Hartley Vale Colliery, Newcastle

The naming of coal mines is often ambiguous and confusing, especially when a locality name is used for a mine in a completely different region. Such is the case with the short lived Hartley Vale Colliery in Newcastle in the 19th century.

Today when we hear “Hartley Vale” we think of the Hartley Vale on the western side of the Blue Mountains, near Lithgow. A form of coal called kerosene shale was found in this location in 1865, and by 1874 the NSW Kerosene Shale and Oil Company had a substantial mining operation there. But 150km away in Newcastle there was another “Hartley Vale” colliery, with no connection to the Blue Mountains.

In 1862 the brothers James and Alexander Brown were operating a colliery at Minmi, west of Newcastle. In late 1862 they issued a prospectus for a new company, called the Melbourne and Newcastle Minmi Colliery Company, and by February 1863 had sold their mine to the newly floated company. Around the time they were divesting themselves of the Minmi colliery, the Browns acquired the coal lease on a 310 acre block of land in the Broadmeadow area adjacent to Hamilton. This new venture they named “The Hartley Vale Colliery” (sometimes spelled “Hartly Vale”) and commenced to develop it, including plans to build a rail line from the pit to the Great Northern Railway

THE HARTLY VALE COLLIERY. This new colliery which has been in the course of development for several months, having bared a good seam of coal and began to open it out, is now also about beginning the formation of a railway to connect the works with the Great Northern Line, to come in somewhere about the spot where the Waratah and Lambton junction is formed. This line has been surveyed and cleared, and in the course of a few days it is anticipated that the formation will be commenced.”

The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 13 August 1863.

By June 1864 the Browns had reportedly spent £12,000 developing the mine which was nearing completion.

The works at the Hartley Vale Colliery have proceeded so far as to be ready for coming into market, with the exception of the completion of a small portion of the branch line intended to form a junction with the Lambton. In consequence of a dispute between the two companies, the progress of this line has been retarded.

The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 25 October 1864.

The completion of the rail line from the Hartley Vale mine was prevented because of a dispute with a competitor, the Lambton colliery. To remedy this impasse the Browns petitioned the government to to pass an Act of Parliament to give them the right to construct their railway. The Bill was brought before the Parliament in October 1866, but ongoing disputes and opposition from competing interests meant that the bill was not passed until December 1867.

Plan of the Hartley Vale Railway, 4 October 1867. State Library of New South Wales.

Having finally obtained the legal right to build their railway, it was of no consequence, for by this stage, after spending £18,000 the mine had already proved to be unprofitable.

No sooner was the Minmi Company floated (1863) than the Browns took up land at Hartley Vale, sunk their shaft, erected their winding gear, and other appliances ; but found the seam run out so shallow as to be unprofitable to work, so that was dismantled and abandoned, with a loss of £18,000.

Report on the death of Alexander Brown, Australian Town and Country Journal, 7 July 1877.

About the same time that the Hartley Vale Colliery railway Bill was passed in December 1867, the Browns acquired a new coal mining lease in the adjacent area of New Lambton, and within a few months were pushing ahead with the development of the New Lambton Colliery, including a branch rail line that was to use materials from the failed Hartley Vale venture.

The greater portion of the [New Lambton] line will be constructed with the material used in the formation of the old line to the Hartley Vale colliery, which turned out such a lamentable failure, and through which the Messrs. Brown lost such an enormous sum of money.

The Newcastle Chronicle, 27 June 1868.

The location of the failed Hartley Vale colliery can be identified by the Hartley Vale Colliery Railway Bill and accompanying map. The Bill describes the railway as passing through …

“… fifty-four and three hundred and ten acres leased to the said James Brown and Alexander Brown and known as the Hartley Vale Colliery.”

NSW Government Gazette, 27 December 1867.

The 54 acre block was the area eventually sold to Thomas Adam in 1869 to form Adamstown. The 310 acre block stretches from Adamstown to Broadmeadow, with the location of C and D pits as shown in the Google Earth overlay below.

Location of C and D pits of the Hartley Vale colliery.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
4 Jul 1863A passing remark in a parliamentary discussion about Reserves, indicates that the the Browns had acquired a mining leases in Newcastle by July 1863. "The Government, however, had leased portions of it [Newcastle Pasturage Reserve] to the Australian Agricultural Company, James & Alexander Brown, and the Waratah Coal Company."
13 Aug 1863"The Hartly Vale Colliery.-This new colliery which has been in the course of development for several months, having bared a good seam of coal and began to open it out, is now also about beginning the formation of a railway to connect the works with the Great Northern Line, to come in somewhere about the spot where the Waratah and Lambton junction is formed."
25 Aug 1863"The Co-operative, Wallsend, the Hartley Vale, and the Australian Agricultural and Coal Company, are contemplating running onto" the Great Northern Line.
8 Jun 1864"I may mention that a rumour gains ground here that some desire is evinced by the Messrs. Brown to connect the projects of the Co-operative Company and the Hartley Vale Colliery. On the Company's property it is said that £10 000 have been expended, and £12,000 on the Vale." [There is no evidence that this rumoured joint venture proceeded.]
18 Jun 1864"A report was in circulation a short time ago, that Messrs. J. A. Brown had some intention of working the seam of coal which exists on a property of theirs, called Hartley Vale, adjoining the Co-operative Company's pits."
25 Oct 1864"The works at the Hartley Vale Colliery have proceeded so far as to be ready far coming into market, with the exception of the completion of a small portion of the branch line intended to form a junction with the Lambton. In consequence of a dispute between the two companies, the progress of this line has been retarded, which, however, is now in a fair way of being completed in a few weeks."
22 Apr 1865"Towns have sprung up and forests have been cleared with surprising rapidity. A dozen years ago no one know of the Glebe, of Wallsend, Minmi, Lambton, or Hartley Vale … But notwithstanding all the improvements in the town, and all the facilities for trade, one cannot help feeling that there is a sort of lassitude about the movements of people-a sort of 'hanging on' appearance … Lambton and Waratah doing only about quarter-time, and Wallsend, which is, perhaps, best off, not doing more than half its capabilities. Minmi, Tomago, Hartley Vale, and the Lake Macquarie pits doing nothing."
20 Aug 1867"Mr COWPER presented a petition from certain persons of Waratah against the passing of the Hartley Vale Colliery Bill."
20 Aug 1867Notice by James and Alexander Brown and Stephen Foyle to petition parliament to enable then to construct the Hartley Vale railway.
3 Dec 1867
28 Nov 1867
Partial opening of the Hartley Vale Railway. The descripton of the piece of line just opened suggests that it was the branch line from the Hartley Vale line that went eastwards to the Dog and Rat pit, and in 1868 to the New Lambton colliery.
27 Dec 1867
23 Dec 1867
Passing of the Hartley Vale Colliery Railway Bill in NSW parliament.
27 Jun 1868"The greater portion of the [New Lambton Colliery] line will be constructed with the material used in the formation of the old line to the Hartly Vale colliery, which turned out such a lamentable failure, and through which the Messrs. Brown lost such an enormous sum of money."
17 Nov 1875"NEW LAMBTON. The old Hartley Vale pit, which has been standing open for several years without any protection, is now being covered over by the employees of the Messrs. Brown."
7 Jul 1877In a report on Alexander Brown's death … "No sooner was the Minmi Company floated than the Browns took up land at Hartley Vale, sunk their shaft, erected their winding gear, and other appliances ; but found the seam run out so shallow as to be unprofitable to work, so that was dismantled and abandoned, with a loss of £18,000."

Charles Noble

This month marks 100 years since the death of Charles Noble, whose immense contributions to Lambton colliery and Lambton township spanned more than 50 years.

Charles Noble was born in Nailsea near Bristol on 9 June 1856, and arrived in Australia the following year with his parents Mark and Elizabeth. They lived in the Merewether area for a few years before moving to Lambton.

Charles was just 10 years old when he first worked at Lambton Colliery for a brief three-week stint. He started at the colliery again in 1868, but on 17 June 1871, having just turned 15, misfortune struck.  While uncoupling a set of coal trains on an incline in the mine, his right arm was crushed between two wagons. The injury was severe and required the amputation of the arm.

As painful as it was, the accident, proved to be a positive turning point in Charles’ career. The mine manager Thomas Croudace, “recommended the company to give him a two years’ free schooling and then re-employ him as an apprentice for an under-manager’s position.” Charles attended Lambton Public School and went on to receive the “first prize of the school for good behaviour and general proficiency.” After schooling, he returned to Lambton colliery working at many jobs, eventually becoming underground manager.

Above ground Noble served the town in many capacities. He was elected as auditor for the Lambton council sixteen times. At various times he held positions at the Mechanics Institute, Lambton Park Trust, and assisted with local choirs, the Methodist Church, friendly societies and sporting clubs. On Sunday 10 July 1921, aged 65 Charles Noble died very suddenly of heart disease. He was at work just the day before, at Lambton colliery where he had been employed for a record 53 years. Such was the respect he was held in, the colliery ceased work for a day so that employees could attend his funeral. He was survived by his wife Annie, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Mildred.

Lambton Colliery staff, 27 May 1897. Charles Noble is sitting on the ground at the right.
Living Histories @ UoN.
Year 4 students at Lambton Public School (L to R) Brisan Archer, Riley Brooker, Jackson
Horvat and Harry Rayner with the historic coal hopper on campus. These students are the same
age as Charles Noble when he commenced working at Lambton colliery. Photo provided courtesy of Lambton Public School.

