Darkness into Light

The sudden postponement of the final day of the Love Lambton 150 event in June due to Covid-19 restrictions, meant that Lambton was unable to fully celebrate the anniversary in the correct month. One hundred years ago the anniversary also slipped, but for a different reason.

In 1921 there was an optimistic mood. The great war of 1914-18 was over and the troops had returned. The influenza pandemic of 1919 that claimed 494 lives in Newcastle had subsided, and Lambton Municipality was ready to celebrate 50 years since its incorporation in June 1871.  

But it was not just a metaphorical darkness the town was emerging from. For 22 years after the financial failure of the council’s first electric lighting scheme, Lambton’s streets were to be lit again. Council decided to delay the jubilee festivities to coincide with switching on the new electric lights.

A week of events was held in the beginning of August 1921 under the banner “Darkness into Light”, with concerts, banquets and sporting competitions. The highlight was on Thursday night in the park, with the ceremonial switching on of the electric lights, followed by an impressive display of fireworks liberally supplied by the Chinese residents of Jesmond.

The abundance of enthusiastic donations from the community meant that when the partying was over the Jubilee organising committee was left with a considerable surplus of funds. In recognition of the past, they donated £30 for a bed at Wallsend Hospital where many influenza patients were cared for. For the present health of the community they spent £36 installing a drinking fountain at the corner of Lambton Park. Looking to the future, they gave the remainder to Lambton and Jesmond school libraries for the education of students.

We don’t know when the darkness of our Covid-19 pandemic will recede, but when it does and we are in a festive mood again, we would do well to emulate the thankfulness and generosity of Lambton’s jubilee committee 100 years ago.

Lambton Park after a hail storm circa 1940. The Jubilee drinking fountain can be seen outside the park fence on the right. From the collection of Maree Cook.
One hundred years on the Jubilee drinking fountain still stands at the entrance to Lambton Park.

The article above was first published in the August 2021 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

The date of “August 6th” on the inscribed plaque of the jubilee drinking fountain is a bit of a conundrum. For this isn’t the date Lambton’s incorporation (26 June) nor can it be the date the fountain was installed, as the location of the fountain wasn’t even voted on until three weeks later in September, and nor is it the day of the main ceremonial event of the jubilee celebrations, which was the switching on of the electric lights on Thursday 4th August.

Inscribed plaque on the Lambton Jubilee drinking fountain.
“Darkness Into Light”, Advertisement for Lambton Jubilee celebrations, Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 23 July 1921.

A Jubilee Poem

LET THERE BE LIGHT. Thirty years ago Lambton streets were lit by electricity. Since then they have not been lit even with candles. But Lambton will soon see the light, for the Newcastle Council will in July supply the dark suburb with electricity.— News Item.

To wander through your dismal streets, your dark highways to plod,
Your gutters, drains and rutted roads give many hearts a prod.
I stumble over sleeping forms— the crocks long strayed from home.
And make a solemn kind of oath, “I never more will roam.”
In Lambton, darkest Lambton.”

But now farewell, ye laneways black; farewell each winding street.
Those stones that bruised my tired shins and jarred my aching feet,
Shall of their power yet be robbed, and night shall be as day,
In July next the new light comes, when jubilee holds sway.
Oh, Lambton, brightest Lambton!

Published in The Newcastle Sun, 28 May 1921.

Newspaper articles – Jubilee

Article Date Event DateNotes
16 Oct 1919Influenza pandemic report from Dr. R. Dick. "In the whole district there were 494 deaths registered as due to influenza or its complications during the period from March 2nd to September 10th, 1919.
10 Feb 1921"Alderman E. J. Thomas referred to the Jubilee of the municipality, the incorporation of hich took place in June, 1871. He hoped that the council would not allow the occasion to pass without some form of celebration. Other aldermen endorsed the remarks of Alderman Thomas, and, stated that it would be a good idea to couple the celebration of the Jubilee and the installation of the lighting of the town at the same time. There would be no harm in delaying the jubilee celebration until the switching on of the lights, which the council were assured would be ready about July or August."
27 May 1921"The jubilee of Lambton's establishment as a municipality falls on June 26, and a celebration in honor of the occasion has been arranged to take place on the first Thursday following the switching on of the electric light. It has not been possible to put forward the lighting of the municipality so that it could synchronise with the date of tho Jubilee, so it has been necessary to defer the celebrations till the light is available. The city electrician has promised that the installation will be complete by July 30."

"To finance the undertaking, a dozen collectors were appointed to canvass the town for subscriptions."

20 Jun 1921"The lighting of Lambton's streets and business houses by electricity is proceeding so well that there is every hope of the job being completed before August 4, the day selected for the Jubilee celebrations, and for the switching on of the current. Altogether 110 street lights are to be provided, but the council thinks that this number will not be nearly enough when people begin to observe what a boon the electric light is."
16 Jul 1921Offer of donation from a vaudeville show is refused. "The canvass of the town for funds for the children's treat will be completed in the next fortnight. For the fireworks display, fixed for the opening night, a liberal supply of fireworks has been assured by the Chinese residents of Jesmond."
5 Aug 1921
4 Aug 1921
Lambton Municipality Jubilee Celebrations - electric light switching on ceremony.
8 Aug 1921
6 Aug 1921
Lambton Municipality Jubilee Celebrations - children's day in Lambton Park on Saturday, and a combined religious service in the Coronation Hall on Sunday.
19 Aug 1921"LAMBTON JUBILEE DISPOSAL OF FUNDS. With the balance of the funds, it was agreed to erect a drinking fountain near the park, at a cost of £30, and to make the gift of a cot, costing the same amount, to the Wallsend Hospital. The remainder will be evenly divided between the Lambton and Jesmond public schools, to be used preferably for the upkeep of their respective libraries."
24 Aug 1921
23 Aug 1921
Lambton Council meeting: "Correspondence was read from the jubilee committee, asking the council to accept the sum of £30 from the surplus for the erection of a public drinking fountain, The offer was accepted with thanks."
12 Sep 1921
9 Sep 1921
At Lambton Council meeting, Alderman A. Hardy moved, "That the Jubilee Memorial fountain be erected out side the entrance gates of the park in Howe-street." The motion was carried.
28 Sep 1921Water Board meeting: "The town clerk, Lambton, wrote making application for free supply of water to a public drinking fountain to be erected on the footpath at the intersection of Howe and Morehead streets as a jubilee memorial. The engineer's and assessor's reports were read, and the board decided to grant a free supply of water under the usual conditions, provided that approved fittings are used."
16 Dec 1921"At the last meeting of Lambton Council the town clerk submitted a statement showing the disposal of the funds in hand from the jubilee celebrations. The balance was £68 12s 7d, and the main disbursements were: Purchase and erection of drinking fountain £36 11s 4d, donation of cot to the Wallsend Hospital £30."
19 Dec 1921
16 Dec 1921
"Prior to the breaking up for the Christmas vacation at the Lambton and Jesmond Schools, on Friday. Alderman G. Bell attended each school, and handed over the surplus from the jubilee celebrations which was given as a donation to the school libraries or to be utilised for the benefit of the school as may be decided upon by the teachers."
19 Dec 1921
17 Dec 1921
Presentation of donated cot (bed) to Wallsend Hospital, funded from the surplus from the Lambton Jubilee celebrations.

The return of electric light to Lambton

Lambton’s first electric light scheme that commenced in 1890 was a financial disaster that sent the council broke. From December 1899 the council ceased to exist as a functioning entity, as no-one was willing to nominate to serve on a financially crippled council. In July 1903 a scheme was adopted to settle the debts over a period of 20 years, and an election for nine new aldermen was held in September 1903.

With the prospect of 20 years debt ahead of them, even as the new council formed there was still a desire to light the streets again one day.

The old debt is to be wiped off, less the accumulated interest; so it will be some time ere the streets and park are again illuminated, but the sooner the better.

Bowral Free Press, 12 September 1903.

But in the ensuing years any enthusiasm for bringing back the lighting was quickly curbed by the memory of the previous failed scheme and its legacy of debt. By 1914 there was sufficient interest in a proposal to illuminate Lambton’s streets by gaslight, that it was put to a municipal vote in August 1914, but the referendum was soundly defeated with 84 votes for and 199 votes against.

A key moment in the return of lighting to Lambton municipality occurred just a few months later, in a decision of another municipality. Newcastle Council, which at that time only covered the area east of National Park, had been operating an electric light system since January 1891. The council obtained electricity from two sources – by bulk purchase from the Zaara St power station owned by the Railway Commissioners, and from their own power station in Sydney Street.

1894 map showing location of Newcastle Electric Light Station in Sydney Street, now the western end of Tyrrell Street. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.
1930s map showing location of the Zaara St power station. National Library of Australia.

With this power station Newcastle Council had been primarily supplying electricity to consumers within its municipal boundary, but occasionally to users and businesses in neighbouring areas. By 1914 there was a need to increase the generating capacity of the power station, and at the Newcastle Council meeting of 9 November 1914, aldermen voted to accept the tender of the Australian General Electric Light Company at £5219 for the supply and installation of a new 500kw turbo-alternator and associated pipe work.

The installation was completed in 1915, and with the investment cost to pay off and considerable spare generating capacity, it was argued that “no opportunity should be lost for obtaining new clients, and every chance availed of for extending the service into the suburban municipalities.” At their meeting on 16 August 1915, Newcastle Council voted on the terms on which they would supply electricity to other councils.

“It was decided, on the recommendation of the city electrician, that in future all agreements with municipalities must provide for 21 years, sole rights with right of renewal … or an agreement for ten years, with sole rights of supply, terminable also by purchase of the council’s property within any such area …”

Negotiations were immediately begun to supply Wickham and Adamstown Councils with electricity. Supply to New Lambton was switched on in September 1916, and other council areas followed in quick succession.

While other suburbs queued up to sign on to an electrical supply from Newcastle Council, Lambton’s reticence continued. At a public meeting held in the council chambers on 8 June 1917, discussion on the question of a new electric lighting schemes was amiable, but views were divided. Aldermen Hardy and Polak were supportive, stating that “The borough would advance if lighting were installed.” Mr J Jones in opposing the motion said “Any man bringing up the scheme should be examined by a medical man.” When put to the vote, the motion was rejected.

However by 1918 the tide of opinion towards another go at street lighting was in the balance. At a council meeting in August 1918 the aldermen were evenly divided on the matter. Eighteen months later, when Louis Polak was elected as Mayor on 3 February 1920, he immediately declared his intention “to advocate a street lighting system.” He wasted no time in writing to Newcastle Council, who replied on 24 February 1920 that they

“would be pleased to confer and assist the council, with a view of expediting the proposal to instal street lighting in the municipality.”

At their meeting on 4 May 1920, Lambton Council voted to approve the proposal from Newcastle Council for the supply of electric street lighting.

