Church Life, Catholic

In 1863, with no church buildings to meet in, the celebration of the first Christmas in Lambton was a private affair. The only public festivities were of a strictly commercial nature when 120 employees of the Lambton colliery gathered for a dinner on Boxing Day to inaugurate the opening of the mine.

The Scottish Australian Mining Company however was not unmindful of the spiritual needs of the miners and their families, and in the ensuing years supported the establishment of churches with land grants for the erection of church buildings. By 1870 the Church of England, Presbyterians, Primitive Methodists, Welsh Baptists, English Baptists, and Welsh Independents had buildings in Lambton.

The Roman Catholics however, had to travel in to Newcastle to attend church, where the service was held at 11am to allow time to travel in from the suburbs. In 1871 the Catholics erected a small wooden building in De Vitre St, to be used as a school during the week, and as a church on Sundays. The church was solemnly blessed and opened on 19th November 1871.

Two years later the Catholic parish of Lambton was established, stretching from Mayfield to Teralba, and Father James Ryan, a newly ordained Irish priest appointed to the parish. Father Ryan’s labours were soon rewarded, for by 1876 the wooden church in De Vitre St had to be enlarged. With continued growth and an eye to the future, land was acquired in Dickson St in 1892/1893 for a new building, and in 1921 the current brick church of St John the Evangelist was constructed.

In New Lambton, St Therese’s began with a building in Royal St in 1926, used for both school and church. New Lambton became a separate parish in 1954, but fifty years later merged back with Lambton and Waratah to form Holy Trinity Parish, Blackbutt North, an ongoing community where Christmas is publicly celebrated as much more than just commerce.

The first Lambton Catholic Church in De Vitre St, on the site of St John’s Primary School, 1891. Photo by Ralph Snowball, Newcastle Region Library.

The first Lambton Catholic Church in De Vitre St, on the site of St John’s Primary School, 1891. Photo by Ralph Snowball, Newcastle Region Library.

St John the Evangelist Catholic Church, Dickson St Lambton, 2016

St John the Evangelist Catholic Church, Dickson St Lambton, 2016

Foundation Stone of St John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Lambton.

Foundation Stone of St John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Lambton.


The article above was first published in the December 2016 edition of the Lambton & New Lambton Local.

Clarifications

In the article I say that the building erected in 1871 was to be used as a church and school, however at the opening of the first wooden church in 1871 it was reported

“Mr. T. Croudace, having given the allotment on which the church is built on the express condition of it not being used as a school.”

The building was first used for school purposes in May 1872, when a school with 56 children was commenced.

Additional information

Some of the material for this article was sourced from “Song of the People, A brief history of the Catholic Parish of St John’s Lambton”, by Darrell Bailey, published in 2003 to mark the 130th anniversary of the parish. The Newcastle Family Historical Society library in the Mechanics’ Institute building has a copy of this publication.

There are a couple of errors on page 7 of this publication that need correction.

  1. The first paragraph states that the the Lambton Colliery “mine entrance was located in Lambton park, possibly near the existing Council Library building.” The mine entrance was not in Lambton Park, but where Lewis Oval in New Lambton is currently located.
  2. The second paragraph states that “Father Thomas Lonergan celebrated the first mass on 19 November 1871 during Bishop Murray’s absence in Rome and Ireland.” This is a most curious error, as the newspaper article referenced in footnote 12 at this point clearly states that Bishop Murray was due to attend but was prevented by illness.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
24 Sep 1868"The Rev. Father Walsh, pastor of the Roman Catholic Church, in this city, gave notice on Sunday last to his congregation that the hour of service on Sunday mornings would, in future, be eleven o'clock instead of ten o'clock, as of late."
22 Oct 1870A movement is on foot to build a Roman Catholic Church in Lambton. The Lambton colliery company has granted a piece of land for the purpose.
23 Sep 1871Seven denominations meeting in Lambton: Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Primitive Methodist, Welsh Baptist, English Baptist, and Welsh Independent, all having churches of their own, and the Wesleyan congregation renting a place to preach in.
2 Dec 1871
19 Nov 1871
Catholic church building in De Vitre St Lambton solemnly blessed and opened.
18 May 1872
6 May 1872
Catholic school opened, with 56 children in attendance.
12 Dec 1876The Roman Catholic Church is being lengthened and a porch added.
14 Apr 1877Valedictory address to Father James Ryan, the first priest in the Catholic parish of Lambton.
9 Aug 1920Construction of the new Catholic church in Dickson Street is about to commence. The article confirms that the former building was on De Vitre Street, and used for both school and church purposes.
12 Aug 1920
10 Aug 1920
Lambton Council approves the plans and specifications for the new Roman Catholic Church in Dickson St.
6 Sep 1920
5 Sep 1920
"The ceremony of laying and blessing the corner stone and blessing the foundations of the new Roman Catholic Church at Lambton was performed yesterday afternoon by the Right Rev. Dr. Dwyer, Bishop of Maitland, in the presence of a large gathering. "
11 Jul 1921
10 Jul 1921
"The Roman Catholic Church of Mary Immaculate and St. John the Evangelist, Lambton, was blessed and opened yesterday morning by the Right Rev, Dr. Dwyer, Bishop of Maitland."

Stoker’s Hotel

Hotels were a significant part of early coal mining townships. Apart from their obvious aspect of a place to consume liquor, hotels provided facilities for visitor accommodation, stabling of horses, a venue for travelling salesmen to hawk their wares, a space for social gatherings, political meetings, and much more.

In 1865 John Stoker arrived in Lambton from the NSW goldfields and opened the “Gold Miners’ Arms” hotel, on the north east corner of Elder and Grainger Streets. As well as being one of the first hotels in Lambton, it attained significance in the community due to a substantial addition made in 1869 and reported in the paper

“Mr. Stoker himself is going to extend his premises by building an assembly room sufficiently large to contain 500 people. Such an edifice is very much wanted here, as there is not at present any place in the township (chapels excepted) able to contain 150 persons.”

The new large upstairs hall was used regularly for public meetings of all kinds, such as the nominations for the first council election in 1871, and a coronial inquest into the death of two men at Lambton colliery in 1878.  The hall was variously known as “Stoker’s Hall”, “Stoker’s Long Room”, and eventually as “Druids Hall” because the United Ancient Order of Druids used it as their regular meeting place.

