Clearing up the halls

In the days before fast and reliable transport, entertainment was a necessarily a local affair, and Lambton had a multitude of halls.  This month I clear up misconceptions about two of Lambton’s venues.

In the 1880s roller-skating was wildly popular, and in August 1888, Nathaniel Elliott opened the Criterion Skating Rink in Morehead St. As well as skating, the building was used for social and community events, including the banquet to celebrate the opening of the electric light scheme in 1890. The skating craze soon waned, and Elliott installed a stage and re-opened his rink as the Star Theatre on 3 May 1892.

For the next nine years the theatre was regularly used for dramas, concerts, political meetings, exhibitions and lectures. From 1901 it fell in to disuse and by 1906 was described as “dilapidated”, and Lambton Council called for the owner to make repairs. The theatre was demolished and a new building erected in 1909.

Two years later in May 1911, the proprietor of the Northumberland Hotel, George Smith, invited tenders for “the erection and completion of large brick hall in Morehead St.” His building opened in December 1911 as the Coronation Hall, in honour of King George V. The building later became Kings Theatre and is now Lizotte’s. Because George V became king in 1910 on the death of his father, the hall is often erroneously dated to that year. However, the coronation ceremony took place the following year on 22 June 1911.

In the 1920s roller-skating had a resurgence, and the hall was briefly known as the “Coronation Skating Rink”. The similarity of name with the “Criterion Skating Rink” of 1888 led to some confusion, with some books incorrectly stating that the Criterion Rink/Star Theatre was located on the corner of Morehead and Kendall Streets.  However, contemporary newspaper reports and a Hunter Water Board map from the 1890s make it clear that the Star Theatre was located on the south-west corner of De Vitre and Morehead Streets.

1890s Hunter Water Board map showing the Criterion Skating Rink/Star Theatre (1888-1909) on the southwest corner of De Vitre and Morehead St, Lambton. Newcastle Region Library.
The Coronation Hall (now Lizottte’s), corner of Kendall and Morehead St, Lambton, erected in 1911. Photo from April 2019.

The article above was first published in the May 2019 edition of The Local.


Clearing up the confusion

I’m not sure when or where the conflation of the Coronation Hall with the Criterion Skating Rink began, but I was introduced to it when I first started researching and writing on Lambton’s history in 2015. Although a number of modern sources stated that the Coronation Hall was built on the site of the Criterion Skating Rink I could find no early evidence for this. Over the next few years I kept expecting that at some time I’d stumble across something to confirm the location, but nothing turned up. In 2018 I found a couple of newspaper articles that were suggestive that the Star Theatre was NOT on the corner of Kendall and Morehead St, but not definitive.

By 2019 I was also increasingly frustrated with the conflicting dates reported for the construction of the Coronation Hall, so I made a concerted effort to pin down the dates and locations of the Criterion Skating Rink/Star Theatre/Coronation Hall. A key component in this investigation was to compile a spreadsheet of references to newspaper articles that referred to these venues. As clues to the location/dates of the venues emerged, I overlaid key information into Google Earth.

I was eventually able to confirm the location of the Star Theatre with the following information:

  • A 3 May 1892 article makes it clear that the Criterion Skating Rink became the Star Theatre.
  • A 24 January 1889 article states that the skating rink was on De Vitre St.
  • A advertisement from 18 February 1903 indicates that the Star Theatre was near the corner of Morehead and De Vitre Streets.
  • A couple of articles about footpath and kerb maintenance (23 November 1893 and 21 June 1894) indicate that the Star Theatre was on Morehead St, probably on the west side.

The evidence thus far points strongly to the theatre being on one of the corners of De Vitre and Morehead St, but which of the four corners?

  • The advertisement from 18 February 1903 is for a house and property on one of the corners. By comparing the dimensions of the blocks of land with property boundaries available from the NSW Globe KML I could determine that the land for sale was on the north-west corner.
  • The north-east corner was ruled out as maps were clear that it was part of the block of land allocated for the Post and Telegraph Office.
  • The south-east corner was a promising possibility. To this day there is a hall standing on this location (now a private residence). Could this hall have been the Star Theatre? However newspaper articles and photos from Newcastle Library Photobank make it clear that this hall was the Masonic hall, constructed in August 1906, prior to council calling on the owners of the Star Theatre to make repairs in September 1906.

