Miners’ Strike of 1896

Lambton Park has been used for many events in both tranquil and troubled times. This month’s photograph from 1896 captures a key moment in a turbulent year for miners and their families.

Steadily rising demand for coal had caused the selling price to reach a peak of 10 shillings per ton in 1890. However, economic depression in 1892-93 combined with increasing production, nearly halved the price by 1896. In February, the proprietors of Lambton mine announced the pit would close unless wages were cut. The miners, believing the company was using this as an excuse to increase profits at their expense, downed tools and called for a district wide meeting.

Nearly 2000 miners gathered at Lambton Park on 29 February 1896, and resolved that unless wages were increased, they would hold a ballot for a general strike. No increase was granted, and in March a majority voted to cease work. Negotiations continued into April, but …

Easter dawns upon us with anything but a happy outlook. The district is threatened with a great industrial strike, which is calculated to bring privation upon many poor families. Already the shopkeepers are complaining about a falling off in business, the housewives evidently buying only the bare necessaries of life.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 2 April 1896.

With no settlement reached, on 27 April 1896 …

the strike began in real earnest, no less than 3500 miners and others refusing to continue working under the existing conditions.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 28 April 1896.

The economy suffered …

The grocers cannot give credit, and the housewives have little or no ready cash to spend.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate

Families were displaced …

Men who have managed to save a little money are leaving the district for Western Australia, New Zealand, Victoria, and Wollongong.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate

After 11 weeks it was clear that the coal prices would not increase, and wages could not be raised. On 16 July 1896 the men returned to work, at a lower hewing rate than before. Summing up the futility of the strike, a newspaper editorial stated …

Undoubtedly, when the history of this miserable struggle has to be more fully written, the best feature of it will be declaring it ‘off’.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 13 July 1896.
Miners voting for industrial action at an aggregate meeting in Lambton Park, 29 February 1896. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Living Histories, Newcastle University.
Lambton Park in happier times. Christmas Carols, 18 December 2022. Photo by Thomas Freeman.

The article above was first published in the February 2023 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

In the article I talk about ‘the selling price’ of coal. This is a simplification as there was no single value, but the selling price differed between large and small coal, it differed from one colliery to another depending on quality, and it could differ according to contracts agreed between collieries and buyers.

To track the trend in coal prices, I extracted from the Department of Mines annual reports, the quantity and value of coal sold by the Lambton Colliery for each year from 1875 to 1903. From this the average price of coal per ton for each year can be calculated. The trend shows that the price remained close to 10s per ton from 1885 to 1890. However, the following years saw a steady decline to a low of 6.24 shillings per ton in 1896, the year of the miners’ general strike.

Year Employees Quantity
(tons)
Value
(pounds)

Avg per ton
(shillings)

1875 280 148573 94096 12.67
1876 391 160990 103304 12.83
1877 421 164267 not specified ?
1878 436 213332 119881 11.24
1879 440 225788 144088 12.76
1880 453 239234 107655 9.00
1881 269 120563 42416 7.04
1882 358 236168 107238 9.08
1883 416 252044 123857 9.83
1884 446 267096 126842 9.50
1885 460 223030 111515 10.00
1886 510 113972 56416 9.90
1887 400 167355 83677 10.00
1888 469 164048 80304 9.79
1889 505 243256 120134 9.88
1890 440 139375 69751 10.01
1891 480 189382 94024 9.93
1892 480 224498 101373 9.03
1893 435 159100 69840 8.78
1894 412 178495 60584 6.79
1895 304 112368 35092 6.25
1896 173 47505 14813 6.24
1897 210 86340 27378 6.34
1898 208 105219 32602 6.20
1899 196 85932 31650 7.37
1900 196 92145 34383 7.46
1901 197 80945 41437 10.24
1902 190 62419 29175 9.35
1903 170 79663 33699 8.46

