When the old Lambton colliery ceased operation, the pit paddock with its offices and buildings lay idle for a decade. Then 75 years ago, in 1947, a new enterprise began on the site with the opening of Leonora Glass Industries, founded by three highly skilled Czechoslovakian glass workers.
Joseph and Henry Vecera and Josef Tvrdik came to Australia from Europe in 1934 to teach glass making at a Sydney factory. They later moved to Newcastle to work in the Electric Lamp Manufacturers Australia factory at Hamilton North. In 1946 the three men and their families became Australian citizens, and the following year set out to create their own glass making business. They rented a portion of the Lambton colliery and set up furnaces in the former colliery workshop.
In August 1947 they registered their enterprise as “Leonora Glass Industries”, possibly inspired by the town of Lenora in the Czech Republic, just 30km from Josef Tvrdik’s birthplace, where a famous glassworks had operated since 1834. Manufacturing commenced the following month and by December 1948 the works employed 23 people including several young apprentices. At this time they were making 2000 lamp shades a week. In the following years they produced many items such as wine glasses, dishes, ash trays, and car headlight lenses.
While the bulk of Leonora’s output was utilitarian in nature, they also handcrafted fine glassware such as jugs, vases, and decorative ornaments. Museums across Australia hold examples of these works in their collections. In July 1957 glassmaking in Lambton came to an abrupt halt when a fire destroyed the Leonora works. The company quickly recovered, purchasing 14 acres of land on Douglas St Wallsend to set up a new factory. In 1960 the multinational firm Philips Industries took over the glassworks to focus on the manufacture of light fittings. Although business expanded in the 1960s, increasing pressure from low cost overseas competitors in the 1970s led to the eventual closure of the works in 1982
The article above was first published in the October 2022 edition of The Local.
I have no direct evidence for the naming of “Leonora Glass Industries”, and what follows is just a reasoned guess.
We know from the notification of intention to apply for naturalisation, that Josef Tvrdik was born in “Nova Hut” in Czechoslovakia. This is the village of Nové Hute in the Czech Republic today.
Just 17km away (28km by road) from Nove Hute is the village of Lenora. The tourism website for the Šumava region describes the origin of the town.
The village of Lenora was founded as a settlement around one of the last glass- works established in the Šumava mountains by Jan Meyer in 1834. Later on the glass-works were taken over by Meyer’s nephew Vilém Kralik. The village was named Eleonorenhain after the Princess Eleonora (1812-1873), the wife of the lord of the estates John Adolf of Schwarzenberg. Czech translation of the name is “Eleonora’s Paradise”. Later on the village adopted Czech version of the name, Lenora.
Notice of intention by Henry Vecera, Josef Vecera, and Josef Trvdik to apply for naturalisation.
Josef Tvrdik, born at Nova Hut, Czechoslovakia, resident over 11 yers. Josef Vecera, Born at Uhrovec, resident over 11 years, living in Adamstown. Henry Vecera, Born at Uhrovec, resident over 11 years, living in Pearson St Lambton.
"A GLASS factory, now operating in a disused building which once was part of the Old Lambton coalmine, aims to produce the finest glass and crystal ware. The company--Leonora Glass Industries Pty. Ltd.- comprises Messrs. Jospeh and Henry Vecera, Mr. Jospeh Tvrdik. Mr. David Marr (manager) and Mr. Alan Little (engineer). Messrs Vecera and Tvrdik are Czech-Australians, who came to Australia in 1934 to teach glass-making at a Sydney factory."
“The strange bulbous Dali-like shapes, coloured in streaky and marbled patterns, which yesterday made an appearance as part of the Christmas dressing of a Hunter-street store are not painted marrows or solid-seeming balloons ... they are made of glass. The result of a brain-wave on the part of the window dresser (Miss E. Ritchie), they were specially blown at the Leonora Glass Works at New Lambton.”
The development of the fine glass industry in Newcastle by two Newcastle engineers and three Czechoslovakian glassworkers in a factory at Lambton is giving Newcastle boys an opportunity
to learn the trade. The factory, which employs 23 after 12 months of operation, turns out 2000 lamp
shades a week and some 400 water sets. Production of fine glass-wine glasses and ground glass-is starting.
"It was planned with the Leonora glass factory at Lambton to make Newcastle a centre of the fine glass
industry in Australia, the Managing Director (Mr. D. Marr) told Newcastle Business Men's Club yesterday. The factory was still in its initial development. It had been operating for 18 months. In the factory there were three Czechs of world-wide experience in the manufacture of hollow blown ware, including the art of stemware. They came from generations of art craftsmen."
“The factory is now producing heat-resistant glass in large quantities. About 100,000 such articles have been produced for distribution throughout Australia, in the past 12 months. The Manager (Mr. David Marr) said he believed this was the first time pyrex-type glass had been made in Newcastle.”
