Cobb & Co author interviews

Sickly Cobb took reins in early business success story

Steve Meacham, Sydney Morning Herald,  July 17, 2007

… Sam Everingham, the author of a new book that claims to be the first detailed history of the men who created one of Australia’s great business empires, says Freeman Cobb was an unlikely hero.

“He was always sickly,” Everingham says. “Small and pallid, with a heavy, dark moustache and a pronounced limp.”

But he had two great advantages: the confidence of youth and “the ability to see opportunity amid the chaos” of the gold-rich Melbourne of 1853. Cobb was sent to Melbourne, with an older colleague, by the Adams Express freight company, which had made a fortune out of the California gold rush and wanted to cash in on the new discoveries in Victoria. But the older partner took one look at the appalling state of the Victorian roads and decided to take the next ship back to San Francisco.

“But Cobb said ‘Bugger it!’ ” Everingham says. He knew Adams Express was sending its coaches and drivers. So he took a gamble, raised the finance, bought the coaches and persuaded the three drivers to join him.

On January 30, 1854, the first advertisement for Cobb & Co’s passenger coach to the goldfields appeared in Melbourne’s Argus.

“In the gold rush era there was a lot of money to be made because people were so greedy,” says Everingham, who discovered previously unread letters and manuscripts during his research for Wild Ride: The Rise and Fall of Cobb&Co. “People would pay huge prices to get to the goldfields quickly.”

Cobb was able to provide the speediest service because he had invested in US-built coaches made of hickory and ash, which were much lighter than traditional English coaches built for well-cobbled roads and shorter distances. He also changed his horses every 16 kilometres, meaning they could travel much quicker.

…. What made Cobb & Co part of folk mythology?

“Rutherford and Whitney were very expansionist,” Everingham says. “They had a much bigger vision than their competitors and they were very aggressive about buying rival routes.”

…. “The drivers were like the talk show hosts of today,” Everingham says. “They had to get on with everyone on board. But they also had to be able to handle bushfires, floods and bushrangers.

“They became legendary because often the Cobb & Co coach would be the first commercial vehicle into any new town. For early settlers, seeing a Cobb & Co coach arrive with the mail and supplies meant survival.”


Author enjoys; ride of a lifetime

Gold Coast Bulletin, JUN 23, 2007

Sam Everingham’s new book, Wild Ride, brings to life the rocky road of 19th-century domestic travel as it delves into the days of pioneering company Cobb & Co. Michael Jacobson reports

Modern Australian commuters may think they have it tough with tolls, traffic jams and tardy public transport. Still, at least we don’t have to contend with bushrangers. Marauding thieves on horseback were among the many travails faced by travellers in colonial times, as recalled in the new book Wild Ride, which traces the rise and fall of Australian coaching giant Cobb & Co.

A household name in the 19th century, the firm helped shape regional Australia and is immortalised in the poetry of Henry Lawson. Sydney author Sam Everingham spent more than five years researching the company’s history and colourful characters, calling them `the Kerry Packers of the 19th century’.

Everingham’s detective work uncovered diaries, sensitive hospital records and secret correspondence between the company’s bosses.

“It was like an enormous jigsaw, putting it all together,” says Everingham. “It brought to life these people who ran this huge empire and lived through major events in Australian history.”

….  Everingham recounts the challenges posed by the deplorable state of the roads, rugged terrain, bushfires and bushrangers.

….“With its expanding web of investments, the firm was the Qantas of 19th-century Australia – powerful, complex and highly respected by the average Australian,” writes Everingham.

… “It was a crucial part of people’s lives,” says Everingham. “I think that’s why it became so iconic, the brand name. For them, when the coach rolled into town, it was their communication with the outside world.”

Everingham says James Rutherford was `a bit of a Rene Rivkin’. “He had enormous amounts of energy, but could also go into huge depressions at other times,” he says.

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