“The agreement with the Newcastle Council specified £3 15s per lamp of 60 candle-power, with an increase of 2s 6d per lamp for every 1s increase in the selling price of coal over 11s per ton, the terms of the agreement to be for 10 years, and the minimum number of lamps to be 100.”

Being late to the party, Lambton had to wait until other councils had been connected. In July 1920 it was reported that …

“Preparations are being made for the erection of the poles for the electric lighting of the municipality. The council has been assured that there will be no undue delay so far as the Newcastle Council is concerned, and upon completion of the Waratah service, which is now well advanced, the electrical construction staff will be transferred to Lambton.”

Despite the assurance of “no undue delay”, six months later Lambton Mayor, Louis Polak, was complaining to Newcastle Council that …

“Although an agreement had been signed, nothing had been done. The [Newcastle Council] electrical engineer stated that the delay was due to the impossibility of getting poles and the plant necessary.”

Installation eventually commenced on 7 February 1921, with erection of poles in the section of Lambton east of Karoola Rd, followed by De Vitre and Elder Streets in March 1921. But progress was slowed again with the Newcastle City electrical engineer reporting delays …

“… owing to the difficulty in getting large quantities of bare copper cable for quick delivery, and of having received no advices of the transformer for the street lighting. The position was that 150 poles had been erected in six weeks, and as there were 391 poles to be erected they would take at the same rate of progress a further ten weeks to complete. The work had been slower than anticipated owing to a large number of poles being erected in rock, necessitating drilling and blasting.”

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 22 March 1921.

Construction progressed in the following months and was finally completed on 1 August 1921.

“The finishing touches in connection with the installation of the electric light will be completed to-day. The workmen were engaged on Saturday fixing the globes, and the remaining few will receive attention, and will be ready for the trial lighting which will take place to-morrow.”

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 1 August 1921.

The official switching on ceremony took place a few days later in Lambton Park on Thursday 4 August 1921.

“Punctually at seven o’clock in the evening Mrs. Polak, the Mayoress, switched on the electric light from the rotunda, in the vicinity of which a large gathering of citizens had assembled. Alderman Polak, the Mayor expressed his pleasure at the manner in which all the arrangements had been carried out. He hoped that the town would go ahead. It was a healthy suburb, and he saw no reason why it should not progress under the new conditions. Following the Mayor’s remarks, a display of fireworks was given.”

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 5 August 1921.
Newcastle Electric Light Station, Sydney St Newcastle, 1908. This was the generating station that supplied power to Lambton’s electric street lights in 1921. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.

The inscription on the facade of the building in the photo above reads
M. J. Moroney Mayor * Electric Light Station * Erected 1905

Although a generating station had been on the site since 1891, an enlargement of the building and generating capacity, was instigated in August 1905 when Michael Joseph Moroney was Mayor of Newcastle. The extensions were nearing completion in May 1906.

“Material additions and improvements are being made to the electric lighting station of the borough of Newcastle, and the prospects for the future are highly promising. In the front of the station there has been erected a brick structure, with a frontage of 60ft x 18ft, which contains an entrance hall, an electrical engineer’s office, fitting and testing room, and storeroom. An addition has also been made alongside of the original building, running the full length, and 37ft wide, which will give room for future extensions, in addition to those already decided upon.”

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 4 May 1906
An undated view of the Sydney St power station, taken from Darby St. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.
1930s map showing location of Newcastle City Electric Power House in Tyrrell St (formerly Sydney St). National Library of Australia.

Newspaper articles – electric light

Article Date Event DateNotes
2 Jan 1891
1 Jan 1891
Official opening of the Newcastle Council electric light scheme.
12 Sep 1903"Nine aldermen (out of 15 candidates) are being elected to-day. The old debt is to be wiped off, less the accumulated interest; so it will be some time ere the streets and park are again illuminated, but the sooner the better."
29 Jul 1914Letter from a resident urging the community to vote in favour of the gas powered lighting scheme.

"Lambton is naturally so situated that if only reasonable conveniences prevail, it will take its place in the future as one of the most desirable suburbs in the district to reside in, and I hope that the ratepayers will be alive to their own interests, and help the council in their efforts to bring about this much needed improvement."
24 Aug 1914
22 Aug 1914
"A poll of the ratepayers on the street-lighting question was taken on Saturday, and the number of ratepayers that voted was much larger than for some years, and very keen interest taken in the matter. The result was as follows :--For gas, 84 ; against, 199 ; informal, 3."
1 Oct 1914"During the last two or three years there has been a largely increased demand for electric current from the Newcastle City Council's plant … The council has been informed by its expert advisers that it is now urgently necessary that another generating unit should be installed."
10 Nov 1914Newcastle Council meeting: "On the recommendation of the finance committee it was decided to accept the tender of the Australian General Electric Light Company, at £4007 10s, for one 500 k.w. turbo-alternator, of British manufacture. The company's tender at £1212 was also accepted for the supply of pipework, making a total of £5219 10s."
4 Aug 1915
3 Aug 1915
At a Newcastle Council meeting, the aldermen discuss proposed extensions of the electric lighting into Wickham and Adamstown municipalities.
7 Aug 1915Letter regarding Newcastle Council electricity generation: "The actual units in commission now total about 950 kilowatts, with a new Turbo set erected, and which will be ready for work by the end of September. This will give 1450 k.w. The peak load is about 700 k.w., which occurs on Friday evenings, and this therefore shows a margin of about 700 k.w. No opportunity should be lost for obtaining new clients, and every chance availed of for extending the service into the suburban municipalities."
17 Aug 1915
16 Aug 1915
Newcastle Council decide on the terms under which they will suplply elecrtricity to other municipalities.
20 Sep 1916
18 Sep 1916
Formal switching on ceremony of New Lambton electric lighting.
9 Jun 1917
8 Jun 1917
"In response to a requisition of ratepayers Alderman E. Charlton, the Mayor of Lambton, convened a meeting, which was held at the council chambers last evening, to discuss the proposed lighting of the municipality."

Views for and against the proposed electric light scheme were put forward, but when put to the vote the motion was rejected.
2 Sep 1918"During the discussion which took place at the last municipal meeting upon the lighting of the municipality, the aldermen appear to be evenly divided. [Those] supporting the motion, contended that until some move was made in the direction indicated that the municipality would not make progress in keeping with adjoining centres, where a lighting system was installed. [Those] opposing the motion, argued that the council should first consider some scheme with a view of reducing the present indebtedness which they contended was the reason of keeping the town from progressing."
4 Feb 1920
3 Feb 1920
Newly elected Mayor of Lambton, Louis Polak, states his intention to advocate a street lighting system.
25 Feb 1920
24 Feb 1920
At Lambton Council meeting, correspondence received from "The Newcastle electrical engineer, intimating that the Newcastle Council would be pleased to confer and assist the council, with a view of expediting the proposal to instal street lighting in the municipality."
5 May 1920
4 May 1920
Lambton council votes to approve an agreement with Newcastle Council for the installation and supply of electric light.
26 Jul 1920"Preparations are being made for the erection of the poles for the electric lighting of the municipality. The council has been assured that there will be no undue delay so far as the Newcastle Council is concerned, and upon completion of the Waratah service, which is now well advanced, the electrical construction staff will be transferred to Lambton. It is expected that the lighting of the muni icipality will be installed by February or March of next year. With the switching on of the light the council will also have an opportunity of making the combined celebration of the jubilee, as the municipality will have been 50 years incorporated on the 26th June, 1921."
11 Jan 1921At the Newcastle Council meeting, the electricity committee reports on the delays to Lambton's electtic light installation.
8 Feb 1921
7 Feb 1921
"Employees of the electrical department of the Newcastle Council commenced yesterday the erection of the poles for the street lighting of the municipality. The first section to be undertaken is from Karoola-road to the eastern boundary."
23 Jul 1921Newcastle Electricity, conference of councils. Contains a short history of the supply of electricity from Newcastle Council.
1 Aug 1921"The finishing touches in connection with the installation of the electric light will be completed to-day."

Charles Noble

This month marks 100 years since the death of Charles Noble, whose immense contributions to Lambton colliery and Lambton township spanned more than 50 years.

Charles Noble was born in Nailsea near Bristol on 9 June 1856, and arrived in Australia the following year with his parents Mark and Elizabeth. They lived in the Merewether area for a few years before moving to Lambton.

Charles was just 10 years old when he first worked at Lambton Colliery for a brief three-week stint. He started at the colliery again in 1868, but on 17 June 1871, having just turned 15, misfortune struck.  While uncoupling a set of coal trains on an incline in the mine, his right arm was crushed between two wagons. The injury was severe and required the amputation of the arm.

As painful as it was, the accident, proved to be a positive turning point in Charles’ career. The mine manager Thomas Croudace, “recommended the company to give him a two years’ free schooling and then re-employ him as an apprentice for an under-manager’s position.” Charles attended Lambton Public School and went on to receive the “first prize of the school for good behaviour and general proficiency.” After schooling, he returned to Lambton colliery working at many jobs, eventually becoming underground manager.

Above ground Noble served the town in many capacities. He was elected as auditor for the Lambton council sixteen times. At various times he held positions at the Mechanics Institute, Lambton Park Trust, and assisted with local choirs, the Methodist Church, friendly societies and sporting clubs. On Sunday 10 July 1921, aged 65 Charles Noble died very suddenly of heart disease. He was at work just the day before, at Lambton colliery where he had been employed for a record 53 years. Such was the respect he was held in, the colliery ceased work for a day so that employees could attend his funeral. He was survived by his wife Annie, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Mildred.

Lambton Colliery staff, 27 May 1897. Charles Noble is sitting on the ground at the right.
Living Histories @ UoN.
Year 4 students at Lambton Public School (L to R) Brisan Archer, Riley Brooker, Jackson
Horvat and Harry Rayner with the historic coal hopper on campus. These students are the same
age as Charles Noble when he commenced working at Lambton colliery. Photo provided courtesy of Lambton Public School.

The article above was first published in the July 2021 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

Arrival in Australia

The List of Immigrants for the ship “Alfred” which arrived on 23 July 1857 shows Charles Noble arrived with his youthful parents Mark aged 22 and Elizabeth aged 19. Charles is listed as an infant under 1 year, although he would have had his first birthday the month before the ship’s arrival date.

Immigrant List of the ship “Alfred”,showing the Noble family. NSW State Archives, NRS5316/4_4794/Alfred_23 Jul 1857

The Noble family’s safe arrival in the ship Alfred was fortuitous occasion, as reported at Charles’ funeral some 64 years later …

A full passenger list prevented the late Mr. Noble and his parents from sailing in the Dunbar, which was wrecked outside Sydney Heads, with almost a total loss of life. They came to Australia by the next ship, the Prince Alfred.

The Newcastle SUn, 11 July 1921

The Dunbar was shipwrecked on 21 August 1857 with the loss of 120 lives, and just one survivor.

The accident

The accident and injury to Charles Noble was reported in the The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser on 22 June 1871. Note that Charles’ age is reported as “about seventeen”, however he had just turned 15.

