Royal Reels: Gambling


This stampless cover was sent from the United States to a Mr. William F. Christie, Melbourne, Australia in ca. 1840’s (according to the vendor, but see later) and it had 3 black ink manuscripts, a prominent ‘Collect’, a vertically placed notation along the left hand side (doubtfully an abbreviation for advertised) and another notation ‘( ) Adams & Co’s Express’ (Figure 1).

Alvin Adams started a company originally in Boston in May 1840 as a local mail service carrying small parcels, bank drafts and other valuables between Boston, Worcester, Norwich, New London and New York City, using steamboats and railways. During the California goldrush a closely affiliated company was started by Daniel Hall Haskell in November 1849, who had left New York and became a resident partner of the firm in San Francisco. The Adams & Co. Express was founded and mainly focused on forwarding gold dust to New York, but it also handled letters.

Bill Hornadge in his Local Stamps of Australia (1982) speaks of the California partner as D.H. Maskell, and one of his senior associates in California was George Mowton, who arrived in Melbourne early in 1853 to establish an Australian branch of the organisation. He was accompanied by Freeman Cobb who had been employed in the American operation since 1849. Cobb parted company with Mowton in 1853 to establish a parcel service to Sandridge (Port Melbourne) and he with 3 other partners established the famous firm of Cobb & Co. which quickly eclipsed Adams & Co. becoming the premier Australian coaching firm of the 19th century. By March 1855 Cobb & Co. had acquired Adams & Co., although the latter’s name was still used in newspaper adverts, and up to 1862 it traded under the heading of Brokers, Agents & Commission Agents, Shipping and Lightering.

Adams & Co. is not known to have issued any adhesive local stamps, but it did use a rubber stamp applied to letters carried by the firm. It was a four line hand-stamp in red (Figure 2).

Two additional covers were found on the Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, the first sent from the Adams & Co. Express, 16 Wall Street, New York (as shown by the shield in red) to Mr. Robert R. Carrington, Purser Steamer “New Orleans”, Care Mr Geo Mowton Esq, Adams & Co., Melbourne, Australia, the same George Mowton who started the firm in Melbourne (Figure 3).

The next cover was a stampless early local Colonial cover from the Melbourne firm postmarked with a MELBOURNE/ [CROWN]/ OC*3/ 1853/ VICTORIA cancel addressed to Mr. Robt R. Currington, care Mess Shippurd & Alger, Sydney, NSW, rated with a black manuscript ‘4′. The flap shows that it was received in Sydney on NO 6, and it had an ornate blue shield with the following text: ADAMS & Co/ AMERICAN & EUROPEAN/ EXPRESS/ MELBOURNE/ N.S.W. (Figure 4).

Freeman Cobb (1830-1878), businessman and coach line proprietor, was born on 10 October 1830 at Brewster, Mass,, U.S.A., son of Freeman Cobb and his wife Hannah, née Crosby. He was educated at public schools in Boston, and at 16 joined the dry goods firm of Witherell, Stow & Wood, with whom he stayed for nearly three years until he contracted rheumatic fever. The disease left him permanently lame, upon recovering he joined Adams & Co., express agents, in 1849 and was employed in connection with the coaching lines in California and Central America which the company had established during the Californian gold rush. About May 1853 he arrived in Melbourne with George Mowton, a senior employee who was to establish a branch of Adams & Co. Several American coach drivers and carriers in the employ of either Adams & Co. or the rival firm, Wells, Fargo & Co., followed in the Eagle during June, ostensibly to start carrying to the Victorian gold diggings for their firms. However, neither firm became fully established in Victoria, and Cobb joined three of the new arrivals, John Murray Peck, of Lebanon, N. H., James Swanton, of Omar, N. York, and J. B. Lamber, of Leavenworth, Kansas, to form a carrying partnership known as Cobb & Co.