"MILON and Joseph Vecera, twin sons of Mr. and Mrs. J. Vecera, of Croudace street, Lambton, celebrated
their 21st birthday, which was on New Year's Day,' with a party, on New Year's Eve. About 40 people attended the party. Milon and Joseph, who were born in Lausanne, Switzerland, came to Australia when they were four. They are both glass craftsmen at Leonora Glass Works, Lambton, and both play the piano,
violin and piano-accordion."
The factory is turning to a new type of glass manufacture for Newcastle. This is the manufacture of pressed glass. A glass moulding press has been installed to manufacture pressed glass dishes, car headlight lenses, ash trays and other goods. The machine is in trial production. When producing fully, it will turn out 1500 articles a day.”
The newspaper incorrectly identifies the site as “Lambton Lodge”, the home of Thomas Croudace. The location is actually the small building at the left in the photo below, where the steps can be seen at the front. Brian Robert Andrews, on page 230 of his book “Coal, Railways and Mines, Volume 1”, has a diagram of the Lambton Colliery surface infrastructure that identifies this building as the colliery office.
The double story building at the right of the photo is the colliery workshops, where Leonora Glass set up in 1947, where the Vecera twins were working in 1948 when they were photographed on the old colliery office steps.
In the climate change debate today, there is great concern about the global impact of large coal mines. But 100 years ago, the hot topic in Newcastle was the local impact of little mines. The Newcastle Sun reported in August 1922 …
“A good deal of activity is noticeable among the “baby” coal mines in the hills of Waratah and Lambton. They are generally one-man affairs, the work is hard and the methods crude.”
Some were tiny burrows in a hillside, others a shaft with a wooden tripod overhead to haul up coal in buckets. In the post war economic downturn unemployed men looked to scratch a living by selling coal to nearby householders, the tough nature of their enterprise reflected in the mine names … “Try Again Colliery”, “Lone Hand”, “Perseverance”.
While the “baby” mines were a boon to some, they were a grievance to many. The councils were concerned about undermining of streets and damage to pipes. Residents complained of water run-off and danger to their properties. An inspection by the Department of Mines in November 1922 attended by miners and residents turned ugly and “the parties became bitter in their denunciation of each other and indulged in heated personal remarks.”
Matters weren’t helped by the Department’s manifest disinterest in resolving the dispute. Their view was that the big coal companies who owned the mineral rights were entitled to sublease to the “baby” miners, and the Department could do nothing. Waratah Council then took legal action against one of the mine owners, and the court imposed a substantial fine. By 1924 newspaper reports on the mines had disappeared. Their closure was due to a combination of factors –poor quality coal, increasing suburban development, the threat of fines, but mainly because households were moving to the new technologies of gas, and coal-fired electricity. Ironically these energy sources that were the solution to the local “baby” mines in 1922, are now central to the global climate change problem in 2022.
The article above was first published in the August 2022 edition of The Local.
The locality sketch on the 1923 real estate poster shows 17 “baby” mines. Many of them are unknown apart from their name on this map.
Bayley’s Reward Colliery
The Bowler Colliery
Brown Hill Colliery
Clay Cross No. 2 Colliery
The Nest Colliery
Red Bank Colliery
Sea View Colliery
Talk o’ the Hill Colliery
Try Again Colliery
Other “baby” mines in the Lambton area recorded in other sources such as newspaper reports and Department of Mines annual reports include …
Lambton Heights No. 2
North Lambton Colliery
Braye Park Colliery
Rosehill No. 2
Lone Hand [End?] Colliery
West End Colliery
Tubber Robinson’s mine
“Lambton Heights No. 2 is the name of this colliery, which has a staff of four men, and an output of 15 tons a day. Its depth is 80 feet, and the coal is drawn to the surface by one pony-power. It is owned by Fitzpatrick Bros., who were too busy grubbing out wealth down below to face the camera.”
“This is Lone End Colliery, the smallest mine on the field. Its owner, managing director, and whole staff, Mr. T. Morgan, has just hauled a basket of coal to the surface. The shaft is 36ft. deep, and it boasts an output of 14 tons per week. Its owner claims that the coal is part of the famous Borehole seam.”
“Two small mines were commenced during the year; these were Lone Hand and Rosehill No.2 Collieries.”
The Lone Hand Colliery is mentioned again in the 1922 annual report, but is not mentioned in subsequent years. Note that Rose Hill (occasionally misspelled Roe’s Hill) was the name of the hill to the north of Lambton township, as shown on this 1908 real estate map.
Tubber Robinson’s mine
William Robinson (known as “Tubber”) had a “baby” mine in George Street near Notley Street, North Lambton. He also had mines at Wallsend in the proximity of the High School. William’s brother Jeremiah (Jerry) Robinson had a “baby” mine in Seventh Street, North Lambton.The photo below shows the George Street mine.
The photo below of William and his sons with a pit pony, was taken near Robinson’s house in Fifth Street North Lambton.
North Lambton Colliery
The North Lambton Colliery, whose photo appeared in the published article, was somewhat different to the other “baby” mines. In contrast to most of the “baby” mines that employed only one or two men and were very short-lived in operation, the North Lambton colliery operated for 20 years (1905 to 1924), and at its peak employed 28 men in 1918. The mine, despite its larger size, used the same primitive techniques as the “baby” mines, sinking a shallow shaft, erecting a wooden tripod, and hauling coal up the shaft in buckets.
North Lambton Colliery.-On 26th September, Mr. J. Jeffries notified, in terms of section 30 of the Coal Mines Regulation Act, that he had opened a new mine on land leased from the Scottish Australian Mining Co., the name of which would be North Lambton.
The location of the colliery being close to the water reservoir on Newcastle Road Lambton, can be ascertained from a report to the Newcastle Water and Sewerage Board in February 1906 …
The proprietor of the North Lambton Colliery gave notice that the workings of his colliery are now approaching within 40 yards of the Lambton reservoir fence, and stated his intention of removing coal to that boundary in terms of a lease held by him from the Scottish Australian Mining Company, Limited.
The engineer of the Water and Sewerage Board reports that it is understood Mr. Long, manager of the North Lambton colliery, intends sinking a shaft near the eastern fence of the Lambton reservoir property. The proposed mining work will probably not affect the reservoir or the pump-house, but might affect the 12-inch scourpipe from the reservoir and some trees.
… tribute mine working the outcrop pillar coal left by the Lambton colliery. The coal from North Lambton, employing sixteen persons, is carried to the Lambton screens, and there put into waggons and sent for shipment.
The Sydney Mail of 8 August 1923 in publishing their photo of the mine, noted that …
This small mine is situated at North Lambton. It has an output of 30 tons per day, and gives employment to 10 men. It has been working for 20 years, and is owned by Mr. W. Long, who is shown seated on his cart, loaded with coal. The winding gear is worked by a horse hauling on the cable.
First mention of the term "baby coal mines" in the newspaper.
"The streets of Newcastle are not paved with gold, but underneath them all is something nearly as precious. Coal seams are everywhere, and it is only a matter of digging and coal can be found. Where less fortunate peoples have to pay £5 and £6 a ton for coal, many people in the suburbs of Newcastle just dig in their back yards, and from the baby coal mine there take enough to supply their own needs."
"So that the people who operate "baby" coal mines in the hills of Waratah, and endanger the safety of houses in the vicinity, might have a stop put to their mining, the council asked the Minister for Mines to grant no more permits for the taking of coal from these lands. The official reply received last night was vague and indefinite ..."
"Trying to put a stop to the private mining that goes on at Lambton, and endangers the safety of water and gas mains, apart from damaging the roads, the Mayor last week asked the Minister for Mines not to grant permits for this mining. The latter replied that most of the mineral leases were held by a mining company which seemed to have a perfect right to lease certain areas to private people for the purpose of exploiting the remaining coal seams."
"Several Inspectors from the Department of Mines will visit Waratah next week, and in company with the Mayor and aldermen, will visit the sites of the "baby" coal-mines in the hills, which have been complained of by residents who are fearful of damage to their properties."
"Expert opinion on the question of the damage likely to result to streets and dwellings on Roe's Hill, Waratah, through the opening up of "baby" coal mines, will be given by Chief Inspector Atkinson, of the Department of Mines, who will visit the shafts complained of to-morrow afternoon."
"Many householders came out to emphasise the general grievance when Chief-Inspector Atkinson and Inspector Tennant, representing the Mines Department, made an inspection of the "baby" coal mines on Lambton and Waratah hills yesterday afternoon ... At times the parties became bitter in their denunciation of each other— that is, the property owners and the coal hewers … The Mines Department had to consider the resources of the country, said Inspector Atkinson, and to see they were not wasted ... The inspector intimated that the department could not offer much assistance."
Waratah council given legal opinon on the "baby" coal mines that "showed that the council had power to stop such mining under public roads. The owner adjoining any land being undermined had a natural and legal right to prevent his land being endangered, but there was no cause for action for damage until the land was disturbed."
"Another chapter in the history of baby coal mines was unfolded last night when Waratah Council served a notice upon William Metcalfe to fill in shafts sunk in Sixth and Seventh streets, Rosehill. A prosecution is to
follow if the order is not obeyed."
"William Metcalfe, who is working a 'baby' coal mine at Waratah, was proceeded against by the Waratah
Council for allowing a shaft to remain in a street of the municipality… A fine of £8 was imposed, together
with 8s 6d court costs and 42s professional costs."
"North Lambton, more familiarly known as Lambton Heights, merges into the Jesmond district. There are a number of 'baby' coal mines in the district, and the landscape is dotted with wooden tripods, over small shafts, used to lower and raise the miner-proprietors, and the coal they win from their little collieries."
[This is the last mention of the 'baby' coal mines in the newspaper, until a couple of references to 'baby' coal mines at Wallsend in 1931.]