I am sorry to have to report that an accident of a very painful nature occurred to a young man about seventeen [sic] years of age, named Noble, at the Lambton Colliery, on Saturday night last It appears the boy was uncoupling a set of coal trains at the incline bank in the pit, and by some means got his arm fast between the bumpers. The arm was so dreadfully lacerated as to create great fears that it will be necessary to amputate it. The bone was not broken, but the flesh, muscles, and bloodveins fearfully torn. Dr Hill and his assistant, Mr James, were fortunately at hand, and did what was necessary, and it is to be hoped they will succeed in saving the poor boy’s limb.

The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 22 June 1871.

The following week, the Newcastle Chronicle reported on his recovery …

I am glad to be able to state that young Noble, the boy who lost his arm by the late accident at the Lambton Colliery, is progressing most favourably under the skilful treatment of Dr. Hill. Your contemporary the Pilot is in error in stating that it was through carelessness on the boy’s part that the accident happened, although, in the majority of cases, such is the case ; but in this instance it was anything but that, and under similar circumstances the most careful person might have been caught in a like manner.

THE Newcastle Chronicle, 27 June 1871.

Unfortunately the Chronicle reporter’s observation that the accident could happen to even the most careful person, proved to be tragically prescient. Just five months later a similar accident, at the same place, resulted in a youth of seventeen also requiring the amputation of his right arm.

Another of those serious and painful accidents which are of such frequent, occurrence, and present to the view of strangers coming among us so many fine healthy young men either maimed or crippled, occurred yesterday, at the Lambton colliery. A One smart young fellow, named Andrew Blimm, son of German parents, and about 17 years of age, while employed at his work, coupling and uncoupling the trams on the incline bank within the Lambton colliery, had his right arm so severely torn and lacerated from the hand to elbow joint as to leave no hopes of saving the limb. It was about this same, incline bank and this same rope that the young man, Charles Noble, not long ago lost his arm.

The Newcastle Chronicle, 25 November 1871.

Lambton Council

Charles Noble was elected as auditor to Lambton Council for 16 consecutive years in the period 1883 to 1898. The following year, with the council in the throes of the electric light scheme financial disaster, he was appointed as auditor by the Lieutenant Governor of NSW, when no-one was willing to nominate for positions in a bankrupt municipality.

Lambton council ceased to exist for a few years, but when it commenced again, Charles Noble was elected as an alderman at the election in September 1903. Being one of the three successful candidates who secured the lowest number of votes, his term as alderman only lasted until the next scheduled election in February 1904. He did not re-contest his position as alderman, but put himself forward for auditor again, but was unsuccessful.

Civic service ran in the Noble family. Charles’ brother Henry James Noble was town clerk of Lambton Council for many years, and brother George Noble was an alderman in Lambton for seven years and elected Mayor in 1905.

A short street in North Lambton with the prosaic name of “1st Street” was renamed to “Noble Street” in 1955, presumably in recognition of the service of the Noble brothers to Lambton.

OpenStreetMap

Residence

In 1902 a short report on the eighteenth birthday of Lydia Noble indicates that the family were living in Summerhill, which is the hilly area of Lambton east of the park, where Fitzroy and Illalung Roads run. It would seem they were renting there initially, for the first record of a land sale to the Nobles occurs in 1906, with Annie Noble purchasing Lot 1009 of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, in Fitzroy Rd. The block of land was subdivided into two parts in 1941 and is now 20 and 22 Fitzroy Rd.

Vol-Fol 1027-40. HLRV

Other photos

Newcastle library has another Ralph Snowball photo of the same group of colliery officials, minus one person. The photo was almost certainly taken on the same day, but at a different location at the colliery.

Noting that Charles Noble had lost his right arm, we can see that on the library site the photo is incorrectly displayed as a mirror image. I have corrected the mirroring in the photo below.

Colliery officials, Lambton mine, 1897. Ralph Snowball. Hunter Photobank
Charles Noble. Photo from ancestry.com supplied by Amy Gibbs.
Elizabeth Lydia, Annie, Charles and Mildred Noble. Photo from ancestry.com supplied by Amy Gibbs.
Grave site in Sandgate cemetery of Charles and Annie Noble , and other members of the Noble family.
The inscription on the headstone for Charles and Annie Noble is hidden by vegetation.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
22 Jun 1871
17 Jun 1871
Accident at Lambton colliery in which fifteen year old Charles Noble has his arm so severely crushed that it required amputation.
27 Jun 1871"I am glad to be able to state that young Noble, the boy who lost his arm by the late accident at the Lambton Colliery, is progressing most favourably under the skilful treatment of Dr. Hill."
25 Nov 1871
24 Nov 1871
Andrew Blimm (aged 17) loses an arm in an accident at Lambton Colliery, in very similar circumstances to Charles Noble five months earlier.
11 Jan 1873"Master Charles Noble was called up to receive the first prize of the school for good behaviour and general proficiency ; he proved to be one of the two young men who unfortunately lost one of their arms at the Lambton Colliery."
2 Sep 1874"The Lambton miners presented Andrew Blim, a young man who lost his arm some three years ago on the Lambton colliery, with the sum of £10 on Saturday last. They also intend giving a like sum to Charles Noble, who lost his arm about the same time, and while working at the same place as Blim."
12 Dec 1876
10 Dec 1876
"At the camp meeting on Sunday, a young man named Charles Noble, sat down on a glass bottle, and cut one of his fingers to the bone. As he has only one hand this accident is very unfortunate."
28 Dec 1878Charles Noble, secretary of the "Morning Star Band of Hope" lodge in Lambton.
2 Apr 1879
31 Mar 1879
"On Monday last Mr. Charles Noble, one of the officials of Lambton Colliery, happened a rather nasty accident. Whilst endeavouring to get out of the way of a skip, he ran his head up against a piece of iron, and inflicted a severe scalp wound, which caused the loss of much blood."
17 Nov 1883Charles Noble, marriage to Annie Robson, at Wallsend.
9 Apr 1891In testimony at a court case, Charles Noble states his occupation … "I am underground boss in Lambton pit."
23 May 1894Charles Noble elected as one of the Trustees of Lambton Mechanics' Institute.
24 Jul 1902Charles Noble elected as treasurer of Lambton Park Trust.
5 Oct 1904"The Scottish-Australian Mining Company has leased the old Lambton colliery to Mr. Charles Noble on tribute, and it is intimated that there is room for about 30 miners in the pit on district rates of pay."
5 Dec 1904
3 Dec 1904
Death of Mark Noble, father of Charles Noble.
9 Apr 1910
8 Apr 1910
Death of Elizabeth Noble, mother of Charles Noble.
30 May 1921"Mr. Charles Noble, the present undermanager has been employed with the company for over 52 years, which can be regarded as almost a record of service. He commenced work in the pit after leaving school as a set boy, and about two years afterwards he met with an accident while taking off the rope, necessitating the amputation of one of his arms. Work of a light nature was subsequently found him. He became studious, and had no difficulty in passing the examination qualifying for an underground manager."
11 Jul 1921
10 Jul 1921
Obituary on the death of Charles Noble.
11 Jul 1921
10 Jul 1921
"The death took place at Lambton yesterday morning of Mr. Chas. Noble, brother of the town clerk (Mr. H. J. Noble) at the age of 66, from heart failure. Deceased, who was a native of Somersetshire, England, lived at Lambton for 56 years, and was associated with the Lambton Colliery (during the greater portion of the time as under-manager), for 53 years."
12 Jul 1921
11 Jul 1921
"Lambton colliery was idle yesterday, so that its employees might attend the funeral of the under-manager, Mr. Charles Noble, who died on Sunday morning."
12 Jul 1921
11 Jul 1921
Funeral of Charles Noble.
17 Aug 1921
14 Aug 1921
Memorial service for Charles Noble at Lambton Methodist Church - "Mr. Noble had been associated with the church since childhood, and was a trustee for many years. "
20 Jun 1934Death of Ann Noble (widow of Charles), aged 71.
4 Nov 1955"First Street" in North Lambton renamed to "Noble Street".

The plaque is found

Back in September 2015 I wrote about the power station built in Lambton in 1890 to supply the electric light scheme. In a follow-up article in August 2017 I wrote about the commemorative plaque that had been placed on the power station at its opening, and that its last known location was Nesca House in 1975. Ed Tonks subsequently provided to me a photo showing the plaque on display in 1985, but that its current whereabouts was unknown. 

A few weeks, thanks to keen work from Robert Watson, the plaque was located in storage at Ausgrid’s Wallsend depot. This weekend the plaque is on display for the Love Lambton 150 celebrations, in the Lambton library, which is the former Lambton council chambers where all the decisions about the electric light scheme were made by the aldermen and mayor.

The Lambton Electric Light Station plaque, on display in Lambton library. 26 June 2021.

Furnace Feast

Inauguration of Lambton Colliery furnace, 3 June 1871

When Lambton Colliery opened in 1863, the manager Thomas Croudace set about to make it the most modern, productive and safe mine in the colony. Having supervised the construction of the largest ventilating furnace in the country, he arranged to celebrate its opening in an unusual manner. The following is an edited extract of The Newcastle Chronicle’s report of the opening, 150 years ago this month.

Saturday was a red-letter day in the history of the Lambton Colliery. A tolerably large party of our citizens, in receipt of invitations from Mr. Thomas Croudace, left for the colliery, to celebrate the opening of the new furnace lately erected. The engine-room was visited, and then commenced the subterranean journey.

Proceeding a distance of more than three quarters of a mile from the working pit, and very nearly at a depth of 400 feet – the new furnace!

Its total length is 45 feet, thickness of wall, 4 feet, the main arch 12 feet high. The fire-bars are 5 feet long, and there are 160 of them resting upon strong bearing bars which are supported by nine cast iron pillars. The cost of castings alone for this furnace was £200. About 1000 bricks have been used in its erection, and the total expenditure is rather over £1000.

It is estimated when at full work to consume from 10 to 12 tons coal daily, and draw nine million cubic feet of air per hour. There it stood, brilliant in its coating of red and well-blacked doors — a monument of skill and industry. Its apertures exposing the pleasures yet to come, an ascent was made on to the floor of the furnace, where on the firebars was found a table bountifully supplied with good cheer, to celebrate the opening of the brick arched chamber so soon to be in full operation, ventilating the mine.

Delay to the hungry travellers was out of the question, seats were taken, the busy clatter of knives and forks commenced, subdued only by the strains of the [Lambton Brass] Band, which played at intervals. The cloth having been cleared, [toasts were drunk and speeches made.]

Mr. Croudace said “However simple it might appear, great difficulties beset its construction, but he was happy to be able to say that no accident had occurred during the whole time the men had been working at it. They had done the best that could be done to lessen the evils the miners were subjected to in their underground labour.”

By the road it had come the party returned to the surface, after passing a very pleasant and instructive afternoon in the bowels of the earth.

