Lambton passenger train service

When Lambton Colliery began in 1863 a railway was built to haul coal to the harbour. Roads into Newcastle were in a very poor state and a trip to town was a major undertaking. An appealing alternative was to travel by train.  For a few years the colliery allowed passengers in the guards’ van of their coal trains at a cost of 6 shillings per trip. Tiring of this arrangement, they doubled the price in 1866, then ceased the service in 1867.

In 1874 residents agitated for the return of a passenger train. Thomas Croudace, the manager of the Lambton colliery, gave permission for a trial run and on Saturday evening of 28 February 1874 more than 500 residents travelled from Lambton into Newcastle. Despite this success Croudace withdrew permission for subsequent services, leading to great confusion two Saturdays later when several hundred residents turned up to catch a train that never arrived.

With no co-operation from Lambton colliery, residents approached the Waratah colliery for permission to carry passengers on their rail line. The directors having granted the request, the first train ran on Monday 25 May 1874 for the public holiday celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday. A regular service then commenced on 30 May 1874, operating on Saturdays only with pick-up and set-down at “Betty Bunn’s crossing”, where the Lambton-Waratah road crossed the railway.

In August 1874 a fatal accident on the line put a halt to the passenger service. A sordid rumour began circulating that several storekeepers on the inquest jury had been unfairly critical of the rail authority’s safety procedures, with a view to having the train cancelled. Local traders opposed a service they saw taking shoppers and their money into the city and away from their own businesses. The passenger service eventually resumed in January 1875, but reduced to alternate Saturdays only. It operated for another 12 years, ceasing in 1887 when the tramline from Newcastle to Lambton opened.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate, 19 Aug 1887, advising discontinuance of passenger train services to Waratah Tunnels near Lambton.
The location of “Betty Bunn’s Crossing”, at the intersection of Griffiths Rd and Acacia Ave, where the passenger train to Newcastle operated on the Waratah Tunnels rail line.

The article above was first published in the March 2024 edition of The Local.

Additional Information

Some of the content of this article was re-used from my November 2020 article “A Picnic Homecoming”, on the Lambton Public School outing to Toronto by train.

The colliery railway lines used for passenger services at Lambton: Lambton colliery (red), Waratah colliery (green). Parrott’s 1893 map, National Library of Australia.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
18 Mar 1874
12 Mar 1874
"A very large public meeting was held at Stokers' Hall Lambton, on Thursday evening last, to consider the best steps to secure a Saturday night train, and also a daily train to and from Newcastle and Lambton. The manager of the Lambton pit had allowed the train to run once on Saturday night, and then withdrew it ; the object of the meeting was to devise a method of ensuring a train regularly. The Mavor of Lambton presided. It was ascertained that the Government were quite willing, and resolutions were passed, empowering the formation of a committee to wait upon the manager of the Waratah Coal Company, requesting him to allow passenger carriages to be placed on their line on the occasions above named."
18 Mar 1874"Great disappointment was felt at the non-arrival of the passenger train last Saturday evening. There were about 200 or 300 passengers waiting, who had to return to their homes annoyed. The blame is attributed to Mr. Croudace, for, I believe if he would consent to the train's running, the Government would; and, the advantage the inhabitants would derive would be very great."
31 Mar 1874"The subcommittee appointed to conduct the application to the Waratah Coal Company, for a passenger train to be laid on, have received a reply from the directors, expressing their willingness to grant the request … The sub-committee accordingly waited upon Mr. Higgs, the traffic manager, to gain the required Government permission, and that gentleman has informed them that there were some arrangements pending respecting a train to be laid on by the Lambton Company, which had not yet been decided upon."
23 May 1874"I have been instructed to inform you that the directors of the Waratah Coal Company have no objection to the Government running, for the convenience of the inhabitants of the district, on Saturday nights and holidays passenger trains on the Waratah Coal Company's private line of railway, from the junction with Great Northern Railway to the Company's new tunnel, at the same rate as it is done on the Wallsend Coal Company's line, provided arrangements are made so as not to interfere with the Waratah Company's coal traffic, and that the Government construct at its own cost all sidings, platforms, landing places, &c., which may be required for passenger traffic."

The following Monday, being a public holiday for Queen Victoria's birthday, "arrangements were made for the train to leave Bunn's crossing on Monday, 25th May at half-past 10 o'clock a.m."
27 May 1874
25 May 1874
First passenger train on the Waratah Company railway.
"The Railway Auditors laid on a train from Bunn's Crossing, on the Waratah Company's line, on Queen's Birthday, which was moderately patronised."

