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."

Location of Waratah Town Hall in Hanbury St

Thanks to Cath Chegwidden and the resources of the Historical Land Records Viewer, I’ve been able to correct a minor error in my Waratah Council page, on the exact location of the final Waratah Town Hall in Hanbury St. Mayfield. It was located where the current Ex Services Club is now, on Lot 8 Sec 2 DP8673.

Third Waratah Council Chambers/Town Hall. Hanbury Street, Mayfield. Newcastle City Council, Hunter Photobank.
Lot 2 Sec 2 of DP8673, the location of Waratah Town Hall, 1926-1938.
Vol-Fol 44-8, resumption of land for the Waratah Town Hall. Lot 8 Sec 2 in Hanbury St Mayfield.

Robinson’s Farm, Orchardtown

Dairy farms, market gardens, orchards and vineyards are scattered throughout the Hunter Valley today. But at one time, all these agricultural activities were also taking place in New Lambton, on farms such as that run by the Robinson family.

John Robinson was born 1846 in the north of England. His father was a coal miner, and at age 16 John was working as a pony driver at a colliery. He married in 1872 and emigrated to Australia in 1879 with his wife Dorothy and their children. After arriving in New Lambton the Robinsons lived in Alma Rd adjacent to the fire station, with John probably working in the local collieries.

The New Lambton Coal  Company, after extracting the payable coal from their lease, looked to profit from selling and leasing their land above ground. In October 1892 the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate reported that “a large extent of splendidly-sheltered and good land in New Lambton has lately been surveyed and laid out in five-acre allotments for fruit orchards or market gardens.” The twenty allotments, to the south of Queens Rd, were offered for lease on a 21 year term with an option to purchase.

John Robinson took this opportunity for a change in occupation. He obtained a lease on four of the allotments on the hillside to the west of Orchardtown Road, and pursued a number of farming endeavours such as dairy cows, bee keeping, vegetable gardens, an orchard, and even a small vineyard. In 1913, when the original 21 years leases expired, the Orchardtown allotments began to be sold off. From 1919 housing subdivisions commenced, and then accelerated particularly in the 1940s. By 1951 all of the original twenty allotments had been replaced with houses, shops, parks and sporting fields. Today there is but one remnant of Orchardtown’s agricultural past, that being the name of the main road that traverses the former farmland.

John and Dorothy Robinson on their Orchardtown farm, with their son Barwise, and daughters Margaret and Frances. November 1896. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.
The name of Orchardtown Rd is the only remnant of the agricultural heritage of this area of New Lambton.

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


Additional Information

Robinson Family

There is some uncertainty about the birthplace of John Robinson. His obituary from 1920 states that he “was born at Seaton (England) in 1846.” Seaton is a village in county Durham on the east coast of England. In contradiction to this location, the 1851 census of England shows John, aged 5, as having been born at Workington in county Cumberland, a village on the west coast of England. In 1851 John is living at Maryport UK, with his widower father Barwise, older sisters Frances and Elizabeth and older brother Barwise. His father’s occupation is listed as “Coal Miner”

1851 England Census

In 1861 England Census shows John Robinson aged 16, living at Hetton-le-Hole in county Durham, with his widower father Barwise, older sister Elizabeth and older brother Barwise. His father’s occupation is listed as “Coal Miner”, and John is listed as “Pony Driver at a colliery.”

1861 England Census – Barwise Robinson (widower), Elizabeth Robinson (daughter)
1861 England Census – Barwise Robinson (son), John Robinson (son)

I’m not sure how to resolve the discrepancy in birth places for John Robinson. It is possible that the John Robinson mentioned in these census records is not the same John Robinson who lived in New Lambton. However, the 1851 and 1861 census entries show the Robinson family lived in various places on both the east and west coast. The 1861 census location is Hetton-le-Hole, which is just 5km from Seaton, so it is possible that John Robinson’s 1920 obituary confuses a childhood residence with his place of birth.

John Robinson married Dorothy Maughan on 31 December 1872, in East Rainton in county Durham. East Rainton is less than 2km from Hetton-le-Hole. The Robinson’s had three children (Barwise, Mary Ann, Elizabeth) before moving to Australia in 1879. The list of immigrants for the ship “Blair Athol” that arrived in Sydney on 4 March 1879 shows the Robinson family as follows …

  • John, age 28, labourer [The listed age of 28 is probably an error – other sources indicate that John was born in 1846, which would make him 32 or 33 on his arrival in Australia.]
  • Dorothy, age 26
  • Barwise, age 5
  • Mary A(nn), age 3
  • Elizabeth, age 1, died during voyage

John Robinson’s obituary in 1920 states that he lived in Alma Road New Lambton for 41 years, which indicates that they moved to New Lambton very soon after arriving in Australia in 1879.

