Cobb and Co
A Cobb & Co coach
Cobb & Co was the name of a transportation company in Australia. It was prominent in the late 19th century when it operated stagecoaches to many areas in the outback and at one point in several other countries, as well.
Initially trading as The American Telegraph Line of Coaches, the company was established in 1853 by four Americans Freeman Cobb, John Murray Peck, James Swanton and John Lamber but only rose to prominence when bought by James Rutherford and a consortium of nine other partners in 1861. Rutherford's partners included Alexander William Robertson, John Wagner, Walter Russell Hall, William Franklin Whitney and Walter Bradley. Rutherford re-organised and extended the Victorian services and although winning a monopoly on major mail contracts, he found the advancing railways fast making Cobb & Co's Victorian routes redundant.
A related company, also branded as Cobb & Co, took over the South Australian mail and coach business of William Rounsevell in 1866 after several years of ruinous competition. Its ownership was held by four interests of a quarter each:
- Canadians, Peleg Whitford Jackson & Jasper Bingham Meggs
- Fuller, Hill & Co (Henry Fuller, Henry Hill & George Mills)
- Joseph Darwent
- Rounsevell's son Ben Rounsevell
Rounsevell sold out, then the Canadians and Darwent retired, and the business was taken over by John Hill & Co, whose owners were John Hill, Henry Fuller and George Mills. Many years later it was merged into Graves, Hill & Co.
Cobb and Co. in Queensland was also a separate concern, founded in 1865. The original shareholders were James Rutherford, Hiram Barnes and John Robertson. Their first stables were in Albert Street on the site later occupied by P. Fleming and Sons. Then a move was made to the spot where the premises of the Queensland Machinery Co., Ltd., later stood, and later on the Brisbane headquarters were at the junction of Queen Street and Petrie's Bight, which later became Joliffe's showroom. The first coach ran from Brisbane to Ipswich. In. 1881 the firm became a company, with a capital of £50,000, running some 3000 horses a total of around 10,000 miles a week, the largest transport company in Queensland.
Coaches played an important part in Australia's transport and communication history. The first services began in 1854 between Melbourne and Bendigo. In 1861 Rutherford proposed extending the business into New South Wales, but his partners opposed the plan. They reversed the decision following news of the Lambing Flat (Young) gold rush. Rutherford moved ten coaches from the Castlemaine depot to Bathurst in 1862, and re-established his headquarters there. He transported passengers from the railway station at Penrith, all the way to the new goldfields. In 1865 on recommendations by Rutherford the company again expanded, this time to Queensland.
The first Cobb & Co service in Queensland was between Ipswich and Brisbane in 1865. The coach stage stops were at Goodna and at the Oxley hotel. This service ended when the railway link was completed in 1875. In 1871 Frederick Shaw joined the firm and established a large office, coach building factory and stables at Petrie Bight. The company continued to expand its services, reaching North Queensland in the 1880s. During this period services were expanded into South West Queensland as well. These coach services allowed for an otherwise isolated number of communities to maintain regular contact with the rest of the world.
An 1880s Concord model coach in the collection of the National Museum of Australia, in Canberra, known as the Nowland's mail coach, was used to transport mail and passengers in northern New South Wales. This coach is likely to have been made by the Cobb & Co coachworks either at their Charleville or Bathurst factory. It was originally owned by the Nowland family and used on their network of mail and passenger services in the Liverpool Plains area in the 1880s.
This coach also has a rich connection to the silver screen, featuring in the 1920 silent film The Man from Kangaroo and the 1957 production of Robbery Under Arms, based on the Rolf Boldrewood novel of the same name.
The Man from Kangaroo was shot near the coach's original home around Gunnedah, and further south in the Kangaroo Valley. The Man from Kangaroo is held in the National Film and Sound Archives of Australia collection. Robbery Under Arms was shot around Bourke in New South Wales and Wilpena Pound in South Australia.
In Robbery Under Arms the coach features in a hold-up scene. It is first glimpsed barrelling down an inland highway before being bailed up by the fictional bushranger Captain Starlight and his gang.
The Nowland's mail coach was acquired by the National Museum of Australia in 1980. It was purchased from the Royal Australian Historical Society with another coach, a wooden horse-drawn landau known as the Ranken coach.
