A Timely Trophy

Fire Brigade Demonstration Days 1888

Fire-fighting services in our cities today are provided by the state government, but they did not begin that way. The first brigades were started in Sydney in 1836 by insurance companies who supplied rudimentary equipment for use by volunteers. In 1854 purely voluntary brigades began to be formed, with local communities supplying not only the manpower, but also the equipment and funds.

Newcastle formed a volunteer brigade in 1856, followed by outlying townships. Having no overarching governing body, the separate brigades fostered connections by holding “demonstration days”, to gather together and hold competitions. They provided an opportunity for training, camaraderie and fund raising.

From 8 to 10 November 1888 Newcastle hosted a grand demonstration event, with 19 brigades attending, from as far away as Goulburn. On Thursday night, 15000 people lined the streets to witness a torchlight parade of the brigades. On Friday and Saturday, competitions were held on Newcastle Cricket Ground.

The premier event was the “Engine Practice for Eight Men”. From a standing start, the men deployed hoses, nozzles and pumps from their engine, to throw a stream of water at a disc 20 feet above ground. The Lambton Brigade, with a time of 40.75 seconds, won the substantial prize of a 50kg marble clock modelled on the London Royal Exchange. The trophy, donated by local businessman George Galton and valued at 25 guineas (equivalent of $4000 today), was an indication of the high value placed on fire-fighting services. One observer in 1888 wryly noted that “the arrival of so many fine-looking firemen, showily-dressed, has created an unusual flutter in the hearts of the gentler sex in this city.” Firefighting then was an exclusively male occupation, and it took nearly a hundred years before women were first employed as fire-fighters in 1985. While the hands of Lambton’s trophy clock have stood still for many years, the recruiting practices of NSW Fire and Rescue have moved forward, and today women comprise 9% of the full-time fire-fighters in the state.

Lambton Volunteer Fire Brigade, 1890s. Hunter Photobank, Newcastle Library.
The 50kg marble clock trophy, won by Lambton Volunteer Fire Brigade at the 1888 demonstration day, on display at the Fire and Rescue station in Young Road. Photo by Robert Watson.
The fire brigades’ trophy was modelled on the Royal Exchange in London. Photo by Yair Haklai, Wikimedia Commons.

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


Additional Information

Advertisement for the Fire Brigades’ Demonstration Days. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate. 8 November 1888.

The marble clock trophy on display at Lambton fire station has a brass plaque that reads …

Presented by
Mr George Galton
As a Trophy
At the Newcastle Fire Brigades Demonstration
Nov. 9th 1888

Brass plaque on the clock trophy.

In 1888 the value of the clock was stated as 25 guineas. At the time a guinea was equivalent to 1 pound and 1 shilling, so 25 guineas was 26 pounds and 5 shillings. The Reserve Bank of Australia Pre-Decimal Inflation Calculator shows that £26 5s in 1901 (the earliest year the calculator supports) is equivalent to over $4000 today.

George Galton

George Galton was born in London on 8 January 1850. In 1866 at the age of 16 he emigrated to Australia. After working in several large retail stores in Sydney he moved to Newcastle in 1876 and opened a store in Hunter Street West, opposite the Honeysuckle railway station. Galton opened two more stores in Newcastle, and in 1888 Galton opened a store in West Maitland.

George Galton. circa 1900. Maitland Library, and University of Newcastle Special Collections.

In 1896 Galton sold his stores in Newcastle in order to concentrate on his West Maitland business. One of the buildings he had erected still stands in High Street. (This building is very familiar to me – as a school student in the 1970’s living in the Maitland area, I passed this location every school day.)

The site of one of George Galton’s stores, in High Street, West Maitland. Google StreetView.

