Walcha’s era of coach travel

Meeting the train: George Bowden with his coach and four near the first of three bridges over the Apsley River in Fitzroy Street.
Meeting the train: George Bowden with his coach and four near the first of three bridges over the Apsley River in Fitzroy Street.

Horse-drawn coaches once provided public transport in the local district; one of the earliest is said to have travelled between Bendemeer and Walcha in the days when Cobb & Co had a service from Tamworth to Stanthorpe via Bendemeer, Uralla and Armidale.

The Walcha coach followed the course of the Macdonald River for much of the journey before travelling along present-day Scrubby Gully Road.

In January 1874, R.C. Smith & Co of Armidale commenced a twice-weekly service to Walcha and Glen Morrison with their Tally-Ho coach line. The local booking offices were at Hamilton’s Apsley Hotel in Walcha and Bowden’s Golden Bar Hotel at Glen Morrison. It soon became a once-a-week service with the coach leaving Armidale every Saturday morning and returning to Armidale on the following Monday. The trip took seven hours and cost 10 shillings each way. The Star Line of Royal Coaches took over the run in January 1877.

The construction of the Main Northern Rail Line put paid to many coach services, a change much applauded by the travelling public, especially in regard to Cobb & Co. The Freeman’s Journal of June 24, 1882, wrote: “Those who have spent long, cold, wintry nights knocked about in one of Cobb & Co’s coaches, and have heard the sharp and often offensive questions and replies of the petty agents of the firm will bless the day when they shall all be things of the past.”

At Walcha, the opening of the line to Uralla on August 2, 1882 introduced the need for a feeder coach service to Walcha Road, which was originally provided by George Martin whose advertisements said: “The Mail Coach leaves Walcha daily (Sundays excepted) at 9am to meet the train from Armidale, returning to Walcha at noon, and leaving the town again at 3pm to meet the evening train from Newcastle. Passengers and parcels should be booked at Bath's Hotel, Walcha.”

It was not long before George Murray Bowden purchased the business from Martin, who stayed on as coach driver for a while before Bowden took up the reins. In 1912, the horse-drawn coach was replaced by a motor vehicle, an Albion Caravan, driven by Charles Ernest Bowden, one of George's sons.

Samuel Farrell, G.A. Golledge and Ashton J. Smith were also licensed to ply between Walcha and Walcha Road. Golledge also had a service between Walcha Road and Niangala, while Smith kept himself occupied with smaller jobs such as the running of fare-paying passengers to and from Walcha’s annual races.