These could be worked either by cable, steam, locomotive, or animal traction. The cable cars (or dummys) had been designed by them, and were capable of handling 25 persons. They were very safe, being able to halt within 3 feet.

Eventually the required capital was subscribed and the Dunedin and Roslyn Tramway Company was formed with Mr. J.W. Duncan as secretary and Messrs. N.Y.A. Wales (Chairman) A.C. Begg, James Wilkie, A.H. Jack, D'arcy Haggitt, R. Martin and Arthur Scoular as Directors.

Construction of the line was commenced by an unknown contractor and what trials and tribulations he must have faced: Indeed, nowhere had such a difficult undertaking been attempted as was faced on the Roslyn line.

Major Difficulty

When Mr. Duncan as Engineer was preparing his designs, wire rope traction was still in its infancy. The major problem to be tackled was the negotiation of the curve near St. Joseph's Cathedral. Up to this time the only known method of negotiating curves was to have one large sheave wheel which guided the "rope" around the curve, usually in "blind" tunnel. The car released the rope, coasted around the curve, picking up the rope again at the opposite end of the curve. This was known as a "let go" curve. However, this was impossible on the Roslyn line where the curve was located on a 1 in 7.5 gradient.

Mr. Duncan dispensed with the large sheave, replacing it with a number of "Drum pulleys." These enabled the car to retain its grip of the rope while rounding the curve. Known as a "pull curve" this was the first of its kind in the world.

An original 1881 Roslyn grip car is at location of the world's first pull curve outside of St. Joseph's Cathedral on Dunedin's Rattray Street.

The Line

The track was laid in grooved iron strip rails laid on 6" x 3" lengths of timber to a gauge of 3' 6". The depth of the cable conduit or "tube" was 3' with the between tracks slot rail which allowed the grip to enter the cable "tube" - being constructed of wood. The line ran in the centre of the roadway from the corner of Rattray and McLaggan Streets, up Rattray Street, making a sweeping curve to left by St. Joseph's Cathedral before continuing up the 1 in 7.5 grade. The distance of this section was .375 miles. Just beyond the Arthur Street intersection the line steepened to 1 in 6 for .247 miles, where it entered a reserved track section through the Town Belt.

This later terminus was to become known as "The Junction."

A carbarn was erected on the right-hand side traverser trolley, running at right angles to the means of getting in and out of the barn.

The line was single track with crossing loops located at Arthur Street, and on Cathedral Curve. Situated for down hill running, the car dropped the rope and coasted through the loops. Because it was impractical to have the up and down ropes in the same conduit at Cathedral curve, the down rope was lead off in a "blind" tunnel, making a right angle turn on a large sheave wheel before returning to the "tube" at the loop's lower end.

It is interesting to note that it took two men, crawling through the cable conduit on their hands and knees, and assisted by a team of horses, two days to thread 7000 ft. of rope over and round the pulleys.

Grip Cars

The contract for construction of "dummys" was let to two Dunedin firms; Ironwork by Cut ten and Co.; woodwork by Stanfield and White. By January 28, 1881, work on the line had proceeded far enough to allow tests to be carried out. These were reported to be satisfactory, the main difficulty appearing to be in getting points to work properly.

A trial trip with a number of interested persons was given on February 8, the car running from the engine house to Cathedral Curve, which was as far as work was completed. The journey from Cathedral Curve back to the engine house took 61 minutes, and was the subject of favourable comment. Soon after this, the Company announced that the opening of the line would take place on 23rd February. Unfortunately, owing to non-arrival of certain parts for the engine, this was postponed until the next day, and on the 24th men worked afar into the night in order to have the line running the following day.

Opening Day

At 10:00 a.m. on February 24, 1881, a Mr. Connor carried out official inspection of the line for the Public Works Department, and at 11:00 a.m. cars commenced running every 10 minutes. The Roslyn Mayor and Councillors were given a ride and conveyed their congratulations to the Company at a light luncheon held in the carbarn.

Fares were 3d. and takings for the first day amounted to £15, or 1,000 passengers, and in the next three days up to 14,000 passengers had been conveyed on what was considered in Dunedin as the "eighth wonder of the world."