In 1871 John Stoker changed the hotel’s name to the “Gold Miners’ Home”, a largely irrelevant change, for such was the association between pub and publican that everyone referred to the place as “Stoker’s Hotel” even years after Stoker ceased to run the hotel in 1885.

There were a dozen different licensees over the next 30 years including Stoker’s son Edward for a short time. The final licensee, George Malbon, took over in 1915 and changed the name to the “Central Hotel”. Malbon operated the hotel until 1921 when it was closed by the Licences Reduction Board, and the building was subsequently demolished in 1926.

Stoker’s Hotel 1884-1885. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Stoker’s Hotel 1884-1885. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

The photo above is not dated in the University of Newcastle Cultural Collections site, but is probably in the period 1884 to 1885, as Ralph Snowball only started his photographic career in 1884, and John Stoker ceased to be the licensee in 1885.

The site of Stoker’s Hotel in 2016, north east corner of Elder and Grainger Streets.

The site of Stoker’s Hotel in 2016, north east corner of Elder and Grainger Streets.


The article above was first published in the November 2016 edition of the Lambton Local.

Additional information

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
30 Dec 1865First newspaper reference to the Gold Miners' Arms hotel - "On application a license for bagatelle, was granted to John Stoker, landlord of the Gold Miners' Arms, Lambton."
20 Mar 1869First newspaper reference to "Stoker's Hotel"
15 Jun 1869"Mr. Stoker himself is going to extend his premises by building an assembly room sufficiently large to contain 500 people. Such an edifice is very much wanted here, as there is not at present any place in the township (chapels excepted,) able to contain 150 persons."
17 Jul 1869 Mr. Stoker, of the Gold miner's Hotel, is about commencing a large concert-room, forty by twenty-four feet, to be fitted up with a stage, and other necessaries
27 Nov 1869First newspaper reference to the "Druids' Hall".
24 Jun 1871First newspaper reference to the "Gold Miners' Home" hotel. "TO LET in the rising township of Lambton, a Shop and Dwelling-house, with stabling, opposite the Gold Miners' Home. Apply to JOSEPH HUNTER on the premises."
1 Jul 1871First newspaper reference to "Stoker's long room".
18 Jul 1871
15 Jul 1871
Public meeting held in Mr. Stoker's long room, to nominate people for election to the first Lambton Council.
9 Dec 1873First newspaper reference to "Stoker's Hall".
5 May 1875Adding five extra bedrooms for accommodation.
10 Oct 1878Coronial inquest held at Stoker's Hotel into the death of Thomas Syemour and Robert Brown in Lambton Colliery's Mosquito Pit.
27 Nov 1885
25 Nov 1885
The license of the Gold Miners' Home Hotel, Lambton, transferred from John Stoker to William Ralph.
10 Dec 1903The "Gold Miners' Home" hotel is still referred to as "Stoker's Hotel" even 18 years after John Stoker ceased to be the licensee in 1885.
8 Oct 1907
6 Oct 1907
Death of John Stoker, aged 75.
3 Jul 1914License was transferred from Charles Nelson to George Malbon.
21 Jan 1916G. Malbon changes the name of the hotel from "Gold Miners' Home Hotel" to the "Central Hotel".
24 Jun 1916Reduction in licensing fee for the Central Hotel.
17 Jan 1921Central Hotel up before the Licenses Reduction Board.
18 Jan 1921At the license renewal hearing "Sergeant Harrison stated the building was composed of weatherboards, very old, but in a fair state of repair. Of the seven bedrooms, four were for the public use. Practically no catering was done for travellers."
20 May 1921Central Hotel to be delicensed and compensation paid - £1100 to owner, £360 licensee; total, £1460.
28 Sep 1921
26 Sep 1921
George Malbar [Malbon], the former licensee of the Central Hotel dies aged 63.
10 May 1926Gold Miners' Arms hotel demolished.

Transport History

The installation of traffic lights at the intersection of Durham and Hobart Roads marks a new phase for this fascinating microcosm of suburban transport history.

In 1863 Lambton colliery built a rail line to carry their coal to port. No locomotives were used at first, loaded wagons were simply rolled down the track under the control of a brakesman, and empty wagons were hauled back up by horse teams.

In 1868 with the establishment of New Lambton, a rough path was formed from Lambton, a road described at the time as

“being about as bad a one as there is in the whole district”.

The poor state of roads led to a concerted push for a decent main road into town, and as an incentive for the government to choose a route passing through New Lambton, the Lambton colliery offered to build a bridge for their rail line to pass over the main road. This offer was accepted and a rail bridge over Howe St was erected in 1876.

In 1887 the Wallsend tramway was built, and with insufficient space under the existing bridge, a second bridge was constructed for the trams. Originally just a single track, in 1911 the tram line was duplicated from Newcastle to the New Lambton side of the rail bridges. In 1926 with the change from steam to electric trams, the tracks were duplicated all the way to Wallsend, however there was insufficient width under the rail bridge to fit two tram tracks. Instead, a short section of ‘gauntlet track’ was laid under the bridge, where the outbound and inbound tram tracks interleaved without connecting.

In 1949 the tram line closed, the rails were removed, and the tramway became a road for vehicular traffic, including buses. In 1957 Hobart Road underneath the rail bridge was excavated and lowered to allow double decker buses to pass through. Coal trains continued to use the bridges until November 1963, and in 1966 the bridges were removed.

Howe St, June 1938. From “Destination Newcastle”, courtesy of Greg and Sylvia Ray.

Howe St, June 1938. From “Destination Newcastle”, courtesy of Greg and Sylvia Ray.

Howe St, September 2016 with the new traffic signals in operation.

Howe St, 9th September 2016 with the new traffic signals in operation.


The article above was first published in the October 2016 edition of the Lambton Local.

The colliery railway

The colliery railway was constructed in 1863, following the passage of Morehead and Young’s Railway Act on 9th December 1862.

