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.
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.
The article above was first published in the July 2021 edition of The Local.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
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 article above was first published in the June 2021 edition of The Local.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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."
This month’s photograph, taken at the border between Lambton and New Lambton looking along Howe Street invites the question “Why is a large group of well-dressed adults and children walking along the tram track towards Lambton?” The answer turns out to be related to transport, but not to trams.
Afterwards the Lambton Colliery railway was occasionally used to convey passengers to special events. One example was the Lambton Public School annual picnic day on Wednesday 25 February 1903. At 9am a train of seven cars left Lambton colliery with 500 children and 400 adults on board and headed for Toronto. On arrival there were refreshments, sports competitions, musical entertainments, and Ralph Snowball was on hand to take group photographs.
At day’s end the picnickers returned by train to Lambton and disembarked near the bridge over the tram line. In the fading light of a summer’s evening as they headed for their homes, Snowball took a final photograph, capturing one of the last occasions a passenger train arrived at Lambton.
The article above was first published in the November 2020 edition of The Local.
In the article published in The Local, I stated without qualification that the Snowball photo was taken on 25 February 1903 on the occasion of the Lambton Public School Picnic. It is important to note that the photo has no direct attribution to this date and event, but this conclusion is based on indirect evidence. Behind this story was an interesting case of how to locate and date a photograph.
When the University of Newcastle Cultural Collections first uploaded Snowball’s photo to their Flickr site, somehow it was mistakenly captioned “View from a train, Singleton”. In 2013 both John Shoebridge and Robert Watson identified that the scene was Lambton, and not Singleton. Robert in particular confirmed the location as being Lambton by comparing a number of houses on the top of the hill with another old photo of Lambton.
The next step in unravelling the mystery came six years later, when Robert revisited the photo and made two key observations.
The people in the photo are almost all women and children, with very few men.
A couple of the children are waving flags.
I did a careful count of the people in the photo and found that adult women outnumbered the adult men, three to one. This would indicate that the event being captured took place on a weekday, when the majority of men would be at work. The large number of children would then suggest that this is a school event. This is supported by looking at one of the flags being held aloft, which appears to be the NSW State flag, suggesting that the event was connected with the Lambton Public School.
Prompted by Robert’s observations I then made a third key observation – that the crowd in the photo is not random or dispersing. With one lone exception there are no people in the side streets. Everyone is heading in the same direction. This would indicate that the people are moving as a group, having come from a particular point and heading towards a particular destination. This would be consistent with the idea that the group has just disembarked from a train on the colliery railway and are heading home to Lambton.
One final and compelling confirmation of this dating, came from Newcastle Library’s Hunter Photo Bank collection. Knowing that the collection had quite a number of Ralph Snowball picnic photos, I searched the collection and found a photo that Ralph had taken at the school picnic at Toronto on that day. It is quite probable that Snowball travelled with the school group in the chartered train, and took a photograph of the disembarked passengers from the train carriage up on the embankment before the rail line traversed the bridges over Hobart Rd and Howe St.
There is one other documented occasion, on 23 November 1900, when Lambton Public School travelled by train to a picnic at Toronto. It may be that Snowball’s photo was from this earlier picnic, but given the Hunter Photo Bank picnic photo, I think it much more likely that it is of the February 1903 picnic.
The Waratah Company Rail LINE Passenger Service
Passenger train services to and from Lambton on the Waratah Coal Company’s railway commenced on Monday 25 April 1874, with a special train on the Queen’s birthday public holiday. Regular weekly Saturday evening services then commenced the following Saturday 30 May 1874. By March 1875, falling patronage meant that services were reduced to alternate Saturdays. The last passenger train on the line ran on Saturday 19 August 1887.
Passenger pick-up and set-down was at a location known as “Betty Bunn’s Crossing”, which was the point where the road between Lambton and Waratah crossed the coal company’s railway.
I have never seen an old map with Betty Bunn’s Crossing marked on it, but all the evidence of many newspaper articles points to it being the crossing of the Waratah coal rail line with the Lambton to Waratah road. Another reasonably clear indication of the location is the death notice for Thomas George Griffith who died “at Betty Bunn’s Crossing” in 1918. The 1906 map shows his property adjacent to the crossing.