The article above was first published in the July 2021 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

Arrival in Australia

The List of Immigrants for the ship “Alfred” which arrived on 23 July 1857 shows Charles Noble arrived with his youthful parents Mark aged 22 and Elizabeth aged 19. Charles is listed as an infant under 1 year, although he would have had his first birthday the month before the ship’s arrival date.

Immigrant List of the ship “Alfred”,showing the Noble family. NSW State Archives, NRS5316/4_4794/Alfred_23 Jul 1857

The Noble family’s safe arrival in the ship Alfred was fortuitous occasion, as reported at Charles’ funeral some 64 years later …

A full passenger list prevented the late Mr. Noble and his parents from sailing in the Dunbar, which was wrecked outside Sydney Heads, with almost a total loss of life. They came to Australia by the next ship, the Prince Alfred.

The Newcastle SUn, 11 July 1921

The Dunbar was shipwrecked on 21 August 1857 with the loss of 120 lives, and just one survivor.

The accident

The accident and injury to Charles Noble was reported in the The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser on 22 June 1871. Note that Charles’ age is reported as “about seventeen”, however he had just turned 15.

I am sorry to have to report that an accident of a very painful nature occurred to a young man about seventeen [sic] years of age, named Noble, at the Lambton Colliery, on Saturday night last It appears the boy was uncoupling a set of coal trains at the incline bank in the pit, and by some means got his arm fast between the bumpers. The arm was so dreadfully lacerated as to create great fears that it will be necessary to amputate it. The bone was not broken, but the flesh, muscles, and bloodveins fearfully torn. Dr Hill and his assistant, Mr James, were fortunately at hand, and did what was necessary, and it is to be hoped they will succeed in saving the poor boy’s limb.

The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 22 June 1871.

The following week, the Newcastle Chronicle reported on his recovery …

I am glad to be able to state that young Noble, the boy who lost his arm by the late accident at the Lambton Colliery, is progressing most favourably under the skilful treatment of Dr. Hill. Your contemporary the Pilot is in error in stating that it was through carelessness on the boy’s part that the accident happened, although, in the majority of cases, such is the case ; but in this instance it was anything but that, and under similar circumstances the most careful person might have been caught in a like manner.

THE Newcastle Chronicle, 27 June 1871.

Unfortunately the Chronicle reporter’s observation that the accident could happen to even the most careful person, proved to be tragically prescient. Just five months later a similar accident, at the same place, resulted in a youth of seventeen also requiring the amputation of his right arm.

Another of those serious and painful accidents which are of such frequent, occurrence, and present to the view of strangers coming among us so many fine healthy young men either maimed or crippled, occurred yesterday, at the Lambton colliery. A One smart young fellow, named Andrew Blimm, son of German parents, and about 17 years of age, while employed at his work, coupling and uncoupling the trams on the incline bank within the Lambton colliery, had his right arm so severely torn and lacerated from the hand to elbow joint as to leave no hopes of saving the limb. It was about this same, incline bank and this same rope that the young man, Charles Noble, not long ago lost his arm.

The Newcastle Chronicle, 25 November 1871.

Lambton Council

Charles Noble was elected as auditor to Lambton Council for 16 consecutive years in the period 1883 to 1898. The following year, with the council in the throes of the electric light scheme financial disaster, he was appointed as auditor by the Lieutenant Governor of NSW, when no-one was willing to nominate for positions in a bankrupt municipality.

Lambton council ceased to exist for a few years, but when it commenced again, Charles Noble was elected as an alderman at the election in September 1903. Being one of the three successful candidates who secured the lowest number of votes, his term as alderman only lasted until the next scheduled election in February 1904. He did not re-contest his position as alderman, but put himself forward for auditor again, but was unsuccessful.

Civic service ran in the Noble family. Charles’ brother Henry James Noble was town clerk of Lambton Council for many years, and brother George Noble was an alderman in Lambton for seven years and elected Mayor in 1905.

A short street in North Lambton with the prosaic name of “1st Street” was renamed to “Noble Street” in 1955, presumably in recognition of the service of the Noble brothers to Lambton.

OpenStreetMap

Residence

In 1902 a short report on the eighteenth birthday of Lydia Noble indicates that the family were living in Summerhill, which is the hilly area of Lambton east of the park, where Fitzroy and Illalung Roads run. It would seem they were renting there initially, for the first record of a land sale to the Nobles occurs in 1906, with Annie Noble purchasing Lot 1009 of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, in Fitzroy Rd. The block of land was subdivided into two parts in 1941 and is now 20 and 22 Fitzroy Rd.

Vol-Fol 1027-40. HLRV

Other photos

Newcastle library has another Ralph Snowball photo of the same group of colliery officials, minus one person. The photo was almost certainly taken on the same day, but at a different location at the colliery.

Noting that Charles Noble had lost his right arm, we can see that on the library site the photo is incorrectly displayed as a mirror image. I have corrected the mirroring in the photo below.

Colliery officials, Lambton mine, 1897. Ralph Snowball. Hunter Photobank
Charles Noble. Photo from ancestry.com supplied by Amy Gibbs.
Elizabeth Lydia, Annie, Charles and Mildred Noble. Photo from ancestry.com supplied by Amy Gibbs.
Grave site in Sandgate cemetery of Charles and Annie Noble , and other members of the Noble family.
The inscription on the headstone for Charles and Annie Noble is hidden by vegetation.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
22 Jun 1871
17 Jun 1871
Accident at Lambton colliery in which fifteen year old Charles Noble has his arm so severely crushed that it required amputation.
27 Jun 1871"I am glad to be able to state that young Noble, the boy who lost his arm by the late accident at the Lambton Colliery, is progressing most favourably under the skilful treatment of Dr. Hill."
25 Nov 1871
24 Nov 1871
Andrew Blimm (aged 17) loses an arm in an accident at Lambton Colliery, in very similar circumstances to Charles Noble five months earlier.
11 Jan 1873"Master Charles Noble was called up to receive the first prize of the school for good behaviour and general proficiency ; he proved to be one of the two young men who unfortunately lost one of their arms at the Lambton Colliery."
2 Sep 1874"The Lambton miners presented Andrew Blim, a young man who lost his arm some three years ago on the Lambton colliery, with the sum of £10 on Saturday last. They also intend giving a like sum to Charles Noble, who lost his arm about the same time, and while working at the same place as Blim."
12 Dec 1876
10 Dec 1876
"At the camp meeting on Sunday, a young man named Charles Noble, sat down on a glass bottle, and cut one of his fingers to the bone. As he has only one hand this accident is very unfortunate."
28 Dec 1878Charles Noble, secretary of the "Morning Star Band of Hope" lodge in Lambton.
2 Apr 1879
31 Mar 1879
"On Monday last Mr. Charles Noble, one of the officials of Lambton Colliery, happened a rather nasty accident. Whilst endeavouring to get out of the way of a skip, he ran his head up against a piece of iron, and inflicted a severe scalp wound, which caused the loss of much blood."
17 Nov 1883Charles Noble, marriage to Annie Robson, at Wallsend.
9 Apr 1891In testimony at a court case, Charles Noble states his occupation … "I am underground boss in Lambton pit."
23 May 1894Charles Noble elected as one of the Trustees of Lambton Mechanics' Institute.
24 Jul 1902Charles Noble elected as treasurer of Lambton Park Trust.
5 Oct 1904"The Scottish-Australian Mining Company has leased the old Lambton colliery to Mr. Charles Noble on tribute, and it is intimated that there is room for about 30 miners in the pit on district rates of pay."
5 Dec 1904
3 Dec 1904
Death of Mark Noble, father of Charles Noble.
9 Apr 1910
8 Apr 1910
Death of Elizabeth Noble, mother of Charles Noble.
30 May 1921"Mr. Charles Noble, the present undermanager has been employed with the company for over 52 years, which can be regarded as almost a record of service. He commenced work in the pit after leaving school as a set boy, and about two years afterwards he met with an accident while taking off the rope, necessitating the amputation of one of his arms. Work of a light nature was subsequently found him. He became studious, and had no difficulty in passing the examination qualifying for an underground manager."
11 Jul 1921
10 Jul 1921
Obituary on the death of Charles Noble.
11 Jul 1921
10 Jul 1921
"The death took place at Lambton yesterday morning of Mr. Chas. Noble, brother of the town clerk (Mr. H. J. Noble) at the age of 66, from heart failure. Deceased, who was a native of Somersetshire, England, lived at Lambton for 56 years, and was associated with the Lambton Colliery (during the greater portion of the time as under-manager), for 53 years."
12 Jul 1921
11 Jul 1921
"Lambton colliery was idle yesterday, so that its employees might attend the funeral of the under-manager, Mr. Charles Noble, who died on Sunday morning."
12 Jul 1921
11 Jul 1921
Funeral of Charles Noble.
17 Aug 1921
14 Aug 1921
Memorial service for Charles Noble at Lambton Methodist Church - "Mr. Noble had been associated with the church since childhood, and was a trustee for many years. "
20 Jun 1934Death of Ann Noble (widow of Charles), aged 71.
4 Nov 1955"First Street" in North Lambton renamed to "Noble Street".

