"The History Of Steam In Sorrento"

Old SorrentoFor early Melbournians, Sorrento was the most popular holiday destination on the Mornington Peninsula.  People came by paddle steamer in the 1890s and took a steam tram across the narrow neck of the peninsula to the ocean beach.

The Sorrento Pier was constructed in 1870 and became essential to the development of the township. Steamships brought visitors from Melbourne.

From the pier a ramp provided access to the Sorrento Steam Tram Service ran from 1890-1921 carrying passengers from the pier along Ocean Amphitheatre Road to the Back Beach.  The steam tram was enormously popular in the early 1900's, carrying up to 20,000 people in a season.

Restoring Sorrento’s historic steam tram platform is the aim of a group of local Sorrento community enthusiasts, together with the Mornington Shire and also on board are representatives from the Nepean Conservation Group, Rotary Club Sorrento, Sorrento Portsea Chamber of Commerce, the Nepean Ratepayers Association, the Nepean Historical Society and several interested community members.

The terminus was actually the starting point for a steam train formed in 1889 by local identity George Coppin. It carried over 20,000 passengers to the back beach, guesthouses and hotels during the three month holiday season. The present tram terminus is a rotting buffer located on a deserted strip of land on the prime cliff top location at Policeman’s Point.

For the Committee, this represents a unique opportunity to complete the restoration of Sorrento Park, Policemen’s Point and the steam tram platform as a linked walkway to the Sorrento front beach, pier and ferry terminal.

The cost of the project, which includes erecting a retaining wall, rebuilding the platform, signage, relaying the tracks and replacing the buffer will be $46,000.
(Thank you to Virtual Sorrento for this article)


A Personal Account:

Merle KermodeFor 94 year old Merle Kermode, the Sorrento Steam Tram holds special memories of an annual family excursion each Australia Day.

Merle has very clear recollections of her first trip as a 4 year old and for the many that followed.

The journey would begin at 8:00 am at the Gardiner Railway station in Glen Iris, involved a ferry ride on one of the paddle steamers, the Hygeia, the Ozone or the Weerona and finally, the Steam Tram ride to the Sorrento Back Beach.

Merle’s parents, four of their five children (one of Merle’s siblings always “got seasick” so she would not come) and family friends from Elmore would organize sandwiches and homemade cake that would be carefully wrapped and packed the night before in a picnic basket.  For the children, there was raspberry cordial, for the adults, a thermos of tea.  Everyone, Merle remembers, wore a sun hat except her Father, who wore a felt hat.

On board the ferry, there would be a Scottish pipe and drum band all dressed in matching Highland kilts who would play brackets of music as they marched up and down the deck.  The excitement would mount as they would near Sorrento.

There was a “steep hill” to climb to go over the bridge to the platform where the tickets were sold.  All the while, the Guard would be calling out “All aboard!  All aboard!   The whistle would blow and the tram would “rattle and shake” all the way to the Back Beach.  No stopping in Sorrento!

Sorrento’s famous rock pools were the final destination, even though, as Merle says, very little swimming was done.  It was too difficult to carry wet bathers and damp towels home.  As unthinkable as it might be today, no one brought a camera, a ball or toys to play with.  Merle was happy to wander around with her Father and to pick up shells while the adults walked to the cliffs to enjoy the views.

The Steam Tram whistle would blow in the middle to late afternoon and that was the signal to all the day visitors that it was time to leave.  Everyone was a lot quieter on the way home. (Thank you to the Nepean Conservation Group for this article)