By August 1863 the Lambton colliery railway was almost completed : "… the Waratah and Lambton Collieries, whose branch lines are already formed, only requiring some further slight addition being made to their permanent ways."
"A meeting of miners was held at Pit Town, for the purpose of expressing the disapprobation of themselves and the inhabitants of Lambton and Pit Town generally, at the recent raising of the passenger's fares on the Lambton railway from 6d. to 11d. The meeting resolved that a deputation of four wait upon Mr. Croudace, the colliery manager, and ask him to represent to the Government the following requests, namely: 1. That the fares be lowered to 6d ; 2. That return tickets be issued on the railway ; 3. That a carriage in lieu of the present break van be substituted for passengers."
"Within the past few days a memorial has been taken round the city, to which the names of a large number of the inhabitants have been attached, for presentation to the Minister for Works, with reference to having a regular passenger train to run between this city and the various coal mines, on a Saturday, for the convenience of the people residing in those localities who are desirous of visiting Newcastle."
Call for a passenger train on the Lambton railway … "Why not, in order to give the enterprise a fair chance, have a thorough special train for Saturday afternoons, to leave Old Lambton (which would suit the requirements of the neighbourhood of Dark Creek and New Lambton, too) say, at, from four
to half-past four o'clock."
The letter writer also notes the bad state of the roads … "Lambtonians have to wend their way
betimes up to their knees in mud through a nasty road, extending over a distance of from two to five miles, to reach the Government six o'clock train at Waratah, which is by no means a pleasant undertaking, particularly after a hard day's work, and which few, from mere choice, care about tackling, I can tell you. "
In regard to "a petition from the inhabitants of Lambton, praying that a goods and passenger train may be run to Newcastle" the Commissoner of Railways writes that "by a special arrangement with Messrs. Morehead and Young, a passenger train used to run to Lambton, but in January, '67, they asked to be relieved ; this was consented to, and the traffic then ceased. I cannot, therefore, reintroduce the practice without, the consent of Messrs. Morehead and Young."
It appears that there are occasional passenger services on the Lambton line on pay Saturday's … "This being pay-night, the principal street in the city was more thronged than we have seen it for a considerable time past. The various trains from Wallsend and Lambton brought in a large number of passengers, and these added much to fill our main street."
"Here is the case of the people living at Lambton and New Lambton ; and so far as railway communication is concerned, they are completely isolated, although when the pits are at work they have from four to five trains per day running to each of the collieries; but being private ones, and the
proprietors refusing to allow passenger traffic on them."
A one-off experiment of a passenger service to be tried. "The committee appointed to agitate for a train to run between Newcastle and Lambton have at last succeeded, after great exertions and through strenuous efforts … A special passenger train will run from Newcastle to Old Lambton Crossing on Saturday night, the 28th February, 1874. The train will leave Lambton for Newcastle on or about 5 o'clock p.m., and returning from Newcastle to Lambton on or about 11 p.m. The fares will be 9d. for the return ticket and sixpence for the single fare."
"A Saturday night train commenced to run from Lambton to Newcastle on the 28th ultimo, and over 500 return tickets were taken, besides single ones; the brass band accompanied the excursionists, amounting in number to about 900. "
"Saturday last was a new era in Lambtonian history. The passenger train, as announced, arrived here about 4 p.m. with fourteen carriages and the van, and long before the appointed time for starting almost every available seat was occupied. We have heard that there were more than 500 tickets sold. If this train is to be permanent, as we hope it will, there will have to be some other arrangement for giving out the tickets, for it will never do for people to have to climb up into the guard's van, as was the case on Saturday."
"This train is a fine thing for the business people in Newcastle, but quite the reverse for our town's business folk, who are considerably down in the mouth about so much ready money going out of their
hands … the next step ought to be to agitate for a goods train to be run here."
Newcastle Chronicle's report of a public meeting to discuss getting a passenger train service to Lambton. An allegation is made that business people agitated against aregular train service as it would hurt their trade.
Mr W Goodhew “observed that the Lambton line was a good and convenient one no doubt, but when they were allowed the use of it on one night, and deprived of it the next what dependence could be placed on it. He moved that application be made to the directors of the Waratah Coal Company for permission to run the train on their line of railway to the new tunnel, to Betty Bunn's crossing.”
The Newcastle Morning Herald's report of the public meeting regarding a passenger train service to Lambton. The report notes that "Mr. Croudace, the Manager, has granted permission for a passenger train to be run from here to Newcastle on the demonstration day and also for a Saturday night's train for four Saturdays ; and if it proves payable, the train will run regularly." Despite this promising sign, a regular train service on the Lambton line never eventuated.
"Great disappointment was felt at the non-arrival of the passenger train last Saturday evening. There were about 200 or 300 passengers waiting, who had to return to their homes annoyed. The blame is attributed to Mr. Croudace, for, I believe if he would consent to the train's running, the Government
would; and, the advantage the inhabitants would derive would be very great."
"The subcommittee appointed to conduct the application to the Waratah Coal Company, for a passenger train to be laid on, have received a reply from the directors, expressing their willingness to
grant the request … The sub-committee accordingly waited upon Mr. Higgs, the traffic manager, to
gain the required Government permission, and that gentleman has informed them that there were some arrangements pending respecting a train to be laid on by the Lambton Company, which had not yet been decided upon."
"A meeting of parties interested in the Lambton train movement was held at the Lambton crossing, Mr. T. Hardy in the chair, when it was determined to send a deputation to the Minister for Works, to impress upon him the necessity of running a passenger train to this town at once."
"I have been instructed to inform you that the directors of the Waratah Coal Company have no objection to the Government running, for the convenience of the inhabitants of the district, on Saturday nights and holidays passenger trains on the Waratah Coal Company's private line of railway,
from the junction with Great Northern Railway to the Company's new tunnel, at the same rate as it is
done on the Wallsend Coal Company's line, provided arrangements are made so as not to interfere with the Waratah Company's coal traffic, and that the Government construct at its own cost all sidings,
platforms, landing places, &c., which may be required for passenger traffic."
The following Monday, being a public holiday for Queen Victoria's birthday, "arrangements were made for the train to leave Bunn's crossing on Monday, 25th May at half-past 10 o'clock a.m."
First passenger train on the Waratah Company railway.
"The Railway Auditors laid on a train from Bunn's Crossing, on the Waratah Company's line, on Queen's Birthday, which was moderately patronised."
In the same week that passenger trains start running to Lambton on the Waratah Company line, promises are being made to run passenger trains on the Lambton colliery line … "The following arrangement was made, between Mr. Croudace, on behalf of the Lambton Company, and the Minister,
viz., that [Government] trains should be run ... that the Company give their line free and keep it clear of their own traffic ... The Government to take all other responsibility … this arrangement to come in force immediately after the holidays."
In spite of this arrangement being made, nothing came of it.
"Although the Minister for Works promised that a passenger train should be run to this town on the first Saturday after the holidays, no communication whatever has been received by the Traffic Manager on the subject. The arrangement made between the Minister for Works and Mr. Croudace was that four trains should be run, commencing on the first Saturday after Queen's Birthday."
"On Saturday, the first evening train for passengers ran from the Waratah Co.'s Tunnels to Newcastle, for the accommodation of a large population in that neighbourhood. The number of passengers by whom it was availed of, amply testified the necessity for the convenience. We take it for granted that the train will be continued, as otherwise the people of Grovestown and Lambton would have to give
up all idea of getting into Newcastle during the winter evenings, either by way of the Broad Meadow or Waratah, the former being a sheet of water, and the latter a perfect slough of mud."
"Nothing further has transpired here with reference to the granting of a passenger train [on the Lambton line], and many are now of opinion that it will not be allowed, as the one from the
Waratah Tunnels is so central."
After the death of Andrew Tunney on the railway line, the passenger service to Lambton is halted. A conspiracy theory arises that storekeepers on the inquest jury had a vested interest in stopping the passenger service in order to keep business in the town.