George Galton died at his residence “Yarrawonga”, in Regent St West Maitland on 25 July 1930, aged 80. The Galton’s business continued after George’s death, with his wife becoming chairwoman of the company, and then on her death in 1936, her two sons, George and Walter became joint directors of the business.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
21 Jun 1856"Up to the present time there has existed no organized body in Newcastle whose duty would have been to undertake the direction and control of the fire engine, in the event of its services being required; however, the subject has been taken in hand, and has progressed so far as to have secured the co-operation of a sufficient number of volunteers to work the engine in case of need ; together with a number who undertake to support the cause by their annual subscriptions and donations ; so that there is now every prospect of there being a brigade trained to render efficient service whenever their services may be required."
30 Jun 1856
24 Jun 1856
"A meeting was held on Tuesday evening last at the Court-house, Charles Bolton, Esq., J.P., in the chair; to take into consideration the means to be adopted to establish a fire brigade in Newcastle."
24 Feb 1887George Galton offers a donation of £10 to Honeysuckle Fire Brigade.
16 Jun 1888
14 Jun 1888
"A meeting of the City Fire Brigade was held on Thursday evening, at the station, Scott street. A letter was received from the Honeysuckle Point Brigade, asking the members to consider the advisability of holding a Fire Brigade Demonstration in Newcastle. The project was approved of, and delegates were appointed."
17 Aug 1888"THE delegates of the proposed fire brigades' demonstration held a meeting last night, when numerous correspondence from leading citizens was read promising to assist in the movement. Some valuable trophies have already been promised by different gentlemen - the Mayor (Mr. H. Buchanan), Mr. Fletcher, M.L.A., Mr. G. Galton, Hudson Bros., the Mayor of Parramatta (Mr. Hugh Taylor), and several others."
24 Aug 1888"The secretaries of the proposed Fire Brigades Demonstration acknowledge with thanks handsome donations from the following gentlemen, through Mr. Frank Gardner:-A cheque of £10 10s from the Australian Mutual Fire Insurance Society; cheque of £2 2s from the Victoria Theatre Company; case of biscuits, Mr. W. Arnott; also a clock, valued at 25 guineas, from Mr. George Galton."
27 Oct 1888"The splendid prizes which are to be competed for [at the Newcastle Fire Brigades Demonstration] are on view at the establishment of Mr. Walter Neve, Hunter street, and they should cause great competition."
8 Nov 1888Advertisement for the Fire Brigades' Demonstration Days/
9 Nov 1888
8 Nov 1888
"A grand torchlight procession of firemen, with their appliances and gorgeous decorations, marched through the principal thoroughfares. The event was in connection with the United Fire Brigades' Demonstration."
9 Nov 1888
8 Nov 1888
"A large crowd turned out yesterday evening to witness the departure of the members of the [Lambton] Fire Brigade forNewcastle, where they are to take part in the demonstration. The scene was of an imposing nature, delighting all the onlookers. The engine was beautifully decorated with choice flowers and bunting, and drawn by four horses."
10 Nov 1888
9 Nov 1888
"On the Newcastle Cricket Ground, yesterday, the first day's sports in connection with the United Fire Brigades' Demonstration of 1888, were contested. With regard to attendance, there were at least 1500 persons on the ground in the morning, and this number kept steadily increasing until the afternoon, when there must have been over 4000 persons present."
10 Nov 1888"The arrival of so many fine-looking firemen, showily-dressed, to assist at the above display has created an unusual flutter in the hearts of the gentler sex in this city."
12 Nov 1888
10 Nov 1888
Report on the second day of competitions of the Fire Brigades' demonstration on the Newcastle Cricket Ground.
26 Jul 1930
25 Jul 1930
Death of George Galton, aged 80, at his residence "Yarrawonga" in West Maitland.
3 May 1939The story of George Galton and his business.

A very long road story

Marshall Street and the Inner City Bypass

Some roads in our city snake across the landscape following ridges or valleys, while others cut expansive straight lines across suburbia. In the former category are roads such as Grandview Rd in New Lambton Heights. In the latter category are roads such as Chatham Rd/St in the Hamilton area, and the curious Marshall St which has four disconnected sections running through five different suburbs, from Rankin Park to Garden Suburb.

These long straight roads have more to do with geometry than geography. They originated from the patchwork quilt of rectangular land grants in the mid-19th century, where it was common for roads to be planned along property borders.  Such is the case with Marshall St, where an 1884 map shows a three-mile un-named road separating the Scottish Australian Mining Company from Joseph Weller’s 2500 acre land grant.

It remained a road in plan only until the 1920s, when the Scottish Australian Mining Company built the first section as part of “The Lookout Subdivision” in New Lambton Heights. In 1925 it was named “Boundary Rd”, an eminently suitable title as over the years various portions of it divided mining leases, parishes, suburbs, municipalities, and state and federal electorates. In 1933 New Lambton Council changed the name to Marshall St, in recognition of one of the road’s earliest residents, James Gordon Marshall. In 1945 the NSW government unveiled big plans for the road network in Newcastle, including a highway from Rankin Park to Jesmond traversing the bush where the northern section of Marshall St existed only as a line on the map. Plans for this highway then changed many times over many years. In September 2021, Transport for NSW called for tenders for the construction of the $450 million final section of the Newcastle Inner City Bypass, with work to commence in  2022.  The expected opening in 2025 will be a final chapter in a 140-year story of a road, from nameless marks on a map to major motorway.