Thus the first cable tramway to operate outside the United States had begun its eventful career in the "Edinburgh of the South."

To the citizens of Dunedin the new cable tramway to Roslyn soon took on all the appearances of a mechanical marvel. People arrived from all parts of the community and it was a common sight to see local farmers with their families and friends packed into an open dray, arrive at the upper terminus, take a breathtaking ride on the cable car, and return to stare with open-mouthed wonder at the labouring steam engine.

Rolling Stock

Four passenger "dummies" or grip cars and two work cars comprised the original rolling stock. The term "dummy" originally meant just that; a dummy car fitted with the gripping mechanism which hauled trailers. Later, seats were added to increase the payload, but so far as street operated cable tramways were concerned the title "dummy" stayed, even though the grip car no longer fulfilled this concept. The term grip car will, however be used throughout these articles to avoid confusion.

Roslyn passenger grip cars were some 12 feet in length and seated 16 passengers on the four sides of the "gripman's well" which was located in the centre of the car. Although completely open, protection from the elements was afforded by a four-posted roof together with a glass screen, which could be moved end to end according to the weather conditions. In later years a fitted glass screen was provided at each end of the car. Originally, but for no apparent reason, small flags were fitted on the grip car roofs, and kerosene fueled lighting was provided over the gripman's well.

Heart of the car was the gripper, which was of the Hallidie wheel and screw type. Gripmen sometimes inserted a pinch-bar in the wheel spokes to obtain extra leverage and thus obtain a firmer grip on the traction rope when moving a heavy load.

Perhaps the most hair-raising thought was the fact that the grip cars were only fitted with one brake; This operated on the four wheels and often required the combined efforts of the gripman and conductor to halt a heavily laden car during down hill trips.

However, an emergency brake, almost as unique as the cable tram itself was also fitted. Known as a "dolphin brake," it consisted of a steel wedge located over the roadway grip slot, and could be screwed down into the slot to half the car. Unfortunately, the grip slot was edged with timber, which, because of weathering, became warped, causing it to protrude in places. The location of the "dolphin brake" caused this to damage the grip slot through gouging, which lead to a removal of this emergency brake. Later, track brakes were fitted to the grip cars and this greatly increased the margin of safety.

It is interesting to note that a very similar type of emergency brake is used on the San Francisco cable cars.

Work Car Fleet

The two work cars consisted of a coal tram that was required to haul coal from the city to the ever-hungry engine house boiler fires. The remaining car must be unique in tramway annals. The line was built before there was a high pressure water supply to the hill areas; hence the necessity of providing a water tram! The car was fitted with large tanks which were filled with water at the lower, or city, terminus, and conveyed to storage tanks at the engine house at the top of the hill. This was a daily "chore" carried out between the hours of 9.30 a.m. and 4.30 p.m.

Motive Power

The motive power for the cable was provided by a 16 h.p. Marshall portable engine (somewhat like a traction engine) which had been specially imported. Fitted with HARTNELLS patent automatic expansion gear, which did away with the ordinary throttle, the engine was capable of working up to 40 h.p. A belt from engine flywheel drove the winding gear which propelled the rope at just under 6 m.p.h. In those days the engineer did not need a "ticket" to drive the engine and in order to get a few extra pounds of steam at "peak" hours he would often hang a heavy fire-iron on the safety valve.


On April 23, 1881, the first accident occurred on cable Line when a car rounding the Cathedral Curve on the upward journey, had the "rope" pulled, out of the grip. The car hurtled downhill, tearing up heavy woodwork and 3 feet of metaled road at the end of the line. One man was killed, but this did not deter passengers as over 800 traveled the next day. The first rope, which cost £430.12.6d, gave out by September 1881, being replaced by a second hand one brought from the West Coast, costing £316.1.10d.

