Monday, December 19, 2011

Cobb and Co and the Paroo People.


Cobb and Co Coach crossing the flooded Paroo River.

In researching the history of the outback and my families place in it I stumbled on photos of family members standing in front of a Cobb and Co Stage coach at Wannaring. NSW. On the back of the photo is the writing of Eldred Barton addressed to Margaret Valentine Cotter and he refers the everyone as the "Paroo People"


Cobb and Co coach full gallop being chased by a dust storm

For my overseas readers the Paroo is one of the last free flowing rivers left in Australia and is a very significant river along with the Darling, as a place of Aboriginal history, Pastoral history and is very high in environmental significance. ( google it).

The Stage coaches of Australia were developed by Americans Freeman Cobb and George Mowton in answer to American company "Adams Express" desire to set up an international freight service here. Adams Express had profited greatly from the American gold rush and saw similar opportunities in moving freight here.

However, George Mowton returned to America as he felt the plan would not work- the country was too harsh. Cobb persisted and saw the need to move passengers as just important as freight.


Coach outside a hotel.

Whilst coaches had been used for many years in Australia they were crude and uncomfortable, often falling apart, or making passengers ill. The Cob and Co Coach was developed in answer to the need of covering vast distances over harsh terrain. The original coaches were built in America by Abbot- Downing coaches and used a simple leather strap system to suspend the the body and provide comfort for the passengers. They were a proven design and they worked. They were known as "Concord" coaches as this was the town where they were built.

However "comfort" is very subjective. Here is a quote from a passenger in 1870:-

“The coach starts ... with the passengers and mails over a road on which travelling in the daytime is wretched enough, but in the night is excruciating. The road has received very little attention in the way of making from anybody, and is just what a track over stony ground, cut up for a score of years, would be. For twenty or thirty miles it consists of sand and rocks intermingled, over which the coach is driven as fast as the horses can drag it. The result is a continuous series of jolts, which must be felt to be appreciated, and which in weak persons would likely cause internal injuries. During this period of suffering, if the wind follows the coach, there is a constant atmosphere of dust. The driver has shortcuts and paths of his own through the forest, and the passenger on the box seat is constantly engaged in a mental calculation of the odds in favour of running foul of innumerable stumps which he sees flying past, or dashing headlong against the trees through which he can see no road until in the midst of them. The leader of the team however, follows the twists and turns of the bush road with amazing accuracy and though we graze the very bark of the trees, still on we go, frequently at full gallop, and the driver is quite unconscious of doing anything wonderful”

Pulled by a team of 4-6 horses they carried their passengers, mail and luggage across the vast interiors of QLD, NSW and Victoria. As Cobb & Co developed so too did the Staging Posts- a place where the horses were changed and repairs made as needed. These too developed where passengers could receive a meal, drink and accommodation as required.


Cobb and Co Coach fully loaded ( dare I say "Overloaded"??)

To ensure the fastest time, a driver would use a bugle or a horn to announce the coaches imminent arrival. This gave the blacksmith and the stables time to prepare the exchange horse. Each drivers "call" was different and so the team of horses could be readied specifically for that driver and his coach. It was simple and brilliant. Horses were exchanged every 10 to 30 miles depending on terrain. The Cobb and Co coaches redefined travel for Australia from the 1850's through to the 1920's where cars, trucks and buses began to take over. In 1856 Mr Cobb returned to American having made a small fortune and changing the history of our nation.


The Cobb & Co Coach arrives for the Paroo people! Woman far right is Elen Fischer Cotter, and on her right Mrs Goodie ( Family photo circa 1910 at Wanaaring)

For me, I see in the family photos that the arrival of Cobb and Co coach was a great social event with everyone turning out to see it. I look at the people and see tough men and women. There are stories of a woman driver who would drive and if the coach was not full she would take her 13 children with her! Once she saw Bushrangers about to rob her coach and she beat them off ( not surprising if she has 13 kids... bush rangers would be a piece of cake!)

Its a sad thing that there is not more done to preserve Australian folk-lore. If you look at the wells Fargo site in the USA they are very proud of their stage coach history. I have to say that nowadays its fashionable to "bash " the USA however there are many great things they have done for us and our history


My family photo. Sent by Eldred Barton for Ms Margaret Cotter. The women to the left is Elen Fischer Cotter. (Circa 1910 at Wanaaring to be confirmed)

Below is a song that now makes sense to me after looking at the photos. I hope it makes sense to you.

Cobb and Co. Lionel Long

There's a hustle and a bustle in the old hotel tonight
The bar is over-bursting and the lights are gaining bright
They're waiting for the horses who have been through the night
And they're waiting for the coach of Cobb & Co
Cobb & Co, Cobb & Co
And they're waiting for the coach of Cobb & Co

There's Billy Jones the jackeroo still breathless from his ride
He bought a brand new sulky and he's standin' just outside
He's waiting for the pretty girl who's gonna be his bride
And she's coming on the coach of Cobb & Co
Cobb & Co, Cobb & Co
And she's coming on the coach of Cobb & Co

Now the horses hooves are drumming in the distance they're a coming
A far off land is booming, just a plain
The breakneck speed they're driving, pretty soon they'll be arriving
There'll be lots of cheer when old friends meet again

There's Dan the old prospecter and he's got a bag of gold
He made a lucky strike, about two thousand pounds I'm told
He's off to see the city lights before he gets too old
And he's leaving on the coach of Cobb & Co
Cobb & Co, Cobb & Co
And he's leaving on the coach of Cobb & Co

Jim Burke is mighty worried 'cause the drinks are running dry
Unless he gets some money soon he'll kiss his farm goodbye
His written to the bank and now he's waiting their reply
And he hopes it's on the coach of Cobb & Co
Cobb & Co, Cobb & Co
And he hopes it's on the coach of Cobb & Co

The driver's whips are cracking and the horses hooves are dragging
As across the red and dusty trail they race
There's a distant light a burning and the passengers are yearning
For the comfort of a warm and kindly place

And someone shouts they're coming and the door is open wide
There's a rattle and a clatter and the coach is there outside
With horses hot and steamy from their long and dusty ride
There's the coach that bears the name of Cobb & Co
Cobb & Co, Cobb & Co
With the coach that bears the name of Cobb & Co..

7 comments:

  1. Absolutely fabulous Simon.Loved the photos,and the song,this should be taught in all the Aussie schools.
    Great work.

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  2. Simon, I had to skip reading blogs for a while...this story is a fabulous start ! Fantastic ! Not to speak about the fact that you have such good pictures to illustrate : amazing ! A great part of my family moved around 1920 to Canada, I have loads of pictures...but no names and no-one left who can help me.
    Your story is such a treasure :-)
    Happy X-mas

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  3. thanks Viviane and the same to you. Its frustrating when you cannot get any verbal history. I think I have just caught my gamily in time- I have a cousin who is telling me some great stories about the people which I hope to document

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  4. Now I note down as much information as I know at the back of pictures !
    This is something historians will always do :mentioning names, date,location.
    So good you have a cousin who can guide you ! Hope to read more...:-)

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  5. Hi, Simon. Thanks for your note. I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Keep riding! Matt at NoVisibleLycra.

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