Newcastle to Sydney telephone line

Prior to 1860, communication between Newcastle and Sydney required either a sea voyage or an arduous road journey.  It could take days or weeks to receive a reply to a message. That situation changed radically in January 1860 when the electric telegraph service to Newcastle was inaugurated. The telegraph line was erected along the Great North Road, running through Wisemans Ferry, Wollombi and Maitland, and enabled short messages to be instantly transmitted using Morse code.

In 1883 Newcastle’s first telephone exchange opened with 25 private and commercial subscribers. The local telephone network gradually expanded and in 1896 the government allocated funds to provide a trunk connection between Newcastle and Sydney.  Arthur Espley of Hamilton won the tender to supply 3000 ironbark poles, and John Elder was contracted to install the poles and wiring along the rail line from Milson’s Point to Newcastle. Construction commenced in March 1897 and by September had reached Gosford.

While constructing the northern part of the line, Elder’s workmen set up camp for four months at Adamstown near the railway level crossing. Ralph Snowball photographed the camp on 30 December 1897, four days before the service commenced on 3 January 1898. The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate reported that “Mr. Arthur Fenwick was the first person to use the new telephone line …  the gentleman spoken to in Sydney could not at first believe that a resident of Newcastle was speaking to him.” Calls to Sydney could only be made by attending the telegraph office in Hunter Street Newcastle, and just one person could use the line at any time. At a cost of 3 shillings for a 3 minute conversation, and with miners earning 6 shillings a day at that time, it is somewhat astonishing to consider that a phone call to Sydney cost half a day’s wages! Amid our current inflationary pressures, it’s worth remembering how ridiculously cheap phone calls are today compared to 125 years ago.

Telephone line contractors camp adjacent to the rail line at Adamstown, 30 December 1897. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University Newcastle, Living Histories.
The same location 125 years later, when phone calls to Sydney are 125,000 times cheaper.

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

Additional Information

Ralph Snowball, on his negative listing for Box 158, incorrectly labelled the photo as the “telegraph” camp when it was the telephone wiring contractors camp. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.
Advertisement for the opening of the Sydney to Newcastle telephone line. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 1 January 1898.

The cost of phone calls

In the article I wrote that a three minute phone call from Newcastle to Sydney 125 years ago cost half a day’s wages, and that today the same phone call is 125,000 times cheaper.

In considering the average wage in Newcastle 125 years ago I chose the occupation of miner, as this was the dominant employment at the time. The average wage of miners could differ considerably depending on the mine being worked, the various kinds of mining jobs, and the productivity of the individual miner, as noted in this article from 1896 showing daily earnings of a miner as low as 3s 10d per day, and up to 13s per day. Despite this spread of earnings, report on strike action by miners during 1896 consistently mention a push for earnings around the 6s per day mark. Thus a 3s phone call to Sydney would have been half a day’s wages.

  • 12 Mar 1896 – Glebe colliery wheelers asking for an increase of 6d on their current rate of 5s 6d per day
  • 19 March 1896 – Borehole wheelers asking for an increase to 6s per day.

When it comes to the cost of phone calls today, the comparison is somewhat muddied in that basic phone plans today are fixed cost per month and include unlimited and untimed phone calls within Australia. Notwithstanding that difficulty, let’s do some maths …

If we take an average wage today to be $92000 per annum, that translates to $353 per working day. If we assume that a person is awake for a maximum of 18 hours in a day, then there about 32400 minutes in a month they could be making a phone call. Thus a 3 minute phone call is 0.0000926 of the usable phone minutes in a month. As a basic phone plan can be obtained for $15 a month, a 3 minute phone call evaluates to just 0.14 cents $15 x 0.0000926). This correlates to 0.0000039251 of the average daily wage (0.14 cents / $353).

Comparing the relative costs of a 3 minute phone call (0.5 of daily wage in 1898, and 0.0000039251 of daily wage in 2022) we arrive at a ratio of 127384 times cheaper in 2022, which rounds out to 125 thousand to nicely match the 125 year time span!

Now I realise that some of the assumptions I made above are a bit arbitrary (and I may have even chosen some assumptions to get me to a nice round figure), however the point is still clear – phone calls today are vastly and almost unimaginably cheaper today than 125 years ago. Are there any other consumer services whose price has decreased so dramatically in the same time?

Newcastle telegraph office

In Newcastle, the trunk telephone line from Sydney was connected to the Telegraph Office in Hunter Street, near the intersection of Watt Street.

Water Board Map 1895, showing location of Newcastle Telegraph Office and Post Office, on the corner of Hunter and Watt Streets. Newcastle University, Living Histories.
The Newcastle Telegraph Office (left) in 1891. The Sydney to Newcastle telephone service commenced here on 1 January 1898. Newcastle Libraries, Hunter Photobank.
The old Telegraph and Post Office buildings in Hunter Street. 21 April 2023.

Evolution of the telephone service

The original telephone service installed between Sydney and Newcastle in 1897 and inaugurated on 3 January 1898, consisted of 4 wires, allowing for two complete circuits. The reports at the time do not explicitly say so, but I get the impression that one circuit was used for phone calls initiated from Newcastle to Sydney, and the other circuit for the opposite direction. The advertisement for the service on 1 January 1898 speaks of “the line” (singular) and says …

In cases where the line may be engaged applications will be registered and connection will be made in the order of priority of application.

This queuing of applicants would be more easily managed with one circuit dedicated to each direction.

Snowball’s 1897 photograph shows four telephone wires.

By 1907 the limitations of the initial service were being felt.

Numerous complaints have been made by business houses in the city of the frequent congestion which occurs on the telephone trunk lines between Newcastle and Sydney. There are at present only two direct lines connecting Newcastle with the metropolis … tenders have been called for the supply of material for the construction of another line.

Sydney Morning Herald, 26 August 1907.

Four more lines were added, but their capacity was soon used up. In 1919 it was noted that …

There are six lines at present in use, but the congestion that occurs in the business almost every day of the week is becoming intolerable. The Postal Department hopes to begin immediately the erection of two new telephone trunk lines.

The Newcastle Sun, 17 May 1919.

In 1924 the Postal Department expressed their intention to “put all telephone and telegraph cables between Sydney and Newcastle underground”. However like a number of other Newcastle infrastructure projects in the last century, this was the first of a series of announcements followed by nothing being finshed.

In October 1928 bushfires exposed the vulnerability of the overhead telephone wiring system …

The raging inferno, along the Sydney railway line played havoc with the Sydney-Newcastle telephone lines. Suddenly, late yesterday afternoon, 15 trunk lines between Newcastle and Sydney went out, and Newcastle was completely isolated. This morning subscribers were told that there was no possibility of communication with Sydney by phone.

The Newcastle Sun, 8 October 1928.

In June 1929 the Deputy Postmaster-General announced that work had commenced on the laying of underground cable between Sydney and Newcastle, at a cost of £500,000. The length of the cable required was 117 miles, and the first cable to be laid would provide more than 120 pairs of wires, with each circuit allowing telephone conversations and telegraphic messages simultaneously.

Very little was done and by 1935 it was time for another announcement that …

Preliminary work has begun on the laying of an underground telephone cable between Sydney and Newcastle. Conduit to carry the cable has already been laid between Sydney and Peat’s Ferry, it was stated this morning, and survey work along the main Newcastle-Sydney highway is in progress.

The Newcastle Sun, 10 January 1935.

Progress must have been slow, because four years later there was opportunity for yet another announcement when …

The Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs Mr Butler at Gosford yesterday afternoon turned the first sod for the laying of the underground telephone and telegraph cables which will link Sydney, Newcastle and West Maitland.

Sydney Morning Herald, 1 April 1939.

By mid 1941 the underground cabling had been completed, and ancillary equipment was being installed at the exchanges. Mr. E. S. Butler, senior mechanic attached to the Taree Post Office, in addressing the Taree Rotary Club on the development of telephone communication, stated that …

The [underground] cabling from Sydney to Newcastle has been completed, and the equipment is being installed. To date the test results have exceeded the requirements of the contract. The completion of this work will be a boon, especially in summer, when storms and bushfires will no longer work havoc on the overhead wiring system, with the consequent interruption to traffic. There is provision in this cable for 28 systems of 17 channels — a total of 470 plus 4 programme relay lines, but equipment is only being provided for a portion of this, and can be added to us required. Both systems are based on frequency or tuned circuits, as we know it on our radio, the difference being that the radio is transmitted at a much higher frequency and with a high power. The frequencies used on the telephone systems are much, lower, and do not radiate from the wires unless excessive current is used. Even then it could not be picked up by the commercial radio.

The Northern Champion, 26 July 1941.

Although the cables installed between Sydney and Newcastle potentially allowed for up to 470 channels, war conditions delayed the delivery of the carrier wave equipment needed to make use of that potential. In May 1945 there were only 42 channels available on the intercity trunk line. After the war, additional modern carrier wave equipment was installed as telephony needs increased.

One of the most significant advances in inter-city telephony occurred in 1967, when Subscriber Trunk Dialing (STD) became available in Newcastle. This allowed users at home to dial direct to a destination number in another city without having to get a telephone operator to manually connect them.

Brunker Road Buildings

In Snowball’s photograph of the workmen’s camp, there is double story shop and a church on the horizon at the right hand side.

Church and shop on Brunker Road, Adamstown.

These buildings are on Brunker Rd. The church is the original wooden building of St Stephens Church of England located at 191 Brunker Rd.

Saint Stephen’s Church of England, Adamstown, not dated. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Newcastle Libraries, Hunter Photo Bank.

The shop in the photo is the tailoring business of Anthony Shaw, whose premises were located opposite the Post Office, at 208 Brunker Road. (See also Vol-Fol 1051-29 for Portion 1651 of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve.)

