Friday, May 22, 2009

17 November 1902 – Inauguration of Auckland’s electric tramways

It began, in 1902, with the turning on of a switch. On Monday 17 November 1902 the Mayor of Auckland, Alfred Kidd started the generators at the lower Hobson Street power station, thus inauguration the era of electric traction to Auckland. A short time later, at the junction of Queen and Custom Streets, 85-year-old Sir John Logan Campbell was presented with a motorman’s licence, and drove the first electric tram in Auckland City to the Choral Hall and a luncheon for the guests. The day ended with a ball at “Rocklands” in Epsom.

Auckland had been served by horse trams from 1884 but by 1899 the growing city was ready for the “jazzy electrics”. In that year the British Electric Tramways Company bought the tramway network from the company operating it at the time, registered the Auckland Electric Tramways Company in that year, and from 1900 began construction of the new system, including its own power station in Hobson Street. Bad weather, fire, and even the sinking of the Elingamite off Three Kings Islands (on board were motormen bound for Auckland and the Ponsonby-College Hill run) delayed the inauguration of the service until mid-November 1902. But from the start, it was a success with the public, and the spread of the “steel web” was part of the spread of suburban Auckland in the first half of the 20th century.

The Auckland Electric Tramway Company moved into offices in this Fanshawe Street building, still bearing the "AET" inscription on the facade, c.1908. They were only there four years -- as soon as more land had been reclaimed from the harbour, they shifted closer to the shore, to the corner of Albert and Customs Streets. By the end of the First World War, their enterprise belonged to the city council, and the company had faded completely away -- apart from their enduring mark on a central city building now associated with ships' chandlery rather than the rattling of an innovative public transport system.

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