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The Prison Tram

1909 to 1950

There was a Tram line that ran from the city through Darlinghurst and out to La Perouse south of Sydney.

The State Government needed a jail that was a close to Sydney’s C.B.D and to the court house, at Darlinghurst. A the tram line already existed; a spur line for the Tram was constructed off the main line into the Court House. The jail was built and opened at Long Bay 1st June 1914. A secure tram for the carrying of prisoners was built at the Randwick Tramway Workshops, a line was constructed into the jail and this tram No. 948 was stabled at Waverly Tram Depot. When not in use to convey prisoners between the jail and the Court House.

Tram History Details

It had six cell compartments to hold 48 prisoners, was heavily constructed, thick walls, drab in colour. A thin roof had Police guards and below the tram drivers window front and rear was the sign “No Passengers”. Prisoners weren’t counted as passengers. It carried a tram conductor, but no fares were collected! It also had a steel floor.

It was an electric tram with a trolley pole that connected to the overhead electric wire. It carried seven men to the gallows at Long Bay and was in service until 1950’s and was donated to the Tram Museum at Loftus- Sutherland. It was Australia’s only especially purpose built prison tram. The tram line to La Perouse closed 25/2/1961.

This tram was thought to be escape proof but a certain Mr Darcy Dugan who was a prisoner at Long Bay, escaped from the tram by cutting a hole in the tin roof with a serrated bread knife he had “borrowed” from the jail’s kitchen. He left the tram with fellow accomplice at Kensington en route to the Court House, and he didn’t say good bye.

They were both recaptured a few days later.

When Police asked Darcy why he had escaped? His reply was “He wanted to see his sick mother “What the Police reply was not recorded. I’ll leave that to your imagination! Darcy had escaped from jail previously and used to boast “No jail will ever hold me”. He escaped from the tram 4th March 1946. Darcy Dugan and Robert Lewis were the first and last to ever escape from the tram. I have seen this tram with the patch over the repair. Darcy served his time and returned to civilian life.

“Mr Eternity”

I wrote about Arthur Stace AKA Mr Eternity, recently in the Manilla Express, and I said that he was literate, that was not correct, but he did only have a sparse education. I thank Manilla local Mr John Barwick for correcting me about that and have since read the story of Arthur Stace in the book by Roy Williams and Elizabeth Myers about his life. Arthur was born 9th February 1885 at Redfern Sydney and died 30th July 1967 at a Sydney nursing home. That book is well worth reading.

In his early years he spent time in jail and as he knew the inner city of Sydney well, I wonder if he was sentenced at Darlinghurst Courts? And did he serve his time at Long Bay? And was he conveyed there by the prison tram 948?

As the word “Eternity was lit up on the arch of Sydney Harbour Bridge 1999/2000, perhaps it should appear lit up again permanently at Central Railway Station as Arthur used to live in that area of East Sydney.

By Wayne Bearup