Remarkable Achievement

At this stage it is interesting to note that when Mr. G. Duncan, who was 27 when he built the Roslyn line, the lad never before seen a cable tram in operation, and his knowledge must have been solely derived from reading books. After the opening of Roslyn, he journeyed to America to study operations there, returning to Dunedin to build the Mornington line in 1883. Mr. Duncan later went to Sydney, Australia, to construct the North Shore cable line, thence onto Melbourne to engineer what was considered the best laid out cable tramway system in the world which cost £1,670,000 to construct.

The condemning of the Dunedin and Roslyn Tramway Company's James Street extension was a disastrous blow to the Company's hopes and fortunes. Already heavily committed financially because of this and the other extensions to the cable line as well as opening New Zealand's pioneer electric tramway to Maori Hill, the Company received still yet another body blow.

New Grip Cars Fail

In 1901 four new grip Cars were received from Melbourne. The cars were designed by Mr. J. Meiklejohn, who had been in the service of the cable tramways in Melbourne for 15 years, and who had been brought to Dunedin under special contract to the Company.

Very little is known about these cars, except that they are believed to have been totally enclosed and were a good deal longer than any other cable trams that saw service in Dunedin. It was their greater length which proved to be their undoing on the Roslyn line. Due to a lack of freeboard on the sharp vertical curves of the line, the Public Works Department refused a licence for their operation. As only the bodies were received, the cars were never actually placed on rails, languishing in the carbarn for many years.

Operations Cease

With setbacks of such a severe nature, it is hardly surprising to find that over the next two years the Company's fortunes grew steadily worse.

With a new engine house, containing a new 150 hp Marshall compound drop valve cable winding engine, erected in Kaikorai Valley, the original engine house at the Town Belt was demolished. However, no money was available to connect the physically separate trackage between the old and new lines at this point, and so, the laborious traverser operation had to be persisted with. The end finally came early in 1902 when the Company, after receiving a new cable, found that they could not pay for it. Efforts were made to continue running on the worn out "rope," patching it up with pieces from old and disused cables. Finally the engineer announced that he could do nothing more, and all cable line operations came to a halt.

New Company

On April 26, 1902, the Company announced that it had sold out to another syndicate and the Union Bank for £1600.

The new owners immediately brought the new cable out of "pawn" and behind a 24 horse wagon team hauled it over the hill to the Kaikorai Valley engine house. With the new rope installed the cable line was re-opened for traffic during May of that year.

New Ideas

Shortly afterwards the new Company, having evaluated the situation, announced that it planned to re-route the line down into Kaikorai Valley by way of another and more direct extension some distance south of the abandoned James Street line.

Nevertheless, there were those in the Company who now opposed any suggestion of extending into the Kaikorai Valley, which was now also being served by the recently opened Dunedin and Kaikorai Tramway Company's rival cable line about half a mile further north. Considerable argument therefore centred around whether the Roslyn Company's line should in fact terminate at the "top of the hill," with the engine house and carbarn being re-erected at Highgate.

Finally in 1903 the Company directors resolved to remove the engine house to a new site at Highgate which would have the effect of shortening the traction cable by some 24 chains.

Finding also that the 150 hp Marshall winding engine was proving too light for its task they also announced plans to install two 90hp Diesel engines as replacement power for the cable haulage gear.

In spite of the Dunedin and Roslyn Tramway Company's earlier decision to shorten the line and resite the engine house and carbarn at Highgate, those who favoured a re-routing and continuance of operations into Kaikorai Valley eventually won out, and in 1905 work on the new extension was commenced.

New Extension

The new extension which was some 27 chains long involved the excavation of a rock cutting at Highgate which was 15 chains long and 27 feet deep. Work on the cutting was started at the lower or Kaikorai Valley end, so that spoil, of which some 13,000 yards were removed, could be used to construct an embankment.

Fell Brake

The line, which was level for some distance in from the Highgate end of the cutting, changed abruptly to 1 in 4.237 before swinging right and descending to the floor of the valley.

With such a steep grade the Company was obliged to put in a Fell Braking system for emergency braking purposes.

