Cobb & Co.’s booking office on the corner of Cashel and High Streets was a hub of activity. Here the proprietor, W. R. Mitchell took charge of the bookings and service on this site since 1863 and the building which was erected in 1864.
It was a great meeting and greeting point where passengers would await to climb aboard the great coaches with their goods and luggage or dismount after their journey. Coaches would arrive and depart regularly to destinations in the surrounding areas of Christchurch as well as further afield.
The name, Cobb & Co. did not represent the owner’s name. It was a popularly used name by coach proprietors in New Zealand and Australia. From October 1863, Samuel Leander, also known as Sam Lee and Charles Cole ran their Cobb & Co. coaches as well as Cobb & Co’s Telegraph Line coaches in Otago and began a service between Dunedin and Christchurch.
From July 1864, they began a service from Christchurch to Kaiapoi. This was taken over by William Sansom in 1865, as well as another service which ran to Rangiora.. The coach outside the office is Barlows which ran to Papanui, and was formerly owned by Sansom.
On the left is the Akaroa coach with Joseph MacFarlane the driver standing behind it. Samuel Lee stands second to right of the doorway on the corner.
Before the railway, the travel long distances was either done by sea or over land on foot, horseback or by horse drawn coach. Cobb & Co established an efficient and relatively fast transport system with their American built coaches which could navigate primitive roads, hills and rivers relatively easily. On a good day, under favourable conditions, the coach from Christchurch to Timaru could be done in one day.
Their coaches were built by J. Abbott in Concord, New Hampshire. Called Concords, they were painted in striking red and gold ornamentation, and unlike other models, offered a more comfortable ride with its thick leather straps which supported the body, better than others more unyielding metal springs. There were glass windows in the doors which passengers could loweror raise and the openings either side had leather curtains which rolled up and down to keep out the weather. The interior, upholstered in a crimson plush could fit from six comfortably to nine at a squeeze. There was a box and roof seat on the outside for an extra five passengers. Generally five horses were needed to pull the coach at a reasonable speed.
The Cobb & Co’s coach leaving for Kaiapoi outside Birdsey’s, a restaurant and drinking house situated on High Street, Christchurch in 1863. From here coaches departed for Papanui Bush, Riccarton and the outlying settlements at Kaiapoi, Rangiora and Oxford.
By the mid 1860s, Cobb & Co’s coaches were carrying passengers from Christchurch to Timaru and across the Southern Alps to the goldfields of the West Coast. The site was later occupied by the Hallenstein Brothers’ building.
Sitting on the coach is the driver Mr. Cook and beside him to the left is Joseph McFarlane (c. 1849 – 1885).
To the right of the Cobb & Co. office are the grain merchants, Royse, Stead & Co. on High Street. It was owned by William Royse and George G. Stead. Beside it is the tobacconist and fancy goods store called Simpson’s Depot and owned by Bernard Simpson.
The music warehouse of Spensley & Co can be seen on the left, in Cashel Street.
Cobb and Co’s Royal Mail Line of Coaches left from the Empire Hotel on the West Coast for Christchurch every Tuesday and Friday at 6am. Fares were £4 10 0 one way or £8 return.
William Ellison Burke, a bailiff at the Christchurch Court wrote in his journal from 1850-60:
“The stables in Cashel Street, near Queen’s, were built for Cobb & Co’s (L.G. Cole Ltd) line of coaches, soon after they first came from Otago in the early sixties… L.G. Cole & Co made money here, having the cream of the work, fat mail contracts, big travelling fares, parcels, &c. H.R. Mitchell was manager.”
Queen’s was originally a butcher’s shop, kept by Tom Cook of the boarding house, and was built for a Licensee, but it was not granted. Later others got it. Then it got into the hands of Smith who made money in it. Two horse jobbers, Beattie & Douglas, once kept it. It was pretty rowdy.
Opposite on the corner was the original Yankee Store, run by two or three young Americans, Bullick & C.W. Post was a clerk with them. They only remained two or three years and away to Chicago &c.”
T.W. Duncan’s office, between Cashel St and Bedford Row, first house, where Judge W. Wilson’s garden was subdivided. Cobb & Co’s drivers & guards were Fox, Young, Burton, McKercher, Nettlefold. Young afterwards had coaches in the North Island. R.H. Mitchell was manager. They first stabled on Oxford Terrace and opened the Timaru line.
When the West Coast rush broke out, Cobb’s coached on past Kaiapoi to Leithfield. Afterwards when the Gorge road was making, worked that.
Burton about this time started on his own to Kaiapoi with a small coach, and Cook, the cabman, was guard. Sam Lee was on with Cobb’s.
The “Warwick”, now Queens, built about 1861-62.”
(Source: Burke Manuscript. Aotearoa New Zealand Centre)
- Private Collection. Image: Christchurch City Libaries Photo Collection 22, Img00803.
- Old Christchurch in picture and story, Johannes C. Andersen. Image: Christchurch City Libraries PhotoCD 10, IMG0019.