The image above is a stunning snapshot of a piece of Sydney history many are unfamiliar with. Today, we are all familiar with the Harbour Bridge, and take for granted the fact that we can easily cross the harbour by car, train, bike or bus. Many of us are familiar too with the history of the stunning bridge itself, yet we little think of what came before and how people, let alone vehicles, crossed the harbour before the bridge was built.
Before the Harbour Bridge, there were only two ways for people to move vehicles like horses and carts, or later, cars, from one side of the harbour to the other. The first was to travel to Bedlam Point and use the punt which crossed the relatively small distance of water. This was a little inconvenient for many, as it involved travelling quite a distance. The other option was to use one of the horse ferries operating on the harbour itself, like the one shown in this postcard.
When we think of a vehicular ferry today, we tend to think of cables pulling the ferry across the span of water. Yet this was completely impractical for the harbour itself, as the span of water was much too great and there were many ships which needed to move beyond the ferry point. A cable would have prevented this. Instead, steam ferries like the one in the postcard were used, transporting everything from passengers to horses, carts and produce between Dawes Point, Blues Point and Bennelong Point. There was, of course, a fee involved and each different type of passenger and vehicle was charged differently. The fees were so specific that there was even one for a ‘Chinaman with two baskets’
When the Harbour Bridge was opened in 1932 there was no longer any need for the ferries and the wharves were demolished and the boats put to other use. The remains of only one of the horse ferry wharves can still be seen, off Hickson Road in the Rocks.