Long range road plans from 1945. Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 18 September 1945. Construction of the Rankin Park to Jesmond section (highlighted in green) is expected to commence in 2022.
On a 1960s map the never built Marshall St is shown as straight line, with the proposed bypass curving through the Jesmond bushland. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.
The final route of the inner city bypass through the Jesmond bushland closely follows the path of the original planned Marshall St.

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


Boundary Road

An historical parish map whose origins date back to 1884, shows that the road that was given the name Boundary Road in 1925, was aptly named. It incorporated the following boundaries:

  • Parish of
    • Hexham
    • Kahibah
    • Newcastle
  • Municipality of
    • Plattsburg
    • Wallsend
    • Lambton
    • New Lambton
  • Coal lease of
    • Morehead and Young
    • Joseph Weller
    • Waratah coal
  • Town Police boundary
Parish of Newcastle, 1884.

Marshall Street

James Gordon Marshall of Cardiff, engine driver, purchased 8 acres of land in November 1918. The land title certificate shows an un-named road on the eastern boundary of his property. This road was the boundary between New Lambton and Lake Macquarie council areas.

Purchase of 8 acres by James Gordon Marshall in 1918. Vol-Fol 2893-203.

The location of Marshall’s land is shown below.

On the eastern side of the road, opposite Marshall’s property, the Scottish and Australian Mining Company subdivided a portion of their land to sell in October 1920.

The Lookout Subdivision, 1920. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.

In October 1925 Lake Macquarie Shire Council informed the Cardiff Heights Progress Association (James Marshall presiding) that the road at the east boundary of their council area was to be named Boundary Road.

In January 1927 James Marshall applied to Hunter District Water Board to have water mains extended to his property on Boundary Road.

In October 1933, at the suggestion of Lake Macquarie Shire Council, New Lambton Council agreed that the name of the road should be changed from Boundary Road to Marshall St. Despite the decision being made in 1933, it took another four years before the name change was made official in June 1937.

James Gordon Marshall’s property in 1944.
James Gordon Marshall.
A 1936 map shows Boundary Road as a continuous straight road stretching from Jesmond to Garden Suburb.
In 2021, Marshall St consists of four disconnected segments.
Marshall St in 2021 runs through five different suburbs – Rankin Park, New Lambton Heights, Cardiff Heights, Garden

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
29 Oct 1925"At a meeting of the Cardiff Heights Progress Association, Mr. Marshall presiding a letter was received from the shire council stating that the road on the boundary would be called Boundary-road."
17 Jan 1927J G Marshall applies to Hunter District Water Board to have water mains extended to his property on Boundary Road.
14 Sep 1933"Lake Macquarie Shire Council asked if [New Lambton] Council would bear half of the cost of constructing a boundary road between main road number 223 and Mr. Marshall's premises, Cardiff, a distance of about six and a half chains. The road was on the boundary of New Lambton municipality and Lake Macquarie shire. The total cost would be £29. It was decided to pay half the cost."
26 Oct 1933At a New Lambton Council meeting, a letter was received from Lake Macquarie Shire Council in which they "appreciated the Council's decision to pay half the cost of repairs to Boundary-road, near Cardiff. The letter also suggested that the name of Boundary-road be altered to Marshall-street. The Council decided to approve the name selected."
24 Sep 1936New Lambton Council meeting : "The Cardiff Heights Progress Association expressed dissatisfaction at the state of Boundary-road, and inquired if there was an agreement between the council and the Lake Macquarie Shire Council to form the road."
18 Jun 1937Government Gazette with official name change from Boundary Rd to Marshall St.
18 Sep 1945Long range road plans for Newcastle.

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.

Darkness into Light

The sudden postponement of the final day of the Love Lambton 150 event in June due to Covid-19 restrictions, meant that Lambton was unable to fully celebrate the anniversary in the correct month. One hundred years ago the anniversary also slipped, but for a different reason.