Of John’s occupation when he arrived in New Lambton, we have no definite evidence, and we can only presume that he worked in coal mining as he had done back in England. In August 1883 the newspaper reported an accident in Lambton Mine causing injury to two miners, John Robinson and Robert Young. The article contains no information to definitively identify this person as the John Robinson of New Lambton, but it is a reasonable conclusion to draw.

At New Lambton, John and Dorothy had several more children born to them.

As with many families in that era, the Robinsons suffered the premature death of several of their children.

  • Elizabeth died at age 1 during their voyage to Australia in 1879.
  • George died at age 4 in December 1888, when he drowned in an unfenced waterhole on the New Lambton Coal Company’s estate.
  • John died in 1891, just two weeks after he was born.
  • William died at age 12 in October 1899 due to a “tumor on the brain.”

John Robinson’s main residence for the 41 years he lived in New Lambton, was on Alma Rd. Up until 1890 this was part of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve (Commonage), and so Robinson did not have freehold title on this land. In August 1890 a sitting of the Commonage allotments Land Board granted Robinson’s application for lot 1320. It is somewhat confusing that the land title record (Vol-Fol 1363-20) for the grant of lot 1320 to John Robinson is dated 11 years later on 2 May 1901. I suspect that this is just due to a delay in the paperwork – that while the purchase took place around 1890, the registration of land title wasn’t submitted to the Lands Department until many years later.

Application for Lot 1320 of the Commonage was granted to John Robinson in 1890. The adjacent Lot 1321 is New Lambton fire station. Historical Land Records Viewer.

My initial research into John Robinson of New Lambton proved to be quite confusing, as there were references to John Robinson both in Orchardtown and in Alma Rd. As these locations are one kilometre apart, I initially thought that these were two different people with the same. However as progressed I kept finding that the details (wife, children, occupation) associated with the “Orchardtown” John Robinson kept matching the “Alma Rd” John Robinson. The seeming discrepancy of the two distinct locations can be explained by noting that John Robinson only ever leased the land at Orchardtown, he never purchased it. While there are some newspaper references to Robinson’s residence in Orchardtown, being on leased land it would probably have been only a small secondary house to enable living on the farm land, and that the Alma Rd land was the Robinson’s primary residence, noting that they purchased the Alma Rd land in 1890.

John Robinson died on 4 July 1920, aged 74 years, and was buried in Sandgate cemetery. His wife Dorothy died 6 November 1947, aged 94 years, and was buried beside her husband at Sandgate.

Grave of John and Dorothy Robinson, at Sandgate Cemetery

Orchardtown

On 25 October 1892, the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate reported …

“There are a good many people in this district who are going, or intending to go, into fruit farming, and an impetus will be given to the business by the throwing open of a large extent of splendidly-sheltered and good land in New Lambton, which has lately been surveyed and laid out in five-acre allotments for fruit orchards or market gardens.”

Four years after the land was first leased, the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate described the progress of Orchardtown in an article on 29 January 1896.

“Orchardtown is situated on the New Lambton Company’s estate, adjacent to the New Lambton township. The inhabitants are working men, who within the last four years have taken up blocks of land of from three to five acres. The land is leased to them by the company at a nominal fee, subject to certain conditions. The land is cleared more or less, and under cultivation, but there is still a great quantity of timber, and much labour will need to be applied before the plough can be used advantageously. The object of the settlers is to make a living on the ground. The crops, so far, have yielded fairly, and the people appear satisfied that when they have the whole of their land in working order they will be able to supply the local market with vegetables of European growth, that are somewhat scarce at present. A road a chain wide runs through the land, the blocks (20 in number) being on the east and west of it. The road is in its natural state, and therefore does not afford the facilities demanded.”

The 20 blocks of leased land leased in “Orchardtown”.

A report from 22 March 1902 on the possible resumption by the government of portions of Orchardtown states that …

“This land is at present held by tenants of the New Lambton Company, on a twenty-one years’ lease, with a purchasing covenant.”

Robinson’s Farm

The first mention of John Robinson in connection with farming leaseholds at New Lambton, is at the Municipal Appeal Court in May 1893

“John Robinson, leased land, New Lambton Estate, annual value £3 3s, rate 2s 10d; confirmed.”

In August 1894, the Hunter River Vine Diseases Board cancelled the fees of a number of vine growers, including John Robinson of New Lambton, as those growers were “occupying less than half an acre.” In September 1894, New Lambton Council granted John Robinson application to be registered as a milk vendor.

At the Municipal Appeal Court in May 1896 “it was announced that the New Lambton Company and the council had arranged for a reduced assessment on their properties” including “21½ acres let to John Robinson.” This gives a clue to the probable location of Robinson’s lease. Snowball’s photo clearly shows the farm being on a hillside, which means that it must have been on the west side of Orchardtown Road. In the background of the photo behind the fence the land is still uncleared because this area was the Scottish Australian Mining Company lease. The 21½ acres leased by Robinson indicate that he leased four of the 20 allotments, each approximately 5 acres in size. If he leased four adjacent blocks, the most likely area of his farm was blocks 12 to 15 as shown below.

In the Deposited Plan 3365 where the blocks are surveyed, lots 12-15 have a total area of only 20.9 acres, which seems to contradict the appeals court figure of 21.5 acres. Note however that the Deposited Plan surveyed blocks do not include the area of Orchardtown Road. If we extend blocks 12-15 to the centreline of Orchardtown Rd, the area comes to exactly 21.5 acres. I suspect that the blocks were originally leased out before the road through the middle of the allotments was officially dedicated, and this accounts for the apparent discrepancy in areas.

Probable location of allotments leased by John Robinson.

A sitting of the New Lambton Municipal appeals court indicates that by 1908 John Robinson was only leasing 3 acres at Orchardtown.

After the initial 21 year leases expired, the land was available for purchase. The first sale was Lot 11 in 1913 to John Oliver. The final blocks were sold in 1942 to William Henry Hudson the Younger, who purchased lots 9 and 10.

Some remnants of agriculture in Orchardtown persisted into the 1940s with a dairy still operating there in 1943. However the post World War 2 years saw a rapid expansion of housing in the area, and by 1951 a story on the history of Orchardtown noted that …

To-day the orchards and most of the farms-like the market garden at Jean-street-have given way to modern suburban houses.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 10 February 1951

Comparing aerial photographs from 1944 and 1954 shows how much suburban development took place in Orchardtown in just 10 years.

Aerial photographs of Orchardtown in 1944 and 1954 show rapid suburban expansion. NSW Historical Imagery

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
25 Aug 1883
24 Aug 1883
Accident and injury to two miners, John Robinson and Robert Young, at Lambton mine.
5 Dec 1888
4 Dec 1888
John and Dorothy Robinson's 4 year old son George drowns in a waterhole at New Lambton.
6 Dec 1888
5 Dec 1888
Inquest into the drowning death of George Robinson.
21 Aug 1890Commonage Allotments Land Board grants application for lot 1320 (on Alma Rd New Lambton) to John Robinson for £56 18s.
18 Aug 1894Hunter River Vine Diseases Board. John Robinson of New Lambton has less than half an acre of vines.
21 Sep 1894
19 Sep 1894
New Lambton council meeting … application from John Robinson to be registered as a milk vendor is approved.
8 Feb 1895
6 Feb 1895
First mention of "Orchardtown" in a newspaper article … in a New Lambton Council meeting, in reference to the state of the roads, and have the roads dedicated to the council.
22 Feb 1895
20 Feb 1895
At a New Lambton Council meeting … "The matter of making a road to Orchard Town was held over pending the deputation of residents reporting the result of their interview with Mr. Alexander Brown."
29 Jan 1896“Realising the growth of the place the inhabitants have determined to make an effort to have a representative in the New Lambton Council. Mr. C. H. Dagwell was unanimously nominated to go forward in the interests of the new township. Mr. Dagwell thanked the meeting for nominating him, and promised if he was successful in getting a seat in the council to have an eye to the interests of the New Lambton squatters.”
5 Feb 1896
4 Feb 1896
Charles Dagwell from Orchardtown is elected unopposed to New Lambton Council, to represent the interests of Orchardtown.
20 May 1896New Lambton Municipal Appeals Court … John Robinson is leasing 21½ acres at Orchardtown.
6 Aug 1896
5 Aug 1896
New Lambton Council meeting: Mr. J. Robinson applied to have his milk vendor's license cancelled.
22 Feb 1897
18 Feb 1897
"On Thursday night about 100 friends proceeded to the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Robinson, Orchard Town, and tendered to them a surprise in commemoration of their silver wedding."
8 May 1897New Lambton Municipal Appeals Court … John Robinson is leasing 21½ acres at Orchardtown for an annual rental of £5.
26 May 1898
25 May 1898
“Mr. John Robertson [Robinson], of Orchardtown, applied for the levels of Alma road, as he intended to build a house.”
1 Jul 1898"WANTED to Buy, Sulky PONY, 13½ hands, or 14¼ ; must be cheap and staunch. Apply Saturday, Mr. Barwise Robinson, Orchardtown, New Lambton."
25 Sep 1899
20 Sep 1899
Wedding of Barwise Robinson, eldest son of Mr. John Robinson, of Orchardtown, New Lambton, to Adeline Patterson. "After the ceremony the party left the church amid showers of rice and best wishes, and drove to Robinson's Farm, in the Orchard Blocks (residence of the bridegroom's parents), where a large circle of friends sat down to a sumptuous breakfast."
31 Oct 1899
29 Oct 1899
Death of William (age 12), son of Mr.and Mrs. John Robinson, of Orchard Town, from tumor on the brain.
31 Dec 1900
26 Dec 1899
Marriage of John Robinson's daughter Frances Jane to Thomas Ashman.
7 Dec 1901
4 Dec 1901
"On Wednesday a quiet though pretty wedding was solemnised at the residence of Mr. John Robinson, the contracting parties being Maggie, the youngest daughter of John Robinson and William, fifth son of Robert Atkinson, both of Orchard Town."
22 Mar 1902"A proposal was made to the Minister for Lands yesterday that he should resume certain areas at Orchardtown. This land is at present held by tenants of the New Lambton Company, on a twenty-one years' lease, with a purchasing covenant."
28 Jul 1904
27 Jul 1904
New Lambton Council meeting, correspondence. "From the manager, New Lambton Coal Company, stating, in reply to a request made by the council that, they were prepared to dedicate to the council the Orchard Town-road from Queen's-road to Mr. J. Robinson's lease."
3 Jul 1908New Lambton Municipal appeals court … "The appellants were residents of Orchardtown, who occupy land under lease from the New Lambton Company." J. Robinson appears to be leasing only 3 acres at this time.
23 Jun 1910
22 Jun 1910
"The wet weather had made the sanitary road almost impassable, and Mr. Robinson had allowed the council the use of his paddock for a month as a temporary depot, at a rental of £1. The manager of the New Lambton Company had consented to the Council taking any material they required from the old pumping shaft for repairing the Orchardtown-road."
7 Jul 1920
5 Jul 1920
"The funeral of the late Mr. John Robinson, of Alma-road, took place on Monday afternoon ... The interment took place in the general cemetery, Sandgate. The deceased, who had been suffering for a lengthy period, died early on Sunday morning. He was 74 years old, and was born at Seaton (England) in 1846. He was married in the year 1872 at East Renton, West Durham, and came to New Lambton 41 years ago, living in Alma-road during that period. He was highly respected. He leaves a widow and three daughters, one son, 20 grandchildren, and two great grandchildren."
9 Aug 1920
7 Aug 1920
"At midnight on Saturday a four-roomed cottage at Orchardtown, owned by Mrs. J. Robinson, of Alma-road, was burned to the ground. The occupiers, Mr. Bratz and family, were away from home at the time. The premises were not insured, and had been lately renovated by Mr. Robinson, who died a month ago, leaving the property to his widow."
24 Dec 1920The probate notice for the will of John Robinson of New Lambton shows his occupation as "fruiterer and gardener."
18 Nov 1931"Mrs. Dorothy Robinson was given a party at the home of her daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. W. Atkinson, Portland-place, New Lambton, in celebration of her 80th birthday. For more than half a century Mrs. Robinson has been a resident of New Lambton, having arrived from England in 1879. The Robinsons were among the earliest settlers of Orchard town, where they had an orchard and bee farm."
11 Aug 1943"C. Maclean, Orchardtown-road, New Lambton, said he conducted his business without outside labour. It required three carts and four horses, one a spare."
10 Feb 1951Ian Healy's article on the history of Orchardtown, and its rapid suburbanisation after World War 2.