"Owing to the flooding of several small 'baby' coal mines at Wallsend, the already large number of unemployed has been added to. These mines employ between 25 and 30 men."
[Last reference to 'baby' mines in Trove.]
Thanks to the land titles available in the Historical Land Records Viewer, I have been able to identify all the locations that Lambton Council meetings were held during its existence from 1871 to 1938. I have updated my Lambton Council page with this information, including a map.
Of the six buildings they met in, only the last of them still survives – the Lambton Library building in the corner of the park.
Fire-fighting services in our cities today are provided by the state government, but they did not begin that way. The first brigades were started in Sydney in 1836 by insurance companies who supplied rudimentary equipment for use by volunteers. In 1854 purely voluntary brigades began to be formed, with local communities supplying not only the manpower, but also the equipment and funds.
Newcastle formed a volunteer brigade in 1856, followed by outlying townships. Having no overarching governing body, the separate brigades fostered connections by holding “demonstration days”, to gather together and hold competitions. They provided an opportunity for training, camaraderie and fund raising.
From 8 to 10 November 1888 Newcastle hosted a grand demonstration event, with 19 brigades attending, from as far away as Goulburn. On Thursday night, 15000 people lined the streets to witness a torchlight parade of the brigades. On Friday and Saturday, competitions were held on Newcastle Cricket Ground.
The premier event was the “Engine Practice for Eight Men”. From a standing start, the men deployed hoses, nozzles and pumps from their engine, to throw a stream of water at a disc 20 feet above ground. The Lambton Brigade, with a time of 40.75 seconds, won the substantial prize of a 50kg marble clock modelled on the London Royal Exchange. The trophy, donated by local businessman George Galton and valued at 25 guineas (equivalent of $4000 today), was an indication of the high value placed on fire-fighting services. One observer in 1888 wryly noted that “the arrival of so many fine-looking firemen, showily-dressed, has created an unusual flutter in the hearts of the gentler sex in this city.” Firefighting then was an exclusively male occupation, and it took nearly a hundred years before women were first employed as fire-fighters in 1985. While the hands of Lambton’s trophy clock have stood still for many years, the recruiting practices of NSW Fire and Rescue have moved forward, and today women comprise 9% of the full-time fire-fighters in the state.
The article above was first published in the January 2022 edition of The Local.
The marble clock trophy on display at Lambton fire station has a brass plaque that reads …
Presented by Mr George Galton As a Trophy At the Newcastle Fire Brigades Demonstration Nov. 9th 1888
George Galton was born in London on 8 January 1850. In 1866 at the age of 16 he emigrated to Australia. After working in several large retail stores in Sydney he moved to Newcastle in 1876 and opened a store in Hunter Street West, opposite the Honeysuckle railway station. Galton opened two more stores in Newcastle, and in 1888 Galton opened a store in West Maitland.
In 1896 Galton sold his stores in Newcastle in order to concentrate on his West Maitland business. One of the buildings he had erected still stands in High Street. (This building is very familiar to me – as a school student in the 1970’s living in the Maitland area, I passed this location every school day.)
George Galton died at his residence “Yarrawonga”, in Regent St West Maitland on 25 July 1930, aged 80. The Galton’s business continued after George’s death, with his wife becoming chairwoman of the company, and then on her death in 1936, her two sons, George and Walter became joint directors of the business.
"Up to the present time there has existed no organized body in Newcastle whose duty would have been to undertake the direction and control of the fire engine, in the event of its services being required; however, the subject has been taken in hand, and has progressed so far as to have secured the co-operation of a sufficient number of volunteers to work the engine in case of need ; together with a number who
undertake to support the cause by their annual subscriptions and donations ; so that there is now every prospect of there being a brigade trained to render efficient service whenever their services may be required."
"A meeting of the City Fire Brigade was held on Thursday evening, at the station, Scott street. A letter was received from the Honeysuckle Point Brigade, asking the members to consider the advisability of holding a Fire Brigade Demonstration in Newcastle. The project was approved of, and delegates were
"THE delegates of the proposed fire brigades' demonstration held a meeting last night, when numerous correspondence from leading citizens was read promising to assist in the movement. Some valuable trophies have already been promised by different gentlemen - the Mayor (Mr. H. Buchanan), Mr. Fletcher, M.L.A., Mr. G. Galton, Hudson Bros., the Mayor of Parramatta (Mr. Hugh Taylor), and several others."
"The secretaries of the proposed Fire Brigades Demonstration acknowledge with thanks handsome donations from the following gentlemen, through Mr. Frank Gardner:-A cheque of £10 10s from the
Australian Mutual Fire Insurance Society; cheque of £2 2s from the Victoria Theatre Company; case of biscuits, Mr. W. Arnott; also a clock, valued at 25 guineas, from Mr. George Galton."
"The splendid prizes which are to be competed for [at the Newcastle Fire Brigades Demonstration] are on view at the establishment of Mr. Walter Neve, Hunter street, and they should cause great competition."
