Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

19 October 2011

Cobb & Co's Stagecoach

I did this drawing of the ‘Burton’ coach some years ago. It is in the collection of New Zealand’s Canterbury Museum who also supplied some of the information below:
This Cobb & Co ‘Telegraph Line’ coach went into service on the Hokitika-Christchurch route in about 1865, taking gold miners and other hopefuls to the new goldfields of West Canterbury (later the Province of Westland).

It is a derivative of American-built coaches, although the design was perfected in Australia.
As New Zealand’s railway network expanded, the coaching trade declined. This coach, however, was used for a surprisingly long time. Until 1923 and the opening of the Otira Rail Tunnel, it continued to cross the Southern Alps with teams of five horses and up to 17 passengers and their luggage.

Charlie C. Cole who had been running a coach service in Victoria, Australia introduced his coach service to Canterbury in 1863. He set up stables at Christchurch in partnership with his brother Leander. In 1869 operations were taken over by W.H. Burton & Company who continued to use the established name of Cobb & Co. in association with their own. The firm was sold again in 1874 to Hugh Cassidy who ran the operation until his death in 1922. Within twelve months the operation had ceased. The opening of the Otira Rail Tunnel in 1923 was the last link in a rail system joining both coasts of the South Island. After sixty years the coaches had become redundant.

On a personal note: I knew Sheila Sarginson and her sister, Mona Clark, mother and aunt of my late friend, Euan Sarginson; they had the memorable experience of having travelled together in the Cobb & Co. coach to Otira before the rail tunnel was opened. I once walked the remnant of the stagecoach track that ran, south of the modern highway, from the bottom of Porters Pass to near its summit. It has probably eroded completely by now.

© DON DONOVAN. With acknowledgements to Canterbury Museum.

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By Don Donovan