Pastoral settlement of the Corner Country began soon after Sturt’s expedition, followed in the early 1880s by the gold rush on the Albert Goldfields.
Horses, bullocks, donkeys and even camels were used to bring coaches, carts and wagons into the area, carrying everything from mail, stores, building materials and people. Some miners even walked, pushing their wheelbarrows loaded with their meagre possessions.
There were no established roads, just the well-trodden paths of hooves and wheels from Wilcannia, Silverton, Broken Hill and Euriowie as well as from Queensland and South Australia.
Coach operators such a Cobb and Co, and Morrison Brothers needed large numbers of horses for their operation. The horses pulling coaches were only able to travel 20 kilometres or so before they needed to be swapped for fresh horses. Enterprising new-comers to the region solved the problem by establishing horse “change stations” together with a shanty hotel. The fresh horses were brought in before the arrival time of the coach and prepared to be exchanged; guests on the coaches could rest, brush off the dust, and sometimes get a meal and a drink before setting off on the next stage.
While Cobb and Co only operated a service for a short time their coach design endured. So, what was so special about the Cobb and Co coach?
Primarily it consisted of a square wooden box body with half open sides, one door each side and four canvas blinds that were let down on leather straps to protect passengers from rain.
Inside, two fixed and one moveable back bench seats were upholstered in maroon. On the front of the coach a box formed the seat for driver and guard and was upholstered dark brown.
The coach had American hickory wheels, steel treads, spokes with wood axles and leather springs. The rear wheels were larger than the front wheels. A steel rail ran around the top of coach for luggage and there was a rail on each side of driver’s bench.
A hand brake comprising a wooden shaft and steel rod was connected to wooden rods and pads on rear wheels.
The front of driver’s box curved up to form a footboard and rest. It was fitted with a large central lamp over the driver’s box and two side lamps (lit by candles) constructed of chrome metal and glass fitted in sockets attached to coach. There was also a canvas sheet on the rear of the coach held on with leather straps.
A separate long wooden shaft was fixed onto front of coach to which the horse harness was attached.
For more information about transportation across the Corner Country visit Sturt’s Steps touring route shelters and the museum spaces in Milparinka and Tibooburra.