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National Trust Willunga branch.

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National Trust of South Australia


O'Brien, Andrew

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Fast Facts
Type of person Individual
Date of birth 1822
Place of birth Ireland
Principal occupation Coach Driver
Date of death 1870
Place of decease Willunga

Andrew O’Brien was a Mail Coach driver in the Willunga area and between Willunga and Adelaide during the 1850s and 1860s. He was born in 1822 and came to Australia from Glendalough in Ireland. He and his wife, Elizabeth Leigh, had five children between 1853 and 1858. Their third child, Hugh, died at 2 years of age and Mary, their last child, died at nine weeks. It is known that one of their children lived to marriageable age. The O’Brien family lived at 19 St Judes Street, Willunga.

Anecdotes about Andy in the newspapers paint a picture of a popular, energetic and sociable man. Road travel during the 19th century could be a hazardous experience, with stories of injuries and people jumping off careering coaches. Andy seems to have had his share of risky moments:

‘A serious accident happened to the Willunga mail coach on Tuesday afternoon at the corner of Waymouth Street and West Terrace. It appears that the sole cause of the mishap was the team being turned too sharply round upon the terrace… [and]… the vehicle fell over on the footpath. Several of the passengers jumped off… Mr. Wilkie, an outside passenger, was thrown to the ground with great force … Mr. and Mrs. Kell jun, with a baby, were among the passengers, and, though not seriously injured, would not tempt the dangers of the road any further that day. Andy O'Brien, the driver, was quite uninjured. The guard was somewhat hurt, but proceeded on the journey with Andy and the remaining passengers, amongst whom were Mr. Whinnerah and Mr. Low, solicitor.’ 1

It appears, however, that Andy had a period of illness following the accident and later resumed work driving the coach to Aldinga:

‘Messrs. Cobb & Co. have put on a new omnibus to Aldinga. It is considered a great improvement to the one lately in use. Mr. Andy O'Brien, who has been for some time past unwell, has again made his appearance, to the no small delight of numbers who have to travel that route, whilst it is hoped he will be long spared to use the whip’. 2

In September 1858, when he used to drive the coach from Willunga to the Golden Fleece Hotel in Currie Street, Andy was in the Adelaide Court. The proprieter, Mr Schmidt, sought payment of £4/5- for 68 dinners. During the hearing, it became clear that Mr Harriot , the previous owner of the Golden Fleece, had allowed Andy ‘free access to the larder’. Mr Schmidt had taken the hotel over and hadn’t told him that the arrangement had changed. 3

This final story sums up Andy’s droll manner and aptitude as a coach driver:

‘I have a better knowledge of some of the old drivers in the south; between Adelaide and Willunga. The man who stands out in my memory is Andy O’Brien; he was surely a witty fellow. I never knew a passenger able to take a rise out of him. In those days the last changing station before reaching the city was on the top of Tapley’s Hill, quite the wrong place from which to start downhill with a fresh team of horses. On one occasion, just as the ostler released the horses, the offside leader stood up on his hind legs and bolted off, taking the whole box of tricks with him. Down we went hell for leather, now on one pair of wheels, then on the other - every moment in expectation of an almighty smash. Providentially a careless, but heaven-sent woodcarter had dropped a log; the front wheels butted fair and square into it, skidded, and the coach was brought to a standstill. Halting in front of the Victoria Hotel, the passengers dismounted for a 'steadier.' I invited Andy to join. 'Sure, faith,' cried he, 'coming down the hill beyant I thought it was in hell itself you and I would be having the next little drop together!’ 4

Andy died suddenly in September 1870, while dressing for his day’s work driving the coach to Adelaide. He had been ‘observed to be remarkably well and cheerful on be previous night.’ 5

He is buried with Elizabeth and his daughter, Mary, in St Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery in Willunga. Their headstone was carved by one of the notable slate carvers of Willunga, William Hawken.

Related Articles


  • 1 The Express and Telegraph (Adelaide SA 1867 - 1922) Wed 18 Mar 1868 p2
  • 2 The Express and Telegraph (Adelaide SA 1867 - 1922) 
Thu 4 Apr 1867 p2
  • 3 The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide SA 1858 - 1889) Thu 30 Sep 1858 p3
  • 4 The Register (Adelaide SA : 1901 - 1929) Sat 30 July 1921 p4
  • 5 Evening Journal (Adelaide SA 1869 - 1912) 
Fri 9 Sep 1870 p2

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