Vol-Fol 1051-29, portion 1651 sold to Anthony Shaw, Master Tailor, 18 July 1894.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
8 Mar 1859Tenders invited "for the supply of material (wire excepted), and for the workmanship necessary for the erection of line of Electric Telegraph from a point upon or near the Blacktown Road to Windsor, and thence via Wiseman's Ferry, Wollombi, West Maitland, and Maitland to Newcastle."
5 Dec 1859"The [telegraph] line to the Hunter was commenced on the 6th June last ; starting from the Blacktown road it passes through Windsor and Richmond via Wiseman's Ferry to Wollombi and West Maitland, and thence to Morpeth, and along the railway line to Newcastle."
11 Jan 1860"The electric circuit between Maitland and Newcastle was tested yesterday. Mr E. C. Cracknell came hither to effect the experimental process, and a message was successfully transmitted through the Northern telegraph line. We believe the working of the line will not come into active operation until some slight arrangements have been considered relative to the general telegraphic line from Newcastle to Sydney from each intermediate station. In the course of the week we believe all will be prepared for the sending of telegrams."
26 Jan 1860
22 Jan 1860
"On Monday last communication with Sydney by electric telegraph was opened to the public of Maitland." This article has some interesting details on the technical implementation of the telegraph service.
24 Jan 1860"On Tuesday last, a ball took place at the Caledonia Hotel in this city, in commemoration of the establishment and the opening of telegraphic communication between Sydney and the Hunter River district."
18 Sep 1877"The Contractor for the Newcastle Telegraph Office additions having completed his work, the building now presents a very neat and creditable appearance, and will, we understand, be occupied in the early part of next week."
26 Oct 1883"Operations in connection with the Newcastle Telephone Exchange are now, we are glad to learn, on the eve of completion. Yesterday the contractor (Mr. Kinshela, of Parramatta) commenced the operation of "wireing," and has so far made very satisfactory progress with his work. Half a dozen large ironbark poles, forty feet high, have been set up; and when finished, there will be upwards of fifty wires in use, connected with the various subscribing offices and private residences."
6 Dec 1883
5 Dec 1883
"The new Telephone Exchange of Newcastle was formally opened at noon yesterday in the presence of a few influential citizens ... There are at present twenty five subscribers, and the system of working is an excellent one."
5 Aug 1896"During the past few weeks Messrs. Dick and Fegan, Ms.P., have had several interviews with the Postmaster-General concerning the advisableness of providing immediate telephonic communication between Newcastle and Sydney. As a result of their representations the Minister has instructed his officers to prepare specifications at once."
19 Nov 1896"Since Parliament voted £20,000 for connecting Newcastle, Maitland, and Bathurst by telephone with Sydney an advertisement is said to have appeared in the Government Gazette calling for tenders for 3000 poles, to be laid between here and Sydney. This looks as if the proposal is to become an assured fact sooner or later."
27 Nov 1896Tender accepted : "Mr. A. B. Espley, Hamilton. 3,000 Wooden Telegraph Poles (ironbark), 30 feet long (to be delivered along the railway line from Milson's Point to Newcastle), 6s. 8d. each."
1 Dec 1896"A little time ago the Postmaster-General decided to establish certain trunk lines for telephonic purposes between Sydney and some of the larger inland towns. Already the department has accepted a tender for the 3000 wooden poles necessary to carry the wire between the metropolis and Newcastle, and the work is to be put in hand at once."
8 Mar 1897"The work of establishing telephonic communication between Sydney and Newcastle is being rapidly proceeded with, and will be completed within the course of a few months."
12 Apr 1897"In connection with the construction of a telephone line between Sydney and Newcastle, Mr. W. T. Dick, M.L.A., has been advised by the Postmaster-General that the poles, as far as Hornsby, are up, and ready for the wires, and on arrival of the latter the work will be pushed on expeditiously."
19 Jun 1897"The Newcastle telephone line, which is under construction, has reached Peat's Ferry. Some trouble has been experienced with the cumbersome wooden posts being used."
7 Sep 1897"The Sydney to Newcastle telephone line is now completed to the Gosford Post-offioe. Overseer Elder and men are now camped at Ourimbah, and the poles have been erected past Narara."
30 Sep 1897"The work of connecting Newcastle by telephone with Sydney is now being pushed on with, the poles having been erected some distance beyond Gosford."
20 Oct 1897"By the end of next month telephonic communication between Sydney and Newcastle will have been established. The work is now well on, and the question of what the charge shall be for its use is engaging the attention of the Postmaster-General."
25 Dec 1897"In order to avoid the influences of the earth, the wires are being so arranged as to form a complete circuit. To do this, it has been necessary to have a double wire right through ... The communication has been found to be most complete, Mr. John Elder, the constructing overseer at this end, hearing distinctly the voice at the Sydney Telephone Exchange … Those who are not subscribers will be provided with a little room, at the end of the general room at the telegraph office, in which to carry on their limited conversation."
29 Dec 1897"A gang of men under Mr. John Elder, constructing overseer, were engaged yesterday fixing up the aerial cable which is to carry the Sydney telephone wires through the city from the rear of Ireland's bond … Mr. Elder spoke to Sydney yesterday from the rear of Ireland's bond, and he says he could hear the replies to his questions just as distinctly as if the conversation was being held with a person only a few yards off."
30 Dec 1897
3 Jan 1898
"The Sydney-Newcastle telephone will be open to the public on Monday next. The charge will be 3s for the first three minutes, and 1s for each subsequent minute."
4 Jan 1898
3 Jan 1898
"Mr. Arthur Fenwick was the first person to use the new telephone line between Sydney and Newcastle. The gentleman spoken to in Sydney was surprised, and could not at first believe that a resident of Newcastle was speaking to him."
1 Mar 1898
3 Mar 1898
Advertisement for the opening of the Newcastle to Sydney telpehone service.
5 Mar 1898"The gang of men who were employed laying the telephone line from Sydney to Newcastle have been camped at Adamstown for the past four months. During their residence in Adamstown they proved themselves a genial, well-conducted body of men and, consequently, gained the respect of the trades men and all they came in contact with. They broke up camp yesterday, and removed to Morrisett."
26 Aug 1907"Numerous complaints have been made by business houses in the city of the frequent congestion which occurs on the telephone trunk lines between Newcastle and Sydney. There are at present only two direct lines connecting Newcastle with the metropolis ... tenders have been called for the supply of material for the construction of another line."
17 May 1919"The commercial community of Newcastle, as well as many Sydney business firms, will learn with relief that the Postal Department 'hopes to begin immediately the erection of two new telephone trunk lines.' There are six lines at present in use, but the congestion that occurs in the business almost every day of the week is becoming intolerable."
26 Jun 1924"It is the intention of the Postal Department to put all telephone and telegraph cables between Sydney and Newcastle underground. Conduits will be run along the railway line, and it is stated that the mid-way testing station will be at a point near Lisarow."
8 Oct 1928Bushfires cut the Sydney-Newcastle telephone line.
12 Jun 1929The Deputy Postmaster-General, Mr. Kitto, said to-day that work was commenced at the beginning of this week of laying the underground cable between Sydney and Newcastle. This will improve the telephone and telegraphic service. Mr. Kitto said the new 'system would cost approximately £500,000.' "
13 Jun 1929"Preliminary work has been commenced in connection with the laying of underground telegraph and telephone cables between Sydney and Newcastle. It is anticipated that the estimated cost will be £500,000, and the length of the cable will be 117 miles. The first cable will provide for more than 120 pairs of wire, and there will be a circuit by each for telephone conversations and telegraphic messages simultaneously."
10 Jan 1935"Preliminary work has begun on the laying of an underground telephone cable between Sydney and Newcastle. Conduit to carry the cable has already been laid between Sydney and Peat's Ferry, it was stated this morning, and survey work along the main Newcastle-Sydney highway is in progress."
1 Apr 1939"The Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs Mr Butler at Gosford yesterday afternoon turned the first sod for the laying of the underground telephone and telegraph cables which will link Sydney, Newcastle and West Maitland. Two cables will be laid and although each will contain only 24 pairs of comparatively small gauge copper wires, special apparatus will enable more than 200 channels of communication to be provided. Repeater stations will be established at intervals of from 14 to 20 miles."
4 Dec 1939"Already a cable was being laid between Sydney and Newcastle, and 408 people in Newcastle could talk simultaneously with the same number of people in Sydney."
26 Jul 1941Mr. E. S. Butler, senior mechanic attached to the Taree Post Office, gave a speech to the Taree Rotary Club on the development of telephone communication, over the past two decades. There is a brief mention of the upgrade of the Sydney to Newcastle trunk line, including a few technical details.
3 Dec 1953"Seven extra trunk channels will be available between Sydney and Newcastle from next Wednesday. The improved telephone service will follow the installation of a modern carrier-wave telephone system which shortly will undergo tests. When the carrier telephone equipment was connected to a trunkline two or more calls could be completed simultanously over one pair of wires without the callers overhearing other conversations. According to the type of equipment installed, up to 17 extra circuits could be provided on each pair of wires."
18 Nov 1967Subscriber Trunk Dialling - Newcastle Exhange already upgraded and ready for the service.