Using two Concord thoroughbrace wagons that Cobb had brought out, the partners commenced carrying between Melbourne and Liardet’s Port Melbourne in July 1853. Unfortunately the wet winter made the primitive road virtually impassable and the venture was abandoned. Cobb and his partners, with encouragement and capital assistance from the American promoter, George Francis Train and others, converted the carrying business to the famous coaching firm of Cobb & Co. The firm adopted the title, ‘American Telegraph Line of Coaches’, and on 30 January 1854 began to operate a passenger service between Forest Creek (Castlemaine), Bendigo and Melbourne, in each direction daily except Sunday, using the latest Concord thorough-brace coaches. Although the original Cobb & Co. faced stiff competition and never secured a mail contract, the firm operated very profitably for two years and four months and acquired a great reputation for efficiency and reliability.

On 16 May 1856 Cobb announced that the business had been sold and on the 24th left Melbourne in the Royal Charter with Lamber for America. Of the other partners, Swanton later went to New Zealand before returning to America in 1866, and Peck settled permanently in Victoria. The business then passed through several changes in ownership which spread the name of Cobb & Co. widely as more routes were opened. In 1861 the business was acquired by a syndicate led by another American, James Rutherford, who, as general manager, extended Cobb & Co.’s operations to New South Wales and Queensland, and it grew rapidly into a great complex of loosely associated firms that together dominated the coaching industry of Australia until the early years of the twentieth century. Rutherford retained control in New South Wales and Queensland for fifty years until he died on 13 September 1911. On 14 August 1924 the last Cobb & Co. coach made its final run on the Surat-Yuleba route in south-west Queensland.

Although Freeman Cobb spent only three years and one month in Australia, he achieved the distinction of becoming a legend in his own lifetime, and his name has passed into the Australian language as a synonym for a coach. His fame was due partly to his enterprise in introducing the latest American methods and equipment into the coaching industry of Victoria when the gold rushes had created a vast demand for passenger transport, and partly to his organizing ability. He was also popular for his interest in local affairs and for his capacity to bring out the best in his employees. A contemporary assessment of his work in Victoria appeared in the Argus, 17 May 1856: ‘Mr. Cobb has conferred great and lasting benefits on this community, as well by the energy he has infused into our coaching enterprises as by the practical lessons he has taught us in all matters relating to that publicly useful line of business’. According to an obituarist he was also ‘a kind, just, and indulgent employer’. His methods set the standard and as the coach lines multiplied they were freely adopted, but perhaps more significantly Cobb’s name was sought after and acquired by many firms through purchase, agreement or tacit consent.

After his return to Brewster, on 6 May 1858 Cobb married his cousin Annette Cobb and they had two children, Walter Freeman and Emily. He lost money in banking investments and returned to the express business, managing for some years the Boston agency for Adams & Co. In 1864-65 he was a senator for Barnstaple County in the Massachusetts State Legislature. Early in 1871 he took his family to South Africa and settled at Port Elizabeth. With Charles Carlos Cole, an American who had operated coaches in Victoria and New Zealand, he formed Cobb & Co. Ltd and operated a coach service between Port Elizabeth and the diamond fields at Kimberley. The firm failed in 1874 but Cobb secured some of the plant from the liquidator and ran the line himself with ‘considerable’ success for over two years. Then his health began to fail and on 15 February 1878 his estate was surrendered as insolvent. On 24 May he died at his home in Havelock Street, Port Elizabeth. After a year his family returned to Brewster, where his widow died in 1921.

Addendum:  Additional information has come to light on Figure 4.  An important and very early Victorian express cover possibly carried by Adams & Co from the goldfields and placed into the postal system on arrival at Melbourne.  There is a Sydney arrival backstamp of NO 6/1853.  The company was established about May 1853 and was terminated in mid-1855 as a result of the Post Office flexing its monopolistic muscle.

Addendum (December 2011):  A well laden Cobbs Express (Figure 5),

A photo of Freeman Cobb is seen in Figure 6.

Categories: Business, Postmarks