Lambton colliery was leased to Charles Noble on 3 November 1904, and the annual reports do not contain data on coal output from Lambton after this change.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
14 Jun 1890"The Associated Colliery Proprietors are considering the advisability of reducing the selling price of coal … from 11s to 9s per ton … Under their mutual agreement the coal from the associated mines is sold at 11s per ton, and each mine has a stipulated output or vend for the year. No such agreement, however, exists among the other companies, many of which are now selling their coal at a price in some instances as low as 9s per ton. That this is the main reason why a reduction is mooted there can be no doubt. The majority of the larger collieries, and nearly all the older ones, belong to the association, and at present they raise about 70 per cent. of the total district output, but new mines are opening constantly, and, so far, none of them have shown any inclination to become parties to the Associated Proprietors agreement. "
22 Feb 1896
21 Feb 1896
"A special meeting of the delegate board of the Miners' Association was held at the Trades Hall for the purpose of considering principally the position of the Lambton miners. It was also decided to hold an aggregate meeting on pay-Saturday, the 29th instant, at the Lambton Park, at 11 a.m. , to discuss the whole situation as it affects the miners."
22 Feb 1896"Mr. Thomas Croudace, the general manager of the Scottish-Australian Mining Company, says it will be impossible for him to re-open the Lambton pit while he has to paying a hewing rate altogether out of proportion to the selling price of the coal … the miners hold a very different view from Mr. Croudace. They contend that the action has been decided upon solely for the purpose of reducing wages"
28 Feb 1896Letter from Amalgamated Miners' Association to miners … " it has been resolved to hold an aggregate meeting of miners in the Lambton Park on Saturday, 29th instant, to consider the advisability of seeking an advance in the hewing rates. It is needless to remind you of the successive reductions in wages during a period extending over two years, and the imposition of the most exacting and degrading conditions it has been possible to impose at many collieries."
28 Feb 1896"There is no movement with regard to the Lambton Colliery and no apparent prospect of work being resumed. Of the 182 miners who cameout against the reduction in the yardage rates 96 have either succeeded in obtain work at neighbouring collieries, or have left for Western Australia, some 20 having sailed for that colony, leaving 86 still without employment, although some of those remaining are also making preparations for going west. This pleasing result, after barely two weeks' idleness, is hailed with satisfaction in the town, not unmixed, however, with regret that the bone and sinew of the place should be driven from their homes to seek scope for their energies elsewhere."
29 Feb 1896"The result of the aggregate meeting of miners at Lambton Park is anxiously looked forward to by all in the coal trade. It is anticipated that the principal resolutions will be in favour of a ballot being taken as to whether a general strike shall take place or not. Very unpleasant rumours now fill the air.”
1 Mar 1896
29 Feb 1896
Report on the aggregate meeting, where about 2000 persons were present. Two resolutions were moved and passed unanimously.
  1. Demand for hewing rate of 3s 6d per ton
  2. "That in the event of a refusal for the advance in terms of the foregoing resolution within one week from March 9 by the proprietors, a ballot be taken as early as possible after March 16 as to whether 14 days' notice shall be given to cease work until such advance is agreed to.
2 Mar 1896
29 Feb 1896
Detailed report on the miners' aggregate meeting in Lambton Park.
2 Mar 1896Lengthy editorial report on the miners’ aggregate meeting. "Every representation that can be made will not restore a nearly-worked-out mine to its pristine condition, neither will it raise the price of coal in the markets of the world, in which we are now competitors. While we admit the ruinous undercutting of the selling price which has been going on for some time past, the broad fact stares us in the face that any attempt to remedy that state of affairs by the mutual action of the proprietors or their co-operation with the miners has proved ineffectual."
14 Mar 1896"The [Lambton] mine still remains closed down, with no apparent signs of a resumption of work. Consequently, matters are very gloomy in the town. It is, however, gratifying to learn that out of a total of 182 miners thrown out of employment 120 have succeeded in securing work elsewhere in the district, or have left for Western Australia."
16 Mar 1896"The members of the Miners' Association will be asked to ballot for or against a strike, and on this point even the non-unionist miners in the district are to be invited to express an opinion. The history of past struggles of a like kind is of so depressing a character that it is hoped men will not commit themselves to another of a similar nature without giving ample consideration to all the surroundings of the case."
18 Mar 1896"The time having expired for the colliery proprietors to reply to the demand made upon them by the miners for a hewing rate of 3s 6d per ton … the situation is, therefore, now before the miners themselves, who are to be asked to decide by ballot whether there should be a general strike. To bring about this end it will be necessary to have a two-thirds majority of the votes of every miner, whether unionist or non-unionist. Ballot papers are now being distributed throughout the whole of the district."
25 Mar 1896"The question of a general strike, will be placed before the delegate board of the Miners' Association today. In deciding upon this great and serious question they will have before them not only the result of the ballot, but also all the letters sent by the proprietors ... Mr. Thomas Croudace, for instance, suggests an eleventh hour attempt at a conference."
26 Mar 1896
25 Mar 1896
Result of the ballot: 2624 for a strike; 587 against a strike. Miners called to hand in their 14 days notice on 6 April. An invitiation is extended to the mine proprietors to meet the miners in conference before 2 April, in order to avert a strike.
2 Apr 1896"Easter dawns upon us with, unfortunately, anything but a happy outlook. The district is threatened with a great industrial strike, which is calculated to bring privation upon many poor families. Already the shopkeepers are complaining about a falling off in business, the housewives evidently buying only the bare necessaries of life."
4 Apr 1896
2 Apr 1896
Conference between the miners assoication and the colliery proprietors, in an effort to avert a general strike. The conference was relatively amicable, but in the end of little consequence, owing to the absence of proprietors from three of the large coal companies.
8 Apr 1896Miners at 15 collieries have now handed in their 14 days notice to cease work. "If the notices sent in should be carried into effect after Saturday week, there will be something like 4000 miners on strike."
11 Apr 1896"From all the information procurable on the local mining situation every thing points to the strong likelihood of a cessation of work at many collieries in this district on Saturday, 18th inst."
14 Apr 1896"The proposal unanimously adopted was that the members of the [municipal] conference, accompanied by the members for the district, meet the Premier to-night on his arrival at Newcastle en route from Queensland for the purpose of representing to him the advisableness of appointing without delay a court of arbitration in relation to the matters now in dispute."
15 Apr 1896"The miners had given in 14 days' notice on a ballot of a five to one majority to strike." The Premier (George Reid) is asked by alderman of Newcastle Council to intervene to avert the strike.
15 Apr 1896"The fervent hope expressed by many is that at this late hour a strike may be averted; but to suggest means to that end is a difficult matter, as so many of the proprietors refuse to meet the miners' representatives in conference as requested by them."
28 Apr 1896
27 Apr 1896
"The strike began in real earnest yesterday, no less than 3500 miners and others refusing to continue working under the existing conditions. "
16 May 1896"With the exception of some Sea Pit miners, the majority of the strikers seem more than ever determined to stand out. Old residents who have grown weary of strikes in this district declare that they have seldom, if ever, witnessed a more stubborn resistance between capital and labour."
13 Jul 1896"A moderate estimate of the loss of wages alone is £100,000, without taking into consideration the indirect effects of the stoppage to the general community, which is therefore poorer by the above amount than it would have been if there had been no strike … Undoubtedly, when the history of this miserable struggle has to be more fully written, the best feature of it will be declaring it 'off'."
17 Jul 1896Lengthy editorial reflecting on the lessons of the strike … "The principal lesson taught by the result of the strike is one which is not a personal matter between employer and employed. It is the fact that if consumers cannot give a higher price to those having coal to sell, the latter are unable to increase the earnings of those who have the work of winning it."

Leonora Glass Industries

When the old Lambton colliery ceased operation, the pit paddock with its offices and buildings lay idle for a decade. Then 75 years ago, in 1947, a new enterprise began on the site with the opening of Leonora Glass Industries, founded by David Marr and three highly skilled Czechoslovakian glass workers.

Joseph and Henry Vecera and Josef Tvrdik came to Australia from Europe in 1934 to teach glass making at a Sydney factory. They later moved to Newcastle to work in the Electric Lamp Manufacturers Australia factory at Hamilton North. In 1946 the three men and their families became Australian citizens. The following year, along with David Marr (manager) and Alan Little (engineer), they set out to create their own glass making business, renting a portion of the Lambton colliery and setting up furnaces in the former colliery workshop.

In August 1947 they registered their enterprise as “Leonora Glass Industries”, possibly inspired by the town of Lenora in the Czech Republic, just 30km from Josef Tvrdik’s birthplace, where a famous glassworks had operated since 1834. Manufacturing commenced the following month and by December 1948 the works employed 23 people including several young apprentices. At this time they were making 2000 lamp shades a week. In the following years they produced many items such as wine glasses, dishes, ash trays, and car headlight lenses.

While the bulk of Leonora’s output was utilitarian in nature, they also handcrafted fine glassware such as jugs, vases, and decorative ornaments. Museums across Australia hold examples of these works in their collections. In July 1957 glassmaking in Lambton came to an abrupt halt when a fire destroyed the Leonora works. The company quickly recovered, purchasing 14 acres of land on Douglas St Wallsend to set up a new factory. In 1960 the multinational firm Philips Industries took over the glassworks to focus on the manufacture of light fittings. Although business expanded in the 1960s, increasing pressure from low cost overseas competitors in the 1970s led to the eventual closure of the works in 1982

Henry Vecera making a wine glass at Leonora Glassworks in Lambton. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate, 7 October 1947.
Hand blown glass jug from the Leonora Glass Works, 1955. Image courtesy of Newcastle Museum.

The article above was first published in the October 2022 edition of The Local.


Additional photos

Gordon Maybury, of Wallsend, and Sid Bennet, of Cardiff (rear), grind lamp shades at the Leonora Glassworks. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 3 Dec 1948.
Mr. Ernest Sandgren cutting glass at Lambton fine glass factory. Mr. Ernest Sandgren, Newcastle’s only cutter of fine crystal, was Australia’s weightlifting champion for seven years. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 11 Dec 1948.
Milon and Joseph Vecera, 19 year-old twins blowing glass at a Lambton glass factory. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 8 Mar 1950.
Mr. Henry Vecera finishes off a piece of hand made glassware. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 8 Mar 1950.
Three Newcastle youths, from left, Des Williams, George Kildey and Ron Jones, training at a Lambton glass factory yesterday to be glass-makers.
Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 26 May 1953.
The 15 acres of land in Wallsend, purchased by Leonora Glass Industries in October 1957, to build a new glassworks after the Lambton glassworks was destroyed by fire. Vol-Fol 7697-17.
The area of the 1957 purchase of land, shown in Google Earth.
A 1966 aerial photograph, showing the glassworks in Douglas St Wallsend. NSW Historical Imagery.
Leonora Glass, Wallsend. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.
Official inspection of a prototype at the Philips factory, Wallsend, 1980. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.

Personal details

The following personal details of the three Czechoslovakian founders of Leonora Glass were extracted from National Archives of Australia records searches.

Name Henry Vecera Josef Vecera Josef Tvrdik
Birth 15 Aug 1901, Uhrovec, Slovakia 19 Mar 1899, Uhrovec, Slovakia 12 Jan 1904, Nova Hut, Czechia
Arrival in Australia 11 Nov 1934 9 Nov 1934  
Naturalised 30 Aug 1946 9 Dec 1946 3 Dec 1946
Family Wife, Julia; daughter, Henrietta Julia, born 1928 Wife, Cecile; twin sons, Milon Edward and Joseph Henry, born 1931 Wife, Coralie Violet Mary

Company information

A search of the ASIC Registers shows that Leonora Glass Industries Pty Ltd was registered as a company on 11 August 1947.

Origin of the Name Leonora

I have no direct evidence for the naming of “Leonora Glass Industries”, and what follows is just a reasoned guess.

We know from the notification of intention to apply for naturalisation, that Josef Tvrdik was born in “Nova Hut” in Czechoslovakia. This is the village of Nové Hute in the Czech Republic today.

The villages of Nove Hute and Lenora in Czechia, are 17km apart (26km by road). OpenStreetMap

Just 17km away (28km by road) from Nove Hute is the village of Lenora. The tourism website for the Šumava region describes the origin of the town.

The village of Lenora was founded as a settlement around one of the last glass- works established in the Šumava mountains by Jan Meyer in 1834. Later on the glass-works were taken over by Meyer’s nephew Vilém Kralik. The village was named Eleonorenhain after the Princess Eleonora (1812-1873), the wife of the lord of the estates John Adolf of Schwarzenberg. Czech translation of the name is “Eleonora’s Paradise”. Later on the village adopted Czech version of the name, Lenora.

Sumavanet tourism website
The Lenora Glassworks in the Czech Republic closed in 1996. www.sumavanet.cz

Note that while there is Leonora Parade in Waratah West, it appears to have no connection to the Leonora glassworks. The street was formerly a section of Platt Street, and was renamed to Leonora Parade in 1968.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
6 Apr 1946Notice of intention by Henry Vecera, Josef Vecera, and Josef Trvdik to apply for naturalisation. Josef Tvrdik, born at Nova Hut, Czechoslovakia, resident over 11 yers. Josef Vecera, Born at Uhrovec, resident over 11 years, living in Adamstown. Henry Vecera, Born at Uhrovec, resident over 11 years, living in Pearson St Lambton.
7 Oct 1947"A GLASS factory, now operating in a disused building which once was part of the Old Lambton coalmine, aims to produce the finest glass and crystal ware. The company--Leonora Glass Industries Pty. Ltd.- comprises Messrs. Jospeh and Henry Vecera, Mr. Jospeh Tvrdik. Mr. David Marr (manager) and Mr. Alan Little (engineer). Messrs Vecera and Tvrdik are Czech-Australians, who came to Australia in 1934 to teach glass-making at a Sydney factory."
23 Nov 1948“The strange bulbous Dali-like shapes, coloured in streaky and marbled patterns, which yesterday made an appearance as part of the Christmas dressing of a Hunter-street store are not painted marrows or solid-seeming balloons ... they are made of glass. The result of a brain-wave on the part of the window dresser (Miss E. Ritchie), they were specially blown at the Leonora Glass Works at New Lambton.”
3 Dec 1948The development of the fine glass industry in Newcastle by two Newcastle engineers and three Czechoslovakian glassworkers in a factory at Lambton is giving Newcastle boys an opportunity to learn the trade. The factory, which employs 23 after 12 months of operation, turns out 2000 lamp shades a week and some 400 water sets. Production of fine glass-wine glasses and ground glass-is starting.
11 Dec 1948Photo of twins Joseph and Milon Vecera, on the steps of the old Lambton Colliery office, near to where they work in the Leonora Glassworks.
11 Dec 1948Story on Ernest Sandgren, immigrant from Sweden, and Australian weight-lifting champion for 7 years, working as a cutter of fine crystal at Leonora Glassworks.
3 Feb 1949"It was planned with the Leonora glass factory at Lambton to make Newcastle a centre of the fine glass industry in Australia, the Managing Director (Mr. D. Marr) told Newcastle Business Men's Club yesterday. The factory was still in its initial development. It had been operating for 18 months. In the factory there were three Czechs of world-wide experience in the manufacture of hollow blown ware, including the art of stemware. They came from generations of art craftsmen."
8 Mar 1950“The factory is now producing heat-resistant glass in large quantities. About 100,000 such articles have been produced for distribution throughout Australia, in the past 12 months. The Manager (Mr. David Marr) said he believed this was the first time pyrex-type glass had been made in Newcastle.”
4 Jan 1952"MILON and Joseph Vecera, twin sons of Mr. and Mrs. J. Vecera, of Croudace street, Lambton, celebrated their 21st birthday, which was on New Year's Day,' with a party, on New Year's Eve. About 40 people attended the party. Milon and Joseph, who were born in Lausanne, Switzerland, came to Australia when they were four. They are both glass craftsmen at Leonora Glass Works, Lambton, and both play the piano, violin and piano-accordion."
26 May 1953The factory is turning to a new type of glass manufacture for Newcastle. This is the manufacture of pressed glass. A glass moulding press has been installed to manufacture pressed glass dishes, car headlight lenses, ash trays and other goods. The machine is in trial production. When producing fully, it will turn out 1500 articles a day.”

Lambton Colliery Office Steps

In researching the Leonora Glassworks for my October 2022 article for The Local, I came across this photograph from the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate on 11 Dec 1948, of Joseph and Milon Vecera posing on the entrance steps of a building that had been demolished.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 11 Dec 1948

The newspaper incorrectly identifies the site as “Lambton Lodge”, the home of Thomas Croudace. The location is actually the small building at the left in the photo below, where the steps can be seen at the front. Brian Robert Andrews, on page 230 of his book “Coal, Railways and Mines, Volume 1”, has a diagram of the Lambton Colliery surface infrastructure that identifies this building as the colliery office.

Lambton Colliery, 15 August 1900. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Living Histories, University of Newcastle.

The double story building at the right of the photo is the colliery workshops, where Leonora Glass set up in 1947, where the Vecera twins were working in 1948 when they were photographed on the old colliery office steps.

The “Baby” Coal Mines of Lambton-Waratah

In the climate change debate today, there is great concern about the global impact of large coal mines. But 100 years ago, the hot topic in Newcastle was the local impact of little mines. The Newcastle Sun reported in August 1922

“A good deal of activity is noticeable among the “baby” coal mines in the hills of Waratah and Lambton. They are generally one-man affairs, the work is hard and the methods crude.”