In the same week that passenger trains start running to Lambton on the Waratah Company line, promises are being made to run passenger trains on the Lambton colliery line … "The following arrangement was made, between Mr. Croudace, on behalf of the Lambton Company, and the Minister, viz., that [Government] trains should be run ... that the Company give their line free and keep it clear of their own traffic ... The Government to take all other responsibility … this arrangement to come in force immediately after the holidays."
In spite of this arrangement being made, nothing came of it.
30 May 1874"Although the Minister for Works promised that a passenger train should be run to this town on the first Saturday after the holidays, no communication whatever has been received by the Traffic Manager on the subject. The arrangement made between the Minister for Works and Mr. Croudace was that four trains should be run, commencing on the first Saturday after Queen's Birthday."
2 Jun 1874
30 May 1874
"On Saturday, the first evening train for passengers ran from the Waratah Co.'s Tunnels to Newcastle, for the accommodation of a large population in that neighbourhood. The number of passengers by whom it was availed of, amply testified the necessity for the convenience. We take it for granted that the train will be continued, as otherwise the people of Grovestown and Lambton would have to give up all idea of getting into Newcastle during the winter evenings, either by way of the Broad Meadow or Waratah, the former being a sheet of water, and the latter a perfect slough of mud."
4 Aug 1874
1 Aug 1874
Fatal accident on the Waratah Company railway, when the Saturday evening passenger train strikes Andrew Tunney, who while drunk was riding his horse along the railway.
11 Aug 1874After the death of Andrew Tunney on the railway line, the passenger service to Lambton is halted. A conspiracy theory arises that storekeepers on the inquest jury had a vested interest in stopping the passenger service in order to keep business in the town.
30 Jan 1875Resumption of passenger train service to Lambton (Waratah Tunnels). The service to run on alternate Saturdays only.
19 Aug 1887
13 Aug 1887
Last passenger train on the Waratah Tunnels railway. An advertisement on the following Friday announces the discontinuance of the service.

A Panoramic Peep Over Lambton and New Lambton

This year marks 120 years since George Henry Dawkins captured a remarkable snapshot of our locality in 1904. Dawkins was born in Lambton around 1874. His interest in photography is first noted in 1900 when he demonstrated lantern slide making to the recently formed but short-lived Newcastle Amateur Camera Club. A few years later he was instrumental in the formation of a new camera club and served as a committee member for many years.

In 1904 Dawkins purchased a block of land on the heights above Lambton. From that property on the west side of First St (later renamed to Noble St) he photographed a four-frame panorama looking southwards. He then mounted the prints on foldout panels with an ornate burgundy coloured front cover with the title “A Peep at Old and New Lambton, NSW, from Lambton Heights.”

The panorama is striking in the detail it contains. We can observe prominent landmarks that remain to this day including the park rotunda, council building (now the library), Mechanics’ Institute building, and the stone church in Dickson St.

The photo also highlights how much has changed. Many of the houses in 1904 are basic wooden structures. While the Lambton mine pithead is hidden behind a hill, the colliery rail line and bridges can be seen running over Hobart Rd. In panels 3 and 4, we see large swathes of open land south of Howe St and wooded land on the hill, yet to be developed as it was mining company land.

While Dawkins’ paying job was as a printer, he also volunteered with many local organisations such as the Mechanics’ Institute, Bowling club, and the Wallsend hospital board. In 1907 he contributed photos to a Newcastle Tourist Guide, and during World War 1 he offered to take photos free of charge, of any men in Lambton enlisting as soldiers. George Dawkins died in Lambton in 1922 aged just 48, leaving us the legacy of a wonderfully fascinating panoramic peep into our past.

Panoramic view over Lambton and New Lambton, 1904. Photo by George Henry Dawkins. Newcastle University, Living Histories.

The article above was first published in the February 2024 edition of The Local.

Additional Information

Purchase of land in 1st Street (Noble St) by George Henry Dawkins, printer, in December 1904. The panorama over Lambton was photographed from this property. Vol-Fol 890-235.
1939 Gregory’s map showing location of First Street (now Noble St) in Lambton.
Photographic items for sale from George Dawkins. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 15 June 1918.

The 1907 Tourist Guide

Dawkins contributed some photographs to a 1907 “Tourist’s Guide to Newcastle”. The National Library of Australia has a copy of this publication on microfiche (Bib ID 3542657), which I viewed during a visit to the Library in April 2024. Unfortunately the quality of the scanning/reproduction is poor and the photographs appear as little more than high contrast splodges of black and white. For what it’s worth, here are the photographs that Dawkins contributed. One minor note of interest is that the photograph of Nelly’s Glen on page 81 enabled me to identifier the creator of the image in the Newcastle University Living Histories site, which previously unattributed.

