1899 Shearer Steam Carriage


National Motor Museum, Australia

National Motor Museum, Australia
Birdwood, Australia

Front and right hand side view. Carriage or wagon style body, featuring rack and pinion steering. Originally employing a tiller, it was later replaced by a more conventional steering wheel. The vehicle features a vertical twin-cylinder engine, powered by a Yarrow marine-type boiler. It can seat up to eight people and travelled at 10-15 mph (16-24 kph).
The preferred type of fuel for the boiler was mallee stumps, conveniently found in abundance in the landscape. Water was also required to create the steam needed to run it, and so it was important that this was available on every trip. This vehicle had to have two people to drive it - the engineer who kept the boiler going and the driver who operated the controls.


  • Title: 1899 Shearer Steam Carriage
  • Date Created: 1899-01-01/1899-12-31
  • Provenance: In 1877 brothers David and John Shearer established their farm implement and machinery manufacturing company in Mannum, South Australia. Their range included stump jump ploughs to clear the mallee and pine filled land, grubbing machines, fixed ploughs, strippers, scarifiers and harrows. Set on the banks of the Murray River, paddle steam boats, introduced to the region in 1853, were the primary transport for trade along the river system. The Shearer company brought technological innovation, employment and prosperity to the local community. The Shearer Steam carriage was constructed between 1885 and 1899 by David Shearer and his brother John and is an example of one of the earliest vehicles to be constructed in Australia. David Shearer conceived and developed the idea for a self-propelled vehicle in his spare time as an experiment in mechanical engineering. It was a significant feat for a man with limited knowledge of the automotive experimentation occurring around the world. Steam had been the dominant source of power in both land and sea transport for the greater part of the 19th century. Several British engineers such as Richard Trevithick and Walter Hancock had experimented with both private and public steam-powered vehicles on the roads of Britain, but all had ultimately proved either uneconomic or technically problematic. However several German engineers such as Karl Benz, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach were designing four stroke petroleum-powered engines for early motor wagons, and by the close of the century a number of European companies were producing basic road vehicles for sale using this type of technology. Newspapers of the period report that the construction began in 1885 and took fourteen years to complete. The vehicle made its official debut journey down the Main Street of Mannum on 5 June 1899. In 1900 the steam carriage was driven from Mannum to Adelaide for the Century Exhibition, during which time the Mayor of Adelaide granted permission for the vehicle to drive on the city streets. Rides were available around the four terraces of Adelaide at a price of one shilling per person. The steam carriage travelled approximately 3000 miles before being retired from use, and its boiler and engine re-purposed. These were later reclaimed. The carriage body remained at the Shearer factory for decades. In 1984 the Sporting Car Club of South Australia restored the vehicle and the Shearer family donated it to the National Motor Museum. On 5 January 1999 a re-enactment of its inaugural run down the Main Street of Mannum was held, carrying David Shearer's grandchildren. In 1988 and 1999 the steam carriage participated in the London to Brighton, the world's largest veteran car rally. Technical issues prevented the vehicle from finishing on both occasions.
  • Rights: Out of copyright, Public Domain

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