Ebbw Vale Colliery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Additional Information

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

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

Ralph Snowball’s list for negative box 140.

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

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

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

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

This tunnel is described in an 1889 newspaper report …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Newcastle SUn, 15 November 1921

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

Location of the Ebbw Vale tunnel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newspaper articles

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

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."
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."
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.
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."
8 Aug 1912
8 Aug 1912
Death of Inspector Martin Brennan.
11 Aug 1912
8 Aug 1912
Death of Inspector Martin Brennan.

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 1863 as the Hartley Vale Colliery. The colliery was ready for production at the end of 1864, but was a commercial failure. In a c. 1873 Waratah Coal Company map this area is marked as “Brown’s Colliery” and “Brown’s shaft”.[ Brian Andrews on page 36 of his book “Coal, Railway and Mines, Vol. 1” indicates that this coal lease began development in 1861, but I cannot find any corroborating evidence for this. A report on Alexander Brown’s death in 1877 suggests that the Browns only acquired the land at Hartley Vale after they had sold off their Minmi colliery, which occurred in early 1863.]
Pink
This 54 acre block was considered part of the Hartley Vale Colliery. The land was sold to Thomas Adam in 1869 and became the township of Adamstown.
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 “Dog and Rat Pit.” These workings were connected to the New Lambton/Hartley Vale railway via a tunnel underneath the Lambton railway. The reason for the tunnel is described in the Empire newspaper of 2 September 1867.

The Messrs. Brown have coal bearing land between Lambton and Waratah, which they cannot work without passing from the Lambton railway, or going under it to their own Hartley Vale railway. Having waited two years to get an Act passed to amend the Amended Railway Act without success, they have apparently taken the law coach into their own hands, and will drive it, not through the Act, but under it : so they have commenced operations by driving a dip tunnel from their own land, intersecting the Lambton railway at an angle of forty-five degrees, but so much below it as to leave it perfectly secure, even to the most fastidious.

In 1867 the “New Lambton Coal Pit” was opened on the 280 acre 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.

1867 Hartley Vale Railway map showing location of New Lambton Colliery pits.

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."