Motoring history - our story

IN THE WHEEL TRACKS OF THOMSON AND HOLMES

A re-enactment of The Pioneer Motor Car Trip of Australia, Bathurst (New South Wales) to Melbourne (Victoria) - 2020

Thomson and Holmes leaving Bathurst 1900
The George Hotel Bathurst

The start: Same Bathurst corner, same hotel (rebuilt and renamed).

Thomson (seated left) and Holmes set off in 1900 from Bathurst from the Park Hotel at the corner of George and Keppel Streets. The hotel was destroyed by fire in late 1900, rebuilt and, in 1936, refurbished and renamed The George Hotel, our starting point also 120 years later

IN 1900 two men transformed travel in Australia.

Their names were Herbert Thomson and Edward Holmes and on April 30, 1900, they set out from Bathurst in New South Wales on what was to become the first long-distance motor car trip in Australia.

Both men, inventor Thomson and his cousin Holmes, were Victorians and their destination was their home city of Melbourne, 493 and a quarter miles away, or 793.8 kilometres.

Thomson is regarded as the first successful manufacturer of a motor vehicle in Australia and to prove the reliability of his self-designed and built steam phaeton, he decided to undertake the historic journey by road rather than return to Melbourne via the way the car came to be in New South Wales in the first place - by steam ship.

The duo had the car shipped to Sydney on board the SS Allinga for it to be displayed at Sydney's 1900 Royal Easter Show where it won first prize.

The car had previously been exhibited at the Melbourne, Bendigo and Maryborough Agricultural Shows, and had run upwards of 2000 miles (3218 kilometres) on its experimental trials.

After the Sydney event, Thomson and Holmes were invited to drive the car to Bathurst for that town's annual agricultural show a few days later.

And it was from outside the Park Hotel (now The George Hotel), Bathurst, at 10am on Monday, April 30, 1900, that the duo departed to return to Melbourne - overland.

The pioneer 'motor car' trip changed Australia's transport landscape forever.

Now, 120 years later, we embarked on the same journey, leaving Bathurst at the same time, on the same day of the month - destination Melbourne, following as closely as possible the route Thomson and Holmes took all those years ago.

Driving a Volkswagen Polo 85TSI Comfortline, guiding us on our journey was a copy of ‘The Pioneer Motor Car Trip of Australia’, or The Holmes Diary, which was reprinted in the year 2000 for Phaeton’s Run, an event held in Albury-Wodonga on May 5, 6 and 7 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of Thomson and Holmes on May 5, 1900.

Why a Volkswagen Polo for this re-enactment drive? 

The body of Thomson's steam car was made of fiddleback ash and silky oak by Melbourne coach builders Martin and King of the Melbourne suburb of Armadale, the same suburb in which Thomson had his workshop.

Martin and King later moved to Clayton where it went on to assemble CKD (completely knocked down) car bodies, including Volkswagen Beetles from 1954.

So successful was the Beetle in Australia that Volkswagen purchased the plant in 1957.

As VW is the only company with any current connected history, we chose to do the 780-kilometre drive in VW’s smallest car, the Polo being the closest model in size to the Thomson car, which was 2702mm in length, 1419mm in width and 1779mm in height.

The Polo measured 4053mm in length, 1750mm in width, and 1446mm in height.

The rest of Thomson's vehicle was of his own doing, pneumatic tyres aside, which were supplied by the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Company.

Our Polo was shod with Falken brand tyres.

Although credited with being Australia's first car manufacturer, the Thomson Motor Car Ltd did not achieve commercial success and it ceased business in 1912.

The Thomson Motor Car Ltd and Martin and King have long gone, but Volkswagen lives on and at 10am on Tuesday, April 30, we left Bathurst for Blayney, 37 kilometres away which was Thomson and Holmes' first overnight stop.

Unlike the pair, who were farewelled from outside the Park Hotel by Bathurst mayor R.M. Gilmour Esq, Messrs W.G. Thompson, A. Rigby and a host of well-known residents, no-one was outside the George Hotel to take a photo of us and wish us well.

(Park Hotel, of which Frank Hall was licensee from 1899-1900, was built in 1887 and refurbished in 1936. It was renamed the George Hotel.)

It is ironic that Australia’s first motor car should leave a city that now lays claim to being the spiritual home of Australian motor sport.

Unlike Thomson and Holmes, whose six-seater phaeton was open to the elements, necessitating in their having to dress to the prevailing weather conditions, we were tucked up snug and comfy inside the Polo Comfortline which was fitted with standard fare the likes of which they would not have dreamed of.

They would have been more than happy with a roof over their heads!

Thomson and Holmes only had well-worn dirt tracks to follow, but their route closely followed that of the present-day Mid-Western Highway to Cowra, the Olympic Highway to Wagga, the Holbrook Road to Holbrook, and the Hume Freeway/Old Hume Highway to Melbourne.

Much of the old Highway 31 between Albury-Wodonga and Beveridge still exists and is in good to very good condition.

They would have been guided most of the way by roughly-hewn signposts and, even though we had satellite navigation at our disposal, we also followed signposts.

 

Our modern-day diary includes photographs of each place Thomson and Holmes stopped, whether overnight, to extract themselves from a creek or mud hole, climb a steep hill, or ask for water.

If you are wondering why so many photographs of hotels, it is because we have no idea of where Thomson and Holmes over-nighted, except for Albury where the pair stayed at Soden's Hotel owing to its excellent stabling which easily accommodated their car. 

Most, if not all, of the towns the duo passed through would have had a pub with accommodation - and hearty meals

The towns listed on the next three pages are the same towns Thomson and Holmes visited and we have been careful to follow a similar layout in this 'diary' as the original

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