Some were tiny burrows in a hillside, others a shaft with a wooden tripod overhead to haul up coal in buckets. In the post war economic downturn unemployed men looked to scratch a living by selling coal to nearby householders, the tough nature of their enterprise reflected in the mine names … “Try Again Colliery”, “Lone Hand”, “Perseverance”.

While the “baby” mines were a boon to some, they were a grievance to many. The councils were concerned about undermining of streets and damage to pipes. Residents complained of water run-off and danger to their properties. An inspection by the Department of Mines in November 1922 attended by miners and residents turned ugly and “the parties became bitter in their denunciation of each other and indulged in heated personal remarks.”

Matters weren’t helped by the Department’s manifest disinterest in resolving the dispute. Their view was that the big coal companies who owned the mineral rights were entitled to sublease to the “baby” miners, and the Department could do nothing. Waratah Council then took legal action against one of the mine owners, and the court imposed a substantial fine. By 1924 newspaper reports on the mines had disappeared. Their closure was due to a combination of factors –poor quality coal, increasing suburban development, the threat of fines, but mainly because households were moving to the new technologies of gas, and coal-fired electricity. Ironically these energy sources that were the solution to the local “baby” mines in 1922, are now central to the global climate change problem in 2022.

The North Lambton Colliery was one of the bigger “baby” mines. It was located near the underground water reservoir on Newcastle Road and ceased operation in 1924. Photo from Sydney Mail, 8 August 1923.
A map from a 1923 real estate poster shows 15 “baby” coal mines in just a two square kilometre area of Lambton and Waratah. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.

The article above was first published in the August 2022 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

The locality sketch on the 1923 real estate poster shows 17 “baby” mines. Many of them are unknown apart from their name on this map.

  1. Bayley’s Reward Colliery
  2. The Bowler Colliery
  3. Brown Hill Colliery
  4. Carclew Colliery
  5. Clay Cross No. 2 Colliery
  6. Federal Colliery
  7. Hanbury Colliery
  8. Meadow Colliery
  9. The Nest Colliery
  10. Perseverance Colliery
  11. Red Bank Colliery
  12. Sea View Colliery
  13. Silverdale Colliery
  14. Talk o’ the Hill Colliery
  15. Try Again Colliery
  16. Winn Colliery
  17. Wright’s Colliery

Other “baby” mines in the Lambton area recorded in other sources such as newspaper reports and Department of Mines annual reports include …

  1. Lambton Heights No. 2
  2. North Lambton Colliery
  3. Braye Park Colliery
  4. Rosehill No. 2
  5. Lone Hand [End?] Colliery
  6. West End Colliery
  7. Tubber Robinson’s mine
The Sun, 12 Nov 1922.

“Lambton Heights No. 2 is the name of this colliery, which has a staff of four men, and an output of 15 tons a day. Its depth is 80 feet, and the coal is drawn to the surface by one pony-power. It is owned by Fitzpatrick Bros., who were too busy grubbing out wealth down below to face the camera.”

The Sun, 12 Nov 1922
The Sun, 12 Nov 1922.

“This is Lone End Colliery, the smallest mine on the field. Its owner, managing director, and whole staff, Mr. T. Morgan, has just hauled a basket of coal to the surface. The shaft is 36ft. deep, and it boasts an output of 14 tons per week. Its owner claims that the coal is part of the famous Borehole seam.”

The Sun, 12 Nov 1922

Although “The Sun” has named this mine as “Lone End Colliery”, I suspect that may be an erroneous reference to the “Lone Hand Colliery”. In the annual report of the Department of Mines for the year 1921, Inspector Bissett states that …

“Two small mines were commenced during the year; these were Lone Hand and Rosehill No.2 Collieries.”

The Lone Hand Colliery is mentioned again in the 1922 annual report, but is not mentioned in subsequent years. Note that Rose Hill (occasionally misspelled Roe’s Hill) was the name of the hill to the north of Lambton township, as shown on this 1908 real estate map.

1908 real estate poster showing “Rose Hill” to the north of Lambton. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.

Tubber Robinson’s mine

William Robinson (known as “Tubber”) had a “baby” mine in George Street near Notley Street, North Lambton. He also had mines at Wallsend in the proximity of the High School. William’s brother Jeremiah (Jerry) Robinson had a “baby” mine in Seventh Street, North Lambton.The photo below shows the George Street mine.

Harry (Alf) Cox with his future father-in-law, William (Tubber) Robinson, circa 1930s. Photo courtesy of Ron Robinson.

The photo below of William and his sons with a pit pony, was taken near Robinson’s house in Fifth Street North Lambton.

William (Tubber) Robinson and his sons, Clarence (Joe) Robinson and William Jr (Bill) Robinson, circa 1930s. Photo courtesy of Ron Robinson.

North Lambton Colliery

The North Lambton Colliery, whose photo appeared in the published article, was somewhat different to the other “baby” mines. In contrast to most of the “baby” mines that employed only one or two men and were very short-lived in operation, the North Lambton colliery operated for 20 years (1905 to 1924), and at its peak employed 28 men in 1918. The mine, despite its larger size, used the same primitive techniques as the “baby” mines, sinking a shallow shaft, erecting a wooden tripod, and hauling coal up the shaft in buckets.

The Department of Mines annual report for the year 1905 notes that

North Lambton Colliery.-On 26th September, Mr. J. Jeffries notified, in terms of section 30 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, that he had opened a new mine on land leased from the Scottish Australian Mining Co., the name of which would be North Lambton.

The location of the colliery being close to the water reservoir on Newcastle Road Lambton, can be ascertained from a report to the Newcastle Water and Sewerage Board in February 1906 …

The proprietor of the North Lambton Colliery gave notice that the workings of his colliery are now approaching within 40 yards of the Lambton reservoir fence, and stated his intention of removing coal to that boundary in terms of a lease held by him from the Scottish Australian Mining Company, Limited.

Sydney Morning Herald, 8 February 1906.

Similarly, in 1918 …

The engineer of the Water and Sewerage Board reports that it is understood Mr. Long, manager of the North Lambton colliery, intends sinking a shaft near the eastern fence of the Lambton reservoir property. The proposed mining work will probably not affect the reservoir or the pump-house, but might affect the 12-inch scourpipe from the reservoir and some trees.

The Newcastle Sun, 9 September 1918.

The Newcastle Sun of 30 September 1922 noted that the colliery was a …

… tribute mine working the outcrop pillar coal left by the Lambton colliery. The coal from North Lambton, employing sixteen persons, is carried to the Lambton screens, and there put into waggons and sent for shipment.

The Sydney Mail of 8 August 1923 in publishing their photo of the mine, noted that …

This small mine is situated at North Lambton. It has an output of 30 tons per day, and gives employment to 10 men. It has been working for 20 years, and is owned by Mr. W. Long, who is shown seated on his cart, loaded with coal. The winding gear is worked by a horse hauling on the cable.

