The old coaching days

The Royal Mail Coach 1890

The Royal Mail Coach 1890

(Written for the Town, and Country Journal 1898)

BY H.C.R.  

THE circumstances and varied incidents attached to the coaching of the present and early days of the colonies are of considerable interest. How many are there today who, when seated in a comfortable car or lounging in the smoking compartment of an up-to-date railway train, ever call to mind the many hardships and weary hours spent by our predecessors in travelling in days gone by.

As near as can be traced from old papers, almanacs, and books, the “first” coach left Parramatta for Sydney in the year 1818 from the inn known as the Coach and Horses, our illustration is from a photograph taken many years ago when it was decided to pull the old place down to make way for more imposing premises, and to-day the cardinal buildings occupied by Messrs. W.H. Soul, of Sydney, and Oliver Sanders, gunsmith, stand on the spot where close on 80 years ago the first coach in Australia started from. The owner was one named A. Beckett, and it was drawn by two horses. No drawing or picture is in existence either of the vehicle or of the owner.

The Coach & Horse, Parramatta

The Coach & Horse, Parramatta

As the country became more settled and the letters which used to arrive from England at such long intervals became more numerous, other coaches were started to run from Parramatta to Windsor and, to Penrith. Lincoln Bill was a celebrity, in the line, and the Dargans, of Parramatta, also ran a two-horse coach. A. Mr. Watsford, father of the present host of the Travellers’ Rest of that town, started a small coach to run to Penrith, which he named the Tickler. He had in his employ a well-known and favorite driver named Jim Trearn.

In 1840 John Ireland and Isaac Titterton started a line of coaches. The latter kept the house at the corner of George and Church streets, Parramatta, now known as the White Horse Hotel, a picture of which we give. On the opposite corner where the present Bank of New South Wales stands, there used to be an old-fashioned hostelry, named the Australian Arms Inn,

The Australian Arms Parramatta

The Australian Arms Parramatta

kept by one John Mortimer in 1836, and from there the mail coaches started for Windsor and Penrith, so that at one time the main portion of Church and George streets must have presented a very busy appearance when all the coaches would be assembled taking up passengers, mail, and luggage previous to setting out on their various routes. The coaches used to start from the corner hotels mentioned before six in the morning; those for Sydney leaving at 6am with his Majesty’s mail and passengers, and due to arrive in Sydney at 8am.

John Ireland and J. Jones, of Bargo Brush, ran coaches on the Southern line. Jones eventually started a line from Sydney to Melbourne, and the New South Wales Government paid a subsidy at that time of some thousands a year. John Perry drove from Penrith to Sydney; also Walter Rotten and Company, consisting of Perry and Harley, Hogan, Badkin, and Anderson and Kendall, ran an opposition line, bringing the fares down from 10s to 5s. Great ill-feeling and jealousy existed between the two rival coach proprietors running from Penrith to Parramatta, and on one occasion a very serious accident was only averted by the strength of a bridge-rail saving the coach from toppling over a very deep gully. The coaches were on their way to Parramatta with a full load of passengers on each, when the drivers, urged on, very likely, by the words of those on the box seats, started to race,

