William Thomas Dent

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.

William Thomas Dent and family in front of their Pearson St home, January 1897. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.
William Thomas Dent was the instigator of the Lambton Park rotunda, erected in 1890.

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.”

Immigration list of the ship Racehorse, September 1866.
William Thomas Dent and family in the immigration list.

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.

Lambton Bleatings

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.

Dent’s house

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.

Vol-Fol 262-127
Vol-Fol 61-240
W T Dent and family, Pearson St Lambton, January 1897. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.
The location of Dent’s house, 18-20 Pearson St, Lambton.
W.T. Dent [and family], Lambton, NSW, January 1897. University of Newcastle, Living Histories.

Newspaper reporter

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.)

Miners’ Advocate and Northumberland Recorder, 17 June 1874.
W T Dent’s occupation is listed as “Newspaper Reporter” in a land title document from October 1876. Vol-Fol 262-127.

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.

Waratah Municipal Council Chambers 1873-1882. The Northumberland Permanent Building Society rented space in this building for their office. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

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.

Waratah Town Hall in Turton St. Prior to its use by the council it was Northumberland Hall, built for the Northumberland Permanent Building Society. Newcastle Region Library.
Northumberland Permanent Building and Investment Land and Loan Society Building, corner of Blane (now Hunter) and Burwood Streets, Newcastle, NSW, [1887]. WT Dent worked as Secretary to the society in this building until his retirement due to ill health. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.

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.”

Portrait of William Thomas Dent that appeared in the newspaper report of his death in the Newcastle Morning Herald.

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.

The name of W.T. Dent on the engraved foundation stone of the Lambton Mechanics’ Institute in Elder Street.

Mark 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.

1861 Census of England, showing Sarah Dent residing with her parents.

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.

Dent Street

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.

Mark Dent died in October 1882. Just four months later in February 1883, Lambton Council resolved …

“That the Mayor be instructed to write to the Waratah [Coal] Company, asking them to dedicate a street at the west end of High-street, 66 feet wide.”

The Waratah Company obliged with the request in April 1883, and in October 1883 Lambton Council resolved …

“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.

Dent St marked on Land Title Certificate Vol-Fol 771-98 in December 1885.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
13 Aug 1863
5 Aug 1863
Injury to Mark Dent at Minmi colliery.
31 Dec 1870First mention of W T Dent in the newspaper, as Secretrary of the Lambton Mechanics' and Miners' Institute.
7 Aug 1873W T Dent recites his poem "Lambton Bleatings".
16 Aug 1873
14 Aug 1873
Death of Sarah Dent aged 50, wife of Mark, mother of William.
21 Feb 1874
20 Feb 1874
Meeting of Miners at Lambton. W T Dent is secretary.
17 Jun 1874W T Dent appointed as the Lambton reporter and agent for The Miners' Advocate and Northumberland Recorder newspaper.
29 Aug 1874"REGISTRY OFFICE OPEN DAILY, near the English Church, for the registration of births, deaths, and marriages. W. T. DENT, Asistant District Registrar."
12 Dec 1874First reference to W T Dent being a reporter for the Miners' Advocate.
4 Sep 1875"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."
26 Feb 1876
19 Feb 1876
Testimonial to Mr. Mark Dent.
10 Jul 1877W T Dent the only nominee for the council seat left vacant by the resignation of Alderman Abel.
6 Feb 1879W T Dent nominates for re-election to Lambton Council.
13 Aug 1880W T Dent resignes his position as Lambton correspondent and agend for the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate.
31 Oct 1882
27 Oct 1882
Death of Mark Dent.
13 Feb 1883The death of Mark Dent is reported back in his native land, in The Newcastle Weekly Chronicle of 23 December 1882.
15 Sep 1896
14 Sep 1896
"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."
15 Oct 1901
14 Oct 1901
Death of William Thomas Dent.
17 Oct 1901
16 Oct 1901
Funeral of W T Dent.

New Lambton Mechanics’ Institute

In 19th century coal mining towns, reading materials were an unaffordable luxury for many. For this reason many townships established a Mechanics’ Institute, where for a small annual subscription members could borrow books, newspapers and periodicals.

In New Lambton at a public meeting in September 1891, a committee was elected to establish a Mechanics Institute. Initially they used a small room in the council chambers, but were eager to obtain their own building. In 1899, after considering five possible sites, the committee applied to the government for land in Regent St opposite the public school. Their request was granted and construction commenced in April 1901. The building opened in September and Ralph Snowball’s photo justly recognises the substantial fund-raising efforts of the women in the committee.

With a spacious reading room in a new building, membership increased rapidly. When the Hand of Friendship Hotel on Regent St closed in 1906, the Institute purchased the large hall behind the hotel, dismantled it, then re-erected it behind their existing building. The hall was officially opened in April 1909, and for decades following was a well-used venue for social, political, religious, community and family events.

The provision of reading material by the Institute continued, but that role was to change after the formation of Greater Newcastle Council. In 1949 council began negotiations with mechanics’ institutes in Newcastle “with a view to taking them over for the establishment of free libraries.” In New Lambton this offer was tersely rebuffed by the Institute secretary who wrote, “We are in a sound financial position, and giving the residents of this suburb a satisfactory and efficient service.” But the in the long run a paid subscription model could never compete with a free library service. In 1972 council purchased the Institute’s land and constructed New Lambton branch library, opening it in September 1973. The Mechanics’ Institute may be gone from the site, but its function of providing reading material remains in place.

New Lambton Mechanics’ Institute, 21 September 1901. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Hunter Region Library Ref 001 000255.
New Lambton branch library now occupies the site of the Mechanics’ Institute.

The article above was first published in the September 2021 edition of The Local.


What’s in a name?

Mechanics’ Institutes were part of a broad movement of adult education whose origins can be traced back to the School of Arts in Edinburgh in 1821. Similar institutions then burgeoned throughout Britain and the British Empire, and went by many names – School of Arts, Mechanics’ Institute, Literary Institute, Miners’ Institute, and many other variations.

