Ballarat Tramway Museum

Ballarat Trams are Ballarat History


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Flight from Pompeii - Statuary Pavillion Botanic Gardens, Ballarat - c1910

The Botanic Gardens were Ballarat’s first tourist attraction. The Gardens became even more popular after marble statues (imported from Italy as a gift to the city by two former miners) were placed there during the 1880s. These statues, especially the “Flight from Pompeii ”, are still an attraction today.  

Flight from Pompeii - Statuary Pavilion Botanic Gardens - c1910


Tramway map of the lake aera during the horse tram era 1887 - 1905.

The Gardens were located on the western side of Lake Wendouree , some 3.5 kilometres from the city centre, and beyond easy walking distance for tourists arriving at the Ballarat Railway Station. In 1886 when the Ballarat City Council called tenders for tramway construction it insisted that the line to the Gardens be built first. The lake and Gardens were Ballarat's main drawcard and attracted large crowds during the holiday season, even though few people lived around the lake in those days.

Map of Lake area showing horse tram lines 1887 - 1905.


Horse tram - Wendouree Parade, c1900.

Horse tram services to the Gardens, operated by the Ballaarat Tramway Co Ltd, commenced on 26 December 1887. [1] There were two tram services to the Gardens. One ran anti-clockwise around the lake, via Ripon Street. It was known as “Gardens via Boatsheds”, after the numerous boatsheds at View Point. The other ran clockwise around the lake, via Sturt Street West. It was known as “Gardens via Convent”, after Loreto Convent opposite Victoria Park. During the 1930s the services were re-named “Gardens via Drummond Street North” and “Gardens via Sturt Street West”.

[1] For many years, the official spelling was the "City of Ballaarat". The horse tram company used this form.

Horse tram Wendouree Parade, c1900.


Gates at the south end of the Gardens, opposite Carlton St. c1920.

The Botanical Gardens were located within a public reserve. There were large iron gates at each entrance to the Reserve (at present-day Carlton Street and St Aidans Drive). At both places a fence ran from the gates to the lake edge to keep wandering stock from the Gardens. Initially the crew of the last tram each night would close the gates.[2] Within a few years gatehouses were placed at both ends of the Reserve. The gatekeeper locked the gates at night after the last tram went through. Occasionally trams collided with cows or horses in Wendouree Parade. This problem gradually ended with the spread of housing along Wendouree Parade.

[2] - The Courier, Ballarat, 27 November 1888

Gates at Carlton St, c1920.


A Museum tram eases past a family of swans, 1988.

A feature of Lake Wendouree is the birdlife, particularly the black swans. Experiments over the years in introducing white swans to Lake Wendouree have failed. This was mainly because of attacks by the native black swans. In May 1888 the Ballarat Council was told that the last male white swan had been run over and killed by a horse tram. This was allegedly due to the "criminal carelessness" of the driver. The council demanded that the Ballaarat Tramway Co Ltd reimburse the cost of the dead swan. The Company ignored the request. [3]

[3] - The Courier, Ballarat, 15 May 1888; Ballarat Council to BTCo 14 May 1888

A Museum operated tram eases past a swan and her cygnets - 1987.


A primary school visits the Gardens with seven trams in 1937.

During the years horse tram operated there were no motorcars. During the very busy Christmas-New Year holiday period the horses struggled to pull the crowded horse trams to and from the Gardens. Electric trams (operated by the Electric Supply Co of Victoria ) began running to the Gardens in 1905, and they coped with large crowds far better than the horse trams did. Special trams were used many times over the years to carry school, church or work groups to the Gardens for picnics.

A 1936 primary school visit to the Gardens with seven trams.


The zoo at the gardens was once an important attraction.

Why were the Gardens so popular? As well as the Gardens with its statues and begonias, nearby were a zoo and a maze, plus the lake with its birdlife and paddle steamers. Refreshments were available at the Pavilion. Frequently a band played in the Gardens, enough in those days to draw a crowd. All this was close to home for the price of a tram ticket. The main alternatives in the days before mass ownership of cars were places close to a train line, such as the Buninyong Gardens and Lake Learmonth, or a day at the beach at Geelong or Queenscliff.

The zoo is no more; only photos remain to remind us of this former gardens attraction.


Visitors stroll the gardens with the Wallace statue on the left of the photo, c1910.