Preparing the Temorah coach

Preparing the Temorah coach

and coming to a steep hill, they must to a certain extent have lost control of the horses, and they galloped the whole way to the well-known Fox Under the Hill Inn, kept by James Hilt, whose father, John Hilt, drove a coach with four horses from Sydney to Campbell- town, and from there to Goulburn, in the early thirties. On reaching the top of the hill, near Fulgar’s Hotel, the driver of Kendall’s coach made up his mind to overturn his opponent at the foot of the hill. On the left a very deep gully yawned, and as they approached the bridge he made a desperate rush, to crowd the other coach, down hill at full speed, the coaches jumping and bumping, the passengers by this time seeing the terrible state of affairs, and what they must eventually culminate in, hanging on best they could, awaiting with beating hearts the crash that must come on reaching the bridge; but just then the opposition coachman managed to pull away to the left, and got jammed tightly on the rail. Had this broken, the coach, horses, and passengers would have been dashed to certain death at the bottom of the precipice. Such were, some of the exciting times that one had in the early days of coaching.
The change-house on the road was kept by old John Booth, at Rouse Hill; and was known as the Rouse Hill Hotel. Booth was known as “Crockery Bill”, for what reason history does not relate. The coaches in the early days were, two-horse ones, carrying three besides the driver; but in the thirties they were improved, and were copies of   the English coaches, and were drawn by four horses. One of the celebrated owners and drivers was Jim Hudson, of the Jim Crow Inn, and another was T. Seymour, called “Old Coper”, and R. Ridge, of Windsor. Passengers were allowed to carry 14lb of baggage, and the proprietors would not be responsible for over £10 for loss or damage; so that even in those days, the companies used to make their own bylaws, as the rail and steam boat companies do to-day.

Cobb & Co.

Freeman Cobb

Freeman Cobb

The name of Cobb and Company is known throughout the length and breadth of Australia, and although their great rival the railway has usurped the place they once held, Cobb and Company’s coaches still run in many parts. In the year 1853, towards the latter end, an adventurous American from the State of California, named Freeman Cobb, conceived the idea of running a small vehicle, such as he had seen and perhaps driven in his native country, called an “express waggon”, virtually speaking a species of buckboard, with sides and extra seats for passengers, and drawn by two horses, for the purpose of carrying the letters from the town of Melbourne to the goldfields of Ballarat. He used to charge so much per letter and package, but after a while things began to take such gigantic shape, as the thousands flocked to the field, that he took a partner in and imported five large American coaches, and also American drivers. The public soon began to see that Freeman Cobb and Company knew their business, and already opposition coaches were beginning to spring up in various parts of the country; but in 1856 Freeman Cobb, having realised a considerable fortune by coaching and interests in claims, etc., decided to retire from the firm, and sold out to Mr. Tom Davies, of Melbourne, and he eventually sold out, after two or three years, to Messrs. Watson and Hewitt, of Bourke-street, Melbourne, Mr. A. L. Blake being the general manager for the company for many years.

In 1857 the line was known as “The Victorian Stage Company,” and Mr. Thomas Davies was then the head of the firm, and the head office was 23 Bourke-street, Melbourne. The coaches used were of various colors and design. Some were after the well known English mail coaches, and others after the American style, drawn, by four to eight horses, and carrying six inside and twelve out, besides the Royal mails. Each passenger was allowed to carry 14lb of luggage free.
Fares from Melbourne to Ballarat varied, the day coaches being cheaper than those running at night time. The following were the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd class rates, day and night, at this time:

From Melbourne to Ballarat: via Geelong.
Day Coach, 1st class, £2 12s 6d
 Night Coach, 1st class £3 2s 6d
Day coach, 2nd class £2 10s
Night Coach, 2nd class £3
Day Coach, 3rd class £2 6s
Night Coach. 3rd class £2 16s

In March, 1858, the fares were reduced by an opposition company coming on the field, to the following:
From Melbourne to Ballarat.

Day, 1st class £1 12s 6d
Night, 1st class £2 2s 6d
Day, 2nd class £1 10s
Night, 2nd class £2
Day, 3rd class £1 6s
Night, 3rd class £1 16s

But in June, by united agreement of the various coaching firms, the fares were increased again to the following rates:
From Melbourne to Ballarat.

Day Coach, 1st class £2 2s
Night Coach. 1st class £2 12s
Day Coach, 2nd class £2
Night Coach, 2nd class £2 10s
 Day Coach, 3rd class £1 16s
Night Coach, 3rd class £2 6s

Fording a river

Fording a river

And remained so for some years. The rate from Melbourne to Beechworth, which is about 82 miles distant, by a very mountainous road, and occupied 30 hours, was £7 first-class and £6 second every day, Sundays excepted. The coaches started at 2pm daily for the different towns, from the Cornwall Arms, Bull and Mouth, and the Albion Hotels, in Bourke-street.