Furnace Feast

Inauguration of Lambton Colliery furnace, 3 June 1871

When Lambton Colliery opened in 1863, the manager Thomas Croudace set about to make it the most modern, productive and safe mine in the colony. Having supervised the construction of the largest ventilating furnace in the country, he arranged to celebrate its opening in an unusual manner. The following is an edited extract of The Newcastle Chronicle’s report of the opening, 150 years ago this month.

Saturday was a red-letter day in the history of the Lambton Colliery. A tolerably large party of our citizens, in receipt of invitations from Mr. Thomas Croudace, left for the colliery, to celebrate the opening of the new furnace lately erected. The engine-room was visited, and then commenced the subterranean journey.

Proceeding a distance of more than three quarters of a mile from the working pit, and very nearly at a depth of 400 feet – the new furnace!

Its total length is 45 feet, thickness of wall, 4 feet, the main arch 12 feet high. The fire-bars are 5 feet long, and there are 160 of them resting upon strong bearing bars which are supported by nine cast iron pillars. The cost of castings alone for this furnace was £200. About 1000 bricks have been used in its erection, and the total expenditure is rather over £1000.

It is estimated when at full work to consume from 10 to 12 tons coal daily, and draw nine million cubic feet of air per hour. There it stood, brilliant in its coating of red and well-blacked doors — a monument of skill and industry. Its apertures exposing the pleasures yet to come, an ascent was made on to the floor of the furnace, where on the firebars was found a table bountifully supplied with good cheer, to celebrate the opening of the brick arched chamber so soon to be in full operation, ventilating the mine.

Delay to the hungry travellers was out of the question, seats were taken, the busy clatter of knives and forks commenced, subdued only by the strains of the [Lambton Brass] Band, which played at intervals. The cloth having been cleared, [toasts were drunk and speeches made.]

Mr. Croudace said “However simple it might appear, great difficulties beset its construction, but he was happy to be able to say that no accident had occurred during the whole time the men had been working at it. They had done the best that could be done to lessen the evils the miners were subjected to in their underground labour.”

By the road it had come the party returned to the surface, after passing a very pleasant and instructive afternoon in the bowels of the earth.

The Newcastle Chronicle, 8 June 1871.

A 1930s map shows the location of the shaft, where the furnace lay 120 metres below New Lambton Heights. National Library of Australia.

The article above was first published in the June 2021 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

In regard to this particular furnace of Lambton colliery, I haven’t come across any photographs of either the shaft on the surface, or the furnace underground. Probably on the surface, the outlet of the shaft looked something like the Mosquito Pit, which was another ventilating shaft of the Lambton colliery, further to the south.

Underground, the furnace is described as having a semi-circular main arch “11 ft 9 in. in the clear”. The Museum of Wales has a photograph of a collapsed ventilating furnace, which gives an indication of what the Lambton furnace may have looked like.

Ty Mawr Colliery, the remains of an underground ventilation furnace which date back to the late 1870s. Photograph by John Cornwall. Museum of Wales.
Figure 45 from William Glover’s “First Lessons in Coal Mining”, 1906, showing an example ventilating furnace, with the central furnace chamber (a) where the coals burns on the firebars (b), and with two side airways (c).

Thomas Croudace’s 1871 ventilating furnace appears to have operated until about 1925-26. A 1925 article on the decommissioning of a winding engine noted that in the Lambton Colliery …

The air current has always been regarded as good, all foul air being drawn from the pit by means of the upcast furnace shaft, located near the manager’s residence on the Charlestown-road.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ ADvocate, 15 June 1925.

An article on the closure of the mine in 1936 speaks of the installation of fan ventilation in 1926, so presumably the ventilating furnace was decommissioned around this time.

The installation of a ventilating fan in 1926 allowed miners to penetrate to places which could not have been reached under the old system of ventilation by furnaces, owing to the presence of black damp.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ ADvocate, 20 June 1936.

A feature survey map from Scottish Australian Mining Company held by the Local Studies section of Newcastle Library suggests that the furnace shaft was gone by 1925, as the shaft is not marked, whereas numerous other shafts and colliery infrastructure are marked.

Croudace’s furnace shaft is absent from this 1925 Feature Survey map from the Scottish Australian Mining. Library reference no Map C 622.33/25.

Other maps

The furnace shaft shown on Major Parrott’s 1893 map. National Library of Australia.
The furnace shaft shown on a 1911 map. National Library of Australia.

Full article from 1871

The following is the full text of the Newcastle Chronicle’s report of 8 June 1871, with the text that I condensed into my article, shown in red. For simplicity in my article, I rounded some of the furnace dimensions to the nearest foot.

LAMBTON COLLIERY. INAUGURATION OF THE NEW FURNACE.

Saturday was a red letter day in the history of the Lambton Colliery. Leaving this city as shortly before one o’clock, a tolerably large party of our citizens, in receipt of invitations from Mr. Thomas Croudace, the manager, left the railway station by special, kindly laid on for the purpose, in rear of the return trucks, for the colliery, to celebrate the opening of the new furnace lately erected. On arriving at the works they were met by Mr. Jackson, and with him escorted to the residence of Mr. Thomas Croudace. The ascent of a rather steep hill was fully repaid by the really charming view afforded on reaching its summit. Facing the entrance gates, through an opening in the primaeval forest, appeared as pretty a panoramic view as could be desired. In the centre Nobby’s and the port, to the right the city of Newcastle, to the left the North Shore and the coast line, trending northerly to Port Stephens, in the extreme distance the blue ocean. The weather was beautifully fine, and though a slight haze hung o’er the distance, yet this only added to the beauty of the scene. The sun shone brightly, the air was mild and balmy, and nature, as if willing to assist in perfecting the day’s pleasure, had assumed her gayest holiday attire. At the entrance, Mr. Croudace met and welcomed his guests, and conducted them to his pretty villa, by a broad carriage drive in course of formation, and then over a lawn — fresh and green with artificial grasses and clover — suggesting croquet and bowls, and other pleasant pastimes. Here fresh scenery awaited the visitors — to the northward and westward, in the back ground, lay purple hills, almost rising to the dignity of mountains, and low down, in mid distance, sheets of water, without which no picture of this kind can be perfect, greeted the view. The house, standing on the crown of the eminence, commanded each vista, and rightly was it remarked that the host of the day’s lot had fallen in pleasant places. Lunch was shortly announced, and whilst the inner man was being stayed against the afternoon’s underground fatigues, the Lambton brass band, in an exceedingly neat and becoming uniform made its appearance, and performed in excellent style some of their choice pieces. Lunch over, the party, headed by the band, and passing close on their right the head of the new furnace chimney, once more descended the hill, and arriving at the foot, were shown over the works, which were fully explained to them. The engine-room was also visited, and then commenced the subterranean journey. Provided with numerous lanterns, and headed by the manager, the tunnel was entered, and after proceeding a short distance, over a double line of T rails of 40 lbs. to the yard, fishtailed
and thoroughly secured— the gradients varying from 1 in 24 to 1 in 40, and the gauge 2 feet — the explorers turned to the left, and with a fresh breeze blowing right astern, over a single line and between walls of coal, pushed on. As the journey was continued, on every hand one saw the evidence of what science and skill, having been brought to bear, had effected in simplifying the miners’ labour and enhancing his comfort. The gallery was in most parts sufficiently high for a six-footer to proceed erect, though at times stooping had to be resorted to, and the atmosphere for the greater part of the distance was cool and comfortable enough. The first divergence made was to the left, and here was found the old furnace, in full blast, drawing to it cold currents of air from the outer world, and with the assistance of cunningly devised traps and passages sending them on their mission of health and safety throughout the underground works. Once more on the direct route, a voice, proceeding from under a small tin lamp fastened in front of a cap borne by an invisible wearer, said something, understood by the initiated only. Look out! was the cry. The 2¼ iron wire rope, the party had been following from the drum in the engine-room, down to where they were now arrested in their descent, was running up the drive and over the rollers pretty rapidly, presently a low rumbling was heard, which gradually increased in volume until, some three dozen coal laden skips made their appearance. On a signal given the miniature train stopped, and then more explanation ensued. First the use of the devil and then its mechanism, beautiful in its simplicity came under notice, and it was shown how in a minute the hauling wire could, by its means, be attached to or detached from the leading skip, afterwards (literally,) the cow was inspected and its power of stopping the train from rushing back into the depths of the pit was exemplified, and the signal being again given the coal laden skips and their inspectors each went their different ways. Presently a halt was called. Here Mr. Croudace pointed out where the miners had come upon a Whyn Dyke of igneous rock and had lost the seam, and how they had only come upon it again by ‘following my leader.’ The leader in this case being a little narrow indication of coal, which however, sufficed once more to bring them into the seam. Again a halt, and this time, a number of empty skips following their principle of gravitation, rushed down the incline as if in a hurry for more coal. The crown of the gallery now lowers considerably, the air is getting closer, occasionally large spaces are seen overhead, where there has been a fall, and the presence of water commences to make itself known. A turn to the right and there is a gigantic cellar, the roof supported by stout timbers, and the space filled on every side with millions of tons of coal. The air was still closer here and more oppressive, than even in a gallery itself, and there, on returning, its effect begins to be felt. Yet another few yards, a door thrown open, a turn to the left, another short stooping match and there, after passing the Lambton band, sitting on a long table on the left, right in front, stood the new-fashioned banquet room, 64 chains, or rather more than three quarters of a mile from the working pit, and very nearly at a depth of 400 feet — though not directly underneath the entrance gates of the manager’s grounds. First, however, the pumping apparatus had to be inspected; it was close handy, and was found to be a compound steam and hydraulic engine, constructed by Garratt and Marshall. This placed at the bottom of the shaft, which is the lowest present level forces the water through pipes 4¼ in. in diameter, a. distance of three-quarters of a mile, with a vertical column of about 120 feet, at the rate of 80,000 gallons in 10 hours. It is in fact a direct-acting force pump, attached to the piston rod of an inverted cylinder, thus forming the compound power. The new furnace may be thus described— Its total length is 45 feet, thickness of walls, 3 feet, and casing, 9 in., making 3 ft 9 in. The foundation is laid with a mixture of Sydney and Waratah stones, 4ft. 3 in. broad, 4ft. 3 in. long, 1 ft. 3 in. in thickness, all set in cement, and carried down to hard stone, 9 ft. below coal. The whole of the work to bottom of the bars is set in cement, after that the outside walls are set in mortar, and the inside walls in fire clay. The main arch is 11 ft. 9 in. in the clear, and is a semicircle, cased 3 ft. up from fire-bars, with 9 in. brickwork. There are three fire-holes at each side with double archways over each, and two at the end, making eight in all. The fire-bars are 5 ft. long, and there are 160 of them; they rest upon strong bearing bars running the whole length of the furnace grate, viz., 20 feet, which are again supported by nine cast iron pillars set upon dwarf walls, built in cement from hard stone. The cost of castings alone for this furnace was £200; about 1000 bricks have been used in its erection, and the total expenditure is rather over £1000. It is larger than the great ventilating furnace at Eppleton pit, Hetton, county of Durham, England, that being 26 ft. long, by 6 ft. wide, having 156 square feet of fire surface or grates; whereas the Lambton furnace is 20 ft. long, by 10 ft. wide, and has 200 ft. of fire surface. It is estimated when at full work to consume from 10 to 12 tons coal daily, and at that rate consume nine million cubic feet of air per hour. And there it stood, brilliant in its coating of red and well-blacked doors — a monument of skill and industry, its apertures exposing the pleasures yet to come. The work of inspection being now concluded, an ascent was made on to the floor of the furnace, where, on the firebars was found a table bountifully supplied with good cheer, where withal to celebrate the opening of the brick arched chamber so soon to be in full operation, ventilating the mine, but now used as a banquetting hall. Of course, all light was artificial, and to one unused to subterranean entertainments, there was added to the charm of pleasant society that of novelty also. Just beyond the further end of the table the dark, hollow recesses of the well and the shaft showed themselves. A free current of air passing through the furnace kept it fairly cool, and then found its way up to the surface by the huge chimney, meeting on its way with sundry small supplies of water which, falling, dropped musically into the dismal receptacle below. Delay to the hungry travellers was out of the question — seats were taken, Mr. Croudace in the chair, and the Rev. J. S. Wood, who officiated as vice, having asked a blessing, the busy clatter of knives and forks commenced, subdued only by the strains of the band, which played at intervals. The only drawback to the enjoyment was the unavoidable absence of several gentlemen who had been invited. The cloth having been cleared, The Chairman gave ‘ The Queen.’ This toast having been duly honored, ‘The Governor, the Earl of Belmore,’ followed. In proposing this toast, the chairman said it really did seem very strange that neither the late nor the present governor, although they could find plenty of time to attend horticultural and agricultural societies, had ever visited any of the collieries. He could assure His Excellency that it would not in any way be derogatory to his position to do so, and were he ever to visit one he would find that he could be right properly entertained. The chairman then proposed ‘The Army, Navy, and Volunteers,’ pointing out at the same time how necessary they were to the safety of the community, both externally and internally. He thought the services well deserving of the toast.

