Image 'Cobb and Co coach on the Sydney road', 1850s

TLF ID R3380

This is a watercolour, measuring 16.2 cm x 25.2 cm, by the famous colonial artist Samuel Thomas Gill (1818-80). It shows a Cobb and Co coach travelling to Sydney, New South Wales, along a rough dirt road bounded by timber fences and open fields, with buildings (probably farmhouses) in the background. At least two horses are pulling the coach. There are two men on the front of the coach and passengers inside. The title, 'Cobb and Co coach on the Sydney road', is taken from an inscription on the reverse. The watercolour dates from the 1850s and has the artist's initials, 'STG', in the bottom left-hand corner.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset shows the standard of roads at the time - this is a major road leading to the country's largest city, as it appeared in the 1850s.
  • It illustrates a Cobb and Co coach around the time Freeman Cobb began operations from Melbourne in 1853 to service the Victorian gold fields - the company developed successfully, even competing with rail for a considerable time, largely due to its efficiency, the breadth of its network, its ability to change horses regularly and the design of its coaches.
  • It pictures a coach, probably of Australian design - Cobb and Co designed and built coaches specifically for Australian conditions.
  • It shows the coach driver up front - drivers were well known for their skill and knowledge of the terrain; they could manage a rein for each horse and apply two brakes, one on either side of the driver's box; they worked at night and in all weathers; two passengers could be seated beside the driver, and could help open and close gates.
  • It depicts a passenger beside the driver and at least two inside - coach travel was thoroughly uncomfortable for passengers, as the coaches had hard wooden seats (thinly padded with leather) and straw on the floor (for warmth); although the springs on Cobb and Co coaches were well known for their innovative suspension system, the condition of the dirt roads, without grading or bridges, made every trip unbearable; passengers were often instructed to shift sides to prevent the coach from capsizing, or told to get out and walk in hilly areas.
  • It reveals at least two horses pulling the coach - the company specially bred strong, active horses for their teams and devised a five-horse formation for the eight-passenger coaches; the two horses at the back, called 'polers', were used for the heavy work, and the three at the front were for pace; the leader was centre front and did much of the steering; horses averaged a speed of about 6 to 7 miles per hour (about 10 to 11 kilometres) and horses were changed every 15 to 30 miles (24 to 48 kilometres).
  • It shows some luggage on the tailgate and possibly a person sitting there on the cheapest seat available - part of the luggage shown may have included sacks of mail, as Cobb and Co carried the Royal Mail.
  • It shows an example of the work of S T Gill that depicts colonial life in the mid-19th century - after becoming bankrupt in South Australia, Gill tried prospecting in Victoria but found he could make a better living working at his art; for 15 years he recorded the lives and occupations of people on the gold fields before spending eight years in Sydney; his many artworks provide an insight into the lives of the pioneers.
Year level

2; 3; 4; 5

Learning area
  • History

Other details

  • Author
  • Person: Samuel Thomas Gill
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: Samuel Thomas Gill
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements