Topic: Cabbage-Tree Ned: Coachman Extraordinary by Ivan D. Taylor

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Cabbage-Tree Ned: Coachman Extraordinary by Ivan D. Taylor is a 2012 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

Cabbage-Tree Ned, or, to give him his real name, Edward Devine, was born in Tasmania and at the age of 17 moved to Victoria to drive coaches for Lascelles on the Ballarat to Geelong run. He was spotted by Freeman Cobb who recognised his knowledge of horses and amazing driving skills and immediately employed him.

Cobb had come fromAmericain 1853, along with a manager from the Adams Express Company, to set up a branch of their company inMelbourne. On arrival the American manager decided that there were not the opportunities inAustraliahe was looking for and returned immediately toAmerica.  Cobb saw it differently and resigned from the Adams Express Company and, along with three other drivers, set up Cobb & Co. 

The Company grew rapidly and became famous for its service and reliability, and its use of the ‘Concord’ coaches.  Although still only 17, Devine became one of Cobb & Co’s top drivers driving an eight-horse team on the Ballarat toGeelongrun, and a six-horse team toMelbourne. When the All England cricket team visitedAustraliain 1861-62 he was chosen to drive them aroundAustraliain a specially-built coach. This was pulled by twelve grey horses harnessed in pairs with separate reins to each pair, which meant that he had six sets of reins to control.

There were all sorts of stories about Ned’s experiences with bushrangers, where his driving skill often won the day. His skill at driving one-handed at top speed with a gun in the other hand tended to make the bushrangers think twice if they knew that it was Ned driving. 

Despite a large offer of extra money to stay with Cobb, Ned decided to move to New Zealand and work for Charles C. Cole, one of Cobb’s drivers. Cole had moved to Dunedinand on 4th October 1861 he established his own coaching company there. He called it Cobb & Co. c.c. Cole and Company.  It had no connection with the Australian company; Ned was just using their good name, like many other companies in both countries were doing.  The Otago gold rush was on and hundreds of miners and supplies needed to be transported into central Otago.

Ned became very much one of their senior drivers and loved demonstrating his skills. He was always looking for people willing to loose money on his driving skills. Once on the main street ofDunedinhe placed a gold coin on the ground under the rear wheel of the coach. He then stated he could drive it with his four-in-hand in a full circle with out moving the wheel off the coin.

A variation on this was for Ned to draw a circle on the ground and take bets that he could drive the coach in a circle within the one marked on the ground. He always won.

Ned was selected to drive the Duke of Edinburgh through Otago when he visitedNew Zealand.  Wanting to impress the Duke he drove a specially painted and prepared coach four-in-hand at full gallop down the wharf and made an extreme 180 degree turn into a very small space right in front of the Duke. The Duke was most impressed and later presented him with a ‘hansom gold-mounted driving whip’ that Ned treasured. This whip is now on permanent display at theOtagoMuseum.

On another occasion he was travelling down a steep hill when he found out that the brake was not working. Usually the brake is used to keep the coach from running onto the rear of the horses when going downhill. Ned told everyone to hold on tight, and immediately whipped the horses into a full gallop to keep them just ahead of the coach down to the bottom of the hill, eventually stopping part way up the next hill.

Ned moved up to Christchurch when Cole opened a branch there and drove coaches on both the Arthurs Pass run to the West Coast and the Main South Road run to Dunedin.

Ned was a great practical joker, forever playing tricks on his passengers. On theDunedinrun he stopped at Moeraki on the coast and passengers often bought fresh fish off the local fishermen. Once under way he would point out that sometimes the fish caught at Moeraki were poisonous; there was often something in the water there. He warned them about eating the fish.

“Just leave them on the floor and I will get rid of them for you.”

Guess who had fish for tea that night.

On another occasion on the West Coast run he was asked why he had a spare horse tied onto the rear of the coach. He replied that there were bushrangers in the area and he needed it if they attacked the coach as his get-away horse. The passengers panicked and said, “What about us?”

“Don’t worry,” Ned replied, “it’s only me they want as I have got all the gold strapped to me under my shirt.”

Later on he let them know that he was only joking, and that the horse was a replacement for a sick horse at one of the changing stations.

On another occasion on the same road he had a policeman and his prisoner riding with him on the box seat.  At a changing station just before they entered the bush he quietly spread the word that they should all keep an eye out for the prisoner’s mates who could be hidden in the bush somewhere hoping to rescue him.

This caused concern to several of the passengers, particularly the women who refused to go any further on the journey, Ned gave them three minutes to get on board or, he warned them, he would leave them behind. At this point the policeman realized what was happening and explained to all of the passengers that Ned was only having them all on. They all reluctantly re-boarded, but still kept a lookout.

This was one of the few occasions that a passenger made a formal complaint against Ned, but it didn’t worry him. His skill with a rifle was demonstrated in central Otago often when all of a sudden Ned would start firing shots from his rifle while still driving along the track. When questioned by the passengers he said that he was scaring off the bushrangers. The truth was revealed when he stopped the coach to pick up a rabbit that he had shot. Apparently he often did this, much to the alarm of his passengers.

It was not only his driving skills that he was known for; Ned Devine was also an expert at breaking in the coach horses. InChristchurchhe used what is nowLatimer Square, then a partly-fenced paddock near Cobb & Co’s yards inHereford Street. Whenever he was breaking in horses there were crowds of onlookers who would gather around just to watch him at work.   He only used horses that he had broken in to harness himself.

Ned finally gave up driving coaches and moved back to Dunedinwhere for a while he drove the trams. He returned to Australiain 1878 where he obtained a job driving coaches in Western Australiauntil retiring in 1894.  He must have fallen on hard times as he was taken into care on 12th July 1904 and admitted to the Ballarat Benevolent Asylum, where he died on 18th December 1908.

He was buried in theBallaratCemetery, with his age given as 71. Thirty years later his remains were removed to a more prominent section and a memorial erected for Cabbage-Tree Ned and all coach drivers. This memorial looks out over Ballarat.

But what about that name of ‘Cabbage-Tree Ned?’ InAustraliahe wore a wide-brimmed hat, but when he came toNew Zealandhe had to make up his own version from the leaves of the native cabbage trees.  They were waterproof; they kept him cool and the sun out of his eyes. This name is on his memorial stone alongside his real name.

As motorcars and trains gradually took over most of the long distance travel, coaching finally died out in the South Islandwith the last coach running over Arthur’s Pass on 4th August 1923.



This page archived at Pema CC in October of 2016:

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Cabbage-Tree Ned: Coachman Extraordinary by Ivan D. Taylor

Note:About the Author: Ivan D. Taylor has published three books. The Road to the West Coast sold 1800 in a year, and Let ‘Em Go is selling steadily, too. Abby’s Story was a limited edition for family and friends. He is working now on a history of the North Canterbury Railways, in its final stages. His main writing is as a transport historian, researching and writing for several local and overseas magazines. Ivan also writes and edits the Veteran Car Club of New Zealand Magazine, and has had several articles published in New Zealand Memories.
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License
Cabbage-Tree Ned: Coachman Extraordinary by Ivan D. Taylor by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License