The Newcastle Chronicle, 8 June 1871.

A 1930s map shows the location of the shaft, where the furnace lay 120 metres below New Lambton Heights. National Library of Australia.

The article above was first published in the June 2021 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

In regard to this particular furnace of Lambton colliery, I haven’t come across any photographs of either the shaft on the surface, or the furnace underground. Probably on the surface, the outlet of the shaft looked something like the Mosquito Pit, which was another ventilating shaft of the Lambton colliery, further to the south.

Underground, the furnace is described as having a semi-circular main arch “11 ft 9 in. in the clear”. The Museum of Wales has a photograph of a collapsed ventilating furnace, which gives an indication of what the Lambton furnace may have looked like.

Ty Mawr Colliery, the remains of an underground ventilation furnace which date back to the late 1870s. Photograph by John Cornwall. Museum of Wales.
Figure 45 from William Glover’s “First Lessons in Coal Mining”, 1906, showing an example ventilating furnace, with the central furnace chamber (a) where the coals burns on the firebars (b), and with two side airways (c).

Thomas Croudace’s 1871 ventilating furnace appears to have operated until about 1925-26. A 1925 article on the decommissioning of a winding engine noted that in the Lambton Colliery …

The air current has always been regarded as good, all foul air being drawn from the pit by means of the upcast furnace shaft, located near the manager’s residence on the Charlestown-road.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ ADvocate, 15 June 1925.

An article on the closure of the mine in 1936 speaks of the installation of fan ventilation in 1926, so presumably the ventilating furnace was decommissioned around this time.

The installation of a ventilating fan in 1926 allowed miners to penetrate to places which could not have been reached under the old system of ventilation by furnaces, owing to the presence of black damp.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ ADvocate, 20 June 1936.

A feature survey map from Scottish Australian Mining Company held by the Local Studies section of Newcastle Library suggests that the furnace shaft was gone by 1925, as the shaft is not marked, whereas numerous other shafts and colliery infrastructure are marked.

Croudace’s furnace shaft is absent from this 1925 Feature Survey map from the Scottish Australian Mining. Library reference no Map C 622.33/25.

Other maps

The furnace shaft shown on Major Parrott’s 1893 map. National Library of Australia.
The furnace shaft shown on a 1911 map. National Library of Australia.

Full article from 1871

The following is the full text of the Newcastle Chronicle’s report of 8 June 1871, with the text that I condensed into my article, shown in red. For simplicity in my article, I rounded some of the furnace dimensions to the nearest foot.

LAMBTON COLLIERY. INAUGURATION OF THE NEW FURNACE.

Saturday was a red letter day in the history of the Lambton Colliery. Leaving this city as shortly before one o’clock, a tolerably large party of our citizens, in receipt of invitations from Mr. Thomas Croudace, the manager, left the railway station by special, kindly laid on for the purpose, in rear of the return trucks, for the colliery, to celebrate the opening of the new furnace lately erected. On arriving at the works they were met by Mr. Jackson, and with him escorted to the residence of Mr. Thomas Croudace. The ascent of a rather steep hill was fully repaid by the really charming view afforded on reaching its summit. Facing the entrance gates, through an opening in the primaeval forest, appeared as pretty a panoramic view as could be desired. In the centre Nobby’s and the port, to the right the city of Newcastle, to the left the North Shore and the coast line, trending northerly to Port Stephens, in the extreme distance the blue ocean. The weather was beautifully fine, and though a slight haze hung o’er the distance, yet this only added to the beauty of the scene. The sun shone brightly, the air was mild and balmy, and nature, as if willing to assist in perfecting the day’s pleasure, had assumed her gayest holiday attire. At the entrance, Mr. Croudace met and welcomed his guests, and conducted them to his pretty villa, by a broad carriage drive in course of formation, and then over a lawn — fresh and green with artificial grasses and clover — suggesting croquet and bowls, and other pleasant pastimes. Here fresh scenery awaited the visitors — to the northward and westward, in the back ground, lay purple hills, almost rising to the dignity of mountains, and low down, in mid distance, sheets of water, without which no picture of this kind can be perfect, greeted the view. The house, standing on the crown of the eminence, commanded each vista, and rightly was it remarked that the host of the day’s lot had fallen in pleasant places. Lunch was shortly announced, and whilst the inner man was being stayed against the afternoon’s underground fatigues, the Lambton brass band, in an exceedingly neat and becoming uniform made its appearance, and performed in excellent style some of their choice pieces. Lunch over, the party, headed by the band, and passing close on their right the head of the new furnace chimney, once more descended the hill, and arriving at the foot, were shown over the works, which were fully explained to them. The engine-room was also visited, and then commenced the subterranean journey. Provided with numerous lanterns, and headed by the manager, the tunnel was entered, and after proceeding a short distance, over a double line of T rails of 40 lbs. to the yard, fishtailed
and thoroughly secured— the gradients varying from 1 in 24 to 1 in 40, and the gauge 2 feet — the explorers turned to the left, and with a fresh breeze blowing right astern, over a single line and between walls of coal, pushed on. As the journey was continued, on every hand one saw the evidence of what science and skill, having been brought to bear, had effected in simplifying the miners’ labour and enhancing his comfort. The gallery was in most parts sufficiently high for a six-footer to proceed erect, though at times stooping had to be resorted to, and the atmosphere for the greater part of the distance was cool and comfortable enough. The first divergence made was to the left, and here was found the old furnace, in full blast, drawing to it cold currents of air from the outer world, and with the assistance of cunningly devised traps and passages sending them on their mission of health and safety throughout the underground works. Once more on the direct route, a voice, proceeding from under a small tin lamp fastened in front of a cap borne by an invisible wearer, said something, understood by the initiated only. Look out! was the cry. The 2¼ iron wire rope, the party had been following from the drum in the engine-room, down to where they were now arrested in their descent, was running up the drive and over the rollers pretty rapidly, presently a low rumbling was heard, which gradually increased in volume until, some three dozen coal laden skips made their appearance. On a signal given the miniature train stopped, and then more explanation ensued. First the use of the devil and then its mechanism, beautiful in its simplicity came under notice, and it was shown how in a minute the hauling wire could, by its means, be attached to or detached from the leading skip, afterwards (literally,) the cow was inspected and its power of stopping the train from rushing back into the depths of the pit was exemplified, and the signal being again given the coal laden skips and their inspectors each went their different ways. Presently a halt was called. Here Mr. Croudace pointed out where the miners had come upon a Whyn Dyke of igneous rock and had lost the seam, and how they had only come upon it again by ‘following my leader.’ The leader in this case being a little narrow indication of coal, which however, sufficed once more to bring them into the seam. Again a halt, and this time, a number of empty skips following their principle of gravitation, rushed down the incline as if in a hurry for more coal. The crown of the gallery now lowers considerably, the air is getting closer, occasionally large spaces are seen overhead, where there has been a fall, and the presence of water commences to make itself known. A turn to the right and there is a gigantic cellar, the roof supported by stout timbers, and the space filled on every side with millions of tons of coal. The air was still closer here and more oppressive, than even in a gallery itself, and there, on returning, its effect begins to be felt. Yet another few yards, a door thrown open, a turn to the left, another short stooping match and there, after passing the Lambton band, sitting on a long table on the left, right in front, stood the new-fashioned banquet room, 64 chains, or rather more than three quarters of a mile from the working pit, and very nearly at a depth of 400 feet — though not directly underneath the entrance gates of the manager’s grounds. First, however, the pumping apparatus had to be inspected; it was close handy, and was found to be a compound steam and hydraulic engine, constructed by Garratt and Marshall. This placed at the bottom of the shaft, which is the lowest present level forces the water through pipes 4¼ in. in diameter, a. distance of three-quarters of a mile, with a vertical column of about 120 feet, at the rate of 80,000 gallons in 10 hours. It is in fact a direct-acting force pump, attached to the piston rod of an inverted cylinder, thus forming the compound power. The new furnace may be thus described— Its total length is 45 feet, thickness of walls, 3 feet, and casing, 9 in., making 3 ft 9 in. The foundation is laid with a mixture of Sydney and Waratah stones, 4ft. 3 in. broad, 4ft. 3 in. long, 1 ft. 3 in. in thickness, all set in cement, and carried down to hard stone, 9 ft. below coal. The whole of the work to bottom of the bars is set in cement, after that the outside walls are set in mortar, and the inside walls in fire clay. The main arch is 11 ft. 9 in. in the clear, and is a semicircle, cased 3 ft. up from fire-bars, with 9 in. brickwork. There are three fire-holes at each side with double archways over each, and two at the end, making eight in all. The fire-bars are 5 ft. long, and there are 160 of them; they rest upon strong bearing bars running the whole length of the furnace grate, viz., 20 feet, which are again supported by nine cast iron pillars set upon dwarf walls, built in cement from hard stone. The cost of castings alone for this furnace was £200; about 1000 bricks have been used in its erection, and the total expenditure is rather over £1000. It is larger than the great ventilating furnace at Eppleton pit, Hetton, county of Durham, England, that being 26 ft. long, by 6 ft. wide, having 156 square feet of fire surface or grates; whereas the Lambton furnace is 20 ft. long, by 10 ft. wide, and has 200 ft. of fire surface. It is estimated when at full work to consume from 10 to 12 tons coal daily, and at that rate consume nine million cubic feet of air per hour. And there it stood, brilliant in its coating of red and well-blacked doors — a monument of skill and industry, its apertures exposing the pleasures yet to come. The work of inspection being now concluded, an ascent was made on to the floor of the furnace, where, on the firebars was found a table bountifully supplied with good cheer, where withal to celebrate the opening of the brick arched chamber so soon to be in full operation, ventilating the mine, but now used as a banquetting hall. Of course, all light was artificial, and to one unused to subterranean entertainments, there was added to the charm of pleasant society that of novelty also. Just beyond the further end of the table the dark, hollow recesses of the well and the shaft showed themselves. A free current of air passing through the furnace kept it fairly cool, and then found its way up to the surface by the huge chimney, meeting on its way with sundry small supplies of water which, falling, dropped musically into the dismal receptacle below. Delay to the hungry travellers was out of the question — seats were taken, Mr. Croudace in the chair, and the Rev. J. S. Wood, who officiated as vice, having asked a blessing, the busy clatter of knives and forks commenced, subdued only by the strains of the band, which played at intervals. The only drawback to the enjoyment was the unavoidable absence of several gentlemen who had been invited. The cloth having been cleared, The Chairman gave ‘ The Queen.’ This toast having been duly honored, ‘The Governor, the Earl of Belmore,’ followed. In proposing this toast, the chairman said it really did seem very strange that neither the late nor the present governor, although they could find plenty of time to attend horticultural and agricultural societies, had ever visited any of the collieries. He could assure His Excellency that it would not in any way be derogatory to his position to do so, and were he ever to visit one he would find that he could be right properly entertained. The chairman then proposed ‘The Army, Navy, and Volunteers,’ pointing out at the same time how necessary they were to the safety of the community, both externally and internally. He thought the services well deserving of the toast.