Patterned somewhat on that used on the Rimutaka Incline, and still used, today on the Kelburn Cable system in Wellington, N.Z., the braking rail consisted of ordinary flat-bottomed railway rails anchored to the cable conduit yokes and set in concrete on the south side of the centrally located gripper track slot. To halt the car a wheel operated screw enabled two steel brake blocks to clamp the braking rail, the head of which was originally located some 5 inches above the track level, with a vice like grip.

The system was most effective and a special test car traveling at 20 mph down the grade was halted in only a few yards.

Although installed as a safety device, the Fell braking system was responsible some years later for a rather serious accident. One of the cars, whilst in traffic at the city end of the line, damaged its grippers and had to be pushed by another car to the top of the hill at Highgate. Here the gripman Harry King wound up the Fell brake fully intending to "coast" down the 1 in 4.237 grade. Unfortunately the Fell brake was faulty and the steel jaws, instead of gripping the centre rail, rode over the rail head. As can be imagined, the car, when pushed over onto the grade, could not be held, with the inevitable result that it shot down the hill at a tremendous speed, finally overturning at the foot of the grade. Fortunately the gripman escaped with his life. After this, the braking rail was raised a further ½ inch to bring it to a height of 5 ½ inches above track level.

Extension Opened

Opening of the new extension took place in 1906 with gripcar No.1 from the recently constructed fleet of new cars, being accorded the honour of burnishing the rails for the first time. This brought the line to its full and final length of 1 mile 30 chains which gave a total vertical lift from the city terminus to Belgrave Crescent of 660 feet on an average gradient of 1 in 8. A wire rope of some 15,700 feet in length was required for traction purposes on this new route.

James Street Fades Out

Coinciding with the opening of the new route, closure of the ill-fated James Street route to Kaikorai Valley and Ann Street carbarn was accomplished. Although passenger cars in regular service had not traveled this route, it was used by cars traveling to and from the main carbarn in Kaikorai Valley, for periodic servicing and repairs. New grip cars which the Company built around 1904-5 were also run up this route to the top of the hill at Highgate.

Automatic Brake

An interesting event also took place on the James Street extension in 1901 when it was used as a proving ground for an automatic cable car brake. Mr. W.E. Richardson of Outram, had invented a brake that was designed to operate if the car overran a certain speed. Its operation was independent of the gripman and could loosely be described as based on the principle of a steam engine governor, steel balls attached to the axle being free to move outwards by centrifugal force. At a certain speed the steel balls would strike a trigger that would release the brake shoes, causing them to drop down in front of, and under, the leading pair of wheels. According to the inventor,' the wheels were entirely removed from the track and with the weight of the car then bearing fully upon the shoes, this made an effective brake.

Trials Held

A trial was held on the infrequently used James Street route, on June 4, 1901. Those present included Messrs. Chisholm, Duncan and McGeorge of the Dunedin and Roslyn Tramway Company, and Mr. Louden from the Mornington Cable Tramway, together with newspaper reporters and the inventor.

As Mr. Richardson's patent was still in the developmental stage, a special four-wheel truck and not a grip car, was used for the demonstration.

Seated on the trolley, Mr. Richardson released the vehicle several times on the 1 in 3 ½ grade, and in each case the trolley stopped dead in about half a second. The reporters observed that "it appeared as if the trolley stopped too quick."

Mr. Richardson replied, "That as the line was not used, the rails were rough, but on a smooth track a tendency to skid would make the stop less severe."

"An auto brake could be fitted to the brakes of the present cars without any interference, and there was nothing cumbersome or likely to get out of order," he said.

Roslyn Company officials said, "That the tests with the trolley were so far satisfactory, but the true test was with a car itself." The reporters themselves were impressed.

However, nothing further was ever heard of Mr. Richardson's automatic brake, and it must be assumed that the idea never really progressed beyond the developmental stage.

Despite its mid-1950s abandonment, often very heavy loads characterized Rattray Street cable car operations during the 1950s. Here an ascending Rattray Street cable car illustrates the fact that presumably there was no legal number of passengers on the line's cable cars!