In 1921 there was an optimistic mood. The great war of 1914-18 was over and the troops had returned. The influenza pandemic of 1919 that claimed 494 lives in Newcastle had subsided, and Lambton Municipality was ready to celebrate 50 years since its incorporation in June 1871.  

But it was not just a metaphorical darkness the town was emerging from. For 22 years after the financial failure of the council’s first electric lighting scheme, Lambton’s streets were to be lit again. Council decided to delay the jubilee festivities to coincide with switching on the new electric lights.

A week of events was held in the beginning of August 1921 under the banner “Darkness into Light”, with concerts, banquets and sporting competitions. The highlight was on Thursday night in the park, with the ceremonial switching on of the electric lights, followed by an impressive display of fireworks liberally supplied by the Chinese residents of Jesmond.

The abundance of enthusiastic donations from the community meant that when the partying was over the Jubilee organising committee was left with a considerable surplus of funds. In recognition of the past, they donated £30 for a bed at Wallsend Hospital where many influenza patients were cared for. For the present health of the community they spent £36 installing a drinking fountain at the corner of Lambton Park. Looking to the future, they gave the remainder to Lambton and Jesmond school libraries for the education of students.

We don’t know when the darkness of our Covid-19 pandemic will recede, but when it does and we are in a festive mood again, we would do well to emulate the thankfulness and generosity of Lambton’s jubilee committee 100 years ago.

Lambton Park after a hail storm circa 1940. The Jubilee drinking fountain can be seen outside the park fence on the right. From the collection of Maree Cook.
One hundred years on the Jubilee drinking fountain still stands at the entrance to Lambton Park.

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


Additional Information

The date of “August 6th” on the inscribed plaque of the jubilee drinking fountain is a bit of a conundrum. For this isn’t the date Lambton’s incorporation (26 June) nor can it be the date the fountain was installed, as the location of the fountain wasn’t even voted on until three weeks later in September, and nor is it the day of the main ceremonial event of the jubilee celebrations, which was the switching on of the electric lights on Thursday 4th August.

Inscribed plaque on the Lambton Jubilee drinking fountain.
“Darkness Into Light”, Advertisement for Lambton Jubilee celebrations, Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 23 July 1921.

A Jubilee Poem

LET THERE BE LIGHT. Thirty years ago Lambton streets were lit by electricity. Since then they have not been lit even with candles. But Lambton will soon see the light, for the Newcastle Council will in July supply the dark suburb with electricity.— News Item.

To wander through your dismal streets, your dark highways to plod,
Your gutters, drains and rutted roads give many hearts a prod.
I stumble over sleeping forms— the crocks long strayed from home.
And make a solemn kind of oath, “I never more will roam.”
In Lambton, darkest Lambton.”

But now farewell, ye laneways black; farewell each winding street.
Those stones that bruised my tired shins and jarred my aching feet,
Shall of their power yet be robbed, and night shall be as day,
In July next the new light comes, when jubilee holds sway.
Oh, Lambton, brightest Lambton!

Published in The Newcastle Sun, 28 May 1921.

Newspaper articles – Jubilee

Article Date Event DateNotes
16 Oct 1919Influenza pandemic report from Dr. R. Dick. "In the whole district there were 494 deaths registered as due to influenza or its complications during the period from March 2nd to September 10th, 1919.
10 Feb 1921"Alderman E. J. Thomas referred to the Jubilee of the municipality, the incorporation of hich took place in June, 1871. He hoped that the council would not allow the occasion to pass without some form of celebration. Other aldermen endorsed the remarks of Alderman Thomas, and, stated that it would be a good idea to couple the celebration of the Jubilee and the installation of the lighting of the town at the same time. There would be no harm in delaying the jubilee celebration until the switching on of the lights, which the council were assured would be ready about July or August."
27 May 1921"The jubilee of Lambton's establishment as a municipality falls on June 26, and a celebration in honor of the occasion has been arranged to take place on the first Thursday following the switching on of the electric light. It has not been possible to put forward the lighting of the municipality so that it could synchronise with the date of tho Jubilee, so it has been necessary to defer the celebrations till the light is available. The city electrician has promised that the installation will be complete by July 30."

"To finance the undertaking, a dozen collectors were appointed to canvass the town for subscriptions."

