This Cobb & Co thoroughbrace coach was built in 1890, the second eight-passenger coach produced by the company's Charleville workshops in Queensland. It was the combination of strength, stability and the forgiving suspension of the Charleville-built coaches that led them to be described at the time as "the most scientifically built long distance horse vehicles known".
Cobb & Co was the most famous coaching firm in Australian history. For seventy years it provided a service renowned for its speed and reliability, delivering letters and passengers on time despite often adverse weather conditions. The company developed a large network of change stations, its own specially bred horses, and extremely reputable and skilled drivers who knew their routes well.
The development in the USA of the 'thoroughbrace' coach, ideally suited to Australian conditions, was the single greatest contributing factor to the company's success. (The term 'thoroughbrace', including an archaic form of 'through', refers to the suspension of the coach body on strong leather straps.) Cobb & Co coaches operated in every Australian State except Tasmania, as well as in New Zealand, South Africa and Japan. The extent of these coaching operations even surpassed that of the famous American coaching company Wells Fargo.
The Cobb & Co Telegraph Line of Royal Mail Coaches was formed in 1853 by Freeman Cobb to operate horsedrawn mail and passenger coaches between Melbourne and the Victorian goldfields. Whereas in England coaching services were closed after the introduction of railways in the 1830s, in Australia coaching services developed concurrently with railways from the 1850s and flourished both in competition with them and by providing complementary services. This encouraged settlement and the development of effective communication networks in remote country areas of eastern Australia, particularly towards the end of the nineteenth century.
Under James Rutherford's management from 1861, the company quickly established its supremacy over other coaching lines. Along the coach routes were inns or change stations, at 15 to 30 mile intervals, where fresh horses replaced tired ones. A bugle carried on the coach was always blown as they approached an inn, change station or town stopping place. The horses were strong and bred for the purpose. Five horses matched by colour were harnessed for the eight-passenger coaches, a formation devised by Rutherford for Cobb and Co.
After 1902, Cobb & Co.'s diminishing profits were attributed to drought conditions, extensions to the railways in Queensland and the introduction of the motor car and later the aeroplane. The last horsedrawn Cobb & Co coach service to operate was in Queensland between Surat and Yeulba (now Yuleba) on 14 August 1924. After that the company only operated motor vehicles until it went into voluntary dissolution in 1929.
It is believed that the Museum's coach was last on the road at Blackall in Queensland, although the Museum acquired it from Narrabri, New South Wales, in 1936. In the mid 1950s half of the coach was painted in the New South Wales Cobb & Co livery of red and straw, to give an impression of its appearance in service. Although this resulted in a strange hybrid object, we are thankful today that at least half of the coach is in 'as found' condition, its original fabric not obliterated by modern paint.
Austin, K. A., "The Lights of Cobb & Co.", Rigby Ltd, Adelaide, 1977.
Cuffley, P., "Buggies and Horse-drawn vehicles in Australia", Pioneer Design Studio Pty Ltd, Lilydale, 1981.
Stringer, M., "Australian Horse-drawn Vehicles", Rigby Ltd, Adelaide, 1980.
Lees, W., "Coaching in Australia: A History of the Coaching Firm of Cobb & Co"., Carter Watson , Brisbane, 1917.
Murdoch, Sally, obb & Co. : A select bibiography, La Trobe Research Section, State Library of Victoria, available on internet at http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/slv/latrobe/cobb&co.htm
"Old Coaching Days in New South Wales" in "Main Roads", Vol. XVII, No. 2. pp. 40-45.
Hatherly, J. "Reminiscences of the Old Coaching Days" in Royal Australian History Society Journal, Vol. 24 1938. pp.241-244.