A Bend in the Creek. Wallsend, near Newcastle. (Page 75)
Nelly’s Glen, Lambton, near Newcastle. (Page 81)
Tram Terminus, Wallsend, near Newcastle. (Page 167)
Along the Newcastle Beach. 1. Men’s Dressing Sheds. 2. Untitled. 3. Shelter Shed. 4. Shelter Shed. (Page 177)
Along the Newcastle Beach. 1. ?. 2. Tram Terminus. 3. Ladies Dressing Shed & Bathing Place. (Page 181)
The Beaches29
The Reserves42
The Climate48
Health of Newcastle and District49
Newcastle from Without49
Coal Mining53
The Dyke58
Other Industries59
Literary, Scientific and Educational Institutions63
Technical College67
Theatres etc78
Musical and Kindred Societies79
Debating Societies79
Sports and Amusements82
The Turf90
Agricultural, H & I Association92
Charitable Institutions96
Public Buildings100
Pleasant Bush Drives and Picnic Places105
Accommodation for Visitors112
Discovery of Newcastle112
Spiers’ [sic] Point120
Warner’s Bay120
Cockle Creek121
Nelson’s Bay121
Salt Ash121
Anna Bay121
Tea Gardens121
Sawyer’s Point121
Bulladelah [sic]125
West Maitland128
East Maitland133
Maitland Coalfields133
General Index to the 1907 Tourist Guide
Newcastle from Railway Station7
Holiday Time on Newcastle Beach11
Tennis Court and Bowling Green15
The Two “Redheads”19
Nobby’s from Fort Scratchley23
Surf Bathing27
Newcastle Beach31
Newcastle Beach from Tram Terminus33
Shelter Sheds37
James’ Retreat41
The Rotunda45
Entrance Gates, Upper Reserve47
Lower Reserve51
A Typical Newcastle Colliery53
Shephard’s [sic] Hill53
The Lagoon57
Loading Coal at the Dyke61
Ships Discharging Ballast65
Technical College67
Shipping at the Dyke69
King’s Wharf71
A Forest of Masts73
A Bend in the Creek, Wallsend Creek75
Newcastle Harbour77
Nelly’s Glen, Lambton81
The Tunnel, Merewether Beach83
E. & A. Coy.’s Smelting Works85
Newcastle from Upper Reserve89
Soldiers’ Baths and Nobby’s91
View of Newcastle showing Entrance to Harbour93
Post Office95
Newcastle Hospital96
Newcastle from the Beach99
Post Office100
The Bogey Hole103
Upper Reaches, Cockle Creek107
Spier’s [sic] Point111
Newcastle Harbour116
Port Stephens from Inner Light123
Salt Ash127
Port Stephens, looking towards Middle Island129
High Street, West Maitland131
Pitnacree Bridge, East Maitland135
Movable Cranes, Inner Basin, Newcastle147
Glimpses around Dungog149
Warner’s Bay159
Newcastle School of Arts163
Tram Terminus, Wallsend167
Lake Macquarie171
Along the Newcastle Beach177
Along the Newcastle Beach181
Index to Views (photographs) in the 1907 Tourist Guide

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
15 Aug 1900"A meeting of amateur photographers was held at Kettley's rooms, Hunter-street West, last night, when it was decided to form the Newcastle Amateur Camera Club."
12 Oct 1900"At the last monthly meeting of the Newcastle Amateur Camera Club, lantern slide making by reduction was fully illustrated by Mr. Geo. Dawkins."
10 Dec 1900
5 Dec 1900
"Newcastle Amateur Camera Club held their monthly meeting and had for their subject Flashlight Photography. The members met at Lambton at 7.45 p.m., and proceeded to Lambton Colliery, where they were met by Mr. Noble, the underground manager, and his staff, who zealously looked after the comfort of the visitors, and explained every thing of interest."
15 Apr 1902
14 Apr 1902
At the celebration in Lambton of the return of Lieutenant Albert McEwan from the Boer war … "Mr. Geo. Dawkins took a flashlight photograph of the gathering."
31 Aug 1905
29 Aug 1905
Formation of camera club in Newcastle - George Dawkins elected to the committee.
16 Oct 1907"... the guide to Newcastle and its neighbourhood has been issued by the Newcastle and District Tourist Association. The work, which comprises 180 pages, 8½, inches by 5½ inches, is copiously illustrated ... The photo-engravings are principally from negatives taken by Mr. Charleston, of Hunter-street, Mr. G. H. Dawkins, of Lambton, ..."
15 Feb 1908Letter to the editor from George Dawkins, disputing claims about the time required to print Wallsend Hospital reports.
28 Oct 1908The half-yearly competition and exhibition of pictures in connection with the Newcastle and District Photographic Society - George Dawkins awarded second place in "Best enlargement" section.
2 Mar 1912George Dawkins to supply photographs for the "presentation" being prepared to honour J. W. Oldham.
11 Mar 1912
9 Mar 1912
"A concert, in aid of the Lambton Public School fund was held in the Coronation Hall … The coloured lights for stage purposes was under the direction of Mr. G. H. Dawkins …"
19 Aug 1916"A meeting for the purpose of forming a branch of the Y.M.C.A. Snapshot From Home League was held at Mr. A. J. Plumridge's rooms on Thursday evening. Mr. G. Dawkins presided. The object of the league is to provide snapshot photographs of the homes and families of soldiers who have gone away into service, and give copies of these to the relatives for forwarding to soldiers at the front. It was decided to form a branch. Mr. G. Dawkins was appointed president."
30 Jan 1917"A meeting was held in Lambton council chambers to devise ways and means to erect a suitable memorial to those who had given their services in fighting for their country ... Mr. George Dawkins, a member of the Camera Club, had agreed to take photos, free of charge of any soldier enlisting …"
26 Sep 1922
23 Sep 1922
"Mr. George Dawkins died at his residence, First-street, on Saturday, after a lengthy illness. He was in his 49th year, and was born in Lambton, where he resided the whole of his life. He was a printer by occupation."
25 Sep 1922
25 Sep 1922
Funeral of George Dawkins
4 Nov 1955First Street in Lambton is renamed to Noble Street.