Adamstown Railway Station and Crossing

There are a number of quintessential activities to do in Newcastle – walk Nobby’s breakwall, swim in the Bogey Hole, picnic at Blackbutt Reserve. But one of the most enduring of Novocastrian pastimes has to be complaining about the Adamstown rail crossing. “The delay to the traffic on the Adamstown and New Lambton road is most annoying.” This quote from the Newcastle Herald, is not from the recent past, but from August 1898!

The Newcastle to Gosford rail line opened in 1887, with passengers bound for Sydney needing to travel 14 miles on a steamer from Gosford to the south bank of the Hawkesbury River to continue their rail journey. Initially Adamstown had only a platform and a paltry office described as “large enough only for a dog kennel”. After vigorous campaigning by Adamstown residents, new station buildings were erected in 1891 including ladies and gentlemen’s waiting rooms, and a ticket and parcels office.

By 1891 the rail line at Adamstown had become exceedingly busy. The tracks had been duplicated from Hamilton to Teralba, and just south of the station was the junction of two private branch lines, to the New Lambton C Pit and Redhead Colliery. A number of near accidents at the level crossing north of the station led to the introduction in 1892 of a signal interlocking system, which ensured that trains could not pass until the gates were closed.

The gates and signals were manually operated, and while improving safety, they did not ease traffic congestion. In 1939 the manually operated swing gates were replaced with power operated boom gates, but complaints about traffic delays were ever recurring, as were suggested solutions. A reporter for the Newcastle Herald stated: “Probably, the day is not far distant when an overhead bridge will have to be erected.” Sadly, this nugget of wishful thinking was written 112 years ago in 1910. It seems the chances of this idea being realised now, are as forlorn as back then.

Adamstown Railway Station 1898. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.
Adamstown Railway Station 2022.

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


Additional Information

A useful reference source when preparing this article was “Adamstown Station. Something of a Chronology” by Ed Tonks, and available on the Australian Railway History Society of NSW website.

