New Lambton C Pit Protest

The peaceful residential streets of Adamstown today, give no hint of the industrial conflict that nearly boiled over into violence 130 years ago.

In 1888 miners were paid a set price per ton of coal they extracted. Where a coal seam contained thick bands of stony impurities, the miners were effectively paid less, as the same amount of physical labour would win less coal.  The miners of the Newcastle district pressed for the rate to be increased when there was more than 6 inches of impurities. The colliery owners rejected this claim and on 25 August a general strike began. Mining ceased, but the owners wanted to make some money by loading and exporting coal that had previously been brought to the surface. For this work they began using non-union labourers, so called “black-legs”. Opposition to this practice came to a head at New Lambton C Pit, located in Adamstown near present day Clinton Ave.

On Tuesday 18 September, the company sent six men to load coal, accompanied by a force of 30 police officers. Word spread quickly, and over a thousand miners and supporters flocked to the pit to harass the workers and persuade them to desist. Tensions increased and threatened to break out into uncontrolled rioting. Deft handling by police inspector Lynch defused the situation and the day ended with just a single minor injury.

In response, the NSW Governor issued a proclamation that those “interrupting persons in the honest pursuit of their lawful occupation” would be rigorously prosecuted. Military reinforcements were sent from Sydney, and when another attempt to load coal took place two days later, the four “black-legs” who showed up were accompanied by a combined force of 173 police and soldiers who kept the indignant miners at a safe distance.

The show of force had the desired effect and the industrial dispute simmered into stalemate. The strike lasted another two months before agreement was reached, and the miners returned to work on 24 November.

New Lambton C Pit, Thursday 20 September 1888.
Photo by Ralph Snowball, University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

The railway to New Lambton C Pit ran adjacent to Bailey St Adamstown.


The article above was first published in the September 2018 edition of The Local.

Additional Information

The Nordenfeldt Gun

The story of the New Lambton C Pit protest has many interesting aspects to it, which for reasons of space I had to omit from the published story above. One example is the involvement of the military and the deployment of a Nordenfeldt gun.

Late on the Tuesday afternoon as the pit disturbance intensified, Sub-inspector Lynch was concerned that he would be unable to safely remove the black-leg workmen from the site using the 30 policemen he had with him. The Daily Telegraph reported that …

“Sub-inspector Lynch accordingly decided to telephone to Newcastle for assistance and he sent the following message to Inspector Brennan —We are surrounded by a thousand men and cannot get the working men off the ground.”

When Brennan received the message …

“… he immediately communicated with the police magistrate, Mr. Mair and Colonel Spalding. A special train was ordered and as soon as possible 25 of the Permanent Artillery with a Nordenfeldt gun, and under Colonel Spalding and Lieutenant Morris, were taken in the train, as well as 27 constables.

By the time the train was under way to the pit the disturbance had ended …

“… and the train to the scene of action passed the one coming from East [sic] Lambton with the coal and the police and laborers.”

On the Thursday when work recommenced at the pit with four black-leg workers, a large contingent of military personnel were again taken out to the pit. The Newcastle Morning Herald reported that …

“The force included eighty-six artillerymen, in command of whom was Colonel Spalding, C.M.G., Lieut.-Colonel Airey, and Lieutenants Morris and Le Mesurier. Lieutenant Morris, who had with him a detachment of the locally-stationed gunners, had charge of a Nordenfeldt gun. This piece of artillery was carried in a goods truck in front of the engine, and the officer and men in charge of it accompanied the weapon.”

Unsurprisingly there was a great deal of concern that a military weapon had been deployed into the middle of an industrial dispute. The Newcastle Morning Herald in an editorial on 20 September 1888 titled “No Nordenfeldt guns wanted” described the gun as …

” … a deadly weapon, which, when in full operation, keeps up a continuous stream of bullets in whatever direction it may be pointed. We understand that this morning a strong reinforcement of the military comes up from Sydney, that the soldiers are to accompany another “small coal” expedition, and that they are to bring up another Nordenfeldt gun with them. We sincerely hope that if they go, they will leave these interesting pieces of death-dealing machinery behind. The democracy of Northumberland is as yet not far enough advanced to regard with equanimity the prospect of being the first in Australia to be experimented on by these interesting specimens of mechanism.”