Adamstown Fire and Police Station

The building featured in this month’s article was constructed in 1922 as Adamstown’s upgraded fire station. Although 100 years old now, it was used as a fire station for less than a quarter of that time.

In 1891 Adamstown’s first fire station was erected at 67 Narara Rd near the public school. A simple wood and corrugated iron shed, with a tall lookout and bell tower alongside, it served the needs of the local firefighters for the next 30 years. But when NSW fire brigades began introducing motorised fire engines a larger station was needed.  Adamstown Council considered several alternate locations for a new station but found none better than the current site.

So, in 1922 the existing wooden building was picked up and moved to the adjacent block of land to allow for the erection of a larger brick fire station in its place. The new building was officially opened on 17 November 1922. In October 1925 Adamstown brigade received their first motorised fire engine, a Garford-Hale type 15 pumper, assembled at the Fire Brigade workshops in Sydney.

The station closed in July 1946, as part of the fire service’s transition to having fewer and bigger stations.  Within months of the closure the Education Department stated their intention to use the site to extend the playground of the nearby public school. The land was officially gazetted for education use in April 1950, but if it was ever used by the school is unclear. We do know that in 1951 Newcastle Council was leasing the building, to store crates of library books as they waited for the construction of the public library in Laman Street, Newcastle. In 1970 the use of the site changed yet again, when the land was reserved for police purposes. Adamstown Police Station operated there until the mid-1990s when the station closed, and the property sold off. The building is now a private residence, albeit one with a very unusual past.

Adamstown Fire Station and the Garford-Hale motor fire engine acquired in 1925. Photo courtesy of Museum of Fire.
Adamstown Police Station 1974. Newcastle Library, Hunter Photobank.

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

Additional Information – Fire Station

Adamstown’s first Fire Station, opened 1891. Living Histories, University of Newcastle.
Location of Adamstown Fire Station, on Water Board Map circa 1901. Living Histories, University of Newcastle.

The Garford-Hale motor fire engine that Adamstown received in 1925 was a big advance on the horse drawn fire engine previously used. The features of the new engine are well described in the Glen Innes Examiner when that town received their new engine.

The new motor is a Garford-Hale, of 20 horsepower, with three speeds and reverse, electric light, and self starter. A large warning bell is fitted in a convenient position for the driver to operate. The pumps have a capacity of 300 gallons a minute and are fitted with a safety valve that blows off with 1501b. pressure, and which can be adjusted to increased pressure if necessary. One of the greatest advantages which the Garford-Hale has over other makes is the expeditious way in which the pumps can be brought into action. From the pump it is possible to get four hoses to work, two on either side. The pump is fitted so that it can be operated by the three speeds, in the same way as the motor itself is operated, according to the power required. It is not possible for the pumping operations to be hung up owing to clogging, as the gear can be thrown into reverse, and any obstruction removed. Accommodation is provided for eight men, and a scaling ladder is carried on either side. The hose box is situated at the back of the engine, and accommodates 1500 feet of hose, together with all the necessary tools.

Glen Innes Examiner, 8 September 1924

Further details of the Garford-Hale engine are described when the Windsor brigade received their unit.

The new motor fire engine is known as the Garford-Hale pump, and is capable of pumping 300 gallons of water per minute. It is similar to the one just installed at Richmond, and they were both assembled in the Fire Brigades’ workshop in Sydney. The engine can attain a speed of 35 miles an hour when travelling to a fire. The engine is 21 h.p. A.S.E rating, with self starter and electric flight- system. There is a large hose box capable of carrying 1500 feet of hose, and a first aid kit is carried, together with all other appurtenances. The whole thing complete cost approximately £900.

Windsor and Richmond Gazette, 7 August 1925

Just a few months before Adamstown fire station was closed, Captain Francis Elson Kimber at age 83 retired from the brigade after 45 years of voluntary service.

He joined the Adamstown Fire Brigade as a volunteer in June, 1901, and was elected as Captain engine keeper in 1906, a position he retained until January 1, 1944, when his son, Mr. William G. Kimber, was apppointed Captain and Fireman A. Ure as engine-keeper. Mr. Kimber still recalls the hard work the volunteers had to do when it was mostly necessary for them to run with the fire reel to the fires. He says that in the early days they attended a large number of house fires, but their greatest worry was the large number of bush fires. The first engine provided at Adamstown was a turbine motor that had to be drawn by horses and it was while, this engine was in use that they assisted at Cohen’s fire under District Officer Hillier. The turbine was replaced by a motor-driven engine on September 28, 1925, and Mr. Kimber secured a driving licence for the vehicle. He drove this engine to a fire at Jones’s bakery on December 18, 1944, when he was 81 years of age. Although he had been relieved as captain of the district, he continued to do the clerical work. He was on duty at the station when the alarm was given and as no drivers were available, he drove the engine. This was the last fire Mr. Kimber attended.

