James Gray, Undertaker

James Gray of Adamstown, was a leading businessman, citizen, and alderman who died on 30 May 1916 while holidaying in Blackheath, just a few days before his 73rd birthday.

Gray arrived in Australia from the north of England around 1878, and lived in Brunker Rd Hamilton West (now Broadmeadow) working as an undertaker. In 1885 he moved to Adamstown, and while continuing as an undertaker he also worked as a carpenter, ran a hardware and furniture shop and accumulated a substantial property portfolio.

Gray was one of the early proponents for the establishment of Adamstown Council in 1885. His desire to serve as an alderman was a model of perseverance, with multiple unsuccessful attempts to be elected. Conceding defeat on the fourth occasion in 1894 he was undaunted, stating that he “would again make an effort to get in to the council.” The following year he finally gained a place when elected to fill a casual vacancy. He went on to serve as an alderman for 15 years and was elected Mayor on three occasions.

Ralph Snowball’s photograph of 8 December 1910 shows James Gray in front of his business premises in Glebe Rd. Dressed in black, standing with his hand on the wheel of his Beeston Humber motor car, Gray is at work as an undertaker for the funeral of Jane Gilpin. Her son Edward is presumably the man standing at the front of the car.

This is one of Snowball’s finest carefully composed photographs, and in the dead centre is a very curious detail. In the glass windshield beside the reflection of Edward Gilpin, there is a slightly blurred image of a woman in a hat. But there is no woman standing next to Gilpin. Is this a ghostly apparition? Is it an accidental double exposure?  Or are we witnessing a clever piece of photographic artistry performed by Snowball, paying homage to Edward Gilpin’s beloved mother?

James Gray, undertaker, 8 December 1910. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
The mysterious reflection of a woman in the car windshield.

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


Location of the photo

Although I am not 100% certain of the location of James Gray’s premises in Snowball’s photograph, my best guess is that it was on the south-east corner of Glebe Road and Teralba Road.

Probable location of James Gray’s business.
The corner of Glebe and Teralba Roads, Adamstown. September 2019.
Old street directory of Adamstown showing the location of Crown St and Thomas St.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
30 Mar 1880First mention of James Gray as an undertaker. His address is given as “Commonage, Hamilton”.
26 Jan 1884James Gray is one of the 153 petitioners calling for the establishment of Adamstown Council.
21 Oct 1884For Sale: A four-roomed house and shop. Commonage, Hamilton.
5 Dec 1884Last advertisment for JAMES GRAY, Undertaker, with the address given as "Commonage, Hamilton."
26 Jan 1885First advertisement for JAMES GRAY, Undertaker, with the address given as "Adamstown".
13 Feb 1888
11 Feb 1888
James Gray's first unsuccessful attempt to be elected to Adamstown Council.
10 Feb 1890
8 Feb 1890
James Gray's second unsuccessful attempt to be elected to Adamstown Council.
5 Jul 1890James Gray leading a movement to have Adamstown Council divided into wards.
5 Jan 1891James Gray is instrumental in submitting a petition to the government to have the Municipality of Adamstown divided into 3 wards. Interestingly the name before Gray’s in the petition is “Jane Gilpin”, the woman whose funeral he would organise as undertaker nearly 20 years later, and be the subject of Ralph Snowball's photograph.
30 May 1891At an appeals court, the property of James Gray described as a "carpenter's shop and residence, Glebe-road."
24 Oct 1891Further evidence of James Gray's subsantial property holdings - an advertisement to let a butcher's shop in Crown-street. (Crown St was the short section of Teralba Rd to the south of Glebe Rd.)
14 May 1892In municipal appeal court, James Gray's property portfolio is described as consisting of "six four-roomed cottages assessed at an annual value of £16 5s each."
13 Feb 1893
11 Feb 1893
James Gray's third unsuccessful attempt to be elected to Adamstown Council. In giving thanks to those who voted for him, Gray stated that "it was improbable that he would again offer his services to the ratepayers." That was a short-lived sentiment, as he stood as a candidate again the following year.
30 Dec 1893At an inquest concerning a fire in one of James Gray's rental cottages, his occupation is stated as "undertaker and carpenter". Gray "had an overdraft at the A.J.S. Bank for £150 … for seven or eight years, and had built five houses."
12 Feb 1894
10 Feb 1894
James Gray's fourth unsuccessful attempt to be elected to Adamstown Council. "Mr. GRAY said he had contested for a seat in the council and been defeated four times. He had a large interest in the municipality, and would again make an effort to get in to the council."
21 Jan 1895
19 Jan 1895
Mrs Gray, the wife of James Gray, accidentally kills her niece, Eleanor Turner, aged 13.
22 Jan 1895
21 Jan 1895
The inquest into the death of Eleanor Turner hears that she died from injuries inflicted by a knife thrown in anger at her by Mrs Anne Gray, after a dispute with her niece. The jury hands down a decision of manslaughter and Mrs Gray was released on bail to await trial.
21 Feb 1895
20 Feb 1895
Anne Gray sentenced to six months in Maitland Gaol for the manslaughter of Eleanor Turner.
15 Jun 1895"Mrs. Anne Gray, the woman who, on February 21 last, was sentenced to six months in Maitland Gaol for the manslaughter of Eleanor Turner, has been released by order of the Department of Justice. She arrived at her home in Adamstown on Thursday, having served four months of her sentence."
29 Sep 1908
28 Sep 1908
Death of James Gray's first wife.
13 Apr 1910James Gray advertises his Beeston-Humber motor car for sale for £450.
8 Dec 1910"Relatives and friends of Mr. EDWARD GILPIN are invited to attend the Funeral of his beloved Mother, JANE GILPIN. To move from her late residence, Thomas-street, Adamstown, THIS AFTERNOON, at a quarter to 3 o'clock, for Methodist Cemetery, Sandgate, JAMES GRAY, Undertaker."
(Thomas St is now the northern end of Date St in Adamstown.)
14 Jan 1915David Lloyd acquires Gray’s undertaking business.
21 Apr 1915First mention of James Gray's second wife.
2 Jun 1916
30 May 1916
Death of James Gray.
1 Jun 1916Funeral of James Gray.

Lawson Crichton

Lawson Crichton was born in Coatbridge near Glasgow in Scotland in 1854. He ended his days in Lambton in 1906, as one of the town’s most prominent citizens.

Crichton arrived in Australia in 1875 and soon gained a position as assistant at the Hamilton Co?operative Store. In 1879 he married Agnes Logan Cherry, daughter of Robert Cherry of the Hamilton Hotel. In 1882 Crichton was appointed manager of the Lambton Co-operative store, situated on the north east corner of Pearson and Grainger Streets. In 1889 he resigned after purchasing a bakery business, but returned in 1896 as manager of the Hamilton and Lambton Co?operative Society.

Ralph Snowball’s September 1898 photograph shows Lawson and Agnes Crichton with several of their five children, and various employees in front of the Lambton store. For an interesting contrast in how some things change while other things stay the same, a close look at the signs on the store is instructive. One advertises “Cadburys Chocolate”, still widely enjoyed today, while another promotes “Bile Beans for Biliousness”, a product thankfully lost in history!

Lawson Crichton was active in many local institutions including the fire brigade, cricket club, football club, and several friendly societies and lodges. From 1899 to 1902 he was also a key member of the Lambton Citizens’ Committee. These were years when Lambton Council ceased to operate having been bankrupted by the failed electric lighting scheme. The Citizens’ Committee under the leadership of Crichton became the de facto local government, looking after sanitation, drainage and street repairs until the Council was reinstated in 1903.

Lawson Crichton died at his residence in Pearson St on 2 July 1906, aged just 52 years. The following day a funeral procession left his home and wound through the streets of Lambton. The impressively large attendance from the many groups he was associated a fitting testament to the high regard he was held in the community.

Lambton Co-operative Store, with Lawson Crichton (manager) and family. September 1898. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
Lawson Crichton. Photo from “The Story of Lambton”, Newcastle Family History Society.

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


Bile Beans for Biliousness

In Ralph Snowball’s 1898 photo, just to the right hand side of the main door is a sign that proclaims “Bile Beans for Biliousness Sold Here”.

Bile Beans were a completely fraudulent product created by Charles Edward Fulford and Ernest Albert Gilbert, and first sold in Australia in 1897. The product was a relatively harmless concoction of plant and vegetable matter, but was heavily marketed with pseudo-scientific attestations as a cure for all kinds of maladies.

Bile Beans marketing brochure c.1905. Archives New Zealand

A court in Edinburgh on 20 July 1906, ruling on a complaint from the manufacturers of Bile Beans about another company using the name, makes it pretty clear that Bile Beans were an elaborate scam. The British Medical Journal of 28 July 1906, reporting on the court’s judgement noted that the Bile Beans …

… were said to be made of Australian vegetable substances discovered by a Charles Forde. The place of the discovery, the mode of it, and the instrument of it were all deliberate inventions, without any foundation in fact.

The truth was that the complainers [the Bile Bean Manufacturing Company] had formed a scheme to palm off onto the public a medicine obtained from America, and they created a demand by flooding the country with advertisements, placards, pamphlets, and imaginary pictures. The complainers desired protection for the name “Bile Beans,” but being themselves engaged in perpetrating a fraud upon the public, they were not entitled to any such protection.

Despite the clearly articulated fraudulent nature of the product, it continued to be marketed aggressively and sold throughout the world, with its supposed benefits morphing over time. At various times Bile Beans were claimed to cure an astonishing number of ailments, including …

  • Biliousness
  • Indigestion
  • Constipation
  • Dyspepsia
  • Headache
  • Piles
  • Female Weakness
  • Pale faced girls
  • Irregularities
  • Bad Breath
  • Pimples
  • Blotches
  • Dizziness
  • Liver and Kidney Troubles
  • Heart Palpitation
  • Pain in Back and Side
  • Lack of Physical Tone
  • Heartburn
  • Tired Feeling
  • Debility
  • Anaemia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bad blood
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Rheumatism
  • Flatulence
  • Influenza

By the 1930s the product was being marketed as a weight loss pill for women, with advertisements proclaiming that …

“Slenderness can be yours without dieting or fatiguing exercise if you just take Bile Beans. Just a couple nightly and you’ll slim while you sleep.”

Advertisement, Launceston Examiner, 21 Oct 1938.

Thankfully the marketing of ineffective dietary supplements using pseudo-scientific claims of efficacy, targeting women with insecurities about their body image, could never happen in our modern age.

Lambton Citizens’ Committee

The following is a brief timeline of Lawson Crichton’s involvement in the Lambton Citizens’ Committee.