The North Lambton mine notified the Department of Mines of discontinuance of operations in 1924.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
4 Mar 1921First mention of the term "baby coal mines" in the newspaper.
"The streets of Newcastle are not paved with gold, but underneath them all is something nearly as precious. Coal seams are everywhere, and it is only a matter of digging and coal can be found. Where less fortunate peoples have to pay £5 and £6 a ton for coal, many people in the suburbs of Newcastle just dig in their back yards, and from the baby coal mine there take enough to supply their own needs."
16 Aug 1922Article on the "miniature mines" of Waratah and Lambton.
20 Sep 1922"So that the people who operate "baby" coal mines in the hills of Waratah, and endanger the safety of houses in the vicinity, might have a stop put to their mining, the council asked the Minister for Mines to grant no more permits for the taking of coal from these lands. The official reply received last night was vague and indefinite ..."
25 Sep 1922"Trying to put a stop to the private mining that goes on at Lambton, and endangers the safety of water and gas mains, apart from damaging the roads, the Mayor last week asked the Minister for Mines not to grant permits for this mining. The latter replied that most of the mineral leases were held by a mining company which seemed to have a perfect right to lease certain areas to private people for the purpose of exploiting the remaining coal seams."
30 Sep 1922Description of various collieries in the northern coal field, including a brief mention of the small North Lambton colliery.
18 Oct 1922"Several Inspectors from the Department of Mines will visit Waratah next week, and in company with the Mayor and aldermen, will visit the sites of the "baby" coal-mines in the hills, which have been complained of by residents who are fearful of damage to their properties."
30 Oct 1922"Expert opinion on the question of the damage likely to result to streets and dwellings on Roe's Hill, Waratah, through the opening up of "baby" coal mines, will be given by Chief Inspector Atkinson, of the Department of Mines, who will visit the shafts complained of to-morrow afternoon."
1 Nov 1922
31 Oct 1922
"Many householders came out to emphasise the general grievance when Chief-Inspector Atkinson and Inspector Tennant, representing the Mines Department, made an inspection of the "baby" coal mines on Lambton and Waratah hills yesterday afternoon ... At times the parties became bitter in their denunciation of each other— that is, the property owners and the coal hewers … The Mines Department had to consider the resources of the country, said Inspector Atkinson, and to see they were not wasted ... The inspector intimated that the department could not offer much assistance."
12 Nov 1922A long report on the "baby coal mines" in the hills of Waratah and Lambton, including a couple of thumbnail photos.
15 Nov 1922Waratah council given legal opinon on the "baby" coal mines that "showed that the council had power to stop such mining under public roads. The owner adjoining any land being undermined had a natural and legal right to prevent his land being endangered, but there was no cause for action for damage until the land was disturbed."
29 Nov 1922"Another chapter in the history of baby coal mines was unfolded last night when Waratah Council served a notice upon William Metcalfe to fill in shafts sunk in Sixth and Seventh streets, Rosehill. A prosecution is to follow if the order is not obeyed."
22 Dec 1922William Metcalfe prosecuted by Waratah Council "for having made a hole in a public road without authority… Metcalfe was fined £5, with £4 8s 5d costs, in default one month's gaol."
24 Jan 1923"William Metcalfe, who is working a 'baby' coal mine at Waratah, was proceeded against by the Waratah Council for allowing a shaft to remain in a street of the municipality… A fine of £8 was imposed, together with 8s 6d court costs and 42s professional costs."
25 Sep 1923"North Lambton, more familiarly known as Lambton Heights, merges into the Jesmond district. There are a number of 'baby' coal mines in the district, and the landscape is dotted with wooden tripods, over small shafts, used to lower and raise the miner-proprietors, and the coal they win from their little collieries." [This is the last mention of the 'baby' coal mines in the newspaper, until a couple of references to 'baby' coal mines at Wallsend in 1931.]
23 Feb 1931"After working for six months getting everything in readiness, the largest of the 'baby' mines at Wallsend has begun producing coal."
15 Jul 1931"Owing to the flooding of several small 'baby' coal mines at Wallsend, the already large number of unemployed has been added to. These mines employ between 25 and 30 men."
[Last reference to 'baby' mines in Trove.]

The furnaces of the world

I’m currently researching and writing my next article for The Local, on the subject of the “baby” coal mines of Lambton and Waratah. [Now published here.] These were small operations, involving a few men hewing coal out of primitive shafts and tunnels to be sold directly to householders in the area.

There was great concern in Newcastle in 1922-1923 about the deleterious effects of these unregulated mines on the local environment, with respect to safety, undermining of streets, and damage to water and gas pipes.

In researching this history on the local impact of coal mining I was reminded of the most recent season of the podcast “Australia, If You’re Listening”, on the history of the climate change debate in Australia. Matt Bevan opens the podcast with a quote from the Maitland Mercury in 1912, which shows that concern about the global impact of coal mining has been around for a long time.

The Maitland Daily Mercury, 5 Jun 1912, p5.

“The furnaces of the world are now burning about 2,000,000 tons of coal a year. When this is burned, uniting with oxygen, it, adds about 7,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere yearly. This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature. The effect may be considerable in a few centuries.”

The Maitland Daily Mercury, 5 Jun 1912, p5.

The 7 million tons of carbon dioxide emitted in 1912 from coal is miniscule compared to the 14.8 billion tons of CO2 emitted from the burning of coal in 2021. With this 2000 fold increase in emissions, it won’t be a few centuries before the effect is considerable, it’s here now.

Ebbw Vale Colliery

Many of the early mines in Newcastle delved downwards to reach their coal via a vertical shaft, with an iconic poppet head structure overhead to haul men and materials up and down. In contrast, other mines were much simpler affairs, tunnelling sideways into a hill to reach a coal seam. Such was the Ebbw Vale Colliery, photographed by Ralph Snowball 125 years ago on 12 June 1897. Named after the mining district in Wales, this tunnel was located south of Adamstown, in the valley between present day Northcott Drive and Brunker Road.

From 1884 the New Lambton Land and Coal Company had been operating their “C” pit in that location, working a seam of coal below the valley via a 243 feet deep shaft. About 1886 the company opened new workings by driving a tunnel into the valley side. This sister mine, leased out under the tribute system, was initially known as “New Lambton Tunnel” but was renamed “Ebbw Vale” in 1889. It was a small enterprise. When Snowball photographed the tunnel entrance in 1897 there were just 24 employees, including two under the age of 16. The miners extracted coal by manual labour, loading it into skips to be pulled up the incline of the tunnel by a winch cable.

After New Lambton “C” pit closed in 1903, the adjacent Ebbw Vale mine expanded, the workforce reaching a maximum of 211 employees in 1908. With more men came more accidents, and in 1911 the mine acquired a hand wheeled ambulance on which a stretcher could be placed.

Although a number of accidents had caused serious injuries to miners over the years, it wasn’t until 1921 that the first fatality occurred, when a fall of stone from the roof crushed William Adamthwaite. Two more fatalities occurred before the mine ceased operation in 1931.

In 1945 the rail tracks from the mine down to Adamstown station were removed, and in the 1960s the area was subdivided. Streets and houses now hide all trace of the former Ebbw Vale colliery.

Ebbw Vale Colliery, Adamstown, 12 June 1897. Photo by Ralph Snowball.
University of Newcastle, Living Histories.
The hillside at Adamstown Heights, in the vicinity of Westwood Ave, where the Ebbw Vale tunnel was located.