The Nordenfeldt battery in position at the New Lambton mine. (From a Photograph by Mr. A. Symmons, Newcastle). Illustrated Australian News 13 October 1888, page 177

Nordenfeldt gun at United States Army Ordnance Museum, Aberdeen Proving Grounds MD USA. By en:User:Jetwave Dave [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Governor’s Proclamation

After the disturbance at the New Lambton C Pit on 18 October 1888, the next day the following proclamation was issued and published in the Government Gazette by His Excellency the Right Honorable Charles Robert, Baron Carrington, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Colony of New South Wales …

 “Whereas certain persons have, by combining and acting together, endeavoured to intimidate and oppressively interfere with certain of Her Majesty’s subjects in lawful pursuit of their occupations as workmen in certain of the coal mines in the county of Northumberland and other parts of the colony; and whereas there is every reason to believe that many of the persons, either guilty themselves of such acts of intimidation and unlawful interference, or countenancing the same by various acts of disorderly conduct, have not duly considered the criminal character of their proceedings or the penalties attaching to their illegal acts, while much concern is felt on account of the recent disturbance to a great industry in the county of Northumberland and elsewhere,and the consequent injury and distress which must inevitably fall upon many families and large classes of unoffending persons: it is nevertheless hereby notified that all persons offending as hereinbefore mentioned, or interrupting other persons in the honest pursuit of their lawful occupations by acts of intimidation or violence, or by disorderly conduct of any kind, will be rigorously prosecuted as the law directs.

“And all persons are hereby warned to desist from such unlawful practices, and all subjects of Her Majesty are called upon to render assistance in protecting any persons from outrage or molestation, and in maintain ing law and order.

“And it is further notified that if any attempt is made to interfere with the lawful pursuits of Her Majesty’s peaceful subjects, the most stringent measures will be adopted to maintain law and to afford complete security to all persons engaged in their lawful callings. “By His Excellency’s command, “HENRY PARKES.”

Impurities in the coal seam

The Evening News on 5 September 1888 ran an article explaining the background to the coal miners’ strike, and included a number of diagrams of coal seams around the district that showed bands of impurities within the seam. These impurities had various names such as ‘jerry’, ‘morgan’, and ‘myrtle’.

Borehole Coal Seam

Dating the photos

The University of Newcastle Cultural Collections site has three Ralph Snowball photos of the disturbance at New Lambton C Pit, each dated only as September 1888.

From the newspaper reports we know that Tuesday 18 September 1888 and Thursday 20 September 1888 were the two days when large crowds gathered at the pit to protest the use of non-union labourers, so it is highly probable that the photos are from one or both of those days. After a careful reading of the newspaper accounts of the events of both days, I am reasonably certain that all three photographs are from Thursday 20 September 1888.

In all the accounts there is only one mention of a photographer, where the Newcastle Morning Herald on 21 September reporting on the previous day’s events noted that …

“The monotony of the task of watching the four men at work was somewhat relieved by the entree of a photographer on to the scene for the purpose of taking a series of pictures for a metropolitan illustrated paper. Groups were formed, and the pictures successfully taken.”

In the following photograph, one of the men in the scene is Inspector Martin Brennan. On the Tuesday, Inspector Brennan only arrived at the mine site after 6pm, which in September is after sunset, so this photo must be from Thursday.

Officials at New Lambton C Pit, Adamstown, NSW, 20 September 1888. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

The following photograph shows a line of white helmeted artillery soldiers guarding the mine. On the Tuesday, military support only arrived after 6pm, and once again this suggests this photo is from the Thursday. The picture also aligns well with the report for Thursday that indicates that “the crowd was kept behind the police at the principal entrance, and thus no interference with the blacklegs was allowed or attempted.”

New Lambton C Pit disturbance, Adamstown, NSW, 20 September 1888. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

The following photograph shows a group of miners and family surrounding the workshop at the mine. While this could possibly be from Tuesday, I think its more likely to be Thursday. Firstly note that the crowd is quite orderly, and arranged for a posed photograph. Secondly, there is no evidence of any police officials, or black-leg workmen. This doesn’t correspond well with the events of Tuesday where there the tension and conflict continues all through the day until the workmen and the police leave the site by train at about 6pm, when it would have been quite dark.

In contrast, on the Thursday the black-leg workmen, and the police and soldiers left at about 4:30pm and afterwards it was noted that

“A few privileged stragglers were permitted to enter the sacred precincts of the closely-guarded arena, but everything, with a slight exception, passed off quietly.”
It seems more likely that the posed photograph below was taken late on the Thursday after the workmen and officials had departed. Although it may seem strange to describe the several hundred people in the photo as a “few” stragglers, it is understandable given that the same report earlier stated that the number of protesters that day “must have been considerably over 6000.”

New Lambton C Pit disturbance, Adamstown, NSW, 20 September 1888. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

A map in the National Library of Australia shows the layout of the New Lambton C Pit, and I have marked on the map below the approximate locations where I believe Snowball’s photographs were taken from.

The Australasian (Melbourne) newspaper, on 6 October 1888, printed a number of drawings of the New Lambton C Pit disturbance, seemingly based on Snowball’s photographs.

THE MOB SURROUNDING THE SHOP CONTAINING THE “WORKMEN.”
The Australasian, 6 Oct 1888, p. 13.