The coaches were painted red with V.R. in gold and the name of Cobb and Company in black on the sides of the front part of the coach. The carriages were a bright yellow and the big solid C springs were made of thick leather straps.
The coaches carried at nights as a rule two side lights and a large and powerful lamp on the top front to act as a search light over the horses’ backs. They held as a rule from 12 to 18, passengers, and were drawn by four, six, and eight horses, according to the conditions of the road and weather. There was also a line of coaches called “Jack” coaches, which were very large ones, and held as many as 32 passengers. These ran as a rule from Melbourne to Castlemaine, and they were very beautifully and tastefully decorated with figures and flowers on the panels, having doors very much like the present ones used in railway carriages.

The arrival of the coach

The arrival of the coach

It seems the founder of the line, Freeman Cobb, came out to Australia in 1852, as agent for the celebrated firm in America known as Adams’s Express Company, but not receiving the support he expected, he started a small line of coaches of his own. He was a small thin man, slightly lame, but he was of a bold, determined nature, and the very man to undertake the arduous task he set himself to do. On selling out he went over to the Cape, as they had just begun to find that gold was to be obtained there, and he started a line of coaches, and the name of Cobb and Company was as well-known all over that colony in a very few months. What be came of him after that history does not relate, but very likely he returned to his native land with his hard-earned savings, leaving a name which will never be forgotten as long as there is a coach running in Australasia and South Africa.

The wages paid to the drivers in the early days were very high, as it was a very difficult matter to obtain men, as the majority preferred to go on to the gold fields. The wages paid the day drivers ran from £7 to £8 per week, while those paid the night drivers were from £12 to £17 per week. Feed also at this time was very high, 15s per bushel being paid for oats, and £10 and £12 per ton for hay.

There was one coach on the Geelong road call- ed the Leviathan, the largest coach in the colonies, which carried when full 75 passengers, and was drawn by 12 horses.

Mr. Walter Hall, the well-known Mount Morgan millionaire, joined the company in 1868 in Melbourne, and remained in the company up to 1887, when he sold out. We are indebted for many valuable items of information to that gentleman. In 1859 the company made-up their mind to come over to Sydney, and on their arrival bought out the firm of Messrs, Crane and Roberts, also Perry and Company, who were running coaches on the western line. The offices in Sydney were situated in Pitt-street, nearly opposite the present position of Tattersall Club. Towards the end of 1860 Cobb and Company went over to Queensland, and started a line from Brisbane to Ipswich and Warwick, Messrs. Walter Hall, Jas. Rutherford, W. F Whitney, and W. B. Bradley comprising the company. Thus, gradually pushing their way over the whole of the colonies, at the breaking out of the gold rush at Gabriel’s Gully, in New Zealand, they started a line running. Ned Devine,   known as “Cabbage-tree Ned,” was one of their well-known drivers; also Harry Nettlefold, who drove the coach from the Dunstan to Dunedin.

There are very few of the old drivers left, but we believe the following are still alive: Ted Arnfleld, Bobby Whatmore, Jim Conroy (now employed in the Postal Department), Mick Curren, Jim Hunter (of Emu Plains), and Jacob Russit (of Blayney).
Of all the unpleasant contingencies of coach travelling on bush roads in bad weather, that of getting bogged is almost the worst. An overturn is more dangerous, of course, but there is something exciting and adventurous about it – something to form matter of future heroic narratives. This goes far to redeem or to reduce its great unpleasant- ness; but there is no redeeming aspect whatever over the incident of getting bogged. The thing is so horribly prosaic and dreary that it is impossible for the liveliest imagination to give interest or coloring to it. The horses are probably tired and “dead beat;” they are, perhaps, floundering around, hauling and tugging in the viscous mud in which   they can hardly keep themselves from sinking; the coach has gone down axle deep in the gluey mire; and, the passengers, in dismounting, to lighten the vehicle, have to step out into this, quagmire, and drag themselves out as best they can. They then have to get saplings and “pry” the wheels, or wade into the mud again, and try to turn the spokes, or give a push to the coach to assist the pull of the floundering horses. If all this has to be done at night time, and in the midst of a cold driving rain, the character of the proceeding is   considerably heightened, and the intense wretched- ness is more complete. What wonder if, under these circumstances, some of the passengers, especially the male, portion, lose their tempers, abuse the Government for its parsimony, the coach company for its horses, and even feel inclined to scowl and curse the man who handled the reins, and whip, for his evident gross carelessness in not avoiding the “bog.” But presently, in, the midst of all the railing and swearing, shouting, hauling, and pushing, the coach begins to move, the straining, sweating horses touch firm land, and bring the heavily-laden vehicle through the hole, the passengers once more regain their usual seats, and gradually their tempers; and on reaching their journey’s end the incident is forgotten, or only remembered to use in highly magnified form in the account of  the perils of the trip.

