Homecoming

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

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

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

Albert Henry McEwan

It was reported as “the largest demonstration that had ever been held at Lambton” with the crowd numbered “upwards of 2000.” The occasion was the return to Lambton of Lieutenant Albert Henry McEwan from the South African Boer War.

Albert was born in Lambton around 1877 where his father John worked as a miner. In the 1890s a downturn in the coal trade induced many to leave the area and seek work elsewhere. In October 1895, John along with his eldest son Albert, still a teenager, headed to the booming gold fields of South Africa. Both father and son quickly found employment in the “Simmer and Jack” mine at Johannesburg.

Within a year John was tragically killed in a mining accident. Albert stayed on and rose to a responsible position in the mine. When war broke out in 1899 between the British and the Boers, he joined the Imperial Light Horse and was soon engaged in a number of battles. Describing these in letters home to Lambton, he wrote with patriotic bravado but also noted “the appalling sights of a battlefield are simply terrible”. In 1901 Albert was shot in the leg. He was treated in South Africa, before being taken to Netley hospital in England where his leg was amputated.

Albert returned to Australia and arrived back in Lambton in the afternoon of 14 April 1902. At 7pm a torchlight procession marched down a gaily-decorated Elder St to Bell’s Hall at the corner Morehead St. “At every corner the returned soldier was greeted with loud cheers.” He made an appearance on the balcony and addressed the crowd in the street below, before being entertained at a banquet in his honour.

Ralph Snowball’s photograph from this day is not only a snapshot of the streetscape of Lambton in 1902, but also an indication of the colonial fervour for the British Empire that would propel many more Lambton boys to the fields of the Great War in Europe 12 years later.

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


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

Additional Information

Mine work in South Africa

In the newspaper article on 14 February 1902 reporting his wounding, it is noted that Albert McEwan was …

“a native of Lambton, and the eldest son of the late John McEwan, and went to South Africa about six years ago. When war was declared he held a responsible position as first amalgamator for one of the largest mines in the Rand.”

A 1918 US Government publication describes the the job of an amalgamator …

The amalgamator at gold mines prepares amalgamation plates to receive the gold-bearing pulp from stamps. He regulates the flow of water and ore, and at regular intervals collects the mercury-gold amalgam from the mortar, sluices, and plates.

Military service

The National Archives( London, England), has scanned the nominal rolls for the Imperial Light Horse Brigade, which contains an entry for Albert Henry McEwan.

The entry shows …

  • Regimental No: 319
  • Name: McEwan, Albert Henry
  • Regiment: 1st
  • Rank: Cpl (Corporal)
  • Place attested, date: PMB (Pietermaritzbug), 25/09/1899
  • Discharged: Supernumerary awarded pension

His enlistment date of 25 September 1899 was some two weeks before the Boer Republics declared war on 11 October 1899.

A search for “A McEwan” on the Anglo Boer War website shows that the South African Field Force Casualty Roll recorded Corporal McEwan as “Severely wounded. Naauwpoort, 5 January 1901″

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
30 Oct 1895
28 Oct 1895
"On Monday night a large crowd of residents gathered at the tram stopping place to witness the departure of Messrs. Jos. W. Oldham and John McEwan and son for Johannesberg, South Africa."
"Other well known residents … also leave their homes this week for Western Australia, slackness of work resulting in this step."
3 Dec 1896
19 Oct 1896
"A communication was received yesterday from Mr. Joseph Oldham, of Simmer and Jack (South Africa), conveying the sad news that his friend and brother-in-law, Mr. John McEwan, had died on the 19th of October from the effects of an accident in one of the mines. It appears that the deceased was with two other men, engaged in timbering a shaft, and that in endeavouring to cross the shaft he slipped from a plank they had for a stage, and fell a distance of 60ft."
13 Dec 1899"Trooper Albert McEwan, of the Imperial Light Horse, now in active service at the front in Natal" writes to his mother at Lambton.
" … you see I can call myself a thorough soldier, having fought against the Dutch in two battles — Elands Laage and Umgaani."
"The appalling sights of a battle field are simply terrible. You read about such affairs in books, but seeing such sights is fearful."
28 May 1900Letter from Trooper Albert H. McEwan, of the Imperial Light Horse to his brother William in Lambton.
14 Feb 1901
5 Jan 1901
"Mrs. McEwan, of Lambton, has received word from Major Rodgers, the officer commanding the Imperial Light Horse depot, Johannesburg, that her son, Sergeant A. H. McEwan, had been dangerously wounded at Fredrickstand, in a severe engagement with a Boer commando under De La Rey."
15 Feb 1902
14 Apr 1902
Celebrations marking the return of Lietenant Albert McEwan to Lambton after serving in the Boer War.
15 Apr 1902
14 Apr 1902
The Daily Telegraph in Sydney reported that "Lieutenant A. H. McEwan returned to his home at Lambton yesterday, after an absence of many years, and was accorded an enthusiastic, reception both at Newcastle and in his native suburb."
5 Apr 1941
22 Mar 1941
Death of Albert Henry McEwan in Adelaide, aged 64.

