Backward Glance: Cobb & Co. Part 3
  • Thursday 08 February 2018

This week we continue to trace the Cobb and Co coach journey north from Cobbs Camp to the goldfields in Gympie.

After resting overnight at Cobbs Camp, now Woombye, the coach and its passengers continued north towards Petrie Creek and then on to Yandina.

They travelled towards Nambour and crossed Petrie Creek, where the North Coast Railway line now runs.

The coach continued towards Maroochy River until it reached Low’s depot where they had meals, swapped horses, delivered and collected mail.

Low’s “Maroochie House” was the first hotel between Caboolture and Gympie operating at South Maroochy crossing.

It was also the first commercial site, with the first post office and a store, between Gympie and Brisbane.

The next stage of the journey travelled up the range and became known as the Bottle and Glass Route.

This was because a pioneer carved a bottle and glass onto a tree, symbolising that the next stop wasn’t far and travellers would be able to obtain refreshments and a break from the rough ride along the new road.

The road was renowned for its steepness and difficulty, but became the preferred route.

It continued through the Tuchekoi “pinches” to Traveston, then it wasn’t far to Gympie.  

The Bottle and Glass Route was not always the preferred road.

There was an earlier route that ran through Chevallum and Dunethin Rock. It then crossed the Maroochy River and continued along Low’s Road, east of Mt Cooroy and on towards Gympie. 

Another route went inland behind Yandina, across the North Maroochy River along a steep ridge behind Mt Ninderry, to Yandina Homestead and then led back to the main route.

After travelling up towards a hilly section near Kybong, it became reasonably level and the Mary River valley was close by for miners making their way north to the diggings in Gympie.

In wet weather, the road became a quagmire and in some places the coach wheels would sink to the axles.

“Corduroy crossings” were installed at these wet spots and creeks to assist the coaches through with less difficulty.

The passengers on the Bottle and Glass Route were relieved to travel in dry weather.

If the track was wet and slippery, the powerful horses could have difficulty pulling the coach up the slope.

If this happened, all passengers, no matter the price they paid for their ticket, may have to help push the coach up the difficult terrain or walk behind it up the muddy road.

Distinguished visitors sometimes travelled by coach.

The Gympie coach to Brisbane had a very famous tourist on board in 1871.

British novelist Anthony Trollope visited Australia and travelled overland by coach from Gympie to Brisbane.

When back on firm ground, Trollope wrote of his experience: “I had been very much advised against the coach. I enjoyed the drive most thoroughly. It lasted three days. I had to acknowledge also the great beauty of the scrubs and found some breaks in the mountains very grand.”

Trollope seemed to enjoy his night at Cobbs Camp too, except for the fleas and wrote of his experience: “We slept the night at a place called Cobbs Camp at which the manners of a pretty German hostess almost atoned for the miraculous profusion of fleas.”

Trollope also commented that he was in good hands when travelling on the Gympie Road route: “The man who drove me from Cobbs Camp to Brisbane was the best driver of four horses I ever saw. Had he been a little less uncouth in manners, I should have told him what I thought of him.” 

Could he have been speaking about Yankee Bill or Jimmy Murphy? We will never know, but they delivered Trollope to Brisbane, perhaps with a few flea bites from Cobbs Camp but invigorated by the experience. The coach depots along the northern track, like the timber rafting grounds from an earlier era, provided the stimulus for the beginnings of settlements.

The 1871 census recorded 104 people living and working in the Maroochy region.

Only 31 were permanent settlers, the rest were timber getters.

The majority of this population resided at the Maroochy River, near Low’s Yandina depot, followed by Cobbs Camp and then Buderim.

James Low established the first commercial centre in 1868 with a hotel, post office and store.

The coaches stayed overnight at Low’s Yandina hotel on the three-day journey from Brisbane to Gympie.

Between the 1870s and 1890s, early miners and their families came to the goldfields in Gympie.

During this time, transportation and communication with Brisbane was limited to boat or along the road with Cobb and Co’s coaches, horse and bullock, dray and wagons.  

Many only had carts or rode horseback as they had little money.

Some determined prospectors even walked the rough north bush track in search of their fortune, as the cost of a ticket on the Cobb and Co coach was equivalent to about two weeks wages in that period.

The other form of early transport in this region was by boat, up through the shallow waters of Pumicestone Passage to Caloundra.

From 1863 to 1894, Pettigrew’s boats also travelled to and from Mooloolah and Maroochy Heads carrying logs, sawn timber, produce and passengers to and from Brisbane.

