RUTHERFORD, James (1827-1911)


RUTHERFORD, James (1827-1911)
transit pioneer
was born at Erie, New York, U.S.A., in August 1827. He arrived at Melbourne in June 1852 and worked on the Bendigo goldfields for a short period. Going to Brisbane in 1853 he drove overland to Melbourne and on the way learnt a great deal about the country, and much about its horses, in which he traded successfully for some years. The coaching business of Cobb and Co., which had been founded by some visitors from America a few years before, was in 1857 in the hands of Cyrus Hewitt and George Watson, who employed Rutherford to manage the Beechworth line. A few months later Rutherford formed a syndicate and bought out Hewitt and Watson for the sum of £23,000. One of his associates was Walter Russell Hall (q.v.). In Rutherford's hands the business steadily expanded. He was an excellent manager, a fine judge of horses and men, and there were never any difficulties between the management and the employees. In June 1862 Robertson took coaches and horses to Bathurst in New South Wales and established the business there. Extensions into Queensland were made in 1865, and the growth of the business was so great that by 1870 6000 horses were harnessed each day and the coaches were travelling 28,000 miles a week. Rutherford, who lived at Bathurst from 1862, began acquiring station properties, which he managed himself with the most up-to-date means, and in 1873, with John Sutherland, he founded the Lithgow iron works. This started with a capital of £100,000 all of which had been lost when Rutherford took over its management. He succeeded in making it pay its way, but there was little profit in it and the business was eventually sold.
At Bathurst Rutherford took great interest in the town. He became a member of the council, had a term as mayor, and was for 30 years treasurer to the Agricultural Society. He encouraged the planting of trees in the town, and exercised an open-handed philanthropy. During his long period as governing-director of Cobb and Co., he kept in touch with his large station-properties, riding immense distances as a young man, and later often travelling in a kind of Cape cart. Even in his eighties he continued the supervision of his stations, and he died at Mackay, Queensland, on 13 September 1911, when returning from a visit to one of them. He left a widow, five sons, and five daughters.
Cobb and Co. made the tracks in Australia that the railways were to follow, and especially in the second half of the nineteenth century the name was a household word in all the out-country. Will Ogilvie and Henry Lawson (q.v.) among Australian writers both paid their tribute to "The Lights of Cobb and Co.", and certainly at this time Australia owed much to the untiring energy and genius for management of James Rutherford.
The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 September 1911; William Lees, A History of the Coaching Firm of Cobb & Co. (with portraits).

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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