The Experiment

From Waler Data Base @ FaceBook. Image: The Sun, 19th February 1928

An early ferry on the Parramatta -Sydney run was The Experiment – a four horse powered paddle boat. First run was on 5th October 1832.

Yes, Mr. Benjamin Singleton had the bright idea of a horse powered ferry. He had the Experiment built in Sydney – she was 60 tons and 24 metres long, and initially two horses powered her paddles.

Horse powered Ferry for Sydney

Horse ferries in those times were used widely overseas for short runs across rivers and harbours. Various designs, many on a treadmill.

The Experiment could take 100 passengers and 20 tons of produce. She was powered by the two horses walking in a big circle on deck, hooked up to a gadget described as a rotary crank, which powered the 6.4 metre paddles.

Image: Sydney Gazette & NSW Advertiser, 4th October 1832

To read the whole article visit this link.

The first trip – an experiment before advertising – was a failure, as he hadn’t spent long enough training the horses and they simply refused to do anything. Benjamin persevered, realising they needed to get used to the motion of the water while also walking in a circle, and they learned. Cracking his whip became the signal to start walking. The scenery was much admired as top speed was 5 knots, or 6 miles an hour, and at times they drifted backwards… he had to fine tune the whole operation and add more power – two more horses and more blades to the paddles. Now they achieved 10 miles an hour!

Problem is the river and harbour have currents, breezes, winds and tides. At times the horses became concerned when the waters became very bouncy – they sensibly ceased work to keep their balance – the ferry with passengers drifted helplessly toward Sydney Heads! Luckily a steamer saw them and towed them back.

The trip took about three hours. Or was abandoned at the nearest shore to the dismay of passengers… for at times the ferry simply stayed in one place as despite the four big horses working willingly they weren’t powerful enough to fight the current.

Map showing route for a horse powered ferry in Sydney

Image: Ferry route, Parramatta to Sydney, along the Parramatta River. TripPartners blog.

And don’t worry about the horses – like cab horses and other working horses in the city their hours of work and conditions were strictly monitored. A ferry licence had terms of use. A ferry had to have oars so passengers could help by rowing in times of duress, and a single mast and sail. Fine for a small boat but pretty useless on a ferry the size of the Experiment, which was beamy and not deep in the water – she only drew .6 of a metre! To avoid a sail over the horses, the sail rig was a foresail and jib.

Soon after starting his enterprise Singleton was forced to sell – he’d made a big loss. The Experiment was bought by John Edye Manning who fitted her with steam engines. Soon she was back on the ferry run, coal fueled motors ably driving her paddle wheels.

No idea what happened to the horses, but such good work horses wouldn’t be long out of a home. His parents had a farm at St Patrick’s plains so possibly they were taken there. In a 1928 paper they were much praised for their work and place in Parramatta and Sydney Harbour history.

Image: Sydney Herald, 7th January 1833

Advertisement for Sydney's horse powered ferry
Newspaper article praising the horses on the Horse powered ferry

The Sun, 19th February 1928.

Excerpt from a lovely little article praising the Experiment’s horses.

Posted by Enoch Waler

Waler gelding purpose bred to help educate and advocate for Walers, in person and via Facebook and Instagram.