5 minutes with Jeff Powell, Curator of Cobb+Co Museum

What is your favourite object in the collection and why?

My favourite object is the German wagon. This was a common type of farm wagon in South-East Queensland. The style was introduced by German immigrants from the 1860s, but adopted by farmers of many ethnic backgrounds. The style can be traced back to northern European peoples in Roman times or earlier. German wagons remained largely unchanged in design until the end of the ‘horse era’ after the Second World War. The same design was scaled down to make small pumpkin wagons which children could pull, or scaled up to very large versions like the American Conestoga wagon.

Do you have any interesting facts about your specialty area?

  • Many Queensland towns are near permanent streams or water holes. Travellers on foot, horses or bullocks pulling carts and wagons, or herds of cattle or sheep being driven to new pastures or market, all things on two legs or four had to stop every few hours to drink, and at least once a day to eat and rest. This became an obvious place for a hotel providing drinks, food and accommodation. Cobb+Co may have stopped to change horses and allow passengers time for lunch. Blacksmiths and farriers found work shoeing hoses and repairing gear. A new town was established.
  • There were more horses in towns than in the bush. Horses pulled all sorts of bakers’, butchers’, fruiterers’ and milk venders’ carts for door-to-door deliveries. People commuted to work in horse-drawn trams and omnibuses.
  • Big wool wagons could carry 12 tonnes or more, but might only average 20km per day.

Tell us a little bit about your area and why do you love working in this specific research area?

There was a transport history element to many facets of life, such as the industries in Queensland, settlement patterns and even people’s levels of education, their occupations and the size of their families.

What is your favourite thing about your role at the museum? Why?

Visitors are always asking questions about places and people in the past that leads to new avenues of research and understanding the past.

What is one of the most interesting facts you have discovered through working at the museum?

  • Public health took a great leap forward with the humble dunny carts in the 1890s. ‘Night soil’ in cans from backyard toilets was no longer buried in a privy pits but removed from the suburbs. Typhoid and cholera were just two diseases that were largely eradicated.
  • Electric cars are not new. They were made from the late 19th century and some were imported into Australia. They lost popularity after the First World War.

What is your favourite gallery/exhibition at the museum (current or past) and why?

The Cobb+Co coach with a team of (fibreglass) horses is quite impressive. Horse-drawn vehicles look their best when harnessed to horses.

Learn more about Jeff Powell here.

One thought on “5 minutes with Jeff Powell, Curator of Cobb+Co Museum

  1. On Tue, 11 May 2021, 11:29 am The Queensland Museum Network Blog, wrote:

    > qldmuseum posted: ” What is your favourite object in the collection and > why? My favourite object is the German wagon. This was a common type of > farm wagon in South-East Queensland. The style was introduced by German > immigrants from the 1860s, but adopted by farmers of ma” >

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