Cycling Century Run

Some things change, some things stay the same. When we look at Ralph Snowball’s photograph of Morehead St Lambton from 125 years ago, the most striking difference is a complete absence of cars. Occupying the street instead is something very familiar to us, people enjoying an outdoor activity on a public holiday. The photo, from the morning of 13 October 1898, shows a group of cyclists at Lambton about to set off on the next leg of a “cycling century run”, a 100-mile ride to Stroud and back.

The event was held as part of the Eight-Hour Day celebrations, the forerunner of our Labour Day public holiday. The ride was a test of endurance rather than speed. There were no trophies for the fastest, but a badge for everyone who finished within the allotted time. The ride was intended for fun, but within limits. At a planning meeting for the ride the committee noted that “any exhibition of larrikinism will lead to disqualification.”

The ride was divided into several legs, with predefined stops where participants would have a paper ticket punched by an official. At 6:30am, 46 cyclists set off from Newcastle Post Office, with the first leg detouring through Adamstown to Lambton to make the total distance up to 100 miles. With the next leg to Raymond Terrace the cyclists enjoyed a short break as they crossed the Hunter River on the Hexham punt. The group reached Stroud at 12.26pm and after an appetising snack commenced the return journey at 1.09pm.  Despite darkness falling, and the necessity of walking their bikes up the Sandgate hill due to road repairs, 38 participants arrived back at Newcastle Post Office by 7:30pm, having completed the 100 miles in under 13 hours. Special mention must be made of the three women who completed the course, not only keeping up with the men, but doing so while wearing highly impractical ankle length skirts!

Participants in the Cycling Century, Morehead St Lambton, 13 October 1898. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Newcastle Library. Newcastle Library, Hunter Photobank, Accession Number 163 003938.
The same view in Morehead St in 2023.

The article above was first published in the September 2023 edition of The Local.

Additional Information

The full text of the newspaper report on the cycling century run is reproduced below.