"A grand torchlight procession of firemen, with their appliances and gorgeous decorations, marched through the principal thoroughfares. The event was in connection with the United Fire Brigades'
"A large crowd turned out yesterday evening to witness the departure of the members of the [Lambton] Fire Brigade forNewcastle, where they are to take part in the demonstration. The scene was of an imposing nature, delighting all the onlookers. The engine was beautifully decorated with choice flowers and bunting, and drawn by four horses."
"On the Newcastle Cricket Ground, yesterday, the first day's sports in connection with the United Fire Brigades' Demonstration of 1888, were contested. With regard to attendance, there were at least 1500
persons on the ground in the morning, and this number kept steadily increasing until the afternoon, when
there must have been over 4000 persons present."
William Thomas Dent was born in Durham UK in 1844, the same year his father Mark was a key leader in the Miners’ Union in a bitter industrial dispute with colliery owners over working conditions. Having gained a reputation as a troublemaker, mine managers were reluctant to employ him, and Mark was forced to leave his native land to seek work in Australia.
He arrived alone in the early 1860s, and was joined in 1866 by his family, including 22-year-old William. They settled in Lambton, both father and son working in Lambton colliery. Like his father, William was active in the miners’ union, pressing for better conditions. In June 1874 he became a newspaper reporter and was the Lambton correspondent for “The Newcastle Herald and Miners’ Advocate” until 1880.
William also used his skill with words to address local concerns. In 1873 he penned “Lambton Bleatings”, a poem in which he satirized the local aldermen for their failure to maintain the streets of the town. His discontent with local governance did not stop there, and in 1877 he became an alderman himself, on the receiving end of complaints.
In 1882 his father died, and when a new road on the North Lambton hill was created the following year, the name Dent St was probably bestowed in honour of Mark Dent the famed mining unionist, rather than William the junior alderman.
He went on to serve on the council for 17 years, many of them alongside Thomas Croudace the mine manager. He was elected Mayor five times, and in 1890 oversaw two significant events in Lambton’s history – the electric light scheme and the park rotunda. After working many years as Secretary of the Northumberland Permanent Building Society, ill-health forced him into retirement. He died at his home in October 1901, aged just 56. Today, 120 years later, the handsome rotunda built at his suggestion still stands as Lambton’s most iconic structure, with his name justly honoured in the column ornamentation.
The article above was first published in the October 2021 edition of The Local.
Arrival in Australia
The passenger ship Racehorse arrived in Sydney from Liverpool on 22 September 1866., The immigration list shows that William Thomas Dent, miner aged 22, his wife Isabella aged 21, and two children, Elizabeth and Sarah. In the column “Relations in the Colony” the list shows “Father, Miner in New South Wales.”
The Hartley Vale question
As I was researching this story, a number of sources (Ancestry web site, Story of Lambton page 288) stated that when William Thomas Dent arrived in Australia he first settled in Hartley Vale in the Blue Mountains and worked in the kerosene shale mines there before relocating to the Newcastle area. But I wonder if this is correct? Another possibility is that Dent came straight to Newcastle where his father was, and started work at James and Alexander Brown’s Hartley Vale colliery, located in Broadmeadow.
The only historical source I could find for the idea that Dent lived in the Blue Mountains, is in his obituary in 1901, some 35 years after his arrival.
He first settled at Hartley in the Blue Mountains, but as the work at the mine was erratic and irregular, he left and came to this district in 1867, working in the mine for a time both at Minmi and Wallsend. He came to Lambton in 1869, where he has since resided.
Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 15 Oct 1901.
We know that his father Mark Dent emigrated to Australia earlier in the decade, and there is a brief mention of a Mark Dent working at the Minmi colliery in August 1863. If this was his father, then it would be natural that William would come to the same district to seek work when he arrived in Australia in 1866. James and Alexander Brown had commenced development in 1863 of a 310 acre mining lease in the Broadmeadow area that they named Hartley Vale colliery. It proved to be an unprofitable venture and was abandoned around 1868.
So the timing is certainly valid for William Thomas Dent to have worked at the Hartley Vale colliery in Newcastle, rather than the Hartley Vale locality in the Blue Mountains.
Dent penned his poem Lambton Bleatings in 1873, at the height of the debate on which route the main road from Lambton to Newcastle should take. He recited the poem at a dinner at Waratah on 1 August 1873. Two years later in November 1875 he recited the poem again at a dinner to celebrate the “opening” of the northern route of the main road. (The celebration was somewhat premature, as it was the alternate southern route that eventually won the day.)