  • 3 Mar 1900 – appointed to the committee
  • 2 Jun 1900 – appointed as chairman of the committee
  • 21 Sep 1901 – retired as chairman, but stays on committee
  • 5 Apr 1902 – last mention in the newspaper as being on the committee

Community involvement

In the article I mention that Lawson Crichton was active in many local institutions. A search of Trove shows that he was very busy indeed, being involved in the following activities

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
5 Jun 1879
3 Jun 1879
Marriage of Lawson Crichton to Agnes Logan Cherry.
3 Jul 1906
2 Jul 1906
Death of Lawson Crichton.
3 Jul 1906Funeral notices for Lawson Crichton.
3 Jul 1906"HAMILTON & LAMBTON CO-OP. SOCIETY. LAMBTON & HAMILTON STORES CLOSED TO-DAY on account of the death of the General Manager, Mr. Lawson Crichton."
4 Jul 1906
3 Jul 1906
Lawson Crichton's funeral.

Hutton Printing & Paper Co

Elder Street Lambton in the 19th century contained many businesses you would expect in a mining town, including butchers, bakers and undertakers. One business you might not expect is a printery.

Printing began in Lambton in 1887 when George Buckley borrowed money from his brother John to set up the Paragon Printing Works in a small building behind the Commercial Hotel in Grainger St. George was a colourful character, but not always astute. In 1894 he became bankrupt after a bad investment in a failed copper mine in Queensland, as well as losing considerable money gambling on horses.

Ownership of the business passed back to John Buckley, who also became licensee of the Commercial Hotel in 1895. George continued working as an employee until his sudden death in September 1896 while under investigation for fraud in his role of secretary of a local lodge. Just a few weeks before George’s death, John Buckley sold the business to James Moodie Hutton, the foreman of the printing works for many years.

A February 1897 photo showcases the business in new spacious premises on the north-west corner of Grainger and Elder Streets opposite the Commercial Hotel. The front wall spruiks “steam printing” – their modern press was speedily powered by a steam engine, not operated by hand. The side wall promoted “account books of every description kept in stock and made to order”. The accounting we do today in computer software, back then had to be laboriously handwritten on large pages printed with rows and columns, the original spreadsheets.

Hutton’s business prospered, and in 1901 he opened new premises in Hunter St, Newcastle West. The Hutton name continued to be associated with printing for much of the 20th century, with Harold Moodie Hutton operating a printery in Regent Street New Lambton for many years.

Today our streets still contain butchers, bakers and undertakers, and with the advent of computer technology, also shops to sell us equipment and supplies for printing in our homes.

George Buckley’s Paragon Printing Works, behind the Commercial Hotel in 1893. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
Hutton’s Printing and Paper Company, Elder St, Lambton, NSW, February 1897. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
Hutton’s printing company was on the north west corner of Elder and Grainger Streets. June 2019.
Today the site of Hutton’s printery is occupied by undertakers, and home printing solutions are sold two doors down Elder St.

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


Additional information

A page from a wages account book on display at Richmond Vale Railway museum. This is an example of the kind of custom print job that Hutton’s Company would have done.

George Buckley

Although its difficult to get a handle on all the details, its reasonably clear that George Buckley’s financial management navigated murky waters.

One example is his investment in the failed Texas Copper Mining and Smelting Company in Queensland. In 1892 George and his co-investors sought to evade their liabilities by dissolving the indebted company, and the very next week formed a new debt free company with the same directors to work the same mine. The Bank of New South Wales sued over the matter, and the court found in their favour.

Another example is before becoming bankrupt, George apparently sold his business to James Moodie Hutton in September 1893. This sales appears to be a sham transaction designed to avoid his debts. The sale was concluded after being advertised just once. Despite the ‘sale’ the business continued to operate under George’s name, with George supposedly an employee. In an 1895 court hearing John William Buckley “agreed to hand over the printing and stationery business (to the receiver) as it stood, without any admission as to the bona-fides of the bill of sale.” (George’s brother John appears to be not much better in financial integrity, having to be taken to court for unpaid debts in 1896. )

The most damning indication of George’s financial irregularities comes from the report of his death on 3 September 1896.

For upwards of 20 years held the position of district secretary of the Grand United Order of Oddfellows – a position he held at the time of his death. For some time past, however, the officers of the lodge noticed that the secretary was conducting his business in rather a loose manner, and about six weeks ago it was decided that his accounts should be professionally audited. This audit has been going on for the past six weeks, two professional accountants from Sydney having been engaged in the work the whole time. On Saturday last Buckley was approached by these gentlemen and asked to produce certain documents, to wit, the receipts from the relatives of those who were supposed to have received funeral donations, and the certificates of burials in connection with the same. Buckley explained that he did not have any of these documents in his possession, as it was customary as soon as the quarterly audits were completed to destroy the papers, the district lodge not having any more use of them. This reply astonished the accountants, and they renewed their efforts to sift the matter of the funeral donations to the very bottom. The result of their inspection of the secretary’s accounts was, it is understood, that irregularities running into four figures were discovered. It is also understood, from official statements made, that Buckley within the past two years had drawn from the lodge funds funeral donations, amounting to £30 each, for men who had never been connected with any lodge. The accountants reported their discovery to the head of the lodge, and a special meeting of the different lodges had been convened for Saturday evening next, at which the Grand Lodge officers from Sydney intended to be present for the purpose, of hearing what Buckley had to say regarding his accounts, he having been specially summoned to attend. It is understood that the audit has not yet been completed, and the leading officials are afraid that unpleasant discoveries will be made before, the work of the auditors is completed.