An article in the September (155) and October (156) editions of the “Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin” by G.H. Eardley is a wealth of information regarding the colliery railway. Newcastle Region Local Studies section has a copy of this article. (LHQ385/PAM)  In regard to the haulage of coal along the track in the early days the article states on page 88 that it was

“… the intention of the Scottish Australian Coal Mining Company to work its railway with its own locomotive power, and presumably, owing to the failure of the exchange siding scheme, it was decided to arrange for Government locomotives to haul the coal traffic. However the comparatively small amount of coal obtained at the commencement of operations did not warrant the expense involved in this system of through running. Consequently arrangements were made to gravitate the loaded coal waggons, under the control of brakesmen, downhill to the Waratah Junction, from whence they were conveyed by the Government engines to the shipping cranes. The empty waggons, on being returned to the Waratah Junction, were hauled back to the colliery by horse teams. This old and primitive system of working the Lambton Railway was abandoned when the increased output of coal warranted the use of Government engines over the line.”

The Commonage Tunnel tramway

When the main road to Newcastle was being constructed in 1876, Lambton colliery actually constructed two bridges over the main road. One bridge carried the colliery rail line, and it remained in place until 1964 or 1965. The other bridge was for a tramway to cart coal in skips from the Commonage Tunnel coal workings. I am uncertain exactly where the commonage tunnel was located. The minutes of a Lambton Council meeting in October 1886 refers to the road under the tramway bridge as being “within our municipality.” As the colliery railway was the boundary between Lambton and New Lambton Councils, the tramway bridge must have been situated to the north of the rail bridge. As Lambton Park was already in existence (although not yet officially gazetted) by 1886, it would seem that the tramway bridge crossed the main road somewhere between Durham Rd and Tyrone Rd.

By November 1886 the tramway bridge was no longer used, and being a traffic hazard, Lambton council was pressing the colliery to have it removed. In December 1886 Thomas Croudace, manage of the colliery advised the council that “I will give instruction to have it removed as soon as ever I can spare the men to do so.”

Its not entirely clear when the tramway bridge was actually removed, however the language in a newspaper article a year later in November 1887 referring to the “surplus earth on the old commonage tunnel tram-line”, is suggestive that the tramway bridge is no longer there, only the earthen abutments.

The Newcastle to Wallsend tram line

The Newcastle to Wallsend tram line opened 19th July 1887. The portion of a map from a 1906 real estate poster below shows the tram line running south down Howe St and under the coal railway, and continuing in a south easterly direction along the present route of Hobart Rd. On the corner of Railway Rd and Lambton Rd is a block marked “J.W. Oldham”. This is presumably the site of “Mr. Oldhams butcher’s shop” mentioned in an 1887 newspaper article calling for a tram stop near this location.

A 1906 map showing the Wallsend tram line running through Howe St and under the coal railway. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

A 1906 map showing the Wallsend tram line running through Howe St and under the coal railway. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Duplication of the tram tracks

In 1911 the tram line was duplicated from Newcastle to the New Lambton side of the rail bridges. The duplicated track was put into service on Tuesday 11th July 1911. There are a couple of excellent Ralph Snowball photographs showing the construction of the duplicate track.

Duplicating the tram tracks in New Lambton, present day Hobart Rd, looking towards Lambton. 19th June 1911. Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.

Duplicating the tram tracks in New Lambton, present day Hobart Rd, looking towards Lambton. 19th June 1911. Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.

Duplicating the tram tracks in New Lambton, present day Hobart Rd, looking towards New Lambton. 19th June 1911. Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.

Duplicating the tram tracks in New Lambton, present day Hobart Rd, looking towards New Lambton. 19th June 1911. Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.

The gauntlet tram track

When the tram tracks were duplicated, there was insufficient space under the colliery bridge to lay two tram tracks side by side. To avoid the substantial cost of bridge modifications, a section of gauntlet track was used instead. Gauntlet track is where two separate tracks interleave but without connecting together. This arrangement allows for two separate and continuous tracks to be used without needing points or switches.

To ensure that only one tram at a time used the gauntlet track, a “staff” safeworking system for single lines was used. Tram drivers had to fetch a physical object (presumably a wooden staff) from a cabinet before proceeding through the gauntlet section, and then returning the staff to the cabinet.

Gauntlet Track. Copyright University of South Florida.

Gauntlet Track. Copyright University of South Florida.

Pages 10-17 of the June 1975 edition of “Trolley Wire” (the Journal of Australian Transport Museums) has an article on Newcastle’s tramways, including a photograph of the gauntlet track taken from the Hobart St coal railway bridge.

Cars 377 and 151 approaching the Lambton gauntlet track from Wallsend on 23rd April 1949. Ken McCarthy

Cars 377 and 151 approaching the Lambton gauntlet track from Wallsend on 23rd April 1949. Ken McCarthy

Page 16 of the article describes the gauntlet tram track at the time the tramline was closed in 1949 …

The closure of the Wallsend line in November 1949 marked the end of tramcar working on gauntlet track. Earlier sections had been employed on narrow water crossings at North Manly (North Manly Lagoon) and Carrington (Throsby Creek). The example on the Wallsend tramway enabled trams to negotiate a narrow opening under the Lambton Coal Co. railway. A similar cramped parallel opening served the adjacent roadway; this restriction caused the single Wallsend tramway to be replaced by no less than three separate bus routes. One served suburbs on the Newcastle side of the gauntlet track, a second deviated some distance to the north to serve the Lambton area beyond the coal railway, while a third bus route circumnavigated both the gauntlet track section and Lambton to reach Jesmond and Wallsend as the lengthy section of reserved tram track beyond Lambton required the bus to traverse public roads as the tramway was located through wild bushlands.

Noel Reed, on the Trams Down Under website mentions the gauntlet track and has an excellent photo showing how the two tram tracks interleaved, but without connecting.

Another view of the gauntlet track at Lambton. Noel Reed

An excellent view of the gauntlet track at Lambton, looking towards New Lambton. Noel Reed.

This section of track was on a low point on the tram line, and easily flooded. Robert Watson passed on a recollection from his mother that …

” … when it was flooded, the tram would arrive from the city side, then passengers would disembark, walk up and under the road bridge, then walk down to the Wallsend tram waiting on the other side to allow them to continue their journey.”

The lowering of Hobart Road

In 1957, in order to allow the passage of buses under the rail bridge on Hobart Road, the road was excavated and lowered.