(From the Dunedin Corporation Transport Magazine, 1948)

As rebuilt in later years a Mornington cable train, now operated by Dunedin Corporation Transport, ascends with a comfortable paying passenger load. Note, the baby buggy handing on the front of "01," a New Zealand custom that is still used today by the Christ Church trams.

Retired in 1938 after 45 years or service, Mr. J. T. (Tom) Louden said, "I know every nut and bolt on the line. And it's good for another 40 years."

The first move for a tramway to Mornington was in 1880 when Mr. D. Proudroot and Messrs. Reid and Duncan were in competition for permission to lay a line along High Street to Eglinton Road.

But the Council was not agreeable to this route and was willing to grant a concession for Stafford Street. High Street grades were liable to alteration and sewers not yet constructed, so, in the opinion or the City Engineer, Stafford Street should be followed or the line held over until such work could be completed. This did not suit Mr. Proudfoot, so he withdrew his application.

Work was finally commenced by the Mornington Tramway Co., and the line opened for traffic on March 16, 1883. Two years later on March 16, 1885, the Company opened the extension line to Maryhill. The Company was governed by a Board or Directors, with a Manager, an office boy, and an engineer as overhead staff. The drivers, as their badge indicated. were styled engineers. There were five drivers and four conductors. As his badge indicated, the chief conductor was called on to drive, as was also the trackman on occasions. Lastly, there was the greaser boy. The engineer drivers received £3/0/0, no overtime. 57 hours a week, work alternate Sundays. Conductors two Sundays on and one off. From 1887 a scaling down of wages came about. If a man had an accident of any kind, he was offered a reduction or resignation.

By 1893 a conductor started at about £1/5/0. Uniform was a blue fox serge and each man supplied his own. In 1902 the men were successful in being granted pay for Sunday work - traffic was then stopped on Sundays.

The fleet consisted of five main line cars, two extension cars which were built in Dunedin. There were four trailers built in America, a coal truck and No. 6 Elgin Road car were built on the premises. The original cars had four posts and a roof with a removable glass frame which, according to wind direction, was moved from end to end.

Later these were made a fixture and the roof was extended and another seat put in the ends.

Up until 1888 the crew had to put the rope in with the hook and pull it out at the hill terminus, then shove the car onto the table and onto the down line. This had to be done every trip with both car and trailer. In 1888 Mr. Joseph Louden (father of Tom), who was appointed engineers in 1887 made a great improvement. The grippers were altered to throw out the rope; points and crossings were put into the down line where the rope was automatically picked up. Much manhandling was thus done away with and the service better able to deal with the expected traffic of the coming 1889-90 Exhibition.

The most frequent service then was five minutes with five cars and trailers, the coal truck being fitted with seats for this purpose. With the old cars before the fire, a train would be run with two trailers behind the dummy. This was frequently done with unexpected heavy traffic. About 1902, agitation began to get the Company to extend the line. This they declined to do, and the Borough Council decided to take over the line under the Public Works Act. An arbitration board was set up; one representative each from the Company and the Borough and a chairman. On February 10, 1903, the shed, rolling stock and equipment were destroyed by fire. The power plant was badly damaged as were also the next four houses down the street.

As the Board had already been set up, the result was that the Borough had to pay £20,000 for one trailer car and the ruins.

The old track, which had suffered by not being in use, cost some thousands to relay. The laying of the Elgin Road track and building of Council Chambers brought the tramways account to more than £45,000.

The Elgin Road car had a short life. Though the first rope, in spite of having a totally new line to wear the rough spots off, lasted the life of a normal rope in use on the main line, subsequent ropes only lasted half that time. Finally, excessive wear caused the line to be abandoned. The service was continued for a time by an Albion motor bus (or a charabanc), which ran to Elgin Road in busy times and the round trip to Maryhill at other times. This was the first such machine in New Zealand. With the amalgamation of the Borough with the City, the line was taken over by the Dunedin Corporation Transport Dept., on January 1, 1916.

A highlight of the Mornington to Maryhill section of Dunedin's cable car system was the "Big Dipper" section. This was one of the steepest sections of the entire Dunedin cable car service. This photo clearly illustrates why the Dunedin residents adopted the roller-coaster term "Big Dipper" for this section of track.