Despite his obvious failings, in a case of either not being aware of the facts, or not wishing to speak ill of the dead, the report still manages to describe George as “one who was esteemed and respected by everybody who had the pleasure of his acquaintance”!

Hutton Printing

Although the sale of the printing business to James Moodie Hutton in September 1893 appears to have been a sham, the sale in July 1896 was genuine. Within a few months after George Buckley’s death, Hutton had the building housing his printing press freshly painted with his name and advertising his wares. In December 1896 he was advertising Christmas cards, and in March 1897 looking to hire more employees.

The front wall of Hutton’s premises in February 1897, advertising “Steam Printing”.

At some stage James Hutton’s wife Emily (sometimes spelled Emilie) opened a “Stationery and Fancy Goods” shop further down Elder St. Its not clear why this business was opened under her name rather than her husband’s name.

James Hutton’s wife Emilie operated a Stationery and Fancy Goods shop in Elder St Lambton. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Newcastle Region Library.

I have no definite evidence as to when Hutton’s printing press ceased in Lambton. My guess is that it was 1901. The first mention I can find of his new premises in Hunter St Newcastle is from May 1901, just one month after he advertised the sale of a “Vertical Tangye Engine and Boiler” from his Lambton establishment in April 1901. Presumably this was the engine and boiler that powered his “steam printing”, and that the sale was due to moving his business from Lambton to Hunter St Newcastle.

Premises of James Hutton, Stationer and Printer, 1903. Newcastle Region Library.

Although I haven’t found any definitive corroboration, I assume that Harold Moodie Hutton who was a printer in Regent St New Lambton, was the son of James Moodie Hutton.

As recently as 2015, the name of H. M. Hutton was visible on premises in Regent St New Lambton. Google Street View historical images.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
22 Aug 1887James Moodie Hutton was no stranger to banckrupty. His company of "Hamilton and Hutton Printers", a partnership with Alfred George Hamilton, was decared insolvent in 1887.
8 Mar 1889
5 Mar 1889
At a Lambton Council meeting, "the tender of Mr. G. Buckley for printing was accepted". This is the first mention in the newspaper of George Buckley operating as a printer in Lambton.
9 Feb 1891George Buckley unsuccessfully stands for election to Lambton Council.
24 Feb 1891George Buckley divorces his wife.
18 May 1891Advertisement - "WANTED, a BOY, to learn the printing business; one used to the trade preferred. GEO. BUCKLEY, Paragon Printing Works, Lambton."
19 Sep 1893Auction on the premises in Grainger St - "HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE & EFFECTS, Stock-in-Trade of a Printer, including Printing Machines, &c."
11 Jan 1894Auction sale of Commercial Hotel and "W.B. Building, used as a Printing Office; also, W.B. Building, used as a dwellinghouse, erected upon land having a frontage of 57ft to Grainger-street, and a depth of 50ft, now in the occupation of Mr. Geo. Buckley."
5 Apr 1894Court case - Bank of New South Wales v directors/guarantors (including George Buckley) of the Texas Copper Mining and Smelting Company.
12 Oct 1894"The Bankruptcy of a Printer. A Special Examination." Reporting from the court regarding the bankruptcy of George Buckley's printing company.
28 Feb 1895At a Lambton Council meeting, a tender for printing was accepted from "G. Buckley and Co."
30 Jul 1895Bankruptcy court ..."Mr. Lamb informed the Court that his client, John William Buckley, had agreed to hand over the printing and stationery business as it stood, without any admission as to the bona-fides of the bill of sale. "
26 Sep 1895Supreme Court of NSW, Bankruptcy notice to creditors - "GEORGE BUCKLEY, of Lambton (No. 8499), a second account and first plan of distribution showing payment of a dividend of 4s 11 15-16d in the £ on proved concurrent debt."
29 Oct 1895"TRANSFER Of the Commercial Hotel, Lambton, from Joseph W Oldham to John W Buckley."
4 Sep 1896
3 Sep 1896
George Buckley dies in the Commercial Hotel after shooting himself with a revolver. Its highly probable that the shooting was intentional and related to an investigation into George's handling of finances in his role of secretary of the Grand United Order of Oddfellows. He was due to appear before a special meeting of the Lodge the following Saturday.
5 Sep 1896
4 Sep 1896
Inquest into the death of George Buckley.
21 Oct 1896Lambton Petty Debts Court. "T. S. Jones summoned John W. Buckley and Jane Rutley for the sum of £7, being 2 per cent. Commission for the selling of their printing business in July last."
5 Dec 1896Advertisement: "CHRISTMAS Presents.-- Christmas and Birthday Cards, splendid assortment. Hutton Printing and Paper Co., Lambton."
23 Mar 1897Advertisement: "WANTED, LAD, accustomed to Book-binding and Paper-ruling. Hutton Printing and Paper Co., Lambton"
10 Apr 1897Jane Buckley (widow of George) is now the licensee of the Commercial Hotel.
26 Dec 1898
24 Dec 1898
Death of Clarissa, infant daughter of James and Emily Hutton.
11 Apr 1901"FOR Sale, cheap, 3 h.p. Vertical Tangye Engine and Boiler, good order, Hutton Printing Coy, Lambton."
18 May 1901Job vacancy for "2 Smart Boys" at Hutton Printing Company, 102 Hunter Street West. (Note that Hunter Street has been re-numbered since this time.)
6 Feb 1907For Sale: "A LARGE Corner Allotment of Land, Regent-st. and Portland-place, New Lambton. Splendid business site. Apply J. M. HUTTON, Printer, Newcastle, or Lambton."
9 Mar 1916"James L. Hutton, manager for Mrs. E. Hutton, printer, of Lambton"
31 Oct 1922Advertisement: "WANT, smart Girl, one used to trade preferred. H. Hutton, Printer, New Lambton."
24 Feb 1923
8 Feb 1923
Marriage of Emilie (Topsy), second daughter of James M Hutton of Newcastle.
2 Jul 1925
1 Jul 1925
At a New Lambton council meeting, a letter received from "J. Hutton, printer, Regent-street, complaining of not having a fair share of the printing needed by the council." "The clerk stated that the writer was, and had been, receiving a fair deal for the last four years, and quoted figures to prove that such was the case."
24 Aug 1939 For the Children's Hospital appea', "Mr. H. M. Hutton, printer, of New Lambton, has agreed to do all printing required in the campaign, free of charge."
27 Jan 1945"Harold Moodie Hutton, 54, printer, was charged with having, at New Lambton on Thursday, published a document purporting to contain a list of horses nominated for the Australia Day Handicap, Anniversary Handicap and Phillip Handicap, to be run at Randwick racecourse, such list not having been approved by the Australian Jockey Club.
23 Jan 1951"Printers outside the city area said they were losing up to four hours a day because of power failures. Mr. H. M. Hutton, printer, of New Lambton, said he lost up to three hours a day when blackouts allowed the metal in the pots of his linotypes to grow cold."