1956_lambton_howestreetbridge_03

Excavating under the Hobart Road rail bridge.

1957_lambton_railwaybridge

Excavating under the Hobart Road rail bridge.

Lambton rail bridges 1957. Albert Bates.

Lambton rail bridges 1957. Albert Bates.

Lambton rail bridges 1957. Albert Bates.

Lambton rail bridges 1957. Albert Bates.

In the article published in the Lambton Local I stated that the lowering of the road was in order to accommodate double deck buses, however in the “Trolley Wire” article describing the closure of the tram line it says that the restrictions imposed by the bridges resulted in “no less than three separate bus routes.” This made me wonder whether the lowering of Hobart Rd was to accommodate single deck buses? How high was the gap between the road and the bridge after the excavation? Was it high enough to accommodate a double deck bus?

Fortunately one of the photographs of the excavation shows two men standing on the ground on either side of the bridge. This allows us to deal with the problem of perspective and get an estimate of the height of the bridge, which comes to almost exactly 3 men high.

1957bridgeheightUsing a similar process on another photo from that era, we see a double deck bus is a little over 2 men high – so it is quite plausible that the 1957 lowering of Hobart was in order to accommodate double deck buses.

busheight

The lowering of Hobart Rd in 1957 to accommodate double deck buses under the rail bridge means that 60 years on the road is still subject to flooding after heavy rainfall.

Flooding of Hobart Rd, 26 February 2020.

Flooding of Hobart Rd, 26 February 2020.

The end of the coal rail and bridges

Last Train from Lambton Colliery, 8 November 1963. Albert Bates.

Last train from Lambton Colliery, 8 November 1963. Albert Bates.

The photograph below from November 1965 shows that at some time in 1964 or 1965 the Howe Street rail bridge was removed and Howe Street was closed off. It is unclear when Howe Street was re-opened.

Aerial view of New Lambton showing Howe St bridge has been removed. William Keith Hilder, November 1965. Hunter PhotoBank, Newcastle Region Library.

Aerial view of New Lambton showing that the Howe St bridge has been removed, and Howe St closed. William Keith Hilder, November 1965. Hunter PhotoBank, Newcastle Region Library.

The colliery railway bridge over Hobart Road being removed in March 1966. S. Woodington.

The colliery railway bridge over Hobart Road being removed in March 1966. S. Woodington.

Site of the former coal rail bridges in 1986. Albert Bates.

Site of the former coal rail bridges in 1986. Albert Bates.

Traffic lights installation in 2016

In mid 2016 significant traffic changes were introduced in this area by Newcastle Council, including:

  • installation of traffic lights at the intersection of Hobart Road and Durham Road
  • provision of two traffic lanes on all approaches to the intersection, cycle lanes in Hobart Road and signalised bicycle crossing of Durham Road along the route of the off-road shared pathway
  • realignment and closure of Howe Street, north of Durham Road
  • removal of the marked pedestrian crossing and installation of signalised pedestrian crossings on all road crossings at the intersection
  • installation of kerb ramps, footpaths and additional stormwater drainage
  • upgrading of transport stops and street lighting.
Installing the traffic lights, 27th July 2016.

Installing the traffic lights, 27th July 2016.

A hive of activity on 25th August 2016.

A hive of activity on 25th August 2016.

Laying down the final road surface on the night of 28th August 2016.

Laying down the final road surface on the night of 28th August 2016.

The day the traffic lights were turned on, a rainy Friday 3rd September 2016.

The day the traffic lights were turned on, a rainy Friday 3rd September 2016.

newtrafficlights

Howe St Lambton, 12th September 2016.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
12 Nov 1868"New Lambton is going ahead … In a short time hence it will be a stirring little place. New buildings are being erected, and the population is rapidly increasing."
17 Aug 1869In reporting the construction of the "New Lambton Hotel" the writer makes mention of the road between Lambton and "New Lambton being about as bad a one as there is in the whole district, and that is saying a good deal."
9 Oct 1875In connection with the construction of the main road from Newcastle to Wallsend, a deputation from the New Lambton Road Committee visits the Minister for Works … "Mr. Croudace also handed to the Minister for Works a written guarantee that the Lambton Coal Company would construct a bridge under their railway line at their own expense."
22 Aug 1876"The Corporation labourers are again employed on the road, and will probably have it finished to the boundary by the time that Mr. Croudace has finished the low level bridge."
16 Oct 1876The Lambton Colliery railway is being lifted to construct a bridge underneath. Another bridge, to carry the coal tunnel tramway is already under construction.
29 Sep 1877The Commonage Tunnel tramway is being altered to run over a newly constructed bridge instead of on the surface across the main road.
26 Mar 1886Lambton Council asks the colliery to remove the commonage tunnel tramway bridge.
7 Oct 1886The commonage tunnel tramway bridge is described as being within the Lambton municipality. This means the tramway bridge was to the north of the railway bridge.
22 Nov 1886Accident near the commonage tunnel tramway bridge. The tramway is no longer used, and council has been trying to get the bridge removed.
2 Dec 1886Thomas Croudace advises Lambton Council that the the commonage tunnel tramway bridge will be removed "as soon as ever I can spare the men to do so."
12 Nov 1887Calls for a tram stop near the colliery railway bridges.
13 Jul 1911
11 Jul 1911
The duplicated tramway track from the Raspberry Gully line (Broadmeadow) to the Lambton colliery bridge opened for traffic.

Unanswered questions

  • Commonage Tunnel
    • Where was the Commonage Tunnel located?
    • Where exactly was the tramway bridge that went over the road to the tunnel?
  • When was the rail bridge over Howe Street removed?
  • When did Howe St get re-opened for traffic after its closure in 1964/1965?
  • Regarding the “New Lambton Hotel” that is mentioned in the 17 Aug 1869 newspaper article …
    • Where was it located?
    • When did it close? The last mention of it in Trove I could find is 15 October 1880.

Matthew Charlton

Matthew CharltonMatthew Charlton, who lived in Lambton for most of his life, rose to prominence in the Australian Labor Party, serving as federal opposition leader for six years in the 1920s. He was born in 1866 at Linton (near Ballarat) in Victoria, but moved with his family to Lambton at the age of seven. He attended Lambton Public School, then at age 14 commenced work in the Waratah Colliery as a “trapper”, whose job was to open and close the ventilation trapdoors in the mine to allow coal skips to pass through.

