Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Edward Cox (1791–1837)

by G. H. Stancombe

This article was published:

John Edward Cox (1791-1837), auctioneer and coach proprietor, was brought up by an auctioneer in Suffolk, England. On 19 January 1821 he married Mary Ann Halls at St James's, Bristol, before sailing for Van Diemen's Land. He arrived in Hobart Town in the Mariner in November 1821, bringing a letter of recommendation from the Colonial Office and capital of £1660. He received a grant of 1200 acres (486 ha) near Campbell Town, and called it Rendlesham. By 1822 he had sufficient cattle to contract for meat with the government and took up auctioneering in partnership with Richard Lewis. Three years later the burning of his house and a lawsuit in England reduced his increasing family to great distress. He received a small inheritance, built a new house, and applied for additional land, but the decision was deferred until the survey of the colony was completed. In 1826 he returned to Hobart as an auctioneer, at first alone and later in partnership with Samuel Woodcock. The business did not flourish; he was forced to sell his land and stock when prices were low and in May 1828 was declared bankrupt. He resumed auctioneering and later became proprietor of the Macquarie Hotel in Hobart, the York and Albany at Oatlands, and the Cornwall at Launceston.

His establishment of the first coaching service between Hobart and Launceston in 1832 was a stroke of genius. The first trips took three days to cover the 120 miles (193 km) by tandem, with room for parcels and for one passenger at £5. As roads improved, a four-horse stage coach replaced the tandem travelling twice a week and carrying mails under a government contract worth £1295 a year. His service was praised by the lieutenant-governor and the Legislative Council, but constant attention to organization affected Cox's health, and on 24 October 1837 he died in Launceston of a pulmonary complaint, leaving a widow with eight children to support.

With great courage and enterprise Mary Ann Cox carried on the Cornwall Hotel, and the coaching service with its annual turnover of £4000. By 1840 she had repaid her husband's creditors in full. In 1843, besides continuing the passenger service, she regained the government contract to run a twice-weekly mail between the two centres. Several armed robberies resulted in the placing of a guard on each coach. Next year she undertook three mail services weekly under guard at £1400 a year. The competition by this time was keen, but her safe and efficient service was well patronized. In November 1847, just before the contract was to expire, she shrewdly proposed a further improvement of her service; she was again successful and now had a total of seven daily and four nightly coaches a week from each centre. Soon, however, she was disheartened by several accidents, and in 1849 she sold her seven coaches, 150 horses and 24 sets of four-horse harness to Samuel Page. With part of the proceeds she bought Ornley, at Avoca, and lived there until shortly before her death on 3 November 1858 in Hobart.

Her coaching activities provided for the education of her children at the leading colonial schools. She bought commissions in the Indian army for her three sons, George (1835-1905) becoming a colonel, Alexander Temple (1836-1907) a brigadier-general and a commandant of the Tasmanian Forces, and Richard (1830-1865) a captain in the Madras Native Infantry. Her three daughters married into colonial society, Anna Maria becoming the wife of Neil Lewis and the mother of Sir Neil Elliott Lewis, chancellor of the University of Tasmania in 1924-33, and a leading politician.

Select Bibliography

  • correspondence file under Cox (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

G. H. Stancombe, 'Cox, John Edward (1791–1837)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




24 October, 1837 (aged ~ 46)
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death

lung disease

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