The Cycling Century Run. This event came off yesterday, and proved a thorough success. The route was to Stroud and back, a deviation being made in the morning through Hamilton and Lambton and across to Waratah to make up a deficiency in the mileage. The start, was made very nearly sharp to time, 6.30, though there were several laggards, who came on late. Forty-six started, including four ladies, with the intention of trying to get right though, and there were two others who went as far as the Twelve Mile only. Mr. J. D. Smith set the pace to Hexham Punt, 14 miles, which was reached at 7.57, three minutes late, some delay occurring at Lambton, where the second puncturing of tickets was made, because the secretary had hung behind with the puncturing instrument to puncture the tickets of the idle starters. The punt was left at 8.10. From this point Mr. W. T. Gibb, jun., set the pace. The Terrace, six miles, was reached at 8.40, about 6 min being made up, loss 1 min, and after 15min spell, another start was made for McNiven’s, Derlang, or the Twelve Mile, Mr. Gibb still pacing. The Twelve Mile was reached at 10.3, time table time exactly. Here a most excellent breakfast was provided. Sharp to time. 10.33, another start was made, Mr. H. A. Graham setting the pace to Stroud, F. Woods’ hotel (21 miles). On this section the pacemaker being as a matter of fact paced pace was broken, and despite an unprogrammed halt of 10 minutes being called halfway, the arrival at Stroud was made at 12.26, 13 minutes ahead of schedule time. A most appetising snack was here provided, a rest being taken of 30 minutes for those who ran to time, the scorchers, and among them the pacer and his hustlers, and those who allowed themselves to be bustled with him, getting 43 minutes. Nevertheless there was some complaining. Mr. Flood provided a very appetising snack. Sharp at 1.9-the schedule time-the return, journey was commenced, Mr. Brett setting the pace back to Witt’s Half-way House at Limeburner’s Creek for dinner, the bustled pacemaker on his last century closing up the rear. Witt’s was reached (16 miles) at 2.50, five minutes behind schedule time a five-minute spell (uncatalogued) being taken half-way. The three nasty hills, up and down, up and down in sharp succession, going into and coming out of Stroud, proved very trying. Mr. Witt provided a very excellent dinner. Leaving Witts’ to time, 3.45, the run to Raymond Terrace (16 miles) was made with Mr. Krempin setting the pace, inside schedule time, the arrival being made at 5.15 instead of 5.21. Leaving here at 5.36, after 21 minutes’ spell, Hexham punt was made, in schedule time, and the departure thence, with plenty in hand for completing the journey in schedule time, despite the darkness and the necessity for walking the Sandgate Hill, now under repair. From Hexham punt to Waratah Mr. D. Gordon set the pace, and thence home, Mr. H. Warr. Thirty-eight tickets were handed in at the Newcastle Post-office, which was reached at 7.28, two minutes inside schedule time, the distance proving fully the 100 miles, cyclometers saying 101 to 102. It is reasonably believed that one name may have to be added to the list, that of a rider who had to inflate his tyres every three quarters of a mile or so, and who is believed, to have arrived home at about 10 minutes to 8, and to have been unable to find the secretary to hand in his ticket, though that functionary was standing at the Criterion Hotel corner till 7.45 on the lookout for stragglers. It was a very pleasant day, and although the heat was pretty severe, and the dust rather bad in places, it must necessarily be called a pleasant ride of its kind, no wind of any moment interfering either way; and regarding these century runs it has always to be remembered that there are scores of young athletic men about to whom they are by no means a severe trial. All the same, they are a very fair average test of one’s capabilities of enduring physical fatigue; and, for instance, those able to perform such a feat are fit, without, much preliminary hardening, for active military service in emergency. Skill, however, is of course no small item in the programme. The names of those who handed in their tickets at the post office are given hereunder: – Ladies: Mesdames Snow (North Sydney Bicycle Club), Greenwood, and Harry. Men: Messrs. W. T. Gibb, jun., T. Snow (North Sydney Bicycle Club), – Patey, T. S. Everett, F. Hughes, F. W. Krempin, H. Warr, Albert Hopkins, E. Barnes, George Proctor, A. W. Judd, W. J Greenwood, Percy Taylor, – Hawthorne, Walter Taylor, D. Meldrum, J. H. Parker, – Garrett, D. Gordon, C. Sanders (pumping for an obscure puncture every five miles), T. Lee, D. Murray, W. Brett, J. Quinn, E. Bruderlin, R. Gordon, H. A. Graham, J. T. Smith, James Blanch, W. Welford, A. Quinn, D. Powell, W. H. Bartrop (Singleton), D. J. Young, and J. D. Smith.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 14 October 1988.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
3 Sep 1898"Matters in connection with the proposed century run on Eight Hour Day are in active progress, and in the hands of a reliable committee. Newcastle to Singleton and return will probably be the chosen route, in consequence of the immediate proximity of the road to the railway line, which would give exhausted wheelers a chance to take the services of the train if so desired."
10 Sep 1898
9 Sep 1898
A meeting of the committee organising the cycling century run. Decision to ride to Stroud and back. "Any riders passing the pace-makers will be disqualified, and any exhibition of larrikinism will also lead to disqualification. Those successfully completing the journey will receive a badge."
7 Oct 1898
5 Oct 1898
A meeting of the committee organising the cycling century run.
14 Oct 1898
13 Oct 1898
A report on the cycling century run, a 100 mile ride from Newcastle Post Office to Stroud and return.
14 Oct 1898
13 Oct 1898
Report on the Eight Hours Day procession.

Lambton Park Rotunda 1973

I recently found in the Living Histories site of the University of Newcastle, a photo of the Lambton Park rotunda from 1973. The rotunda was looking so sad and disheveled, and so different from current day appearances that my initial reaction on seeing the photo was that it was mis-labeled and was a rotunda somewhere else.

Constructed in 1890, the rotunda initially had iron palisade railings. By 1925 the rotunda had fallen into a bad condition. Extensive repairs were undertaken, including replacing the iron railings with arched brickwork, and replacing the wooden floor with reinforced concrete.

Lambton Park Rotunda, 1973. Merv and Janet Copley Collection. Living Histories, University of Newcastle.
Lambton Park Rotunda, April 2023

Newcastle Council later renovated the rotunda, reinstating the look of the original, including iron railings, a wooden floor, and the dome and spire above the main roof.

Miners’ Strike of 1896

Lambton Park has been used for many events in both tranquil and troubled times. This month’s photograph from 1896 captures a key moment in a turbulent year for miners and their families.

Steadily rising demand for coal had caused the selling price to reach a peak of 10 shillings per ton in 1890. However, economic depression in 1892-93 combined with increasing production, nearly halved the price by 1896. In February, the proprietors of Lambton mine announced the pit would close unless wages were cut. The miners, believing the company was using this as an excuse to increase profits at their expense, downed tools and called for a district wide meeting.

Nearly 2000 miners gathered at Lambton Park on 29 February 1896, and resolved that unless wages were increased, they would hold a ballot for a general strike. No increase was granted, and in March a majority voted to cease work. Negotiations continued into April, but …

Easter dawns upon us with anything but a happy outlook. The district is threatened with a great industrial strike, which is calculated to bring privation upon many poor families. Already the shopkeepers are complaining about a falling off in business, the housewives evidently buying only the bare necessaries of life.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 2 April 1896.