By a process of elimination, the Star Theatre must have been located on the south-west corner. Having come to this conclusion, shortly afterwards Julie Keating provided me with confirming evidence by pointing me to the 1890s Water Board maps, which showed a theatre on that location, just as I had deduced it should be.

Regarding the Coronation Hall, references to that name only started appearing in the newspapers in late 1911. But there was some doubt as to whether that was because it was newly erected building, or the renaming of an existing building. I confirmed that it was a new building when I found the advertisement from 10 May 1911 where “Tenders are invited for the erection and completion of large brick hall in Morehead-street, Lambton, for Mr George Smith.”

Other halls

Lambton has had a large number of different halls, theatres, and entertainment venues over the years. Some of the halls were associated with hotels, and often the hall was named after the hotelier at the time. Consequently the same hall could be referred to by many different names over the years. To help keep track of the different halls I have created a spreadsheet with references to relevant newspaper articles. Note that this is a work in progress, and not a definitive list.

Star Theatre

The Star Theatre was used for many different purposes. The following list is a sample of the kinds of events held there.

  • 3 May 1892 – Drama
  • 8 June 1892 – comedy, music, dancing, and phrenology!
  • 25 June 1892 – Anniversary service and public tea for the Lay Methodist Sabbath School
  • 25 July 1892 – Political meetings, on this occasion an address by George Houston Reid, then leader of the NSW opposition, who later became Premier of NSW (1894-1899) and Prime Minister of Australia (1904-1905).
  • 30 July 1892 – Benefit concert, to aid an invalid miner.
  • 17 December 1892 – Lecture – “The Story of C. H. Spurgeon.”
  • 26 August 1893 – Church of England social.
  • 5 June 1897 – Wakely’s Cinematograph
  • 14 September 1897 – Photographic exhibition by Herr Gustav Paul
  • 28 October 1898 – Spiritualism and Clairvoyance
  • 16 February 1899 – “Chippeway” the Indian Healer – Lectures and Public Cures.
  • 30 June 1899 – wedding reception.
  • 10 November 1899 – meeting of Lambton ratepayers
  • 26 February 1900 – “CAPTAIN JOHN RUSSELL, the world renowned Explorer, will give one of his popular and amusing Entertainments, illustrated by one of the most powerful Syopticans in the world.” (A sciopticon was also known as a magic lantern.)

The Victoria Hall

For reasons of space and simplicity, one detail I omitted from the published article was what was built on the site of the Star Theatre in 1909. An article from 7 June 1890 reported on a dance to celebrate the opening of the Victoria Hall.

The hall is a neat structure, and is erected on the site of the old Star Theatre at the corner of Morehead and De Vitre streets. It occupies a floor space of 50ft by 24ft., with a stage on the western end. Ventilation has been well arranged, and with high walls the sounding propensities are good. Mr. J. Hutton was congratulated on his enterprise.