First official train crossing the first Hawkesbury River rail bridge at its opening on 1 May1889. Image from the ARHS Collection courtesy of Living Histories, University of Newcastle.
Advertisement for the official opening of the Hawkesbury River rail bridge. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 1 May1889.
Portion of a Hunter Water Map from 1909, showing thorough details of Adamstown railway crossing and station. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.
Advertising poster from 1908, for freehold suburban land near Adamstown Station. Newcastle Library.
Adamstown Rail Crossing, July 1977. Newcastle Library, Hunter Photobank.

Adamstown stationmaster’s house

One little sidetrack in researching this article was finding the location of the Adamstown stationmaster’s house. In January 1901 the newspaper reported …

During the past eleven and a half years Mr. W. Hall has been the officer in charge of the Adamstown railway station. Mr. Hall recently made application for a change, and his request has been acceded to. In about a week’s time he will take his departure from Adamstown and take charge of Guildford station, on the Southern line.

Newcastle Morning Herald and miners Advocate, 2 January 1901.

This would imply that W Hall had been appointed stationmaster around July 1888. Given that this is only a year after the rail line opened, and that Adamstown station began as only a platform beside the tracks, it is probable that W Hall was the first stationmaster appointed at Adamstown.

A newspaper article from 1898, reporting on a dispute as to whether the stationmaster’s house was liable for council rates, noted that …

The building is situated in Victoria-street on the Waratah Company’s subdivision, and is about 100 yards from the railway.

Newcastle Morning Herald and miners Advocate, 28 AUgust 1898.

Records from Historical Land Records Viewer, show in Vol-Fol 1066-135 that the Railway Commissioners of NSW purchased lots 1 and 2 of Sec H of DP2347 in August 1893.

Note that the map showing the location of the lots, only has streets labelled with numbers as per the in the DP2347 subdivision map. 2nd Street on this map was an extension of Victoria St and became known by that name, but 6th St persists to this day. A 1944 aerial photograph shows that the stationmaster’s house was situated at 151 Victoria St. The Railway Commissioners sold the house and property into private hands in May 1956.