In New Lambton, the name “Mechanics’ Institute” and “School of Arts” was used interchangeably – they were different names for the same organisation. This can be seen in the newspaper reports of the building opening in September 1901, where some newspapers refer to the “School of Arts”, while others refer to it as the “Mechanics’ Institute”.

From about 1927, mentions in the newspapers of the New Lambton Mechanics Institute as an organisation (yearly meetings, activities, reading material) seem to transition to “Literary Institute”, whereas mentions of the “Mechanics Institute”mainly refer to the venue being used by other groups.

Additional Information

Within a year of the establishment of the Mechanics’ Institute as an organisation, there was an eagerness to press on to obtain land and a building for their use. At a public meeting on 29 August 1892, Thomas Croudace spoke, saying that …

“Respecting Mechanics’ Institutes, he remembered the time when such institutions took the place of public schools; but although the schools were now plentiful, yet the necessity for Mechanics’ Institutes still existed, as education did not cease with youth, but went on and on until the day of death. He urged the addition of debating classes and other adjuncts to fit and prepare members for their position, as citizens, politically and socially. He would also like to see the ladies become members. Mr. Alexander Brown had kindly offered them £100 to purchase a lot of land as a site for their projected building, and efforts were being made to obtain endowment from the Government on this amount towards erecting a building. He urged upon all present, who were able, to become members and swell the numbers, which would substantially assist the committee. By educating themselves and their young people they were building up a great nation, and very often their greatest men rose from the ranks of the working classes; and he earnestly requested all to unite in promulgating the great agency of education.

Mr. T. WALKER, MP, next addressed the meeting in regard to the necessity for Mechanics’ Institutes, saying that …

“These opened up avenues for future greatness which were incalculable, and he hoped all would embrace the opportunity, as there was no better companion than a good book. He referred to the possibility of having enjoyable intercourse with the ancient writers who were models to the 19th century in the way of art. Books of travel, history, adventure, and science in all its phases were all open to them, and should be faithfully perused by them. They should encourage debating, which tended to brighten the mind and sharpen the intellect. The ladies should also join, and they would find the benefits inestimable. Education divided the civilised from the barbarian, and they should always be widening the gulf.”

Despite the initial enthusiasm for a building and the establishment of a building fund, the institutes plans languished for a few years, until a public meeting in August 1899 debated five possible sites, and voted to make application to the government for an allotment in Regent Street, opposite the public school. The request was granted in February 1900.

Portion 1263 of Newcastle Pasturage Reserve.

Construction of the building in Regent St was in progress by April 1901. The construction can be seen in the background of a May 1901 photograph of a flag raising ceremony at New Lambton Public School.

New Lambton Mechanics’ Institute building under construction in May 1901. Living Histories, University of Newcastle.
Advertisement for opening ceremony, 7 September 1901.

The official opening ceremony of the building took place on Saturday 7 September 1901, and was opened by the Hon John Perry, minister for Education. In the speeches at the opening, Mr. George Watson, the institute secretary gave a brief history of the movement to erect their own building …

“Having commenced a move in 1892, the committee stuck together through trying times, and aided by the ladies, who arranged concerts and socials, together with a bazaar, the substantial sum of £205 was got together for the purpose of erecting the building on the site granted by the Minister for Lands. The tender accepted was one by Mr. William Knight, whose price was £324, but the extras brought the total cost up to £445 12s 6d. The committee wished to publicly thank all who had contributed towards the building fund. Mr. E. G. Yeomans was the architect for the building, which is of wood. The main room is a commodious one, measuring 40ft x 25ft. The side rooms at the entrance, one to be used as a games room, and the other as a library, each measure 18ft x 12ft, the lighting throughout being provided by kerosene lamps of great brilliancy.”

The photos of the Mechanics Institute by Ralph Snowball in September 1901 are listed on the cover of Box 263 of his glass plate negatives. It is from here that we know that the people posed in the photo are the committee of the School of Arts/Mechanics Institute.

Committee of the New Lambton Mechanics Institute. 21 September 1901. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Living Histories, University of Newcastle.
Reading room of the New Lambton Mechanics Institute. 21 September 1901. Photo by Ralph Snowball. Living Histories, University of Newcastle.

After the Hand of Friendship Hotel closed in 1906, the owners Tooth and Co advertised the sale of the land and buildings in February 1907. One of the buildings for sale was a hall behind the hotel, described as …

“The CENTENARY HALL, 35 x 60, built of iron, and lined throughout, with Stage, Dressing Rooms, and Seating complete.”

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate , 7 November 1907

There were no offers to purchase the hall initially, but November 1907, the Mechanics’ Institute voted to acquire the building, with the purchase …

“… subject to removal … to its new site”

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 5 December 1907

Specifications for the removal of the hall were approved in January 1909, and the hall was rebuilt at the rear of the existing institute building in March 1909. A ball was held in the new hall on 23 April 1909 to celebrate the official opening in its new location.

In December 1922, the block of land where the Mechanics’ Institute was located was officially dedicated to the trustees of the Institute and a land title granted in Vol-Fol 3444-116. How is this different from the gazetted “reservation” of land in 1900? I’m no legal expert in land conveyancing, but it seems that the “reservation” of land in 1900 was more of a temporary allocation of land by the Crown for a particular purpose, with the Crown retaining ownership, whereas the 1922 “dedication” was a permanent allocation, with ownership of the land being granted to the institutes’ trustees.

Vol-Fol 3444-116, page 1. New Lambton Literary Institute.
1944 aerial photograph showing New Lambton Mechanics’ Institute building on Regent St, and the hall behind it that was moved from the Hand of Friendship Hotel site.

The Mechanics’ Institute facilities were used over the years for a huge variety of community and social functions, such as …

  • Scouts
  • Australian Labour Party meetings
  • Pensioners group
  • Happiness Club
  • New Lambton Public School Parents & Citizens
  • Cricket club
  • Protestant Federation
  • IOOF Lodge
  • Loyal Orange Lodge
  • Gymnasium club
  • Soccer club
  • Public School performances
  • Chess club

One of the more memorable uses of the institute came in July 1953, when severe cracking of the boys classrooms at the public school due to mine subsidence, meant that the students had to be moved, with two of the classes were relocated to the Mechanic’s institute. The damaged school building was demolished in March 1954 and new classrooms erected in its place.