With no settlement reached, on 27 April 1896 …

the strike began in real earnest, no less than 3500 miners and others refusing to continue working under the existing conditions.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 28 April 1896.

The economy suffered …

The grocers cannot give credit, and the housewives have little or no ready cash to spend.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate

Families were displaced …

Men who have managed to save a little money are leaving the district for Western Australia, New Zealand, Victoria, and Wollongong.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate

After 11 weeks it was clear that the coal prices would not increase, and wages could not be raised. On 16 July 1896 the men returned to work, at a lower hewing rate than before. Summing up the futility of the strike, a newspaper editorial stated …

Undoubtedly, when the history of this miserable struggle has to be more fully written, the best feature of it will be declaring it ‘off’.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 13 July 1896.
Miners voting for industrial action at an aggregate meeting in Lambton Park, 29 February 1896. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.
Lambton Park in happier times. Christmas Carols, 18 December 2022. Photo by Thomas Freeman.

The article above was first published in the February 2023 edition of The Local.

Additional Information

In the article I talk about ‘the selling price’ of coal. This is a simplification as there was no single value, but the selling price differed between large and small coal, it differed from one colliery to another depending on quality, and it could differ according to contracts agreed between collieries and buyers.

To track the trend in coal prices, I extracted from the Department of Mines annual reports, the quantity and value of coal sold by the Lambton Colliery for each year from 1875 to 1903. From this the average price of coal per ton for each year can be calculated. The trend shows that the price remained close to 10s per ton from 1885 to 1890. However, the following years saw a steady decline to a low of 6.24 shillings per ton in 1896, the year of the miners’ general strike.

Year Employees Quantity

Avg per ton

1875 280 148573 94096 12.67
1876 391 160990 103304 12.83
1877 421 164267 not specified ?
1878 436 213332 119881 11.24
1879 440 225788 144088 12.76
1880 453 239234 107655 9.00
1881 269 120563 42416 7.04
1882 358 236168 107238 9.08
1883 416 252044 123857 9.83
1884 446 267096 126842 9.50
1885 460 223030 111515 10.00
1886 510 113972 56416 9.90
1887 400 167355 83677 10.00
1888 469 164048 80304 9.79
1889 505 243256 120134 9.88
1890 440 139375 69751 10.01
1891 480 189382 94024 9.93
1892 480 224498 101373 9.03
1893 435 159100 69840 8.78
1894 412 178495 60584 6.79
1895 304 112368 35092 6.25
1896 173 47505 14813 6.24
1897 210 86340 27378 6.34
1898 208 105219 32602 6.20
1899 196 85932 31650 7.37
1900 196 92145 34383 7.46
1901 197 80945 41437 10.24
1902 190 62419 29175 9.35
1903 170 79663 33699 8.46

From 1904 the Department of Mines annual reports do not contain data on coal output and value from individual mines.

The “Farishes Flat” portion of Lambton colliery was leased to Charles Noble on 3 November 1904, and