20 Jun 1921"The lighting of Lambton's streets and business houses by electricity is proceeding so well that there is every hope of the job being completed before August 4, the day selected for the Jubilee celebrations, and for the switching on of the current. Altogether 110 street lights are to be provided, but the council thinks that this number will not be nearly enough when people begin to observe what a boon the electric light is."
16 Jul 1921Offer of donation from a vaudeville show is refused. "The canvass of the town for funds for the children's treat will be completed in the next fortnight. For the fireworks display, fixed for the opening night, a liberal supply of fireworks has been assured by the Chinese residents of Jesmond."
5 Aug 1921
4 Aug 1921
Lambton Municipality Jubilee Celebrations - electric light switching on ceremony.
8 Aug 1921
6 Aug 1921
Lambton Municipality Jubilee Celebrations - children's day in Lambton Park on Saturday, and a combined religious service in the Coronation Hall on Sunday.
19 Aug 1921"LAMBTON JUBILEE DISPOSAL OF FUNDS. With the balance of the funds, it was agreed to erect a drinking fountain near the park, at a cost of £30, and to make the gift of a cot, costing the same amount, to the Wallsend Hospital. The remainder will be evenly divided between the Lambton and Jesmond public schools, to be used preferably for the upkeep of their respective libraries."
24 Aug 1921
23 Aug 1921
Lambton Council meeting: "Correspondence was read from the jubilee committee, asking the council to accept the sum of £30 from the surplus for the erection of a public drinking fountain, The offer was accepted with thanks."
12 Sep 1921
9 Sep 1921
At Lambton Council meeting, Alderman A. Hardy moved, "That the Jubilee Memorial fountain be erected out side the entrance gates of the park in Howe-street." The motion was carried.
28 Sep 1921Water Board meeting: "The town clerk, Lambton, wrote making application for free supply of water to a public drinking fountain to be erected on the footpath at the intersection of Howe and Morehead streets as a jubilee memorial. The engineer's and assessor's reports were read, and the board decided to grant a free supply of water under the usual conditions, provided that approved fittings are used."
16 Dec 1921"At the last meeting of Lambton Council the town clerk submitted a statement showing the disposal of the funds in hand from the jubilee celebrations. The balance was £68 12s 7d, and the main disbursements were: Purchase and erection of drinking fountain £36 11s 4d, donation of cot to the Wallsend Hospital £30."
19 Dec 1921
16 Dec 1921
"Prior to the breaking up for the Christmas vacation at the Lambton and Jesmond Schools, on Friday. Alderman G. Bell attended each school, and handed over the surplus from the jubilee celebrations which was given as a donation to the school libraries or to be utilised for the benefit of the school as may be decided upon by the teachers."
19 Dec 1921
17 Dec 1921
Presentation of donated cot (bed) to Wallsend Hospital, funded from the surplus from the Lambton Jubilee celebrations.

The return of electric light to Lambton

Lambton’s first electric light scheme that commenced in 1890 was a financial disaster that sent the council broke. From December 1899 the council ceased to exist as a functioning entity, as no-one was willing to nominate to serve on a financially crippled council. In July 1903 a scheme was adopted to settle the debts over a period of 20 years, and an election for nine new aldermen was held in September 1903.

With the prospect of 20 years debt ahead of them, even as the new council formed there was still a desire to light the streets again one day.

The old debt is to be wiped off, less the accumulated interest; so it will be some time ere the streets and park are again illuminated, but the sooner the better.

Bowral Free Press, 12 September 1903.

But in the ensuing years any enthusiasm for bringing back the lighting was quickly curbed by the memory of the previous failed scheme and its legacy of debt. By 1914 there was sufficient interest in a proposal to illuminate Lambton’s streets by gaslight, that it was put to a municipal vote in August 1914, but the referendum was soundly defeated with 84 votes for and 199 votes against.

A key moment in the return of lighting to Lambton municipality occurred just a few months later, in a decision of another municipality. Newcastle Council, which at that time only covered the area east of National Park, had been operating an electric light system since January 1891. The council obtained electricity from two sources – by bulk purchase from the Zaara St power station owned by the Railway Commissioners, and from their own power station in Sydney Street.

1894 map showing location of Newcastle Electric Light Station in Sydney Street, now the western end of Tyrrell Street. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.
1930s map showing location of the Zaara St power station. National Library of Australia.