The Newcastle Sun, 30 May 1946

Newspaper articles – Fire Station

Article Date Event DateNotes
31 Jan 1891
29 Jan 1891
Adamstown Council meeting: "From Mr. W. Brown, secretary of the Fire Brigade, requesting the council to endeavour to secure a portion of the proposed reserve for the purpose of erecting a fire station."
28 Feb 1891
26 Feb 1891
Adamstown Council meeting: Alderman FAIRFULL moved, "That the Mayor and one of the firemen meet the district surveyor when convenient, and select a piece of land on the Commonage for a fire station."
29 Jun 1891"Tender of Mr. G. Turner, of Waratah, for £93 10s was accepted, for the erection of the new fire-station. It was resolved to allow the contractor six weeks to complete the building. The building will be 30ft by 18ft, and, when completed, will be somewhat similar to the Honeysuckle fire-station. It is to be erected on a piece of land near the public school, from where a good view of Newcastle, Lambton, and other parts of the district may be obtained."
29 Aug 1891Government Gazette - portion 2395 of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve at Adamstown, reserved for fire brigade station.
3 Sep 1891"The new fire brigade station is almost completed, and the brigade committee are devising means to pay the cost. They have suficient in hand to meet the contractor, but to pay for the bell which is ordered, 266lb weight, and other necessary things, they have to appeal to the public."
5 Oct 1891
3 Oct 1891
Official opening of Adamstown's first fire station.
12 Oct 1891
11 Oct 1891
First fire attended by Adamstown fire brigade. " Too much credit cannot be given to Messrs. J. Bullerwell and W. Dixon, captain and lieutenant respectively, and all the members of the Adamstown Fire Brigade, for the prompt and efficient way in which they extinguished the fire."
23 Sep 1920Adamstown council is not in favour of the idea of closing small local fire stations and establishing a large central fire station. "Mr. Shepherd, municipal representative on the Fire Board, wrote that a new fire station is absolutely necessary before a motor engine can be placed in the town, as the under structure of the present building is not strong enough to hold a motor, and there is danger of fire if a motor is placed in a wooden building."
18 Nov 1920"Adamstown Council have been notified by the secretary of the Board of Fire Commissioners that the board will be pleased to receive suggestions from the council as to suitable sites for the proposed new fire station. The council decided that information be obtained in regard to a site opposite the local police station, and that it be forwarded to the board for consideration."
21 Apr 1921"Adamstown Council has been notified by the Board of Fire Commissioners that it has considered the site brought under notice in Brunker road, owned by Mrs. Smith. Up to the present none of the sites available is as suitable as that upon which the fire station at present stands."
3 Sep 1921"The Mayor stated that Adamstown was rapidly progressing, and that the need for a new station was urgent. The council had for some considerable time been agitating for one, and he hoped that the members of the board would favorably consider the request."
19 Jun 1922"The secretary of the Board of Fire Commissioners has informed Adamstown Council that the board has accepted the tender of Mr. William Southon, of Waratah, for the erection of the new fire station at Adamstown."
23 Jun 1922"A commencement will shortly be made with the erection of a new fire brigade station at Adamstown, on the site of the old building, which has done duty for a number of years, adjoining the council chambers. It will be a brick building, containing an engine-room, a recreation room, single men's quarters, and watch, bath, and store rooms. The contract has been let to Mr W. Southon, and the cost will be about £1300. The present structure will be removed to the Adamstown Council's adjoining land, and do service until the new building is completed, in three or four months' time."
20 Nov 1922
17 Nov 1922
"The new fire station erected in Narara road was officially opened on Friday night by Mr. F. Jackson, Chief Officer of the New South Wales Fire Brigades, in the presence of a large and representative gathering, over which the Mayor, Alderman J. Arthur, presided."
6 Mar 1924"The secretary of the Board of Fire Commissioners intimated to Adamstown Council that the board cannot give, a definite date when a motor fire engine will be installed at Adamstown. The board was doing all it could to supply motors, but the output was limited."
8 Sep 1924A good description of the Garford-Hale motor fire engine received by the Glen Innes brigade. Adamstown received the same model of fire engine the following year.
7 Aug 1925Further details of the Garford-Hale engine. (This one received by Windsor brigade.)
12 Oct 1925
10 Oct 1925
"The installation of a motor fire engine was celebrated at the Adamstown Fire Station on Saturday night."
12 Oct 1925
10 Oct 1925
"A social, to celebrate the installation of a new motor fire engine, took place in Adamstown Fire Station on Saturday night. The Mayor said Adamstown had been agitating for a motor fire engine for a considerable time, and they were glad their hopes had been realised."
30 May 1946Retirement of volunteer Francis Elson Kimber aged 83 years, after 45 years service with Adamstown fire brigade. He drove the fire engine to a fire in 1944, at age 81!
13 Jul 1946
12 Jul 1946
Closure of Adamstown and Lambton fire stations .
23 Jul 1946Protest against the closure of Adamstown and Lambton fire station: The board closed down the two fire stations on July 12. Mr. Smith claimed that fast and powerful fire engines and good roads had "annihilated" distance, making it no longer, necessary for each suburb to have its own fire-fighting service. Centrally placed stations could cover the area efficiently. Mr. A. Ure said this suggestion was ridiculous. "On the afternoon the stations were closed, there was a fire in Adamstown," he said. "It took Cook's Hill brigade 14 minutes to get there. The Adamstown brigade could have been there in four."
16 Sep 1946"The Greater Newcastle Council has made a reasonable proposal in requesting that the Adamstown and Lambton fire stations should be reopened until the new services are in operation. No doubt the reorganisation planned by the Board of Fire Commissioners is sound. It envisages bigger stations, additional and more highly-trained officers, and high-powered equipment at central points. But until these safeguards have been provided, it is premature to say that the day of the single-engine station has passed."
31 Oct 1946"To relieve congestion at Adamstown School, the Education Department intends to extend the playground to include the land now occupied by the disused Adamstown Fire Station."
2 Nov 1951"About 20,000 books, catalogued ready for issue to the public, are stored in the clock tower of the Newcastle City Hall. Because the clock tower is full, the books are now being taken in crates to the former Adamstown fire station, which Newcastle City Council holds on lease."

Additional Information – Police Station

Constable John Anderson was Adamstown’s first police officer. According to his remininscences at celebrations of Adamstown’s jubilee in 1936, he arrived in the town in August 1885. No permanent police station was built at that time, but a house was rented for Constable Anderson in Victoria St, and in 1886 the police authorities erected a temporary lock-up at the rear of the house.

Adamstown’s first police station, in Victoria St. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 18 March 1936.
Location of Adamstown’s first Police Station in Victoria Street. Water Board map, circa 1901. Living Histories, University of Newcastle.

As early as November 1886, two acres of land near the public school had been reserved for police purposes, and for the erection of a permanent police station. In the ensuing years portions of that land was set aside for the Post Office and the council chambers. In 1902, portion 2499 of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve (65 Narara Rd) was reserved for the erection of a police station, and in 1910 the government awarded L Saunders the contract for the construction of a new police residence and lockup, for a sum of £1450. The building was completed and occupied in July 1911.