Charlton worked in various mining jobs and became involved in union politics and leadership. In 1903 at the urging of his union colleagues he contested and won the seat of Waratah in the NSW Legislative Assembly. In 1910 he switched to the federal arena and won the seat of Hunter. In January 1922 he became leader of the opposition when the previous leader Frank Tudor passed away.

Charlton went on to contest and lose two federal elections as opposition leader, in 1922 and 1925. He resigned from parliament in 1928 and retired in Lambton, continuing to live in the house he had built in High Street in 1905. He moved to Chilcott St in the 1930s and made a return to politics with a term as alderman on Lambton Council (1934-38), thus completing the trifecta of serving at all three levels of government – local, state, and federal.

Charlton was an active participant in the Lambton community and a patron of organisations such as the Mechanics’ Institute and the Bowling Club. He had an interest in local history, presenting a talk in 1937 to the Newcastle and Hunter District Historical Society on the early days of Lambton.

Matthew Charlton died in his home on 8th December 1948 aged 82, survived by his wife Martha, and was buried in Sandgate Cemetery.

Matthew Charlton. ca. 1915. National Library of Australia.

Matthew Charlton. ca. 1915. National Library of Australia.

Matthew Charlton and family at his High St house in 1906. Photo by Ralph Snowball, Newcastle Region Library.


The article above was first published in the September 2016 edition of the Lambton Local.

Additional information

It seems that Matthew Charlton was well regarded by all who had dealings with him. His good character is described in a newspaper article in 1910 after his transition from State to Federal politics …
“He is a Labour member of the best type, moderate in his views, temperate in speech, and considerate to those who disagree with him.”
In another article in 1910 he is described as …
“Honest, fearless, faithful, and able, he will win his way in the
Parliament of Australia, and will command the respect of all he may meet there.”
This illustration of Matthew Charlton appeared in 11 Oct 1925 edition of "The Truth" newspaer, iin the lead up to the November 1925 Federal election.

This illustration of Matthew Charlton appeared in 11 Oct 1925 edition of “The Truth” newspaper, in the lead up to the November 1925 Federal election.

When did the Charlton’s move to Lambton?

The Australian Dictionary of Biography entry states that the Charlton family moved to Lambton in 1871 when Matthew would have been about five years of age, however at least three separate newspaper articles state that the move happened in 1873 when he would have been 7 years of age. (The Sun, 22 Sep 1928; The Australian Worker, 26 Sep 1928; Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 13 Jul 1938) An article in The Catholic Press on 19 Jan 1922, states that he was aged five when he moved to Lambton 53 years previously, but the maths in that article just doesn’t add up – 53 years earlier, in January 1869, Matthew Charlton was only two years old.

First employment

There is some uncertainty about Matthew Charlton’s first employment at Lambton Colliery. Some reports state that he began work at the pit-top, then progressed to an underground job as a wheeler, before moving to a job at the coal face.

Other reports state that he began work as a “trapper”, an underground job for boys operating the ventilation trap doors.

A newspaper report of an accident at Richmond Main colliery in January 1935 describes the trapper’s job …

Trappers in a colliery are the youths who are in charge of the doors which are placed in underground workings as part of the ventilation system, and their chief duty is to open the doors to permit the passage of skips – the small trucks in which coal is brought from the working face to the surface.
A trapper boy in a Pennsylvania coal mine in 1911. Photo by Lewis Wickes Hnes. US Library of Congress item LC-DIG-nclc-01109.

A trapper boy in a Pennsylvania coal mine in 1911. Photo by Lewis Wickes Hines. US Library of Congress item LC-DIG-nclc-01109.

Time in Western Australia

Although he lived most of his life in Lambton, in 1896 Matthew Charlton moved to Western Australia, following his older brother Edward to the Kalgoorlie goldfields where he worked for two years. It was here that he first took an interest in union politics.

Key facts

Name:Matthew Charlton
Birth year:1866
Birth place:Linton (near Ballarat), VIC
Death date:8 Dec 1948
Death place:Chilcott St, Lambton, NSW
Burial site:Sandgate Cemetery
Burial Long,Lat :151.70470,-32.86988 (KML File for Google Earth)
Burial date:9 Dec 1948
Grave site of Matthew Charlton, M.H.R, in Sandgate Cemetery.

Grave site of Matthew Charlton, M.H.R, in Sandgate Cemetery.

Headstone of Matthew Charlton, M.H.R, in Sandgate Cemetery.

Headstone of Matthew Charlton, M.H.R, in Sandgate Cemetery.

The great building ordinance kerfuffle of 1911

Matthew Charlton was involved in one of the biggest controversies in the history of Lambton Council. It seems that he had engaged builders to make an addition to his home without gaining the necessary council approval. The council then decided to make an example of Mr. Charlton, and also a Mr. Gibbs, and prosecute them for violating the building ordinance. In the ensuing public discontent over this action a vote of no confidence in the council was passed at a public meeting, and seven of the nine aldermen resigned from council. Four of the resigning aldermen immediately put themselves forward as candidates in the ensuing by-election, with three of them being re-elected, along with four new aldermen.