By 1911 some visitors to the Gardens came by motor car. The “Ballarat Courier” complained: “A visit to the Gardens yesterday afternoon showed crowds of people enjoying themselves in surroundings admirably adapted for that end; but there was and always is on such occasions one thing that is the reverse of enjoyable, and that is the ever-present stench and dust caused by the motor-cars. The former especially is most objectionable, and it really is a question of whether motor-cars, which after all are only enjoyed by a few, should be allowed within the Gardens reserves”.[4]

[4] Ballarat Courier 25 September 1911

Visitors stroll the gardens with the Wallace statute on the left. c1910.


Ballarat had two open crossbench or summer tramcars.  One leaves Grenville St. for the Gardens.

The Electric Supply Co of Victoria had two open crossbench trams, known as “Gardens cars” or “summer cars”, that operated between 1905 and 1930. They were very popular during fine summer days, but gave no protection to passengers during summer showers. A former Ballarat resident recalled how boys rode the summer cars to the Gardens for the picnics, and during the day gorged themselves on pies and ice cream. On the way back on the swaying, vibrating tram they vomited on the seats! [5]

[5] Interview with Keith Foster

One of the two Summer cars leave Grenville St for the Gardens with the Buckshead hotel in the background.


Paddle steamer in the fairy land land area of Lake Wendouree.

The Electric Supply Co of Victoria took some novel steps to increase patronage on the Gardens line. It engaged a brass band to play at the Gardens on Wednesday evenings during summer. At the Gardens jetty it operated a motor boat to carry passengers to a water shute with gondolas, in which an electric lift took riders to the top of a high tower. Tram conductors sold tickets to the water shute. However the lift sometimes stuck halfway to the top when full of people, so the water shute was removed on order of the Ballarat City Council [6]

[6] A.W. Walker “Electric trams did something for Ballarat” in Courier 12 September 1970; A.W. Walker “When electricity and trams came to Ballarat’ in “SEC News” February-April 1951, p 32

Paddle steamers operated from Gills Boat house, offering an alternative way of travel to that of trams.


A tram heads towards the Gardens after passing the St Aidans Drive end gate pillars.  April 1958.

By the 1920s the gates at either end of the Gardens were still in position, but were no longer being closed at night. One tram driver was told by his mates (as a practical joke) that it was his job to close the gates at night. He stood in the rain, trying to close the heavy iron gates! [7] In the mid 1930s the tram track in Wendouree Parade was re-laid closer to the lake edge, to allow road widening. The gates were removed, but the bluestone pillars remain to this day, although relocated further apart.

[7] Interview with Keith Foster

A tram bound for the Gardens passes the gate pillars at the St Aidans Drive end. April 1958.


Tram No. 21, advertising the 1969 Begonia Festival.

The State Electricity Commission took over the tramways in 1934, by which time motorcars were more common. During World War 2 petrol rationing forced many people to leave their cars at home. In those years trams ran from the city to the Gardens every five minutes during the Christmas-New Year holiday period. The Begonia Festival began in 1953, and trams to the Gardens were packed in March when the festival was on.

In 1969, a tram was decorated to advertise the Begonia Festival.


Celebrating 100 years of the changeover from horse to electric trams - September 2005.

Tramway services from the city to the Gardens ended in 1971, but trams still operate today on a 1.3 kilometre section of track in the Gardens Reserve. Today it is still possible to ride a section of tram line that has carried passengers since 1887.

In 2005, the Museum celebrated the 100 years since the changeover from horse to electric trams.



From 2006 onwards Lake Wendouree was mostly dry for several years due to an ongoing drought, and there were no flowers in the Gardens.  This reduced the appeal of the Gardens Reserve and reduced visitor numbers.  From 2009 storm water and recycled water was available to maintain the water levels in the lake.  Increased rain during 2010 saw the lake full again for the first time in several years, and once again the Gardens became attractive to visitors.

Tram 14 at St Aidans Drive with a very empty Lake Wendouree in the background 1/9/2009



Looking from the Australian Ex-Prisioners of War Memorail across to Wendouree Parade, where tram No. 27 waits - 7/3/2004

There have been notable additions to the Botanical Gardens Reserve in recent years such as a large childrens’ playground and the Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial.  However the Gardens have retained their 19th century feel with mature trees and statues.  In September 2010 the Gardens were added to the Victorian Heritage Register.  The trams fit well into this historical setting.

Looking from the Ex-Prisioners of War Memomrail across to Wendouree Parade.  
All photos from the Ballarat Tramway Museum Collection

© Copyright 2011 - Ballarat Tramway Museum

Text - Alan Bradley; On-Line Exhibition Page - Warren Doubleday

. Photos - as credited in each Collection Record.
  With thanks to: Andrew Cox, Stephen Butler, Richard Gilbert, Roger Salen.& Neville Hesketh