Miners watching the “Workmen” at New Lambton. The Australasian, 6 Oct 1888, p. 12.

Militia standing, The New Lambton Pit. The Australasian, 6 Oct 1888, p. 12.

Inspector Martin Brennan

Martin Brennan was born at Kilkenny, Ireland in 1848, and at age 40 was the Inspector of Police in Newcastle at the time of miners’ strike in 1888. The Evening News of 4 October 1888 ran a story on Martin Brennan with some biographical details, and praising his qualities …

At Newcastle he has more than sustained his previous reputation as a firm, discreet, and zealous public officer. The manner in which he has discharged his duties at the present critical juncture has won for him the highest praise, both from the miners and the general public.

The article also contained a line drawing of Inspector Brennan, and from this we may reasonably guess that he appears in one of Snowball’s photographs.

Inspector Martin Brennan.

The Braidwood Times website has a studio photograph of Martin Brennan.

Inspector Martin Brennan.

Although his face looks more round in the Ralph Snowball photo, I think the roundness is exaggerated by the low resolution and the cap. When you snip the cap from the pit photo and place it on the studio photo, the resemblance is reasonably clear.

In an article from 17 September 1904 on his promotion to Superintendent, First Class, it is noted that  Brennan …

“… was promoted to Newcastle in 1886, as Inspector where he remained for about seven years. His duties there during the great coal and maritime strikes of 1888 were onerous and responsible ; nevertheless, he, with Sub-Inspector Lynch’s assistance, discharged them in such a manner as to merit the approbation of mine-owners and miners, as well as the public generally.”

Martin Brennan retired from the police force in January 1907 after 48 years of service, at the time a record exceeded only by his brother Patrick. Martin Brennan died in St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney on 8 August 1912, aged 73.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
25 Aug 1888"For some weeks past the general strike of coal-miners which has impended over this district has been the main topic of public interest … The strike is now an accomplished fact, the men employed in some pits of the district having taken out their mining gear yesterday, while the remainder will follow the same course on Monday."
30 Aug 1888Manifesto of the Amalgamated Miners' Association, in which they state that their chief grievance is "the attempt of the proprietors to compel the men to work and throw back rubbish from among the coal for nothing, or, in other words, to do additional work without increase of pay."
5 Sep 1888An explanation of the coalminers' dispute about impurities in the coal seam, including diagrams of coal seams from Fernadale, South Waratah and Borehole collieries.
19 Sep 1888
18 Sep 1888
Lengthy report on the disturbance at New Lambton C Pit where 6 "black legs" (strike breakers) were loading small coal, an up to a thousand miner's and their families arrived at the mine to protest.
19 Sep 1888
18 Sep 1888
Sydney Morning Herald's report of the riot at New Lambton C Pit.
19 Sep 1888
18 Sep 1888
The Daily Telegraph's report of the disturbance at New Lambton C Pit
19 Sep 1888Editorial opinion on the disturbance at New Lambton C Pit the previous day.
20 Sep 1888
19 Sep 1888
Three men arrested and charged "that they did, at the New Lambton pit, near Adamstown, together with divers other evil-disposed persons unknown, assemble to disturb the public peace, and did then and there make a great riot and disturbance, to the terror and alarm of Her Majesty's subjects there being."
20 Sep 1888
19 Sep 1888
Protest moves on to South Waratah pit, where over 1000 people gather.
20 Sep 1888"It is given as authoritative that another attempt to complete the loading of small coal at the New Lambton "C " pit will be resumed this morning. Matters in this vicinity bear a very serious aspect."
20 Sep 1888Editor's plea to miners and management to resolve the dispute peacably. "We are glad to know that strenuous efforts are being made by several gentlemen to formulate an agreement which will be acceptable to both Associated Proprietors and Associated Miners; and it is high time that the difficult task should be worked at, night and day, until the breaches between capital and labour in the district shall have been closed."
20 Sep 1888"Intelligence was received in Newcastle last night that 100 members of the Permanent Force had left Sydney by steamer for Newcastle last night. Colonel Spalding, C.M.G., will take command of the whole of the forces in the district."
21 Sep 1888
20 Sep 1888
Filling of small coal at New Lambton C pit by four 'black legs' workmen, protected by a a total force of 173 artillerymen and policemen, along with a Nordenfeldt battery gun.
20 Sep 1888Proclamation by the Governor of New South Wales, Charles Robert, calling for law and order to be maintained in the coal miners' dispute.
"It is hereby notified that all persons offending as hereinbefore mentioned, or interrupting other persons in the honest pursuit of their lawful occupations by acts of intimidation or violence, or by disorderly conduct of any kind, will be rigorously prosecuted as the law directs."
20 Sep 1888A call from the Newcastle Morning Herald for the government to refrain from bringing the Nordenfeldt guns into the miners' dispute. The gun is described as "a deadly weapon, which, when in full operation, keeps up a continuous stream of bullets in whatever direction it may be pointed."
22 Sep 1888All quiet at New Lambton C pit on Friday. There is an interesting suggestion that Thursday's action was intended as a show of force by the police authorites.
"It is stated that no more 'blacklegs' will be brought to New Lambton, and that they would not have been brought back on Thursday had it not been that the police authorities wanted satisfaction."
4 Oct 1888A biographical article on Inspector Martin Brennan, was the chief of the local police in Newcastle at the time of the New Lambton C Pit disturbance.
24 Nov 1888Resumption of work after the strike … "To-day all the collieries in the district, with the exception of South Waratah and New Lambton, were at work."
24 Nov 1888The coal strike "has been finally settled by the vote of the miners throughout the district, who by a large majority decided in favour of resuming work immediately as proposed by the Delegate Board."
11 Aug 1912
8 Aug 1912
Death of Inspector Martin Brennan.
8 Aug 1912
8 Aug 1912
Death of Inspector Martin Brennan.

