My 2nd great grandfather Robert John Steven Sellers has been mentioned in an earlier question: Finding New York City/State records relating to Sellars family (British subjects) births/deaths mid 19th century?.

He led an interesting life:

  • born to Scottish parents in Albany, New York State, USA in 1854,
  • living in New York City around 1857 (when his brother William was born),
  • spending some time in New Grenada (now known as Colombia), Panama around 1863 (when his brother John was born),
  • living with his aunt in Glasgow after losing his mother (and probably his father) by about 1870,
  • becoming an apprentice seaman by 1871,
  • leaving the sea in 1874 to settle in Melbourne for four years
  • then living in Adelaide for the rest of his life which ended with heart failure in a city street on a very hot day during a visit to Sydney in 1908

His obituary says that he was an enthusiastic cyclist but makes no mention of our family legend which says that he was the first person to cycle from Adelaide to Melbourne, possibly racing against the train.

I have found that such rides occurred by others in 1893 and 1894 without claiming to be the first.

Also, while writing this question I just found another article that confirms that he was cycling from Adelaide to Melbourne on 18 July 1896 but that is clearly not the first such ride nor does it mention an earlier ride.

I suspect that a family story of perhaps "he was one of the first" became the legend of "he was the first, and was racing the train!".

Does anyone know where I might be able to find out who was the first to complete the ride and when?

If it were him after all, I am assuming that it must have happened between about 1878 (when he moved to Adelaide) and 1893 (when the article above is talking about it being done quicker than previously). At that time he was between about 24 and 39 years of age so probably at or near the peak of his cycling fitness.

I'm not sure if the direction (Adelaide-Melbourne vs Melbourne-Adelaide) affects my legend but I just found an SA Memory on Early cycling in South Australia which says:

Cycling in Australia developed rapidly after the importation of the first ordinary or 'penny farthing' bicycle to Melbourne in 1875. A Melbourne Bicycle Club was formed in 1878 and South Australia followed in 1881.

The first cycle trip from Melbourne to Adelaide took eight days in 1881.

The bicycle we know today - known then as the safety bicycle - was introduced to Australia in the late 1880s.

A worldwide cycling craze occurred in the mid 1890s. In 1897 the number of different brands available in Australia peaked at over 150 spanning the alphabet from Acme to Zimmy. Prices for touring bicycles dropped dramatically during that decade. About 1897 in rural NSW a new low priced bicycle cost about the equivalent of four or five weeks wages for a rural worker.

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The timeframe of the first such ride can be narrowed by checking the histories of bicycle design (and introduction to Australia) and Australian road development.

Wikipedia's Bicycle says that "the first chain-driven model was developed around 1885 ...Starley's 1885 Rover, manufactured in Coventry." Pneumatic tires and coaster brakes were developed after 1888. I can't see anyone making a 725+ km trip (distance Adelaide to Melbourne via National Highway A8) with earlier bicycle models.

Primitive road surfaces would also make for a horrible experience. The 1894 South Australian Register article mentions a distance of 570 miles (917 km), so routes other than today's A8 were used. Which roads were available at that time, and suitable for travel with a bicycle, will need local resources to discover.

To consider: Cycling clubs were a huge part of the biking experience in the late 1800s. The first such long ride might have been a group experience. And, if your ancestor was a member of such a club, there might be records of his participation in club events.

Postscript: Re racing the train - highly unlikely in view of the train's overnight traveling time:
Wikipedia's The Overland: "The Overland is an Australian passenger train operating between Melbourne and Adelaide. It first ran in 1887 as the Adelaide Express, but South Australians have always referred to the train as the Melbourne Express. ...covering 828 kilometres between the state capitals. Originally an overnight train, ..."

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