Captain Allan returned thanks on behalf of the three branches. Mr. Sweetland proposed ‘ The Shipping and Commercial interests of Newcastle in a few brief and appropriate remarks. Mr. R. B. Wallace, as one who had made the shipping and coal interests his own for the last ten years, responded. He had closely watched the progress of those interests, and could testify to the rapid strides they had made in that period. He believed they had increased in importance more during the last eight years, than they had during the whole thirty preceeding. He remembered, in 1860, when there was no Queen’s wharf, and only one or two collieries. Coal was then 14s. 6d. a ton, and he regretted that he was not at the present time paying the same price for it. They could then not only build furnaces but assist in increasing the profits of all concerned, directly or indirectly, in the trade. The pits, in 1870, produced from fourteen to fifteen thousand tons weekly ; ten years ago they did not turn out 1000 tons in the same time. They had, during the last few hours, seen where there had been an immense amount of capital expended in that very mine, but he much feared 8s. a ton would not pay the interest on the money laid out. He thought the colliery proprietors had the remedy in their own hands, and it was their own fault if they did not seek it. For himself the coal interests, as he had said, had been his own for the last ten years, he hoped they would be for the next twenty years, and that they would prove even still more satisfactory than they had done.

The Rev. J. S. Wood proposed ‘The coal trade of New South Wales.’ The rev. gentleman looked upon the coal trade as the life blood of the colony. In the old country he had heard of the pastoral interests, the goldfields interests, but what about the coal-field interests, in which thousands within a few miles circuit of Newcastle were interested. He had, when he accepted the invitation, thought he might have to speak, but had not anticipated having so important a toast entrusted to him, especially as there was not one present who was not more or less deeply interested in the success of the coal trade of New South Wales. Not only was Lambton, but the intellect and ability of the other collieries was also represented at that table. There was a considerable amount of shipping engaged in that trade, and within a circuit of three miles, were from eight to ten thousand souls whose daily bread, whose very existence was derived from the coal trade. He thought they were engaged in something more than the mere formal drinking of that toast, when they considered that there were so many whom God had placed on the earth interested in its success. There had evidently been a large amount of capital sunk in the coal pits. He thought he might take the one he was in as a fair sample of all, and that one showed the great care and anxiety which had been taken to secure the welfare of all concerned in their working. There had been evidently great efforts made, to secure their working with safety, and for despatch in forwarding the coal to its destination. Anyone who viewed the matter with an intelligent eye must be convinced that there was a great future opening in connection with the coal trade of New South Wales, one, not to be forecast in importance. New markets were opening in every direction and the proprietors seemed determined that no outlay should be spared to lay themselves out for those markets. He had known collieries in the old country. There the descent into these mines, which the rev. gentleman described, was of a very different nature to the one they had just accomplished, to meet at its termination, with that fair tablecloth, and the spread and the friends glad to meet and join in the festal gathering. Only one thing was present in his mind, and that was that their host Mr. Croudace, must have the interest of the coal trade of Newcastle thoroughly at heart, when he found him inviting all those connected with the coal and shipping, and almost every other interest to meet as they had done in the hope that they were all determined to satisfactorily push forward the interests of the miners. Mr. Winship, who rose to respond, said he had been caught in a trap; however his duty was both easy and pleasant, and, in a most humorous speech, thanked them for the manner in which the toast had been received and, in return, proposed to give them the toast of the ‘Scottish Australian Mining Company,’ coupled with the names of Messrs. Morehead and Young. He referred to the vast and immense progress made in getting coal to the surface since the introduction of steam power and also in getting it away from the pits’ mouth. He believed that but for the energy displayed by Messrs. Morehead and Young, the trade would have been a nonentity. He highly approved of the furnace and also believed in the necessity of raising the price of coal, and concluded by eulogising the able manner in which Mr. Croudace had conducted the operations of the mine. This toast was drunk in champagne, and as the chairman remarked with ‘no bottoms.’

Mr. Croudace responded. He said the prosperity of the company he represented was his own. Of Mr. Morehead’s behaviour towards himself he could not speak too highly. To return to the present position of the coal trade; the Lambton colliery had been severely censured from beginning to end. He maintained that the remedy was not, as Mr. Wallace had said, in the hands of the proprietors, nothing they could do, could set aside the laws of nature, the laws governing the relations of supply and demand. He had always opposed the 10s. agreement, and for many reasons. No artificial arrangement could alter the laws of supply and demand. It was thus in all trades, competition had its effects; he would always prefer competition to monopoly. All the advantages of civilisation they were now enjoying were the results of competition. The consumer’s interest must be considered if they wished to consult their own. If however, the Lambton colliery saw its way to an honest increase in price he would support it. In the matter of the small coal trade, the Lambton Colliery was the first to demand an advance in price, and he had stuck out for an increased price in order to give the other collieries an opportunity of doing the same; as in another in stance another Company had had to do. The coalminers’ wages were safe enough, as the rival companies were only too ready and willing to engage them in the face of any reduction ever being proposed by any colliery. Let them have a community of views and interests, and then the coal trade would be in a more satisfactory state. Lambton had commenced nine years ago at 9s. a ton, and then Mr. Morehead had told him that he would never realise his expectations. He thought coal would yet be lower. At home, coal miners took the matter in a fair, business-like way, and thus commanded respect. It was not so here. As to the important influence the collieries exercised on the prosperity of the district there could not be two opinions. His friend Mr. Sweetland could give them some rather startling information on that point, as to the enormous sums of money drawn every fortnight for payment of wages alone. This much was certain — if capital did no good it did no harm, and one could always go back to the state of the savage; but capital as a rule tended to good, and very rarely to harm. It would be hard to say how much mutual respect would be enhanced by a community of views and interests, and if men were bound to work well together. He felt deeply sorry that there were no representatives of the Sydney folks present; he regretted deeply that none of them were present to respond to the toast which had been proposed, but on their behalf he thanked them for the honour they had done them.

