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.

Lambton Central Collieries

Seven years ago, in my first article for The Local, I remarked on how little evidence of coal mining remains in our town. The gulf between the prevalence of mining and the scarcity of surviving artefacts continues to surprise me.

The pre-eminence of mining is starkly seen in historical land title records. For example, looking at the first purchaser of blocks of land in the township of Lambton we find a staggering 67% are listed as miners. There is a cavernous gap to the second most common occupations, carpenters and storekeepers at just 3% each. Mines were everywhere in Newcastle. Even into the 1950s road maps orientated motorists by showing the location of suburban collieries.

In spite of the utter dominance of coal mining, suburban development has progressively removed almost every trace of old collieries.  But some artefacts survived if they were sufficiently hidden away. I recently discovered in the heart of Blackbutt Reserve a rusting iron chimney. This was a furnace air shaft of the Lambton Central colliery, who mined a seam of coal in the middle of Blackbutt from 1936 to 1942. Around 1945 they commenced mining a different seam in the same area, naming the workings Lambton Central No. 2. Coal extracted from this seam was hauled in trucks to the old Lambton colliery railway (near present day Lewis Oval) to be loaded into rail wagons. In 1947 coal from Lambton Central was being sent to Zara St power station in Newcastle East.

Lambton Central No. 3 (Rankin Park) and Lambton Central No. 4 (Cardiff) commenced around 1951, and somewhat paradoxically Lambton Central No. 1 was the last of the company’s workings to be opened, in 1953 at Kotara. This site is now the Carnley Ave picnic area of Blackbutt Reserve. While much used and loved facilities in Blackbutt have replaced the mines, hidden parts of the Reserve still preserve a few relics of our coal mining history.

An iron chimney of a furnace air shaft of Lambton Central Colliery (1936-42), hidden in the bush of Blackbutt Reserve.
A 1950s road map showing suburban collieries, including Lambton Central No. 2 in Blackbutt Reserve, and the coal rail line in Lambton.

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


Additional Information

The history of the various “Lambton Central” collieries is somewhat difficult to pin down exactly. The original “Lambton Central Colliery” operated from 1936 to 1942, and then subsequent pits opened up by the company had a numerical suffix. Thus the second, third and fourth pits opened up, quite sensibly had the suffixes of “No. 2”, “No. 3”, and “No. 4”. But somewhat confusingly when the company opened their fifth pit in 1952 (near March St, Kotara), rather than naming it “Lambton Central Colliery No. 5”, they chose to name it “Lambton Central Colliery No. 1”, presumably to have a neat sequence of numbers from 1 to 4. (Remember that the original pit from 1936 had no numbered suffix.)

To make matters more confusing, some newspaper articles mention “Lambton Central Colliery” without any numerical suffix, and you have to work out from the context and date of the article whether that refers to

  • The original 1936-1942 mine
  • The company that operated the 5 different mines
  • One or more of the numbered mines that operated from 1945 onwards

There are two main sources of information I have used to get a timeline of the Lambton Central Collierys:

  1. Newspaper articles from Trove
  2. The Annual Reports of the Department of Mines, available at the NSW Government DIGS website.

As most newspapers in Trove only go up to 1955, and the DIGS site only has annual reports up to 1953, it is difficult to ascertain the history of the mines after this time. There is a frustratingly brief and vague report from 10 November 1956 that states

Two northern collieries, Killingworth and Lambton Central, closed today, putting 152 mine workers out of work. The Joint Coal Board could find no markets for the collieries’ coal.

The Argus, 10 Nov 1956

It is not clear whether this refers to all the Lambton Central collieries (1-4), or just one of the pits.

The table below summarises the timeline of the five collieries, with references to newspaper articles and Department of Mines annual reports.

DateLambton CentralNo. 2No. 3No. 4No. 1
Blackbutt – ridge north of Richley ReserveNear Richley reserveNorth side of McCaffrey DriveFern Valley, CardiffMarch St Kotara
AR 1936Commenced    
AR 1938Discontinued. Recommenced    
25/2/1942Mine to close    
6/3/1942Mine closed on 5/3/1942 – two miners called up for military service.    
13/5/1945 Theft of parts of a haulage engine   
5/10/1946 Wanted. Permit manager for a small colliery to be opened up in the Lambton District.   
20/11/1946 Wanted. Working foreman for colliery pit top.   
6/12/1946 Wanted. Experienced contract miners.   
AR1946 New Lambton   
12/7/1947 Wanted. Undermanager for “New colliery being developed”   
27/10/1947 Pit idle after fatal accident.   
10/12/1947 Pit idle due to heavy rains.   
AR 1948 New Lambton   
AR 1949 New Lambton   
11/10/1950 Off Aldyth-street, New Lambton   
AR 1950 New Lambton   
10/12/1951   Fern Valley, Cardiff. First mention in Trove. In planning. 
AR 1951 Electric Safety Lights in use. 19/12/51 – fire in battery boring unitElectric Safety Lights  
26/3/1952   Query about whether permission has been granted yet 
14/5/1952    permission to erect bath house in March Street
28/7/1952   Idle due to transport bottleneck 
AR 1952 Electric Safety LightsElectric Safety LightsInspected. Discontinued. 
28/3/1953Wanted. Surface hand. March St Kotara.
BHP Coal Geology map overlaid into Google Earth, showing the general location of Lambton Central Collieries Nos. 1 to 3. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.