With this power station Newcastle Council had been primarily supplying electricity to consumers within its municipal boundary, but occasionally to users and businesses in neighbouring areas. By 1914 there was a need to increase the generating capacity of the power station, and at the Newcastle Council meeting of 9 November 1914, aldermen voted to accept the tender of the Australian General Electric Light Company at £5219 for the supply and installation of a new 500kw turbo-alternator and associated pipe work.

The installation was completed in 1915, and with the investment cost to pay off and considerable spare generating capacity, it was argued that “no opportunity should be lost for obtaining new clients, and every chance availed of for extending the service into the suburban municipalities.” At their meeting on 16 August 1915, Newcastle Council voted on the terms on which they would supply electricity to other councils.

“It was decided, on the recommendation of the city electrician, that in future all agreements with municipalities must provide for 21 years, sole rights with right of renewal … or an agreement for ten years, with sole rights of supply, terminable also by purchase of the council’s property within any such area …”

Negotiations were immediately begun to supply Wickham and Adamstown Councils with electricity. Supply to New Lambton was switched on in September 1916, and other council areas followed in quick succession.

While other suburbs queued up to sign on to an electrical supply from Newcastle Council, Lambton’s reticence continued. At a public meeting held in the council chambers on 8 June 1917, discussion on the question of a new electric lighting schemes was amiable, but views were divided. Aldermen Hardy and Polak were supportive, stating that “The borough would advance if lighting were installed.” Mr J Jones in opposing the motion said “Any man bringing up the scheme should be examined by a medical man.” When put to the vote, the motion was rejected.

However by 1918 the tide of opinion towards another go at street lighting was in the balance. At a council meeting in August 1918 the aldermen were evenly divided on the matter. Eighteen months later, when Louis Polak was elected as Mayor on 3 February 1920, he immediately declared his intention “to advocate a street lighting system.” He wasted no time in writing to Newcastle Council, who replied on 24 February 1920 that they

“would be pleased to confer and assist the council, with a view of expediting the proposal to instal street lighting in the municipality.”

At their meeting on 4 May 1920, Lambton Council voted to approve the proposal from Newcastle Council for the supply of electric street lighting.

“The agreement with the Newcastle Council specified £3 15s per lamp of 60 candle-power, with an increase of 2s 6d per lamp for every 1s increase in the selling price of coal over 11s per ton, the terms of the agreement to be for 10 years, and the minimum number of lamps to be 100.”

Being late to the party, Lambton had to wait until other councils had been connected. In July 1920 it was reported that …

“Preparations are being made for the erection of the poles for the electric lighting of the municipality. The council has been assured that there will be no undue delay so far as the Newcastle Council is concerned, and upon completion of the Waratah service, which is now well advanced, the electrical construction staff will be transferred to Lambton.”

Despite the assurance of “no undue delay”, six months later Lambton Mayor, Louis Polak, was complaining to Newcastle Council that …

“Although an agreement had been signed, nothing had been done. The [Newcastle Council] electrical engineer stated that the delay was due to the impossibility of getting poles and the plant necessary.”

Installation eventually commenced on 7 February 1921, with erection of poles in the section of Lambton east of Karoola Rd, followed by De Vitre and Elder Streets in March 1921. But progress was slowed again with the Newcastle City electrical engineer reporting delays …

“… owing to the difficulty in getting large quantities of bare copper cable for quick delivery, and of having received no advices of the transformer for the street lighting. The position was that 150 poles had been erected in six weeks, and as there were 391 poles to be erected they would take at the same rate of progress a further ten weeks to complete. The work had been slower than anticipated owing to a large number of poles being erected in rock, necessitating drilling and blasting.”

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 22 March 1921.

Construction progressed in the following months and was finally completed on 1 August 1921.

“The finishing touches in connection with the installation of the electric light will be completed to-day. The workmen were engaged on Saturday fixing the globes, and the remaining few will receive attention, and will be ready for the trial lighting which will take place to-morrow.”

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 1 August 1921.

The official switching on ceremony took place a few days later in Lambton Park on Thursday 4 August 1921.

“Punctually at seven o’clock in the evening Mrs. Polak, the Mayoress, switched on the electric light from the rotunda, in the vicinity of which a large gathering of citizens had assembled. Alderman Polak, the Mayor expressed his pleasure at the manner in which all the arrangements had been carried out. He hoped that the town would go ahead. It was a healthy suburb, and he saw no reason why it should not progress under the new conditions. Following the Mayor’s remarks, a display of fireworks was given.”