Mr. C. F. Stokes then rose and said that he had a toast to propose. To a gentleman present, and to his perseverance and ability it was well known that the Lambton colliery was greatly indebted for its present satisfactory state. He (Mr. S.) had had no idea of the spread he was coming to, and spoke in high terms of praise of Mr. Croudace’s residence, the cleanly state of the pit, and the grand furnace banquet-hall. He was so pleased with everything that he had that day seen that he hoped it would not be the last lunch that he should partake of on the bars of a furnace. He thought these little reunions promoted a good and kindly feeling. This one showed what great good could be done by the superintendents of these large establishments meeting and mixing with those who were so largely concerned in the principal interests of the district. He would propose the health and happiness of their host, Mr. Croudace.

The Rev. J. S. Wood would also say a few words in reference to the toast. Whatever could be done to promote the moral and spiritual happiness of the Lambton people, from the very first, Mr. Croudace had done. The school of arts and the large public school were largely indebted to him for his fostering aid and timely assistance; they were inferior to none out of Sydney, and had been mainly built and furnished by the company, no doubt, acting under his advice. There was thus additional cause for drinking heartily to the health and happiness of their host, who had worked so hard to forward the best interests of that district. No widow or orphan ever applied to him for aid that they did not receive, and he could see no reason why the present company should not accord to him the usual honors. ‘ For he’s a jolly good fellow’ was sung.

Mr. Croudace rose and said he sometimes attended meetings and heard votes of thanks proposed which he was anxious to ascertain the meaning of. On the present occasion he felt rather short of moral courage, but would just say a few words as to why they had been called together. He had come out from England expressly to manage the company. Everything that had been done had emanated from himself. The large furnace which had been erected and in which they were sitting would he hoped, be associated with his name and handed down to future generations. His idea on that occasion had been to bring together certain people who had not up to that time pulled over well together. He had always looked ahead, and he was then doing so. Mr. Short, Mr. Avery and himself had been discussing the matter of the opening of the new furnace, when Mr. Short proposed the novel idea of giving an entertainment on the fire-bars. He had then asked Mr. Neilson and Mr. Winship in order to try and bring them together, and he was sure they had never seen such a thing as that meeting before. The largest furnace at home measured 12 by 13 feet, the one they were in was somewhat larger; the largest one was at Hetton, and the Lambton one was some 30 feet larger. The company had certainly been at great expense in its erection, but it was fully repaid, if only in the pleasure of that social gathering. The cost as he had estimated it was £1000. He had at one time, been deterred by the magnitude of the outlay, and thought of stopping half-way, but he was glad he had not done so. However simple it might appear on the surface, great difficulties beset its construction, but he was happy to be able to say that no accident had occurred during the whole time the men had been working at it. At one time part of the roof came down. They then found that the hard stuff lay 9 ft. below the seam, but they knew they must go on to that hard stuff so as to avoid all, what was known as — crushing pressure. The foundations 4ft. 3in. broad, were composed of Sydney and Waratah stone, and eventually, when the work was completed, it was found that the actual cost had been £1004 10s. 11d. In the interests of the trade he had always held that he must always look, not to the present, but to the future. As affecting especially the Lambton colliery, there was much that he had cause to feel very proud of. Ventilation was a subject that required a deal of thought. Experiments at home had shown how necessary it was that they should grasp at once the greatest ventilating power. To obtain the proper combustion of the air, they must see that adequate openings had been left in the furnace, and that the truest principles were studied in its construction. Referring to the size of the furnaces he drew attention to the increase of power being always in proportion to the increase of squares, and explained that were the shaft 800 feet instead of four hundred feet high, it would produce double the effect. They had done, however, the best that could be done under the circumstances, the most they could do was to lessen the evils the miners were subjected to in their underground labour, and this they had endeavoured to do to the utmost of their power. He felt the strongest interest in Lambton and his Lambton friends, because as he might say he was present at the birth of Lambton, and knew it from beginning to end, and if anyone had, then must he have felt great zeal in forwarding its prosperity, independently of his interest as manager of the company. But however zealous he might have shown himself he must beg to associate with himself in the toast his officials, without whose assistance he could not have done much, it was they who carried out all his orders, and he must beg to be allowed to add the names of Messrs. Short and Avery to the toast.

Mr. Cotton, in a neat and appropriate speech, proposed the health of Mrs. Croudace, for which Mr. Croudace returned thanks. Mr. Lewis proposed the Press, which was responded to. Two or three other toasts were then drank, and the party, returning once more to the surface by the road it had come, were played to the carriages by the band — who concluded their performance with the national anthem — and returned to town a little after ten in the evening, after passing a very pleasant and instructive afternoon in the bowels of the earth.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
8 Jun 1871
3 Jun 1871
Inauguration of Lambton Colliery ventilating furnace.
15 Jun 1925"The air current [in the colliery] has always been regarded as good, all foul air being drawn from the pit by means of the upcast furnace shaft, located near the manager's residence on the Charlestown-road."
20 Jun 1936"The installation of a ventilating fan in 1926 allowed miners to penetrate to places which could not have been reached under the old system of ventilation by furnaces."

East Lambton Colliery

Often historical photographs feature a successful person, event or building. But sometimes an old photograph is a snapshot of failure. Such is the case with the East Lambton Colliery. Somewhat confusingly this colliery was not located in East Lambton, but in New Lambton (near present day Novocastrian Park), on land owned by the Waratah Coal Company.

The mine was worked under the tribute system, where a large mining company having extracted all the easily won coal, would lease their mine to a smaller third party. The lease holder would then attempt to make a profit from the remaining coal by cutting costs, usually by reducing miners’ wages. Depending on where your political sympathies lay, this was viewed as either a good or evil arrangement.

Because of the constant need to cut costs, collieries run under the tribute system tended to face constant troubles. East Lambton was no exception. In its short life between 1888 and 1894 there were disputes about unpaid wages, court cases over subcontractors, and arguments about leases and ownership.

The mine also laboured under physical difficulties, with issues of flooding and having to dig shafts through harder than expected rock. All this led to a rather shambolic and perilous workplace. A close inspection of Ralph Snowball’s photo shows an untidy scene of rubbish, machinery and materials strewn all over the place. There was a fatality in 1891 when a large metal pipe fell down a shaft and struck a miner.

The colliery proved to be unprofitable and closed in January 1895, and the land in the area remained vacant and undeveloped for the next 50 years. Following World War 2, new housing subdivisions quickly and completely covered all trace of the former troubled colliery.

The legacy of the troubled East Lambton pit can perhaps best be summed up in the final words of the Newcastle Herald and Miners’ Advocate report on its abandonment …

“The closing of the colliery will not be felt.”

East Lambton Colliery in 1892. Photo by Ralph Snowball. NSW State Archives and Records.
Suburban serenity now covers the site of the troubled East Lambton Colliery. © 2020 Google. Image Landsat / Copernicus Image © 2021 Maxar Technologies

The article above was first published in the February 2021 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

The Tribute System

The tribute system of working mines and the attitude of the miners’ union to it, is nicely summarised in this 1887 article from The Daily Telegraph …

At a special meeting of miners’ delegates held to-day, at which 14 lodges were represented, it was decided to hold an aggregate meeting of the miners of this district at Waratah on the 16th inst,. to take into consideration the tribute system and other grievances existing in this district. This is owing to the unsatisfactory reply given by Mr Binney, secretary of the Associated Coalowners, to the request of the officers of the Miners’ Union for a conference with the masters’ executive. The tribute system, which the miners consider is a growing evil in the district, consists in the colliery proprietors letting out portions of their estate to persons other than themselves, who endeavor to cut down the price paid for hewing coal at the associated collieries. The miners consider the system detrimental to their interest, and look upon the masters as in directly, if not directly, responsible for reducing the wages.

The Daily Telegraph, 8 July 1887.

Colliery Location

The location of the East Lambton Colliery was difficult to pin down, as I have not found any map that unambiguously identifies the site. I have been able to ascertain the location by drawing conclusions from a number of separate pieces of information, in particular, information on land sales and ownership. The key clues are:

  1. The mine was located in the New Lambton Municipality. (See notice about council rates being in arrears in November 1893.)
  2. In September 1893 the mine was on land owned by the Waratah Coal Company.
  3. In May 1896 the Caledonian Coal Company unsuccessfully appealed the municipal rates for “enclosed land, site of the old East Lambton Colliery”, indicating they were the current owners.
  4. The pit was sunk “for the purpose of working a block of coal left by the New Lambton Company.

In the Historical Lands Records Viewer, Vol-Fol 947-59A shows an area of 357 acres in New Lambton area, owned by the Waratah Coal Company in 1889.

Overlaying this area (yellow) and the outline of New Lambton Municipality (cyan) into Google Earth, shows us the intersection of the two areas where the East Lambton Colliery must be located.

The image below shows intersecting area in green. To the west, outlined in white are the mining leases of the New Lambton Coal Company.

From Vol-Fol 947-59A, following the chain of title leads to Vol-Fol 1096-70 and 1485-171, which shows a sale in July 1896 of

  • a roughly triangular piece of land, on the border between Waratah Coal Company mining lease and New Lambton Coal Company mining lease
  • plus the railway easement for the Raspberry Gully line
  • plus a thin railway easement to the triangular block of land
From Vol-Fol 1096-70
Vol-Fol 1485-171

The shape of the triangular block plus the railway easement can still be seen 48 years later in a 1944 aerial photograph.