Homecoming

My latest article for The Local has been published, this month on the the homecoming to Lambton in 1902 of Lieutenant Albert McEwan from the Boer War.

At first glance this Ralph Snowball photograph appears to be a plain snapshot of Elder Street in Lambton, and the University Flickr site has the photo simply captioned as “E. Bell, Bootmaker”. But a little digging into the background of this photograph revealed an intriguing family history of immigration, tragedy and war, that spanned three continents and several decades.

14 April 1902 – A decorated Elder St in readiness for the torchlight parade to honour Lieutenant McEwan later that evening. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

New Lambton Colliery

“In the depths of the bush, about half a mile to the south of the rising and flourishing township of Lambton, there was celebrated, on Thursday last, an event of no ordinary interest and importance.”

Thus began a Newcastle Chronicle report on the ‘turning of the first sod’ of the New Lambton colliery on 25 June 1868.

James and Alexander Brown were mining coal from the ‘Old Dog and Rat’ pit in East Lambton when they had a lucky break in 1868. On learning that the owners of Lambton colliery had failed to make payments on a mining lease, the Browns quickly stepped in and bought the mineral rights for 265 acres in the area we now know as New Lambton.

They immediately investigated the potential of their acquisition by commencing a trial shaft in April 1868. In June, at a depth of 100 feet, a good payable seam of coal was found and the Browns committed to developing a colliery at a cost of £10,000.

To inaugurate their new venture the Browns invited their employees and local dignitaries to a ceremony at the site on 25 June 1868. Two barrels of ale which had previously been conveyed to the ground, were at once tapped, speeches made, and the assembled company called upon to drink “Success to the New Lambton Colliery”.

Success came quickly, a new working shaft 16 feet in diameter was sunk, an engine house erected and a railway constructed to convey coal to the port. The colliery attracted miners and their families, and a town began to grow. Just a year later New Lambton was described as “going ahead, and buildings of all descriptions are multiplying fast.”

By 1884 the payable coal was exhausted, and the Brown’s moved on to establish other mines. The pit closed, but the town endured. The Chronicle was correct in asserting that the event celebrated 150 years ago was of no ordinary importance, for it marked the birth of New Lambton.

Major T S Parrott’s 1893 map of Newcastle showing the railway and a shaft of the New Lambton colliery. National Library of Australia.

 

Google Earth, showing the New Lambton Colliery mining lease, railway line, and a shaft located near present day Oxford St.


The article above was first published in the June 2018 edition of the Lambton & New Lambton Local.

Additional Information

In working out the history of the New Lambton colliery I have used the following sources:

  1. Contemporary newspaper articles retrieved from Trove.
  2. “The Coal Mines of Newcastle NSW”, George H Kingswell, 1890.
  3. Map of Waratah Coal Company blocks, 1873. National Library of Australia.
  4. T S Parrott’s Map of the country around Newcastle, 1893. National Library of Australia.
  5. Plan of the Hartley Vale Railway, 1867. State Library of NSW.
  6. The Hartley Vale Railway Colliery act of 23 Dec 1867
  7. “Coal, Railways and Mines, Vol 1”, Brian Robert Andrews, 2004. (Although much of Andrew’s information is taken from the above sources.)

Trying to work out the history of the New Lambton Colliery, and the mines of J and A Brown in Newcastle is a tricky matter for a variety of reasons.

  • The newspaper articles are sparse and often very cursory, and can sometimes contain errors.
  • The term “pit” is ambiguous – it could mean
    • a specific shaft
    • a collection of mine buildings at a particular location
    • a mining lease
    • a mining company
  • Suburb names in a mine name can be misleading and bear no relation to geography. The classic example of this is the “East Lambton Colliery”, which was located in New Lambton, and operated by the Waratah Coal Company!