The rise of free public libraries

The transition from Schools of Arts and Mechanics Institutes providing reading materials, to free public libraries is eloquently dealt with in a 4 January 1949 article in the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate. In an article entitled “Newcastle rises from the book cemetery”, Eric Sparke writes in part …

An American expert who inspected Australia’s library facilities in 1934 said, justly, that our libraries were “cemeteries of old and forgotten books.” Since the decline of the once vigorous Schools of Arts and Mechanics’ Institutes at the turn of the century, Australia’s progress to “free” libraries has been slow – painfully slow.

The Australian must be made to realise that the free public library is not just a collection of books for avid fiction readers and erudite scholars. The scheme aims to provide books for all – the apprentice fitter and turner, the business man, the housewife.

An English migrant told me he was appalled at two things in Newcastle when he came here to live – 6 o’clock -closing and the absence of public libraries. It was no sublime-ridiculous touch when he linked beer with books. On the contrary, he proved that libraries had become so much part of his everyday life that he expected to have them on tap, like his beer, when he wanted them.

Newcastle Pubic Library, with a staff of 13, has branches at Waratah and Wallsend. Others will follow as soon as practicable. Waratah branch has 1260 adult members and 1700 children. It was opened in September. Wallsend, open only three weeks, has 700 adults and 1000 children. As yet, the main library, which will be built into a lending and reference centre of which the city will be proud, is cramped in a small room in the City Hall.

With the building of the library wing as the first objective of the Cultural Centre Appeal, the day when Newcastle’s reference library will be open to John Citizen is at least in sight.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 4 January 1949.
Vol-Fol 3444-116, page 2. Ownership passes to Council of the City of Newcastle on 22 July 1972.
New Lambton branch library was officially opened 17 September 1973.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
4 Feb 1891
3 Feb 1891
Joseph Oldham, standing for municipal election states that "fe was also working for a Mechanics' Institute, and provision was made for a start in a room in the new council chambers."
28 Aug 1891
26 Aug 1891
New Lambton Council meeting: "Alderman ERRINGTON referred to the necessity for the establishment of a mechanics' institute in the borough. Alderman WILLIAMS moved, That the Acting-Mayor convene a public meeting of the ratepayers to discuss the question."
4 Sep 1891
3 Sep 1891
Public meeting in New Lambton Council Chambers, to form a Mechanics' Institute. The first committee is elected. "Such interest was manifested in the movement that there remains not the slightest doubt but that a strong institute will shortly be established in the borough."
11 Sep 1891
9 Sep 1891
New Lambton council meeting, correspondence received "From Mr. J. W. Oldham, hon. secretary of the Mechanics' Institute, asking for the use of the small room as a reading-room and library, and the council chamber for committee meetings." Request granted.
12 Oct 1891New Lambton Mechanics' Institute opened. Trustees appointed: T. Croudace, J. Thomas, T. Hitchcock, and G. Errington.
16 Mar 1892Meeting of the members of the New Lambton Mechanics' Institute "to consider the offer of Mr. Alex. Brown of a sum of money to be expended in purchasing an allotment of land as a site for a suitable building."
30 Aug 1892
29 Aug 1892
"A TEA and social in connection with the New Lambton Mechanics and Miners' Institute … in Lathlean's Temperance Hall" followed by a public meeting in the council chambers, in support of the Institute obtaining their own building.
13 Jul 1893
11 Jul 1893
"Half-yearly meeting of New Lambton Mechanics' Institute … members now numbered 28 … sum of £9 14s banked to the credit of the building fund … the matter of obtaining the consent of the Government to resume an allotment as a site for an institute building was in the hands of Mr. T. Croudace and Mr. N. Melville, M.P."
22 Nov 1899
20 Nov 1899
Public meeting in connection with the establishing of a Mechanics' Institute. "Considerable discussion took place over the selection of a suitable site for a building. Five situations were proposed, and after an, exhaustive vote had been taken, it was finally decided to make application to the Minister for Lands for an allotment in Regent-street, next to Williams' property; this positon being considered as a very central one."
3 Feb 1900Portion 1263 of Newcastle Pasturage Reserve gazetted as a site for the New Lambton Mechanics' Institute.
7 Sep 1901Advertisement for the opening of the New Lambton Mechanics' Institute building.
9 Sep 1901
7 Sep 1901
Official opening of New Lambton Mechanic's Institute building in Regent Street.
2 Feb 1907Advertisement for the sale of the "Centenary Hall", the hall behind the former Hand of Friendship Hotel on the corner of Regent St and Russell St. "The CENTENARY HALL, 35 x 60, built of iron, and lined throughout, with Stage, Dressing Rooms, and Seating complete."
7 Nov 1907
6 Nov 1907
"A special meeting of the members of the New Lambton Mechanics' Institute was held last evening, for the purpose of dealing with a recommendation from the committee regarding the purchase of a hall, the property of Tooth and Co. Mr. W. Coomer considered the purchase would be a good investment, as the hall would provide ample accommodation for the purpose of holding socials and entertainments." The motion to purchase was carried unanimously.
11 Nov 1907Regarding the Centenary Hall, recently purchased … "The hall will remain in its present position for the time being, but the intention is to have it re-erected on the land at the rear of the institute fronting Alma-lane."
5 Dec 1907"Some time ago the trustees of the institute paid a deposit on the purchase of the Centenary Hall, subject to removal, and the bazaar is being held to obtain funds to pay the balance of the purchase money before removing the building to its new site."
15 Jan 1909
14 Jan 1909
Half yearly meeting of the New Lambton Mechanics' Institute: "The chairman stated that it was the intention of the members in the near future to remove the hall to the site of the institute, which would then be a valuable addition to the property, and which he hoped would increase the membership. Specifications, as drawn up by the committee for the removal of the hall, were read by the secretary, and it was resolved to have the work proceeded with as soon as possible."
26 Mar 1909"A meeting of the New Lambton Mechanics' Institute committee was held in the reading room on Tuesday evening for the purpose of taking into consideration the most suitable way of celebrating the re-opening of the hall, which has been removed from its previous site, and is now being rebuilt at the rear of the institute."
26 Apr 1909
23 Apr 1909
A ball to celebrate the opening of the hall recently moved to the Institute's site.
8 Dec 1922Portion 1263 of Newcastle Pasturage Reserve dedicated as the site for a Literary Institute.
29 Aug 1935
28 Aug 1935
In a New Lambton Council meeting discussing a possible new Town Hall. Alderman McLuckie notes that "The Mechanics' Institute is an eyesore."
4 Jan 1949"Newcastle Rises From The Book Cemetery", an article by ERIC SPARKE on the rise of the free public movement in Australia and in Newcastle.
16 Mar 1949"Newcastle Council decided to re-open negotiations with schools of arts in Newcastle with a view to taking them over for the establishment of free libraries."
13 Apr 1949Letter from G.MOORE, Secretary, New Lambton Literary Institute, in response to Newcastle Council's offer to take over schools of arts in the suburbs in order to provide free libraries … "The trustees have not agreed to meet the council on this matter. We are happy to state that we are in a sound financial position, and giving the residents of this suburb a satisfactory and efficient service."
26 Apr 1949"The Lord-Mayor (Ald. Quinlan) was rebuffed today by Carrington School of Arts Committee which informed him that its members were 'quite happy as they were.' New Lambton School of Arts Committee also told the Lord Mayor that it had considered his proposal and 'was not interested'."
25 Jul 1953"Following the removal of about 240 children yesterday from the 74-year-old boys' building at the school because of cracks in the walls, an officer of the Mines Department said there were old mine workings under that area. Two classes are being transferred to the girls' department. two to the Literary Institute Hall opposite the school, one to the infants' department and one, with its teacher, to New Lambton South School."
16 Aug 1968Appointment of Trustees to New Lambton Literary Institute: Edward Lewis, Oscar William Hyland.