Peacock’s Corner

These days ownership of property can change regularly, but in Lambton’s early days it was not uncommon for properties to be owned by the same person or family for decades. Sometimes localities within a suburb became known, not by street names, but by property owner names. One such case is “Peacock’s Corner”, with a number of newspaper articles in the 1870s referring to this location where John Peacock dwelt.

John Peacock was a miner, who was living in Lambton from at least 1869.  From various newspaper reports we know that his house was built on the Commonage (Newcastle Pasturage Reserve), between Dickson and Young Roads.

Peacock’s dwelling was located on portion 810 of the Commonage, adjacent to the courthouse. In 1890 the land court refused his application to purchase of this portion, instead granting him the right to purchase portion 759 on the opposite side of Young Rd.

In an 1873 sale advertisement, Peacock’s house is described as brick built dwelling containing six rooms, one half of which was let at 4s. per week. It seems that no sale eventuated, and Peacock remained in the house. In 1877 a new Courthouse was built on land adjacent to his dwelling, and there was some contention as to whether he would need to be removed from the site. In 1880 at the instigation of the Bench of Magistrates, the Lands Department wrote to John Peacock ordering him to remove from the site within six months.

“It appearing from the report of Mr. District Surveyor Evans that you have erected improvements upon portions of No. 13, and part of 14, of section 1, within the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, I am directed to inform you that you are in illegal occupation of the land and that it will be necessary for you to remove within six months from this date whatever improvements you may have erected thereon, as it forms part of the area recently approved of as an addition to the Court House site at Lambton.”

Section 1 of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, between Young St and Dickson St.

Ninian Melville M.L.A. the local member for Northumberland intervened, making representations to the Lands Department, and John Peacock was allowed to remain on the site. In 1887 Peacock once again advertised the sale of his house. At this time it was described as a 13 room family residence with nearly a quarter acre of land. However, given the legal uncertainties of ownership of property on the Commonage, it appears that no sale eventuated.

Just two years later John Peacock’s situation was dire. The Lambton Miners’ committee heard that …

“the old gentleman was suffering from want of food. Peacock had got work at Lambton to fill small coal, but his health failed him. On being visited by the officers they found that it was a very distressing case. Mr. N Elliott, the butcher, provided him with meat, but he had not bread in the house.”

The Miners’ Committee organised a charity raffle to assist Peacock, and they reported in June 1889 that they had “secured £10 6s for the old gentleman by the raffle.”

The following year, in 1890, the Government finally resolved the question of property ownership on the Commonage.  The Government allowed people who had built upon or made improvements to land on the Commonage, to make application to purchase and obtain legal title to the land. On 30 July 1890, on the 13th sitting day of the Land Court deliberating on these applications, it was noted that …

“The application of John Peacock, for portion 810, was refused, as the land was required in the public interest; but the board found that the applicant was entitled to come under the provisions of the Act, and they accordingly recommended that he should be allowed to select some other portion.”

The Government Gazette of 30 December 1890 shows that Peacock was successful in applying for portion 759 (on the opposite side of Young Rd), with an area of 21 and half perches (about one eighth of an acre), for a purchase price of £35 8s.

Whether he ever obtained portion 759 or made use of it is unclear, as John Peacock passed away just 18 months later in June 1892, and his house and meagre remaining possessions were put up for public auction on 15 July 1892. By September 1892 the house had been pulled down and removed from the Police Reserve on portion 810.

“Peacock’s Corner” in 2018 – the area bounded by Newcastle Rd, Lloyd Rd, and Dickson St Lambton.