Bearing in mind these difficulties, here’s my summary of the Brown’s  mining leases and the history of New Lambton colliery.

Colour Notes
White Development of this 310 acre lease commenced in 1861. It was initially known as Brown’s Pit, and later as the Hartley Vale Colliery. The colliery was ready for production at the end of 1864, but was a commercial failure.
Blue This 280 acre lease was obtained by J&A Brown in 1862. Two pits  (marked as A and B pit on the 1867 Hartley Vale railway map) were commenced to the north of the Lambton colliery railway in 1866. The B Pit later became known as the “Old Dog and Rat Pit.” This pit was connected to the New Lambton/Hartley Vale railway via a tunnel underneath the Lambton railway.

In 1867 the “New Lambton Coal Pit” was opened on this lease, to the south of the Lambton colliery railway, with a short curved branch line off the New Lambton railway. This pit later became known as New Lambton A Pit when the new ‘B’ workings were opened up in the 265 acre lease in 1868. (See below.) Some time around 1883 the New Lambton A Pit was renamed New Duckenfield Colliery.

Green This 265 acre lease obtained by Stephen Foyle (on behalf of the Browns) in late 1867 when Morehead and Young failed to pay rent on lease. A trial pit was finished in June 1868 and a celebration held to inaugurate the “New Lambton Second Coal Working”, the first New Lambton coal working being the 280 acre lease in East Lambton. A working pit was commenced soon after. Somewhat confusingly, this New Lambton second coal working also became known as “the B or New Lambton Pit” (Kingswell)

Kingswell gives two contradictory dates as to when this pit ceased. On page 46 he states that the “B or New Lambton Pit” was “worked until the beginning of 1888”, and in the very next paragraph state that in 1884 “the old B Pit (was) finally abandoned.” (Although possibly this second reference is to the Old Dog and Rat pit in East Lambton?)

Orange/Red This 640 acre area consisting of two 320 acre leases was obtained by J&A Brown and Stephen Foyle in March 1867. The December 1867 Hartley Vale Railway act shows that the Brown’s intended to build a railway to this lease, but it was not completed at this time. After the New Lambton second workings began to wind down in 1884, the New Lambton ‘C’ Pit was commenced in this area in 1884, and the railway finally completed in March 1884.

The mining leases of J and A Brown.

The mining leases of J and A Brown in Newcastle, overlaid onto 1873 map.

1944 aerial photograph that shows the remnants of the New Lambton railway traversing the park.

Path of rail line to New Lambton B pit marked in red, and the short branch line to the New Lambton A pit marked in yellow.

Kingswell’s 1225 acres

On page 45 of “The Coal Mines of Newcastle NSW”, Kingswell states that the New Lambton Estate consists of 1225 acres.

In the year 1867 Messrs. J. and A. Brown commenced to work coal from the New Lambton Estate, which at present is the freehold property of Messrs. George R. Dibbbs, and Alexander Brown, M’s. P. It consists of 1225 acres, and is bounded on the north and east by the Commonage, on the south by the Waratah Coal Company’s land, while the estate of the Scottish Australian Mining Company forms the western boundary. Prior to opening a mine the firm obtained a mineral lease of some 280 acres from the Government, and on this block, which lies to the north of the present estate, the now celebrated Dog and Rat, or A Pit, was sunk.

Where was this 1225 acres? It is difficult to be certain, but given that in the next sentence he refers to the 280 lease as being “prior” and to the north of the “present estate”, then it is reasonably clear that the 280 acre lease (blue) is not included in the 1225 acres.