Cobb & Co's operations were eventually superseded by the expansion of the railway network and the arrival of the automobile. The company also had a vast amount of debt due to over-expansion into industries like wool. Cobb & Co went into receivership in 1911 after Rutherford's death. Its last horse-drawn coach service ran in 1924.
Resurrection of the name
The company name has been resurrected in recent years by various operators, and horse-drawn coaches still operate at various locations throughout Australia.
In 1986 the name was also resurrected by Bell Street Bus Company for its coach charter business. In 2001 it entered a joint venture with Dyson Group and Sid Fogg's to operate services on behalf of Australian Pacific Tours.
It was included in the sale of Bell Street Bus Company to Dyson Group in August 2003. As at November 2014 Dyson had 9 coaches painted in Cobb & Co livery operating out of their Bundoora, Kyneton, Wodonga, Wangaratta, Sale and Bairnsdale depots.
- A Cobb & Co stagecoach was used during the stage musical The Man from Snowy River: Arena Spectacular.
- Cobb & Co operated its lines after nightfall and its coaches were known for their triangular arrangement of lamps, which consisted of a light on either side of the coach with a large central light placed in the centre of the roof. This triangle of lights was visible for many miles across open country and is remembered in Henry Lawson's poem The Lights of Cobb & Co.
- William Henry Ogilvie mentions Cobb & Co in his poem How the Fire Queen Crossed the Swamp
- The television series Whiplash was loosely based on the life of Freeman Cobb and starred Peter Graves as Christopher Cobb.
- The 598 kilometre Cobb Highway in western New South Wales named in 1947 in commemoration of the Cobb & Co coach company.
- The Coach of Cobb & Co is a song on the album Australia: Our Land, Our Music.
- A Cobb & Co stagecoach is used in the Australian Outback Spectacular on the Gold Coast.
- Lionel Long wrote and sang The Ballad of Cobb & Co.
- An original, largely unrestored, example of a Cobb & Co. coach is on public display in the main street of Hay, New South Wales.
- Norris, R (1981). "Deakin, Alfred (1856–1919)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 15 September 2010.
- "Old Coaching Days". The Argus (Melbourne: National Library of Australia). 10 June 1922. p. 7. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
- "Coaching Days in Australia", Volume 2,The Australian Junior Encyclopaedia, AJE Publications (Vic) Pty Ltd, Melbourne 1962
- Hacker, D.R. (1999). Petries Bight: a Slice of Brisbane History. Bowen Hills, Queensland: Queensland Women's Historical Association Inc. pp. 19, 20. ISBN 0-9590271-8-1.
- "A Man's Duty is to Serve His Country". The Mail (Adelaide: National Library of Australia). 13 September 1913. p. 2 Section: Second Section. Retrieved 14 September 2012.
- "COBB AND CO.". The Queenslander (National Library of Australia). 1 September 1917. p. 3. Retrieved 10 May 2014.
- Munns, Cec F (1987). The way we were Volume 3 (2 ed.). South Melbourne: Brooks Waterlook Publicaters. p. 240. ISBN 0-85568-507-7.
- "Goodna then and now" Ipswich City Council
- Environmental Protection Agency (Queensland) (2002). Heritage Trails of the Queensland Outback. State of Queensland. p. 11. ISBN 0-7345-1040-3.
- Nowlands mail coach, National Museum of Australia
- Ranken coach, National Museum of Australia
- Everingham S 2007 "Wild Ride: The Rise and Fall of Cobb & Co"
- Meanders Cobb & Co Coach
- Tilley, Bruce (1989). Queensland Private Buses. Elizabeth: Railmac Publications. p. 11. ISBN 0 949817 71 6.
- Melbourne Metropolitan Bus Operators and Fleet Listings. Melbourne: Bus & Coach Society of Victoria. 1991. pp. 8, 12.
- Australian Pacific Tours sell to consortium Australasian Bus & Coach
- Dyson Group of Companies Australian Bus Fleet Lists
- publicity photo for "The Man from Snowy River: Arena Spectacular", featuring Cobb & Co coach which was used in the 2002 musical
- The Lights of Cobb and Co. by Henry Lawson
- How the Fire Queen Crossed the Swamp by William Ogilvie
- Whiplash – Classic Australian Television
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