Lambton Central Colliery (1936-1942)

I have identified the furnace shaft that I discovered in Blackbutt Reserve as belonging to the original 1936-42 Lambton Central Colliery, on the basis of a map held in the Local Studies section of Newcastle Library.

Plan of Lambton Central Colliery Workings, New Lambton. LHM A 622.33/20, Local Studies, Newcastle Library.

I had photographed this map several years ago but was unsure exactly how it fitted into the geography, as the only reference point on the map was Queens Rd (what part??) and I was uncertain as the units of distance (yards? feet?) used on the map.

After finding the steel chimney in Blackbutt, I remembered that the map had a furnace shaft marked on it, and suspecting it was the one I had found I overlaid the map into Google Earth, using the two points of reference I now had – the shaft and Queens Rd.

This quickly confirmed my guess about the shaft, as the overlaid map showed the mine workings correlating with the ridge running east from the top of Queens Rd, westwards to Lookout Rd. I was also able to confirm that the distances marked on the map were in units of links – where 1 link is approximately 0.2 metres.

While walking around both the southern and northern sides of the ridge I had observed quite a number of large sunken depressions that appeared to be the result of mine workings falling in. The depressions on the north side of the ridge were usually dry, but on the southern side where it is more shaded, most were filled with water from recent heavy rainfalls.

A mine workings pitfall on the southern side of the ridge, filled with water after recent rains.

I took photographs of each depression I came to, and then extracted the GPS co-ordinates to plot them in Google Earth. When I overlaid the mine workings map the depressions I had observed lined up with the extremity of the workings, where the map has many annotations of “fall”.

Lambton Central No. 3 (1951-?)

Lambton Central No. 3 colliery was an underground mine situated in the Rankin Park area, north of McCaffrey Drive. In 1951 the company purchased 63 acres of land for their surface infrastructure.

Surface land purchased for Lambton Central Colliery No. 3 in 1951. Vol-Fol 6538-30
An aerial photograph from 1954 shows a small number of surface buildings and infrastructure at the site of Lambton Central Colliery No. 3. NSW Historical Imagery.
The surface land of Lambton Central Colliery No. 3 is now a housing subdivision in Rankin Park.

Lambton Central No. 1 (1952-?)

The last of the Lambton Central Collieries to be opened, was somewhat paradoxically named Lambton Central No. 1. Presumably this was to fill in the gap in the numbering as the first colliery opened in 1936 had no numerical suffix. No. 1 colliery was located north of March Street in Kotara.

Workings of Lambton Central Colliery No. 1. Newcastle Library, Local Studies.

Overlaying this workings map into Google Earth shows that the colliery was working a seam of coal in Blackbutt Reserve to the west of the current Carnley Avenue picnic area.

Workings of Lambton Central No. 1, overlaid into Google Earth,
Tunnel entrance and shaft locations. (Approximate only.)

The overlay above indicates that a tunnel entrance and shaft were located somewhere near where the timber boardwalk entrance to the animal exhibits exist today. (Bear in mind that the overlay above is an approximation only, based on my best effort to align a photograph of a drawing into Google Earth, using a combination of visual alignment and dimensions marked on the drawing.)

Below the boardwalk today, there still exists some old concrete footings belonging to some part of the coal mine’s infrastructure.

Concrete foundations of relics of Lambton Central Colliery No. 1 infrastructure, Blackbutt Reserve.
Lambton Central Colliery No.1. Aerial photograph from 1954. March St can be seen at the bottom. NSW Historical Imagery.

One final point of interest on the workings map of the Lambton Central Colliery No. 4, is that some 70 metres to the north of the shaft and tunnel, someone has pencilled in an annotation of another shaft. The position of this annotation aligns exactly with the old Mosquito Pit shaft (of the original Lambton colliery) that was discovered by Newcastle Council in 2014 during renovations of the picnic area.

Mosquito Pit shaft marked in pencil on Lambton Central Colliery No. 1 workings map.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
25 Feb 1953"Borehill and Lambton Central are two small collieries with main tunnels, about 70 yards apart. Both enter the one hill and work on the one seam. But the production cost of one is 16/ a ton more than the other."
10 Nov 1956
9 Oct 1956
"Two northern collieries, Killingworth and Lambton Central, closed today, putting 152 mine workers out of work."

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 approximate 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."