Thus adding the 310 acres (white), 265 acres (green) and the 640 acres (orange/red), comes to a total 1215 acres, which is very close to the figure of 1225 acres that Kingswell state. The discrepancy of 10 acres could be accounted for in two ways. It is possibly simply an adding up error, or possibly because the 265 acre lease on the maps is marked as “ex rds”, and that these excluded roads account for the missing 10 acres.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
3 Dec 1867First mention of New Lambton colliery in the newspapers. The article is reporting on the opening of a section of the Hartley Vale Railway, that leads to a new pit a pit "about half a mile ... from the Lambton Colliery, and which has been denominated by the Messrs. Brown 'The New Lambton Coal Pit.' "
If the distance of half mile is correct then this is almost certainly referring to a pit in the 280 acre lease in East Lambton. The article goes on to state that "The line further leads to a pit on the other side of the South [sic] Australian Company's Railway, underneath which a tunnel has been made." This is possibly referring to a connection to the Dog and Rat Pit which was to the north of the Lambton colliery railway.
4 Jan 1868James and Alexander Brown obtain the mineral lease for what would become the New Lambton mine, after Messrs. Morehead and Young of the Scottish Australian Mining Company indavertently fail to keep up payments on the mineral lease.
27 Jun 1868
25 Jun 1868
'Turning the first sod' of the New Lambton Colliery.
30 Jun 1868"The tunnel now in operation [the 280 acre east Lambton lease] will I believe give remunerative employment to about sixty miners, and I have no doubt, a profitable return to the proprietors for capital invested therein, until the new pit [265 acre lease in New Lambton] is in full working order."
4 Jul 1868"The new railway works at the New Lambton Colliery are being pushed forward as fast as practicably, and are I believe progressing satisfactorily."
4 Jul 1868Advertising for tenders for the sinking of the new working pit, and for earthworks in the extension of the New Lambton railway.
18 Jul 1868"The new line of railway at the new Lambton colliery is making considerable headway but the sinking of the new working pit has been considerably delayed in consequence, I believe, of the difficulties experienced in getting a boiler across a swamp separating the new pit from the end of the present railway."
5 Sep 1868"The extension of the New Lambton railway, is, I believe, progressing satisfactorily, and will, it is expected, in a short time, be so far advanced towards completion as to enable the proprietors to convey direct, any materials that may be required at their new pit, which is now down about seventy feet. It is expected that the coal in this shaft will be found at a depth of about 120 feet."
31 Oct 1868The Brown's New Lambton colliery "line of railway will be shortly completed."
29 Jul 1869"New Lambton is still going a-head, and buildings of all descriptions are multiplying fast. I am glad to see that those enterprising and really spirited men, the Messrs. J. and A. Brown, have commenced making a new line of railway to another new pit."
3 Mar 1877"Plans and specifications have been prepared for a bridge to cross the New Lambton Railway, and tenders will be called for the erection at once."
This was for a bridge on Lambton Rd (where Royal Place is now) to go over the New Lambton railway.
25 Aug 1883"The proprietors of the New Lambton Colliery are sinking a new shaft on their estate some mile and a-half from the present pit." This was the New Lambton C pit, which was located in the present day suburb of Adamstown.
22 Mar 1884"The railway to the new pit [C Pit] on the New Lambton Company's estate has been completed throughout in a very workmanlike manner by the contractor, Mr. Chas. Turner, and a large staff of workmen. The line is about two and a-quarter miles in length from its junction with New Lambton railway to the pit mouth."
1 Aug 1890New Lambton council prepares "specifications for the work of pulling down the New Lambton Railway Bridge, on the main road, and filling up the road."
6 Aug 1890Tenders called for "filling in roadway over New Lambton railway at main road bridge."

Dog and Rat

The origin of the name may be uncertain and the precise location unknown, but the “Dog and Rat” pit was once a celebrated colliery of the East Lambton area. In 1862 James and Alexander Brown obtained a 280 acre mining lease south of Waratah, and in 1866 opened the unremarkably named A Pit and B Pit. By 1871 however, the southern pit was known as the “Old Dog and Rat”.

There have been several explanations offered for the name, that it is rhyming slang for “Griffiths’ Flat” or because miners took their dogs underground to hunt rats. The likely explanation is that it derives from the sport of rat coursing. The earliest report on the origin of the name notes that “although the area was a dense bush, with swampy ground on either side, quite a number of men could obtain a day’s sport with their dogs hunting the rats.” The name of the pit also attached to the road leading to it. What is now Young Rd was previously known as Dog and Rat Rd.

The pit ceased operation in 1884, although there were a few later attempts to extract remnant coal. It is last mentioned in the Department of Mines annual report of 1893, where “David Hughes gave notice that he had ceased all work at the Old Dog and Rat, and filled up all shafts.” The colliery was gone, but the name hung around. In 1925 the East Lambton Progress Association wrote to the Council requesting that the name “Dog and Rat” be discouraged. The Mayor responded that as it was not an official name, there was nothing to be altered.

Where was the pit? Three pieces of information give us a clue. An 1871 report indicates that it was within the Lambton Municipality, which places it north of Womboin Rd. An 1874 report states that it was south of Young Rd. Finally, the western boundary of the Brown’s lease means it was located somewhere in the triangular area below.

The Dog and Rat pit was located somewhere in this triangular area of East Lambton. Google Earth.

Ralph Snowball’s studio at 19 Clarence Rd, New Lambton. The colliery headframe barely visible on the horizon is probably the Dog and Rat pit. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.


The article above was first published in the May 2018 edition of the Lambton & New Lambton Local.

Location of the pit

Three pieces of information constrain the location of the “Old Dog and Rat” pit to within a triangular area of East Lambton.