Farishes Flat Lambton Colliery, change of ownership. Department of Mines annual report for 1904, page 116.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
14 Jun 1890"The Associated Colliery Proprietors are considering the advisability of reducing the selling price of coal … from 11s to 9s per ton … Under their mutual agreement the coal from the associated mines is sold at 11s per ton, and each mine has a stipulated output or vend for the year. No such agreement, however, exists among the other companies, many of which are now selling their coal at a price in some instances as low as 9s per ton. That this is the main reason why a reduction is mooted there can be no doubt. The majority of the larger collieries, and nearly all the older ones, belong to the association, and at present they raise about 70 per cent. of the total district output, but new mines are opening constantly, and, so far, none of them have shown any inclination to become parties to the Associated Proprietors agreement. "
22 Feb 1896
21 Feb 1896
"A special meeting of the delegate board of the Miners' Association was held at the Trades Hall for the purpose of considering principally the position of the Lambton miners. It was also decided to hold an aggregate meeting on pay-Saturday, the 29th instant, at the Lambton Park, at 11 a.m. , to discuss the whole situation as it affects the miners."
22 Feb 1896"Mr. Thomas Croudace, the general manager of the Scottish-Australian Mining Company, says it will be impossible for him to re-open the Lambton pit while he has to paying a hewing rate altogether out of proportion to the selling price of the coal … the miners hold a very different view from Mr. Croudace. They contend that the action has been decided upon solely for the purpose of reducing wages"
28 Feb 1896Letter from Amalgamated Miners' Association to miners … " it has been resolved to hold an aggregate meeting of miners in the Lambton Park on Saturday, 29th instant, to consider the advisability of seeking an advance in the hewing rates. It is needless to remind you of the successive reductions in wages during a period extending over two years, and the imposition of the most exacting and degrading conditions it has been possible to impose at many collieries."
28 Feb 1896"There is no movement with regard to the Lambton Colliery and no apparent prospect of work being resumed. Of the 182 miners who cameout against the reduction in the yardage rates 96 have either succeeded in obtain work at neighbouring collieries, or have left for Western Australia, some 20 having sailed for that colony, leaving 86 still without employment, although some of those remaining are also making preparations for going west. This pleasing result, after barely two weeks' idleness, is hailed with satisfaction in the town, not unmixed, however, with regret that the bone and sinew of the place should be driven from their homes to seek scope for their energies elsewhere."
29 Feb 1896"The result of the aggregate meeting of miners at Lambton Park is anxiously looked forward to by all in the coal trade. It is anticipated that the principal resolutions will be in favour of a ballot being taken as to whether a general strike shall take place or not. Very unpleasant rumours now fill the air.”
1 Mar 1896
29 Feb 1896
Report on the aggregate meeting, where about 2000 persons were present. Two resolutions were moved and passed unanimously.
  1. Demand for hewing rate of 3s 6d per ton
  2. "That in the event of a refusal for the advance in terms of the foregoing resolution within one week from March 9 by the proprietors, a ballot be taken as early as possible after March 16 as to whether 14 days' notice shall be given to cease work until such advance is agreed to.
2 Mar 1896
29 Feb 1896
Detailed report on the miners' aggregate meeting in Lambton Park.
2 Mar 1896Lengthy editorial report on the miners’ aggregate meeting. "Every representation that can be made will not restore a nearly-worked-out mine to its pristine condition, neither will it raise the price of coal in the markets of the world, in which we are now competitors. While we admit the ruinous undercutting of the selling price which has been going on for some time past, the broad fact stares us in the face that any attempt to remedy that state of affairs by the mutual action of the proprietors or their co-operation with the miners has proved ineffectual."
14 Mar 1896"The [Lambton] mine still remains closed down, with no apparent signs of a resumption of work. Consequently, matters are very gloomy in the town. It is, however, gratifying to learn that out of a total of 182 miners thrown out of employment 120 have succeeded in securing work elsewhere in the district, or have left for Western Australia."
16 Mar 1896"The members of the Miners' Association will be asked to ballot for or against a strike, and on this point even the non-unionist miners in the district are to be invited to express an opinion. The history of past struggles of a like kind is of so depressing a character that it is hoped men will not commit themselves to another of a similar nature without giving ample consideration to all the surroundings of the case."
18 Mar 1896"The time having expired for the colliery proprietors to reply to the demand made upon them by the miners for a hewing rate of 3s 6d per ton … the situation is, therefore, now before the miners themselves, who are to be asked to decide by ballot whether there should be a general strike. To bring about this end it will be necessary to have a two-thirds majority of the votes of every miner, whether unionist or non-unionist. Ballot papers are now being distributed throughout the whole of the district."
25 Mar 1896"The question of a general strike, will be placed before the delegate board of the Miners' Association today. In deciding upon this great and serious question they will have before them not only the result of the ballot, but also all the letters sent by the proprietors ... Mr. Thomas Croudace, for instance, suggests an eleventh hour attempt at a conference."
26 Mar 1896
25 Mar 1896
Result of the ballot: 2624 for a strike; 587 against a strike. Miners called to hand in their 14 days notice on 6 April. An invitiation is extended to the mine proprietors to meet the miners in conference before 2 April, in order to avert a strike.
2 Apr 1896"Easter dawns upon us with, unfortunately, anything but a happy outlook. The district is threatened with a great industrial strike, which is calculated to bring privation upon many poor families. Already the shopkeepers are complaining about a falling off in business, the housewives evidently buying only the bare necessaries of life."
4 Apr 1896
2 Apr 1896
Conference between the miners assoication and the colliery proprietors, in an effort to avert a general strike. The conference was relatively amicable, but in the end of little consequence, owing to the absence of proprietors from three of the large coal companies.
8 Apr 1896Miners at 15 collieries have now handed in their 14 days notice to cease work. "If the notices sent in should be carried into effect after Saturday week, there will be something like 4000 miners on strike."
11 Apr 1896"From all the information procurable on the local mining situation every thing points to the strong likelihood of a cessation of work at many collieries in this district on Saturday, 18th inst."
14 Apr 1896"The proposal unanimously adopted was that the members of the [municipal] conference, accompanied by the members for the district, meet the Premier to-night on his arrival at Newcastle en route from Queensland for the purpose of representing to him the advisableness of appointing without delay a court of arbitration in relation to the matters now in dispute."
15 Apr 1896"The miners had given in 14 days' notice on a ballot of a five to one majority to strike." The Premier (George Reid) is asked by alderman of Newcastle Council to intervene to avert the strike.
15 Apr 1896"The fervent hope expressed by many is that at this late hour a strike may be averted; but to suggest means to that end is a difficult matter, as so many of the proprietors refuse to meet the miners' representatives in conference as requested by them."
28 Apr 1896
27 Apr 1896
"The strike began in real earnest yesterday, no less than 3500 miners and others refusing to continue working under the existing conditions. "
16 May 1896"With the exception of some Sea Pit miners, the majority of the strikers seem more than ever determined to stand out. Old residents who have grown weary of strikes in this district declare that they have seldom, if ever, witnessed a more stubborn resistance between capital and labour."
13 Jul 1896"A moderate estimate of the loss of wages alone is £100,000, without taking into consideration the indirect effects of the stoppage to the general community, which is therefore poorer by the above amount than it would have been if there had been no strike … Undoubtedly, when the history of this miserable struggle has to be more fully written, the best feature of it will be declaring it 'off'."
17 Jul 1896Lengthy editorial reflecting on the lessons of the strike … "The principal lesson taught by the result of the strike is one which is not a personal matter between employer and employed. It is the fact that if consumers cannot give a higher price to those having coal to sell, the latter are unable to increase the earnings of those who have the work of winning it."