Close up of triangular area of land. There is round feature in the middle which might be the sunken depression of the former shaft.
Purchase of land in 1896 by Caledonian Coal Co, overlaid into Google Earth.

The location of the triangular area of land resolves what at first appears to be contradiction in the newspaper reports – that the mine was on Waratah Coal Company land, but extracting New Lambton Company coal. Being on the border, the surface operations and shaft were on Waratah Coal Company land, but would give access to New Lambton Company coal by tunnelling westwards. This also explains the reference on 27 July 1889 that flooding of the workings “may find its way into the Lambton Company’s workings”, because the Lambton Company workings were to the west of the New Lambton Company workings.

This site also matches the 1892 photograph, in which we can see the wooded hill (now Blackbutt Reserve) of the Sottish Australian Mining Company’s Lambton mineral lease in the background, and a rail line in the foreground.

There is one slight anomaly in the data placing the East Lambton Colliery in this location – the Caledonian Company’s appeal against Municipal rates was in May 1896, but the transfer of land to them is dated July 1896. My guess is that the rates were in arrears, and that the Caledonian Company had to pay the rates owing before the land purchase was allowed to proceed.

The rapid suburban development in post World War 2 years in the area of the former East Lambton Colliery, is starkly seen when comparing a 1944 aerial photograph (left) with a 1954 aerial photograph (right).

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
4 Jul 1888"WANTED, a BLACKSMITH, used to colliery work. Apply to WILLIAMS & GRIFFITHS, East Lambton Colliery."
28 Aug 1888East Lambton Colliery is being worked under tribute to the New Lambton proprietors by Mr. M. Yates and party "who are also contractors for supplying the G. N. Railway with coal for the mail and passenger trains."
27 Jul 1889"Messrs. Griffiths and Williams, lessees of the East Lambton Colliery, have been for some time past engaged in pumping the water from a shaft adjacent to their mine, and had it nearly cleared out, but the heavy rains have entirely flooded it again, which is a serious loss to the firm. A pitfall also was caused near the main road, which has allowed the water to flow more freely into the old workings of Mr. Yates' colliery, and it is the opinion of a well-known miner that this water may find its way into the Lambton Company's workings."
3 Sep 1889"TENDERS will be received up to September 7th, for REMOVAL OF TWO (2) COAL SCREENS and REERECTING. Plans and particulars apply T. G. GRIFFITHS, Colliery Manager, East Lambton Coal Company, New Lambton."
30 Oct 1889"John Prout sued Isaac Robinson for the sum of £7 10s as wages for labour done. Defendant admitted the debt, but alleged his inability to pay until he received payment for certain work done in sinking a shaft at East Lambton Colliery."
9 Dec 1889
6 Dec 1889
Court cases involving the East Lambton Colliery - unpaid wages, wrongful dismissal.
20 Jan 1890Mining rules for East Lambton Colliery published in Government Gazette.
15 Feb 1890"For some considerable time past Mr. T. G. Griffiths has been engaged driving in the East Lambton colliery towards the old workings of the Waratah Company, in order to tap the large accumulation of water therein, and a few days ago most successfully succeeded in his undertaking. The result will be that a large quantity of coal will soon be obtainable from both Waratah and New Lambton collieries."
3 Jan 1891
2 Jan 1891
Fatality in the old Blakey Shaft, being reopened as an airshaft for the East Lambton Colliery.
5 Jan 1891Inquest into the fatality at the Blakey shaft.
1 Feb 1892"A dispute has occurred at the East Lambton Mine between the manager and miners in regard to the remuneration for work."
6 Feb 1892East Lambton Colliery now under tribute to D. Fairfull, J. McReth, W. Bunn, and B. Austin, from Mr Griffith.
30 Mar 1892East Lambton Colliery was always teetering on the brink of bankruptcy … "ON FRIDAY, the first day of April, 1892, at noon, unless the warrant of fieri facias herein be previously satisfied, the Sheriff will cause to be sold by public auction at the East Lambton Colliery, The PLANT, &c., of a Colliery, comprising Coal Waggons, Pumps, Pit Horses, &c., &c."
2 Apr 1892
1 Apr 1892
"The East Lambton Colliery was sold by auction, by command of the Supreme Court, yesterday, for the sum of £400, Mr. Johnstone, of South Wallsend, being the purchaser."
9 Apr 1892"The trouble at East Lambton Colliery is not yet settled. Mr. Griffith, despite the sale of the colliery to Mr. Johnston, claims ownership. While the parties are fighting for their right to the colliery the miners are idle and unable to get the hard-earned money due to them."
13 Sep 1892"THE East Lambton Colliery started yesterday. About 20 men were employed"
7 Aug 1893"East Lambton pit was sunk about five years ago for the purpose of working a block of coal left by the New Lambton Company. Almost since the day a start was made to put down the shaft there has been a continuance of disputes and no end of trouble, and the present is not the first time the workmen have had to wait for their money."
15 Aug 1893"The miners of the East Lambton pit have not received the pay due to them on the 4th instant, and have instructed a solicitor to take legal steps for its recovery." The Miner's Association, being opposed to the tribute system, were not very sympathetic towards the unpaid miners, viewing them as strike breakers.
29 Aug 1893The bankruptcy Sequestration Order made in 1892 against proprietors of East Lambton Colliery (Griffiths, Huntley, Trickett, Russell, Campbell) was annulled, "the costs, charges, and expenses of Lancelot Threlkeld Lloyd" having been paid.
26 Sep 1893"Operations at the East Lambton Colliery are once more suspended …"

The Waratah Company having leased the mine to John Johnston of Cardiff colliery, who then sub-let the mine to others, and then a disagreement arose with the Waratah Company, who then locked the workers out.

"Matters at the colliery have been from a public standpoint in a greatly complicated state for a considerable time, and it is a most difficult question to solve as to who has the right to the colliery."
6 Oct 1893
4 Oct 1893
At a New Lambton Council meeting attention was called "to the dangerous state of the enclosure of the old Blakey shaft. Children made a practice of going inside and throwing stones down the shaft." The council decided to "write to the lessees of East Lambton Colliery, asking them to protect the shaft."
17 Nov 1893
15 Nov 1893
At New Lambton Council meeting a letter was received "from Messrs. Sparke and Millard, in regard to recovery of the East Lambton Colliery rates."
9 Apr 1894"THE Goods and Chattels of the above Defendant, Thomas S. Huntley, at the East Lambton Colliery, will be sold by public auction on MONDAY"
25 Jan 1895"EAST LAMBTON COLLIERY. This colliery has been abandoned. The pumps and rails are removed from the pit. The machinery is being taken to pieces and removed to South Waratah Colliery. During the past year only a few men were employed, and the last few weeks only three or four men were engaged. The seam worked in the pit was very hard, which, aided by other difficulties, did not allow of it being remunerative. The colliery was let to different tribute parties. The closing of the colliery will not be felt."
14 May 1896At the New Lambton Municipal Appeals Court, rates were confirmed for "Caledonian Coal Company, enclosed land, site of the old East Lambton Colliery, annual value £10."

A Picnic Homecoming

This month’s photograph, taken at the border between Lambton and New Lambton looking along Howe Street invites the question “Why is a large group of well-dressed adults and children walking along the tram track towards Lambton?” The answer turns out to be related to transport, but not to trams.

When Lambton Colliery began in 1863 a railway was built to haul coal to the harbour. Roads into Newcastle were in a very poor state and a trip to town was a major undertaking. An appealing alternative was to travel by train.  For a few years the colliery allowed passengers in the guards’ van of their coal trains at a cost of 6 shillings per trip. Tiring of this arrangement, they doubled the price in 1866, then ceased the service in 1867.

Residents agitated for the return of a passenger train service, and in 1874 the Waratah Coal Company gave permission for the Government to run a passenger train to Lambton on the railway to their new coal workings. This train operated on Saturdays and public holidays only, with pick-up and set-down at Betty Bunn’s crossing, located at the bottom end of Acacia Avenue where it meets Griffiths Road. The service ceased in 1887 when the tramline through Lambton began operation.

Afterwards the Lambton Colliery railway was occasionally used to convey passengers to special events. One example was the Lambton Public School annual picnic day on Wednesday 25 February 1903. At 9am a train of seven cars left Lambton colliery with 500 children and 400 adults on board and headed for Toronto. On arrival there were refreshments, sports competitions, musical entertainments, and Ralph Snowball was on hand to take group photographs.

At day’s end the picnickers returned by train to Lambton and disembarked near the bridge over the tram line. In the fading light of a summer’s evening as they headed for their homes, Snowball took a final photograph, capturing one of the last occasions a passenger train arrived at Lambton.

Heading home after Lambton Public School Picnic in 1903. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
Hobart Rd and Howe St in 2020.

The article above was first published in the November 2020 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

Photo date

In the article published in The Local, I stated without qualification that the Snowball photo was taken on 25 February 1903 on the occasion of the Lambton Public School Picnic. It is important to note that the photo has no direct attribution to this date and event, but this conclusion is based on indirect evidence. Behind this story was an interesting case of how to locate and date a photograph.

When the University of Newcastle Cultural Collections first uploaded Snowball’s photo to their Flickr site, somehow it was mistakenly captioned “View from a train, Singleton”. In 2013 both John Shoebridge and Robert Watson identified that the scene was Lambton, and not Singleton. Robert in particular confirmed the location as being Lambton by comparing a number of houses on the top of the hill with another old photo of Lambton.