1. Womboin Road

A public meeting was held in Lambton on 14 July 1871

“for the purpose of bringing forward from amongst them the most fit and proper persons to be nominated as candidates for the office of aldermen in their newly-appointed municipality.”

The electoral status of one of the participants in the meeting was questioned when …

“Mr. Hindmarsh objected to Mr. Hardy asking any questions, he not being an elector. Mr. Hardy said that he resided within the proclaimed boundary, viz , at the Old Dog and Rat Pit, of the Messrs. Brown, inside of the Lambton railway. The Chairman ruled that he (Mr. Hardy) was an elector.”

A map from a 1906 real estate poster shows that the municipal boundary ran along the Lambton colliery railway adjacent to present day Womboin Rd. Also the phrase “inside of the Lambton railway” suggests that the Dog and Rat pit was to the north of the curved section of rail line.

Portion of 1906 real estate poster, showing boundary of Lambton Municipal Council. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

2. Young Road

In the 1870s when there was a push to get a main road built from Newcastle to Wallsend, there was much dispute about the route that it should take. There were two competing proposals – a southern route that passed through New Lambton (Lambton Rd) and a more direct northern route that follows the line of Young Rd.  On 6 May 1874 Thomas Croudace, an advocate for the southern route, wrote a letter to the editor comparing and contrasting the two proposals. Compare his description of the northern road with the annotated map below.

“The route upon leaving Hamilton1 proceeds north-westerly over the BroadMeadow Swamp2, across the New Lambton3 and Lambton railways4, between the old Dog and Rat Pit5, and New Lambton Smelting Works6, to the ridge whereon old Peacock lives7, and thence to the dividing line of Lambton and Grovestown townships.”

Thomas Croudace’s description of the proposed northern route of the main road.

The “New Lambton Smelting Works” was located in present day Broadmeadow, so therefore the Dog and Rat Pit must have been to the south of Young Rd.

3. Brown’s mineral lease

An 1873 map of Waratah Coal Company leases, shows the 280 acre lease of J and A Brown.

Waratah Coal Company blocks, 1873. National Library of Australia. MAP F 82.

When overlaid into Google Earth, this establishes the western boundary of possible locations for the Dog and Rat Pit.

J and A Brown’s 280 acre lease.

The Snowball photo

The undated Ralph Snowball photo is of his house and studio at 19 Clarence Rd New Lambton, looking towards the north east. On the horizon, a colliery head frame (1) can be seen between two identifiable features – the Waratah Benevolent Asylum (2) on the left, and the chimney of the New Lambton Copper Smelting Works (3) on the right.

Replicating those angles as lines in Google Earth, we see that the middle line passes directly over the triangular area in East Lambton where we know the Dog and Rat pit was located. So although we can’t know with 100% certainty, it is highly probable that the colliery head frame in the photo is that of the old Dog and Rat pit.

Annual Mining Reports

The NSW Department of Planning and Environment, Resources and Geoscience section, has an online archive of historical mining documents in their Digital Imagin Geological System (DIGS) . A number of the annual reports in the archive include references to the Dog and Rat pit.

Year Notes
1879 Dog’s Rat.-Two miners getting house coal on their own account on the New Lambton Estate. No cause of complaint.
1882 Dog and Rat, Waratah Commonage.  August 11.-Messrs. D. Hughes, B. Tonks, and J. Ruttley, of Waratah, gave notice of having sunk a shaft to mine for coal on what is known as the Dog and Rat Estate, leased by Messrs. J. & A. Brown, Waratah Commonage.
1883 Page 129. Dog and Rat pit – 3 men above ground, 19 underground. Tonnage included with New Lambton and New Duckenfield.
1884 Page 127. Dog and Rat pit – 3 men above ground, 10 underground. Tonnage included with New Lambton and New Duckenfield.

Page 140. Dog and Rat. -There are about ten men employed in this mine. The ventilation is good throughout and the requirements of the Act complied with in every other respect.

1885 New Lambton, Dog and Rat, New Duckenfield mines listed together – 178 men employed.
1886 New Lambton and New Duckenfield mines listed together – Dog and Rat has disappeared from the list.
1890 Page 189. On March 29th, Mr. Ruttley notified that he had sunk a shaft at the old Dog and Rat Colliery, and intended to drive in the coal.

Page 189. On September 19th, William Metcalfe and H. L. Price notified that they had commenced mining operations on a portion of the New Lambton estate, near to the Dog and Rat. The pit is known by the name of the Enterprise.

1892 Page 95. Dog and Rat Colliery (North Lambton).-This mine has been commenced during the six months.  There are 4 men, &c., employed, and the Act complied with.
1893 Page 87. Old Dog and Rat Colliery. David Hughes notified, on 17th April, his intention of opening out a portion of the Old Dog and Rat Colliery, on the east side of Lambton line.