For the next year, there are a few references to this hall, until a final mention on 21 July 1910. What happened to this hall is unknown. As is often the case in researching local history, as one mystery is solved, another rises in its place.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
10 Aug 1888"Two of our enterprising townsmen are about to erect large skating rinks. Mr. N. Elliott's, in Morehead-street, when complete will be about 50 x 50, and will certainly surpass any building for size in the town." (There is no evidence that the second rink, planned to be erected by Mr Cairns, was ever built.)
14 Aug 1888First mention of the Crriterion skatin rink by name. In an advertisement: "CRITERION SKATING RINK, Lambton.-Skating Match between two local amateurs will take place TO-NIGHT; £5 stakes, and half-mile race."
24 Jan 1889In a council meeting … "Alderman PALMER asked who supervised the repairs to the end of De Vitre-street, near the skating rink ?"
3 May 1892
3 May 1892
Opening of Mr. ELLIOTT'S STAR THEATRE, Lambton, with a performance by Sample's Dramatic Company of the Great Romantic Hunter River Drama, entitled "The Dagworth Mystery, and Anthony's Dream."
3 May 1892"Mr. Elliott, the proprietor of the Criterion Skating Rink, has decided to make a change in his building, which deserves special mention. A stage has been fitted up with the necessary appliances added, also the floor covered with commodious forms, and additional electric lamps have been arranged suitably, which gives the building quite a changed and taking appearance. It now bears the name of the Star Theatre."
23 Nov 1893In a council meeting … "Alderman Conn called attention to bad state of the kerbing between his shop and the Star Theatre."
21 Jun 1894In a council meeting … "Alderman Coleman called attention to the bad state of the footpath from the Star Theatre to the Prince of Wales Hotel."
2 Mar 1901The last time the Star Theatre is mentioned in an advertisement.
18 Feb 1903"For Absolute Sale. LAMBTON. A Very Comfortable 6-Roomed Cottage, Fronting Morehead and De Vitre Streets, near the Star Theatre." This house was on the north west corner of the intersection.
23 Oct 1903"The old Star Theatre has become very much delapidated, and, since the demolition of the Music Hall, the suburb stands in need of a large hall."
9 Jan 1905
7 Jan 1905
Last mention of the Star Theatre being used. (For a miners' meeting.)
24 May 1906At a council meeting … "Alderman Burg suggested that the attention of the owners be drawn to the dilapidated condition of the building in Morehead-street, known as the Star Theatre."
12 Sep 1906At a council meeting … "Dr. Dick also advised that the owners of the old Star Theatre be requested to make certain repairs to the building."
7 Jun 1909
4 Jun 1909
"A dance to celebrate the opening of the Victoria Hall, Lambton, was held on Friday evening. The hall is a neat structure, and is erected on the site of the old Star Theatre at the corner of Morehead and De Vitre streets."
21 Jul 1910
20 Jul 1910
Last mention of the Victoria Hall in Lambon.
10 May 1911"TENDERS are invited for the ERECTION and COMPLETION of LARGE BRICK HALL, in Morehead-street, Lambton, for Mr. George Smith."
25 Oct 1911"The Coronation Hall, Lambton (near tram terminus), will shortly be opened as the Adelphi Picture Palace, under the direction of the lessees, Messrs. A. F. Ralph and Son. There will be seating for 600 to 700 persons. Provision is also made to enable a large picture to be produced by a powerful electric plant and cinematograph."
25 Dec 1911
23 Dec 1911
"There was a fairly large and appreciative audience at the Coronation Hall at the opening of Ralph's Adelphi Pictures on Saturday evening."
23 Mar 1912
20 May 1912
"A social was tendered to Mr. H. J. Noble by his relatives and Lambton friends on Wednesday evening in Smith's Coronation Hall, as a send-off prior to his departure for Bowral."
25 Jun 1921Report on the jubilee of Lambton Council. "Until the erection of the Coronation Hall, the principal places of amusement were the music hall and the Star Theatre, which were demolished many years ago."
19 May 1925"SKATING To-day and To-night. Coronation Hall, Morehead-st., Lambton. Good skates, good floor, good music."
15 Jun 1925"SKATING CARNIVAL, Plain, Fancy, Comic, and Poster Dress. At the Coronation Skating Rink."
23 Jun 1925"Success attended the skating carnival which was held in the Lambton Skating Rink, in Morehead-street."
16 Jul 1930Last mention of roller skating in the Coronation Hall.
14 Jul 1937First mention of Coronation Café.
25 Jun 1938"Messrs. Castleden and Sara invite tenders for repairs and alterations to the Coronation Theatre, at Lambton."
12 Jul 1938Last mention of Coronation Hall.
16 Jan 1939"Lambton King's NEWCASTLE'S COOLEST THEATRE. OPENING TO-NIGHT AT 8 O'CLOCK"
17 Jan 1939
16 Jan 1939
"The remodelled Lambton Theatre was opened last night by Mr. L. J. Copeland. A big crowd was present for the first screening in the building since it was closed some months ago for alterations. The building shows a tasteful use of the modern architectural style without unnecessary adornment."

Lambton Council Update

I have just finished making quite a few updates and additions to my Lambton Council Chambers page. In light of Newcastle Council’s impending and controversial move of their council chambers to Newcastle West, I was quite amused by a quote from Alderman Dent in March 1887 in connection with the need for a new Council Chambers for Lambton …

“The present building was a beastly place. When they looked around they saw the very walls in mourning, whether for the sins of the aldermen he knew not.”

Alderman Dent’s desire for new chambers was fulfilled just a few months later when the Council building in the corner of Lambton Park was formally opened on 21 July 1887.

Lambton Council Chambers, September 1890.

True Identity

My April article for The Local is now out, this month on how I uncovered the true identity of one of the men whose name is engraved on the Lambton Park WW1 memorial gates. Private George Sturey was killed in France in 1918, but that wasn’t his real name.