East Lambton Colliery

Often historical photographs feature a successful person, event or building. But sometimes an old photograph is a snapshot of failure. Such is the case with the East Lambton Colliery. Somewhat confusingly this colliery was not located in East Lambton, but in New Lambton (near present day Novocastrian Park), on land owned by the Waratah Coal Company.

The mine was worked under the tribute system, where a large mining company having extracted all the easily won coal, would lease their mine to a smaller third party. The lease holder would then attempt to make a profit from the remaining coal by cutting costs, usually by reducing miners’ wages. Depending on where your political sympathies lay, this was viewed as either a good or evil arrangement.

Because of the constant need to cut costs, collieries run under the tribute system tended to face constant troubles. East Lambton was no exception. In its short life between 1888 and 1894 there were disputes about unpaid wages, court cases over subcontractors, and arguments about leases and ownership.

The mine also laboured under physical difficulties, with issues of flooding and having to dig shafts through harder than expected rock. All this led to a rather shambolic and perilous workplace. A close inspection of Ralph Snowball’s photo shows an untidy scene of rubbish, machinery and materials strewn all over the place. There was a fatality in 1891 when a large metal pipe fell down a shaft and struck a miner.

The colliery proved to be unprofitable and closed in January 1895, and the land in the area remained vacant and undeveloped for the next 50 years. Following World War 2, new housing subdivisions quickly and completely covered all trace of the former troubled colliery.

The legacy of the troubled East Lambton pit can perhaps best be summed up in the final words of the Newcastle Herald and Miners’ Advocate report on its abandonment …

“The closing of the colliery will not be felt.”

East Lambton Colliery in 1892. Photo by Ralph Snowball. NSW State Archives and Records.
Suburban serenity now covers the site of the troubled East Lambton Colliery. © 2020 Google. Image Landsat / Copernicus Image © 2021 Maxar Technologies

The article above was first published in the February 2021 edition of The Local.


Additional Information

The Tribute System

The tribute system of working mines and the attitude of the miners’ union to it, is nicely summarised in this 1887 article from The Daily Telegraph …

At a special meeting of miners’ delegates held to-day, at which 14 lodges were represented, it was decided to hold an aggregate meeting of the miners of this district at Waratah on the 16th inst,. to take into consideration the tribute system and other grievances existing in this district. This is owing to the unsatisfactory reply given by Mr Binney, secretary of the Associated Coalowners, to the request of the officers of the Miners’ Union for a conference with the masters’ executive. The tribute system, which the miners consider is a growing evil in the district, consists in the colliery proprietors letting out portions of their estate to persons other than themselves, who endeavor to cut down the price paid for hewing coal at the associated collieries. The miners consider the system detrimental to their interest, and look upon the masters as in directly, if not directly, responsible for reducing the wages.

The Daily Telegraph, 8 July 1887.

Colliery Location

The location of the East Lambton Colliery was difficult to pin down, as I have not found any map that unambiguously identifies the site. I have been able to ascertain the location by drawing conclusions from a number of separate pieces of information, in particular, information on land sales and ownership. The key clues are:

  1. The mine was located in the New Lambton Municipality. (See notice about council rates being in arrears in November 1893.)
  2. In September 1893 the mine was on land owned by the Waratah Coal Company.
  3. In May 1896 the Caledonian Coal Company unsuccessfully appealed the municipal rates for “enclosed land, site of the old East Lambton Colliery”, indicating they were the current owners.
  4. The pit was sunk “for the purpose of working a block of coal left by the New Lambton Company.

In the Historical Lands Records Viewer, Vol-Fol 947-59A shows an area of 357 acres in New Lambton area, owned by the Waratah Coal Company in 1889.

Overlaying this area (yellow) and the outline of New Lambton Municipality (cyan) into Google Earth, shows us the intersection of the two areas where the East Lambton Colliery must be located.

The image below shows intersecting area in green. To the west, outlined in white are the mining leases of the New Lambton Coal Company.