The chamber door is open wide And fast the people pass inside, Pull off their hats and take a seat, Smooth down their beards, keep still their feet, And wait to hear the Lambkins bleat. At table top there sat the Mayor ; The clerk was on his right, And Mr. Simmons taking notes, With specs to help his sight. Fast and fleet the pencil goes, Anon he makes a stop, Settles his specs upon his nose And rubs his slippery top. The business of the night began And all looked very wise, Determined was each alderman To ope the natives’ eyes. One alderman rose on his feet He said, to move a motion, That they should start to make a street, But how, he had no notion ! As then they had no funds in hand And none was like to come As the people would not pay the rates (The mayor said that was rum !) But he thought that they should borrow some The rates would surely free it ; But the others all looked very glum And said they could not see it ! Up rose one with little head Although called light of foot He’d been and made a speech, he said, Which would the question suit. The township folks had spragg’d the car And made the civic wheels to jar ; Had tried to blast their future fames, And called them all most ugly names. What ! borrow without security, And without the least assurity That they would pay the rates ! No ; not for a principality, Much more a municipality, Or yet for Alderman Yates. To pay the rates they did refuse, In Elder-street they made a noose To fit his little head ; But they would find him wide awake, And then he gave his head a shake, And nothing more he said. An alderman of burly size Was seen from off his chair to rise About an inch a minute. He said they might think it rather funny, But if they meant to borrow money, They would not catch him in it. But as he then was on his feet, And by degrees had left his seat, He’d let them plainly see He would go and leave them to their fate, And then where would they be ? At this the lambs all looked like sheep, The Council Clerk looked blue ; They all cried out with one accord, ” Whatever will we do !” Oh ! Davy, do not leave us yet,” They cried, in deep despair. He gave a sigh of deep regret ; And then, while every eye was wet, Dave dropp’d into his chair. They all began to rub their eyes, And nudge each other’s ribs. I was waiting for the next to rise, Expecting Alderman Gibbs ; But a Dark Creek alderman arose And spoke with feeble voice. He said, if they could meet his views He’d very much rejoice. He thought ‘twould save a great expense If they could make a quarry, They could then got stones to make the streets Independent of Big Harry. Some did not think it worth their while ; Them he would soon convince. Patterson then began to smile. Order ! bawled out Vince ; ‘ Silence that dreadful bell !’ ‘ Bobby,’ just stop your caper, Mr. Clerk, you know full well, That business isn’t on my paper. There’s the motion by Alderman Yates, To bring the road through the White Gates, With the separate branch that runs Across the creek at Betty Bunns’, And forms a junction as they are telling Upon the hill near Peacock’s dwelling. There ; what more do you want ? Then the speaker looked like Stone. The mayor he gave another grunt, And the clerk tried to atone. But the mayor said, hold ! stop your bleating, I postpone the business till the next meeting ! Go forth, my lambs, he kindly said, Seek your homes and go to bed ; But as you go pray mind your feet, Don’t break your necks in Grainger-street.
William Thomas Dent’s house, photographed by Ralph Snowball in January 1897, was located in Pearson St. Dent purchased Lot 12 of Section J in October 1876 (Vol-Fol 262-127) and Lot 11 of Section J in October 1882 (Vol-Fol 61-240) . He subdivided and sold the north part of lot 11 (on Kendall St) to Henry James Noble in August 1887.
After working as a miner in Lambton, Dent was appointed in June 1874 to be the local reporter and agent for the Miners’ Advocate and Northumberland Recorder. (This paper merged with The Newcastle Chronicle in 1876 to become The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate.)
Dent resigned as a reporter in August 1880, with the editor of the paper glowing in his praise.
Mr. W. T. Dent, our Lambton correspondent and agent, one of the oldest and most efficient of our literary staff, has resigned his position. In accepting his resignation, we may say that we do so with regret, having for some years experienced almost daily proofs of his unflagging energy and zeal in the interests of this journal. In parting with Mr. Dent’s services, however, we cannot refrain from wishing him every success in the new line of duties he has undertaken, and we have no doubt but that the same steady determination to advance the interests of the Northumberland Permanent Building and Investment Society, of which he is Secretary, will characterise his future as it did his past connection with the Herald and Advocate. Mr. Dent has attained his present position by honesty of purpose and steady perseverance, having followed the occupation of a coal miner for many years.
Northumberland Permanent Building Society
The report of W T Dent’s funeral notes that the funeral cortege passed through Waratah where he “commenced his commercial career in that town twenty-five years ago.” William Thomas Dent was elected as one of the directors of the Northumberland Permanent Building Society on 24 June 1876. At that time the society did not have its own building, but rented space in the council chambers on Georgetown Rd.
In January 1877 Dent became Secretary of the society when the previous secretary, John Wood, could not continue his duties due to illness.
When the government decided to purchase the council chambers building to use a courthouse, the Northumberland Building Society decided in 1878 to erect their own building in Turton St, giving it the name Northumberland Hall. The building was formally opened with a celebratory banquet on 9 January 1879. In a strange coincidence, when the building society no longer needed the building, it became the Waratah Town Hall from 1898 to 1926.
