Edward Larkin: The man who introduced ‘coaching’ to the Illawarra

Harp Inn, Corrimal Street Wollongong, where Larkin's coaches left for Campbelltown via Rixon's Pass, Woonona.
Harp Inn, Corrimal Street Wollongong, where Larkin’s coaches left for Campbelltown via Rixon’s Pass, Woonona. Picture: Supplied.


EDWARD Larkin had plenty to boast about when he drove his brand-new passenger coach into Wollongong township.

The Appin settler is credited with introducing the first four horse passenger coach to Wollongong in 1861. He made the first real attempt at establishing a coach line in the Illawarra after receiving the government contract to convey the Royal Mail between Wollongong to Campbelltown Railway Station in 1858.

Although Larkin’s mail contracting predecessor, Benjamin Rixon occasionally carried passengers on his two horse cart, no real effort was made at providing a coach for travellers between the Illawarra and Sydney.

Rixon had been carrying the Royal Mail by a two horse vehicle three times a week, and other times on horse back between Campbelltown, Woonona, Wollongong and Dapto for over a decade prior to Larkin took over the contract.

Forbes Hotel, Queen Street Campbelltown, where Larkin's coaches called for passengers in the late 1850s and early 1860s.
Forbes Hotel, Queen Street Campbelltown, where Larkin’s coaches called for passengers in the late 1850s and early 1860s. Picture: Supplied.

Edward Nicholas Larkin was from Sussex, England and migrated to the colony of New South Wales with his wife Jane and their two year old son, Edward junior, in 1837.

Both Edward and Jane were 24 years of age and had an exciting future ahead of them in their newly adopted country. They made the Campbelltown area their home and, from around 1839, began operating windmills to grind locally grown grains. The couple had another son, George born to them at Appin in 1840, and a daughter Eliza in 1842.

By 1846 Edward had built a post mill on his property, 1.5kms south of Appin, along the main road and the mail route to Wollongong. There he lived with his wife, Jane, their two sons, and a daugher, until tragedy struck in 1852. The oldest boy, Edward junior, died aged just 17.

Larkin took over the government mail contract from Rixon in January 1858, paying £600 for the privilege. The Empire reported on January 9 1858:

OVERLAND MAIL TO CAMPBELLTOWN – The contract for the conveyance of the mails from Wollongong to Campbelltown, our readers are aware, has passed into the hands of Mr. Edward Larkin, an enterprising person, residing near Appin, and one thoroughly able from his local knowledge of the country and the resources at his command to perform it with credit to himself and advantage to the community. Mr Larkin has determined to devote considerable attention and expense to the promotion of the passenger traffic. As an evidence of this, he has put on the road carts of strong and suitable construction which will be able to convey passengers with comfort and safety, and such regularity as the weather and the state of the roads will permit. To ensure still greater punctuality in the transmission of the passengers and mails, Mr Larkin (in addition to a contract he has performed for the repair of a portion of the road) affected considerable repairs and improvements on the road between this and Appin.  At Broughton’s Pass, the ford has undergone a thorough repair, and, to render the delivery of the mails certain in all weathers, a footbridge of logs, with an iron railing, has been erected at an elevation above the reach of the highest floods, thus the mailman can carry the bags, and passengers can walk over in the most unfavourable weather, and, there being conveyances at both sides of the river, be transmitted to their destination with little or no delay or danger. We think Mr Larkin, for the energy and spirit with which he has laid and carried out his plans for the performance of his contract to the public convenience, deserves every support from the public.

A newspaper advertisement for Larkin's coaches in 1860
A newspaper advertisement for Larkin’s coaches in 1860

The railway from Sydney had arrived to Campbelltown in 1858 and a new mountain road, known as Rixon’s Pass, was opened over the escarpment for wheeled traffic at Woonona, enabling a direct route to the new terminus. Larkin advertised in the Illawarra Mercury on May 27 1858 he intended to run a two-horse vehicle from Appin every Monday, to meet the 6pm train at Campbelltown, which reaches Sydney at 7pm.

Larkin announced his intentions of updating his coach in January 1860. However, by November of the same year he had lost the lucrative government contract to deliver the Royal Mail between Wollongong and Campbelltown. James Woods, a grocer from Sydney, paid £650 to convey the mail between Dapto and Campbelltown.

Larkin though was determined to continue in the business, and at the age of 47, he purchased “a four-wheeled coach” in April 1861 and continued a passenger service between Wollongong and the rail terminus at Campbelltown, known as Free Selection. Built by Partiff’s Long Acre Coach Factory, William Street Sydney, Larkin’s mode of transport was said to have ran “particularly easy”, was “free from jolting”, and had “a most creditable and respectable appearance”.

The mail contractor, Woods began running a four-horse passenger coach in direct competition with Larkin from April 1 1862. Woods’ Invincible passenger coach left Campbelltown and Wollongong on the same days as Larkin’s Free Selection vehicle.  Fares between the two centres were nine shillings one way. Booking Offices for Woods’ coach were at the Emu Inn, Sydney, Butchers Arms Campbelltown, Railway Hotel, Appin, and the Commercial Hotel, Wollongong. Bookings for Free Selection could be purchased from the Harp Inn, Wollongong and Forbes Hotel, Campbelltown.

Free Selection and Invincible, packed with passengers, left Wollongong at 9am, arriving at Woonona an hour later, before ascending Rixon’s Pass and negotiating unbridged creeks and bushranger infested scrub on the escarpment. The coaches would take over five hours to reach Appin from Woonona, and another two hours to arrive at Campbelltown Railway Station from Appin. The entire journey would be an eight hour ordeal.

Bushrangers were a constant threat. Woods’ driver, James Camapary was shot in the shoulder during a robbery on the road between Appin and Campbelltown in 1862. He recovered, but if it wasn’t bushrangers the coach drivers had to deal with, it was bushfires and floods.

Another Larkin newspaper advertisement of the time.
Another Larkin newspaper advertisement announcing his new coach in 1861.

Passengers were detained for nearly three hours in consequence of bush fires on the escarpment between Woonona and Appin in November 1862. Riders were often sent ahead to check the varicosity of the fires before the coach could proceed.

The mountain pass was also a major obstacle. In wet weather, when the road became a quagmire of mud, passengers were required to jump from the coach and help push the vehicle up the pass. Descending the mountain passes of Rixon’s – and later Bulli (which opened in 1868) – was just as bad. Logs were tied to the back of the coach to slow the progress of the vehicle descending and on many occasions coaches tipped, injuring passengers and the drivers.

After the death of his wife, Jane at the age of 51 in 1860, Edward Larkin entered a new phase in his life. At the age of 53 he re-married Emma Simpson in Braidwood in 1862, and had another five children to his new wife.

The following year, in 1863, with prominent Sydney engineer, William Wakeford, Larkin went into partnership to establish a contracting company, Larkin & Wakeford of Burwood, Sydney. With Larkin’s departure from the coaching industry, two new enterprising businessmen obtained the Wollongong/Sydney mail contract from James Woods.  George Organ and his son-in-law James Rixon took over the contract from Woods in July 1863.

Meanwhile, Larkin & Wakeford’s first contract was to take over the NSW Government’s Great Southern Railway from Thirlmere to Bargo in February 1863 and then followed a contract to construct the railway to Mittagong for a total of £91,925 later that year.

Other contracts followed, including the construction of the railway to Wingecarribee (Moss Vale) in 1865. On his retirement the former Wollongong/Campbelltown coach operator had by this time become a wealthy man and retired to the Campbelltown district where he died in 1885 aged 72.

 © Copyright Mick Roberts 2014

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