 

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
16 Jan 1869"John Peacock, of Lambton, appeared, on summons, to answer the complaint of Edward Keepe, for assaulting and beating him, on the 9th instant."
17 Oct 1871Lambton Council recommends that the surveyor "be instructed to continue the line of main road from Dark Creek along the line of Mr. D. Jones's property and the Lambton and Waratah Coal Company's property, through Young-street to near the back of Mr. John Peacock's dwelling, forming the junction with the lower and upper crossing. "
30 Dec 1871"One of the miners working at the Waratah new tunnels, an old man named John Peacock, was rather badly hurt by a fall of coal hitting him on Friday last, lacerating his back and right leg, and otherwise shaking him; however, no bones were broken; and under the skilful treatment of Dr. Hill and his assistant, it is hoped he will rapidly mend."
27 Jan 1872A public meeting held in Lambton "near John Peacock's dwelling" for the purpose of nominating aldermen.
7 Sep 1872
4 Sep 1872
"In pursuance of an advertisement in the local papers, a well attended public meeting was held on Wednesday night last, in the open-air, near Mr. John Peacock's dwelling, on the Commonage, between Waratah and Lambton. "
"The proceedings were orderly and well conducted, with the exception that a few, urchins of pit boys created some annoyance by throwing stones and half bricks upon the zinc roof of Mr. Peacock's dwelling, making a great noise as they rolled down."
13 Mar 1873
9 Mar 1873
A motion in Lambton Council "that Dixon-street be stumped, cleared, guttered and formed, and made passable from Morehead-street midway between Mr. Peacock's and Jefferson's."
29 Mar 1873
25 Mar 1873
In a Lambton Council meeting, reference is made to proposed "improvements in the track at the east end of Dixon street to beyond Peacock's dwelling".
24 May 1873"THE undersigned being about to leave the neighbourhood, offers FOR SALE the Brick built DWELLING, on the Pasturage Reserve, known as Peacock's, containing six rooms, one half of which is now let at 4s. per week. The property is centrally situated, and near the thriving town of Lambton. Apply to JOHN PEACOCK, Lambton Commonage."
18 Apr 1874The original route for the main road is described: "This road was to pass the Assembly Rooms, Wallssend, by the saw-mills, Dark Creek, and Broom's Hotel, leaving Peacock's corner on the right, and go straight across the neutral ground, to the termination of the Hamilton branch of the Newcastle road, near Cameron's."
2 May 1874At a public meeting discussing the proposed main road, Mr Morgan says that "The new road would not hurt the old one, and would pass near Peacock's corner."
6 May 1874Thomas Croudace describes the proposed nothern route of the main road from Newcastle to Wallsend as going "across the New Lambton and Lambton railways, between the old Dog and Rat Pit, and New Lambton Smelting Works, to the ridge whereon old Peacock lives."
5 Dec 1874
30 Nov 1874
"A meeting of persons favourable to the re-election of Mr. Hannell as member for the county, was held at Peacock's corner, on the Commonage."
25 Feb 1875"Court-house and Lockup. — The new building is to occupy a site near Peacock's corner, and facing one of the cross streets."
22 Jan 1877"The new court house and lock up is to be erected on the Commonage, near to Peacock's place, facing to the East. I am in formed that the whole of the land in front, between the two roads, is to be reserved, and planted with shrubery, &c. If this is so, it will cause the removal of the extensive buildings erected by John Peacock, which will be a serious matter to him."
10 Feb 1877"TO SELL, OR LET BY TENDER. A FOURTEEN-ROOMED BRICK HOUSE. The above premises is situated on the Commonage, adjoining the New Court-house ground, Lambton. A RARE CHANCE for a Family Hotel, or General Store. For further information, apply to JOHN PEACOCK, On the Premises."
27 Jul 1878In describing the area of the proposed Lambton recreation ground (now Lambton Park), the north-east corner is described as being at "the extension of Elder-street on the north, and the Main Road running from the railway crossing to Peacock's corner on the east." The railway crossing was where Lambton Road crossed the Waratah Coal Company's railway, and was known as "Betty Bunn's Crossing."
25 Dec 1880
30 Sep 1880
Letter from the Lands department gives John Peacock 6 months to remove his buildings from the commonage. "It appearing from the report of Mr. District Surveyor Evans that you have erected improvements upon portions of No. 13, and part of 14, of section 1, within the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, I am directed to inform you that you are in illegal occupation of the land and that it will be necessary for you to remove within six months from this date whatever improvements you may have erected thereon, as it forms part of the area recently approved of as an addition to the Court House site at Lambton."
3 Feb 1881Mr J. McWilliams, a candidate for council elections, "contended that John Peacock's house was no detriment to the Court House."
20 Jun 1881"Personal. IF this should meet the eye of JANE PEACOCK, my daughter (last heard of in Ballarat, Victoria), or of CHRISTINA PATERSON, they are requested to write to me. JOHN PEACOCK, Commonage, Lambton."
10 Mar 1885Mr. N. MELVIILLE M.L.A. "referred to the attempt that had been made to remove his very good friend Mr. John Peacock off the Commonage and which he had prevented at a cost to the country of some twenty three shillings for telegrams (Laughter)."
21 Mar 1885Thomas Griffiths arrested for being drunk and disrorderly and "shortly after placed on garrison duty in the fortress near Peacock's corner." This is a semi-humorous reference to being placed in the police lock-up behind the Lambton courthouse.
25 Jan 1887John Peacock considers running for Lambton Council, but in the end doesn't nominate.
26 Feb 1887FOR SALE: "FAMILY RESIDENCE, With nearly a quarter acre of Land, known as Peacock's Property, situated in Dixon and Young streets, Lambton, close to the Court-house, containing 13 Rooms, Outhouses, Stables, &c., with a never-failing supply of water. The property is suitable for an Hotel or Boarding-house, and plenty of room to build two or three houses more."
27 Mar 1889
25 Mar 1889
The Lambton Miners' Committee has their attention drawn to John Peacock's state… "and that it was reported that the old gentleman was suffering from want of food. Peacock had got work at Lambton to fill small coal, but his health failed him. On being visited by the officers they found that it was a very distressing case. Mr. N Elliott, the butcher, provided him with meat, but he had not bread in the house."
3 Jun 1889
29 May 1889
The Lambton Miners' committee "recommends the lodge to pay all expenses in connection with John Peacock's raffle which amounts to 13s 6d." The chairman stated that the committee secured £10 6s for the old gentleman by the raffle."
31 Jul 1890In the sitting of the land court to determine the granting of land on the Commonage: "The application of John Peacock, for portion 810, was refused, as the land was required in the public interest; but the board found that the applicant was entitled to come under the provisions of the Act, and they accordingly recommended that he should be allowed to select some other portion."
30 Dec 1890Government Gazette shows that portion 759 of the Commonage, with an area of 21 and half perches, has been granted to John Peacock, for a purchase price of £35 8s.
6 Jun 1892The funeral of "JOHN PEACOCK: To move from his late residence, near the Courthouse, Lambton, THIS (Monday) AFTERNOON, at 3 o'clock, for Wallsend Cemetery."
21 Jun 1892
20 Jun 1892
After a fire destroys the home of Mrs. Webster, on Young Rd at the rear of the courthouse, Sergeant Salter "very kindly provided shelter and bedding for the unfortunate family in the vacant house of the late John Peacock, on the police reserve."
15 Jul 1892Public auction of the estate of John Peacock. In addtion to furniture, the auction included ...
"BRICK TENEMENT, with Iron Roofing, and quantity of loose Bricks, situate at Lambton, near Courthouse; same to be removed off land at Sale."
15 Sep 1892In a Lambton Council meeting "Alderman CONN called attention to a dangerous underground tank on the Police Court Reserve, left after the late J. Peacock's house was pulled down."

