Originally published in the
Nepean Times, 13 September 1924.
From Cloncurry to Richmond by Cobbs Coach. (Colourised) State Library of Queensland.
Alderman T. Coyle, of Annnndale, is a native of Llandilo, and will be 78 years of age on the last day of this year. He has a vivid recollection of the strenuous coaching days, and in some reminiscences given to the “Daily Telegraph” he says:—
“I think I am the only one of the old-timers left, and although I have been out of the firm for a good many years now, it is pleasant to think of the old stirring days. Men were men then, and fought their battles man to man.
“The first coach services I remember,” went on the veteran, “were from Sydney to Penrith, run by rival proprietors, Bob Elliott and Crane and Co. Then there was a service to Bathurst, linking up with the Penrith route, run by a man named Minahan (whose nickname was “Scrawny Jack”), and another by Dinny Gaynor.
“Mr. James Rutherford, a man of great enterprise, bought out the lot. To give you some idea of his operations even in those early days, it may be only necessary for me to state that at one time in his carrier career his liability to the bank financing him was said to be £400,000.
“When I entered the service of the firm, late in the ’60’s, the firm consisted of Frank Whitney, Walter Hall, James Ruthorford, and a wealthy Melbourne racing man named Power. They are all gone now. When I got my first start, at Bathurst, at a salary of £3 a week, I felt that my fortune was made. There were no wages boards in those days; no basic wage, or any of that latter-day foolery, and a man was paid what he earned, and was glad to get it.
“In less than five years I was sent to take charge of the whole of Northern Queensland, but not before the firm’s operations had extended from Orange out to Bourke, and some of my most stirring adventures occurred in New South Wales.
“Yes, they were the days when bushranging flourished,” said Mr. Coyle, in reply to a question; “and, although I often held the reins on coaches carrying many thousands of pounds’ worth of gold — my record consignment was 1 ton 1 cwt., from Hill End — I was only stuck up once. That was at Piper’s Flat, and, unfortunately, it was at, a time when there were neither mails nor gold aboard. There was a schoolmaster named O’Connor on the box seat with me, and as a double-barrelled gun was pushed right in front of his face, he called out, ‘Take that thing out of my mouth; I won’t resist.’ Afterwards he said to me, ‘The beggar’s hand was shaking, so I thought the blamed tiling might go off by accident.’ One of the hold-up gang said to me, ‘I suppose you know who I am?’ and I replied. “I don’t; but I suppose you are Gardiner.’ I knew jolly well he was not Gardiner, but I had to pass that way two or three times a week late at night, and it was good policy for me to pretend that I did not know who they were. As a matter of fact, they were only a bunch of local amateurs, and their luck was out, for they only obtained a small amount of cash and jewellery, of little value, from the passengers. There was a more serious hold-up a week or two later near the same spot, however, when a relief constable named Carmody was shot dead, and it was afterwards estimated hat the real bushrangers this time were busy disposing of the body while my coach, carrying about half a ton of gold, passed in safety.
“When I was appointed to the charge of the North Queensland branch,” continued Mr. Coyle, “it was not all beer and skittles. One of the stages out Hughenden way meant a span of 80 miles without water, and that was no joke in such a climate but I never lost a horse, much less a driver. There was soon a network of Cobb and Co’s. coaches serving the sparsely settled districts of Cloncurry, Winton, Hughenden, Croydon,. Normanton, Port Douglas, Herberton, and a score or two other outposts, the names of which I cannot now remember, but I know I had charge of 800 men and 2000 horses. After about ton years of management I was taken in as a partner, with a fifth share in the whole concern. Then the railways came along, and, as I say the coaching days were doomed I managed to get out at the right time.”