In five years of researching and writing local history, this has been one of the most satisfying discoveries for me. This coming Anzac Day will be an opportunity to remember “George” and his sacrifice with greater clarity, know that we know who he was.

The Sturey Mystery

Who was George Sturey? His name is one of 140 engraved on the Lambton Park WW1 memorial gates, and one of 29 shown as killed in action. This month marks 100 years since the planned opening ceremony of the gates in April 1919, a ceremony that never took place because the influenza pandemic at the time restricted public gatherings.

For the centenary of the gates, I set about compiling information on the soldiers listed on the pillars. By searching online resources from the Australian War Memorial and the National Archives, I managed to confirm the identity of most of the men, including all but one of those listed as killed. While newspapers were filled with reports of Lambton boys enlisting, departing and returning, there was but one scant reference to Sturey, in July 1918 where “Mrs Hincks of Pearson Street Lambton has received word that Private George Sturey has died of wounds.”

Searching the online records, I could find no trace of Sturey. In researching other soldiers I had found numerous errors with the gate inscriptions. Perhaps “Sturey” was a mis-spelling, or maybe an anglicised form of a German surname? Searching every possible name variant I could think of revealed nothing.

Eventually, after a page-by-page study of the embarkation rolls, in the records of the SS Port Napier, I located Salvatore Sturiali of Lambton, a surname that Australians would naturally shorten to Sturey. Confirmation came from the Red Cross “Wounded and Missing” files where a soldier reporting on Sturiali’s death recalled “We used to call him George”.

Sturiali died on 21 June 1918 on the Somme battlefield, when a German artillery shell hit the cookhouse he was serving in. His fellow soldiers described him as a “short, dark, curly headed chap” who “was very popular”.  An Italian born immigrant to Australia, killed on French soil, alongside the British in a war against Germany, Sturiali stands as an example of why the 1914-18 conflict was aptly named a World War.

The elusive name “Sturey G.” engraved on the Lambton Park Memorial Gates.
The 1916 enlistment form of Salvatore Sturiali, one of the documents that confirmed the identity of G Sturey.

The article above was first published in the April 2019 edition of The Local.


His identity

There were three key documents that confirmed that the George Sturey on the Lambton Park Memorial Gates was Salvatore Sturiali.

Sturiali’s name in the embarkation roll of the SS Port Napier.
“We used to call him George”. The Red Cross Missing and Wounded files.
Enlistment form of Salvatore Sturiali, with postal address of “Pearson St, Lambton”

His life

The following points summarise what we know of Sturiali, as gleaned from his war service records.

  • Born 1892 in Riposto, on the island of Sicily, in Italy.
  • Had a brother in Italy
  • No relatives in Australia
  • His mother Angelina Sturiali resided in Riposto, Italy at the time of his enlistment.
  • Served as an apprentice for 12 months on the sailing ship “Australian”
  • Lived in Pearson Street, Lambton.
  • “Prior to enlisting he was employed by Messrs. J. C. Davies and Sons and W. Timmins, contractors.”
  • Occupation on enlistment form shown as “Bricklayers Labourer”
  • Physical characteristics
    • “a little short dark chap”
    • “he spoke broken English”
    • “dark curly hair”
    • “about 5ft 7in in height, dark, curly headed, clean shaved”
  • War service
    • Enlisted 11 Sep 1916, aged 22 years and 8 months.
    • Assigned to 7th reinforcements of the 46th Infantry Battalion.
    • Embarked from Australia on SS Port Napier, 7 Nov 1916.
    • Was in D Company of the 46th Battn.
    • “employed in the officers mess”
    • “was batman to several officers”
    • “He was an officers’ cook”
    • “He was an officer’s waiter”

His death

  • Wounded at Battalion Headquarters at Sailly-le-Sec, when a German artillery shell hit the cook house Sturiali was serving in at about 9am on 21 June 1918. The battalion headquarters was located in a gully north-west of Sailly-le-Sec, and was about a mile behind the front line.
  • Taken to the 12th Field Ambulance nearby.
  • Died of wounds a few hours later at the 47th Casualty Clearing Station near Corbie.
  • Buried at Crouy British Cemetery, outside the village of Crouy-sur-Somme.
A map from the 46th Battalion War Diary June 1916, showing the location of the battalion headquarters in a gully north-west of the village of Sailly-le-Sec.
A Google Earth view of the gully where the 46th battalion headquarters was located in June 1918.
Google Earth image of the Somme Valley, showing where Sturiali was injured (Sailly-le-Sec), died (Corbie) and buried (Crouy-sur-Somme) in June 1918.
The location (marked with a red star) in Crouy British Cemetery, Somme, France, where Pte Salvatore is buried.
Pte G Sturey, listed on the Lambton Post Office Honour Roll.

Sturey is also listed on the Honour Roll at the front of the former Lambton Post Office, although his stated age of 25 is probably incorrect. On his enlistment form in September 1916 Sturiali lists his age as 22 years and 8 months, which means he would have been 24 years of age at his death in June 1918.

Links to information on Salvatore Sturiali

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
20 Jul 1918
21 Jun 1918
"Mrs. Hincks, of Pearson-street, Lambton, has received word that Private George Sturey has died of wounds. Prior to enlisting he was employed by Messrs. J. C. Davies and Sons and W. Timmins, contractors."
14 Apr 1919
12 Apr 1919
"There was a fairly large gathering on Saturday afternoon to witness the unveiling of the roll of honour gates. At the time fixed for the opening, Alderman Hardy said it was regretted that in consequence of the influenza restrictions the proposed opening ceremony would have to be dispensed with."

Adamstown Council Chambers

In 1869 Thomas Adam purchased 54 acres of Crown land south of Glebe Rd, subdivided it, and began selling lots to the public. Adamstown was born. In the next 15 years the population grew to about 1000, and the residents began petitioning for a local council to be formed. Their principal concern was the poor state of roads in the town. A counter petition was led by the mining companies, principally objecting to the rates they would have to pay.

The arguments for local government won the day, and on 31 December 1885 the NSW Governor officially proclaimed the “Municipal District of Adamstown”. The election of nine aldermen took place on 6 March 1886. For the next few weeks, the Council met in local halls and hotels while they quickly arranged the erection of a small weatherboard building in Victoria St to use as Council Chambers.

Six years later, in April 1892, they commissioned larger and grander chambers. Designed by architects Bennett and Yeomans in the Renaissance style, the building was erected on the corner of Narara and Kyle Roads. With construction not fully completed, 500 people gathered for the official opening on 22 August 1892. The Postmaster-general John Kidd declared the chambers open, and the fire brigade then “christened the building with a copious stream of water.”

The building was used for the next 46 years until Adamstown Council ceased to exist with the formation of the City of Greater Newcastle Council in March 1938. It was subsequently leased to the Returned Soldier’s League in 1941. From 1947, the building was used for a number of purposes, including at one stage as emergency housing for a homeless family. As the building aged, it gradually fell into disuse and disrepair.

Curiously, while the grand council chambers in Narara road was demolished over 50 years ago, and the site is now used by Hunter Health, the initial modest building in Victoria St survived, and is now used for a medical practice.


The article above was first published in the March 2019 edition of The Local.

The building in Victoria St used as Adamstown Council chambers 1886-1892.
Opening of the Adamstown Council Chambers in Narara Road, 1892. Photo courtesy of Newcastle Region Library.

Additional Information

For further information on Adamstown Council and other suburban municipal councils can be found from my Newcastle Municipal Councils page.

The Well Travelled Brick

The Jesmond bushland may be a nature reserve, but it also contains a fair amount of rubbish from 200 years of European settlement. However, the garbage of one generation can become the historical artefacts for a later generation.

A few years ago, amongst the discarded soft drink bottles and cans of this age, I found half a brick bearing a partial inscription “EJ & J PE… LTD STOU…” With a bit of guesswork as to what the missing letters might be, an internet search revealed that it was from the EJ & J Pearson Firebrick Works in Stourbridge, in the Worcestershire district of England.

Firebricks are a specialised kind of brick that can withstand high temperatures, and are used in the inner linings of furnaces or kilns. Although they were being made in Australia in the 19th century, they were considered inferior to those from the ‘mother country’. Stourbridge in England was the celebrated hub of firebrick manufacturing. The Sydney Morning Herald reported in 1879 that “the Stourbridge fire bricks are known all over the world for their durability; indeed the clay used for this purpose cannot be surpassed.”

The “EJ & J Pearson” company was one of many brick makers in Stourbridge, and was founded in 1860 by Edward Jewkes Pearson and John Pearson. By 1903 the company operated three sites and were producing approximately three-quarters of a million firebricks per week, to be used in England and around the world.

The brick that lies in the Jesmond bushland would probably have been used in a furnace, perhaps to provide air ventilation for the Lambton Colliery, or possibly to heat a boiler that powered a steam engine. It is impossible now to know its exact purpose, or what year it arrived on our shores. But this well-travelled brick is a reminder that Newcastle with its port and industries has been from the beginning, and remains to this day, a globally connected city.


The article above was first published in the February 2019 edition of The Local.

A firebrick from the EJ & J Pearson Company lies in the Jesmond bushland.
The Delph works, one of the three EJ & J Pearson brick making sites in Stourbridge UK. Photo courtesy of www.stourbridge.com

More photos of the Stourbridge brickworks can be see on the www.stourbridge.com website.

Additional Information

For simplicity, in the published story I referred to a single brick that I had found in the Jesmond bushland. I actually found two EJ & J Pearson firebricks, the second one located about 15 metres away from the first

Another firebrick from the EJ & J Pearson Company, found in the Jesmond bushland.

The regard for Stourbridge fire bricks is exhibited in a newspaper report on 31 December 1884, on the silver mine at Sunny Corner (between Bathurst and Lithgow), where it is stated that …

“Just now the larger furnace is idle, the brick lining having been burned out. This was of colonial fire bricks, but did not prove suitable, and only the best Stourbridge bricks will be used in future.”

An import list from January 1878, showing that 5000 Stourbridge firebricks were landed at Port Pirie SA.

The Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History has a number of pages relevant to the EJ & J Pearson firebricks

The history of the EJ & J Pearson company is a long and convoluted one of mergers, take-overs, name changes and de-mergers. After a merger in 1957 they became “Price-Pearson (Refactories)”, and then merged with “J. and J. Dyson” in 1968. The present day company “Dyson Technical Ceramics” can trace its history back to the original EJ & J Pearson company.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
9 Jan 1878Import list of the ship Flensborg, showing that 5000 fire bricks from Stourbridge were landed at Port Pirie in South Australia.
20 Sep 1879"The Stourbridge fire bricks are known all over the world for their durability; indeed the clay used for this purpose cannot be surpassed."
31 Dec 1884Stourbridge firebricks are held in high regard … "Just now the larger furnace is idle, the brick lining having been burned out. This was of colonial fire bricks, but did not prove suitable, and only the best Stourbridge bricks will be used in future."

Teralba Railway Deviation

While looking at Google Earth this weekend I noticed that it was somewhat odd the way the Sydney-Newcastle train line has a big eastward loop just south of Teralba.

Why didn’t the train line just continue north-south in a relatively straight line? Consulting Parrott’s 1893 map revealed that’s exactly what the line used to do. Here’s the map overlaid onto Google Earth, with the present day path of the rail line shown in red.

So why the change, and when did it happen?

A search of Trove revealed that construction of the deviation was commenced around 1901. It was one of a number of re-alignments and deviations between Adamstown and Morisset designed to reduce the grade (steepness) of the track, and thus improve the efficiency of haulage. The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate reporting on the program of rail deviations on 2 July 1901 stated that …

The grade will be 1 in 80 as against 1 in 40 and 1 in 50 on the present line. It is estimated that this deviation of the line, though a costly matter, involving as it does the expenditure of some thing between £70,000 and £80,000, will enable one engine to do work which it now takes two to do, and thus the expenditure is believed to be justifiable.

Construction of the Teralba deviation was halted in October 1901 because of a legal dispute. The deviation passed over the workings of the Pacific Co-operative Steam Coal Company, and the Railway Commissioner’s had offered £2,000 in compensation for the resumed land. The coal company thought this too little, and put in a counter claim for £25,000 compensation. Construction of the deviation recommenced in early 1902 while the legal arguments about compensation continued. In June 1902 it was reported that “the Teralba section is being pushed forward rapidly, giving employment to from 300 to 400 men”. The construction was reported as completed in April 1903.

However the argument over compensation was not completed. At an arbitration hearing in January 1903 the Railway Commissioners were ordered to pay £18,460 in compensation. The Railway Commissioners thought the award too high, and immediately asked “to have the amount of compensation settled by a jury, under the provisions of the Public Works Act of 1900.” On the other hand the Pacific Co-operative Coal Company thought the award too small, and immediately upped the ante by suing the Railway Commissioners for “£60,000 damages for the deprivation of mining rights.”