Rankin Park Hospital

The peaceful lawns that surround Rankin Park hospital now are a stark contrast to the tumultuous time of war in which it was built.

In 1923 the Newcastle Hospital Board purchased “Lambton Lodge”, the former residence of Thomas Croudace, to use as a convalescent home. At the official opening in 1926, Archie Rankin, chair of the board, announced that a further 60 acres of land had been purchased with a view to expansion. The plans remained but a dream until the nightmare of a second war came to the world. The government intended to build a hospital on the site to cater for evacuees in the event of an emergency. On 5 December 1941 during a visit to Newcastle, the Minister for National Emergency Services said that the hospital was “still in the planning stage.”

Two days later Japan bombed Pearl Harbour and entered the war. There was now an urgent need for an inland emergency hospital, out of range of Japanese battleship guns. The government quickly allocated £20,000 to erect a temporary structure. However, with an eye to a post-war future, Rankin pressed for a permanent brick structure, promising that he could have a 100 bed hospital ready in just ten weeks.

“The government agreed. The Newcastle hospital authorities wasted no time. They gave the architects 36 hours to complete plans, and told them a start would be made on the foundations without plans if they were not ready.”

Newcastle Morning Herald, 14 Jun 1943

The brickwork commenced on 6 February 1942 less than two months after the Pearl Harbour attack, and true to the ambitious promise the building was erected in just ten weeks. Patients were being tended at the hospital by May 1942 although conditions were initially very primitive.

In 1943 it was announced that the facility would be used as a chest hospital for the treatment of tuberculosis. Now part of Hunter New England Health, the Rankin Park Centre provides rehabilitation services for patients recovering from injuries and stroke.

Rankin Park Unit of the Royal Newcastle Hospital, c1950. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Rankin Park Centre of Hunter New England Health, 2018.


