Pioneer whip, James Waterworth and his Bulli to Campbelltown coach service

Coach at Coledale coast road Picture Kerry 1886
Bloomfield’s coach at Coledale, heading north to meet the Waterfall train in 1886. Picture: State Library of NSW


THE eagerly awaited arrival of the iron horse to the Illawarra awoke the world to what is known today as Lawrence Hargrave Drive, and its scenic splendour.

The coming of the railway from Sydney to Waterfall in 1886 altered the coastal bush track from a quiet local thoroughfare into a busy main road linking New South Wales’ largest population centre with Wollongong.

Soon after the opening of the railway to Waterfall on March 1 1886, the magnificent views from Bald Hill were described by a coach passenger on his way from Wollongong to meet the morning train at the Waterfall Railway terminus:

“Every passenger on the coach gazed as if spell bound upon the enchanting scene presented by Stanwell Park, Coal-Cliff, the Five Islands, and other interesting headlands jutting out along the coast line as far as the eye could scan southward. So magnificent an expanse of bejewelled sea and land, as it were, illuminated by the beaming rays of the bright morning sun, was such a sight as does fall to the lot of every person to see even once in a lifetime, and having been seen can never be forgotten.”

Prior to the opening of the railway to Waterfall, the quickest and most convenient route to the city was the seven hour trip on Waterworth’s Line of Coaches over Bulli Pass to Appin, and on to Campbelltown Railway Station for a train to Sydney.

James Waterworth
James Waterworth

With the completion of the Sydney to Waterfall railway, Illawarra was a whisker away from rail travel, and enterprising business people jumped at the opportunity to provide a convenient shuttle coaching service from Wollongong to Waterfall.

The obvious conclusion was James Waterworth (right) would be the man for the job. He had the Wollongong to Campbelltown coach run, as well as the contract to deliver Illawarra’s mail to Sydney.

The pioneering ‘whip’, who had had the Campbelltown mail contract since 1865, contemplated running an additional service to Waterfall, but seemed to be reluctant to opt for change.

As a consequence, Waterworth was beaten to the punch by William Gibson, who began the first coaching service between Clifton and Waterfall, in March 1886.

The following month, Mathew Bloomfield, of the Imperial Hotel at Clifton, secured a new Cobb and Co. coach, licensed to carry 12 passengers, and began plying between Wollongong, Clifton and Waterfall.

Bloomfield established the Star Line of Coaches setting-up stables at Wollongong, Clifton and Waterfall. The hotel industry played a major role in the operations of the coach lines, with strategically positioned inns providing stables, meals and ticket offices. Bloomfield’s Imperial Hotel naturally was the change over point for fresh horses, and a meal stop, on the coach trip.

James Waterworth on his coach
James Waterworth on his first coach that plied between Campbelltown and Bulli. Picture: Australian Town and Country Journal, April 5, 1902 

The NSW Government decided on Waterfall in preference to Campbelltown as the new Illawarra mail delivery route to Sydney in June 1886 and as a result Waterworth’s hesitation cost him the lucrative government contract.

The Illawarra to Sydney mail contract was let to Mathew Bloomfield, with his Star Line of Coaches as the carrier on June 15 1886. The nostalgic Waterworth unwisely persisted with the old trusted Campbelltown line, until a lack of passengers forced him to join Bloomfield, and Gibson, on the Waterfall route.

An end of an era in coach travel came late in June 1886 when the Wollongong to Campbelltown coaching service was scrapped. Since the opening of the Sydney to Campbelltown railway in 1858, a regular coaching service had plied the route over the escarpment via Appin.

With most preferring the quicker route to Waterfall, Waterworth decided to cease running passenger coaches to Campbelltown, closing a chapter in the region’s history. Meanwhile, the Star Line of Coaches would leave the Freemasons Hotel on the corner of Keira and Crown Streets Wollongong daily at 5am, stopping for passengers at Bulli and Thirroul, before breakfast and a change of horses at Clifton, later arriving at Waterfall for the 10.30am train to Sydney.

A passenger wrote in 1886: “Reaching Waterfall about 10 o’clock, we had time to have a look about, before the train started for Sydney. Mr Hanley, of the Heathcote Hotel [at Waterfall] , welcomed us most heartily… Leaving Waterfall at half past 10, and after a leisurely railway run, we reached Sydney at a quarter past 12 o’clock, thus being in ample time for lunch in the city, and having all the afternoon to do business…”

The completion of the Sydney to Wollongong railway in 1888 ended the romance of coaching in the Illawarra, revealing in its wake the secret beauty of the northern Illawarra to the outside world.

First published 2014

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2020

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