From Vol-Fol 947-59A, following the chain of title leads to Vol-Fol 1096-70 and 1485-171, which shows a sale in July 1896 of

  • a roughly triangular piece of land, on the border between Waratah Coal Company mining lease and New Lambton Coal Company mining lease
  • plus the railway easement for the Raspberry Gully line
  • plus a thin railway easement to the triangular block of land
From Vol-Fol 1096-70
Vol-Fol 1485-171

The shape of the triangular block plus the railway easement can still be seen 48 years later in a 1944 aerial photograph.

Close up of triangular area of land. There is round feature in the middle which might be the sunken depression of the former shaft.
Purchase of land in 1896 by Caledonian Coal Co, overlaid into Google Earth.

The location of the triangular area of land resolves what at first appears to be contradiction in the newspaper reports – that the mine was on Waratah Coal Company land, but extracting New Lambton Company coal. Being on the border, the surface operations and shaft were on Waratah Coal Company land, but would give access to New Lambton Company coal by tunnelling westwards. This also explains the reference on 27 July 1889 that flooding of the workings “may find its way into the Lambton Company’s workings”, because the Lambton Company workings were to the west of the New Lambton Company workings.

This site also matches the 1892 photograph, in which we can see the wooded hill (now Blackbutt Reserve) of the Sottish Australian Mining Company’s Lambton mineral lease in the background, and a rail line in the foreground.

There is one slight anomaly in the data placing the East Lambton Colliery in this location – the Caledonian Company’s appeal against Municipal rates was in May 1896, but the transfer of land to them is dated July 1896. My guess is that the rates were in arrears, and that the Caledonian Company had to pay the rates owing before the land purchase was allowed to proceed.

The rapid suburban development in post World War 2 years in the area of the former East Lambton Colliery, is starkly seen when comparing a 1944 aerial photograph (left) with a 1954 aerial photograph (right).

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
4 Jul 1888"WANTED, a BLACKSMITH, used to colliery work. Apply to WILLIAMS & GRIFFITHS, East Lambton Colliery."
28 Aug 1888East Lambton Colliery is being worked under tribute to the New Lambton proprietors by Mr. M. Yates and party "who are also contractors for supplying the G. N. Railway with coal for the mail and passenger trains."
27 Jul 1889"Messrs. Griffiths and Williams, lessees of the East Lambton Colliery, have been for some time past engaged in pumping the water from a shaft adjacent to their mine, and had it nearly cleared out, but the heavy rains have entirely flooded it again, which is a serious loss to the firm. A pitfall also was caused near the main road, which has allowed the water to flow more freely into the old workings of Mr. Yates' colliery, and it is the opinion of a well-known miner that this water may find its way into the Lambton Company's workings."
3 Sep 1889"TENDERS will be received up to September 7th, for REMOVAL OF TWO (2) COAL SCREENS and REERECTING. Plans and particulars apply T. G. GRIFFITHS, Colliery Manager, East Lambton Coal Company, New Lambton."
30 Oct 1889"John Prout sued Isaac Robinson for the sum of £7 10s as wages for labour done. Defendant admitted the debt, but alleged his inability to pay until he received payment for certain work done in sinking a shaft at East Lambton Colliery."
9 Dec 1889
6 Dec 1889
Court cases involving the East Lambton Colliery - unpaid wages, wrongful dismissal.
20 Jan 1890Mining rules for East Lambton Colliery published in Government Gazette.
15 Feb 1890"For some considerable time past Mr. T. G. Griffiths has been engaged driving in the East Lambton colliery towards the old workings of the Waratah Company, in order to tap the large accumulation of water therein, and a few days ago most successfully succeeded in his undertaking. The result will be that a large quantity of coal will soon be obtainable from both Waratah and New Lambton collieries."
3 Jan 1891
2 Jan 1891
Fatality in the old Blakey Shaft, being reopened as an airshaft for the East Lambton Colliery.
5 Jan 1891Inquest into the fatality at the Blakey shaft.
1 Feb 1892"A dispute has occurred at the East Lambton Mine between the manager and miners in regard to the remuneration for work."
6 Feb 1892East Lambton Colliery now under tribute to D. Fairfull, J. McReth, W. Bunn, and B. Austin, from Mr Griffith.
30 Mar 1892East Lambton Colliery was always teetering on the brink of bankruptcy … "ON FRIDAY, the first day of April, 1892, at noon, unless the warrant of fieri facias herein be previously satisfied, the Sheriff will cause to be sold by public auction at the East Lambton Colliery, The PLANT, &c., of a Colliery, comprising Coal Waggons, Pumps, Pit Horses, &c., &c."
2 Apr 1892
1 Apr 1892
"The East Lambton Colliery was sold by auction, by command of the Supreme Court, yesterday, for the sum of £400, Mr. Johnstone, of South Wallsend, being the purchaser."
9 Apr 1892"The trouble at East Lambton Colliery is not yet settled. Mr. Griffith, despite the sale of the colliery to Mr. Johnston, claims ownership. While the parties are fighting for their right to the colliery the miners are idle and unable to get the hard-earned money due to them."
13 Sep 1892"THE East Lambton Colliery started yesterday. About 20 men were employed"
7 Aug 1893"East Lambton pit was sunk about five years ago for the purpose of working a block of coal left by the New Lambton Company. Almost since the day a start was made to put down the shaft there has been a continuance of disputes and no end of trouble, and the present is not the first time the workmen have had to wait for their money."
15 Aug 1893"The miners of the East Lambton pit have not received the pay due to them on the 4th instant, and have instructed a solicitor to take legal steps for its recovery." The Miner's Association, being opposed to the tribute system, were not very sympathetic towards the unpaid miners, viewing them as strike breakers.
29 Aug 1893The bankruptcy Sequestration Order made in 1892 against proprietors of East Lambton Colliery (Griffiths, Huntley, Trickett, Russell, Campbell) was annulled, "the costs, charges, and expenses of Lancelot Threlkeld Lloyd" having been paid.
26 Sep 1893"Operations at the East Lambton Colliery are once more suspended …"

The Waratah Company having leased the mine to John Johnston of Cardiff colliery, who then sub-let the mine to others, and then a disagreement arose with the Waratah Company, who then locked the workers out.