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 5 August 1921.
Newcastle Electric Light Station, Sydney St Newcastle, 1908. This was the generating station that supplied power to Lambton’s electric street lights in 1921. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.

The inscription on the facade of the building in the photo above reads
M. J. Moroney Mayor * Electric Light Station * Erected 1905

Although a generating station had been on the site since 1891, an enlargement of the building and generating capacity, was instigated in August 1905 when Michael Joseph Moroney was Mayor of Newcastle. The extensions were nearing completion in May 1906.

“Material additions and improvements are being made to the electric lighting station of the borough of Newcastle, and the prospects for the future are highly promising. In the front of the station there has been erected a brick structure, with a frontage of 60ft x 18ft, which contains an entrance hall, an electrical engineer’s office, fitting and testing room, and storeroom. An addition has also been made alongside of the original building, running the full length, and 37ft wide, which will give room for future extensions, in addition to those already decided upon.”

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 4 May 1906
An undated view of the Sydney St power station, taken from Darby St. University of Newcastle, Special Collections.
1930s map showing location of Newcastle City Electric Power House in Tyrrell St (formerly Sydney St). National Library of Australia.

Newspaper articles – electric light

Article Date Event DateNotes
2 Jan 1891
1 Jan 1891
Official opening of the Newcastle Council electric light scheme.
12 Sep 1903"Nine aldermen (out of 15 candidates) are being elected to-day. The old debt is to be wiped off, less the accumulated interest; so it will be some time ere the streets and park are again illuminated, but the sooner the better."
29 Jul 1914Letter from a resident urging the community to vote in favour of the gas powered lighting scheme.

"Lambton is naturally so situated that if only reasonable conveniences prevail, it will take its place in the future as one of the most desirable suburbs in the district to reside in, and I hope that the ratepayers will be alive to their own interests, and help the council in their efforts to bring about this much needed improvement."
24 Aug 1914
22 Aug 1914
"A poll of the ratepayers on the street-lighting question was taken on Saturday, and the number of ratepayers that voted was much larger than for some years, and very keen interest taken in the matter. The result was as follows :--For gas, 84 ; against, 199 ; informal, 3."
1 Oct 1914"During the last two or three years there has been a largely increased demand for electric current from the Newcastle City Council's plant … The council has been informed by its expert advisers that it is now urgently necessary that another generating unit should be installed."
10 Nov 1914Newcastle Council meeting: "On the recommendation of the finance committee it was decided to accept the tender of the Australian General Electric Light Company, at £4007 10s, for one 500 k.w. turbo-alternator, of British manufacture. The company's tender at £1212 was also accepted for the supply of pipework, making a total of £5219 10s."
4 Aug 1915
3 Aug 1915
At a Newcastle Council meeting, the aldermen discuss proposed extensions of the electric lighting into Wickham and Adamstown municipalities.
7 Aug 1915Letter regarding Newcastle Council electricity generation: "The actual units in commission now total about 950 kilowatts, with a new Turbo set erected, and which will be ready for work by the end of September. This will give 1450 k.w. The peak load is about 700 k.w., which occurs on Friday evenings, and this therefore shows a margin of about 700 k.w. No opportunity should be lost for obtaining new clients, and every chance availed of for extending the service into the suburban municipalities."
17 Aug 1915
16 Aug 1915
Newcastle Council decide on the terms under which they will suplply elecrtricity to other municipalities.
20 Sep 1916
18 Sep 1916
Formal switching on ceremony of New Lambton electric lighting.
9 Jun 1917
8 Jun 1917
"In response to a requisition of ratepayers Alderman E. Charlton, the Mayor of Lambton, convened a meeting, which was held at the council chambers last evening, to discuss the proposed lighting of the municipality."