"I believe that it is also intended to make another effort towards getting a passenger train on the Lambton line, and with some chance of success. Mr. Croudace has been heard to express his willingness to allow it, and no doubt the Government will have seen by this time the fallacy of running the train to the Waratah New Tunnels. As a proof that they have seen their mistake the train is now only run on alternate Saturdays, and then with very few passengers, the majority of the people preferring to walk to Waratah station or down the line to Hamilton rather than go to the new tunnels, which is very little nearer."
A public meeting to petition the Governemnt "asking them to construct a branch line of railway from the Great Northern, through Lambton, and thence to Wallsend."
"It was one of the anomalies of the coal-mining district of Newcastle that a line of railway came into the centre of each township, and yet the residents could not travel on these lines at all, or they did so as a favour, granted by the coal companies, which they could withdraw at any time."
The movement pushing for this railway never gained momentum. Instead, in the next decade the push was for a tram line rather than a train line to Wallsend.
The possibility of running a special passenger train on Lambton line to take patrons to see a performance of “Little Nell” at the Victoria Theatre is discussed. "I am sure that Mr. Croudace would allow a train to run on his railway for this purpose. He has obliged Mr. Bennett in this way before
and would do so again."
A rather tongue-in-cheek one sentence report of a minor incident on the Waratah Tunnels line … "The gates on the Waratah Railway were closed when the Passenger train was coming up from Newcastle on New Year's night, but the engine opened them without a key."
"The alteration in time of the Pay-Saturdays' passenger train to the Waratah Company's Tunnel, from 2 o'clock p.m. to 11 o'clock a m., does not meet with the approbation of the public. The housewives especially are dissatisfied with the alteration, as 11 o'clock is too soon for them to leave home, having their domestic duties to attend to."
"At the last Municipal Council meeting Alderman Thornton very properly drew attention to the want of accommodation, in the shape of a platform, at the Waratah Company's tunnel, for the use of passengers travelling from there to Newcastle on pay Saturdays."
Lambton Public School picnic to Toronto. "About 9 a.m. upwards of 600 children, all nicely dressed in holiday attire, with their flags and banners, presented themselves at the school grounds, and formed a spectacle well worth witnessing. A procession was then formed, and the little ones marched along Elder-street and through the park to the Lambton Colliery railway, where, thanks to the kindness of Mr. T. Croudace in granting the use of the line, a train of seven cars awaited them."
Planning meeting for the Lambton Public School picnic. "It was decided to hold the picnic at Toronto, entraining the children at the Lambton Colliery railway, as in the previous year, if Mr. Croudace and
Mr. Kitching will permit the train to run on the colliery line."
(The reference to a picnic train "in the previous year" is a little puzzling, as I can find no record of that event. It may be that it is a time-inaccurate reference to the picnic in November 1900, two years previously.)
"The annual picnic of the Lambton Public School will be held on Wednesday, the 25th instant. The train will leave Lambton Colliery at 9 a.m., calling at all stations on the way to Toronto. There has been an energetic committee at work for some months, preparing for the event, and it is hoped that the parents will show their appreciation of the good work done by attending in large numbers on that day."
"The annual picnic of the local Public School, took place at Toronto on Wednesday, and was largely attended by the parents and the general public. A train of seven cars left the Lambton Colliery railway at 9 a.m., containing about 500 children and 400 adults … The return journey was made in time to allow
the little ones to get home before dark."
I’ve seen it written before (but I can’t recall where) and seen it again recently, an assertion that Thomas Croudace was a megalomaniacal mine manager who built his house (Lambton Lodge) at the top of the hill so that he could watch his workers go to and from the mine, monitoring their movements.
Apart from this being an unfair and very one-sided representation of Croudace’s character, it’s also a topographical absurdity. The Lambton colliery was in a valley (where Lewis Oval is today) that is not visible from the site of Lambton Lodge. Similarly Lambton township is in a valley, and a large proportion of the town is not visible from the Lambton Lodge hill 1.6km away.