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

Additional Information

Some of the details for this article were obtained from “The Anataomy of an Artwork” (2002) by Cath Chegwidden, which is subtitled as “A fascinating history of the Rankin Park Aged Care and Rehabilitation Unit uncovered by the creation of artworks for its refurbishment.”

In particular, the information that patients were being tended in the hospital by May 1942 comes from page 8 of this book where the author states that

“my father Walter Chegwidden (now 85) told me that he had been a patient in Rankin Park when the miniature submarines entered Newcastle Harbour in May 1942.”

The Japanese submarine attack on Newcastle actually occurred on 8 June 1942, so either Walter Chegwidden was in the Rankin Park hospital in the month leading up to the submarine attack, or possibly it was June 1942 he was in the hospital and not May 1942. In any case the newspaper article from 1 May 1942 makes it clear that the hospital “could now, if an emergency arose, take between 100 and 150 cases.”

A picture of the new nurses’s home and a side view of the hospital was published in the Newcastle Morning Herald on 17 November 1945.  Comparing the photo of the hospital in the University of Newcastle Cultural Collections, in particular the car parked out the front, raises the intriguing possibility that the two photos were taken at the same time.

A side view of the Rankin Park hospital, November 1945.

Rankin Park Nurses’ Home, November 1945.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
19 Oct 1922"The [Newcastle Hospital] board decided to complete the purchase of 'The Lodge' at New Lambton Heights for the purposes of a convalescent home from the Scottish-Australian Mining Company.
21 Dec 1922Renovations of the former home of Thomas Croudace are being considered by the Scottish Australian Mining Company, and it is noted that 'The Lodge' will not pass into the possession of the hospital for an other two years."
26 Apr 1926
24 Apr 1926
Official opening of the convalescent home, in the former residence of Thomas Croudace. "In addition to the original 24 acres, the board had secured sixty acres with a view to providing room for further institutions which at present were in dreamland. The convalescent home was the realisation of the first of their dreams."
16 Oct 1941"The Government Architect (Mr. Cobden Parkes) announced to-day that a new hospital would probably be built at New Lambton Heights near the Convalescent Home. This hospital is intended to be an emergency hospital to serve the needs of Newcastle district should the hospitals in the target area have to be evacuated during an emergency."
5 Dec 1941"The proposed Newcastle district emergency hospital at New Lambton Heights is 'still in the planning stage,' said the Minister for N.E.S. (Mr Heffron) today."
7 Jan 1942"Newcastle Hospital Board has laid a definite proposal before the Government for an emergency hospital at New Lambton Heights." The hospital would "deal with casualties which might occur in a raid." "A hospital of brick construction— which would cost only about 10 per cent, more than a wooden structure — is advocated by some. Such a hospital could be turned to good use after the war. Conversion of it to a T.B. clinic has been suggested."
23 Jan 1942"Claims for the establishment of an emergency hospital at Newcastle will be placed before the Minister for Health (Mr. Kelly) in Sydney to-day."
This article contains details of how the various hospitals would be used in the event of an emergency … "In anticipation of a state of emergency being declared, hospitals in the district have been instructed to admit only acute cases."
"It is considered that civil casualties could first be treated at [Newcastle] hospital and then transferred to the emergency hospital. Newcastle Hospital would be essentially a clearing station."
7 Feb 1942£20,000 allocation for start on New Lambton Hospital. "Workmen have already started on the job. They have prepared foundations and yesterday began placing bricks. The hospital will accommodate 200 patients. Mr. Rankin has given an assurance that 100 beds will be available within 10 weeks and 200 beds in another four weeks."
18 Feb 1942"The emergency hospital which is being built at New Lambton Heights has been designed for use as a T.B. hospital after the war."
12 Mar 1942"Bricks for the emergency hospital at New Lambton cannot be supplied before March 16 … available bricks had had to be diverted to protection work at Newcastle."
1 May 1942"The emergency hospital at New Lambton Heights, it was stated, was progressing particularly well and could now, if an emergency arose, take between 100 and 150 cases."
1 Mar 1943The emergency hospital nearing completion will be used as a chest hospital for the treatment of tuberculosis.
14 Jun 1943Chest hospital not expected to be open for several months - delay in the delivery of material and equipment has held up the completion of the hospital. This article contains details about Archie Rankin's involvement in the very tight construction timeframe.
17 Nov 1945Photos of the new nurses' quarters at the New Lambton Chest Hospital, and a side view of the hospital.
24 Mar 1947"Representatives of the Newcastle Hospital Board, the Red Cross Society and the Hospitals Commission met in Sydney today to discuss the opening of the New Lambton Chest Hospital. The Red Cross Society has offered to provide sufficient staff to run the hospital."