Preparing the Temorah coach

One of our illustrations depicts a coach starting from Cootamundra for the Temora rush in 1879. It is from a sketch taken at the time, but it depicts a scene which has occurred innumerable times in various parts of Australia. When there is a “rush” on men get there the quickest way they can, but the coaches come in for an extensive share of patronage, and, for the time being, there is a harvest for the enterprising coach proprietor who caters most quickly and conveniently for his customers.

The Drivers

Many a stirring incident is connected with the history of coaching in Australia and New Zealand. Coaches have had to traverse roads (and indeed do so to-day) which are eminently perilous. Along the sides of steep mountains they have negotiated and sometimes have gone over. They have negotiated mountain passes where only the skill and nerve of the driver stood between the passengers and destruction, and on the whole it is surprising that the casualties have not been much more numerous. As it is, rugged mountain road and flooded river have claimed their toll of life, and many a tragedy has resulted from man’s efforts to surmount the natural difficulties of traffic in new countries.

The stages which an ordinary coach team runs are from 8 to 15 miles, and it is a lonely life indeed for the man and boy who live out some times on the edge of a plain, or in the heart of the great, grey, grim, gum-tree forest. In a small bark humpy, with a sheet or two of bark on the top of a few poles, bagging or sacking on the sides, no window, and the door perhaps made of a few stray boards from a packing-case, they put in three or four months in the year, earning on an average £1 to 30s per week and tucker. Here the horses roam about wherever they please, and in the small yard, made of a few poles stuck in the ground and saplings run along all round, you will usually find eight or ten horses who have been rounded up during the day to take the places of their weary companions who have drawn the lumbering coach through mud and rain or heat from the last stage.

Our illustration of a drive for life depicts a scene that occurred many years ago at Lorne, in Victoria. The fires in the forest swept down upon the coach track, and the driver found that going back was just as dangerous as going ahead. “There was nothing for it but a desperate drive,” said the driver, narrating the incident recently to the writer, “I whipped the horses up and sent them ahead as they had never been sent before. They were mad with fright, and my fear was that the terror of the affair would simply paralyse them, and then we would all have been, done for. I could scarcely see, and I kept the track more by instinct and good luck than anything else. The passengers lay down inside, and so managed to escape some of the heat; but you can see how bad it was when I tell you that the panels of the coach were all blistered. We had half a mile of that kind of thing, and I can tell you that the breath of relief I drew when we pulled through was the   most delicious I ever had in my life.”

The history of coaching in Australia would not be complete without a few remarks on one of the best, well-known drivers of the days gone by.   Mr. James Conroy, at present engaged in the   Post Office Department as mail-guard, was at one time, some thirty-eight years ago, the prince of the road as regards driving.