The Commonage

This month marks 130 years since one of the most important events in the economic development of Newcastle, when an act of parliament released a large tract of land from a longstanding legal limbo. The Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, also known as the Commonage, consisted of 1600 acres stretching from Waratah to Adamstown. Summarising its history in 1889, the Sydney Morning Herald noted that

“The Newcastle Pasturage Reserve was marked out in 1850 for the purpose of affording a run for stock which were then being shipped to New Zealand. The immediate purpose of it passed away, but the reserve remained. On it were valuable coal seams, and after the passing of the Land Act of 1861 the land inside its boundaries was mostly leased for mining purposes. The opening of the mines drew a large number of miners to the district, many of them without much money, and they began to put up rough shelter for themselves on the reserve, close to their work. There was nobody to forbid them, or to levy any rent. The quality of the houses put up was very inferior, because as they knew they had no title the men naturally did not care to spend too much.”

In 1871 the 300 residents of the Commonage lobbied the government to obtain legal title. For the next eighteen years, governments alternately promised and procrastinated, until finally in June 1889 the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Act was passed. This gave the residents (now numbering 5000) the right to purchase the land they lived on, and allowed the remaining land to be sold or reserved for public use. Sittings of the Land Court in 1890 set purchase prices, and although residents grumbled they were too high, most took the opportunity to become landowners instead of squatters.

The legal certainty of land title granted by the Act was an essential step that enabled the development of housing, commerce, industry and recreational facilities in the heart of Newcastle, worth billions of dollars today.

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

The area of the Commonage includes parts of ten different modern suburbs. Google Earth.
A legacy of the 1889 Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Act is the many sporting fields and parks in the heart of the suburbs.

Additional information

In the published article I quoted a small section of a Sydney Morning Herald article from 10 June 1889 which contained a good summary of the history of the Commonage. Here’s the article in full.

The Newcastle Pasturage Reserve was marked out in 1850 for the purpose of affording a run for stock which were then being shipped to New Zealand. The immediate purpose of it passed away, but the reserve remained. On it and cIose around it were valuable coal seams, and after the passing of the Land Act of 1861 the land inside its boundaries was mostly leased for mining purpose, and the land adjoining was conditionally purchased, The opening of the mines draw a large number of miners to the district, many of them without much money to start afresh in the world, and they began to put up rough shelter for themselves on the reserve, as a cheaper arrangement than going into lodgings, or buying an allotment and building. And, indeed, there seems to have been no superabundant supply of township land convenient for their purpose, even if they had been able to buy and build. The common was the most convenient spot for their purpose, and was close to their work. There was nobody to forbid them, or to levy any rent, and one trespass encouraged another. At the same time, the quality of the houses put up was very inferior, because as they knew they had no title the men naturally did not care to spend too much. The houses and rooms are stated to be very small, and many of them overcrowded, but the tenements seem to have been on separate allotments, and being thus detached have fortunately good ventilation.

When the trespassers had come to number three hundred, they felt themselves strong enough to approach the Minister and ask for a favourable consideration of their position. This was as far back as 1871, and Mr. John Bowie Wilson, who was then in charge of the Department, is said to have given the deputation a favourable answer. There is, however, no official record of the promise, and nothing was done. This was the beginning of a long series of deputations, and a series of promises, all of which were destined to be broken, for during eighteen years Minister after Minister has intended to deal with the matter, but has had to leave office before being able to do so. The bill that is now before Parliament is the first that has actually been prepared, the other departmental action having been only to survey the ground. These surveys, however, have been valuable preparatory work, because it appears from them that, with the exception of a few cases in which houses will have to be shifted off the main roads, it will be possible to give every existing occupier about a quarter of an acre, and the balance of the land may be reserved or sold as may be most expedient.