Adamstown Stationmaster’s House, 1944 aerial photograph.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
10 Jul 1886
9 Jul 1886
"A meeting of the inhabitants of Adamstown was held last evening for the purpose of petitioning Government for a railway station at Adamstown."
8 Apr 1887
7 Apr 1887
Opening of the Hornsby to Hawkesbury River (Brooklyn) rail line.
13 Aug 1887Detailed description of the Hawkesury River to Newcastle rail line, to be opened soon. "Adamstown station is reached at 97 miles 75chains, where there is only a platform 264ft x 15." Interestingly, it appears that Broadmeadow station was originally called Lambton station.
16 Aug 1887
15 Aug 1887
Official opening of the Newcastle to Gosford railway.
18 Nov 1887"The Government road from Union-street to the railway platform is drawing towards completion …a siding is necessary at the platform, so that trucks containing goods for Adamstown can be shunted where carts can be taken conveniently to receive the goods."
16 Mar 1888
15 Mar 1888
At Adamstown Council meeting, a motion is passed regarding "the great need of a station at Adamstown platform on the Homebush and Waratah Railway" and "to ask for a funeral train."
13 Apr 1888
12 Apr 1888
Council's request for a funeral train for Adamstown has been refused. A petition to be raised.
2 Jul 1888"The traffic manager this morning granted the request made to him to run a funeral train from Adamstown on Sundays whenever required."
24 Apr 1889"The Railway Commissioners have prepared a new time-table for the Northern line, which will come into operation next month, when the Hawkbesbury bridge is open for passenger traffic. The journey to and from Sydney will be very much shortened ... doing the whole journey in 3 hours 20 minutes, saving no less than 2 hours 22 minutes."
2 May 1889
1 May 1889
Opening of Hawkesbury River rail bridge.
25 Jun 1889"About two hundred men from the unemployed in Sydney arrived yesterday to commence the earthworks required for the duplication of the railway line between Adamstown and Teralba."
3 Sep 1889"The Redhead Company are now constructing a branch railway line from Adamstown to their Burwood Extended mine."
8 Nov 1889"The firm [New Lambton Coal Company] have a branch line, one mile in length, connecting the colliery [C Pit] with the Sydney-Newcastle railway at Adamstown."
30 Jun 1890"The stationmaster's office is a place large enough only for a pigeon ducket or a dog kennel, and in such a place the whole of the work of the station has to be performed."
3 Jan 1891Tender accepted from J R Rodgers for erection of station buildings at Adamstown
12 Jan 1891
10 Jan 1891
There is a suggestion that Adamstown station is to be moved from its present location to closer to Broadmeadow. A public meeting is held to discuss the issue, with opinions sharply divided.
20 Jan 1891"It will be a consolation to those who are opposed to the removal of the railway station, to know that such is not to be carried into effect; and the station buildings are to be erected forthwith on the present site. The contractor is prepared to proceed with the work immediately, so the people can rest content that they will before long have the accommodation they have so long agitated for."
22 Apr 1891"Adamstown. The erection of the station buildings are progressing slowly. With the exception of the goods-shed, they are all that is required for the present. The goods-shed is very small, and not nearly so large as was promised."
19 Oct 1892"After a deal of writing on behalf of the council the railway authorities have commenced the work of interlocking the points and gates at the railway station: By the installation of the interlocking system the safety of the traffic will be improved considerably. Indeed, the system in vogue is dangerous in the extreme and daily accidents of a serious character have been narrowly averted."
19 Nov 1892
18 Nov 1892
"A new interlocking apparatus was opened at the Adamstown railway station yesterday. Since the opening of the double track to Teralba, the department have gradually introduced the interlocking system at the various stations. Adamstown is now an important junction, as the Redhead and New Lambton lines branch off the Government railways near the station. The new apparatus consists of a bunch of 29 levers, which work the various semaphores, the points, and the gates which guard the different crossings."
27 Jul 1897"With respect to vehicular traffic, on the Adamstown-New Lambton road there is a grievance, and one that is not likely to be remedied till a man is placed at that important junction to attend to the signals and crossing-gates, which work is ample for one person. The delay to the traffic on the Adamstown New Lambton road is frequently most annoying, and the testimonials the station officials are daily made the recipients of are anything but gratifying."
28 Aug 1897"At the railway station the gates are kept closed as much as possible to prevent any of the unlimited stray horses getting on the railway."
6 Aug 1898"There are great complaints at times of the great delay caused to traffic at the Adamstown railway crossing. The delay to the traffic on the Adamstown and New Lambton road is most annoying, and the verbal testimonials presented to the railway officials are anything but complimentary."
2 Jan 1901"During the past eleven and a half years Mr. W. Hall has been the officer in charge of the Adamstown railway station. In about a week's time he will take his departure from Adamstown and take charge of Guildford station, on the Southern line. He leaves Adamstown with the good wishes of all."
4 Oct 1910"A lot of shunting is done at the station, and trouble is caused by the delay to road traffic through this cause. Probably, the day is not far distant when an overhead bridge will have to be erected."
5 Jun 1929"When the Railway Commissioners visit Newcastle on June 23, strong argument will be put forward for the electrification of the railway from Sydney to Newcastle. It is stated by those urging the installation of the new system that the cost would not be very great."
3 Sep 1937"Extensive alterations are contemplated at Adamstown railway station. The improvements will include enlarged platforms, boom gates to replace the existing swing ones, a new signal box and an overhead bridge to connect the two platforms."
"Ald. Williams said that an overhead bridge should be constructed for pedestrians and vehicular traffic. With an overhead bridge for vehicular traffic delays at the gates would be obviated."
1 Mar 1938"I would desire to direct attention to the delay and inconvenience caused at the Adamstown gates. As one who would very much like to see an overhead bridge at this intersection, not only for business traffic but the public traffic also. There have been times when I have waited with traffic streamed along behind me for close on 20 minutes."
8 May 1939
7 May 1939
"A new railway signal box and power operated boom gates were opened yesterday at St. James-road, Adamstown, by the Railway Department. The old hand operated gates have been replaced by an electrically operated device."

Hums of the Wheel

Newcastle Bicycle Carnival, March 1897

This month’s photo was taken 125 years ago in March 1897. So much has changed that it’s hard to recognise the location today. The photo was taken from the brewery buildings in Hamilton East (now part of Hamilton TAFE) looking towards Bar Beach. In the foreground is a Rugby Union ground, and behind it to the right is Newcastle’s original racecourse, before the Broadmeadow racecourse opened in 1907

In the background, below Shepherds Hill there is a line of coal wagons at the “Sea Pit” of the A. A. Company, and in the foreground the railway to their “D Pit” in Hamilton. All the land in this photo belonged to the company, part of 2000 acres granted by the Government in 1830. When finished with coal the company turned to real estate and subdivided the land in 1913. Stewart Ave now runs through the former rugby ground.

Although the scene has changed, the subject remains.

Ralph Snowball photographed a bicycle carnival, a  two-day event of races on a banked velodrome track built around the rugby field. The 1890s was a decade of huge popularity for cycling, with the Newcastle Morning Herald having a weekly column “Hums of the Wheel” reporting on the sport. The first column in March 1892 noted that “since the advent of the safety bicycle, cycling has received an impetus which has placed it on a par with any other sport in the world.” Unlike the earlier ‘penny farthings’ where the rider perched precariously above a large wheel,  safety bicycles had equal sized wheels, propelled by pedals and a chain, with the rider seated low to the ground. By end of 1890s interest in cycling had waned significantly, and at a charity event hoping to draw a crowd of thousands, just 60 turned up.  The downturn however was only temporary, and cycling has ever been on an upward trend. Its popularity now so great that an astonishing 1.7 million bicycles were imported into Australia last financial year.