Curiously, the new building had no office space, Like the ‘temporary’ quarters in Victoria St used for the past 26 years, it was just a residence and a lockup.

The new building is constructed on the same lines as Hunter-street West, Newcastle, police station, with the exception that it has no official quarters in the front of the building. There are two large cells for the accommodation of prisoners, and the residential quarters of the constable in charge are up-to-date.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 18 July 1911.
1944 aerial photograph showing location of police and fire station buildings in Adamstown.

In 1970, the former fire station (67 Narara Rd) adjacent to the police residence and lockup was dedicated for police purposes. I assume that both 65 and 67 Narara Rd were being used by for police purposes at that time, that the acquisition of the neighbouring 67 Narara Rd was an extension of facilities rather than a relocation.

1960s street directory showing the Police Station located in Narara Rd Adamstown.
Adamstown Police Station, circa 1983-1992. Photo courtesy of Col Manual and Paul Zuljan.
Adamstown Police Station circa 1996. From Newcastle City Council Wide Heritage Study 1996.

I have not found exact dates for when 65 and 67 Narara Rd ceased to be used by the police, however the Land values and property sales map indicates that the Deposited Plan for these sites (which is required for the land to be sold into private hands) was created in 1996. Presumably the police station was closed around that time.

DP823771 created in 1996.

Newspaper articles – Police Station

Article Date Event DateNotes
24 Jan 1885"Sir, Allow me a space in your valuable columns to comment on the injustice done to Adamstown by the authorities not complying with a petition sent some time ago, with reference to having a policeman stationed in this township. There is not a township in the district in so much need of police protection as Adamstown, for it is not safe for respectable people, especially females, to go out of their own houses, and it is quite dangerous for children to be away from their homes."
15 May 1886Adamston council "met in their new council chambers on Thursday evening. The building is situated in Victoria street, near the Post-office, and directly opposite the police station."
20 Jul 1886"There is a piece of land on the commonage, near the Public school, resumed by the Government for a police station, but nothing has yet been done by the townspeople towards having the police station secured."
1 Nov 1886"The police authorities have decided to erect a temporary lock-up at the rear of our local constable's residence. In whatever spirit the residents will hail it, there is one thing certain, that Constable Anderson will receive it with joy. There are two acres of land reserved for a police station near the Public School."
15 Nov 1886"The municipal council have resolved to apply for half an acre of land on the commonage, near the Public School, for the purpose of erecting a council chamber and post and telegraph office. The land referred to is a portion of the two acres reserved by the Government for police barracks, and is a capital site, having a full view of the city. I fail to comprehend why they are applying for this land for council chambers and post and telegraphic office, and making no mention of the police barracks-a building for which the land was solely reserved."
22 Nov 1902Government Gazette: Portion 2499 of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve (65 Narara Rd) reserved from sale for police purposes.
10 Mar 1910"Some months back the Adamstown Council was notified that the sum of £1450 had been placed on the estimates for the erection of a new police station in Adamstown. It is now learned that plans are being prepared for the same."
16 Aug 1910Tender of L Saunders received for erection of Adamstown police station.
14 Mar 1911"It is six months ago since a start was made with the erection of the Adamstown police station, on a site adjacent to the first station. The work has been progressing slowly ever since, and by the present rate of progress Constable Robertson will be able to remove to his new quarters some time approaching Christmas."
18 Jul 1911"For 26 years the Government paid rent for premises in Victoria-street for a police station. A new building has now been erected, and on Thursday last Constable Robertson received notice to move to the new premises, which he at once did. The new building is constructed on the same lines as Hunter-street West, Newcastle, police station, with the exception that it has no official quarters in the front of the building. There are two large cells for the accommodation of prisoners, and the residential quarters of the constable in charge are up-to-date. The station is situated in Narara-road, adjoining the fire brigade station and council chambers."
20 Mar 1936Reminiscences from Adamstown's jubilee celebrations … "Mr. J. Anderson, now of Sydney, who was the first policeman in Adamstown, said it would be 51 years next August since he arrived there. He found it then much different from what it was to-day. The police station which he had first entered when he arrived was still standing. The municipality was incorporated about six months after his arrival."
4 Dec 1970Government Gazette: Portion 2395 of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve (67 Narara Rd) reserved for police purposes.

Ebbw Vale Colliery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Information

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

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

Ralph Snowball’s list for negative box 140. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.

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

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

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

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

This tunnel is described in an 1889 newspaper report …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Newcastle SUn, 15 November 1921

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

Location of the Ebbw Vale tunnel

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

BHP Coal Geology map. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.

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

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

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

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

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

Newspaper articles

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

Adamstown Railway Station and Crossing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Information

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

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

Adamstown stationmaster’s house

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

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

Newcastle Morning Herald and miners Advocate, 2 January 1901.

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

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

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

Newcastle Morning Herald and miners Advocate, 28 AUgust 1898.

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

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

Adamstown Stationmaster’s House, 1944 aerial photograph.

Newspaper articles

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

Adamstown Post Office

Often in this column, the pairing of “then” and “now” photographs highlights what has disappeared or changed over the years. This month, one of the most striking things is the similarity. Ralph Snowball’s photograph shows guests assembled for the official opening of Adamstown’s new Post Office by the Postmaster-General Mr J Cook on 21 December 1895. Apart from a missing awning, 125 years later the exterior of the building is remarkably unchanged.

One difference can be seen in the roads. In 1895 Kyle Rd was a primitive dirt track, and the front of the post office was level with the street. In 1900 Brunker Rd was lowered when the Adamstown tramway was built, and the building gained steps and a ramp.

This was Adamstown’s third post office. The first opened in April 1877 and was operated by John and Ann Syme from their residence in Victoria St. In May 1889 William Lee took charge of postal affairs in Adamstown, and a decision was made to relocate to a more central location in Union St (Brunker Rd). Commenting on the impending move, the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate noted that “the postal authorities have decided wisely … the present office is inconvenient and most unsuitable.”

The second post office opened at the end of 1889, but its usefulness was short lived. Within a year Adamstown Council was complaining that it was only “a four-roomed dwelling-house” and was “far short of the requirements of the place at the present time.”