Captain Allan returned thanks on behalf of the three branches. Mr. Sweetland proposed ‘ The Shipping and Commercial interests of Newcastle in a few brief and appropriate remarks. Mr. R. B. Wallace, as one who had made the shipping and coal interests his own for the last ten years, responded. He had closely watched the progress of those interests, and could testify to the rapid strides they had made in that period. He believed they had increased in importance more during the last eight years, than they had during the whole thirty preceeding. He remembered, in 1860, when there was no Queen’s wharf, and only one or two collieries. Coal was then 14s. 6d. a ton, and he regretted that he was not at the present time paying the same price for it. They could then not only build furnaces but assist in increasing the profits of all concerned, directly or indirectly, in the trade. The pits, in 1870, produced from fourteen to fifteen thousand tons weekly ; ten years ago they did not turn out 1000 tons in the same time. They had, during the last few hours, seen where there had been an immense amount of capital expended in that very mine, but he much feared 8s. a ton would not pay the interest on the money laid out. He thought the colliery proprietors had the remedy in their own hands, and it was their own fault if they did not seek it. For himself the coal interests, as he had said, had been his own for the last ten years, he hoped they would be for the next twenty years, and that they would prove even still more satisfactory than they had done.

The Rev. J. S. Wood proposed ‘The coal trade of New South Wales.’ The rev. gentleman looked upon the coal trade as the life blood of the colony. In the old country he had heard of the pastoral interests, the goldfields interests, but what about the coal-field interests, in which thousands within a few miles circuit of Newcastle were interested. He had, when he accepted the invitation, thought he might have to speak, but had not anticipated having so important a toast entrusted to him, especially as there was not one present who was not more or less deeply interested in the success of the coal trade of New South Wales. Not only was Lambton, but the intellect and ability of the other collieries was also represented at that table. There was a considerable amount of shipping engaged in that trade, and within a circuit of three miles, were from eight to ten thousand souls whose daily bread, whose very existence was derived from the coal trade. He thought they were engaged in something more than the mere formal drinking of that toast, when they considered that there were so many whom God had placed on the earth interested in its success. There had evidently been a large amount of capital sunk in the coal pits. He thought he might take the one he was in as a fair sample of all, and that one showed the great care and anxiety which had been taken to secure the welfare of all concerned in their working. There had been evidently great efforts made, to secure their working with safety, and for despatch in forwarding the coal to its destination. Anyone who viewed the matter with an intelligent eye must be convinced that there was a great future opening in connection with the coal trade of New South Wales, one, not to be forecast in importance. New markets were opening in every direction and the proprietors seemed determined that no outlay should be spared to lay themselves out for those markets. He had known collieries in the old country. There the descent into these mines, which the rev. gentleman described, was of a very different nature to the one they had just accomplished, to meet at its termination, with that fair tablecloth, and the spread and the friends glad to meet and join in the festal gathering. Only one thing was present in his mind, and that was that their host Mr. Croudace, must have the interest of the coal trade of Newcastle thoroughly at heart, when he found him inviting all those connected with the coal and shipping, and almost every other interest to meet as they had done in the hope that they were all determined to satisfactorily push forward the interests of the miners. Mr. Winship, who rose to respond, said he had been caught in a trap; however his duty was both easy and pleasant, and, in a most humorous speech, thanked them for the manner in which the toast had been received and, in return, proposed to give them the toast of the ‘Scottish Australian Mining Company,’ coupled with the names of Messrs. Morehead and Young. He referred to the vast and immense progress made in getting coal to the surface since the introduction of steam power and also in getting it away from the pits’ mouth. He believed that but for the energy displayed by Messrs. Morehead and Young, the trade would have been a nonentity. He highly approved of the furnace and also believed in the necessity of raising the price of coal, and concluded by eulogising the able manner in which Mr. Croudace had conducted the operations of the mine. This toast was drunk in champagne, and as the chairman remarked with ‘no bottoms.’

Mr. Croudace responded. He said the prosperity of the company he represented was his own. Of Mr. Morehead’s behaviour towards himself he could not speak too highly. To return to the present position of the coal trade; the Lambton colliery had been severely censured from beginning to end. He maintained that the remedy was not, as Mr. Wallace had said, in the hands of the proprietors, nothing they could do, could set aside the laws of nature, the laws governing the relations of supply and demand. He had always opposed the 10s. agreement, and for many reasons. No artificial arrangement could alter the laws of supply and demand. It was thus in all trades, competition had its effects; he would always prefer competition to monopoly. All the advantages of civilisation they were now enjoying were the results of competition. The consumer’s interest must be considered if they wished to consult their own. If however, the Lambton colliery saw its way to an honest increase in price he would support it. In the matter of the small coal trade, the Lambton Colliery was the first to demand an advance in price, and he had stuck out for an increased price in order to give the other collieries an opportunity of doing the same; as in another in stance another Company had had to do. The coalminers’ wages were safe enough, as the rival companies were only too ready and willing to engage them in the face of any reduction ever being proposed by any colliery. Let them have a community of views and interests, and then the coal trade would be in a more satisfactory state. Lambton had commenced nine years ago at 9s. a ton, and then Mr. Morehead had told him that he would never realise his expectations. He thought coal would yet be lower. At home, coal miners took the matter in a fair, business-like way, and thus commanded respect. It was not so here. As to the important influence the collieries exercised on the prosperity of the district there could not be two opinions. His friend Mr. Sweetland could give them some rather startling information on that point, as to the enormous sums of money drawn every fortnight for payment of wages alone. This much was certain — if capital did no good it did no harm, and one could always go back to the state of the savage; but capital as a rule tended to good, and very rarely to harm. It would be hard to say how much mutual respect would be enhanced by a community of views and interests, and if men were bound to work well together. He felt deeply sorry that there were no representatives of the Sydney folks present; he regretted deeply that none of them were present to respond to the toast which had been proposed, but on their behalf he thanked them for the honour they had done them.

Mr. C. F. Stokes then rose and said that he had a toast to propose. To a gentleman present, and to his perseverance and ability it was well known that the Lambton colliery was greatly indebted for its present satisfactory state. He (Mr. S.) had had no idea of the spread he was coming to, and spoke in high terms of praise of Mr. Croudace’s residence, the cleanly state of the pit, and the grand furnace banquet-hall. He was so pleased with everything that he had that day seen that he hoped it would not be the last lunch that he should partake of on the bars of a furnace. He thought these little reunions promoted a good and kindly feeling. This one showed what great good could be done by the superintendents of these large establishments meeting and mixing with those who were so largely concerned in the principal interests of the district. He would propose the health and happiness of their host, Mr. Croudace.

The Rev. J. S. Wood would also say a few words in reference to the toast. Whatever could be done to promote the moral and spiritual happiness of the Lambton people, from the very first, Mr. Croudace had done. The school of arts and the large public school were largely indebted to him for his fostering aid and timely assistance; they were inferior to none out of Sydney, and had been mainly built and furnished by the company, no doubt, acting under his advice. There was thus additional cause for drinking heartily to the health and happiness of their host, who had worked so hard to forward the best interests of that district. No widow or orphan ever applied to him for aid that they did not receive, and he could see no reason why the present company should not accord to him the usual honors. ‘ For he’s a jolly good fellow’ was sung.

Mr. Croudace rose and said he sometimes attended meetings and heard votes of thanks proposed which he was anxious to ascertain the meaning of. On the present occasion he felt rather short of moral courage, but would just say a few words as to why they had been called together. He had come out from England expressly to manage the company. Everything that had been done had emanated from himself. The large furnace which had been erected and in which they were sitting would he hoped, be associated with his name and handed down to future generations. His idea on that occasion had been to bring together certain people who had not up to that time pulled over well together. He had always looked ahead, and he was then doing so. Mr. Short, Mr. Avery and himself had been discussing the matter of the opening of the new furnace, when Mr. Short proposed the novel idea of giving an entertainment on the fire-bars. He had then asked Mr. Neilson and Mr. Winship in order to try and bring them together, and he was sure they had never seen such a thing as that meeting before. The largest furnace at home measured 12 by 13 feet, the one they were in was somewhat larger; the largest one was at Hetton, and the Lambton one was some 30 feet larger. The company had certainly been at great expense in its erection, but it was fully repaid, if only in the pleasure of that social gathering. The cost as he had estimated it was £1000. He had at one time, been deterred by the magnitude of the outlay, and thought of stopping half-way, but he was glad he had not done so. However simple it might appear on the surface, great difficulties beset its construction, but he was happy to be able to say that no accident had occurred during the whole time the men had been working at it. At one time part of the roof came down. They then found that the hard stuff lay 9 ft. below the seam, but they knew they must go on to that hard stuff so as to avoid all, what was known as — crushing pressure. The foundations 4ft. 3in. broad, were composed of Sydney and Waratah stone, and eventually, when the work was completed, it was found that the actual cost had been £1004 10s. 11d. In the interests of the trade he had always held that he must always look, not to the present, but to the future. As affecting especially the Lambton colliery, there was much that he had cause to feel very proud of. Ventilation was a subject that required a deal of thought. Experiments at home had shown how necessary it was that they should grasp at once the greatest ventilating power. To obtain the proper combustion of the air, they must see that adequate openings had been left in the furnace, and that the truest principles were studied in its construction. Referring to the size of the furnaces he drew attention to the increase of power being always in proportion to the increase of squares, and explained that were the shaft 800 feet instead of four hundred feet high, it would produce double the effect. They had done, however, the best that could be done under the circumstances, the most they could do was to lessen the evils the miners were subjected to in their underground labour, and this they had endeavoured to do to the utmost of their power. He felt the strongest interest in Lambton and his Lambton friends, because as he might say he was present at the birth of Lambton, and knew it from beginning to end, and if anyone had, then must he have felt great zeal in forwarding its prosperity, independently of his interest as manager of the company. But however zealous he might have shown himself he must beg to associate with himself in the toast his officials, without whose assistance he could not have done much, it was they who carried out all his orders, and he must beg to be allowed to add the names of Messrs. Short and Avery to the toast.

Mr. Cotton, in a neat and appropriate speech, proposed the health of Mrs. Croudace, for which Mr. Croudace returned thanks. Mr. Lewis proposed the Press, which was responded to. Two or three other toasts were then drank, and the party, returning once more to the surface by the road it had come, were played to the carriages by the band — who concluded their performance with the national anthem — and returned to town a little after ten in the evening, after passing a very pleasant and instructive afternoon in the bowels of the earth.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
8 Jun 1871
3 Jun 1871
Inauguration of Lambton Colliery ventilating furnace.
15 Jun 1925"The air current [in the colliery] has always been regarded as good, all foul air being drawn from the pit by means of the upcast furnace shaft, located near the manager's residence on the Charlestown-road."
20 Jun 1936"The installation of a ventilating fan in 1926 allowed miners to penetrate to places which could not have been reached under the old system of ventilation by furnaces."

