Alternative Name(s): Tub Trap
Single-axle two-wheeled horse-drawn vehicle known as a governess cart, built by Daniel White & Co., of 86-92 Sturt Street, Princes Bridge (South Melbourne), Victoria, probably between 1900 and 1920. Previously owned by Alice Beer of Gembrook, until 1964.

This style of vehicle first appeared in Britain during the late 19th century, towards the end of the horse-drawn era, but remained popular for several decades until the period of rapid rise in motorcar ownership during the 1920s and 1930s. They were built in great numbers in Britain and formed a particularly distinctive part of rural life in Ireland where they remained a common form of transport well into the second half of the 20th century. Other local variations on the design popular in England included the 'digby' used in northern border counties and the 'jingle' used in the West Country.

The governess cart or 'tub trap' was specifically designed as a vehicle suitable for use by a governess or nanny or other unchaperoned young woman in the charge of children. It was one of the safest styles of self-driven horse-drawn vehicle because the passengers were surrounded all round by padded high sides making it unlikely they would fall out and had a reputation for being almost impossible to overturn. Typically governess carts had a light-weight body made of woven wickerwork or a grained and varnished timber frame with spindle stick sides, rather than showy painted bodywork, and inward facing longitudinal bench seats. Some models were fitted with fixed or removable 'head' or hood of wood or canvas. Usually they were driven from the rear right-hand or off-side corner requiring the driver to adopt an awkward half-twisted posture that could become uncomfortable and was not particularly conducive to maximum control of the horse, but had the advantage that all passengers remained in full view of the driver making the supervision of young children easier.

The manufacturer Daniel White was one of Melbourne's most prominent carriage builders during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born at Roscrea, County Tipperary, Ireland in 1834, he immigrated to Victoria with his widowed mother and six brothers and sisters in 1861, establishing his own business in March 1869 with a workshop near the top end of Swanston Street. He began with a capital of only £180 and two employees, but the business grew steadily each year and by 1890 had won five gold and 58 silver medals (all first prizes) at shows and exhibitions. He gained a reputation for making high-class carriages for Melbourne's wealthy businessmen and colonial governors, but also produced hundreds of more utilitarian vehicles from simple sulkies and traps to "plain and useful" express wagons. In 1888, the business was floated as the public company Daniel White & Co Limited, and an extensive new factory and showrooms were built in South Melbourne, with branches later being opened in Western Australia and South Africa. After getting into financial difficulties in the 1890s, the business reverted to private ownership and moved to smaller premises in Sturt Street, South Melbourne. Like other coachbuilders, Daniel White diversified into the manufacture and repair of motor vehicle bodies in the early decades of the 20th century, but the business was eventually forced to close in 1931, eight years after the death of the founder.

Gembrook where this vehicle was used historically was a small farming and sawmilling community situated in the Dandenong ranges 54 km east-south-east of Melbourne and 18 km east of Belgrave. From 1900 to 1954, it was the terminus of a narrow gauge (2'6" gauge) railway from Ferntree Gully, which carried passengers, farm produce and timber from local sawmills. The district was first settled in 1873 and was named by the early European settler, Albert Le Souef, who had found small emeralds and sapphires in a creek that he called Gem Brook. A general store opened at Gembrook in about 1880, followed by a primary school in 1883, but it was the opening of the railway on 18 December 1900 that ushered in the town's key period of growth. The Ranges Hotel and post office opened the following year close to the railway station and by 1911 the population had reached 506, with outward traffic on the railway amounting to 8,500 tons a year. The area was noted for its potatoes, dairy produce and orchards and became a popular tourist destination. About twenty sawmills operated in the surrounding forest with an extensive network of timber tramlines used to deliver sawn timber to the railway terminus. Devastating bushfires in 1926 and 1939 destroyed many bush sawmills and large areas of forest, leading to the formation of the Gembrook Fire Brigade in 1940.

Small horse-drawn vehicles such as this were typically used by local farming families for carrying children to school, for making trips to collect provisions and mail from the general store and post office, or to drop off and collect passengers travelling to and from the city at the railway station.

Physical Description

Two-wheeled light horse-drawn vehicle design for private use pulled by a single medium-sized horse or pony. Fitted with a high-sided square-shaped or tub-like body having rounded corners, varnished timber frame and distinctive turned spindles or 'stick work' uprights all round between the top and middle rails. The top rail consists of a wide board with steam-bent corners supporting a deep padded all round squab with zigzag button patterned upholstery in deep blue-black leather. Loose seat cushions in matching upholstery are provided for the inward-facing L-shaped bench seat across the front and right-side. A hinged rear access door is provided in the left-hand or near-side corner, with a brass T-shaped latch handle and single forged iron access step fixed just below the maker's plate. The body is fitted with straight horizontal mudguards mounted on each side top rail, lamp brackets on each front corner, chrome-plated front T-stand for supporting the reins and a whip holder attached to the rear right-hand or off-side corner adjacent to where the driver sat. The body is mounted on three-leaf double elliptical side springs over a square section "cranked" or "drop centre" axle with un-dished 16-spoke "spider" wheels constructed with Savern's patent hubs, hickory spokes and half-rims and iron tyres with counter-sunk rim bolts. The lightweight slightly bent shafts have leather jacketed ends and hind quarter patches which would have originally had a highly polished or glossy finish but are now heavily crazed. All timber work has a clear varnished or stained and varnished finish, while the hubs and undercarriage ironwork, including springs and axle, are painted in black with deep red linework.

More Information

  • Collecting Areas


  • Acquisition Information

    Donation from Mrs Alice M. Beer, Mr A. J. Beer, 31 Aug 1964

  • Manufacturer

    Dan White & Co., 86-92 Sturt Street, Princes Bridge, Greater Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, circa 1900-1920

  • Inscriptions

    Maker's plate fitted to rear of vehicle above foot step: "DAN. WHITE. 86-92 STURT STREET PRINCES BRIDGE."

  • Classification

    Road transport, Horse drawn vehicles, Buggies & carts

  • Category

    History & Technology

  • Discipline


  • Type of item


  • Overall Dimensions

    300 cm (Length), 150 cm (Width), 150 cm (Height)

  • References

    Powerhouse Museum Collection, Reg. No. 2002/31/1, Governess cart owned by Mrs Ernest Hillier, 1918 - [Link 1] , viewed 13/03/2009. History of Gembrook, [Link 2] , viewed 17/03/2009.
    [Book] Sutherland, Alexander. 1888. Victoria and its Metropolis: Past and Present., Vol.2, p.623 Pages
    [Book] 1897. Wise's Post of Directory, Perth & Country Western Australia., pp.476-477 Pages
    [Article] Steven, Margaret. 'White, Daniel (1834 - 1923)', in Australian Dictionary of Biography. vol.12., Vol.12, pp.464-465 Pages
    [Journal] Victorian Historical Magazine., Vol. 43, May 1972, p.802 Pages

  • Keywords

    Horsedrawn Vehicles