Page 1: Biography
Storekeeper, hotel proprietor, coach company proprietor and driver
This biography, written by Francis Minehan, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Hugh Cassidy was born probably on 8 April 1840 at Dunkineely, County Donegal, Ireland, the son of Andrew Cassidy, a contractor, and his wife, Margaret McGroarty. Around 1858 he emigrated to the goldfields in Victoria, and then to Otago, New Zealand, where he was a packer of supplies to goldminers. From 1864 Cassidy was resident in Hokitika, where, on 28 December that year, he had a dispute with James Price over ownership of one of the business sites in the newly laid-out town. The Canterbury provincial government agent, W. H. Revell, decided in Cassidy's favour.
By February 1865 Cassidy had a store, which was also a post office agency and possibly a hotel, at the Waimea diggings in partnership with his brother-in-law, Dennis Clarke. It is said that Cassidy was a contractor for the first carriage of mail to Waimea. From 1866 to 1876 he was the proprietor of the Australasian Hotel in Hokitika. He was also a Hokitika borough councillor from September 1872 until January 1875.
It is as a coach proprietor and coach driver that Hugh Cassidy is best remembered. The coaching business of Cassidy, Clarke and Company began in 1873 when Cassidy and Dennis Clarke bought out Mitchell and Burton. The service was advertised as Cobb and Company's Telegraph Line of Royal Mail Coaches and it ran between Hokitika and Christchurch over Arthur's Pass. Cassidy moved to Springfield, Canterbury, by 1898. He owned coaches, a very large grain store and Bushy Park farm, which was mainly used for spelling his coach horses. He is said to have had at least 100 horses in full work with 70 on the road. Cassidy was also a justice of the peace and a major benefactor of Springfield's Catholic church.
The viability of the Christchurch–Hokitika coach service depended on having the mail contract. Cassidy obtained this in 1874 and, except for losing the contract in 1881, retained it during his long tenure as 'Mr Cobb'. In July 1892 Cassidy took another company to court over the use of the trade name 'Cobb and Company'. Cassidy's right to the usage was upheld.
As the Midland railway line advanced on both sides of the main divide, the coaching portion of the Christchurch–Hokitika journey shrank; eventually it was limited to the road between Cass and Otira. Cassidy kept up his skills as a driver until late in life. In his time he carried many well-known persons including, on a regular basis, the premier, Richard Seddon, and his wife, Louisa.
Hugh Cassidy married Sarah Clarke, also of Dunkineely, on 28 November 1865 at Hokitika. There were three children of the marriage. Sarah Cassidy died on 18 January 1872 and Hugh subsequently married Annie Mary Murray (née McFarland), a widow, at Bushy Park on 2 September 1908. They had no children. Cassidy died on 17 June 1922 at Springfield, survived by his wife. Following a large funeral attended by many local dignitaries and the drivers employed by his company, he was buried in the family plot at Hokitika cemetery. An impressive memorial marks the Cassidy family tomb and the name lives on in Mt Cassidy at Arthur's Pass National Park.