George Bell, Grocer

This month’s photograph of George Bell and Sons grocery store in Elder St Lambton was taken exactly 125 years ago in May 1896. It is not only a reminder of how our visual landscape has changed, but also how our way of life has changed, as seen in the two themes of Tea and Transport.

A riddle published a century ago asks: Why is a grocer a heavy person? Because his business always makes him weigh tea (weighty). Although not side-splittingly funny, it’s a reminder that while we now purchase tea in mass produced robotically dispensed plastic wrapped packages, grocers like Bell bought commodities such as flour, sugar and tea in bulk then sold it to their customers by weighing out the requested quantity for each individual purchase.

From about 1880 tea began to be distributed and sold in small packets of set weight. There were two reasons for the change. The weighing and packing of each purchase took considerable time, incurring great expense to every grocer doing even an ordinary trade. Pre-packaged tea also benefited the customer, preventing grocers making a bit of sly profit by wrapping the tea in extra heavy paper before weighing, or by adulterating it with other substances.

Not that George Bell would have practised such deceits. He was held in high respect, as evidenced by the hundreds who attended his funeral in November 1887. A few weeks earlier while travelling in a horse and buggy near Sandgate Cemetery, the horse was startled and then bolted, capsizing the buggy. George suffered serious head injuries from which he never recovered and he died aged just 58.

It is tempting to imagine travel by horse and cart as a serene and idyllic experience. In truth it was dangerous, and newspapers regularly reported on serious injuries and fatalities related to horse drawn transport. Although tragically, serious accidents still occur now on our roads today, travelling today is considerably safer than in the times of George Bell.

Bell’s grocery store in May 1896. The shop was erected 1875 and the residence on the left in 1882. Photograph by Ralph Snowball. Living Histories @ UoN.
A new brick building for Bell’s grocery business was constructed in 1907 by George’s son, John Reavely Bell. The building is still in use today by Elder Street Practice.

The article above was first published in the May 2021 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

Packet Tea

Some of the information in my article relating to the sale of tea, came from a University of Sydney Bachelor of Arts (Honours) dissertation by Jessica Knight from 2011, entitled “A Poisonous Cup? Afternoon Tea in Australian Society, 1870-1914.”

In particular, the paragraph commencing at the bottom of page 16 was insightful.

The introduction of pre-packaged teas, as opposed to bulk tea which was usually packaged in large tea chests, marked a shift in both sales and consumption of tea. For example, the Asiatic Tea Company opened in 26 May 1881 in Pitt Street to sell their packet teas. The justification they provided for packet tea was that “tea being so universally used in Australia, the consumption consequently is very great, the weighing and packing of which takes considerable time meaning additional expense to every grocer doing even an ordinary trade, while in country towns where experienced grocers’ assistants are difficult to be obtained, the weighing and packing of tea became a source of annoyance to the storekeeper – hence the great advantage to them in the use and general sale of packet teas”. The Company’s success was so great that they soon needed to move to larger premises, and they grew to include supplying packet tea to storekeepers across the city of Sydney and in wider New South Wales. Mirroring the increasing commodification of tea in Britain, these tea shops indicated the success of tea commercial enterprise within Australia, and thus provide tangible support to the interconnectedness of the Empire.

page 16 of Jessica Knight’s dissertation.

The extent of the problem of inferior tea being sold by the illicit mixing in of other substances can be gleaned by searching Trove for the phrase “tea adulteration”. The Argus of 9 April 1881 reported that …

The various methods of adulteration of tea may be defined as the addition of leaves other than those of tea except those used for scenting exhausted tea leaves and damaged tea; an undue proportion of stalks or vegetable matter foreign to tea of any kind whatever; foreign mineral matter especially sand, quartz, soapstone, China clay, magnetic oxide of iron. Lastly the substances used for artificially colouring or painting the teas as ferrocyanide of iron, or Prussian blue indigo, turmeric &c.

An example of adulteration can be seen in this 15 February 1898 report, where a grocer was charged for selling tea “of very inferior quality” that had been adulterated with plumbago (a garden shrub). The grocer blamed the merchants he had bought the tea from.

Elder Street store

Vol-Fol 99-214 shows that “George Bell of Lambton, Miner” purchased Lot 8 of Section E of Lambton township in 1870.

Lot 8 Section E of Lambton. Vol-Fol 99-214.

Ownership of the land remained in the Bell family until 1965.

  • 1889 – George Edward Bell
  • 1899 – Ann Bell (widow of George Edward Bell)
  • 1904 – George Reavely Bell
  • 1909 – Elizabeth Bell (Widow of George Reavely Bell)
  • 1952 – Sydney Raymond Bell
  • 1965 – Doris Lila Janssen and Myra May Edwards

Although from the exterior it appears that the George Bell’s residence (to the left of the store) no longer remains, there is in fact a few rooms at the rear of the building that were retained, one of which is used as a lunch room by the Elder Street Practice. This room has an ornate fireplace, timber floor, wood panelled skirting boards, and pressed metal ceiling.

Cash only for George Bell from April 1877. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 31 March 1877.

Hunter Street stores

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 7 July 1894.

The Western Arcade was located at 684 Hunter St, It was originally erected in 1888 as the The Elite Skating Rink. The site later became the Palais Royale, and was eventually demolished to make way for KFC.

City Arcade and Western Markets, Hunter Street, Newcastle West, 8 February 1892 (2 years before Bell and Sons opened a store here). Living Histories @ UON.

In 1897, the firm erected their own premises on in Hunter Street West.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 17 December 1897.

This new store was located at 545 Hunter Street, and the building remains today.

Note the bell sculpture at the top of the building façade, alluded to in their advertisement.

Bell sculpture on Hunter Street store.

In a similar fashion, their Elder St Lambton store in 1896 had a picture of a bell painted on the side wall.

Bell picture on Lambton store.

An advertisement for Bell’s store from 1902, shows how ingredients such as sugar, tea and flour were sold by the pound. Note also that the address of “261 Hunter-Street West” is the old number, before Hunter street was re-numbered

Death of George Bell

SERIOUS ACCIDENT.–We regret to learn that a serious accident occurred yesterday to Mr. George Bell, storekeeper, Lambton. It appears that Mr. Bell, with two of his sons, was driving in a sociable. When in the neighbourhood of Sandgate Cemetery the king-bolt of the vehicle gave way, and the shaft fell, frightening the horse, which immediately bolted. The vehicle was capsized, and the occupants were thrown out with much force, the result being that Mr. Bell was severely injured about the head, while one of his sons was much injured about the face. Assistance was lent by some passers by, and Dr. Nash, of Wallsend, having been sent for, applied the usual remedies in order to bring Mr. Bell to consciousness. It was, however, about an hour and a half before the patient rallied. A cart was obtained from Hexham, and he was conveyed from the scene of the accident. Concussion of the brain is feared, and Mr. Bell lies in a critical condition.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 31 October 1887

The LATE Mr. GEORGE BELL.–The deep regret felt for the death of the above gentleman, and the general respect in which he was held, was very evident yesterday, Monday, seeing the large number that came to pay their last tribute of respect by attending the funeral. The Lambton residents were present in hundreds, and others from Newcastle, Wallsend, Waratah, and other places, a good many being business people, and amongst whom were representatives of some of the leading business houses in Newcastle. Altogether the funeral cortege was one of the largest that left Lambton, and made up as it was of hundreds of foot passengers, numerous buggies, ‘buses, and other vehicles, and horsemen, the length covered was little short of a mile. Prior to leaving the deceased’s late residence, the Rev. Mr. Walters, of the Primitive Methodist, conducted a short service, the remains were then placed in the hearse, following which came the sons of deceased, then a mourning coach with other relatives and intimate friends, and then the long procession. The members of the now defunct Lambton band, with some of the Volunteer Band, to show their respect, mustered fourteen players, and marched in precedence of the hearse, playing the solemn strains of the ” Dead March in Saul.” The funeral went through Waratah to the North Waratah Cemetery, where the Rev. J. P. Ollis conducted the impressive service of the Church of England, and thus the last act to one who in life was respected for his uprightness of character, and deeply lamented and truly honoured in death.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 22 November 1887.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
12 Sep 1870First mention of George Bell in the newspaper - signatory in a petition for the formation of Lambton Municipality.
18 Jul 1871
15 Jul 1871
At a public meeting, George Bell is nominated for the first Lambton council election. His name does not appear on official list of nominees on 29 Jul 1871 - either his nomination proved to be invalid, or he withdrew.
9 Dec 1875In Elder-street, a couple of commodious two-storied buildings, that have been in course of erection for some time, are now completed. The shops are owned by Messrs. Bell and Wilson, the former of which has now opened as a grocer.
17 Jul 1879
13 Jul 1879
"As Mr. and Mrs George Bell and Mr. E. Reavely were driving down Turton Road, they had a narrow escape from serious injury. When near Thompson's Hotel the winkers became loose, and the horse at once bolted, keeping straight on until near Merchant's Hotel, where the vehicle capsized, throwing the whole of the occupants out on the street. They, however, strange to say, escaped with out much injury beside a severe shaking."
19 Apr 1882"Mr. George Bell, one of the most enterprising of our local business men, is having a new residence erected adjoining his stores in Elder-street. The building, is of a substantial character, and judging from the plan will be one of imposing appearance when completed."
31 Oct 1887
30 Oct 1887
Serious horse and buggy accident in which George Bell suffers critical injuries.
26 Nov 1887
19 Nov 1887
"Death. BELL. — At Lambton, on the 19th instant, Mr. Mr. George Bell, storekeeper, aged 58 years, leaving a widow, three sons, and two daughters to mourn their loss."
22 Nov 1887
21 Nov 1887
Funeral of George Bell.
2 Dec 1887Estate of George Bell to go to his eldest son, George Edward Bell.
16 Nov 1888Yet another horse related accident associated with the Bell family - a young man making deliveries to the store is run over by a cart.
7 Jul 1894G. Bell & Sons have opened a branch store in the Western Arcade, Hunter Street West, Newcastle.
17 Dec 1897"G. BELL & SONS (ESTABLISHED 1870) beg to intimate that they have THIS DAY OPENED IN THEIR NEW PREMISES, IN HUNTER-STREET WEST, Next the West End Post Office. LOOK FOR THE SIGN OF 'THE BELL' OVER G. Bell and Sons."
17 Dec 1897"MESSRS. G. BELL & SONS. This old established firm of grocers, drapers, and general provision dealers has been among the leading houses in the trade since 1870. Three years ago they opened a branch of their Lambton business at the Western markets. Recently to meet their increasing trade a more central site was purchased, next to the Post Office, Hunter street West, upon which they have just erected imposing business premises."