The article above was first published in the June 2022 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

The University of Newcastle Living Histories site has a photograph by Ralph Snowball of a tunnel of the Ebbw Vale colliery. At the time of writing the photograph is titled as “Ebbw Vale Colliery, New Lambton”, This is somewhat misleading as it suggests the mine was in New Lambton when in fact it was geographically located in Adamstown Heights.

The attribution to New Lambton is derived from Ralph Snowball’s listing on negative box 140, where he has recorded the photograph as “Ebbw Vale Tunnell New Lambton”. Note also that the next two entries are for “New Lambton Colliery”.

Ralph Snowball’s list for negative box 140.

In 1897 the New Lambton Coal Company was operating their “C” Pit in Adamstown Heights. The Ebbw Vale colliery was adjacent to this pit, but the connection to it was more than just one of physical proximity.

The New Lambton “C” pit was commenced in 1884 with the opening of a 243 feet deep shaft to work the Borehole seam of coal. By 1886 the company had also opened a tunnel in the adjacent hill.

“The tunnel is near the New Lambton C. Pit, and the coal from both places goes over the same screens. The proprietors of the tunnel have leased the property of the New Lambton company …”

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 1 October 1888.

This tunnel is described in an 1889 newspaper report …

Close to the shaft and going into the hill at the outcrop is a tunnel, by which the top or Burwood seam is worked. This tunnel is driven in a south-western direction for a distance of some twenty chains [400 metres], the seam being 8ft 10in in thickness, including a band of indurated clay 16in thick. It is worked on the pillar and bord system for about 5ft of its height, and is good steam coal. Owing to the dip of the seam which is 1 in 30 to the south ; the tunnel goes in at a good inclination, the empty skips finding their way to the end by gravitation, the full ones being hauled to the receiving floor, also used for the coal from the shaft by a wire rope con trolled by a 16-horse power engine.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 8 November 1889.

This new working seam was initially known simply as the “New Lambton Tunnel”, and was worked under the tribute system, where the owners of the mine (New Lambton Coal Company) leased it out to a third party to extract the coal. In 1889 the tunnel was being leased to Charles Pemberton and John Williams. Tribute mines by their nature were small and cost-cutting, which tended to lead to industrial disputes. Most of the newspaper reports on the New Lambton Tunnel in the years 1886 to 1889 relate to disputes between miners and management.

In 1889 the workings became known as Ebbw Vale colliery, although it was often subsequently still referred to as the New Lambton Tunnel. The Department of Mines annual report for the year 1889 lists it as “Ebbw Vale (late New Lambton C)”. In subsequent annual reports “New Lambton C” and “Ebbw Vale” are listed as separate entities, but they both had the same owner, the New Lambton Coal Company.

  • The 1903 Department of Mines annual report notes that “Mr. L. H Lewington, legal manager, New Lambton Land and Coal Co. (Limited), gave notice of the appointment of Mr. Alexander McLeish as under-manager of Ebbw Vale Colliery.
  • A newspaper report from 29 December 1905 refers to “Ebbw Vale pit, on the New Lambton Estate”
  • A newspaper report from 1 July 1907 refers to “Ebbw Vale, formerly known as New Lambton”

A newspaper report from 1921 gives a brief description of the workings of the colliery at that time …

The Ebbw Vale colliery at Adamstown, about four miles from Newcastle, is owned by the New Lambton Coal Company, Ltd., and managed by Messrs. Dalgety and Company. The holding is 1017 acres, 640 acres free hold, 90 acres leased from private owners, and 287 acres held under mining act tenures.

It is a tunnel mine and is working the Victoria Tunnel seam, with a section of 5ft. 7in. about 4in. of which is stone and inferior coal. It is a good third-rate coal containing about 9 per cent of ash.

During 1920, 198 persons were employed, the output being 105,094 tons, put out in 246½ working days. The working is bord and pillar, the bords and pillars being eight and six yards wide respectively. Large areas of pillars have been worked, and at present, more than half the output is coming therefrom. Two small furnaces are ventilating the mine with about 50,000 cubic feet of air per minute. No gas has been met with and naked lights are used. The principal items of plant are: — 3 hauling engines, 3 boilers at 40lb. pressure. 1 rope driven pump, 175 railway waggons.

Associated with this mine is the New Lambton colliery close by. It has two shafts about 250 feet deep to the Borehole seam, but no work has been done therein for more than 20 years. Steps are now being taken, however, to sample test one of the seams lying between the Victoria tunnel and Borehole, probably the so called dirty seam, with the view of working the cleaner part of it.

The Newcastle SUn, 15 November 1921

By extracting data from the Department of Mines annual reports, we can graph the number of employees, injuries and fatalities during the lifetime of the Ebbw Vale colliery. Note the rapid growth in employees from 1903, following the closure of the adjacent New Lambton “C” pit.

Location of the Ebbw Vale tunnel

A BHP Coal Geology map shows that Ebbw Vale colliery was to the south of Adamstown, adjacent to the New Lambton C Pit. It was to the east of the Redhead railway (now the Fernleigh Track), which I have highlighted in red below. The black and white dashed line to the east of the colliery is Brunker Rd.

BHP Coal Geology map. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.

A 1953 map from the NSW Government DIGS site shows two annotations for “Ebbw Vale Tunnel”.

Overlaying the map into Google Earth, shows the approximate location of the Ebbw Vale tunnels in Adamstown Heights.

Looking from north to south we can see that the two tunnels were in either side of the valley where Claremont Avenue Reserve is now.

Brian Robert Andrews in his book “Coal, Railways and Mines, Vol 1” has a diagram on page 421 that indicates that the Ebbw Vale tunnel in the 1887 era was located on the western side of the valley, and that the rail track exiting from the tunnel ran down a slope towards the buildings and infrastructure of the New Lambton “C” pit. Given that the photo of the Ebbw Vale tunnel is looking down from a height, it is highly likely that Snowball photographed it from the top of the New Lambton “C” pit shaft poppet head.