“Yes, it wasn’t all fun,” he replied to my inquiries as to how he liked the difference. “In the early ‘sixties,’ I remember well, I was driving from Campbelltown, the starting point of Cobb and Company, to Berrima, that the floods kept me back three days. At last I got a message from “Mr. Crane, proprietor of the line before Cobb came over to N.S.W., to start that night,   but on no account to take any female passengers. However, just as I was about to start an elderly lady from Moss Vale came up and said, I’m very glad you’re going to-night, Jim,’ but I cut her rather short by showing her the message from the ‘boss.’ But she wouldn’t be put off; so I was obliged to take her. Well, we got as far as Cam- den all right, and there I asked the groom how the flats were. The water was over the telegraph wires, he said, but I might get along the high road by Sir William McArthur’s place, coming out at the foot of the ‘Razorback’ – an ugly bit of road in the best of weather.

“But we got away, the night as dark as pitch, and such a journey! Sometimes through miles of water. But we made Picton in safety, and   there we got a change of horses, then on again to Bargo; changed again, for Bargo Brush was ahead, the worst bit of road in the country – so bad used it to be that one wet season not a single load of wool got through without upsetting or unloading. It is only six miles long, but on this night it took us over six hours to go across. At Mittagong   we changed again, and I drove into Berrima only twenty-four hour late; and I may say that I was not a bit sorry I took the lady with me, for she wasn’t a bit-nervous, and held the reins while I went ahead with axe and lantern to fell saplings and seek the track.”

“Were you ever stuck up?” I asked.

“Yes, twice; the first time at Towrang, between Goulburn and Marulan, in 1869. I had twelve passengers inside and one on the box that trip.

“It was about 10 at night. We had got to an angle in the road, formed by two mountains, when a man rushed up the gully. ‘Stop,’ he shouted, and immediately fired his revolver, foolish thing to do, as the report startled the fresh horses, and I assisted them with a few cuts of the whip, and gave them a free rein, and, by George, you ought to have seen them get; they went for all they were worth, until I pulled them up at Plumb’s Hotel, at Shelley’s Flats.

“That chap was a fool,” I remarked to the box seat passenger. “If he had asked me properly I’d have stopped.” “You seemed to take it very cool,” he answered, looking at me very hard. “But, bless you, I could afford to joke over it. We were out of all danger then. The inside passenger got a bit of a fright, and the wad from the revolver had tumbled on to the dress of a lady, and burnt a good-sized hole in it.

“Well, about six weeks later, one very dark night, I had just passed Sidwell’s Hotel, at the foot of Governor’s Hill, when suddenly four men on horse back rode up, and blocked the way. I pulled up short, and the bushrangers for they were genuine bushrangers, surrounded the coach, and shouted: ‘All passengers get out,’ which order was repeated three or four times, and no one getting out it rather puzzled them. ‘I haven’t got any inside,’ says I, whereupon one of the men clambered in and started throwing out the mail sacks. Then one of them ordered my only passenger off the box and when he got down his pockets were turned inside out, and the lights on the coach blown out. Then I was ordered to come down, but I replied that the horses would bolt if I left them. He insisted, and I refused. He then asked if there were any mails in the boot. I said ‘Yes, a few small ones.’ So he jumped upon the wheel and started throwing out the bags, but in reaching into the boot he exposed his shirt sleeve from under his disguise (a bit of blue blanket), and that shirt sleeve afterwards was the cause uf his being taken-by my description of it. They, then lit a fire, opened the mail bags, took out what was of value, threw the bags away, got on their horses, and disappeared into the bush. I can tell you I cursed those chaps, as I had to drive on in the dark until I came to a pal of mine, Jack Armfield, who was camped down for the night, and kin1! / turned out of his bed and lit my lamps, and yet I was not late in getting in time to catch the train that was to carry my passenger to Sydney to appear in a law suit next day.”

“What about the bushrangers? Did you ever hear of them again?”

“Yes, they were caught-one was acquitted, but the other three got five years.”

