On 24th January 1944, Robert ‘Shiny Bob’ Allen took his beloved Hansom Cab onto the streets of Christchurch for the very last time. He wasn’t out looking for fares but headed towards the Canterbury Museum, steering his horse and cab right up to the required door before handing the reigns over to the Museum Curator, Mr. Duff, himself. The era of the horse-drawn taxi service was officially over and our love for this particular Museum exhibit began (pictured).
Robert’s father, Frederick Allen, had been a cab driver too. The family had arrived in Lyttelton on 27th December 1850 aboard the Canterbury Association’s 4th ship, the ‘Cressy’. By the 1860’s, the Hansom Cab had established itself on New Zealand’s roads. Invented by Englishman, Joseph Hansom in 1834, this mode of transport had become very popular around the world. With a combination of safety, speed and agility, with only one horse being used, it soon proved to be the fastest, cheapest, hireable transportation.
As for the Allens, the Hansom Cab was to feature more than once. Frederick was not to be the only cabbie in the family – 4 of his sons followed suit with Robert being the last and the youngest. He soon earned the nickname of ‘Shiny Bob’ due to the 1st class condition of his horse, cab and trappings.
As a youth, Robert was very comfortable around horses. He first worked as a stable hand in Russley, moving on to the care of race horses before coming a coachman and then a cabbie. His Hansom Cab was built in 1912, costing Robert £95. Numbered as Cab No. 96, Robert was destined to be New Zealand’s last working Hansom cabbie.
Upon gifting his cab to the Canterbury Museum, Robert reflected back over his 44 years of working Christchurch’s streets. He remembered when 200 Hansom Cabs ruled the roads and how most of his fares were to the Addington Stockyards. By 1932, he was the only working Hansom cabbie remaining.
Robert Allen died in 1953.
*Image courtesy of the Canterbury Museum – www.canterburymuseum.com*