Illness and death
On 14 September 1896, while working in the Northumberland Building Society office in Hunter St Newcastle, Dent suffered a “severe stroke of apoplexy”, with a partial loss of use of his right limbs. He was returned to his home in Lambton to convalesce. His son William Thomas Dent junior carried on the work of father at the building society. Dent senior recovered sufficiently to make a trip with his wife back to England in February 1897, returning in October 1897. Although the paper optimistically described him as “looking all the better after his eight months travelling in the mother country”, his health continued to decline, and by August 1898 he was described as “unable to get about, having lost the use of his arms and lower portions of his legs.”
He continued to deteriorate and in February 1899 he was confined to bed … “his condition is considered very serious by his medical attendant (Dr. Stapleton), who does not now entertain any hope of his ultimate recovery.” WT Dent died two and half years later on 14 October 1901, aged just 56. He was buried in Sandgate Cemetery on 16 October 1901.
“At the grave, which is in the Primitive Methodist section of the cemetery, the Revs. S. Kessell and W. Atkinson conducted an impressive service, the latter in a brief address paying a high tribute to the deceased as an open hearted brother and citizen. He referred with expressions of regret to the five years of suffering Mr. Dent had endured before God was pleased to take his soul, and concluded with the kindest expression of sympathy for the bereaved widow and family.”
After the death of William Thomas Dent junior continued as secretary of the Northumberland Permanent Building Investment Land and Loan Society for a total of 43 years.
Grave of William Thomas Dent in 1902. Hunter Photobank
Grave of William Thomas Dent in 2022
Insciption on grave of William Thomas Dent
Although my article for the October 2021 issue of The Local started out being on William Thomas Dent, Lambton Mayor, it turned out to be as much about his father Mark Dent, internationally famed union activist. In particular I found it fascinating how in the space of one generation we go from Mark Dent the father, in relative poverty in the UK unable to work as a miner because of his union activism, to William Thomas Dent the son, in Lambton Australia, a relatively wealthy man working as the head of a major financial institution, and serving as an alderman on Lambton Council alongside the manager of the Lambton colliery.
Mark Dent was born in Durham UK in 1816. He worked as a miner and married Sarah Hann in 1839. In 1844 he played a key role in an industrial dispute between the miners and the masters, and suffered much as a result. The key details can be gleaned from a testimonial given to Mark Dent 32 years later in Lambton on 19 February 1876.
“Mr. Dent took a very prominent part in connection with the Miners’ Union in the county of Durham, England, during the memorable struggle of 1844, when the miners of Northumberland and Durham succeeded in breaking up one of the most tyrannical combinations of capital for the oppression of the working man that has ever existed in the world’s history.
We desire, in a special manner, to acknowledge your noble and manly efforts in defence of your own and fellowmen’s rights during the long and arduous struggles in which you were engaged on behalf of the miners of England. Through these you have won an unquestionable title to our respect and regard; and although far removed from the scenes where you assailed so vigorously the many abuses which have grown us with the coal trade, still we cannot forget that to you and your noble colleagues we owe a deep and lasting debt of gratitude.”
In responding to the testimonial, Mark Dent gave some details about his involvement and the cost that he bore
“I happened to be one of the half-dozen men who went to London to collect subscriptions and enlighten the coal consumers and Parliament as to the effect of the coal-owners combinations. We held public meetings in most of the large halls, and presented petitions to Parliament, when the discussion of the abolition of the 4s export duty on coal came before the House. We primed the Liberal members, and the discussion resulted adversely to the reputation of the coal-owners.
The action of the unionists resulted in the breaking up of the coal owners monopoly and …
“The trade was placed upon its natural and normal basis, and the history of the last 30 years amply proves the advantages accruing to every-one connected, when we consider that no serious conflict has taken place except in isolated cases in that time.”
But Mark Dent bore a personal cost for his efforts, with false accusations made against him that he was profiting from his union endeavours …
Mr. Chairman, it might be interesting to you to know in what light the labours of this London deputation was regarded by those we went to serve. They got it into their heads that we had made fortunes by appropriating the monies collected. I was six weeks in London, and was either speaking at public meetings, or attending trades meetings every night, and walking about in the day time, seeking out places where trades societies were held, without spending a single penny of the money collected, I never had a drink at any man’s expense; my board and lodgings were all that the funds were charged with on my account.”
It was two years before I got the chance of a job, and when one short week had expired my notice was handed to me. On applying to the Viewer to know the reason of my discharge he said, – “We dinnet want nee looterers amang wor men; we canna manish them as it is” I then went to his master, who’s reply to my question as to the reason of my dismissal was characteristic: “We give no reasons here for what we dee, thoo may be a decent man, likely; but we dinnet want thou here.”
The inability to get work put Mark and his family into poverty, and he describes how
“many a time I might have been seen exhuming a turnip from the snow for a Sunday’s dinner for my wife and two children.”
The chairman at his testimonial in 1876 alluded to these circumstances as …
“… the many hardships you have undergone in being driven from your native land, to seek a home for yourself and family [in Australia]”
The exact date of Mark’s arrival in Australia is uncertain. The 1861 census of England shows that Mark’s wife and five children are residing with his wife Sarah’s parents, Thomas and Elizabeth Hann. Presumably Mark’s absence from this census is an indication that he had already left for Australia.