Google Earth Pro has a neat feature called viewshed analysis, that shades in green areas that are visible from a specified point. Even from a height 10 metres above the ground at Lambton Lodge, both the township and colliery are hidden from view.
The Scottish Australian Mining Company, owner of the Lambton colliery, was pivotal in the establishment of three of Newcastle’s finest recreation reserves – Lambton Park, Blackbutt Reserve, and Jesmond Park.
Although not officially dedicated until 1924, the Jesmond Park site had a long history of recreational use. From Lambton’s earliest days, this low-lying area at the northern extremity of the company’s mining lease, with Dark Creek running through it, was used for competitive pigeon shooting. It soon also became a popular picnic site, known as “Croudace’s Paddock” presumably because the permission of Thomas Croudace, the colliery manager, was needed to use the area.
Churches, schools, and community groups regularly held picnics there, sometimes with hundreds of attendees. The site was within easy walking distance from Lambton, North Lambton and Jesmond. It became even more accessible when the Newcastle to Wallsend tramway was constructed in 1887. Around this time, the idyllic bushland nature of the picnic site was altered somewhat with the establishment of Campion’s soap and tallow works adjacent to Dark Creek.
The area known as Croudace’s Paddock was larger than just the Jesmond park site, but encompassed much of the flat area adjacent to Dark Creek. A 1904 article describes the seven acre sanitary depot as being in Croudace’s Paddock. The sanitary depot was located where the Skyline drive-in theatre would later be constructed, and where Drysdale Drive and Rees Way is today.
A November 1938 article on the park noted that the “portion of the park now used as a recreation area was once a cultivation paddock. On it fodder was grown for the mine horses. The land flattened out with the passing years; signs of plough furrows disappeared and a cricket oval was formed.”
“Jesmond Park, showing the trees in profuse foliage and forming a delightful rural scene – approximately four miles from the ocean beaches.” Newcastle Morning Herald, 16 Dec 1933.
Campion’s Soap and Tallow Works
According to the Jesmond Public School 1887-1987 Centenary booklet, John Campion arrived in Australia from England c1880. Around 1887 Campion began refining tallow for miner’s lamps, in partnership with his brother-in-law Ben Cunnington. The photo below, from the University of Newcastle Cultural Collections, shows Campion & Cunnington’s Soap and Tallow Works in 1892.
Campion and Cunnington’s Soap and Tallow Works, Jesmond, NSW, February 1892. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.
The nature of soap manufacture meant that the works were susceptible to fire, and a number of incidents of destructive fires were recorded over the years.
A 1944 aerial photograph shows the soap works building sitting astride the remnants of Dark Creek, just to the north of the concrete storm water drain. Just to the east of the building is the dam that appears in the 1934 newspaper photograph.
Campion’s Soap and Tallow Works in 1944.
1944 aerial photograph overlay in Google Earth, showing location of Campion’s Soap Works, Jesmond NSW.
"A grand pigeon shooting match is to come off between two old knights of the trigger, in Mr. Croudace's paddock, at Dark Creek, on Saturday (three weeks) between Blacket Richardson and John Ferguson, for £10 aside."
Remarks on the naming of Dark Creek … "Jesmond is the correct, and more suitable name of this locality. It derives its title of Dark Creek from the men and days of thirty years ago, when the place was remarkable for its thickly, woody, and consequently shaded appearance."
"The members of the Wallsend and Lambton Government ambulance classes assembled in Croudace's Paddock, Lambton, on Saturday, and were examined in squads by Drs. Nash and Stapleton as to their knowledge of the principles of rendering first aid to the injured."
"The Newcastle, Lambton, and Wallsend companies of the 4th Infantry Regiment went into camp at Croudace's Paddock, Jesmond, last night, while it was raining heavily. It is intended to "take" Charlestown this morning."
Jesmond Progress Committee asks Lambton Council "to approach the general manager of the S.A.M. Company, with a view of getting a grant of the land known as Croudace's paddock as a public park for Jesmond."
The tramways department asks Lambton Council to suggest a name for the stopping place near Croudace's paddock. The Council recommends the name "Charlton", however there is no evidence that this name was ever adopted.