"Matters at the colliery have been from a public standpoint in a greatly complicated state for a considerable time, and it is a most difficult question to solve as to who has the right to the colliery."
6 Oct 1893
4 Oct 1893
At a New Lambton Council meeting attention was called "to the dangerous state of the enclosure of the old Blakey shaft. Children made a practice of going inside and throwing stones down the shaft." The council decided to "write to the lessees of East Lambton Colliery, asking them to protect the shaft."
17 Nov 1893
15 Nov 1893
At New Lambton Council meeting a letter was received "from Messrs. Sparke and Millard, in regard to recovery of the East Lambton Colliery rates."
9 Apr 1894"THE Goods and Chattels of the above Defendant, Thomas S. Huntley, at the East Lambton Colliery, will be sold by public auction on MONDAY"
25 Jan 1895"EAST LAMBTON COLLIERY. This colliery has been abandoned. The pumps and rails are removed from the pit. The machinery is being taken to pieces and removed to South Waratah Colliery. During the past year only a few men were employed, and the last few weeks only three or four men were engaged. The seam worked in the pit was very hard, which, aided by other difficulties, did not allow of it being remunerative. The colliery was let to different tribute parties. The closing of the colliery will not be felt."
14 May 1896At the New Lambton Municipal Appeals Court, rates were confirmed for "Caledonian Coal Company, enclosed land, site of the old East Lambton Colliery, annual value £10."

The Edden political dynasty

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

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

Alfred Edden (1850 – 1930)

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

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

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

Alfred Edden junior (1882 – 1954)

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

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

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

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

Arthur Ernest Edden (1902 – 1971)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Picnic Homecoming

This month’s photograph, taken at the border between Lambton and New Lambton looking along Howe Street invites the question “Why is a large group of well-dressed adults and children walking along the tram track towards Lambton?” The answer turns out to be related to transport, but not to trams.

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.

Residents agitated for the return of a passenger train service, and in 1874 the Waratah Coal Company gave permission for the Government to run a passenger train to Lambton on the railway to their new coal workings. This train operated on Saturdays and public holidays only, with pick-up and set-down at Betty Bunn’s crossing, located at the bottom end of Acacia Avenue where it meets Griffiths Road. The service ceased in 1887 when the tramline through Lambton began operation.

Afterwards the Lambton Colliery railway was occasionally used to convey passengers to special events. One example was the Lambton Public School annual picnic day on Wednesday 25 February 1903. At 9am a train of seven cars left Lambton colliery with 500 children and 400 adults on board and headed for Toronto. On arrival there were refreshments, sports competitions, musical entertainments, and Ralph Snowball was on hand to take group photographs.

At day’s end the picnickers returned by train to Lambton and disembarked near the bridge over the tram line. In the fading light of a summer’s evening as they headed for their homes, Snowball took a final photograph, capturing one of the last occasions a passenger train arrived at Lambton.

Heading home after Lambton Public School Picnic in 1903. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
Hobart Rd and Howe St in 2020.

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


Additional Information

Photo date

In the article published in The Local, I stated without qualification that the Snowball photo was taken on 25 February 1903 on the occasion of the Lambton Public School Picnic. It is important to note that the photo has no direct attribution to this date and event, but this conclusion is based on indirect evidence. Behind this story was an interesting case of how to locate and date a photograph.

When the University of Newcastle Cultural Collections first uploaded Snowball’s photo to their Flickr site, somehow it was mistakenly captioned “View from a train, Singleton”. In 2013 both John Shoebridge and Robert Watson identified that the scene was Lambton, and not Singleton. Robert in particular confirmed the location as being Lambton by comparing a number of houses on the top of the hill with another old photo of Lambton.

Houses near Dent St on mis-captioned photo.
Houses near Dent St, Lambton.

In determining the date of the photo, back in 2014 Robert noted that there was an electric light pole, which meant the photo was taken in or after 1890, when Lambton first installed electric lighting.

Electric light pole on Howe St.

The tram line in the photo is only a single track, and as the duplication of this portion of the tram route was only opened in July 1911, this indicates that the photo is in the time range 1890 to 1911. Using this information, and noting a similarity with another photo of a dressed up crowd in Lambton Park, I made a guess back in 2014 that the photo might have been on the occasion of the celebrations to inaugurate the electric light scheme in September 1890. Not an unreasonable guess, but as it turns out, wrong.

The next step in unravelling the mystery came six years later, when Robert revisited the photo and made two key observations.

  1. The people in the photo are almost all women and children, with very few men.
  2. A couple of the children are waving flags.

I did a careful count of the people in the photo and found that adult women outnumbered the adult men, three to one. This would indicate that the event being captured took place on a weekday, when the majority of men would be at work. The large number of children would then suggest that this is a school event. This is supported by looking at one of the flags being held aloft, which appears to be the NSW State flag, suggesting that the event was connected with the Lambton Public School.

Child waving flag.
NSW State flag.

Prompted by Robert’s observations I then made a third key observation – that the crowd in the photo is not random or dispersing. With one lone exception there are no people in the side streets. Everyone is heading in the same direction. This would indicate that the people are moving as a group, having come from a particular point and heading towards a particular destination. This would be consistent with the idea that the group has just disembarked from a train on the colliery railway and are heading home to Lambton.

Given that the crowd is well dressed I made a guess that the event was connected with a picnic, and along with the three key observations already noted, I searched in Trove in the known date range for the keywords “Lambton train school picnic”, which immediately revealed a very likely candidate for the occasion – the Lambton Public School picnic on 25 February 1903.

One final and compelling confirmation of this dating, came from Newcastle Library’s Hunter Photo Bank collection. Knowing that the collection had quite a number of Ralph Snowball picnic photos, I searched the collection and found a photo that Ralph had taken at the school picnic at Toronto on that day. It is quite probable that Snowball travelled with the school group in the chartered train, and took a photograph of the disembarked passengers from the train carriage up on the embankment before the rail line traversed the bridges over Hobart Rd and Howe St.

Group photo from Lambton Public School picnic at Toronto, 25 February 1903. Ralph Snowball, Hunter Photo Bank.