Article Date Event DateNotes
8 May 1911
6 May 1911
A public meeting of ratepayers condemns Lambton Council's actions in prosecuting Mr. Charlton and Mr. Gibbs, and passes a motion of no confidence in the Mayor and aldermen.
12 May 1911
11 May 1911
A special meeting of Lambton Council, with about a hundred residents present, dealing with council's prosecution of Matthew Charlton for a violation of the building ordinance.
3 Jun 1911Nominations of aldermen for the extraordinary election, due to the recent resignation of seven of the aldermen, owing to a public meeting protesting against the administration of the building ordinance in the case of Mr. Matthew Charlton, M.H.R., and Mr. H. Gibbs.
12 Jun 1911Results of by-election after seven aldermen resigned over the building ordinance dispute.
27 Nov 1912Letter from Matthew Charlton to Lambton Council protesting their actions against him regarding alleged breaches of building ordinances.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
7 Dec 1903Matthew Charlton elected as the new member for Waratah. His former union colleague Mr. Curley's prediction that Charlton would "rise to a very high position" in Parliament proved to be accurate.
18 Nov 1905"Mr. Matthew Charlton, M.P., has had erected for him a handsome, villa residence at the corner of Hill and Grainger streets."
15 Apr 1910
13 Apr 1910
Matthew Charlton elected as the new Labour member for the Federal seat of Hunter, with a majority of over 4000.
19 Oct 1920
10 Oct 1920
Inquest into the death of John James Charlton (brother of Matthew Charlton M.H.R.), which took place in the Newcastle Hospital some hours subsequent to a tram collision at Broadmeadow on October 9.
30 Sep 1921
29 Sep 1921
Matthew Charlton appointed as deputy leader of the Opposition in the Federal Parliament. Due to the poor health of the leader Mr Tudor, Charlton is in effect the acting leader of the opposition.
26 Jan 1922
25 Jan 1922
Matthew Charlton appointed as leader of the Opposition in the Federal Parliament following the death of the former leader, Mr. Tudor
20 Feb 1924Building permit granted to Percy Charlton (son of Matthew Charlton M.H.R.) for a cottage in Chilcott-street, cost £397.
11 Oct 1925Editorial including some biographical information on Matthew Charlton, in the lead up to the November 1925 Federal election.
30 Mar 1928
29 Mar 1928
Matthew Charlton resigns as leader of the Opposition in the Federal Parliament, but stays on as a private member.
22 Sep 1928Summary of the life of Matthew Charlton on his resignation from the Federal Parliament.
26 Sep 1928A look back on the life of Matthew Charlton on his retirement from Parliament.
17 Nov 1934In the nomination list for the 1934 Lambton council election, Matthew Charlton is shown as residing in High Street, with an occupation of "Retired".
14 Mar 1936
15 Mar 1936
Recollections of Matthew Charlton on the occasion of his 70th birthday.
9 Feb 1937Matthew Charlton delivers an address at Newcastle Town Hall to the Newcastle and Hunter District Historical Society on the subejct of "The History of Lambton."
20 Nov 1937In the nomination list for the 1937 Lambton council election, Matthew Charlton is shown as residing in Chilcott Street, with an occupation of "Retired". In December 1937 the Greater Newcastle Act to merge local councils was passed, so this election for Lambton Council aldermen never took place.
13 Jul 1938
12 Jul 1938
Death of Edward Charlton, brother of Matthew Charlton.
14 Mar 1939
15 Mar 1939
Matthew Charlton's 73rd birthday.
23 Mar 1941At his divorce hearing, Percy Charlton is assisted by his father Matthew. Reading between the lines and connecting the dots it seems that after Percy's wife left him and returned to Sydney, Percy's parents Matthew and Martha moved from their High St house to live with Percy in his Chilcott St house.
8 Dec 1948
8 Dec 1948
Death of Matthew Charlton, reported in The Newcastle Sun.
Warning! This article contains a number of factual errors!
  • Charlton was opposition leader 1922-28 (not 1920-26)
  • he started work in the Lambton colliery (not Waratah colliery)
  • he entered politics in 1903 (not 1902)
  • he served two full terms and one partial term in the NSW parliament (not one)
9 Dec 1948
8 Dec 1948
Death of Matthew Charlton, reported in Newcastle Morning Herald.
9 Dec 1948Funeral notices for Matthew Charlton. From these we learn that he was living in 21 Chilcott St at the time of his death, and that he had been patron of a number of community groups including, Lambton Mechanics' Institute, Lambton Welfare Committee, and Lambton Bowling Club.

Links

Hamilton Mechanics’ Institute

A few months ago when I was doing research for my article on the Lambton Mechanics’ Institute, I came across this old photo of the Hamilton Mechanics’ Institute.

Hamilton Mechanics' Institute, 1892. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.

Hamilton Mechanics’ Institute, Tudor and Milton Streets, 1892. Photo by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.

On driving down Tudor St I was somewhat saddened to find that this marvellous building was almost unrecognisable in its current drab utilitarian state, with the beautiful verandahs gone, and the symmetry of the building mutilated by uninspired additions. I wished that someone would restore it to its former glory.

The former Hamilton Mechanics' Institute transformed into drabness. Image from Google StreetView.Then last week as I was driving down Tudor St I noticed some scaffolding up around the building, and wondered what was happening. My question was answered in the Newcastle Herald yesterday where I was very excited to learn that local firm DJB Developments are renovating the buildings there into a 33 apartment complex. This looks fantastic, with the Mechanics Institute building restored to its former symmetry and beauty, and with a clear separation of old and new. I sincerely hope that the restoration turns out to be as good as it looks in the plans.

atriumThe DJB Developments website has a little bit about the history of the old building, and the architect Frederick Menkens, which is worth a read. It turns out there is a slight connection with Lambton, in that the electrical contractor Harry Hyde Kingsbury who sued Menkens in1895 and caused him to be sent to jail for 12 months, was the contractor who installed the electric lighting plant in Lambton in 1890.

The Omnibus

Today we think nothing of hopping into a car for a quick trip into Newcastle CBD, but in 19th century Lambton transport to the city was problematic. In some mining communities such as Wallsend and Waratah, passenger train services were run on the colliery railways, and although Lambton residents agitated for it as early as 1871, no regular passenger service ever ran on the Lambton colliery line.1

The only option for passenger transport was the horse drawn omnibus. By 1875 there were at least two buses running between Lambton and Waratah, connecting with the Waratah train. These horse drawn buses were notoriously uncomfortable, described at the time as “ricketty rattletraps”. They were also unreliable and dangerous, with reports of accidents causing injury and even death all too common.

In 1887 an alternative to the horse drawn buses arrived with the opening of the tram line, but in 1922 in response to the government’s failure to run more frequent trams, Lambton council retaliated by granting a licence for a motorised omnibus to run between Lambton and Newcastle. Soon there began a period of fierce competition between rival motor buses, with a seemingly inordinate amount of time taken up in Lambton council meetings dealing with licence applications, disputes, and complaints about motor buses.