Newcastle Bicycle Carnival, March 1897. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.
The same view in 2022, from Hamilton TAFE, with highways and houses in the place of former sporting fields.

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


The Bicycle

Prior to 1876, the standard or “ordinary” bicycle had two different sized wheels, with the rider seated high above the larger wheel at the front, propelling it with direct pedal action.

Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers, 14 August 1869.

In 1876, J H Lawson of Brighton UK, invented the “safety bicycle”.

The special feature of this machine is that the rider sits over the smaller wheel and as the big driving-wheel at his back; the feet are thus always within easy reach of the ground, and the danger of falling is reduced to a minimum.

“The Rainfall”, 9 December 1878

Within a short period of time the design of the safety bicycle had evolved to having two equal sized wheels, with the rear wheel driven by a pedals and a chain. In 1879, the cycle manufacturer George Singer started making safety bicycles under license from J H Lawson. Initial uptake was slow and …

“… it was not until 1885 that the safety bicycle was fairly established in public favour.”

The Riverina Grazier, 1 SePtember 1896
An 1892 advertisement for safety bicycles shows how little the basic design of the bicycle has changed in the last 130 years. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 8 December 1892.

The Bicycle Carnival

The Bicycle Carnival in March 1897 was held over two days, Thursday 25 March and Saturday 27 March. It would appear that Ralph Snowball has made a minor error in annotating his negative with the date 28 March 1897.

Advertisement for Bicycle Carnival in March 1897. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 22 March 1897.

The bicycle carnival was a huge event. The Newcastle Morning Herald reported on the following Monday 29 March 1897 that “there must have been nearly 6000 persons present, comprising visitors from all parts of the country, and especially from the metropolis.” Special tram services were arranged to get patrons to and from the event, and proceedings were attended by representatives from eight different newspapers.

One more thing to ponder about Snowball’s photograph – if the subject is a bicycle carnival, where are the bicycles? With the glass plate negative cameras that Snowball worked with, the exposure time meant that any cyclists on the track would be but a blur. One cyclist can just be made out at the left of the photo.

Long exposure times mean that cyclists appear as a blur.

Location of the Bicycle Carnival

A brief mention of the bicycle carnival in the newspaper on 29 March 1897 reports that it was held on the Rugby Football Ground.

Rugby Football Ground shown on an 1884 map, to the south of the A. A. Company coal railway. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.

The Rugby Football ground can also be seen in a 1906 Ralph Snowball photograph, which is part of a 4 panel panorama taken from the Obelisk hill. The brewery building from which Snowball almost certainly took the photograph is at the right of the ground, with the A. A. Company coal rail line running between.

View from Obelisk looking west, with Rugby Football Ground on the left and the brewery building at the right. Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.
The former brewery building, now part of Hamilton TAFE.

Australian Agricultural Company land and the “Garden Suburb”

Map showing the 2000 acres granted to the A A Company in Newcastle in 1830, The location of Snowball’s 1897 photo of the bicycle carnival is marked in red. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.
Approximate extent of A A Company 2000 acre grant, shown in Google Earth. The 1897 Rugby Ground is outlined in white.
The view in Google Earth (above) shows that almost all the land visible in Snowball’s 1897 photo (below) belonged to the A A Company.

In 1913 the A. A. Company announced a grand plan to develop their land into an attractive “model suburb”.

A MODEL SUBURB. A.A. COMPANY’S INTENTIONS.
The first attempt at a practical application of the principles of modern town planning in the vicinity of Newcastle is about to be made by the Australian Agricultural Company, the scheme being yet another indication of the company’s enterprise in the direction of advancing the interests of the city and district. The proposal is to set apart a portion, of the company’s estate, consisting of about 250 acres, and lying west and south-west of Melville [now Union St] and Parry streets, for the purposes of a model suburb, and the requisite plans for the undertaking have already been completed. The design has been worked out by Messrs. John Sulman and John F. Hennessy, of Sydney, and every endeavour has been made to embody in it all the features which experience in other parts of the world has shown to be most desirable … Fine wide streets, planted with trees in such a way as to be ornamental in fact as well as in name, are naturally looked for in a model residential area, and they will not be looked for in vain in the A.A. Company’s so-far-unnamed suburb.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 28 April 1913.

The following year, in May 1914, the company advertised the first subdivision in their new suburb, promoting it as the “Garden Suburb”.

Advertisement for the A.A. Company’s land sale for their new “Garden Suburb” in 1914. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.

The name “Garden Suburb” was a marketing phrase and not the official name of the suburb, although it did make its way onto the plaques on the commemorative columns at Learmonth Park.

Ornamental column at Learmonth Park in Hamilton South, with a plaque commemorating the opening of the Australian Agricultural Company’s “Garden Suburb” in 1914.

One interesting feature of the original 1913 design of the suburb that never eventuated, was an ornamental garden and recreation area in the middle of Stewart Ave.