There is one other documented occasion, on 23 November 1900, when Lambton Public School travelled by train to a picnic at Toronto. It may be that Snowball’s photo was from this earlier picnic, but given the Hunter Photo Bank picnic photo, I think it much more likely that it is of the February 1903 picnic.

The Waratah Company Rail LINE Passenger Service

Passenger train services to and from Lambton on the Waratah Coal Company’s railway commenced on Monday 25 April 1874, with a special train on the Queen’s birthday public holiday.  Regular weekly Saturday evening services then commenced the following Saturday 30 May 1874. By March 1875, falling patronage meant that services were reduced to alternate Saturdays. The last passenger train on the line ran on Saturday 19 August 1887.

Passenger pick-up and set-down was at a location known as “Betty Bunn’s Crossing”, which was the point where the road between Lambton and Waratah crossed the coal company’s railway.

1906 map showing the Waratah and Lambton coal company railways, annotated with passenger service embarkation locations. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

I have never seen an old map with Betty Bunn’s Crossing marked on it, but all the evidence of many newspaper articles points to it being the crossing of the Waratah coal rail line with the Lambton to Waratah road. Another reasonably clear indication of the location is the death notice for Thomas George Griffith who died “at Betty Bunn’s Crossing” in 1918.  The 1906 map shows his property adjacent to the crossing.

Death notice for Thomas George Griffith, of Betty Bunn’s Crossing, Lambton. 16 May 1918
Property location of T. G. Griffith, Lambton
Notice in Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate, 19 Aug 1887, advising of discontinuance of passenger train services to Waratah Tunnels near Lambton.
Railway Timetables printed on 19 Aug 1887 and 20 Aug 1887, showing the dropping of the fortnightly Waratah Tunnels service.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
12 Dec 1862
9 Dec 1862
Passing of "Morehead and Young Railway Act" to enable the construction of the Lambton Colliery railway.
25 Aug 1863By August 1863 the Lambton colliery railway was almost completed : "… the Waratah and Lambton Collieries, whose branch lines are already formed, only requiring some further slight addition being made to their permanent ways."
6 Oct 1866"A meeting of miners was held at Pit Town, for the purpose of expressing the disapprobation of themselves and the inhabitants of Lambton and Pit Town generally, at the recent raising of the passenger's fares on the Lambton railway from 6d. to 11d. The meeting resolved that a deputation of four wait upon Mr. Croudace, the colliery manager, and ask him to represent to the Government the following requests, namely: 1. That the fares be lowered to 6d ; 2. That return tickets be issued on the railway ; 3. That a carriage in lieu of the present break van be substituted for passengers."
3 Sep 1867"Within the past few days a memorial has been taken round the city, to which the names of a large number of the inhabitants have been attached, for presentation to the Minister for Works, with reference to having a regular passenger train to run between this city and the various coal mines, on a Saturday, for the convenience of the people residing in those localities who are desirous of visiting Newcastle."
13 Nov 1869Call for a passenger train on the Lambton railway … "Why not, in order to give the enterprise a fair chance, have a thorough special train for Saturday afternoons, to leave Old Lambton (which would suit the requirements of the neighbourhood of Dark Creek and New Lambton, too) say, at, from four to half-past four o'clock."

The letter writer also notes the bad state of the roads … "Lambtonians have to wend their way betimes up to their knees in mud through a nasty road, extending over a distance of from two to five miles, to reach the Government six o'clock train at Waratah, which is by no means a pleasant undertaking, particularly after a hard day's work, and which few, from mere choice, care about tackling, I can tell you. "
9 Dec 1871
5 Sep 1871
Public meeting “to establish a goods and passenger traffic on the Lambton Colliery railway.”
16 Mar 1872In regard to "a petition from the inhabitants of Lambton, praying that a goods and passenger train may be run to Newcastle" the Commissoner of Railways writes that "by a special arrangement with Messrs. Morehead and Young, a passenger train used to run to Lambton, but in January, '67, they asked to be relieved ; this was consented to, and the traffic then ceased. I cannot, therefore, reintroduce the practice without, the consent of Messrs. Morehead and Young."
19 Aug 1873
16 Aug 1873
It appears that there are occasional passenger services on the Lambton line on pay Saturday's … "This being pay-night, the principal street in the city was more thronged than we have seen it for a considerable time past. The various trains from Wallsend and Lambton brought in a large number of passengers, and these added much to fill our main street."
7 Feb 1874"Here is the case of the people living at Lambton and New Lambton ; and so far as railway communication is concerned, they are completely isolated, although when the pits are at work they have from four to five trains per day running to each of the collieries; but being private ones, and the proprietors refusing to allow passenger traffic on them."
21 Feb 1874
28 Feb 1874
A one-off experiment of a passenger service to be tried. "The committee appointed to agitate for a train to run between Newcastle and Lambton have at last succeeded, after great exertions and through strenuous efforts … A special passenger train will run from Newcastle to Old Lambton Crossing on Saturday night, the 28th February, 1874. The train will leave Lambton for Newcastle on or about 5 o'clock p.m., and returning from Newcastle to Lambton on or about 11 p.m. The fares will be 9d. for the return ticket and sixpence for the single fare."
6 Mar 1874
28 Feb 1874
"A Saturday night train commenced to run from Lambton to Newcastle on the 28th ultimo, and over 500 return tickets were taken, besides single ones; the brass band accompanied the excursionists, amounting in number to about 900. "
7 Mar 1874
28 Feb 1874
"Saturday last was a new era in Lambtonian history. The passenger train, as announced, arrived here about 4 p.m. with fourteen carriages and the van, and long before the appointed time for starting almost every available seat was occupied. We have heard that there were more than 500 tickets sold. If this train is to be permanent, as we hope it will, there will have to be some other arrangement for giving out the tickets, for it will never do for people to have to climb up into the guard's van, as was the case on Saturday."