One of the local bus operators was Patrick Brothers, who from 1923 ran the ‘Rawhiti’ between Lambton and Newcastle. The 19.6 horsepower ‘Rawhiti’ was licenced to carry 30 passengers and had eight return services each day. However competition in the fledgling motor bus industry proved too much for the ‘Rawhiti’, for in early 1926 it was advertised at a mortgage sale for £60. In the 1930s the State government took a more active role in coordinating and operating bus services, and eventually the government run services took over from the private bus operators.


  1. Since writing this article I have learnt that in the first few years of Lambton, passengers could ride in the guard’s van of the colliery railway. This service ceased in January 1867. Then from 1874 to 1887 a passenger service was run on the Waratah Coal Company railway, but only on Saturday’s and public holidays. Whether either of these constitutes ‘a regular passenger service’, is a matter of definition.
rawhiti3

The motor omnibus ‘Rawhiti’, on Reservoir Hill (corner of Newcastle Rd and George St), 1923-1925. Photo supplied by Jack Kennedy.

Newcastle Buses Route 230, on the Reservoir Hill in 2016.

Newcastle Buses Route 230, on the Reservoir Hill in 2016.


The article above was first published in the August 2016 edition of the Lambton Local.

Additional information and photos

Jack Kennedy supplied two other photos of the motor omnibus ‘Rawhiti’. The photo below is also taken on the reservoir hill, but from the other side. The ‘bus is seen parked in front of the former “Reservoir Hotel”. The hotel was licensed as the Reservoir Hotel in 1888, and delicensed in August 1921, by the Licenses Reduction Board. This photo was taken sometime in the period 1923-1925. Note the suburbs the bus serviced was painted on the side and front of the bus – Newcastle, Hamilton, Newtown, Georgetown, Lambton. Newtown was the original name of Hamilton North.

The motor omnibus ‘Rawhiti’ parked in front of the former “Reservoir Hotel”.

The former "Reservoir Hotel", Newcastle Road, Lambton.

The former “Reservoir Hotel”, Newcastle Road, Lambton.

The 'Rawhiti' at an unidentified location.

The ‘Rawhiti’ at an unidentified location.

A timetable for the "Rawhiti", appearing in the newspaper, 17th July 1923

A timetable for the “Rawhiti”, appearing in the newspaper, 17th July 1923

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
9 Dec 1871
5 Dec 1871
"A public meeting of the inhabitants of Lambton, was held in Mr. Stoker's long room, on Tuesday, the 5th, having been called, by public advertisement, for the purpose of adopting a petition to the Hon. James Byrnes, the Minister for Works, to establish a goods and passenger traffic on the Lambton Colliery railway."
14 Mar 1874Mr. Tudor, of Hamilton, has purchased a new omnibus, which he intends running between the mining townships and the city.
5 May 1874Thomas Tudor, the omnibus operator asked to give support to the selection of the southern route (through New Lambton) for the Wallsend to Newcastle main road.
18 Jun 1874Agitation for running a passenger train service on the Lambton colliery railway.
2 Oct 1875Mr Tudor has obtained a new omnibus to "supersede such hideous rattletraps as those which formerly disgraced Newcastle."
2 Oct 1875Mr Tudor's new 'bus "was built by the celebrated builder, Mr. Bannet, of Camperdown, and cost £150."
17 Nov 1875There are two rival bus services (Brown, Elliottt) in fierce competition, running between Waratah station and Lambton.
16 Aug 1879There is an omnibus service between Wallsend and Lambton.
17 Mar 1885Complaints about the operation of the omnibuses, including a complaint about how those "ricketty rattletraps" are wearing out the roads.
29 Dec 1892"A lad named Simpson, a son of John. Francis. Simpson, of Adamstown, died this morning from the effects of a fall from an omnibus on the previous evening."
28 May 1921The Reservoir Hotel delicensed by the Licenses Reduction Board.
31 May 1922In response to the government’s failure to run more frequent trams, Lambton council retaliates by granting a licence for a motorised omnibus to run between Lambton and Newcastle.
12 Jan 1923"ON AND AFTER Monday, January 15th an UP-TO-DATE MOTOR 'BUS SERVICE will be run from LAMBTON, along CHRISTOE-ROAD, thence via NEWTOWN to NEWCASTLE, and VICE VERSA."
11 Jul 1923Patrick Bros., proprietors of the motor 'bus Rawhltl, asked the counccil for permission to alter their timetable and route temporarily during repairs to Dixon-street.
17 Jul 1923A timetable for the “Rawhiti” motor 'bus.
14 Nov 1923"Lambton Council last night granted permission to the owner of the motor 'bus Rawhiti to run an additional vehicle, with an hourly service between Lambton and Newcastle, via Georgetown."
28 Nov 1923Rivalry between the "Hawk" and "Endeavour" motor buses, on the Lambton to Newcastle route.
30 Sep 1925The suburb of Newtown changes its name to "North Hamilton".
16 Dec 1925MOTOR 'BUS, "RAWHITI," for sale. 19.6 horsepower, licensed to carry 30 passengers, recently running on the Newcastle to George town run.
20 Jan 1926In an application to council for a motor omnibus licence, mention is made of buses using Reservoir Hill as a departure point.
1 Mar 1926INTERNATIONAL- 'BUS CHASSIS. "RAWHITI." A mortgage sale will sell this for £60.
6 Nov 1931"The Government intends to make all transport a State monopoly. When Parliament reassembles, on November 24, Mr. Lang will bring in legislation to wipe out the Railway Commissioners, the Main Roads Board, and the Metropolitan and Newcastle Transport Trusts, and substitute one corporate body, under the control of a Minister of the Crown."

Lambton Fire Station

In 19th century Lambton, fire in one form or another was the principal means of heating, cooking, and providing light. But the flames that illuminated also had a dark side. On Saturday night 6th February 1875 in Miss Jackson’s millinery shop in Elder Street, the string that suspended the window lamp snapped, the lamp fell, and the shop contents ignited.

Although the blaze was spotted and extinguished before much damage was done, this near disaster was the catalyst for the formation of the Lambton Fire Brigade. A public meeting was held, a committee formed, subscriptions collected, and a hand pumped fire engine purchased from Sydney for £40. The engine arrived in August 1875 and was housed in a shed paid for and erected by John Stoker at the rear of his hotel on the north east corner of Elder and Grainger streets. After some period of practice, the engine and crew were first put to the test fighting a fire at the Co-operative Colliery in Wallsend in January 1876.

