Famous whip of Cobb and Co.'s mail-coach services in Victoria and Otago, and known as “Cabbage Tree Ned”.
A new biography of Devine, Edward appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.ed Devine, who derived his soubriquet “Cabbage Tree” from the distinctive headgear he always wore, was born at Brighton, Tasmania, on 10 March 1833, and was one of a family of five sons and five daughters. At the age of 17 he set off for the Victorian goldfields and attached himself to Cobb and Co., coaching contractors. He was assigned to the Ballarat-Geelong run and quickly made a name for himself as a fearless and competent whip. It was a turbulent, hazardous, and arduous era, but the young Tasmanian was equal to all the vicissitudes of his calling. He was undaunted by its hardships and perils, undeterred by its rigours, and quite undismayed by the menace of bushrangers and outlaws. One of his more notable performances was in connection with the tour of Victoria by an English cricket XI in 1862. Driving 12-in-hand, he travelled more than 1,000 miles without mishap or serious delay, and at the end of the contract was presented by his grateful and profoundly impressed passengers with a purse of 300 sovereigns. On another occasion he achieved fame by winning a much-publicised competition in Melbourne for the best handler of a coach and 20 horses. His principal rival was Harry Nettlefold, who was later to join him in the Cobb Service in New Zealand. Devine survived the colourful periods of the 1850s and early 1860s between Ballarat and Geelong, and then turned his attention to New Zealand, arriving in Dunedin at the height of the Otago gold rushes in the midsixties. He joined the firm of Hoyt and Co., a subsidiary of Cobb and Co., carrying on the famous firm's business in New Zealand, and was immediately put on the Dunedin-Dunstan run, via Palmerston and the Pigroot. He quickly became a celebrated figure to thousands, his sharp wit, sturdy independence, transparent honesty, and uncanny proficiency with whip and reins making his name a household word along the whole of his 200–mile route. The coming of the railway to Central Otago, first to the StrathTaieri township of Middlemarch, and later to its present terminus at Cromwell, marked the gradual decline of the coaching business and the disappearance from the Central Otago scene of a number of famous whips. Ned Devine enjoyed a brief inglorious spell as a hotelkeeper, but soon tired of so prosaic a calling, and in the late eighties returned to the scene of his earlier triumphs in Victoria. But the years had brought progress and respectability to Ballarat, Bendigo, and Geelong, and it was not long before Devine was drifting westward to the Murchison goldfields in Western Australia. Whatever else he achieved in the far west, Ned Devine made little money in Western Australia, and when in his early seventies he went back to Victoria, he found refuge in the Old Men's Home at Ballarat. He died there on 13 December 1908.
There were few good roads in Otago in the days of Ned Devine, and in Central Otago they were little more than potholed byways and coach tracks flung in slovenly fashion, like the clothes of a drunken man, across hills and valleys, unbridged rivers, and dried-up watercourses. Travel of any sort was a mixture of trepidation and thrills, with everything dependent on the common sense, resource, and capability of the man on the box. Devine by nature and experience was well fitted for the task. When seeking employment in Dunedin he demonstrated his skill outside the Cobb and Co. depot of Hoyt and Co. by placing a half-crown in the middle of the road, manoeuvring a rear wheel of the coach on top of it, and then completing a full turn without allowing the wheel to move off the coin. Devine was a man of great courage, with a ready tongue and a rough but kindly courtesy, but above all he was an indifferent respecter of persons to the extent that he was always loath to take the mighty at their own valuation. The competition among miners, settlers, and travellers to ride with him was keen, but he would show no favour. It was a case of first come, first served, as he demonstrated when a Cabinet Minister demanded an ex officio box seat. Devine told him curtly the position on the coach was bespoken, and when the politician informed him angrily that he was the Minister of Mines, the famous whip's only reply was, “Well, now, that's a fine post. You want to see that you hang on to it!” Evidence of the impression Ned Devine made upon his public is to be found in the monument to his memory which was unveiled in Ballarat on 7 February 1936, 28 years after his death. The memorial was raised by his admirers both in Australia and in New Zealand.
by Ronald Jones, Journalist and Script Writer, New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, Wellington.
- Early Days in Central Otago, Gilkison, R. (1936)
- Medical Practice in Otago and Southland in the Early Days, Fulton, R.V. (1922)
- Otago Witness, 29 Dec 1908 (Obit)
- Otago Daily Times, 27 Dec 1908 (Obit).