In 1894 the government approved the budget for a new dedicated post office, and the following year accepted the construction tender of Southon brothers for £1200.  The building had a large office and lobby and seven other rooms to accommodate post and telegraph work. Constructed from Waratah stone the building has endured. It serves the same purpose today as when it opened, for while the world has changed much, our human desire for connection and communication remains undiminished.

Opening of new post office at Adamstown, 1895. Snowball Collection. Courtesy of Newcastle Region Library. Accession Number 001 000196.
Adamstown Post Office in 2020.

The article above was first published in the December 2020 edition of The Local.

Additional Information

Adamstown’s FIrst Post Office

The first post office in Adamstown was located at 74 Victoria St, at the residence of John and Ann Syme, and was opened on 16 April 1877.

Adamstown’s first post office, photographed in 1936 on the occasion of the jubilee of Adamstown Council. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 18 Mar 1936.
Ann Syme, first postmistress of Adamstown, photographed in 1936. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 18 Mar 1936.
The Victoria St building that housed Adamstown’s first post office, photographed in December 2020.

Note that the funeral notice for Ann Syme indicates that she lived at 64 Victoria Street, however it appears that a renumbering of streets occurred in Adamstown at some stage, and what was 64 Victoria St later became 74 Victoria St. In 1931, Adamstown Council were considering street renumbering but decided against it at that time.

Claiming that it would prove too costly an undertaking, Adamstown Council refused last night to renumber the houses in the municipality. The town clerk (Mr. W. Brown), pointed out that in a majority of the streets the numbering was incorrect on account of many allotments being subdivided since the first numbers were issued.

The Newcastle Sun, 10 September 1931

The renumbering must have taken place at a later time, as in the modern numbering scheme there is no 64 Victoria St.

The location of John and Ann Symes house is confirmed in the old land title certificates. Lot 5 of Section 13 in Victoria St (houses 68-74 in the modern numbering scheme) was purchased by Jenkin Williams in 1877.

Purchase of land in Victoria St Adamstown by Jenkin Williams in 1877. Historical Lands Records Viewer, Vol-Fol 307-223.

Lot 5 was subsequently subdivided, with the western portion (houses 72-74 in the modern numbering scheme) sold to John Syme in 1881.

Purchase of land in Victoria St Adamstown by John Syme in 1881. Historical Lands Records Viewer, Vol-Fol 556-203.
Purchase of land in Victoria St Adamstown by John Syme in 1881. Historical Lands Records Viewer, Vol-Fol 556-203.

Adamstown’s Second Post Office

Adamstown’s second post office opened at the end of 1889 in a newly constructed wooden building on block of land in Union St (now Brunker Rd).

The new building erected by Mr. Joseph Davenport in Union-street for a post and telegraph office is completed, and the postal business of Adamstown will in future be transacted there. According to the notices posted at the office, the office will open at 9 a.m., and the postal department close at 6.30 p.m., while the telegraph department is allowed to remain open till 8 p.m.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 30 December 1889.
Adamstown Post Office in Union St (now Brunker Rd), 1890-1895.

The Torrens Purchasers Index of 1888-1890 shows that Joseph Davenport purchased a 1 rood (quarter acre) block of land in Union St. Unfortunately the Volume-Folio reference of 102-41 against this entry is erroneous and points to a different land purchase.

John Henderson, a reader of this blog, provided invaluable assistance and identified that the correct reference is 202-41, where we learn that Joseph Davenport purchased Lot 9 of Section 13 on Union St in September 1889.

Lot 9 of Section 13. Vol-Fol 202-41, p1.
Transfer of land to Joseph Davenport, Vol-Fol 202-41, p2,

From Deposited Plan 60 we see that Lot 9 of Section 13 was on the eastern side of Union St (Brunker Rd) just south of the Glebe Rd intersection.

Location of Lot 9 Section 13 in Adamstown. Deposited Plan 60 at Historical Lands Record Viewer.

This location is 257-259 Brunker Rd, where the supermarket and news agency are located today.

Lot 9 of Section 13 in December 2020.

Adamstown’s Third Post Office

In 1936, in the lead up to the celebration of Adamstown’s jubilee (50 years since the municipality was incorporated) a faded photograph of the post office opening was found in the Adamstown Council chambers. The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate of 15 February 1936 observed that …

the building in the photograph is very little dissimilar from the building that serves the public in Adamstown today

… the very same observation I wrote in my article 84 years later, before I had found this 1936 newspaper report!

The report also gives us some valuable information on the names of people appearing in the photo.

Additional interest is given to the photograph by the group of prominent men of Adamstown assembled in front of the building. Conspicuous in this group is the Postmaster-General of the time (Mr. J. Cook), who officially opened the new office in December, 1895. Others include Mr. Alfred Edden, M.L.A., who retired from the mayoralty to become first representative in the Legislative Assembly of Kahibah and, subsequently, Minister for Mines. Mr. W. Brown, who was town clerk of Adamstown for 45 years, is there, and so is Mr. J. Curley, who was the miners’ General Secretary in Newcastle for many years. Also recognised in the photograph are Mr. John Blakemore, once an alderman and one of the first residents of Adamstown; Ald. W. Cowan, J. Gray, M. Lydon. J. Thwaites, J. Robinson, T. Hetherington (who was a member of the first Adamstown Council, and Mayor in 1888, and was a victim of the Dudley colliery disaster in 1898), and Messrs. J. C. Cosgrave (Schoolmaster) and A. Shaw (afterwards an alderman).