Lambton Council asks the Lands Department to resume Croudace's paddock, Jesmond, for a recreation reserve. Alderman Bell said that "for many years the area, by permission of the S.A.M. Company, had been largely availed of for picnic purposes, and as a ground for cricket and football. The situation was on ideal one, and with very little expense it could be converted into one of the best parks in the district."
Alderman Hardy, Mayor of Lambton, raises with the Minister of Lands the question of resuming an area of land at Jesmond, known as Croudace's paddock,
for a park. "The Minister assured the Mayor that this matter had not been overlooked. The papers had been referred to the district surveyor."
"The matter of the acquisition of an area approximating 22 acres of land at Jesmond had been brought to a successful conclusion by an interview with Mr. Robinson, general manager of the Scottish Australian Mining Company, who agreed to grant the land to the council for park purposes, the only obligation on the part of the council will be the survey transfer and fencing costs. The thanks of the council were due to Mr. Robinson and Mr. Croudace for the fairness and courtesy shown during the negotiations and to the company for its generous gift."
"A. Barrie, on behalf of Jesmond Cricket Club, asked Lambton council last night for permission to lay a wicket on Jesmond park. The Mayor said that the application was premature, as the council did not yet have control of the park. It was resolved to refer the matter to the Scottish Australian Mining Com
"The S.A.M. Company had dedicated to the municipality Croudace's paddock as a public park. Efforts were made to obtain a grant from the Government to improve the area, but so far without any good result."
"Within a four-penny-tram ride of the city is Jesmond Park - a natural playground which has been saved for posterity by a council now extinct. Practically unknown by many people, the park provides ample facilities for sporting activities amid the quiet surroundings of the silent bush."
Blackbutt Reserve today owes its existence to a strange combination of business prosperity, national adversity, and private tenacity.
The current area of the Reserve lies wholly within the boundaries of a coal mining lease of the Scottish Australian Mining Company. The eighteen hundred acre lease extended from Kotara South to Jesmond. Mining commenced in 1863, and apart from occasional downturns, the colliery prospered. Therefore, above ground there was little development apart from buildings such as pumping stations, required to support underground mining operations.
However, with the depletion of coal, and rising land taxes, the S.A.M Company looked for other income, from real estate. Between 1915 and 1928 the company developed and sold a few small subdivisions in Lambton, New Lambton, and Kotara. In June 1932, they attempted to auction a large parcel of land, in what is now the southern part of Blackbutt Reserve. The nation at this time however, was suffering the adversity of economic depression. There was little appetite for land purchases, and only five of the 52 lots on offer were sold. The failure of the auction thus left open a window of opportunity for local councils to purchase the land for a nature reserve, starting with 17 acres on Lookout Road in 1938, and increasing to 144 acres by 1940.
In 1956, Newcastle Council bought another 270 acres from the S.A.M. Company, in what is now the northern part of Blackbutt Reserve. Council wanted to subdivide all this land for housing, but through the tenacious opposition of private citizens and community groups, this development was blocked. Instead, the land was added to Blackbutt Reserve. Community opposition had to swing into action again in 1966 to prevent the Department of Main Roads building an expressway through the Reserve.
Many individuals worked tirelessly for the establishment and preservation of Blackbutt Reserve. One in particular, Joe Richley, president of the Northern Parks and Playgrounds Movement for 20 years, is commemorated in the name of Richley Reserve.
Middle Pit pumping shaft, 1894. Located where the entrance to Richley Reserve is today. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
The approximate site of Middle Pit in 2017, at the entrance to Richley Reserve.
The article above was first published in the July 2017 edition of the Lambton & New Lambton Local.
One of my main sources in researching and writing this article was “A History of Blackbutt Nature Reserve” by John Ramsland, University of Newcastle, a manuscript written for the Blackbutt Reserve Local Committee as a contribution to the Australian Bicentennial Celebrations. A copy of this manuscript is held in Newcastle Region Library Local Studies Section, Q719.32/RAM.
Two views of Blackbutt Reserve, which is being acquired by the municipal councils of the district for retention as a public park. From the shelter shed there is a commanding view of Newcastle.