The town of Woombye was surveyed in 1890 and in 1891 the railway link from Landsborough to Yandina was opened.

In 1880, Gympie was proclaimed a municipality and by 1905, it was a city. Early gold mining continued until 1925. 

On January 6, 1869, bushrangers held up the coach from Gympie to Brisbane and escaped with cash.

There were 13 passengers held up on a Maryborough coach and three bushrangers secured approximately $400 and 15 ounces of gold. 

The old hands who met those coaches, such as Edmund Lander, Grigor family, James Low and Petrie family members, were all known to help travellers as they made their way north to the goldfields.

These businessmen, who owned and ran the depots, were experienced and took good care of the valuable coach horses, as well as the cargo and passengers.

The pioneers, ever reliant on the weather, were good judges of flooded areas and knew their local conditions well.

If the creeks or rivers were too high and dangerous the coach simply had to wait it out.

The route was rough and remained that way until the 1930s when funding for the Great North Coast Road made travelling a little easier by road.

Once the North Coast Rail Line came in the early 1890s, the coach and horse passenger service along Gympie Road stopped and within two years the mail coach service stopped too.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Cobb and Co Staging Post, Bankfoot House, by early pioneers William and Mary Grigor on the original Gympie Road to the goldfields in Gympie.

Sunshine Coast Council staff and a team of dedicated Bankfoot House volunteers have created a special program of events to mark the occasion.

These events are for all ages and will be an informative tool for students as well as families learning about how the early pioneers went about their lives here on the Sunshine Coast.

Now owned by Sunshine Coast Council, Bankfoot House, located near the Glass House Mountains, is a special place that provides a window into the past for all to experience.

Image Captions

Hero Image - Cobb and Co Coach No. 100 travelling along the old coach route on Old Gympie Road, near Glass House Mountains re-enacting the early days of coach travel through the district for Centenary of Separation celebrations. The recently restored Cobb & Co coach was typical of the coaches that plied the Brisbane - Gympie route. The re-enactment in December, 1959 celebrated Queensland's first Centenary of Separation from the state of New South Wales.  ca 1959

Image 1 - Cobb & Co. coach at Nambour during the re-enactment of the mail run from Gympie to Brisbane, as part of the Queensland Centenary year celebrations, 1959

Some five thousand people gathered in Currie Street, Nambour, to welcome the coach. Passengers included: Frank Nicklin (then Premier of Queensland), with back to camera. Mr and Mrs J.D.Grimes and F. Heaton (riding on top of coach at rear). Mrs Nicklin, W. Bolton (Managing Director of Cobb & Co.), John Elliot, Stan Clark and two Yandina State School pupils - Jennifer Low and Geoffrey Phillips.

Image 2- Sketch of James Low's hotel 'Mooroochie House', Yandina, drawn ca 1875

The hotel was built in 1868 at the Gympie Road crossing of the South Maroochy River. It included accommodation at the rear for Low's family. An adjacent building contained a butcher shop, general store and the Yandina Post Office. It was the first hotel and post office between Caboolture and Gympie. And acted as a stopover staging house for the Cobb & Co coaches en route to Gympie.

Image 3 - Australian Hotel, Stevens Street, Yandina, ca 1903

Built by John Gustave Sommer in 1888-1889 on his land at the intersection of Fleming and Farrell Streets (adjacent to the Old Gympie Road) at Yandina. Following the completion of the North Coast Railway line to Yandina in 1891, the hotel was relocated to its present site opposite the Railway Station in Stevens Street. It was extended in the 1930s and later renamed the Yandina Hotel. Note: L. Range (Licensee when pictured) sold the hotel to G. Graham in August 1903.

Image 4 - Bridge over the South Maroochy River on the Gympie Road (Old Bruce Highway), Yandina, 1920s

Known as Low's Bridge, it was constructed in 1878 to replace the original ford used to cross the Maroochy River. The bridge was washed away by flood waters in 1928 and replaced by a new bridge in the following year.

Image 5 - Cobb & Co. Coach on the old Gympie Road between Mooloolah and Landsborough, ca 1959

As part of Queensland's Centenary celebrations during 1959, an old restored Cobb & Co. Coach followed the original route along Old Gympie Road through the Sunshine Coast region, which the coach line followed in 1868. A group of North Coast pioneers met this Cobb & Co coach at Landsborough, outside the Landsborough Shire Council Chambers on the day.

Image 6 - Horse drawn whim on a gold mine, Gympie goldfields, 1870s.  Courtesy of State Library of Queensland

The whim, operated by horsepower, was the most widely used method of raising ore from mine shafts before the introduction of steam power.