The coaching methods of the past are necessary not those of the present. Before the construction of railroads in Australia all the postal and passenger trade along the great arteries of inland commerce were in the hands of the coaching companies, and, of course, they prospered accordingly. Now, however, the case is quite different, for railways connect nearly all the more important towns of the country, and all that is left to the coach is the scraps, so to speak, of commerce, in the shape of the traffic to the smaller country towns away from the railway lines, and along the more unfrequented bush tracks. Needless to say, the coaches still being in the hands of private enterprise, just such ‘are run along the various mail routes as will pay or have a chance of paying, for they do not all do so.

Coach accident 1910

Coach accident 1910

The first coach by which I travelled in Australia was that running between Geelong and Ballarat. That was in 1859, before the advent of the railway and there were thirty-nine passengers on that coach, besides the guard and driver. There were seven horses, and they changed every seven miles. The road, was fairly good, all but the corduroy road near Buninyong, and that portion was simply execrable. Since then I have travelled on coaches in every   Australian colony, save West Australia, and over much of the Pacific Coast of America, but I never since travelled on so well-appointed a coach. 0f course, under, present coaching conditions, it would be folly to look for coaches such as left Sydney and Melbourne for all the principal towns and gold fields before the construction of the railways, and while there are still a few good coach routes in New ‘South Wales, well supplied with coaches and horses, and experienced drivers, very many of those now running are very poor affairs, indeed; and, in fact, inferior in every detail. Due of the principal rea- sons of this inferiority is the ruinous and excessive competition that exists among so-called coach proprietors in nearly every town in the colony. It would seem that every man who can gather together a few old, broken-down horses and one or two old rattle-trap coaches, thinks it incumbent on him to tender for the mail contract from the various rail way stations to the various bush towns, and to obtain it, he must put in a very low price. The result is that every- things he employs in the service is inferior horses starved and inferior, the vehicles some times merely open spring waggons, and in such   cases often inferior, and drivers mere boys, or in experienced men. How some of these turnout ever obtain mail contracts, or licences to carry passengers, is a matter of surprise to every traveller. There is, as a rule, opposition coaches on every road, and passenger fares are as low as they possibly can be, the whole system resulting in inferior turnouts.

I once travelled some years ago in one of these so-called mail coaches in the southern district. The vehicle was an uncovered spring waggon and there were sometimes two, and sometimes three, most inferior animals attached to it. The weather was roasting hot, over 100deg in the shade, yet the passengers had to sit all day under   this burning sun, without any shade whatever, much to their inconvenience and danger to their health. Yet this vehicle was licensed by the postal authorities, while it ought to have been relegated to the scrap iron heap, and the driver prosecuted for cruelty to animals. This man had under-bid someone else for the mail con- tract, and had obtained it at a price at which he could barely live by using inferior vehicles and horses. The fare was low, but the accommodation was wretched. There was an opposition coach on the route, the vehicle a little better than the spring waggon, but the horses no better, and so the two parties eked out a miserable existence where there was only legitimate room for one. I am afraid this picture is applicable to many routes in Australia at the present day. One of the most miserable and tedious coach journeys I ever experienced happened a couple of years ago along a route on the plains. A turnout, just a shade superior than I have been describing, start- ed from a railway town for another town 50 miles distant, with a railway engineer and myself as passengers. We started in the evening, and it began to rain just as we got away. Heavy rains had fallen previously, and the road was unmade and like a glue-pot. A boy was our driver, and slowly we crept along at the rate of some three miles an hour. We changed horses once, and shortly after met the returning coach, belonging to the same proprietor, with the owner, an old man, as driver. The old man and boy changed seats here, and while the old man was getting up on the box he casually inquired if there were any passengers inside, for the flap doors, such as they were, were drawn down as close as possible to keep out the pouring rain. After our driver had made himself snug in his seat, he ventured the remark, “If any of you gentlemen likes a box seat, there is plenty of room out here beside me.” Now the hour was about 12 midnight, the season winter, and the weather stormy and raining, and the box seat quite unprotected from the weather. Usually there is a scramble for the box seat, but on this particular occasion neither the engineer nor myself seemed anxious to take it, and so no answer was vouchsafed to the old man. After a pause of a minute or so, thinking perhaps that we had not heard his request, the invitation was again given by the driver in a nice soft coaxing voice for one of “you gentlemen,” as he put it, to “come out and take a box seat.” Seeing that something had to be done, I said in my most persuasive tones, “You are a railway engineer, had you not better go out with the poor man and help him to “find the track?” “See you -somewhere,” was the laconic reply, so of course I was sorry I had spoken. Presently our driver said, “Well, if neither of you will come out and help me to find the road, I am afraid we will not be able to get along, for my eyes are not so good as they once were, and in a night like this, unless a man goes ahead of the coach in bad places it is impossible to keep the track.” “Well,” I said,   “we are quite indifferent whether you go ahead or not, or whether you get lost or not; we have about a week’s provisions on hand, and we would just as soon stop here as not.” This information decided our driver, and so, with a liberal application of whip and several volumes of bush vocabulary, the poor jaded brutes were flogged and cursed into action, and we crawled along over the putty-looking surface at the rate of about two miles an hour. In an hour or so the coach stopped, and the driver said he was sure he had turn- ed round and was going back, for he ought to have been at a certain point, some time ago. We replied,   though we did not know, that he was all right, to keep on; and so we crawled along a while longer, and, to our. relief, came up to the pub in question. We advised the poor old fellow to stay where he was till morning, and he gladly consented, and actually persuaded the people out of bed to cook a meal for us. We started at day light, and managed to get to our destination about dark of the same day.