Newcastle Morning Herald. 12 Jan 1937.
Newcastle Morning Herald. 12 Jan 1937.
Development on the S.A.M. Co Mining Lease
The 1888 map below, held by the NSW Land and Property Information, shows the 1840 acres of mining lease held by the Scottish Australian Mining Company in the name of “Morehead & Young”, in the following lots:
Lot 23 – 320 acres
Lot 167 – 320 acres
Lot 171 – 320 acres
Lot 172 – 240 acres
Lot 173 – 320 acres
Lot 174 – 320 acres
1888 map showing mining leases of Scottish Australian Mining Company. NSW Land and Property Information.
Fifty years after mining commenced in 1863, a 1913 War Office map shows that the only area of the 1840 acre mining lease with residential development is the township of Lambton in the north west corner.
Portion of 1913 War Office map of Newcastle, with 1840 S.A.M. lease outlined in blue. National Library of Australia.
From 1915, the Scottish Australian Mining Company started developing and selling residential subdivisions, starting with 24 blocks of “Lambton Park Estate” fronting Howe St, in May 1915.
Twenty five blocks on Russell St New Lambton were offered for sale in June 1915. (All real estate posters are from the University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.)
Fifty seven blocks surrounding Chilcott St Lambton were offered for sale in January 1920.
Twenty eight blocks in New Lambton Heights were offered for sale in October 1920.Ten blocks on Curzon St and Carrington Pde, New Lambton were offered for sale in December 1921.
191 blocks in Kotara were offered for sale in 1925.
Twenty six blocks on Turner St Lambton were offered for sale in 1928.
In 1932, the Scottish Australian Mining Company attempted to auction 52 blocks of land, totalling 480 acres. With the country in the grip of the Depression, the auction was a failure, with just five of the 52 blocks selling.
Poster for auction of land in Blackbutt Reserve area, 1932. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
One of the blocks that sold was Lot 51, on Lookout Rd. This was bought by the Newcastle Branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Memorial Institute. It was this block that became the first officially gazetted portion of Blackbutt Reserve in March 1938.
The 17 acres and 3 roods of Lot 51 on Lookout Road, was the first portion of Blackbutt Reserve to be officially gazetted. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
By September 1940, the size of Blackbutt Reserve had been increased to 144 acres, as shown on this Parish Map of Newcastle. The 144 acres consisted of Lots 48 to 52, and part of lot 47 of the 1932 subdivision.
Parish map of Newcastlem showing the boundary of the 144 acres of Blackbutt Reserve as of 13th September 1940. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
It is interesting to see how the modern boundaries of Blackbutt Reserve fall entirely within the S.A.M. Company’s mining lease, an indication of how the underground mining activities there in the 19th century left large areas of the surface undeveloped, and available for a nature reserve in the 20th century.
Blackbutt Reserve in relation to the S.A.M. Company mining lease.
The first reference in Trove to the Middle Pit is from January 1875, in relation to driving “two narrow bords four yards wide for water standage.”
It is uncertain when the Middle Pit pumping shaft ceased operation. It was still in use in June 1913, as an article refers to the damage done to Orchardtown Road in the course of carting coal to Middle Pit, presumably to fire the engine boilers. A December 1937 article reported on the attempted rescue of a dog that had purportedly fallen down the shaft. The site had obviously been unused for quite a number of years, judging by the description …
The disused shaft is known in the locality as Middle Pit, and was formerly used in connection with the workings of the Old Lambton mine. Pit top gear, including an old rusted winding wheel, is still there, but the pit itself has fallen into disuse. It is in a deep gully, and nobody would suspect its presence when more than 100 yards away. Thick lantana has grown almost to the edge; briar bushes form a barrier between the outside world and the old shaft. The only sound is the sighing of wind in the gum trees. In the interests of safety the shaft has been enclosed by a tall galvanised iron fence. The ground at the foot of portion of the fencing has worn away, and through this hole the dog probably slipped in.
In this 1944 aerial photo the location of Middle Pit can be seen in the bare area to the west of Freyberg St. Newcastle Region Library.