New Lambton “C” pit, September 1888. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
29 Jun 1883Advertisement for the sinking of a shaft, probably the New Lambton "C" pit at Adamstown. "To Sinkers and Others. TENDERS will be received until SATURDAY the 30th inst., from parties willing to sink a SHAFT on the New Lambton Colliery Estates. Specifcatitons and particulars may be seen by applying to the undersigned. JAMES THOMAS, New Lambton Colliery Office, New Lambton."
29 Sep 1886"THE NEW LAMBTON DISPUTE. The latest phase of this dispute was placed before the delegates last week, and has reference to the management letting what is known as 'the tunnel' on tribute."
1 Oct 1888"The [New Lambton] tunnel is near the New Lambton C. Pit, and the coal from both places goes over the same screens. The proprietors of the tunnel have leased the property of the New Lambton company ..."
20 Nov 1888"THE NEW LAMBTON PIT AND TUNNEL. YESTERDAY morning an interview took place at the office of Mr. Alexander Brown, J.P., between that gentleman, with Messrs. Charles Pemberton and John Williams, lessees of the New Lambton tunnel, now working on tribute, and Mr. R. Goundry, with Mr. Ridings, N. Lambton, on the subject of cavilling. Mr. Thomas, the manager of the N. Lambton Colliery, was also present."
8 Nov 1889A description of the Ebbw Vale tunnel in 1889 … "Close to the shaft and going into the hill at the outcrop is a tunnel, by which the top or Burwood seam is worked. This tunnel is driven in a south-western direction for a distance of some twenty chains ..."
24 Jun 1890In a report on work in the various pits, "New Lambton" and "Ebbw Vale" are listed as separate pits.
8 Nov 1893
6 Nov 1893
First recorded injury at Ebbw Vale colliery. "On Monday afternoon a miner named James Hall met with an accident in New Lambton Tunnel by which his left thigh was broken. Hall was engaged filling a skip, when a piece of top stone fell." Note that this report refers to the mine as the "New Lambton Tunnel" - the Department of Mines annual report for 1893 makes it clear that this was the Ebbw Vale colliery.
22 Apr 1898
20 Apr 1898
"On Wednesday evening the employees of the New Lambton and Ebbw Vale Collieries met in the long room of Thomas' Hotel for the purpose of making a presentation to Mr. James Thomas, colliery manager, who is about to take a trip to Europe for the benefit of his health."
12 Jan 1903"On Saturday evening, at the Commercial Hotel, the officials and employees of the Ebbw Vale Colliery (New Lambton Tunnel) met for the purpose of making a presentation to Mr. Wm. Humphreys, underground manager, who is leaving the company's employ."
29 Dec 1905
27 Dec 1905
Death of Mr. Francis T. Filby. "Fourteen weeks ago the deceased, while working in the Ebbw Vale pit, on the New Lambton Estate, met with an accident, from the effects of which he ultimately succumbed."
1 Jul 1907"Ebbw Vale, formerly known as New Lambton, miners, will resume work today, after being idle exactly half a year."
5 Jul 1921
23 Jun 1921
First fatal accident at Ebbw Vale colliery. William Adamthwaite was killed instantly having been struck by a fall of stone from the roof.
15 Nov 1921Brief description of the Ebbw Vale Colliery.
24 Jan 1924"In consequence of the inflow of water into portion of the workings of the New Lambton, or Ebbw Vale Colliery, at Adamstown, yesterday, work had to be suspended. The water gained access to the colliery through an old disused tunnel, which had been sealed off."
15 Apr 1924
31 Mar 1924
Second fatal accident at Ebbw Vale colliery. Joseph Lewis suffers spinal injuries from a fall of stone and coal on 31 March 1924, and subsequently dies of his injurues in Newcastle Hospital on 6 April 1924.
2 Oct 1926
20 Sep 1926
Death of David Waugh while working at Ebbw Vale colliery. "The coroner returned a verdict of death from fatty degeneration of the heat, in all probability accelerated by a strain received while at work." [As the death was due to illness and not an accident, it was not recorded as a workplace fatality in the official statistics.]
29 Aug 1927
18 Jun 1927
Third and final fatal accident at Ebbw Vale colliery. John William Liptrot was injured at the mine on 18 June 1921, when a collision with a runaway skip caused a file in his pocket to sever his knee. He survived this initial accident, but died in hospital of blood poisoning some 7 weeks later.
12 Feb 1931"Approximately 150 men will be affected by the closing down of New Lambton Colliery. The decision was notified to the officers of the Miners' Federation by the secretary of the New Lambton Lodge to-day. The miners' northern president (Mr. T. Hoare) said this evening that the pit had not worked for three months, but that the definite announcement of the closure would remove hopes of renewed employment from the minds of the New Lambton men."
10 Mar 1945"TENDERS are invited for the Purchase, for removal, of all Track Material contained in our private railway line extending, from near Adamstown Station to the site of the late Ebbw Vale Colliery. Full particulars from the office of the company, 31 Watt-street, Newcastle. NEW LAMBTON LAND & COAL CO. PTY. LTD."

Hums of the Wheel

Newcastle Bicycle Carnival, March 1897

This month’s photo was taken 125 years ago in March 1897. So much has changed that it’s hard to recognise the location today. The photo was taken from the brewery buildings in Hamilton East (now part of Hamilton TAFE) looking towards Bar Beach. In the foreground is a Rugby Union ground, and behind it to the right is Newcastle’s original racecourse, before the Broadmeadow racecourse opened in 1907

In the background, below Shepherds Hill there is a line of coal wagons at the “Sea Pit” of the A. A. Company, and in the foreground the railway to their “D Pit” in Hamilton. All the land in this photo belonged to the company, part of 2000 acres granted by the Government in 1830. When finished with coal the company turned to real estate and subdivided the land in 1913. Stewart Ave now runs through the former rugby ground.

Although the scene has changed, the subject remains.

Ralph Snowball photographed a bicycle carnival, a  two-day event of races on a banked velodrome track built around the rugby field. The 1890s was a decade of huge popularity for cycling, with the Newcastle Morning Herald having a weekly column “Hums of the Wheel” reporting on the sport. The first column in March 1892 noted that “since the advent of the safety bicycle, cycling has received an impetus which has placed it on a par with any other sport in the world.” Unlike the earlier ‘penny farthings’ where the rider perched precariously above a large wheel,  safety bicycles had equal sized wheels, propelled by pedals and a chain, with the rider seated low to the ground. By end of 1890s interest in cycling had waned significantly, and at a charity event hoping to draw a crowd of thousands, just 60 turned up.  The downturn however was only temporary, and cycling has ever been on an upward trend. Its popularity now so great that an astonishing 1.7 million bicycles were imported into Australia last financial year.

Newcastle Bicycle Carnival, March 1897. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.
The same view in 2022, from Hamilton TAFE, with highways and houses in the place of former sporting fields.

The article above was first published in the March 2022 edition of The Local.


The Bicycle

Prior to 1876, the standard or “ordinary” bicycle had two different sized wheels, with the rider seated high above the larger wheel at the front, propelling it with direct pedal action.

Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers, 14 August 1869.

In 1876, J H Lawson of Brighton UK, invented the “safety bicycle”.

The special feature of this machine is that the rider sits over the smaller wheel and as the big driving-wheel at his back; the feet are thus always within easy reach of the ground, and the danger of falling is reduced to a minimum.

“The Rainfall”, 9 December 1878

Within a short period of time the design of the safety bicycle had evolved to having two equal sized wheels, with the rear wheel driven by a pedals and a chain. In 1879, the cycle manufacturer George Singer started making safety bicycles under license from J H Lawson. Initial uptake was slow and …

“… it was not until 1885 that the safety bicycle was fairly established in public favour.”

The Riverina Grazier, 1 SePtember 1896
An 1892 advertisement for safety bicycles shows how little the basic design of the bicycle has changed in the last 130 years. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 8 December 1892.

The Bicycle Carnival

The Bicycle Carnival in March 1897 was held over two days, Thursday 25 March and Saturday 27 March. It would appear that Ralph Snowball has made a minor error in annotating his negative with the date 28 March 1897.

Advertisement for Bicycle Carnival in March 1897. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 22 March 1897.

The bicycle carnival was a huge event. The Newcastle Morning Herald reported on the following Monday 29 March 1897 that “there must have been nearly 6000 persons present, comprising visitors from all parts of the country, and especially from the metropolis.” Special tram services were arranged to get patrons to and from the event, and proceedings were attended by representatives from eight different newspapers.

