Media release: Wednesday, 10 February 2016
Horse-drawn Cobb & Co coaches were vital to Queenslanders from 1866 up until 1924. Bush dwellers relied on them for their mail – not only letters but thousands of parcels purchased from mail order catalogues.
'Everything, from pots and pans to cloth, tools and hardware, came wrapped in brown paper on the coach,' said Greg Cope from the National Archives of Australia's Brisbane office, who will share his research in two public talks this month.
'In 1870 Cobb and Co coaches were travelling 28,000 miles per week and harnessing 6000 horses a day in the three eastern states,' said Greg. 'In Queensland, by 1900, the Cobb & Co coach routes peaked at more than 7000km and the company's success was largely due to them carrying the mail. Those mail contracts were worth a lot of money.'
Coach travel was expensive – and uncomfortable. Passengers paid the equivalent of a week's wages for just one day's travel of around 150km. So most people travelled by coach only rarely.
'And it was no picnic for passengers. Many experienced motion sickness and on steep hills passengers were expected to get out and walk – and even push.'
After World War I, Cobb & Co's mail business began to suffer – as the Federal government awarded mail runs to returned servicemen instead of large businesses. It was this loss of income that led to the demise of the business in 1929.
The earliest known motor mail in Queensland (and Australia) was Suttons Royal Mail from Isisford to Ilfracombe 1910. Queensland was the last state to use horse-drawn coaches for mail, owing to the terrible state of its roads. The last horse-drawn Cobb & Co coach service was between Surat and Yeulba (now Yuleba) on 14 August 1924.
The use of Cobb & Co coaches would lay the foundations of a network of mail services covering all of Queensland including the far-flung areas. And, as one Mail Inspector said, most of Queensland is really far-flung! The National Archives holds many photographs of Cobb & Co mail coaches in its collection, many of which are online at photos.naa.gov.au.
Greg Cope's talks at the National Archives of Australia, 16 Corporate Drive, Cannon Hill, Brisbane are on Wednesday 17 February at 10am and Friday 19 February at 2pm. Bookings are essential on (07) 3249 4224.