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
20 Feb 1877
17 Feb 1877
At a public meeting, a speaker stated that "a post-office was badly wanted, and, after being duly discussed, it was proposed and carried that the committee take such steps as the case may require towards getting the same."
5 Jun 1877
16 Apr 1877
Government Gazette: "A Post Office was established on the 16th ultimo [16 April 1877] at Adamstown, near Hamilton."
3 May 1889"A "bungle" has taken place with regard to the local post-office. Since the establishment of a post-office in Adamstown it has been conducted by Mr. John Syme and family till last Wednesday, when Mr. William Lee took charge of the postal affairs of the township. It is understood that the post office will be at Mr. Lee's residence, pending a more central place being arranged for."
26 Nov 1889"A building is being erected on Mr. J. Davenport's land in Union-street for the Post and Telegraph Office. In causing the office to be removed to Union-street the postal authorities have decided wisely, and in the interests of the people. The present office is inconvenient and most unsuitable."
16 Dec 1889"The new post and telegraph office is now nearing completion, and within the next fortnight the postal business will be transacted in the new office."
30 Dec 1889"The new building erected by Mr. Joseph Devenport in Union-street for a post and telegraph office is completed, and the postal business of Adamstown will in future be transacted there."
25 Oct 1890"At the council meeting on Thursday night the Mayor called attention to the pressing necessity there is for better accommodation at the local post and telegraph office. The building in which the postal, telegraph, and savings bank business is done is a four-roomed dwelling-house, and though it is far in advance of the building formerly used, it is far short of the requirements of the place at the present time."
12 Feb 1891"… the Government Architect has submitted a sketch plan for a new post and telegraph office at Adamstown, and the Postmaster-General having approved of the same, the papers have been returned to the Works Department for action."
23 Mar 1892"Messrs. Melville and Edden to-day interviewed the Minister for Works and handed to him a strongly-worded protest against the erection of a wooden building at Adamstown for a post and telegraph office, and urging him to decline receiving tenders for this work, as it was promised when the money was voted that the building should be of brick."
8 Jul 1892"Alderman ADAMS, Mayor of Adamstown, introduced by Mr. Edden, interviewed the Postmaster-General with reference to the new post-office at Adamstown. After some conversation, Mr. KIDD promised that the original plans would be carried out immediately."
14 Sep 1894"… the Works Department had been asked to make provision on the estimates for 1895 for funds for the purpose of erecting a post and telegraph office at Adamstown."
15 Dec 1894In budget estimates … "a considerable amount is set apart for the erection of and additions to post offices at Adamstown, Minmi, and other places in the vicinity."
1 Feb 1895"… tenders will shortly be invited for the erection of the post-office."
27 Mar 1895Tenders for erection of Adamstown Post Office called for, closing date 10 April 1895.
30 Apr 1895"The tender of Southon Brothers has been accepted for the erection of a post and telegraph office at Adamstown, the price being £1143."
23 Dec 1895
21 Dec 1895
"THE new post and telegraph office at Adamstown was formally opened to the public on Saturday afternoon by Mr. J. Cook, Postmaster-General, in the presence of a large number of people."
11 Jan 1900"Mr. Shaw, an engineer in connection with the tram extension, placed before the council plans showing that Brunker-road will be cut down 2ft 3in in front of the post-office and about 12in fronting St. Stephen's Church."
15 Feb 1936"… discovery among some old lumber at the Adamstown Council Chambers this week of a faded photograph taken on the occasion of the official opening of the present Adamstown Post Office". The article contains names of some of the men in the photograph.
18 Mar 1938Obituary of Ann Syme, aged 83, the first postmistress of Adamstown. Buried in Sandagate Cemetery 24 February 1938.

The Edden political dynasty

I was recently asked by a reader about Alfred Edden and Alfred Edden junior, their service in local councils, and if there was any connection to Arthur Edden Oval sports field in New Lambton. Here’s what I found …

There were three generations of Edden’s in the political sphere in NSW, with father, son and grandson each being elected to a different council in the Newcastle area.

Alfred Edden (1850 – 1930)

Alfred Edden was born in Tamworth, Staffordshire, England on 24 December 1850. He emigrated to Australia about 1879 and settled in Adamstown by 1884. After Adamstown was incorporated as municipality on 31 December 1885, Edden was elected on 11 Feb 1886 as an alderman to the first council. He was re-elected to another term as alderman on 11 Feb 1888. He was elected as Mayor of Adamstown on two occasions, in 1889 and 1891.

In 1891 he was elected to the NSW parliament in the electorate of Northumberland, and consequently resigned as an alderman of Adamstown Council. In 1894 he contested the NSW electorate of Kahibah and won, remaining as the member of that electorate until 18 February 1920. Alfred Edden died on 27 January 1930, and was buried in Sandgate cemetery on 29 January 1930.

Grave of Alfred Edden (1850-193) in Sandgate Cemetery/

Alfred Edden junior (1882 – 1954)

Alfred Edden junior the eldest son of Alfred Edden senior, was born in 1882.

He was became an alderman on New Lambton council in 1908 when he was one of the three nominees for the three vacant positions in Third Ward. He was re-elected in 1911 and 1914, serving until 1916. After a break of a decade he had a second period as alderman in the New Lambton council in the years 1927-1934. He was elected as Mayor of New Lambton on two occasions, in 1911 and 1930.

He died in November 1954 and was buried in Sandgate Cemetery on 30 November 1954.

Grave of Alfred Edden junior (1882-1954) in Sandgate Cemetery.

Arthur Ernest Edden (1902 – 1971)

Arthur Ernest Edden was the son of Alfred Edden junior, and was born sometime around 1902-03, based on him being 12 years old in 1915, and 68 years old when he died in 1971. Although his first name was “Arthur”, he was also known as “Alf”.

In November 1950 he nominated as a candidate in the Mid-West ward of Newcastle Council and was elected as an alderman in December 1950.

In September 1953 he attempted to follow his grandfather’s achievements, and put himself forward in the contest for ALP pre-selection for the NSW seat of Kahibah. He lost the pre-selection to Joshua Arthur.

In December 1953 he was re-elected to Newcastle Council. I have not been able to confirm the years of his remaining service as an councillor, but he was elected again in 1958.

By 1967 Arthur Ernest Edden was on the board of the Hunter District Water Board, and served there for a few years.

He died on 31 January 1971 and was buried in Sandgate Cemetery on 2 February 1971. In May 1972 a sports field in the Newcastle District Park was renamed “Arthur Edden Oval” in his honour.

NSW Government Gazette, 26 May 1972, naming “Arthur Edden Oval”
Grave of Alderman Arthur E Edden (1902-1971) in Sandgate Cemetery

Note: at the time of writing this post, both the Australian Dictionary of Biography and the NSW Parliament entry for Alfred Edden (1850-1930) have his date of death incorrectly recorded as 27 July 1930. The correct date is 27 January 1930.