Omnibus Families of the Southside

In a previous post Brisbane’s Omnibuses, I wrote about the transport service which was once the backbone of our public transport. Unlike later tram and train services, they were owned by numerous private firms, often family-run.

On the Southside, omnibus services commenced with the completion of the first permanent Victoria Bridge in 1874.

omnibuses on vic brdge slq blog

Omnibuses at the city end of the second Victoria Bridge ca 1898. (State Library of Queensland)

Here are the stories of some of these families.

The Winterbottom family

Winterbottom family members were well-known proprietors of omnibuses residing at Hill End on Montague Road.

In 1871, William and Anne decided to emigrate to Australia from Lancashire with their baby son Sam. There were outbreaks of measles, fever, and diarrhoea on board the immigrant ship “Sultana” and 17 passengers died. All but one were infants under 3 years old. Sam was lucky to survive.

Mr William Winterbottom blog

William Winterbottom. (State Library of Queensland)

In the 1870s, the family purchased 10 acres of land on the river that had belonged to William Coombe (see my post The Origins of Orleigh Park ) and established a market garden and dairy farm. By the late 1870s, the suburbs of South Brisbane had grown to the extent that the Winterbottoms saw an opportunity to start an omnibus service.

hill end omni bus notice tele 28 nov 1878

Brisbane Telegraph, 28 November 1878. (TROVE)

winterbottom omnibuses hill end crop slq

Members of the Winterbottom family and their omnibuses at Hill End. (State Library of Queensland)

winterbottom site

The location of the Winterbottom omnibus stables in 2020. (P. Granville)

The family ran various services to the city from West End and Highgate Hill. These included one which ran down Montague Road from South Brisbane, and another which passed down Boundary Street and then Granville Street to Montague Road. There was also a service that followed Vulture Street and then came back down Brighton Road via Sussex Street to a stand on the corner of Hampstead Road.

A West End omnibus. (Sate Library of Queensland)

A West End omnibus. (State Library of Queensland)

Sam and his brother James worked with their father and took over running the business as the “Winterbottom Brothers” on their father’s retirement. They later also ran services to Coorparoo and Carina with stables on Old Cleveland Road near the intersection with Cavendish Road. The stables and home were adjacent to Coorparoo Creek. Flooding in 1893 forced the family to evacuate.

stanley brdge bus 1897 blog

A Coorparoo omnibus at Stanley bridge ca. 1897. (State Library of Queensland)

Sam served as an alderman on the Coorparoo Shire Council and he was also active in the Brisbane Bus Association. This group lobbied the Government on common issues facing operators in an environment of heavy regulation.

The Winterbottom Brothers partnership was dissolved in 1900. The property at Hill End comprising some 9 acres was sold off in 1910 by the trustees of Sam’s father William, who had died some 19 years earlier.

James went into hotelkeeping whilst Sam worked as a cart driver.

John Clark

With subdivision and development of land along Gladstone Road (see my posts The Blakeneys of Highgate Hill and The Hazelwood Estate, Highgate Hill 1885), the need for public transport was met by John Clark. His home “Latsey” was located on Gladstone Road at the corner of Bower Street.

From here, he commenced operating a service to and from Eagle Street in 1890. Each of his two omnibuses could carry 16 passengers, who paid threepence for the ride between Bower Street and Eagle Street.

Horse bus owned by John Clark awaiting departure Brisbane 1890s blog

An omnibus owned by John Clark ready to depart from Gladstone Road, Highgate Hill to the city in the 1890s. (State Library of Queensland)

He discontinued his service when the tramline was extended from Vulture Street along Gladstone Road to the South Brisbane Cemetery in 1902. He then worked for many years for the City Council.

The Soden family

Another well known family of omnibus proprietors on the Southside was the Soden family, who ran their business from Ipswich Road.

John Soden and Mary Harrisson were both born in Bedworth, Warwickshire, just a few

child labour england getty images

Child labour in an English silk factory. (Getty Images)

days apart. They  started work with their respective mothers as ribbon weavers at the local silk factory at age 12, working a 12 hour shift. The use of cheap child and female labour was common in British industry at the time.