About half-way along Stewart avenue a large oblong-shaped space is to be utilised for enclosed grass plots, and in the centre of it a band-stand will be placed. There probably will be two of these turfed squares, and at each end of these will be a semi-circular plot, one having an ornamental fountain within it, and the other a piece of statuary.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 28 April 1913.
Proposed ornamental area in the middle of Stewart Avenue.

Note that the modern suburb named “Garden Suburb” dates back to 1918, when the Assurance and Thrift Association Ltd developed a subdivision in the Cardiff area.

Garden Suburb subdivision in the Cardiff area, December 1918. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
9 Dec 1878Article with some details about the invention of the safety bicycle by Mr Lawson ... "The great advantage of these safety bicycles is that you can mount by throwing your leg over—as over a pony—and start instantly ; you can then go as slowly and steadily as you like, even in the most crowded thoroughfares, where high bicyclists must dismount."
1 Apr 1882Earliest advertisement (in Trove) for a safety bicycle for sale in Australia.
28 Jul 1886Earliest mention of a safety bicycle in the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate. Program for upcoming Newcastle Bicycle Club race day includes a "One Mile Safety Bicycle Handicap."
19 Mar 1892First "Hums of the Wheel" column in the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate. "Since the advent of the safety bicycle, cycling has received an impetus which has placed it on a par with any other sport in the world. The introduction of the cushion, pneumatic, and other tyres of the kind to the safety has completely outstride the old-fashioned ordinary, and it is to be relegated to a back seat. Although the ordinary bicycle has been tried with the pneumatic tyres, it has not proved anything near so fast as its dwarfed brother."
8 Dec 1892Advertisement for "Star", "Humber", and "New Rapid" safety bicycles.
1 Sep 1896Interview with the H J Lawson, the inventor of the safety bicycle.
"In 1879 Mr. Singer, the well-known maker, sent for me and offered to manufacture my cycle for the market, paying me a royalty of £2 on each machine. Somehow the innovation did not meet with popularity at this time, and it was not until 1885 that the safety bicycle was fairly established in public favor. By this time, though, I had relinquished my patents, so that I have never reaped any pecuniary profit from my invention."
22 Mar 1897Advertisement for "GRAND CYCLING CARNIVAL. THURSDAY, SATURDAY, MARCH 25 AND 27. 350 Entries. 41 Events. SPLENDID NEW SEATING ACCOMMODATION FOR 3000 PEOPLE."
29 Mar 1897
27 Mar 1897
"Between 5000 and 6000 persons attended the bicycle sports on the Rugby Football Ground on Saturday. The weather was all that could be desired, and the sport was of a most interesting character."
29 Mar 1897
27 Mar 1897
Report on day 2 of the bicycle carnival.
23 Dec 1899
16 Dec 1899
Final "Hums of the Wheel" column in the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate.
"The result of last Saturday's carnival should be sufficient to deter the cycling clubs from running another for some time to come. The sport is as flat as it can possibly be, and the public require something more novel to attract them. It was thought that the cause would have been in itself sufficient to draw a gate of at least a couple of thousand, but the total of sixty reflected anything but credit upon the sport-loving public of Newcastle. The Benevolent So ciety will not benefit to the extent of a copper, but on the contrary the Federal Bicycle Club will have to make good the loss over the meeting. The cycling authorities must therefore abide by the will of the public, and unless some extra attractiveness is introduced the less meetings held the better for the clubs' coffers. The racing was fairly good, but there was a sameness about the whole affair that became monotonous."
18 Feb 1907
16 Feb 1902
"Saturday last witnessed the final day's racing on the Newcastle Jockey Club's course at Hamilton, as the club's next fixture will be decided on the new course at Broadmeadow in April. In bidding adieu to the old site the president and several members of the committee grew reminiscent, and compared the condition of the course at the present time with what it was when taken over by the club. Then it was a mere waste of marsh and brushwood, but during the club's possession it had been drained and wonderfully improved, so that its subsequent conversion into a golf links for the local club became a comparatively easy matter."
29 Apr 1907
27 Apr 1907
Official opening of the Newcastle Jockey Club's new racecourse at Broadmeadow.
28 Apr 1913The Australian Agricultural Company announces its plan to create a new "garden suburb" in an area of 250 acres to the south of Parry Street.

Lambton Central Collieries

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

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

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

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

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

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


Additional Information

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Argus, 10 Nov 1956

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

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

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

Lambton Central Colliery (1936-1942)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lambton Central No. 3 (1951-?)

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

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

Lambton Central No. 1 (1952-?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newspaper articles

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

Lambton Council Chambers

Thanks to the land titles available in the Historical Land Records Viewer, I have been able to identify all the locations that Lambton Council meetings were held during its existence from 1871 to 1938. I have updated my Lambton Council page with this information, including a map.

Of the six buildings they met in, only the last of them still survives – the Lambton Library building in the corner of the park.

Lambton Library, January 2022.