Coach and Bus Services

Cooley's coach outside the Albion Hotel terminus, Elizabeth Street, Hobart, 1887 (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

Poor roads and a small population meant that the first coaching service did not appear until 1829, when G Lowe and P Mills connected Hobart and New Norfolk. In 1834 JE Cox's new mail coach carried a single passenger from Hobart to Launceston, for the huge fare of £5. It left Hobart at 8 am on Mondays and arrived in Launceston at 3 pm on Wednesdays. Ben Hyrons, a Launceston innkeeper, began a second service in 1840. The strong possibility of bogs, accidents, bushrangers and having to walk up steep hills meant many passengers preferred horseback. As the road improved and the causeway at Bridgewater was opened, the time shortened to two days, staying overnight in hotels owned by the coach proprietors, then one day of fifteen hours. From the 1840s coaches also ran to country towns.

Samuel Page began a third coaching service on the Hobart–Launceston run in 1848, eventually capturing the mail contract and dominating the run, but from 1876 the faster, more comfortable railway meant coaches faded. A legacy was a number of fine Georgian coaching inns, such as the Foxhunter's Return, Campbell Town (1833), the Crown, Pontville (1835) and St Andrew's Inn, Cleveland (1845).

Coaches continued to serve towns not linked by the railway. For example, in the 1890s hotel owner William Southerwood ran a service from Launceston to Beaconsfield, and from the 1880s Webster's coaches (later Webster-Rometch) took Hobart passengers to the Huon. By 1910 Tatlow's coaches connected Burnie with Wynyard, Stanley and Smithton. Coaches also ran from Bellerive to the east coast, and conveyed passengers to city suburbs not served by municipal trams.

From the 1900s faster, cheaper, more reliable motors superseded horse-drawn coaches: Webster-Rometch's first motor vehicle, an 18-seat charabanc, saved the firm thirty horses. Many small firms provided motor transport: in 1914, for example, Edward Connolly began a mail and passenger service from Bellerive to Port Arthur in an eight-seater car. By the 1920s there was a web of routes throughout the island, mainly operated by small companies, though Webster-Rometch expanded, with services and tours all over the state, and Pioneer, a mainland company, also ran tourist services. Roy Cresswell of Hobart began a bus service using trucks which he could convert to buses as needed. He also ran dance bands, and would transport people and bands to dances in country halls. Webster-Rometch disappeared in the 1930s, possibly defeated by the Depression. Meanwhile, trolley buses and petrol buses were used on municipal routes in Hobart and Launceston.

Use of petrol buses increased enormously after the Second World War, eventually dominating passenger land travel. The government entered the field: in 1953 its Green Coach Line served country towns, and from 1955 the Metropolitan Transport Trust ran local transport in cities, using entirely petrol buses by 1968. Many other companies provided scheduled services, charters, and, with more centralised schools, school bus services; the Tasmanian School Bus Association was formed in 1947.

In 2004 there were 220 bus companies in Tasmania, though over the last half-century many companies have begun or ended, or sold part of their business. Laurie and Cliff Morse of Devonport began a bus service in 1946 with 'a Saturday afternoon trip to the footy'. This developed into scheduled services, bus and charter services. On Flinders Island, Leedham Walker started a run in the 1940s, and in 1949 had a new bus shipped precariously from Hobart to extend his service. The family expanded into shipping (1950s) and an airline (1970s), and in 2004 still runs the bus service. In 1954 Ian Crawn in Burnie became the seventh owner of a bus service which began in 1930. He bought out other businesses including part of Tatlow's, gained the contract to take children to the new area school in 1956, and in 2004 still drives this service. Brendan Manion took over a ten-year-old bus service in 1958 at Beaconsfield. His first purchase was two school buses, and in 1961 he took over scheduled services between Beauty Point and Launceston. Manion's operates school buses, charters, tours and the scheduled service.

In the 1940s, Roy Cresswell's business divided between his sons Jack, who developed Cresswell Coaches, and Merv, who had a contract to transport soldiers to the Brighton army camp. Merv established the Ace Bus Service, the name coming from a dance band in which he played the drums. Ace ran scheduled services to northern suburbs, and both companies now provide charter and school coaches. Charlie Ayers' company, Tasmanian Coachlines of Hobart, took over the Green Coach Line in 1968 and provided most scheduled services in the south.

In 2004 the largest bus companies were Redline and Tigerline. Percy Larissey started a Cressy–Launceston run in 1933, and in 1963 his son and daughter-in-law Frank and Peggy Larissey took over the Launceston–George Town service. They expanded, buying four other companies, and after they purchased Tasmanian Coachlines in 1968, traded as Tasmanian Redline Coaches. After five more takeovers, Tasmanian Redline runs scheduled passenger and freight services around the state, as well as charters, tours and airport shuttles. In 1985 John Usher from Victoria bought part of Morse's business in Devonport. After taking over several other smaller businesses he developed Tigerline Coaches, which provides charters, wilderness services, tours, and some scheduled and school services.

Further reading: G Stancombe, Highway in Van Diemen's Land, Western Junction, 1968.

Alison Alexander