The promises of successive Ministers since Mr. J. B. Wilson first gave encouragement to the trespassers in 1871 seem to have acted like a charm. Every time a deputation went up to the Minister and came back again with an assurance that a bill would be introduced to give some sort of a title, the process of occupation proceeded merrily ; so that while in Mr. Wilson’s time there were only three hundred trespassers to be dealt with, there are now more than a thousand, while the whole population, including women and children, is nearly five thousand. If Mr. Wilson, when giving the first promise, had at the same time sent up a bailiff to see that there was no more trespassing, and had begun to levy a fair rental on the then occupiers of the said ground, the mischief would have been arrested at its then magnitude ; but the first Minister to do anything more than promise was Mr. GARRETT. He issued three writs of intrusion for the sake of asserting the Crown title, and he appointed a bailiff, and so for the last two or three years there has been no increase in the number of trespassers. The Select Committee having to deal with things, not as they ought to have been, but with things as they are, has considered the best course to pursue. At different times there have been different proposals. One Minister thought of giving trespassers annual leases; another proposed to sell the land by auction, securing to the occupier the value of his improvements ; and another to sell the land at an estimated value, and this last is Mr. Brunker’s plan. The committee report that they have considered all three schemes, and have finally decided to support that proposed in the bill. The eviction of so large a number of people is out of the question, especially in the light of so many Ministerial promises that they should be secured in their holdings. To lease the land would not give an adequate stimulus to improvement in the style of tenement, and that seems to have been very much wanted ; and at the whole of the common is not wanted for a reserve, there is no objection to selling, provided the Crown gets a fair price. The conclusion arrived at, therefore, seems to be the best under the circumstances. The trespassers, of course, have not a scrap of legal title ; and, as some of them have been there for more than twenty years without paying any rent, they have had the full value of their improvements. Still, there they are, and they have been encouraged to go there by the neglect of the Government, and to stay there by the promises of the Government, and under the circumstances a compromise must be arrived at. The value of the land will have to be determined by the local land board, but the evidence goes to show that the land is now worth from a hundred to five hundred pounds an acre, so that the Crown will, at any rate, get a revenue from the sale, and will, in fact, get more than if the land had been sold prior to its occupation. The people, by settling on the land and making a township of it, have given a value to the land which it did not previously possess. After all the claimants have been satisfied, there will still be a good deal available for auction, and an adequate amount left for public reserves.

Because there was some doubt as to whether the commonage area had been formally gazetted back in 1850 when it was first set aside by the government, the area was formally reproclaimed in the Crown Lands Alienation Act, published in the Government Gazette of 24 December 1861.

1888 map showing the area of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve with green borders. Note the date of 24 December 1861, being the date of the Crown Lands Alienation Act.

Some 60 years after the creation of the Pasturage Reserve, a short Newcastle Morning Herald article on 16 November 1910 indicated that the genesis of the reserve was in 1849.

The large area of ground known as the Pasturage Reserve, stretching from a point to the south-east of New Lambton well up into the Waratah municipality, was set apart about 60 years ago, for the purpose of enabling the residents of Newcastle to depasture cows thereon. The first reference to the matter of making the reserve is contained in a letter from Horace Charlton, local surveyor, to the bench of magistrates, at Newcastle, on 21st December 1849: – “Gentlemen – Having received instructions from the Surveyor-General, by his letter dated February 8th, 1849, No. 49/61, to consult the magistrates and other well-informed inhabitants of Newcastle as to the propriety of making a reserve for depasturing the townspeople’s milch cows, I forward herewith a map of all the lands in the vicinity of that city, and shall feel obliged by receiving your opinion as to which of the lands still vacant beyond Throsby’s Creek will be most suitable for such a purpose.

The Land Court

In July to September of 1890 the government held 41 days of sittings of the Land Court, to adjudicate on applications from Commonage residents to purchase their allotments. The court either allowed or disallowed applicants to purchase based on the nature of the improvements they had made on the land. Occasionally there were multiple applicants for the same portion of land, and the court had to decide which (if any) applicant would be successful. For successful applicants, the court then set a purchase price, based on evidence provided by valuers, and occasionally calling witnesses to testify.

The outcome of the land court sittings were published in the newspaper each day. They provide an interesting snapshot of the residents of the Commonage in 1890, with incidental details of the nature of various businesses and enterprises conducted in the area at the time. I have compiled a list of all the names of people who were applicants in the land court hearings. The list is available in Excel Online or as a PDF.

The Historical Land Records Viewer has a two part map that shows the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve with the lot numbers as mentioned in the land court hearings. An excerpt of the map is shown below.

Note that this map is a seventh edition dated 18 August 1976, with later additions up to January 1978. Although this is nearly 90 years after the Commonage allotments were mapped out, I have provided a link to this map rather than an older one because the lot numbers are the same as in 1890 and are easier to read in this ‘modern’ rendering of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve map.

Click on the images below to view the full map details.

Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Map – Sheet 1
Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Map – Sheet 2
Day Date Occurred Date reported
1 7/7/1890 8/7/1890
2 8/7/1890 9/7/1890
3 9/7/1890 10/7/1890
4 11/7/1890 12/7/1890
5 18/7/1890 19/7/1890
6 19/7/1890 21/7/1890
7 21/7/1890 22/7/1890
8 22/7/1890 23/7/1890
9 23/7/1890 24/7/1890
10 24/7/1890 25/7/1890
11 28/7/1890 29/7/1890
12 29/7/1890 30/7/1890
13 30/7/1890 31/7/1890
14 31/7/1890 1/8/1890
15 4/8/1890 5/8/1890
16 5/8/1890 6/8/1890
17 6/8/1890 7/8/1890
18 7/8/1890 8/8/1890
19 8/8/1890 9/8/1890
20 11/8/1890 12/8/1890
21 12/8/1890 13/8/1890
22 13/8/1890 14/8/1890
23 14/8/1890 15/8/1890
24 15/8/1890 16/8/1890
25 18/8/1890 19/8/1890
26 19/8/1890 20/8/1890
27 20/8/1890 21/8/1890
28 21/8/1890 22/8/1890
29 22/8/1890 23/8/1890
30 25/8/1890 26/8/1890
31 26/8/1890 27/8/1890
32 27/8/1890 28/8/1890
33 28/8/1890 29/8/1890
34 29/8/1890 30/8/1890
35 1/9/1890 3/9/1890
36 2/9/1890 Day 36/37 reported together
37 3/9/1890 5/9/1890
38 4/9/1890 Day 38/39 reported together
39 5/9/1890 6/9/1890
40 8/9/1890 9/9/1890
41 9/9/1890 10/10/1890

Post 1890

Most people residing on the commonage prior to the passing of the Pasturage Reserve Act in 1889 took up the option of purchasing. Although the expectation was that this was a good investment and that land values would increase, depressed economic times meant that many people had trouble paying for their land in the time allotted. A report in September 1895 described the problem.

The occupiers were allowed to purchase their holdings by auction, the price being made payable by instalments. Since that time another short Act has been passed for the purpose of facilitating the purchases and promoting the objects of the original Act. But since the passing of the second Act a very serious change has come over the coal-mining industry in this quarter. Wages have gone down, work has become lamentably slack, the outside municipalities are generally staggering under burdens of debt, and serious shrinkages of values have taken place almost everywhere. Many of the people have had within the last two years hard work to keep soul and body together, without at all thinking as to how the instalments on their holdings are to be paid to the Government.

The Government in 1895 thus passed an amendment to the Pasturage Reserve Act to provide purchasers with more lenient repayment terms. As the newspaper report noted …

People are now beginning to discover that large tracts of land are next to useless without inhabitants, and that it is good policy to make the conditions of settlement so easy that the poorest person, if desirous of earning an honest livelihood, can fulfil them.

Land values remained depressed in the Commonage area for many years. Charles Baker of Waratah, writing to the newspaper in June 1906 complained that …

The land was never at any time worth the Government prices put upon. it. The effect of that mistake was that almost every resident became victims to departmental overvaluation. To-day probably 700 to 800 of these original residents have become dispossessed of their holdings from various causes, but chiefly owing to the price charged being beyond their means.

A newspaper report the following month in July 1906 stated that …

As regards land values, they have certainly depreciated from 15 to 25 per cent during the last ten years. This is due to three causes – depression in the mining industry, the cessation of Lambton, Waratah, Burwood, and other large collieries, which are worked out, and no longer give employment, and the opening and development of the Maitland coalfields, which have attracted large number of miners and business people from these suburbs.

Despite this temporary setback, the land eventually appreciated in value. In April 1921 it was reported that …

The unsold allotments in the Newcastle pasturage reserve, which a few years ago was regarded as little value, are being taken up, and in some instances the purchase has exceeded the upset [reserve] prices. Inquiries are being made almost daily from applicants desirous of purchasing land in the locality.

Current Value of the Commonage Area

In the published article I stated that the passing of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Act in 1889 “enabled the development of housing, commerce, industry and recreational facilities in the heart of Newcastle, worth billions of dollars today.”

I have no qualifications in geo-econometric modelling, so exactly how many billions of dollars the Commonage area is now worth, is difficult to say. However one piece of hard data that can help answer this question is the land value of residential property. The Valuer General of NSW has made available land values via the NSW Globe KML from Spatial Services.

Looking at a small section of residential housing in the middle of the Commonage area adjacent to Turton Rd New Lambton, there are 88 properties over 11 acres valued at a total of 39.5 million dollars. This averages out to 3.6 million dollars per acre.

The Commonage covered approximately 1600 acres, and about half that area is now used for residential purposes. In residential areas, the streets comprise about 15%, so the area of land of the actual residences will be about 680 acres. Therefore the total land value of residences will be approximately 680 x 3.6 million, which is 2.4 billion dollars.

About half of the 1600 acres of the Commonage is now used for residential purposes (shaded blue).