The main line has continued to function and with many improvements has given admirable service. The conversion to electric power speeded up the line and a four minute service is now given in busy times with four cars and trailers. Though Maryhill was suspended for a time, this line is also now electrically driven and functions as part of the service from the City to Maryhill. Elgin Road and Belleknowles are now served by modern motor bus so Mornington residents can well reflect with pride that their transport has grown and will continue to grow with the suburb.


By R. J. McCracken

(From Tramway Topics)

Caption: High school students rush to board a Roslyn cable car bound for the Kaikorai Valley, 1940s.

As my parents lived for many years on two of the hill suburbs of Dunedin Roslyn and Maori Hill we used the two principal cable car lines to Kaikorai Valley and to the Roslyn headquarters - also in the Valley - also the Maori Hill electric tram, on countless occasions up till about 1921 when promotions broke up my family for a period of years.

No doubt much technical and statistical information has appeared in Tramway Topics from time to time and I write only as an observer and user of the services. I was quite well acquainted with the Mornington cable car line commenced in 1883 which started from Jacobs Corner – at the intersection of High and Princes Streets, Dunedin, and ran in a straight line to the power house at the top. It was a double line and several cars and trailers were used.

Passengers living in the district of Maryhill alighted at the Powerhouse terminus, walked through it and boarded a single line cable car which provided, in my opinion, the greatest nerve-wracking thrill in New Zealand. The car ran a few feet and then seemed to try to stand on its front end but it never did.

The journey down into a valley and up the other side was short but a good local service and a tourist attraction was provided.

I have a colored post card photo taken on the return journey to town and shows a small piece of city and harbor, the result is very much like a somewhat similar vista in San Francisco. The houses there are much bigger of course.

I have always felt that those cars being so close to the ground structurally were not as handsome as the Roslyn line with the Kaikorai Valley line in second place. Neither did Mornington have the variety of scenery nor interesting rises and declines, twists and bends that the other lines had, nor the same length of travel.

The Roslyn line, created in 1881, managed in my young days by a friend, Arthur Knowles, was, I believe, based on a San Francisco design - that is the last design in use in Dunedin, not the curious old 1890 type.

The Roslyn cars ran on a double line for, I think, about 3½ miles from the beginning of Rattray Street and did not have trailers. In my time, up to 1921, it provided a truly wonderful service.

There was no rule about overcrowding - if you could get one's toes into a part of the car body and a finger grip somewhere else - you were on and a passenger. I have counted about 80 people clinging like limpets to one tram and have a photo to prove it. At peak hours the hard worked conductor either climbed into the gripman's section to collect fares or fought his way right around amongst the swarm of passengers on a car which in its two closed end compartments and two sides, open seats, was designed to carry about 4S passengers, seated.

When passing another car, speeds were slowed down so that no one was brushed off. No one ever was and I never heard of a passenger falling off. This mode of traveling was a great muscle builder.

This line ran a short distance along Rattray Street then up a rise to St. Joseph’s Cathedral stop. Then a turn and climb to the Arthur Street stop, then up another steep climb to the Junction where Roslyn central and Maori Hill passengers alighted and boarded the electric tram. The cable car then proceeded to the beginning of Highgate, Roslyn, then the long steep plunge to the Powerhouse and tram shed in the Kaikorai Valley.

I recall a gripman named Gordon Mowat, another named Alec Christie (who was usually referred to as "Electricity.") A conductor comedian was a short agile American.

At the St. Joseph's Cathedral stop, there was, on the opposite side, the Bishop's Palace, a large stone resident for the R.C. clergy and presided over by a well-known dignitary named Father Coffey. The new conductor, on his first day, announced the stop as "Coffey Palace." Passengers were shocked, startled or amused - according to their faiths. This conductor was too good to last long. He was destined for greater things.

This line was remarkably free of accidents and I can recall only one fatality on the final descent - one dark night - when a person who should not have been on the track was killed. I will spare readers the gory details which were served up in the papers.