With the addition of more equipment and new engines over the years, the location behind Stoker’s hotel became too small, and after application to Lambton Council for some of their land, a new two storey wooden fire station was constructed in De Vitre Street and officially opened in 1902. In March 1913 a violent wind storm totally destroyed this building, damaging much of the firefighting equipment inside.

In its place a new brick fire station was constructed and opened in 1914, which served the local community for over 100 years until the move to the new fire station site in Young Road in 2016. Today our reliance on fire for the basic necessities of life is diminished, but our reliance on local firefighting services in times of crisis is as great as when the Lambton Fire Brigade began 141 years ago.

Lambton Fire Brigade Station, behind John Stoker's Gold Miners' Arms hotel, Grainger Street, 1875-1902.

Lambton Fire Brigade Station in Grainger St, behind John Stoker’s Gold Miners’ Arms hotel, 1875-1902. The building with the two chimneys at the right of the photo is the rear of Stoker’s hotel.

Lambton Fire Station, De Vitre Street, 2016

Lambton Fire Station, De Vitre Street, 2016


The article above was first published in the July 2016 edition of the Lambton Local.

Miss Jackson’s Millinery Shop

The fire on 6th February 1875 that was the catalyst for the formation of the Lambton fire brigade took place in Miss J. Jackson’s millinery shop in Elder St. Below is an advertisement for this establishment in the Miners’ Advocate on 23 Dec 1874, just a few weeks before the fire.
JacksonMillinery1874
The advertisement above describes Miss Jackson’s shop as being “Next to Stoker’s Hotel”. Since that hotel was on the north east corner of Elder/Grainger streets, then Miss Jackson’s shop was probably where the Lambton Grocers is located.

The first fire station

A Hunter Water Board map from the 1890s shows the location of Lambton’s first fire station in Grainger St, behind John Stoker’s hotel.

1890s Hunter Water Board map showing Lambton’s fire station. Newcastle Region Library.

The two story wooden fire station

A newspaper article from 1921 on the jubilee of Lambton states that the reason the fire station location was moved from behind Stoker’s hotel was because

Amendments in the Liquor Act prevented the station being on licensed premises, and an application to the council resulted in the dedication of an allotment of land in De Vitre road.

This information is also repeated on page 130 of “The Story of Lambton”, but I have not yet found any contemporary evidence to support this assertion. The only reason I have found so far from the time of the move is from an 1898 council meeting where

Alderman Ward was in favour of transferring a portion of the allotment to the brigade, as he considered it would be then applied to a very good use and for the benefit, of the ratepayers. The land they occupied at present was too small, and not central enough.

The two story wooden fire station constructed in De Vitre St in 1902 can be seen in a couple of photos, for example this photo in the Newcastle Council Hunter Photobank …

LambtonFireStation1902-1913… and also in the background of a 1912 Ralph Snowball photo in the Cultural Collections site  …

LambtonFireStation1912… as well as this March 1912 photo
LambtonFireStation191203But just one year later, disaster struck …

The two storey wooden fire station in De Vitre St, collapsed during a violent wind storm in March 1913.

The two storey wooden fire station in De Vitre St, collapsed during a violent wind storm in March 1913.

Timeline of events

Article Date Event DateNotes
27 Jan 1872
20 Jan 1872
A near fatal house fire at Griffiths' Flat "has caused a general feeling and desire to organise a fire brigade at Lambton."
10 Feb 1875
6 Feb 1875
Following a potentially disastrous fire in Miss Jackson's millinery shop, a public meeting has been called to take steps towards the formation of a Fire Brigade in Lambton.
17 Feb 1875
11 Feb 1875
Public meeting to organise a fire brigade.
27 Feb 1875Meeting of the Fire Brigade committee.
12 Jun 1875Momemtum for the formation of fire brigade at Lambton is waning.
17 Jul 1875Money being collected for a fire engine. Mr Stoker is erecting a shed for it behind his hotel.
28 Aug 1875
25 Aug 1875
Fire engine purchased for £40 has arrived from Sydney, and the brigade members have had some practise with it.
4 Sep 1875
2 Sep 1875
Dinner and meeting with the Superintendent of the Newcastle Fire Brigade, discussing the requirements of further acquisitions for the Lambton brigade.
2 Oct 1875Rules of the Newcastle Fire Brigade (with minor amendments) adopted by Lambton brigade.
13 Nov 1875Fire at Mr Cairns' hotel, but the brigade and fire engine do not attend because of a lack of practice and the fire bell has not yet been hung.
1 Dec 1875
27 Nov 1875
First call-out of the new fire engine, to attend a fire at the Northumberland hotel. The fire had been extinguished by the time the engine arrived.
1 Dec 1875
29 Nov 1875
Fire bell has finally been hung and is ready for use.
8 Jan 1876
6 Jun 1876
First use of the Lambton fire brigade engine in a real fire, at the Co-Operative Colliery, Wallsend.
22 Jul 1892"Another fine area of 18 acres, known as Griffiths' Flat, is also admirably situated for recreative purposes; and a movement is at present on foot to have it dedicated as a practice and recreation reserve for the combined volunteer fire brigades of the district."
10 Aug 1898Fire brigade applies to council for a portion of their land in De Vitre St to erect a new fire station. "The land they occupied at present was too small, and not central enough."
7 Sep 1898Land for the new fire station in De Vitre Street has been surveyed.
11 Jan 1899
17 Dec 1898
Portion No. 854 of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, containing 29 perches, and situated in De Vitre-street, Lambton, has been set apart for a fire brigade station.
22 Sep 1902
20 Sep 1902
Official opening of the new fire station in De Vitre St.
15 Mar 1913
13 Mar 1913
Lambton fire station destroyed by violent windstorm.
19 Aug 1913Tenders have been called for the erection of a fire station at Lambton, Newcastle.
1 Oct 1913The tender of F. Hickey has been accepted for the building of a new fire station at Lambton.
13 Aug 1914
12 Aug 1914
Newly constructed brick firestation commences operation.
25 Jun 1921An article on the Jubilee of Lambton Municipality has a good summary of the history of the Lambton fire brigade.