Note that this estimate of 2.4 billion dollars is just the land value of residences, and doesn’t include the value of buildings, or of industrial land and facilities, public reserves, streets or other infrastructure. Including all these probably puts the value of the Commonage area today into the tens of billions of dollars.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
4 Nov 1857Brief mention of the Commonage Reserve in connection with discussions on the proposed Newcastle Municipality.
25 Oct 1860“Mr. ROBERTSON said that no portion of the surface land referred to had been leased to any one, but permission had been given some years ago to Messrs. Morehead and Young to work the coal on the land before the reserve was made, and that permission had afterwards been transferred to the A. A. Co. It was clear that the Municipal Council of Newcastle could have no claim to the coal. The land was given to them for grazing purposes, and was still at their disposal for commonage."
24 Dec 1861Proclamation in the Government Gazette of "The Crown Lands Alienation Act, 1961". As there was uncertainty about whether the Newcastle Commonage had been formally proclaimed back in 1850, this Act reproclaimed the commonage area as being excluded from conditional sale.
1 Jun 1865Public meeting on the issue of reserves, at which it is bemoaned that Newcastle Council had not been granted title to the surface of the commonage area, whilst under the surface the state government had leased out the mining rights to coal companies at a measly rate of £2 per acre.
2 Sep 1871Public meeting of the Commonage residents, held at Griffiths Flat.
21 Sep 1871
20 Sep 1871
Public meeting of the Commonage residents, held at Griffiths Flat, reporting on the deputation sent to the Minister for Lands.
20 Nov 1873The name 'Newcastle Pasturage Reserve' first appears in the newspapers, in an article about the nuisance of goats roaming the streets … "We see no reason why these useful animals should be denied the right of pasturage on the public reserves. The 2000 acres usually designated Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, was intended by the Government for this very purpose."
29 Sep 1874“Urged by deputation after deputation, the Government consented to survey and value the Commonage, and put it up for sale by auction. Accordingly Surveyor Evans surveyed the Common into allotments, and made a valuation thereof. The persons resident thereon were much elated by this proceeding, and thought that they would be able to purchase the land on which they dwelt, but their joy was not of long duration, as since the survey and valuation nothing towards a final disposal of the allotments has been done.”
22 Sep 1875“The influx of strangers into this part of the district is creating a great demand for houses, which are not to be obtained at any price. Several very substantial houses are at present being built on the Commonage. It is fortunate for poor people that they have the Commonage to build upon, as the high price of land in the township takes it completely out of their reach.”
26 Mar 1885Waratah Council meeting discusses the Commage … “Alderman CHAPMAN said the Mayor was in error with reference to the trustees been appointed for the Commonage. It was only proclaimed in a Government Gazette as the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve. The MAYOR said he had been informed by a very good authority on the history of Newcastle. Alderman TURTON said that the late Mr. James Hannell, when member for Newcastle, was asked to nominate trustees. He did so, but they were never officially appointed.”
1 Aug 1885"Last Saturday the Minister for Lands visited Newcastle with the view of making himself acquainted with the circumstances attending the settlement of a large number of people on the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, better known as the Common. This reserve is situated about four miles distant from the city, in the vicinity of Adamstown Hamilton, Waratah, and Old and New Lambton. It comprises an area of 2000 acres, and is settled on by 800 families, representing an estimated population of 4000 souls."
15 Dec 1888Mr Brunker introduces a bill to the Legislative Assembly to deal with the Commonage question. "Petitions were forwarded and deputations waited upon Ministers year after year, but with little success ... One Minister after another shrunk from solving this problem, and it appears to have remained for Mr. BRUNKER to make a final effort to do so."
23 Apr 1889"It is about time that the residents on the Commonage began to take an earnest and intelligent interest in the question of the legalisation of their unauthorised occupation of portions of the public estate."
24 Apr 1889A meeting of the Commonage residents held in Lambton Park, where "it was decided to appoint Mr. Melville to represent the interests of the commoners before the select committee of the Legislative Council."
27 Apr 1889A history of the Commonage as presented by the residents of the common in the lead up to the passing of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Bill later that year.
10 Jun 1889A report on the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Bill contains a good summary of the history of the commonage.
22 Jun 1889
21 Jun 1889
"PARLIAMENT. FRIDAY, JUNE 21, 1889. LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY. The Speaker announced the assent of the Governor to the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Bill."
24 Jun 1889
22 Jun 1889
Meeting of the Commonage residents near the New Lambton bridge. "Mr. MELVILLE said he had felt that, seeing the Commonage bill had been passed, it was now his duty to come up and explain the position of the residents."
18 Jul 1889“The history of the Commonage, as told by Mr. GEORGE LEWIS to the Select Committee on the bill, shows that prior to 1861 the land was shown on the maps as a reserve for the purpose of depasturing cattle prior to their shipment for New Zealand and elsewhere. The boundaries were clearly defined and charted, and have never been questioned. It is yet a moot point whether the land was formally dedicated by the Government as a reserve.”
3 Nov 1894"The Minister for Lands was urged, the other day, by a deputation to have a reappraisement of the holdings on the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, or to grant a reduction or rebate of 25 per cent, of the appraised value, or to waive the claim for for interest on the deferred payments."
28 Feb 1895"A MEETING of Commonage residents was held at the Premier Hotel, Broadmeadow, on Friday evening, to receive the report of the deputation which waited on the Minister for Lands, asking for a proportionate reduction in the appraised values of their respective holdings."
21 Sep 1895A bill introduced to Parliament to amend the Pasturage Reserve Act to provide more lenient repayment terms.
10 Jul 1906"from recent estimates by the police and local council clerks, the settled population on the pasturage reserve is between 7000 and 8000 ... the total area of the reserve is about 1600 acres; it was subdivided into about 2500 portions of which number only 585 remain vacant... As regards land values, they have certainly depreciated from 15 to 25 per cent during the last ten years."
16 Nov 1910"The first reference to the matter of making the reserve is contained in a letter from Horace Charlton, local surveyor, to the bench of magistrates, at Newcastle, on 21st December 1849."
18 Apr 1921"The unsold allotments in the Newcastle pasturage reserve, which a few years ago was regarded as little value, are being taken up, and in some instances the purchase has exceeded the upset [reserve] prices. Inquiries are being made almost daily from applicants desirous of purchasing land in the locality"

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."