John Soden, The Man Behind the Horse-drawn Omnibuses of Annerley

John Soden
Workmen in front of a horse-drawn bus, in a transport depot, Brisbane, ca 1895 (Photo credit: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland)

Did you know that for over four decades, before there were rail services and buses in the city, people in Annerley relied on horse-drawn omnibuses? Get to know John Soden, one of the well-known omnibus operators in the 19th-century, servicing Annerley and surrounds.

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Who Was John Soden?

John Soden was born in the town of Bedworth in Warwickshire, England on 26 March 1837. He started working as a ribbon weaver at the age of 12.

In the same town, he met Mary Harrisson, who would later become his wife. Interestingly, the two were born only two days apart, since Mary was born on 28 March 1837. Like John, Mary worked at an early age, helping her mother in ribbon weaving.

John Soden and Mary Harrisson
Mary Harrisson and John Soden (Photo credit: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland)

In 1864, after eight years together, they migrated to Brisbane and tried dairy farming in Coopers Plains. However, they did not find luck in dairy farming, after all their cows died from an unknown disease. 

The Sodens later ventured into mail delivery services in a pub they purchased along Ipswich Road. It was called Hardcastle’s Hotel, now the site opposite Chardon’s Hotel.

The Soden family were among the early settlers of Ipswich Rd and owned a large colonial home in the area.

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Soden Family residence
Soden family’s residence, circa 1895  (Photo credit: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland)

The mail delivery service was between Brisbane and Rocky Water Holes (now Rocklea) but locals who knew about his services requested for a regular public run.

His routes included Highgate Hill, Boggo Road (Annerley Rd), Rocklea and Mt. Pleasant (Holland Park).

John Soden
Soden (Photo credit: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland)

Soden’s business quickly grew and it became very successful, that in just a year, he already had 25 buses running. All of their children were involved in the business.

At the peak of the business, the Sodens had over 300 horses and 22 buses running from Ipswich Rd, which was considered as one of the busy routes for omnibuses at the time. In the 1880s, Soden’s business was the second largest omnibus company in Brisbane. 

The Decline of Omnibus Lines

Soden's coachworks in Annerley
Soden’s coachworks in Annerley circa 1912 (Photo credit: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland)

The need for horse-drawn buses saw a sudden decrease when electric trams were introduced in Brisbane in 1897.

Around this time, a number of omnibus lines closed down and homes near tram routes became more sought after. The first motor omnibus was invented in 1910, leaving horse-drawn buses out-of-date.

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The Soden family gave up the buses and moved into the carrying business and coach works.

Soden, who was known for his keen interest in local  government matters, was also elected as a  Stephens Shire councillor, a position he held for 14 years.

John Soden died in 1921 at the age of 84. He was survived by Mary and their seven children–six sons and one daughter.