Thomas Bevan, Undertaker and more

Thomas Bevan was a man of many pursuits. Born in Camarthenshire in Wales, Bevan emigrated to Australia with an older brother and younger sister in 1884 when he was just 22 years of age. They settled in Lambton and soon afterwards their father, mother and nine other siblings, including 13 year old brother Jonah, joined them.

Thomas’ immigration document lists him as a “builder and wheelwright”, but by the following year in a legal document his occupational description had expanded to “furniture dealer, upholsterer, and undertaker.” In 1887 he married Jennet Davies in Lambton and two years later they purchased a block of land in Pearson Street, for the family home and undertaker’s business. 

However, with three undertakers in Lambton at that time, and a population of just three thousand, the task of tending to the dead was not sufficient to make a living. Bevan had to diversify, as the sign on his house attests. He was also a “cabinet maker, carpenter, joiner” and could be engaged to have “saws set and sharpened” and “glass cut to order”.

After living and working in Lambton for 25 years, Bevan made a complete change in occupation. In 1910 he sold his house and property, and moved to the Richmond River area near Casino to become a dairy farmer. He lived on a number of properties in the area and retired in 1927. He and Jennet celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in Lismore in 1937 and later moved to Sydney where Thomas died in 1941 and Jennet in 1953.

Although Thomas left Lambton in 1910, the Bevan name remained in Newcastle. His younger brother Jonah had become an undertaker in Stockton in a business that continues to this day. One difference to note though – because of the large increase in our city’s population, funeral providers today can have a singular focus that is in marked contrast to the multi-tasking of Thomas Bevan.

Thomas Bevan and family, Pearson St Lambton, 1890s. Photo by Ralph Snowball, Living Histories @ UON.
Jonah Bevan Funerals, Stockton, 2021.

The article above was first published in the April 2021 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

Thomas, William and Serviah Bevan travelled from Wales to Australia on the steamship Texas, in 1884 as assisted emigrants. The passenger list shows Thomas’ aged 22, occupation “builder and wheelwright”, and native place and county as “Carmarthen”.

Emigration list 1884, showing William and Thomas Bevan. Assisted Emigrant records, FamilySearch.org
Emigration list 1886, showing Jonah Bevan aged 13, with two older brothers. Assisted Emigrant records, FamilySearch.org

Newcastle Properties

Page 93 of the Federal Directory of Newcastle and District 1901, lists “T. Bevan” as an undertaker in Pearson St. Vol-Fol 796-107 shows that Thomas Bevan purchased the north half of Lot 6 Section K in July 1889.

Purchase by Thomas Bevan, Vol-Fol 796-107.

Lot 6 corresponds to current day address 41 Pearson St.

In the 1904 photographic panorama of Lambton, taken from the North Lambton hill, Bevan’s house and shed can be seen in Pearson St.

Thomas Bevan’s house and shed, seen in a 1904 photograph. Living Histories @ UON
41 Pearson St Lambton, March 2021.

In May 1910, the following advertisement appeared in Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate.

Property No 1 was the double storey house formerly owned by W T Dent, located at 18 Pearson St. Thomas and Jennet Bevan purchased the property in June 1908. (See Vol-Fol 262-127.) Although advertised for sale in 1910, the property was not sold until October 1919.

W T Dent’s house at 18 Pearson Street Lambton, in 1897. Thomas and Jennet Bevan purchased the house in June 1908. Living Histories @ UON

Property No 2 in the advertisement was the house and undertaker’s business at 41 Pearson St Lambton. The property sold to William James Hanlon, a blacksmith’s assistant, in July 1910.

Property No 3 was at 127 Michael Street Jesmond. Thomas Bevan purchased this property in October 1905. (See Vol-Fol 816-189.) Although advertised for sale in 1910, the property was not sold until October 1919.

Life in the Casino Area

On leaving Newcastle in May 1910, Thomas Bevan moved to the Casino area and lived and worked on a number of properties.

  • “Nunga” homestead, Fairy Hill, north-west of Casino.
  • “Carmarthen” property, McKees Hill, east of Casino
  • “Brynteg” property, Spring Grove, east of Casino

Bevan was a tenant of the “Nunga” property at Fairy Hill from 1910 until August 1914.

“Nunga” homestead, Fairy Hill, NSW. Google Maps. Imagery (c) 2021, CNES/Airbus, Maxar Technologies.

The exact location of Bevan’s property “Carmarthen” at McKees Hill is unknown. It would seem that he only rented this property as there is no record of a purchase, and the advertisement in April 1919 only mentions livestock and farm implements for sale, not the land or house.

In September 1919, Thomas Bevan purchased a property of about 280 acres at Spring Grove. (See Vol-Fol 2689-249) Presumably this purchase was funded by the sale of his Lambton and Jesmond properties in the same year.

Purchase of land by “Thomas Bevan of near Casino, Dairy Farmer.” Vol-Fol 2689-249.
Thomas Bevan’s property purchase in 1919 at Spring Grove.
Location of Thomas Bevan’s property “Brynweg”, to the east of the village of Spring Grove. SIX maps.

Bevan subsequently sold this property in July 1931.

Thomas and Jennet Bevan’s Golden wedding anniversary in Lismore. Western Mail, 23 Dec 1937.

Undertaker ratios

In the article I make the contrast between Thomas Bevan who had to diversify into a myriad of other activities beyond undertaking to make a living, compared to modern day undertakers who are focused solely on the funeral business. A rough comparison of the ratio of undertakers to population is revealing. The Federal Directory of Newcastle and District 1901, lists three undertakers in Lambton:

  • T Bevan, Pearson St
  • R Thomas, Dixon St
  • R and C Evans, Pearson St

With the population of Lambton shown as 3434 in the 1891 census, this equates to about one undertaker per 1000 people. Compare this with the modern day by looking at the area covered by the Newcastle federal electorate. The 2016 census shows a population of 152,948, and a Google search for funeral directors and undertakers in this area reveals eleven businesses. This equates to one undertaker per 14000 population, a fourteen-fold difference from the ratio that Thomas Bevan had to deal with in 1901.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
28 Aug 1885Indenture of assignment notification for "William Bevan, of Wallsend, in the Colony of New South Wales, furniture dealer, upholsterer, and undertaker, and Thomas Bevan, of the same place, furniture dealer, upholsterer, and undertaker, trading at Wallsend and Lambton, in the Colony aforesaid, under the style and firm of 'Bevan Brothers'."
29 Dec 1885Advertisement inserted by "THOMAS H. BEVAN, Undertaker, Elder-street, Lambton."
3 Jan 1887"H. BEVAN & SON, UNDERTAKERS, Elder and Kendall Streets, LAMBTON, BEG to announce to the inhabitants of Lambton and surrounding districts that they are now in a position to CONDUCT FUNERALS in the most respectable manner, and CHEAPER than any other place in the district. N.B.- Hearses and Mourning Coaches supplied on the shortest notice."
21 Jan 1887Funeral of Thomas Bevan's mother Catherine.
29 Oct 1887
27 Oct 1887
"Marriage. BEVAN-DAVIES.- October 27th, 1887, at the bride's father's house, Lambton, by the Rev. Richard Erwyd Davies, Thomas Bevan, contractor, Lambton, eldest son of Hopkin Bevan, contractor, Stockton, to Janet [sic], daughter of William Davies, merchant, Lambton."
7 Nov 1887First mention of "H. Bevan & Sons, Undertakers" in Stockton.
3 Jan 1891First mention of "Thomas Bevan, Undertaker" in Lambton, after some years being advertised as "H. Bevan and Sons".
5 May 1900
15 Apr 1900
Death of Thomas Bevan's father Hopkin, aged 66, at Stockton.
14 May 1910Thomas Bevan advertises the sale of three properties, two in Lambton and one in Jesmond.
26 May 1910
24 May 1910
"A social evening, promoted by the members of the Lambton Choral Society, was held in the Empire Hall on Tuesday night … to bid farewell to the conductor, Mr. Thomas Bevan."
26 May 1910"The members of the Lambton Congregation Church entertained Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Bevan and family at a social on Monday evening in the schoolroom, on the eve of their departure from Lambton … Mr. and Mrs. Bevan and family leave Newcastle this morning by boat for their new home on the Richmond River."
1 Nov 1913
28 Oct 1913
Marriage of William Hopkin Bevan, "eldest son of Thomas Bevan, Fairy Hill, Casino (late of Lambton)."
19 Jun 1914"On Wednesday last at 'Nunga,' Fairy Hill, the residence, of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Bevan, a quiet but pretty wedding was celebrated between Miss Catherine Bevan and Mr. W. H. Winslow Bassan."
17 Apr 1915In a court case over the dealing with noxious weeds on the "Nunga" property at Fairy Hill, "Thomas Bevan said he took possession in 1910 and remained a tenant till August, 1914."
28 Apr 1919On account of MR. THOS. BEVAN, 'CARMARTHEN,' McKEE'S HILL. VTIRTUE, NOBLE and CO., LTD., under instructions from Mr. Thomas Bevan, of McKee's Hill, will submit to public auction the whole of his Choice Little Dairy Herd, Plant, Horses, Pigs, Farm Implements, Galvanised Iron, Piping, Timber, etc."
27 Jan 1932After the death of Hopkin Bevan in 1900, the undertaking business at Stockton contined to trade for many years (up to at least 1932) as "H. Bevan & Sons."
23 Dec 1937
22 Nov 1937
Golden wedding anniversary celebration of Thomas and Jennet Bevan in Lismore.
13 Feb 1941Death of Thomas Bevan, aged 80, at Arncliffe.
11 Jan 1945
9 Jan 1945
Death of Jonah Bevan, aged 71, brother of Thomas.
26 Dec 1953
23 Dec 1953
Death of Jennet Bevan, aged 86, widow of Thomas.

Gittins and Eastham Store

Broadmeadow Co-Operative Society

The 19th century saw the birth of a new mode of grocery retailing – the Cooperative Society movement. Begun in the UK and brought to Australia by immigrants, the core idea was for consumers to own, control and benefit from their local store. Membership was open to all through the purchase of shares, controlled through democratically elected officers and regular meetings, and profits returned to members as dividends.

In April 1887 the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society formed with 17 initial members, and rented a four-room house in Lambton Rd to operate a store. At the second quarterly meeting in November 1887, the society reported the business to be “in a flourishing and prosperous condition.” In 1889 the society purchased their own premises (the small wooden building in Snowball’s photo) in Brunker Road adjacent to the Premier Hotel. Membership had increased to over 170, and a bakery department was soon added.

However, in the 1890s a prolonged economic depression put the society under financial strain. With many miners out of work, trade fell dramatically. The working capital of the society slowly eroded with over-optimistic dividend payments in the face of declining profits, and members withdrawing from the cooperative. By April 1897 the financial position was untenable, and the society closed. Only the largest cooperative societies, with many members and multiple stores, survived the downturn.