Leonora Glass Industries

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 David Marr and 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. The following year, along with David Marr (manager) and Alan Little (engineer), they set out to create their own glass making business, renting a portion of the Lambton colliery and setting 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

Henry Vecera making a wine glass at Leonora Glassworks in Lambton. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate, 7 October 1947.
Hand blown glass jug from the Leonora Glass Works, 1955. Image courtesy of Newcastle Museum.

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

Additional photos

Gordon Maybury, of Wallsend, and Sid Bennet, of Cardiff (rear), grind lamp shades at the Leonora Glassworks. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 3 Dec 1948.
Mr. Ernest Sandgren cutting glass at Lambton fine glass factory. Mr. Ernest Sandgren, Newcastle’s only cutter of fine crystal, was Australia’s weightlifting champion for seven years. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 11 Dec 1948.
Milon and Joseph Vecera, 19 year-old twins blowing glass at a Lambton glass factory. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 8 Mar 1950.
Mr. Henry Vecera finishes off a piece of hand made glassware. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 8 Mar 1950.
Three Newcastle youths, from left, Des Williams, George Kildey and Ron Jones, training at a Lambton glass factory yesterday to be glass-makers.
Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 26 May 1953.
The 15 acres of land in Wallsend, purchased by Leonora Glass Industries in October 1957, to build a new glassworks after the Lambton glassworks was destroyed by fire. Vol-Fol 7697-17.
The area of the 1957 purchase of land, shown in Google Earth.
A 1966 aerial photograph, showing the glassworks in Douglas St Wallsend. NSW Historical Imagery.
Leonora Glass, Wallsend. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.
Official inspection of a prototype at the Philips factory, Wallsend, 1980. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.

Personal details

The following personal details of the three Czechoslovakian founders of Leonora Glass were extracted from National Archives of Australia records searches.

Name Henry Vecera Josef Vecera Josef Tvrdik
Birth 15 Aug 1901, Uhrovec, Slovakia 19 Mar 1899, Uhrovec, Slovakia 12 Jan 1904, Nova Hut, Czechia
Arrival in Australia 11 Nov 1934 9 Nov 1934  
Naturalised 30 Aug 1946 9 Dec 1946 3 Dec 1946
Family Wife, Julia; daughter, Henrietta Julia, born 1928 Wife, Cecile; twin sons, Milon Edward and Joseph Henry, born 1931 Wife, Coralie Violet Mary

Company information

A search of the ASIC Registers shows that Leonora Glass Industries Pty Ltd was registered as a company on 11 August 1947.

Origin of the Name Leonora

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.

The villages of Nove Hute and Lenora in Czechia, are 17km apart (26km by road). OpenStreetMap

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.

Sumavanet tourism website
The Lenora Glassworks in the Czech Republic closed in 1996.

Note that while there is Leonora Parade in Waratah West, it appears to have no connection to the Leonora glassworks. The street was formerly a section of Platt Street, and was renamed to Leonora Parade in 1968.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
6 Apr 1946Notice 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.
7 Oct 1947"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."
23 Nov 1948“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.”
3 Dec 1948The 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.
11 Dec 1948Photo of twins Joseph and Milon Vecera, on the steps of the old Lambton Colliery office, near to where they work in the Leonora Glassworks.
11 Dec 1948Story on Ernest Sandgren, immigrant from Sweden, and Australian weight-lifting champion for 7 years, working as a cutter of fine crystal at Leonora Glassworks.
3 Feb 1949"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."
8 Mar 1950“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.”
4 Jan 1952"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."
26 May 1953The 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.”

Lambton Colliery Office Steps

In researching the Leonora Glassworks for my October 2022 article for The Local, I came across this photograph from the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate on 11 Dec 1948, of Joseph and Milon Vecera posing on the entrance steps of a building that had been demolished.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 11 Dec 1948

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.

Lambton Colliery, 15 August 1900. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Living Histories, University of Newcastle.

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.