For more than 40 years, a tram marked “NO PASSENGERS” in large letters made its way from Darlinghurst, along Anzac Parade to Long Bay Gaol. It carried some of the worst criminals of our time convicted at the infamous “Darlo” Court House. One of them was serial bank robber, safe cracker and prison escapee, Darcy Dugan.
Built in 1909 at the Randwick Workshop, the number 948 prison car was one of the most remarkable trams to serve Sydney. It had six lockable six-person cells each with a sliding door and no windows, plus an additional two cells just for women.
The tram ran four times a day between 1909 and 1949. After facing Darlinghurst Court, prisoners were moved from the courtroom to a small underground annex at the rear of the adjacent police station. Here, the prisoners were loaded onto the tram away from the prying eyes of the public before making their way to the gaol.
On 4 March 1946, despite its walls and bulkheads being heavily fortified, the prison tram showed it wasn’t infallible.
The notorious Darcy Dugan managed to cut his way to freedom despite being locked in a secure cell. Dugan had smuggled a bread and butter knife on board that he’d stolen earlier from the prison commissary, and as the tram neared the Sydney Cricket Ground, he used it to cut a hole in the roof and escape.
The daring escape in broad daylight was splashed across all of Sydney’s newspapers and more than 300 police were assigned to the manhunt. Dugan’s time on the run however was short-lived and he was recaptured the very next day!
Darcy Dugan died in 1991, spending 43 ofhis 70 years in jail. By the end of his life, he’d become more famous for his string of jail breaks and subsequent recaptures than for his initial crimes.
As for the number 948 tram, it was withdrawn from service in 1950 when the ‘Black Maria’ paddy wagons took over transporting prisoners.
Destined for the scrapheap, the tram was salvaged and taken to the Sydney Tramway Museum in Loftus where it lives on for the public to look at today.