I have said there are still some good lines of coaches on a few of the routes, and on these the coaches, horses, and drivers are quite up to what they ought to be. Coach-drivers, if they are men of experience, are nearly always characters, and while a man usually has to die before his virtues and eccentricities are known, I think that many of the living coach drivers will compare favorably with those of the past, in pluck, skill, and as humorous companions. As an instance of pluck and ready decision on the part of a coach driver, I will re- late an incident in which I took part, which happened on the route from Glen Innes to Inverell. Some six or seven years ago I was a traveller on the coach which carries the mail between these two points. There were, besides myself, three passengers, two men and an old woman. One passenger was outside with the driver on the box seat, and the other three of us inside. It was in the daytime, and while going down a rather sharp hill at a moderate pace, the near leader’s rein broke. Ahead of us was a bridge over a creek, and just at the bridge the road curved around to the left. To go ahead was perhaps to plunge into the creek, smashing the coach, and perhaps killing passengers and horses. The driver, a young fellow, who is, I believe, still on the same route, quickly pulled his leaders sharp round to the right, and with wonderful agility jumped from his seat and resolutely seized the leaders by the head as they came round, forced them back on their   haunches, and stopped the coach just as it was on the point of toppling over. The result was a splintered pole and some of the bedding frame and ironwork of the coach sprung or broken, but the passengers and horses were unhurt. When we alighted we found the coach balanced on three wheels, ready to topple over. None of the passengers were very young men, and were rather slow in getting out of the vehicle, and the old lady refused to budge an inch till she got her umbrella. Some wire from a fence, some splinters from bridge timbers, and the aid of an old axe, soon spliced the pole and secured the bed frame, and so we proceeded on our journey, arriving safely at our destination.
In the far interior some trying experiences befal coach travellers. For Instance, a few years ago I knew of a case where a small coach bogged on the plains, and the passengers, three in number, one of whom was a woman, were without food or shelter with the coach for forty-eight hours in the depth of winter. Of drivers in general, I have little to complain; they are mostly civil and obliging. Your flash driver is, I think, the most unsatisfactory of any. He is usually very   fond of parading some young lady on the box seat beside him, and, as every old traveller knows, a woman on the box seat is dangerous. I once had a difference of opinion with one of these gentry about opening a gate. He had his girl, on the box seat, while I was inside, and the only passenger there. He seemèd to have thought that my special duty on the occasion was to open the gates for him, and there were a good many of them. Had I been on the seat be- side him I could have held the reins while he opened the gates; but, of course, the lady was not supposed to be able to do this, so I had to open the gates; but at last we came to one with about one foot of water on each side of it for several yards. This was the last straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back, and I refused point blank to get into the mud, whereupon he became abusive, insulting, and bullying; but neither would serve his purpose, and at last he had to open the gate himself. On arrival at my destination “I promptly reported him to his employer, and to the postal authorities, and I do not think he has asked many passengers to open gates since. The gate-opening nuisance was at one time very common on the road, but now, since it has been determined by the authorities, and rightly too, that gates shall not exist on   postal routes, the nuisance has abated.
As matters now obtain there is, as I have said, the greatest variety in the coaches, horses, and drivers, and also I may say in the fares and the accommodation one finds along the coaching routes. For instance, where the competition is keen the passenger gets carried sometimes for next to nothing, while on other routes he will be charged 6d per mile, “and possibly carried along the very next stage for 3d per mile. Coaching, as we now have it, could be vastly improved along many routes, and this improvement rests mainly with the postal authorities, for if they will only refuse the bids of people they know are incapable of carrying the mails and providing vehicles and horses at the prices at which they offer to do the work, a better class of people, horses, and vehicles will speedily be seen on our roads. The experienced traveller will always travel by the mall coach if he can manage it, for the mail coach is bound to get through if possible, and he does not begrudge to pay a fair amount as fare; in fact, he is always suspicious of low fares, as they so often mean inferior accommodation, if not risk to life and limb. The coaching days are not yet over in Australia, and it is the advantage of all concerned to make the service worthy of the country. There is no sense in running prices for either mails or passengers so low that there is not a living in it, and the owners of good stock, substantial, convenient coaches, and who employ experienced drivers, will find that the travelling public will always support them if they appeal to them in the right away, for here excellence, promptitude, and skill will tell, as in every other business.