Houses near Dent St on mis-captioned photo.
Houses near Dent St, Lambton.

In determining the date of the photo, back in 2014 Robert noted that there was an electric light pole, which meant the photo was taken in or after 1890, when Lambton first installed electric lighting.

Electric light pole on Howe St.

The tram line in the photo is only a single track, and as the duplication of this portion of the tram route was only opened in July 1911, this indicates that the photo is in the time range 1890 to 1911. Using this information, and noting a similarity with another photo of a dressed up crowd in Lambton Park, I made a guess back in 2014 that the photo might have been on the occasion of the celebrations to inaugurate the electric light scheme in September 1890. Not an unreasonable guess, but as it turns out, wrong.

The next step in unravelling the mystery came six years later, when Robert revisited the photo and made two key observations.

  1. The people in the photo are almost all women and children, with very few men.
  2. A couple of the children are waving flags.

I did a careful count of the people in the photo and found that adult women outnumbered the adult men, three to one. This would indicate that the event being captured took place on a weekday, when the majority of men would be at work. The large number of children would then suggest that this is a school event. This is supported by looking at one of the flags being held aloft, which appears to be the NSW State flag, suggesting that the event was connected with the Lambton Public School.

Child waving flag.
NSW State flag.

Prompted by Robert’s observations I then made a third key observation – that the crowd in the photo is not random or dispersing. With one lone exception there are no people in the side streets. Everyone is heading in the same direction. This would indicate that the people are moving as a group, having come from a particular point and heading towards a particular destination. This would be consistent with the idea that the group has just disembarked from a train on the colliery railway and are heading home to Lambton.

Given that the crowd is well dressed I made a guess that the event was connected with a picnic, and along with the three key observations already noted, I searched in Trove in the known date range for the keywords “Lambton train school picnic”, which immediately revealed a very likely candidate for the occasion – the Lambton Public School picnic on 25 February 1903.

One final and compelling confirmation of this dating, came from Newcastle Library’s Hunter Photo Bank collection. Knowing that the collection had quite a number of Ralph Snowball picnic photos, I searched the collection and found a photo that Ralph had taken at the school picnic at Toronto on that day. It is quite probable that Snowball travelled with the school group in the chartered train, and took a photograph of the disembarked passengers from the train carriage up on the embankment before the rail line traversed the bridges over Hobart Rd and Howe St.

Group photo from Lambton Public School picnic at Toronto, 25 February 1903. Ralph Snowball, Hunter Photo Bank.

There is one other documented occasion, on 23 November 1900, when Lambton Public School travelled by train to a picnic at Toronto. It may be that Snowball’s photo was from this earlier picnic, but given the Hunter Photo Bank picnic photo, I think it much more likely that it is of the February 1903 picnic.

The Waratah Company Rail LINE Passenger Service

Passenger train services to and from Lambton on the Waratah Coal Company’s railway commenced on Monday 25 April 1874, with a special train on the Queen’s birthday public holiday.  Regular weekly Saturday evening services then commenced the following Saturday 30 May 1874. By March 1875, falling patronage meant that services were reduced to alternate Saturdays. The last passenger train on the line ran on Saturday 19 August 1887.

Passenger pick-up and set-down was at a location known as “Betty Bunn’s Crossing”, which was the point where the road between Lambton and Waratah crossed the coal company’s railway.

1906 map showing the Waratah and Lambton coal company railways, annotated with passenger service embarkation locations. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

I have never seen an old map with Betty Bunn’s Crossing marked on it, but all the evidence of many newspaper articles points to it being the crossing of the Waratah coal rail line with the Lambton to Waratah road. Another reasonably clear indication of the location is the death notice for Thomas George Griffith who died “at Betty Bunn’s Crossing” in 1918.  The 1906 map shows his property adjacent to the crossing.

Death notice for Thomas George Griffith, of Betty Bunn’s Crossing, Lambton. 16 May 1918
Property location of T. G. Griffith, Lambton
Notice in Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate, 19 Aug 1887, advising of discontinuance of passenger train services to Waratah Tunnels near Lambton.
Railway Timetables printed on 19 Aug 1887 and 20 Aug 1887, showing the dropping of the fortnightly Waratah Tunnels service.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
12 Dec 1862
9 Dec 1862
Passing of "Morehead and Young Railway Act" to enable the construction of the Lambton Colliery railway.
25 Aug 1863By August 1863 the Lambton colliery railway was almost completed : "… the Waratah and Lambton Collieries, whose branch lines are already formed, only requiring some further slight addition being made to their permanent ways."
6 Oct 1866"A meeting of miners was held at Pit Town, for the purpose of expressing the disapprobation of themselves and the inhabitants of Lambton and Pit Town generally, at the recent raising of the passenger's fares on the Lambton railway from 6d. to 11d. The meeting resolved that a deputation of four wait upon Mr. Croudace, the colliery manager, and ask him to represent to the Government the following requests, namely: 1. That the fares be lowered to 6d ; 2. That return tickets be issued on the railway ; 3. That a carriage in lieu of the present break van be substituted for passengers."
3 Sep 1867"Within the past few days a memorial has been taken round the city, to which the names of a large number of the inhabitants have been attached, for presentation to the Minister for Works, with reference to having a regular passenger train to run between this city and the various coal mines, on a Saturday, for the convenience of the people residing in those localities who are desirous of visiting Newcastle."
13 Nov 1869Call for a passenger train on the Lambton railway … "Why not, in order to give the enterprise a fair chance, have a thorough special train for Saturday afternoons, to leave Old Lambton (which would suit the requirements of the neighbourhood of Dark Creek and New Lambton, too) say, at, from four to half-past four o'clock."

The letter writer also notes the bad state of the roads … "Lambtonians have to wend their way betimes up to their knees in mud through a nasty road, extending over a distance of from two to five miles, to reach the Government six o'clock train at Waratah, which is by no means a pleasant undertaking, particularly after a hard day's work, and which few, from mere choice, care about tackling, I can tell you. "
9 Dec 1871
5 Sep 1871
Public meeting “to establish a goods and passenger traffic on the Lambton Colliery railway.”
16 Mar 1872In regard to "a petition from the inhabitants of Lambton, praying that a goods and passenger train may be run to Newcastle" the Commissoner of Railways writes that "by a special arrangement with Messrs. Morehead and Young, a passenger train used to run to Lambton, but in January, '67, they asked to be relieved ; this was consented to, and the traffic then ceased. I cannot, therefore, reintroduce the practice without, the consent of Messrs. Morehead and Young."
19 Aug 1873
16 Aug 1873
It appears that there are occasional passenger services on the Lambton line on pay Saturday's … "This being pay-night, the principal street in the city was more thronged than we have seen it for a considerable time past. The various trains from Wallsend and Lambton brought in a large number of passengers, and these added much to fill our main street."
7 Feb 1874"Here is the case of the people living at Lambton and New Lambton ; and so far as railway communication is concerned, they are completely isolated, although when the pits are at work they have from four to five trains per day running to each of the collieries; but being private ones, and the proprietors refusing to allow passenger traffic on them."
21 Feb 1874
28 Feb 1874
A one-off experiment of a passenger service to be tried. "The committee appointed to agitate for a train to run between Newcastle and Lambton have at last succeeded, after great exertions and through strenuous efforts … A special passenger train will run from Newcastle to Old Lambton Crossing on Saturday night, the 28th February, 1874. The train will leave Lambton for Newcastle on or about 5 o'clock p.m., and returning from Newcastle to Lambton on or about 11 p.m. The fares will be 9d. for the return ticket and sixpence for the single fare."
6 Mar 1874
28 Feb 1874
"A Saturday night train commenced to run from Lambton to Newcastle on the 28th ultimo, and over 500 return tickets were taken, besides single ones; the brass band accompanied the excursionists, amounting in number to about 900. "
7 Mar 1874
28 Feb 1874
"Saturday last was a new era in Lambtonian history. The passenger train, as announced, arrived here about 4 p.m. with fourteen carriages and the van, and long before the appointed time for starting almost every available seat was occupied. We have heard that there were more than 500 tickets sold. If this train is to be permanent, as we hope it will, there will have to be some other arrangement for giving out the tickets, for it will never do for people to have to climb up into the guard's van, as was the case on Saturday."

