Charles Cole arrived in Dunedin from Victoria, Australia in 1861 into the madness of the Otago Gold Rush but he wasn’t chasing gold…well, not that way. He brought with him quite a cargo; 1 coach, 5 wagons and 54 horses.
Within a week, he had his first service run; the coach leaving the Provincial Hotel in Dunedin and heading to Gabriel’s Gully, the hub of the Gold Rush action. Changing stations at Tokomairiro and Waitahuna were all set up, allowing passengers to stretch their legs and for the driver to change horses. This was the first run by Cobb and Co. in New Zealand. The fare was £3 each way.
The coach could sit between 6 to 9 passengers inside with a box and roof seating outside that allowed 5 more travellers. I’m sure fingers were always crossed for great weather and not rain!
Cobb and Co. was born in Melbourne, Australia with the arrival of an American based coach service ‘Wells and Fargo’ ex-employee John Peck in 1854. His meeting up with other Americans who knew the coach business, (one being Freeman Cobb) Cobb and Co. was established. This service arrived in New Zealand with Charles Cole, who had worked for Cobb & Co. before his arrival in New Zealand.
Christchurch’s Cobb and Co. booking office (pictured) was sited at the Triangle Corner on Cashel and High Street. Now known as the Triangle Centre, Cashel Mall.
Here are some of the years that routes were opened:
1861 – Dunedin to Gabriel’s Gully
1863 – Timaru to Christchurch
1864 – Balcutha to Invercargill
1866 – Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass to Hokitika
1867 – Wanganui to Upokongaro
1867 – Wanganui to Turakina
1869 – Wanganui to Wellington
1870 – Auckland to Hamilton
1873 – Napier to Taupo to Rotorua to Tauranga
1875 – Whangaehu to Turakina to Marton to Bulls
1878 – Christchurch City to Riccarton
1881 – Blenheim to Clarence
1886 – Mt Cook to Cromwell to Queenstown
1887 – Kaikoura to Waiau
By the 1880’s and 90’s, the railway was making its way into most areas and the Cobb and Co. began to disappear. The last run by both the Australian and New Zealand coaches was in 1924.
Of course, any journey with Cobb and Co. was not for the faint hearted. The coaches that first came out were not built for comfort, the seating being wooden and only covered in horse skin.
There were many river crossings, this being more dangerous after rain as rivers would swell. There were cases of passengers falling in and being swept away and drowning.
There were also cases of horses slipping on ice, these poor animals tumbling over cliff faces and dangling in their harnesses as the coach counted their weight. Sometimes, the coach would be also hanging over, waiting for any sign of other travellers on the horizon that could mount a rescue.
Sometimes, if the coach was too heavy, it would overtake the horses coming down a hill. In one case, the coach actually flipped over, taking out half of the horses while the others took off, dragging the driver to serious injury.
Sounds like extreme travelling…
As a wee kid, one of the family favourites for dinner was Cobb and Co. I loved ordering the kids meals that arrived in a decorated cardboard box, most of the time it being a stage coach, sometimes a rocket. Hanging up on the walls were horse bridles, harnesses, all the equipment needed for a horse-drawn coach business. I remember asking my Dad why these things were everywhere and he told me about the coaches that used to grace the old roads of New Zealand.
These things have vanished from the Cobb and Co resturants of today…the era slipping further into the past. Shame really.
Even though Cobb and Co. once celebrated the past use of the name, they are not related at all. The resturants were opened in 1973.