OLD COACHING DAYS.
STORY OF COBB AND CO.
BY HARRY H. PECK.
On May 20 appeared an article on the above subject, and which I would like to correct in one or two particulars. Mr. A. W. Greig says that "traditions vary slightly as to the names of Cobb's three original partners." It is no tradition, but a very simple fact that the three were John Lamber, James Swanton, and John Murray Peck (my father). They were, with Free- man Cobb, all young men together in New York, in the service of either Adams and Co. or Wells, Fargo, and Co., the two well- known express companies, and came out to Australia in 1853, with the idea of enter- ing into the carrying business to the gold- fields. However, after a few months of haul- ing their waggons through the mud, as my father often said, "practically up to their floors," from Liardet's Beach (the present Port Melbourne) to the city, they gave it
up, and began coaching on the Bendigo road on January 30, 1854. Within 12 months Lamber retired, and Arthur Blake came into the partnership, he and my father managing the road and the outside business, Mr. Swanton the buying and sup- plying the fodder, which was an important business in those days, large quantities of oats being imported from California, and hay from Tasmania at £37/10/ per ton, while Mr. Cobb managed the financing and
After Mr. Cobb returned to the United States, and the business was sold to Thomas Davies, my father followed him, and, pur- chasing a large cargo of the famed Abbott coaches and Hill's harness at Concord, New Hampshire, near his birthplace, re-
turned to Victoria, and was largely instru- mental in forming a new company, regis- tered as the Victorian Stage Company, which comprised 13 partners, all "Yankees" and Canadians, which took over the Ben- digo road and branches in the latter part of 1857, and carried on under the old name of Cobb and Co. This was the company referred to by Mr. Greig as Swanton, Blake, and Co. The 13 included Peck, Blake, and Swanton, Cobb's old partners, the others being mostly overseers, and some of the most trusted drivers of the original firm. The shipment referred to included the first of the famous "Jack" or 40 passenger and six-horse coaches brought to Australia, which did so much to enhance and spread the fame of Cobb and Co. They were all thorough-brace swung, and turned out to be the most suitable and popular for the purposes of the goldfields traffic on the main roads. Mr. George Woodworth, who died only last year, was the last survivor of Cobb and Co.'s original drivers, and one of the 13 partners of the Victorian Stage Co., and the first to drive a "Jack" into Bendigo. He often related that when he first took the ribbons on a "Jack," it happened he had a light load. She rolled so "like a ship at sea" that for the whole of his stage from Castlemaine to Bendigo the sensation of top heaviness was so strong that he felt all the time she was going to lurch over his wheelers. "But," the old man added with pride, "never a Jack was known to leave her braces or lose her centre of gravity." The Leviathan coach referred to by Mr. Greig, built at Ballarat, with the idea of carrying 60 passengers, turned out a huge failure. lt did one business trip, and was then laid by as un unprofitable and un- manageable curiosity. It was too heavy for eight horses, and larger teams could not be profitably worked.
Any reference to the early days of coach- ing in Victoria, or to the history of Cobb and Co. in Australia, would be incomplete unless mention was made of those two great pioneers of the road, Hiram Crawford and James Rutherford, both (like so many of their confreres in the early coaching days) "Down Easters." Hiram Crawford ran coaches to Beechworth or on the Sydney road just about the time, or even a little before. Cobb and Co. began to Bendigo, and though the big firm, or one of its nu- merous successors, afterwards took over the main Sydney road line, Mr. Crawford stayed longer in the coaching business in Victoria (fully 60 years altogether) than any of the original Americans, carrying on pretty well right up to his death only a few years ago. Many lines ran out of Albury, Wodonga, Wangaratta, and Beechworth, under the titles of Crawford and Co., or Crawford, Connelly, and Co. Mr. Craw- ford's Melbourne ventures included the building of the Eastern Arcade, but this
was not a success financially. In his later
years he gave much time to the Country Fire Brigades Board, of which he was a valued and very active member.
James Rutherford did more to extend and spread the name and fame of Cobb and Co, througout Australia than any
other man. He joined the firm in 1862, and at once pushed out to the centre of New South Wales, accompanied by three other partners of the firm-Walter Hall (later a
millionaire through Mount Morgan), Whit- ney, and Bradley. Mr. Rutherford, who was a fine organiser, early established a huge emporium for the firm of Bathurst, where they built their own coaches and made their own harness, besides catering for squatters and other settlers' require- ments. He soon carried the banner of
Cobb and Co. right throughout almost the
whole of New South Wales and Queens- land. Within a few years the interests
of the firm were divided. A. W. Robertson
and John Wagner retaining the Victorian
lines and the western portion of New South Wales as far north as Wilcannia, and James Rutherford and his Bathurst confreres tak- ing all the rest of New South Wales and
all Queensland. Mr. Rutherford died prac-
tically in harness, on a long north-west Queensland trip only three or four years ago, and only this year the Queensland
firm of Cobb and Co. (the really true suc- cessors of the original firm of 1857 in Vic-
toria) are advertising the giving up of the business by the selling of their existing
lines in peacemeal. Of the original four
partners, John Murray Peck was the only
one to really adopt Victoria as his home. "Johnny Lamber died in San Francisco some 25 years ago, Mr. Swanton in New Zealand, and Mr. Cobb, as Mr. Greig has related, in South Africa.
lt is only fair to add that Mr. E. M. Lovell-Smith, of Christchurch, New Zea- land, is writing a most comprehensive his- tory of Cobb and Co. and their genesis and doings right up to the present day through- out Australasia, including all the Common- wealth States and New Zealand where Cobb and Co., through some of the old partners, overseers, and drivers branched out very largely shortly after their begin- ning in Victoria.