Trams in Kent Town

Horse-drawn trams

Sir Edwin Smith and William Buik, both prominent in the City of Kensington and Norwood then Adelaide City Council (and both later mayors of Adelaide), spent some time inspecting European tramways during the 1870s.

They were impressed with horse tram systems and upon returning to Adelaide, they promoted the concept, which led to a prospectus being issued for the Adelaide and Suburban Tramway Co (A&ST). The A&ST was floated successfully in August 1875 with a nominal capital of £25,000, with power to increase in 5,000 shares of £5 each.

Private commercial interests lobbied government for legislative support, over Adelaide Council’s objections related to licensing and control. As a result, in 1876 the Government of South Australia passed a private act authorising construction of Adelaide’s first horse tram network.

It was scheduled for completion within two years, with 10.8 miles (17.4 km) of lines from Adelaide’s city centre to the suburbs of Kensington and North Adelaide. The company started work on 29 October 1877 with the first rail being laid in front of the old Norwood Town Hall.

Adelaide was the first Australian city to establish a permanent horse tramway system and was the last to convert to a ‘more modern means of locomotion’.

It was completed in May 1878 and services began in June from Adelaide to Kensington Park with trams imported from John Stephenson Co of New York.

The line was opened without public ceremony on Monday, 10 June 1878. The fare to Kensington was 3d (threepence, around 2 cents in the current currency).

Adelaide from Kent Town Brewery, looking west down Rundle Street. Horse trams are moving along the road which is lined with an avenue of trees (probably gums). The church spire in the centre is Scots Church and the Royal Adelaide Hospital is visible centre-right.

Until 1907, all horse trams were operated by private companies, with the government passing legislation authorising line construction. Growth of the network and rolling stock was driven largely by commercial considerations. On the opening day, the newly founded A&ST began with six trams, expanding to 90 trams and 650 horses by 1907 with its own tram manufacturing facility in Kensington.

The line went from the Tram Sheds (behind the Marryatville Hotel) – south along Shipsters Road, west along Kensington Road for a short distance, right down High Street, right at Portrush Road and then left onto The Parade (see map below).

A double set of rails ran west along The Parade, north into Sydneham Road, west along Beulah Road and along Rundle Street, Kent Town (see map below).

A single track went from East Terrace to Pulteney Street, south down Pulteney Street, around the north-western corner of Hindmarsh Square into Grenfell Street, then north into King William Street, east into Rundle Street and returned back to Kensington along the same route, except at Kensington it turned right along Regent Street to Shipsters Road, returning to the tram sheds as necessary (see map below).

The last A&ST horse tram to Burnside. The tram-type wheels are visible underneath. The sign on the side of the tram reads ‘Marryatville’. [On the back of the photograph]: The last horse tram to Burnside. Taken by Canon Robert W.G. Dempster outside St Matthew’s Church. Located at Kensington Road, Marryatville, the church can be seen in the background behind the tram. The Rev Canon Robert Dempster was the incumbent rector at St Matthew’s Anglican Church from 1901 until 1931. He was a keen photographer and President of the Adelaide Camera Club in 1916. The photograph was donated by the Reverend’s daughter.

The Number 79 horse tram heads east along The Parade where buildings line the street, the Norwood Town Hall being prominent on the left. The Wesley Methodist and Clayton Congregational Church spires can be seen in the distance. [On back of photograph]: The Parade, Norwood / 1905-08.

Electric trams

By 1901, Adelaide’s horse trams were seen by the public as a blot on the city’s image. With a population of 162,000 the slow speed of the trams, the lines’ subsequent low traffic capacity made them inadequate for public transport needs.

The unsealed roads the horses required became quagmires in winter and sources of dust in summer. The 10 pounds (4.5 kgs) of manure each horse left behind daily was also not well regarded.

Under these various pressures the government negotiated to purchase the horse tramway companies.

In 1907, the Municipal Tramways Trust (MTT) acquired the horse drawn tramways in Adelaide (except Glenelg and Port Adelaide) for the sum of £280,372-9-3.

The MTT began to electrify the system immediately and on 21 May 1908, the first sod was turned at the site of the Hackney Depot on Hackney Road. The first trial run of an electric tram followed on 30 November.

The electric system was officially opened on 9 March 1909 with regular services the following day. The first line was to Kensington.

The Parade, Norwood, 1909.

The route of the electric tram was different to the horse drawn trams. The line went from Grenfell Street through Rymill Park, Rundle Street, Parade West (formerly Young Street/Kent Road), and The Parade to Kensington Gardens.

Electric trams, and later trolleybuses, were Adelaide’s main method of public transport throughout the life of the electric tram network. The tram network was progressively closed through the 1950s with the last lines closing in 1958. The Glenelg tram line was the only line to survive these closures and has been progressively upgraded and extended since 2005.

The early use of trams was for recreation as well as daily travel, by entire families and tourists. Until the 1950s, trams were used for family outings to the extent that the MTT constructed gardens in the suburb of Kensington Gardens, extending the Kensington line to attract customers. By 1945, the MTT was collecting fares for 95 million trips annually – 295 trips per head of population.

In 1951–1952, the MTT lost £313,320 and made the decision to convert the Erindale, Burnside and Linden Park lines to electric trolleybuses. The last trams on these lines ran on 24 May 1952 with the lines lifted from 18 April 1953.

Historical photos

 An interesting web page that shows pictures of the surrounds around each stop on an interactive map as well as other historical pictures is located at:

Tramway Museum online project allows users to look at photos and routes of Adelaide’s old tram network | The Advertiser (


Interactive Map — Tramway Museum, St Kilda (

We acknowledge photos from the State Library collection.