After a lengthy court case in March 1903, the jury awarded the coal company £17,609 in damages. On 11 June 1903 the coal company signed a “judgement for the amount of the verdict, with interests and costs.” But two months later in August 1903 the matter was back in the courts, where a ruling was made that the coal company “were not entitled to recover such costs.” To make matters even more complicated (as if they weren’t complicated enough), the Pacific Co-operative Steam Coal Company didn’t own the land they were mining. They leased it from the Perpetual Trustee Company for an annual fee based on the amount of coal extracted. The Perpetual Trustee Company thought that their payments would be reduced due to the resumption of land by the railway, and therefore they launched separate legal action against the Railway Commissioners for payment of compensation.

Convoluted legal proceedings continued for years, going all the way to the Privy Council in London in September 1904, other proceedings to the High Court of Australia in September 1905, and continuing in other courts until at least May 1906. With the massive amount of time spent in the courts and associated legal fees, I suspect the 3km Teralba deviation became the most expense piece of railway construction in NSW at the time.

Lambton/Mayfield Tramway

The first tramline in the city, running from Newcastle to Wallsend opened in 1887. Only two other lines opened in the next decade, but tramway fervour increased when Edward William O’Sullivan became NSW Minister for Public Works in 1899. O’Sullivan was a passionate supporter of public transport. He was the visionary in the construction of the ornate Central Railway Station in Sydney, and instigated many other rail and tram projects in NSW.

In Newcastle by 1901, Merewether, Adamstown and Mayfield had been added to the tram network, and many other suburbs clamoured to be the next tram destination. Lambton residents wanted a tram between their town and Mayfield. However the Mayor of Waratah, N. B. Creer, was highly critical, declaring that the proposed route

“comprises a variety of pitfalls and the land might subside at any time”

and that the income from passengers

“would not pay for grease for the rolling stock”

Creer’s preference was for Waratah to be connected by a line from Hamilton via Georgetown. The Minister agreed, and O’Sullivan promised that construction would start by 1903. However, drought and a downturn in the London money markets dried up funds, and government spending was reined in. O’Sullivan lost office in 1904 and the Waratah via Georgetown tramline was put on hold. The line eventually opened in 1915, the final extension of the tram network constructed in Newcastle.

In 1918, the Lambton to Mayfield route was again advocated, to provide transport for workers in the western parts of the city to the newly opened steelworks. But it was never to be. In the 1920s the rise of motorised bus services led to a decline in tram patronage, and from 1930 tramlines in Newcastle began to close. The last tram service in Newcastle ran on 11 June 1950 on the Waratah line.

In 2019, light rail services return to the city, and the opening of the Newcastle to Wickham line raises the same question asked in 1901, “Where to next?”


The article above was first published in the January 2019 edition of The Local.

Mayfield-Lambton Tramway Proposals 1901. Map by Ken McCarthy, Trolley Wire magazine October 1982. Courtesy of Sydney Tramway Museum Archives.
A tram sits at the intersection of Howe and Morehead Streets, Lambton, where the
proposed route to Mayfield branched off. Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Additional Information

Timeline of tram operations in Newcastle, 1887-2019

Date Tram line Event
19 Jul 1887 Wallsend/Plattsurg Opened
19 Apr 1894 Tighes Hill Opened
19 Apr 1894 Glebe (originally called Merewether line) Opened
13 Aug 1900 Adamstown Opened
11 Jan 1901 Mayfield (extension of Tighes Hill line to Hanbury St) Extended
21 Sep 1903 Merewether (beach) Opened
27 Apr 1907 Racecourse Opened
19 Sep 1910 West Wallsend Opened
11 Jul 1911 Wallsend (Newcastle to Lambton portion) Duplicated
15 Jan 1912 Speers Point Opened
23 Sep 1912 Carrington Opened
July 1914 Maryville (Port Waratah) Opened
20 Jan 1915 Waratah Opened
15 Dec 1923 Mayfield Electrified
27 Jul 1924 Merewether Electrified
2 Nov 1924 Glebe Electrified
2 Feb 1925 Adamstown Electrified
6 Apr 1925 Waratah Electrified
Nov 1925 Racecourse (possibly 11/11/1925?) Electrified
27 Dec 1925 Wallsend Electrified
15 Aug 1926 Carrington Electrified
11 Oct 1926 Port Waratah Electrified
1 Nov 1930 Speers Point Closed
1 Nov 1930 West Wallsend Closed
19 Nov 1938 Carrington Closed
19 Nov 1938 Port Waratah Closed
26 Sep 1948 Mayfield Closed
6 Nov 1949 Wallsend Closed
25 Feb 1950 Glebe Closed
25 Feb 1950 Merewether Closed
16 Apr 1950 Adamstown Closed
Apr 1950 Racecourse Closed
11 Jun 1950 Waratah Closed
17 Feb 2019 Newcastle Beach to Newcastle Interchange (Wickham) Opened
Passengers on the Newcastle Light Rail on the community open day, 17 Feb 2019