Some pages in the Ancestry website suggest that Mark first moved to Hartley Vale in the Blue Mountains to work in the kerosene shale mines. This is unlikely to be the case as coal was only discovered there in 1865, some four or five years after Mark arrived in Australia. There is a very brief mention of Mark Dent working in the Minmi colliery in 1863 …
On Wednesday, 5th instant, Mark Dent received severe injury whilst in the act of filling his wagon in one of the pits at Minmi. He was standing at the time near some coal, ready for taking down, which fell, jamming him between it and the wagon, whereby he received severe injuries. Medical aid being procured, he was found not to be dangerously though seriously injured.
The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 13 August 1863.
Mark’s wife Sarah died in August 1873, and it seems that it was about this time that Mark’s health failed, to the point that he was no longer able to work. One of the reasons for his testimonial in 1876 was to present him with a financial gift as he had been “unfit to follow his employment for the last three years, through failing health.” The substantial sum of £102 presented to him, donated from a wide variety of sources, was a glowing testament to the high regard in which he was held.
The miners of this district have long wished to show in a substantial manner their appreciation of the achievements of Mr Dent and his colleagues, and about three months ago a movement was set on foot to rise funds for the purpose of presenting him with a testimonial. The Lambton Miners’ Committee went into the matter with a determination which does them infinite credit. The other collieries were asked to assist, and many of them have responded nobly. The ironworkers of Sydney, feeling that they were somewhat indebted to the miners of the Newcastle district for pecuniary assistance rendered during their late struggle, have also contributed liberally. The business people of Lambton and others totally unconnected with the miners have also added considerably to the amount. Independent of Mr Dent’s past career in connection with the Miners’ Union, he is universally respected by all who know him, and his many services for the benefit and advancement of the public institutions of this district deserved some recognition at the hands of the public.
Mark Dent died on 27 October 1882 in Lambton, his achievements in advocating workers’ rights warmly remembered.
To those acquainted with the history of the miners of the counties of Durham and Northumberland, in England, Mr. Dent’s name will be familiar. In a book, written by Mr. Richard Fynes, containing a history of their social and political progress, the great strike of 1844 is referred to, and Mr. Dent’s name frequently appears as having taken an active part as an earnest advocate of their rights, and as one of those reformers, the result of whose zealous and patriotic labours the miners of the present day are enjoying.
His death was also reported back in his native land in the UK newspaper the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle of 23 December 1882.
The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, published in New South Wales, reports the death of Mark Dent. Mr. Fynes says of him no man was better known in the two counties of Northumberland and Durham, and no one took a more active part in the great strike of 1844. At all the largest meetings he was always chairman.
In my local history research, very rarely do I find documentary evidence for the reason behind street names. Mostly we are left to make educated guesses at the reason, and sometimes we guess wrong. I had always assumed that Dent St in North Lambton was named after William Thomas Dent, alderman of Lambton for 17 years and Mayor for 5 years. But having looked at the timing of the origins of Dent St, I believe that it is much more likely that it was named in honour of his father Mark Dent.
“That the Mayor procure plans and specifications for forming, metalling, and blinding the western half of the street recently dedicated by the Waratah Coal Company, from Young to High streets, Grovetown.”
The following year, in May 1884, the name of the new street is first mentioned when council resolved …
“That Dent-street, from High-street to the main road, be cleared and formed twenty-three feet wide, and metalled and blinded with quarry chips.”
In 1884 William Dent had been an alderman for 7 years, so it is possible that the street was named after him, but unlikely. There are no other examples of Lambton streets being named after sitting aldermen, and it is improbable that William Dent would get a street named after him without arousing the jealousies of the other sitting aldermen, particularly as one of them, Thomas Grierson, had served as an aldermen for a longer period than William Dent.
Much more likely is that Dent Street is named in honour of Mark Dent, famed union activist, who died just a few months before the street came into existence.
The Waratah Coal Company held a large sale of blocks of land in the area around Dent Street on 24 October 1885. The first appearance of Dent St on maps is on land title certificates arising from that sale, such as Vol-Fol 771-98.
"Mr. [Mark] DENT has resided for many years in this district, and his labours for the improvement of the social condition of the miners are too well known to be repeated. It was in the North of England, however, and at an earlier period of his life, when his energies were unimpaired, that he did his greatest work, and for doing which he was driven from his country, to seek a home in Australia. Mr. DENT has for several years been unable to work, and we regret to state that of late his health has become impaired to a greater
extent, and he is in that position where help, if tendered at all, would be doubly needful just now."
"SERIOUS ILLNESS OF MR. W. T. DENT. About 12 o'clock yesterday Mr. W. T. Dent, secretary of the Northumberland Building Society, Newcastle, while busily engaged with his correspondence, unfortunnately sustained a severe stroke of apoplexy."