The Roslyn trip was interesting and full of variety with excellent views of city, suburbs and harbor at a very low fare too - about three pence all the way up. I think that I read that one of these Roslyn cars had been restored. I hope so. (Yes, No. 95 has been restored at the Ferrymead Museum in Christchurch.)

The Kaikorai line, built about 1900, started in Stuart Street at the west side of the Octagon - only a few yards from the Robert Burns statue with its back to the Church and its face to the pub. This was a double track line. Its cars were somewhat smaller than the Roslyn ones and closer to the ground but a good-looking car which appeared in a Transport magazine recently. The Stuart Street route was ultimately torn up after the Second World War and the whole tramway track converted to a motor highway.

The original tram route commenced possibly 1/5th of a mile along Princess Street from the Roslyn starting point so that for people situated centrally on the hill suburbs, there was a choice in trams.

The line ran up Stuart Street, Albert Street to a stop at London Street, close to the Otago Boys High School. Then up a short incline to the flat Asylum ground - used as a Rugby Ground by the Boys High School and now partly taken up by the Moana Swimming Pool. Then the line crossed the Queens Drive with its Town Belt native bush and went up an incline to the Rectory stop. The Rectory was the Boys High School accommodation house presided over for many years by a master, Mr. "Barney" Campbell.

After the Rectory stop the next incline led to a short flat stretch where the Littlebourne stop was situated.

The final and steepest incline came next, crossing the Maori Hill tracks just over the lip. The final stretch was the downhill run to the powerhouse and tramshed which was the destination. A very good photo of a city bound tram standing at the Highgate waiting shed appeared in a transport magazine recently.

I recall plenty of passengers clinging to the trams but structurally the tram bodies did not provide the same toe and finger grips that the larger Roslyn trams did.

I recall a gripman, Bob Forsyth, and a conductor, Clarkson, both of whom had long service.

This line had interest and a variety of fine views. The outlook from the Highgate stop was very similar to the view from the Kelburn terminus in Wellington.

The Maori Hill electric tram system (three cars I think) was owned by the Roslyn Company and superseded horse drawn cars in 1900. I am old enough to have ridden in the original electric tram with no glass protection for the motorman and with big knobbly brake and control handles. I have a picture from an old newspaper article of this tram waiting at the Junction for the cable car coming up.

The Maori Hill electric tramway was a single track line with a passing loop in Highgate. I remember seeing the words "Brill, Philadelphia" on the controls and Noyes Bros., Sydney.

The cars traveled at a fair pace and when they left the Bishops Court stop (now Columba College) on the flat and charged down the slope to the flat ground at the top of Fairface Street - then up the gentle slope on the other side their progress was a sight to see - the tram tearing down flat out, swaying from side to side - its pole rope billowing far out.

There never was a derailment, mishap or accident in all the years I lived near this line and traveled on it.

The car barn was at the end of the line away in the depths of the suburb and the engineer in charge was a Mr. Napier.

One night some of us young bloods tied a rope to his big door knob then to a verandah post before ringing his door bell and bolting.

About 1906-7 there must have been a subsidence under the foundations of the crossing at Highgate where the Maori Hill electric trams crossed the Kaikorai line. The structure collapsed and the tram system was disorganised.

The Roslyn cable line was not affected by the Maori Hill electrics could run only to the mishap and passengers had to pick their way around it to a waiting electric tram on the other side. I think repairs took about two weeks. No buses existed.

The one staff member I recall was a conductor named Harry Thompson, a small slightly crippled chap who served on the trams for many years. The only other living persons I know who traveled on the cable trams and can verify my statements are former schoolmates retired like myself. One lives in Lower Hutt - the other in Napier. Both were bank officers. I keep in touch with them.

Had it been possible to keep one line going, what a tourist attraction would have been provided but, regretfully, this is only a pipe dream. To do this costs San Francisco dearly nowadays.

I don't think there ever was a strike or hold up because of a dispute on the cable lines - the jobs were not highly paid ones but there were plenty waiting for vacancies. The crews were good types, friendly and witty and usually on very good terms with their passengers many of whom used either line for many years.

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