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COBB & CO
J. H. M. ABBOTT.
"Not all the ships that sail away since Roaring
Days are done—
Not all the boats that steam from port, nor all
the trains that run.
Shall take such hopes and loyal hearts—for
men shall never know
Such days as when the Royal Mail was run
by Cobb and Co.
The 'greyhounds' race across the sea, the 'special'
cleaves the haze,
But these seem dull and slow to me compared
with Roaring Days !
The eyes that watched are dim with age, and
souls are weak and slow,
The hearts are dust or hardened now that broke
for Cobb and Co."
NEVER, perhaps, has the romance connected with the famous transport firm, whose name eventually came to stand for all coaching enterprise in Australia—and even in New Zealand—been more fittingly enshrined than in Henry Lawson's famous ballad, of which the lines quoted above form the final stanza. "The Lights of Cobb and Co." records a chapter of Australian development that is one of the most picturesque and thrilling in the story of the continent, and it is fitting that a son of the Bush, whose heart never wandered far from his Alma Mater, should have written this moving memorial to a phase of bush life which has entirely disappeared. Never again will be seen such times in Australia as were the times when Cobb and Co. were at the zenith of their fame. The period of pioneering contemporary with the existence of the famous coaching service has faded out of being, and railways and motor-cars—most particularly the latter—have relegated to museums and exhibitions the celebrated vehicles which, with their incomparable teams of horseflesh and their dashing drivers, were, in what Lawson calls "the Roaring Days," so distinctive a feature of Australian life. Fifty years ago, Cobb and Co. were one of the most important realities in the inland life of this country. Today, they are only a memory to elderly Australians and a tradition to the youth of the Commonwealth. But, whilst Lawson's poem is available in print, such traditions and memory will not die.
When gold was discovered in Victoria in the 1850s people from all over the world rushed to the 'diggings' and mining settlements sprang up over night. These new towns needed fast and reliable transport.
Four young Americans - Freeman Cobb, John Murray Peck, James Swanton and John Lambert started a stagecoach company like those in the United States. The first Cobb & Co. coach ran on 30 January 1854 carrying passengers from Melbourne to the Forest Creek Diggings, now Castlemaine.
The coaches came from America, and 'Yankee' or 'Canuck' (American and Canadian) drivers were employed as drivers. These drivers had experience driving coaches in the American West. Cobb & Co. halved the travelling times of competitors. Horse teams were changed at stations every 30 kilometres. Coaches averaged 12 kilometres per hour over rough bush tracks. Drivers took horse teams and coaches through forests, flooded creeks, and over mountain ranges. They faced bushrangers wanting money and gold.
Cobb & Co. coaches carried passengers and mail for 70 years and carried passengers and mail in every mainland colony of Australia as well as New Zealand, South Africa and Japan.
Cobb and Co coaches were passenger vehicles for people travelling long distances between towns. They used American style coaches which had the body mounted on leather straps called 'thoroughbraces'. The body rocked and swayed as drivers guided the coaches and horse teams over rough bush tracks.
Coaches carried mail and parcels in baskets on the roof. They sometimes carried gold and money for banks in a special 'boot' under the driver's seat. Some coaches were robbed by bushrangers in the early gold rush days.
Floods, bogs and steep mountain tracks were always dangerous.
Courtesy of Cobb & Co. Museum