Ben Hull drove the stage coach between Campbelltown, via Bulli, to Wollongong

Ben Hull drove the stage coach between Campbelltown,
via Bulli, to Wollongong

BALLINA, Wednesday. Another link with the pioneers of the State was severed when the death occurred at Ballina District Hospital of Mr. Benjamin Hull, of Tinten bar – a man who once lunched with a bushranger.

Aged 83 Mr. Hull could recall a number of memorable incidents he had experienced. When a youth in the Berrima district he often carried potatoes to Berrima gaol when bushranger Frank Gardiner was famous. In addition to once lunching with Gardiner he was also acquainted with members of the Kelly gang.

Mr. Hull was born on the Camden Estate and later had worked for the MacArthur family. At the age of 16 years he drove the coach between Camden, Campbelltown and Wollongong. Later he secured his own horse teams and engaged in timber hauling in the Burragorang Valley. While working in the valley he carried the first load of cabbages from the district to Moss Vale for transport to the Sydney markets. Mr. Hull helped to lay out and plant the gardens of Mr. Haird, of Burradoo, which are still a show place. He also assisted in drawing the material’ to build the railway station at Moss Vale and the Moss Vale and Robertson show pavilions.

During his younger days Mr. Hull was noted for his horsemanship. About 40 years ago he came to the Richmond and settled at Bex hill as a dairy farmer. Twenty years later he moved to Tintenbar. He became well known in the district and was a regular attendant at all school picnics and sports. He became popularly known as “grand father.”

A family of two sons and seven daughters survive, in addition there are 28 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren. He had one brother, Jim of Clunes. The sons are Ephram (Campbelltown) and William (Ballina) and daughters are Sarah (Sydney), Florrie (Red cliff e), Ethel (Milla Milla), Nellie (Tintenbar), Olive (Cumbalum), Rene (Sydney) and Emma (Moss Vale). His wife predeceased him by 19 years.

Pall-bearers at the funeral, which moved from the Church of England, Bangalow. for the Bangalow cemetery were Ernie and Jack Hull, Stan Clavan. Alan Ross (grandsons), William Ross and Archie Hull (nephew).

– Northern Star Thursday 15 August 1946.

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