In May 1897 the Broadmeadow store was taken over by Robert Gittins and George Eastham, who soon erected a large brick building adjacent to the original building. Gittins and Eastham had emigrated from the UK to Australia around 1887, and after a brief stint working as pit mates at the Bullock Island colliery, opened grocery stores in Wickham and Carrington. They traded at Broadmeadow for 10 years until selling to Thomas Hughes, who then ran the store for the next quarter century.

Independent, locally owned stores such as this were the norm until the 1960s, when the big supermarket chains rapidly rose to a dominance in grocery retailing they maintain to this day.

Gittins and Eastham Store, Broadmeadow, September 1897. Photo by Ralph Snowball, Living Histories @ UON,
The store was located at 3 Brunker Rd Broadmeadow, where the Premier Hotel carpark is today.

The article above was first published in the March 2021 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

The Broadmeadow Co-operative Society

The Broadmeadow Co-operative Society got off to a good start. After six months of operation, at their second quarterly meeting pm 31 October 1887, the secretary Mr W Roe presented a report and balance-sheet …

… which showed the society to be in a flourishing and prosperous condition, both with regard to members and financially. The shareholders number 69; paid-up shares, 104; unpaid-up shares, 22. The weekly takings at the store average over £50 per week. There is also a large number of non-members who purchase their goods at the store. The balance-sheet also showed that a large sum had been spent during the quarter in procuring a horse and cart and other necessaries required in the business; but despite this expense the society was enabled to declare a dividend of ten per cent. The report and balance-sheet were unanimously adopted, and the shareholders were very jubilant over the progressiveness of the society.

Location of Broadmeadow Co-operative Society Store. 10 Lambton Rd (April 1887 to April 1889) and 3 Brunker Rd (May 1889 to April 1897).

At the district Co-operative Conference held at Burwood on Saturday 13 July 1889, Mr R Gray, manager of the Pioneer Society at Burwood delivered a speech on “The rise and progress of cooperation in this district.” In the speech Mr Gray described the essence of the Co-operative movement as being …

“… that the profits of an undertaking do not go into the pocket of an employer, be that employer an individual, or several individuals united in partnership; but that they should be shared by the largest possible number of those who engage in the undertaking, either as consumers or workers. In our distributive co-operative societies the net profits on sales, after paying working expenses, interest on capital etc, go to the consumer.”

Mr Gray gave detailed statistics on each of the district societies, including the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society, which …

“… started business on April 17th, 1887, with 17 members, and a share capital of £14, and a loan of £50, making in all £94. They have paid away in dividends to members on their purchases alone, since they commenced, £1037 6s. Their share capital at the end of this quarter is £685 11s 10d, and the number of members on their books is 173. These facts speak for themselves. Then there is the fact of their having purchased the premises which they now occupy, their fixed stock account amounting to £200.”

The premises purchased by the society was on the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve (Commonage). The location can therefore be identified from the Land Court Sittings in July 1890, when people of the Commonage were finally able to apply for legal title to the land they were residing on. From the sitting of the court on 28 July 1890

“Portion 2102; applicants, the Broadmeadow Cooperative Society, Limited. The district surveyor reported that the land was valued at £103 4s, and he submitted that the applicants should prove ownership of the improvements. James Raine stated that he was president of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society, Limited, and he appeared in support of an application made by John A. Davidson, the then secretary of the society, for portion 2102. The society owned the improvements on the portion, which consisted of a shop and outbuildings. The land had been purchased from Charles Heath, who had been in occupation prior to 1888, and the purchase was completed on the 25th May of that year. Witness claimed that the society had a perfect right under the Act to make application for the portion, as they had been in continued occupation since purchasing. Heath had not, to witness’s knowledge, made application for the land. After a short discussion, the board stated that they would adjourn the further consideration of the appraisement until they were dealing with other portions in the same vicinity. In the meantime, they would recommend that the application be accepted.”

Subsequently on 4 September 1890, the Land Court formally accepted the application of …

“Broadmeadow Co-operative Society, Limited, lot 2102, £163 4s”

The Co-operative’s store is just visible on the right hand side of Snowballs 1892 photograph of the Premier Hotel surrounded by floodwaters.

Premier Hotel, Broadmeadow, NSW, 18 March 1892. Ralph Snowball, Living Histories @ UON
Broadmeadow Cooperative Store, 1892.

The rise of the Supermarkets

The Australian food history timeline website indicates that Farr’s of Newcastle may have been the first Australian supermarket. In 1957 the Chermside Drive-in Shopping Centre opened in Brisbane, including a supermarket that was soon afterwards bought by Woolworths. Coles then opened their first Australian supermarket in North Balwyn in Victoria in 1960.

By the early 1970s the big supermarket chains (Woolworths, Coles, Supa Value, Foodland, Franklins, FAL) had 50% share of the grocery retail market, and by 2020, the two major chains (Woolworths/Coles) had a 67% market share.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
4 Apr 1887
4 Apr 1887
"A public meeting will be held at the junction of Adamstown and Broadmeadow Roads on MONDAY, 4th inst., at 7 p.m. All in favour of establishing a Co-operative Society are requested to attend."
6 Apr 1887"The meeting advertised to be held on the Commonage for the establishment of a co-operative society was, on account of the wet weather, adjourned to Mr. Raine's residence, where a very successful meeting was held. About 21 persons enrolled themselves as members, and gave the newly-formed society the name of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society. "
9 Apr 1887
8 Apr 1887
Meeting of the newly-formed Broadmeadow Co-operative Society … "A letter was read from a Mrs. Dickford, offering a four-roomed house, with outhouse and stable, facing the Lambton-road … it was agreed to take the building from Wednesday next, which would allow ample time to commence business by next pay."
2 Nov 1887
31 Oct 1887
Second quarterly meeting of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society reported "the society to be in a flourishing and prosperous condition."
12 Nov 1887William Roe, secretary of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society authorised to sell postage stamps.
8 May 1889
4 May 1889
Broadmeadow Co-operative Society annual meeting. The co-operative now had 174 members and was in a good financial position, attributed to the fact that "the society has now premises of its own, which is a great saving in rent."
17 Jul 1889An essay on "The rise and progress of cooperation in this district" read by Mr. R. Gray, manager of the Pioneer Society, Burwood, at the Co-operative Conference. It has some good insights into the history and goals of the Co-operative movement, as well as detailed statistics on the current state of the Co-operative movement in Newcastle.
29 Jul 1890Commonage Allotments land court sitting, where the application by the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society for portion 2102 was considered. The application was adjourned, but with an intimation that it would be approved.
6 Sep 1890
4 Sep 1890
Sitting of the Land Court formally accepts the application of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society for lot 2102.
14 Jan 1892At the quarterly general meeting … "The report showed the number of members on the books to be 217" and "special attention was drawn to the bakery department, which is now in full working order."
28 Oct 1893Tensions at the Quarterly meeting of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society regarding: withdrawal of members, lack of support from members, paying of dividends, bakery accounts.
31 Jan 1896
29 Jan 1896
Correspondence to Hamilton Council: "From Mr. A. Sharp, manager of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Store, complaining of the bad state of the road in front of the store, and asking council to effect the necessary repairs. It was resolved that the request be complied with."
20 Apr 1897"A special meeting of the Broadmeadow Co-operative Society will be held this evening for the purpose of considering the financial position of the society."
6 May 1897"The Assigned Estate Broadmeadow Co-operative Society. WE have This Day DISPOSED of the BOOK DEBTS of this Estate to Messrs. Gettins (sic) and Eastham, Grocers, Broadmeadow, whose receipt will be a sufficient discharge."
9 Aug 1897"Messrs. Gittens and Eastham, who have secured the property and business of the now defunct Broadmeadow Co-operative Society, have made good progress since they opened a branch store at Broadmeadow. The experience of the firm has been such that they have near completion a large brick building that is to be used for a store. The building adjoins the old store on the Brunker-road frontage, and is a splendid site from a business standpoint. Mr John Francis is managing the business on behalf of the firm."
25 Oct 1897"By the opening of the large branch store by Messrs Gittans (sic) and Eastham on the site of the old Co-operative Store the thoroughfare has been given a brighter aspect and the surroundings more enticing."
5 Nov 1907"PUBLIC NOTICE, TOM HUGHES WISHES to announce to the General Public of Broadmeadow and Surrounding Districts that he has Purchased the Business lately carried on by GITTENS & EASTHAM, at Broadmeadow."
29 Apr 1919
29 Apr 1919
"Mr. Robert Gittins, of Hannell-street, Wickham, the principal partner in the firm of Messrs. Gittins and Eastham, died at an early hour this morning at Waratah Hospital. Mr. Gittins was 65 years of age, and a well known and highly respected resident of Wickham for upwards of 30 years. His son is Alderman Reece Gittins, of the Wickham Council."
29 Apr 1919"PUBLIC NOTICES. GITTINS & EASTHAM. THE BUSINESS PREMISES of the above Firm at Wickham, Carrington, and Steel-street, Newcastle will be CLOSED ALL DAY TO-MORROW (WEDNESDAY), on account of the death of Mr. Robert Gittins"
30 Apr 1919Obituary of Robert Gittins.
5 Oct 1931Obituary of George Eastham.
23 Jan 1937Obituary of Thomas Hughes.

Thomas Bevan, Undertaker

[Note: I have expanded the content from this blog post into an article for the April 2021 edition of The Local.]

The Historical Lands Record Viewer is proving to be quite a useful tool in identifying the location of various old photographs. I have managed to confirm the location of this Ralph Snowball photograph of Thomas Bevan, Undertaker, as being at 41 Pearson St Lambton

Thomas Bevan, Undertaker, Lambton. Not dated. Living Histories @ UON.

Page 93 of the Federal Directory of Newcastle and District 1901, lists “T. Bevan” as an undertaker in Pearson St. Vol-Fol 796-107 shows that Thomas Bevan purchased the north half of Lot 6 Section K in July 1889.

Purchase by Thomas Bevan, Vol-Fol 796-107.

Lot 6 corresponds to current day address 41 Pearson St.

In the 1904 photographic panorama of Lambton, taken from the North Lambton hill, Bevan’s house and shed can be seen in Pearson St.

Thomas Bevan’s house and shed, seen in a 1904 photograph. Living Histories @ UON

In May 1910, the following advertisement appeared in Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate.

Property No 1 was the double storey house formerly owned by W T Dent, located at 18 Pearson St. Thomas and Jennet Bevan purchased the property in June 1908. (See Vol-Fol 262-127.) Although advertised for sale in 1910, the property was not sold until October 1919.

W T Dent’s house at 18 Pearson Street Lambton, in 1897. Thomas and Jennet Bevan purchased the house in June 1908. Living Histories @ UON

Property No 2 in the advertisement was the house and undertaker’s business at 41 Pearson St Lambton. The property sold to William James Hanlon, a blacksmith’s assistant, in July 1910.

Property No 3 was at 127 Michael Street Jesmond. Thomas Bevan purchased this property in October 1905. (See Vol-Fol 816-189.) Although advertised for sale in 1910, the property was not sold until October 1919.