Page 88. On 8th August David Hughes gave notice that he had ceased all work at the Old Dog and Rat, and filled up all shafts.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
18 Jul 1871
15 Jul 1871
In a public meeting to call for the nomination of candidates for the newly proclaimed Lambton Municipality, the location of the Dog and Rat pit is clearly identified as being inside the Lambton municipal boundaries.
"Mr. Hindmarsh objected to Mr. Hardy asking any questions, he not being an elector. Mr. Hardy said that he resided within the proclaimed boundary, viz , at the Old Dog and Rat Pit, of the Messrs. Brown, inside of the Lambton railway."
6 May 1874Thomas Croudace, in a letter to the newspaper advocating the southern (New Lambton) route for the main road, describes the proposed northern route as follows - "the route upon leaving Hamilton proceeds north-westerly over the BroadMeadow Swamp, across the New Lambton and Lambton railways, between the old Dog and Rat Pit, and New Lambton Smelting Works, to the ridge whereon old Peacock lives.
18 Sep 1875
14 Sep 1875
A report of an accident and injury to John McCormack on the New Lambton Railway "near the Old Dog and Rat Tunnel".
2 Jul 1881Advertisement for rat coursing to be held at Bunn's Northumberland Hotel, Lambton.
14 Apr 1885First mention of 'Dog and Rat Rd'.
"The late rains have not improved the condition of our roads. The one known as the Dog and Rat-road is much in need of repair. There is a large amount of traffic upon it, and the council would greatly benefit owners of vehicles by expending a few pounds in repairs."
7 Dec 1889In an article on the collieries of the Newcastle district, while describing the New Lambton Pit it is noted that "the Brothers Brown obtained from the Government a mineral lease of some 300 acres in a block, which lies to the north of the present estate. It was there that the famous A, or "Dog and Rat," pit was sunk."
(The exact lease area was 280 acres.)
15 Aug 1891First mention of Young Rd, Lambton, in the newspapers.
2 Jul 1892
1 Jul 1892
At a municipal conference, the road between Hamilton and Broadmeadow is referred to as "what is now known as Young-road, but was formerly known as the 'Dog and Rat road' ".
13 Jul 1899
12 Jul 1899
Last mention of Dog and Rat road in the newspapers, where Mr. E. Bowling presented a petition to Hamilton Council "signed by about 100 people in the district, urging upon the Government to resume and form the old Dog and Rat pit road."
18 Apr 1912
16 Apr 1912
Lambton Council moves that "that Young-road east be repaired with material from the old pit heap at Dog and Rat."
21 Aug 1914Last contemporaneous mention of 'Dog and Rat' in the newspaper, in a letter to the editor about the proposed gas lighting of Lambton streets.
24 Jun 1925
23 Jun 1925
Lambton Council meeting. "Correspondence was received from the president, East Lambton Progress Association, stating that the members of the association desired the use of such names as "Dog and Rat" and "Griffith's Flat" be discouraged. They wished to have that portion of the municipality east of Karoola, Lloyd, and Waratah roads designated East Lambton, and recognised by the postal and other authorities. The Mayor stated that neither of these names appeared in the council's plans, consequently the council had nothing to alter."
24 Jun 1925"WHAT'S IN A NAME ?
Lambton 'Dog and Rat'
Many years ago when rat-coursing was popular in this district, the 'sport' was extensively carried on in what is now known to some as East Lambton. The place became designated as 'the dog and rat,' and is still so referred to by many."
25 Jun 1925"Old residents claim that the title 'Dog and Rat' originated from an old coal mine, which was situated alongside the old New Lambton railway line, which, at that time ran through what is now the New Lambton Park, and outside the boundary of the municipality of Lambton. The mine, both underground and on top, was infested with rats, and although the area was a dense bush, with swampy ground on either side, quite a number of men could obtain a day's sport with their dogs hunting the rats."
14 Sep 1938"Many years ago, Mrs. Pritchard said, rats were taken to Lambton in crates and liberated on the flat. Greyhound dogs owned by the miners chased and caught the rodents. Hundreds of men gathered from every part of the then known mining district because "ratting" was considered an exciting sport and was sometimes held twice a week. It was not known where the rats came from; but the locality where the sport was conducted was known for many years as 'Dog and Rat'."
8 Aug 1945" 'Dog and Rat' was the first pit in which Mr Gibbs worked. The odd name came from the miners' practice of taking their fox terrier to work to hunt the rats in the mine. The part of East Lambton in which the mine was situated still gets the sobriquet."
6 Mar 1953"One learned opinion why this place got the Dog and Rat title is that it was known as Griffiths Flat and the boys who played there shortened it to The Flat and then turned it into rhyming slang. This view is overborne by the opinion of many old residents that it was a place where there were coursing meetings, the 'hares' being rats."