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
1 Sep 1900"The land on the suggested Lambton to Waratah route comprises a variety of pitfalls, and where falls have not taken place the land might subside at any time, a great deal of the country being undermined and the coal extracted from near the surface. "
"The Mayor of Waratah contends that a tramway between Waratah and Lambton would not pay for grease for the rolling stock, and suggests that this project might be dropped so as not to prejudice the construction of the Georgetown route, to which the Minister and the Commissioners are said to be favourable."
4 Sep 1900"The construction of a tramline between Waratah and Lambton is not advocated solely with a view of benefiting the residents living in the vicinity of the route, but also for the convenience of the travelling public of the whole district, more especially the people of the large centres of Wallsend and Plattsburg, who are at present unable to reach Hanbury, Tighe's Hill, Mayfield, or the Hunter River by tram unless they proceed via Wickham, which is both a costly and tedious journey, in order to reach those centres of population."
15 Nov 1900
13 Nov 1900
Conference between Lambton Citizens’ Committee and Waratah Council to discuss the competing routes. Lambton argued that the tram was “necessary as a means of conveyance for youths employed at the Soap Works, a number of workmen who travelled at week-ends and holidays to the river to fish.”
14 Jun 1901
13 Jun 1901
Mr G Fischer, the Engineer for Tramway construction, inspects a number of proposed tram routes. There is detailed description of the Lambton/Mayfield route that was subsequently illustrated in the map in Trolley Wire magazine in 1982.
The praises of William O'Sullivan are sung … “Very little doubt exists that a line will be made if Mr. O'Sullivan remains in power. His vigorous policy has already done much good for the district, and his present tramway proposals are held to be an evidence of his sincerity to make Newcastle up-to-date as the capital city of the great northern part of this State.”
15 Mar 1902"New South Wales is shortly to go on to the [London Money] market, but is holding back because of the unsettled condition of the market owing to South African affairs."
19 Mar 1902The Minister for Works writes to Waratah Council stating that the Waratah Broadmeadow tramway extension could be commenced at the end of June next. (June 1903)
20 May 1903"A deputation … interviewed the Minister for Works, Mr. O'Sullivan, to-day, and urged for the early redemption of his promise to construct the extension of the tram from Broadmeadow to Waratah."
The Minister said "he had given promises in good faith, but a man was sometimes the victim of his environment, and so was the State. Since the promises were given they had fallen upon bad times. The drought, the bad money market in London, and other troubles, and the Government had decided to reef-sail in the matter of expenditure."
8 Aug 1905"The residents of Waratah … are waiting patiently for the construction of the branch line from Broadmeadow Junction. The line was surveyed some years ago, and pegs mark the proposed route. "
"When Mr. O'Sullivan was Minister for Works he was taken over the route. He decided then that it was the proper way to take the line, and promised that it should be constructed. However, he went out of office, and the matter has been hung up since. "
19 Jun 1918Lambton Council meeting: "Correspondence was received from J. Estell, intimating that he would assist thecombined councils in urging the Government to construct a tram line from Lambton, via Waratah and Mayfield, to the steel works."
10 Mar 1920Call to convene a conference "for the purpose of taking concerted action towards procuring the construction of a tramway to the Steel Works either from Lambton or New Lambton."
10 Apr 1920"The necessity for constructing a line of tramways to give direct access from the western suburbs to the Steel Works at Port Waratah was affirmed by a conference of municipal representatives held at the Lambton Council Chambers last night."
24 May 1920“The proposal for the construction of a tramline from Lambton to the steel works was mentioned by the Mayor ... Mr. Phillips (District Superintendent of Tramways), in reply, said that he could see very little hope of any new lines being constructed in the Newcastle district until electrification was brought about.”
21 Oct 1930
1 Nov 1930
Speers Point and West Wallsend tram services cease. They had been operating at a loss of £16,229 per annum.
12 Jun 1950
11 Jun 1950
Last tram service in Newcastle, on the Waratah line.