Thirty to forty aldermen of the city and district inspect the Blackbutt area. The Mayor of Newcastle (Ald Parker said that they "were definitely impressed that if acquired for a reserve it would be an asset to the district."
"An area of 17¾ acres in Blackbutt Reserve imnmediately below the Look-out, has been bought by the Returned Sailors and Soldiers' Memorial Institute. The purchase will serve a dual purpose, for not only will returned men willing to work for any relief they may obtain from the Institute carry out their undertaking there, but the Institute will settle a few ex-service men there on small allotments."
This block became the first official part of Blackbutt Reserve in 1938.
Convinced that Blackbutt Reserve is inappropriately named, the Mayor of Newcastle (Ald. H. Fenton), in his capacity of Chairman of the Local Govern
ment Coordination Committee, is urging the adoption of a more attractive title. He suggested last night that if the reserve was dedicated as a memorial to King George V., it could be called the "King George V Memorial Park." Or there might he support, Ald. Fenton added, for a proposal that the area be
known as the "Duke of Windsor Reserve."
A public meeting will be held to protest against the Main Roads Board decision to route a six-lane highway through Blackbutt Reserve.
A few hundred metres from the site of Middle Pit, in the bush adjacent to Richley Reserve, lies this rusting coal bucket, a poignant symbol of the way in which the decline of coal mining gave rise to a nature reserve.
Rusting remains of a coal bucket, lying in the bush close to Richley Reserve.
The growth of our city means that former collieries are eventually obliterated by urban development, and it becomes difficult to find any trace of their former existence. Sometimes however, evidence of the old mines can be found, quite literally, under our feet.
Last year I was walking over Lewis Oval in New Lambton at dusk, when I noticed a slight dip in the level of the ground. I wondered, could this possibly be due to subsidence related to the former Lambton colliery?
A September 1944 aerial photograph held by Newcastle Library shows that the mine was located at this site. The mine closed in 1936 and much of the surface infrastructure was removed by 1944. The large double storey building in the centre of the photograph housed the colliery’s machinery workshop on the lower floor, and a sawmilling plant on the upper floor. The building got a new lease of life in 1947 when Leonora Glass Industries began operations there.
“Coal was being hauled by motor-trucks from Cardiff for loading onto the coal waggons near the site of the old colliery screens.”
Carting of coal from the site ceased in 1963, the area was developed for housing, and Lewis Oval constructed over the filled in railway cutting. Sixty years on, a slight subsidence of the railway in-fill causes water to collect in the depression. In the right conditions, the grass grows slightly greener, and in some of the modern Google Earth photos, the position of the old railway can still be discerned in a green horizontal line just north of the cricket pitch.
So if you ever find yourself defending the boundary at Lewis Oval, and you notice the outfield seems a little bumpy, you might just be experiencing an enduring impression of our coal mining history.
The Lambton Colliery site in September 1944. Newcastle Region Library.
The Lambton colliery site in 2016. The path of the former rail line can be faintly seen running across Lewis Oval. Google Earth.
The article above was first published in the April 2017 edition of the Lambton & New Lambton Local.
In this 2006 Google Earth photo, there is a quite distinct darker green line running across Lewis Oval. Google Earth.
Subsidence of Lewis Oval along the line of the former rail excavation revealed after torrential rain, February 2020.
Lambton Colliery. 1913-1920. The Story of Lambton. From the collection of Dorothy Jones.
The photo above can be dated by the chimney stacks in the distance. The stack of the brickworks at Waratah which was constructed in 1913 is visible, and we can also see the stack of the copper smelter at Broadmeadow, which was demolished by 1920.
Lambton colliery site, 1951. From the collection of Albert Bates
Lambton Colliery site 1959. The large double storey building where the Leonora Glass Works operated is now gone, destroyed by fire in 1957. The Story of Lambton, p. 19. Photo from Stuart Thompson
A description of the large double storey building at the Lambton colliery in 1890 can be found on page 15 of “The Coal Mines of Newcastle” by George H. Kingswell. This book has been scanned by the University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.