"This train is a fine thing for the business people in Newcastle, but quite the reverse for our town's business folk, who are considerably down in the mouth about so much ready money going out of their hands … the next step ought to be to agitate for a goods train to be run here."
14 Mar 1874
12 Mar 1874
Newcastle Chronicle's report of a public meeting to discuss getting a passenger train service to Lambton. An allegation is made that business people agitated against aregular train service as it would hurt their trade.
Mr W Goodhew “observed that the Lambton line was a good and convenient one no doubt, but when they were allowed the use of it on one night, and deprived of it the next what dependence could be placed on it. He moved that application be made to the directors of the Waratah Coal Company for permission to run the train on their line of railway to the new tunnel, to Betty Bunn's crossing.”
14 Mar 1874
12 Mar 1874
The Newcastle Morning Herald's report of the public meeting regarding a passenger train service to Lambton. The report notes that "Mr. Croudace, the Manager, has granted permission for a passenger train to be run from here to Newcastle on the demonstration day and also for a Saturday night's train for four Saturdays ; and if it proves payable, the train will run regularly." Despite this promising sign, a regular train service on the Lambton line never eventuated.
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."
4 Apr 1874"A meeting of parties interested in the Lambton train movement was held at the Lambton crossing, Mr. T. Hardy in the chair, when it was determined to send a deputation to the Minister for Works, to impress upon him the necessity of running a passenger train to this town at once."
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."
18 Jun 1874"Nothing further has transpired here with reference to the granting of a passenger train [on the Lambton line], and many are now of opinion that it will not be allowed, as the one from the Waratah Tunnels is so central."
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.
17 Mar 1875"I believe that it is also intended to make another effort towards getting a passenger train on the Lambton line, and with some chance of success. Mr. Croudace has been heard to express his willingness to allow it, and no doubt the Government will have seen by this time the fallacy of running the train to the Waratah New Tunnels. As a proof that they have seen their mistake the train is now only run on alternate Saturdays, and then with very few passengers, the majority of the people preferring to walk to Waratah station or down the line to Hamilton rather than go to the new tunnels, which is very little nearer."
22 Sep 1875
18 Sep 1875
A public meeting to petition the Governemnt "asking them to construct a branch line of railway from the Great Northern, through Lambton, and thence to Wallsend."
"It was one of the anomalies of the coal-mining district of Newcastle that a line of railway came into the centre of each township, and yet the residents could not travel on these lines at all, or they did so as a favour, granted by the coal companies, which they could withdraw at any time."

The movement pushing for this railway never gained momentum. Instead, in the next decade the push was for a tram line rather than a train line to Wallsend.
28 Apr 1876The possibility of running a special passenger train on Lambton line to take patrons to see a performance of “Little Nell” at the Victoria Theatre is discussed. "I am sure that Mr. Croudace would allow a train to run on his railway for this purpose. He has obliged Mr. Bennett in this way before and would do so again."
4 Jan 1877
1 Jan 1877
A rather tongue-in-cheek one sentence report of a minor incident on the Waratah Tunnels line … "The gates on the Waratah Railway were closed when the Passenger train was coming up from Newcastle on New Year's night, but the engine opened them without a key."
27 Feb 1877"The alteration in time of the Pay-Saturdays' passenger train to the Waratah Company's Tunnel, from 2 o'clock p.m. to 11 o'clock a m., does not meet with the approbation of the public. The housewives especially are dissatisfied with the alteration, as 11 o'clock is too soon for them to leave home, having their domestic duties to attend to."
6 Apr 1880
3 Apr 1880
"On Saturday evening Gordon's 'bus was capsized near Bunn's crossing, when coming from the 10 o'clock train. "
29 Jun 1883"At the last Municipal Council meeting Alderman Thornton very properly drew attention to the want of accommodation, in the shape of a platform, at the Waratah Company's tunnel, for the use of passengers travelling from there to Newcastle on pay Saturdays."
2 May 1885Grievance from a Lambton miner's wife regarding the general uncleanliness of the Waratah tunnel train.
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.
23 Nov 1900
21 Nov 1900
Lambton Public School picnic to Toronto. "About 9 a.m. upwards of 600 children, all nicely dressed in holiday attire, with their flags and banners, presented themselves at the school grounds, and formed a spectacle well worth witnessing. A procession was then formed, and the little ones marched along Elder-street and through the park to the Lambton Colliery railway, where, thanks to the kindness of Mr. T. Croudace in granting the use of the line, a train of seven cars awaited them."
5 Feb 1903Planning meeting for the Lambton Public School picnic. "It was decided to hold the picnic at Toronto, entraining the children at the Lambton Colliery railway, as in the previous year, if Mr. Croudace and Mr. Kitching will permit the train to run on the colliery line."
(The reference to a picnic train "in the previous year" is a little puzzling, as I can find no record of that event. It may be that it is a time-inaccurate reference to the picnic in November 1900, two years previously.)
21 Feb 1903"The annual picnic of the Lambton Public School will be held on Wednesday, the 25th instant. The train will leave Lambton Colliery at 9 a.m., calling at all stations on the way to Toronto. There has been an energetic committee at work for some months, preparing for the event, and it is hoped that the parents will show their appreciation of the good work done by attending in large numbers on that day."
27 Feb 1903
25 Feb 1903
"The annual picnic of the local Public School, took place at Toronto on Wednesday, and was largely attended by the parents and the general public. A train of seven cars left the Lambton Colliery railway at 9 a.m., containing about 500 children and 400 adults … The return journey was made in time to allow the little ones to get home before dark."

The Megalomaniacal Mine Manager Myth

I’ve seen it written before (but I can’t recall where) and seen it again recently, an assertion that Thomas Croudace was a megalomaniacal mine manager who built his house (Lambton Lodge) at the top of the hill so that he could watch his workers go to and from the mine, monitoring their movements.

Apart from this being an unfair and very one-sided representation of Croudace’s character, it’s also a topographical absurdity. The Lambton colliery was in a valley (where Lewis Oval is today) that is not visible from the site of Lambton Lodge. Similarly Lambton township is in a valley, and a large proportion of the  town is not visible from the Lambton Lodge hill 1.6km away.

Google Earth Pro has a neat feature called viewshed analysis, that shades in green areas that are visible from a specified point.  Even from a height 10 metres above the ground at Lambton Lodge, both the township and colliery are hidden from view.

Areas visible from the site of Lambton Lodge.