One more thing to ponder about Snowball’s photograph – if the subject is a bicycle carnival, where are the bicycles? With the glass plate negative cameras that Snowball worked with, the exposure time meant that any cyclists on the track would be but a blur. One cyclist can just be made out at the left of the photo.

Long exposure times mean that cyclists appear as a blur.

Location of the Bicycle Carnival

A brief mention of the bicycle carnival in the newspaper on 29 March 1897 reports that it was held on the Rugby Football Ground.

Rugby Football Ground shown on an 1884 map, to the south of the A. A. Company coal railway. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.

The Rugby Football ground can also be seen in a 1906 Ralph Snowball photograph, which is part of a 4 panel panorama taken from the Obelisk hill. The brewery building from which Snowball almost certainly took the photograph is at the right of the ground, with the A. A. Company coal rail line running between.

View from Obelisk looking west, with Rugby Football Ground on the left and the brewery building at the right. Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.
The former brewery building, now part of Hamilton TAFE.

Australian Agricultural Company land and the “Garden Suburb”

Map showing the 2000 acres granted to the A A Company in Newcastle in 1830, The location of Snowball’s 1897 photo of the bicycle carnival is marked in red. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.
Approximate extent of A A Company 2000 acre grant, shown in Google Earth. The 1897 Rugby Ground is outlined in white.
The view in Google Earth (above) shows that almost all the land visible in Snowball’s 1897 photo (below) belonged to the A A Company.

In 1913 the A. A. Company announced a grand plan to develop their land into an attractive “model suburb”.

A MODEL SUBURB. A.A. COMPANY’S INTENTIONS.
The first attempt at a practical application of the principles of modern town planning in the vicinity of Newcastle is about to be made by the Australian Agricultural Company, the scheme being yet another indication of the company’s enterprise in the direction of advancing the interests of the city and district. The proposal is to set apart a portion, of the company’s estate, consisting of about 250 acres, and lying west and south-west of Melville [now Union St] and Parry streets, for the purposes of a model suburb, and the requisite plans for the undertaking have already been completed. The design has been worked out by Messrs. John Sulman and John F. Hennessy, of Sydney, and every endeavour has been made to embody in it all the features which experience in other parts of the world has shown to be most desirable … Fine wide streets, planted with trees in such a way as to be ornamental in fact as well as in name, are naturally looked for in a model residential area, and they will not be looked for in vain in the A.A. Company’s so-far-unnamed suburb.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 28 April 1913.

The following year, in May 1914, the company advertised the first subdivision in their new suburb, promoting it as the “Garden Suburb”.

Advertisement for the A.A. Company’s land sale for their new “Garden Suburb” in 1914. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.

The name “Garden Suburb” was a marketing phrase and not the official name of the suburb, although it did make its way onto the plaques on the commemorative columns at Learmonth Park.

Ornamental column at Learmonth Park in Hamilton South, with a plaque commemorating the opening of the Australian Agricultural Company’s “Garden Suburb” in 1914.

One interesting feature of the original 1913 design of the suburb that never eventuated, was an ornamental garden and recreation area in the middle of Stewart Ave.

About half-way along Stewart avenue a large oblong-shaped space is to be utilised for enclosed grass plots, and in the centre of it a band-stand will be placed. There probably will be two of these turfed squares, and at each end of these will be a semi-circular plot, one having an ornamental fountain within it, and the other a piece of statuary.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 28 April 1913.
Proposed ornamental area in the middle of Stewart Avenue.

Note that the modern suburb named “Garden Suburb” dates back to 1918, when the Assurance and Thrift Association Ltd developed a subdivision in the Cardiff area.

Garden Suburb subdivision in the Cardiff area, December 1918. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
9 Dec 1878Article with some details about the invention of the safety bicycle by Mr Lawson ... "The great advantage of these safety bicycles is that you can mount by throwing your leg over—as over a pony—and start instantly ; you can then go as slowly and steadily as you like, even in the most crowded thoroughfares, where high bicyclists must dismount."
1 Apr 1882Earliest advertisement (in Trove) for a safety bicycle for sale in Australia.
28 Jul 1886Earliest mention of a safety bicycle in the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate. Program for upcoming Newcastle Bicycle Club race day includes a "One Mile Safety Bicycle Handicap."
19 Mar 1892First "Hums of the Wheel" column in the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate. "Since the advent of the safety bicycle, cycling has received an impetus which has placed it on a par with any other sport in the world. The introduction of the cushion, pneumatic, and other tyres of the kind to the safety has completely outstride the old-fashioned ordinary, and it is to be relegated to a back seat. Although the ordinary bicycle has been tried with the pneumatic tyres, it has not proved anything near so fast as its dwarfed brother."
8 Dec 1892Advertisement for "Star", "Humber", and "New Rapid" safety bicycles.
1 Sep 1896Interview with the H J Lawson, the inventor of the safety bicycle.
"In 1879 Mr. Singer, the well-known maker, sent for me and offered to manufacture my cycle for the market, paying me a royalty of £2 on each machine. Somehow the innovation did not meet with popularity at this time, and it was not until 1885 that the safety bicycle was fairly established in public favor. By this time, though, I had relinquished my patents, so that I have never reaped any pecuniary profit from my invention."
22 Mar 1897Advertisement for "GRAND CYCLING CARNIVAL. THURSDAY, SATURDAY, MARCH 25 AND 27. 350 Entries. 41 Events. SPLENDID NEW SEATING ACCOMMODATION FOR 3000 PEOPLE."
29 Mar 1897
27 Mar 1897
"Between 5000 and 6000 persons attended the bicycle sports on the Rugby Football Ground on Saturday. The weather was all that could be desired, and the sport was of a most interesting character."
29 Mar 1897
27 Mar 1897
Report on day 2 of the bicycle carnival.
23 Dec 1899
16 Dec 1899
Final "Hums of the Wheel" column in the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate.
"The result of last Saturday's carnival should be sufficient to deter the cycling clubs from running another for some time to come. The sport is as flat as it can possibly be, and the public require something more novel to attract them. It was thought that the cause would have been in itself sufficient to draw a gate of at least a couple of thousand, but the total of sixty reflected anything but credit upon the sport-loving public of Newcastle. The Benevolent So ciety will not benefit to the extent of a copper, but on the contrary the Federal Bicycle Club will have to make good the loss over the meeting. The cycling authorities must therefore abide by the will of the public, and unless some extra attractiveness is introduced the less meetings held the better for the clubs' coffers. The racing was fairly good, but there was a sameness about the whole affair that became monotonous."
18 Feb 1907
16 Feb 1902
"Saturday last witnessed the final day's racing on the Newcastle Jockey Club's course at Hamilton, as the club's next fixture will be decided on the new course at Broadmeadow in April. In bidding adieu to the old site the president and several members of the committee grew reminiscent, and compared the condition of the course at the present time with what it was when taken over by the club. Then it was a mere waste of marsh and brushwood, but during the club's possession it had been drained and wonderfully improved, so that its subsequent conversion into a golf links for the local club became a comparatively easy matter."
29 Apr 1907
27 Apr 1907
Official opening of the Newcastle Jockey Club's new racecourse at Broadmeadow.
28 Apr 1913The Australian Agricultural Company announces its plan to create a new "garden suburb" in an area of 250 acres to the south of Parry Street.