"This train is a fine thing for the business people in Newcastle, but quite the reverse for our town's business folk, who are considerably down in the mouth about so much ready money going out of their hands … the next step ought to be to agitate for a goods train to be run here."
14 Mar 1874
12 Mar 1874
Newcastle Chronicle's report of a public meeting to discuss getting a passenger train service to Lambton. An allegation is made that business people agitated against aregular train service as it would hurt their trade.
Mr W Goodhew “observed that the Lambton line was a good and convenient one no doubt, but when they were allowed the use of it on one night, and deprived of it the next what dependence could be placed on it. He moved that application be made to the directors of the Waratah Coal Company for permission to run the train on their line of railway to the new tunnel, to Betty Bunn's crossing.”
14 Mar 1874
12 Mar 1874
The Newcastle Morning Herald's report of the public meeting regarding a passenger train service to Lambton. The report notes that "Mr. Croudace, the Manager, has granted permission for a passenger train to be run from here to Newcastle on the demonstration day and also for a Saturday night's train for four Saturdays ; and if it proves payable, the train will run regularly." Despite this promising sign, a regular train service on the Lambton line never eventuated.
18 Mar 1874"Great disappointment was felt at the non-arrival of the passenger train last Saturday evening. There were about 200 or 300 passengers waiting, who had to return to their homes annoyed. The blame is attributed to Mr. Croudace, for, I believe if he would consent to the train's running, the Government would; and, the advantage the inhabitants would derive would be very great."
31 Mar 1874"The subcommittee appointed to conduct the application to the Waratah Coal Company, for a passenger train to be laid on, have received a reply from the directors, expressing their willingness to grant the request … The sub-committee accordingly waited upon Mr. Higgs, the traffic manager, to gain the required Government permission, and that gentleman has informed them that there were some arrangements pending respecting a train to be laid on by the Lambton Company, which had not yet been decided upon."
4 Apr 1874"A meeting of parties interested in the Lambton train movement was held at the Lambton crossing, Mr. T. Hardy in the chair, when it was determined to send a deputation to the Minister for Works, to impress upon him the necessity of running a passenger train to this town at once."
23 May 1874"I have been instructed to inform you that the directors of the Waratah Coal Company have no objection to the Government running, for the convenience of the inhabitants of the district, on Saturday nights and holidays passenger trains on the Waratah Coal Company's private line of railway, from the junction with Great Northern Railway to the Company's new tunnel, at the same rate as it is done on the Wallsend Coal Company's line, provided arrangements are made so as not to interfere with the Waratah Company's coal traffic, and that the Government construct at its own cost all sidings, platforms, landing places, &c., which may be required for passenger traffic."

The following Monday, being a public holiday for Queen Victoria's birthday, "arrangements were made for the train to leave Bunn's crossing on Monday, 25th May at half-past 10 o'clock a.m."
27 May 1874
25 May 1874
First passenger train on the Waratah Company railway.
"The Railway Auditors laid on a train from Bunn's Crossing, on the Waratah Company's line, on Queen's Birthday, which was moderately patronised."

In the same week that passenger trains start running to Lambton on the Waratah Company line, promises are being made to run passenger trains on the Lambton colliery line … "The following arrangement was made, between Mr. Croudace, on behalf of the Lambton Company, and the Minister, viz., that [Government] trains should be run ... that the Company give their line free and keep it clear of their own traffic ... The Government to take all other responsibility … this arrangement to come in force immediately after the holidays."
In spite of this arrangement being made, nothing came of it.
30 May 1874"Although the Minister for Works promised that a passenger train should be run to this town on the first Saturday after the holidays, no communication whatever has been received by the Traffic Manager on the subject. The arrangement made between the Minister for Works and Mr. Croudace was that four trains should be run, commencing on the first Saturday after Queen's Birthday."
2 Jun 1874
30 May 1874
"On Saturday, the first evening train for passengers ran from the Waratah Co.'s Tunnels to Newcastle, for the accommodation of a large population in that neighbourhood. The number of passengers by whom it was availed of, amply testified the necessity for the convenience. We take it for granted that the train will be continued, as otherwise the people of Grovestown and Lambton would have to give up all idea of getting into Newcastle during the winter evenings, either by way of the Broad Meadow or Waratah, the former being a sheet of water, and the latter a perfect slough of mud."
18 Jun 1874"Nothing further has transpired here with reference to the granting of a passenger train [on the Lambton line], and many are now of opinion that it will not be allowed, as the one from the Waratah Tunnels is so central."
4 Aug 1874
1 Aug 1874
Fatal accident on the Waratah Company railway, when the Saturday evening passenger train strikes Andrew Tunney, who while drunk was riding his horse along the railway.
11 Aug 1874After the death of Andrew Tunney on the railway line, the passenger service to Lambton is halted. A conspiracy theory arises that storekeepers on the inquest jury had a vested interest in stopping the passenger service in order to keep business in the town.
17 Mar 1875"I believe that it is also intended to make another effort towards getting a passenger train on the Lambton line, and with some chance of success. Mr. Croudace has been heard to express his willingness to allow it, and no doubt the Government will have seen by this time the fallacy of running the train to the Waratah New Tunnels. As a proof that they have seen their mistake the train is now only run on alternate Saturdays, and then with very few passengers, the majority of the people preferring to walk to Waratah station or down the line to Hamilton rather than go to the new tunnels, which is very little nearer."
22 Sep 1875
18 Sep 1875
A public meeting to petition the Governemnt "asking them to construct a branch line of railway from the Great Northern, through Lambton, and thence to Wallsend."
"It was one of the anomalies of the coal-mining district of Newcastle that a line of railway came into the centre of each township, and yet the residents could not travel on these lines at all, or they did so as a favour, granted by the coal companies, which they could withdraw at any time."

The movement pushing for this railway never gained momentum. Instead, in the next decade the push was for a tram line rather than a train line to Wallsend.
28 Apr 1876The possibility of running a special passenger train on Lambton line to take patrons to see a performance of “Little Nell” at the Victoria Theatre is discussed. "I am sure that Mr. Croudace would allow a train to run on his railway for this purpose. He has obliged Mr. Bennett in this way before and would do so again."
4 Jan 1877
1 Jan 1877
A rather tongue-in-cheek one sentence report of a minor incident on the Waratah Tunnels line … "The gates on the Waratah Railway were closed when the Passenger train was coming up from Newcastle on New Year's night, but the engine opened them without a key."
27 Feb 1877"The alteration in time of the Pay-Saturdays' passenger train to the Waratah Company's Tunnel, from 2 o'clock p.m. to 11 o'clock a m., does not meet with the approbation of the public. The housewives especially are dissatisfied with the alteration, as 11 o'clock is too soon for them to leave home, having their domestic duties to attend to."
6 Apr 1880
3 Apr 1880
"On Saturday evening Gordon's 'bus was capsized near Bunn's crossing, when coming from the 10 o'clock train. "
29 Jun 1883"At the last Municipal Council meeting Alderman Thornton very properly drew attention to the want of accommodation, in the shape of a platform, at the Waratah Company's tunnel, for the use of passengers travelling from there to Newcastle on pay Saturdays."
2 May 1885Grievance from a Lambton miner's wife regarding the general uncleanliness of the Waratah tunnel train.
19 Aug 1887
13 Aug 1887
Last passenger train on the Waratah Tunnels railway. An advertisement on the following Friday announces the discontinuance of the service.
23 Nov 1900
21 Nov 1900
Lambton Public School picnic to Toronto. "About 9 a.m. upwards of 600 children, all nicely dressed in holiday attire, with their flags and banners, presented themselves at the school grounds, and formed a spectacle well worth witnessing. A procession was then formed, and the little ones marched along Elder-street and through the park to the Lambton Colliery railway, where, thanks to the kindness of Mr. T. Croudace in granting the use of the line, a train of seven cars awaited them."
5 Feb 1903Planning meeting for the Lambton Public School picnic. "It was decided to hold the picnic at Toronto, entraining the children at the Lambton Colliery railway, as in the previous year, if Mr. Croudace and Mr. Kitching will permit the train to run on the colliery line."
(The reference to a picnic train "in the previous year" is a little puzzling, as I can find no record of that event. It may be that it is a time-inaccurate reference to the picnic in November 1900, two years previously.)
21 Feb 1903"The annual picnic of the Lambton Public School will be held on Wednesday, the 25th instant. The train will leave Lambton Colliery at 9 a.m., calling at all stations on the way to Toronto. There has been an energetic committee at work for some months, preparing for the event, and it is hoped that the parents will show their appreciation of the good work done by attending in large numbers on that day."
27 Feb 1903
25 Feb 1903
"The annual picnic of the local Public School, took place at Toronto on Wednesday, and was largely attended by the parents and the general public. A train of seven cars left the Lambton Colliery railway at 9 a.m., containing about 500 children and 400 adults … The return journey was made in time to allow the little ones to get home before dark."

The Megalomaniacal Mine Manager Myth

I’ve seen it written before (but I can’t recall where) and seen it again recently, an assertion that Thomas Croudace was a megalomaniacal mine manager who built his house (Lambton Lodge) at the top of the hill so that he could watch his workers go to and from the mine, monitoring their movements.

Apart from this being an unfair and very one-sided representation of Croudace’s character, it’s also a topographical absurdity. The Lambton colliery was in a valley (where Lewis Oval is today) that is not visible from the site of Lambton Lodge. Similarly Lambton township is in a valley, and a large proportion of the  town is not visible from the Lambton Lodge hill 1.6km away.

Google Earth Pro has a neat feature called viewshed analysis, that shades in green areas that are visible from a specified point.  Even from a height 10 metres above the ground at Lambton Lodge, both the township and colliery are hidden from view.

Areas visible from the site of Lambton Lodge.

Old style medicine

Struck on the head by a plank falling from 12 feet? A leech will fix that!

Mr. Davis was engaged in the erection of some new screens near the tunnel; and; whilst walking along a plank, over balanced himself, and fell to the ground, a distance of about 12 feet. It also appears that the plank on which he had been walking followed him in the fall, and struck him on the head whilst on the ground, rendering him insensible. He was taken home, and leeches applied under professional direction.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 15 June 1878

Steaming along

After years of intending to go, I finally visited Richmond Vale Railway Museum yesterday. On the short trip on the steam train I was standing at the rear door of the passenger carriage. It was the the perfect position to take a time lapse video of the return journey as the steam engine pushed the carriage back up the hill.