They were married in 1857 and migrated to Brisbane in 1864. The couple first tried their hand at dairy farming at Cooper’s Plains only to have all their cows die from an unknown disease. In 1879, they purchased a hotel on Ipswich Road at Annerley from where they ran a drapery business. After securing a contract to transport the mail to Rocklea, they moved into the omnibus business around 1881, as the district became settled.

sodens better copy 1921

Mary and John Soden ca. 1920. (State Library of Queensland)

At their peak, the family had over 300 horses and 22 ‘buses running from their property on Ipswich road near Aubigny Street. Their routes included Highgate Hill, Boggo Road (now Annerley Road), Rocklea and Mt. Pleasant (now Holland Park).

All 6 sons and one daughter were involved in the business.

soden huse annerley slq

The Soden home at Annerley. (State Library of Queensland)

With the introduction of electric trams and losses arising from the damage and temporary repair of the Victoria Bridge and subsequent tolls in 1893 (see my post The Fascinating Story of the First Victoria Bridge ), the Sodens moved into the carrying business and coach works.

Workmen in front of a horsedrawn bus, in a transport depot, Brisbane, ca 1895 slq

Workmen in front of a Soden omnibus at the coachworks, Annnerley. (State Library of Queensland)

John served as a councillor for Stephens Shire for 14 years and Mary was involved in hospital visiting for 20 years. John died in 1921 and  Mary in 1927.

The motor bus era

After World War 1, motor buses became more common in Brisbane, with some 30 services in operation by 1925. Motor bus companies remained in private hands for many years, although subject to similar strict regulations to those I described in my previous omnibus post.

A Montague Road service was operating by 1922, following one of the Winterbottom’s old routes. At the time of the extension of the tramline to Orleigh Park in 1925, the bus route was extended along Dornoch Terrace as a feeder for the tram, operated by J.W.Cole. Not all residents were impressed by the operation of the bus which continually sounded its horn to attract passengers.

In 1947, the Council moved to take over many of private bus lines, including the Dornoch Terrace service operated at the time by Mr. E. Parker. The Council extended the service through to Merthyr in 1948.  It was the first bus service to run from one destination through the city to another rather than terminate in the city.

This became the number 29 route which for many years ran along Montague Road and then on a loop down Dornoch Terrace and Ryan Street. My wife and I went for a trip to China in 1985. We had a flight to Sydney in the early evening and then a night flight to China.

We took our bags with us to work so that we could leave straight from the city. The driver of the 29 bus asked us where we are going and got quite a surprise when we told him. Perhaps we were the only people to ever catch the number 29 bus to China.

inner southside bus routes

Inner south side bus routes in red, tram routes in green, 1953. (State Library of Queensland)

The tramways toilet associated with the former number 29 terminus is still located under the house I described in my post The Mistress’s House.

One private southside bus company with a very long history is the Mt. Gravatt Bus Service. Its origins lie with the horse omnibus service founded in 1888 by the publican of the Mt. Gravatt hotel, William Ambrose Underwood.

Horse bus transporting passengers at Mount Gravatt slq blog

In 1893, there were just 4 services a day to Mt. Gravatt, (State Library of Queensland)

Underwood’s omnibus service was taken over by Jack Doolan based at his stables located on the corner of Juliette Street and Logan Road. It passed to Henry “Dodger” Heike,  who had stables at the corner of Wecker and Creek Roads.

It was later operated by John Durant using a Model T Ford bus. It was taken over by his son-in-law Frederick John Howatson in 1923, and later operated by Alan Howatson. The family ran the service until 1978 from when it passed through various hands. It’s still in operation today. You can read the full story here or  here.

mt gravatt howatson bus history site

A Dodge bus in 1926. (Howatson Family Collection via

© P. Granville 2020

2 thoughts on “Omnibus Families of the Southside

  1. Pingback: Brisbane’s Omnibuses | Highgate Hill and Its History

  2. Pingback: The Hazelwood Estate, Highgate Hill 1885 | Highgate Hill and Its History

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s