Views for and against the proposed electric light scheme were put forward, but when put to the vote the motion was rejected.
2 Sep 1918"During the discussion which took place at the last municipal meeting upon the lighting of the municipality, the aldermen appear to be evenly divided. [Those] supporting the motion, contended that until some move was made in the direction indicated that the municipality would not make progress in keeping with adjoining centres, where a lighting system was installed. [Those] opposing the motion, argued that the council should first consider some scheme with a view of reducing the present indebtedness which they contended was the reason of keeping the town from progressing."
4 Feb 1920
3 Feb 1920
Newly elected Mayor of Lambton, Louis Polak, states his intention to advocate a street lighting system.
25 Feb 1920
24 Feb 1920
At Lambton Council meeting, correspondence received from "The Newcastle electrical engineer, intimating that the Newcastle Council would be pleased to confer and assist the council, with a view of expediting the proposal to instal street lighting in the municipality."
5 May 1920
4 May 1920
Lambton council votes to approve an agreement with Newcastle Council for the installation and supply of electric light.
26 Jul 1920"Preparations are being made for the erection of the poles for the electric lighting of the municipality. The council has been assured that there will be no undue delay so far as the Newcastle Council is concerned, and upon completion of the Waratah service, which is now well advanced, the electrical construction staff will be transferred to Lambton. It is expected that the lighting of the muni icipality will be installed by February or March of next year. With the switching on of the light the council will also have an opportunity of making the combined celebration of the jubilee, as the municipality will have been 50 years incorporated on the 26th June, 1921."
11 Jan 1921At the Newcastle Council meeting, the electricity committee reports on the delays to Lambton's electtic light installation.
8 Feb 1921
7 Feb 1921
"Employees of the electrical department of the Newcastle Council commenced yesterday the erection of the poles for the street lighting of the municipality. The first section to be undertaken is from Karoola-road to the eastern boundary."
23 Jul 1921Newcastle Electricity, conference of councils. Contains a short history of the supply of electricity from Newcastle Council.
1 Aug 1921"The finishing touches in connection with the installation of the electric light will be completed to-day."

Charles Noble

This month marks 100 years since the death of Charles Noble, whose immense contributions to Lambton colliery and Lambton township spanned more than 50 years.

Charles Noble was born in Nailsea near Bristol on 9 June 1856, and arrived in Australia the following year with his parents Mark and Elizabeth. They lived in the Merewether area for a few years before moving to Lambton.

Charles was just 10 years old when he first worked at Lambton Colliery for a brief three-week stint. He started at the colliery again in 1868, but on 17 June 1871, having just turned 15, misfortune struck.  While uncoupling a set of coal trains on an incline in the mine, his right arm was crushed between two wagons. The injury was severe and required the amputation of the arm.

As painful as it was, the accident, proved to be a positive turning point in Charles’ career. The mine manager Thomas Croudace, “recommended the company to give him a two years’ free schooling and then re-employ him as an apprentice for an under-manager’s position.” Charles attended Lambton Public School and went on to receive the “first prize of the school for good behaviour and general proficiency.” After schooling, he returned to Lambton colliery working at many jobs, eventually becoming underground manager.

Above ground Noble served the town in many capacities. He was elected as auditor for the Lambton council sixteen times. At various times he held positions at the Mechanics Institute, Lambton Park Trust, and assisted with local choirs, the Methodist Church, friendly societies and sporting clubs. On Sunday 10 July 1921, aged 65 Charles Noble died very suddenly of heart disease. He was at work just the day before, at Lambton colliery where he had been employed for a record 53 years. Such was the respect he was held in, the colliery ceased work for a day so that employees could attend his funeral. He was survived by his wife Annie, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Mildred.

Lambton Colliery staff, 27 May 1897. Charles Noble is sitting on the ground at the right.
Living Histories @ UoN.
Year 4 students at Lambton Public School (L to R) Brisan Archer, Riley Brooker, Jackson
Horvat and Harry Rayner with the historic coal hopper on campus. These students are the same
age as Charles Noble when he commenced working at Lambton colliery. Photo provided courtesy of Lambton Public School.

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


Additional Information

Arrival in Australia

The List of Immigrants for the ship “Alfred” which arrived on 23 July 1857 shows Charles Noble arrived with his youthful parents Mark aged 22 and Elizabeth aged 19. Charles is listed as an infant under 1 year, although he would have had his first birthday the month before the ship’s arrival date.

Immigrant List of the ship “Alfred”,showing the Noble family. NSW State Archives, NRS5316/4_4794/Alfred_23 Jul 1857

The Noble family’s safe arrival in the ship Alfred was fortuitous occasion, as reported at Charles’ funeral some 64 years later …

A full passenger list prevented the late Mr. Noble and his parents from sailing in the Dunbar, which was wrecked outside Sydney Heads, with almost a total loss of life. They came to Australia by the next ship, the Prince Alfred.

The Newcastle SUn, 11 July 1921

The Dunbar was shipwrecked on 21 August 1857 with the loss of 120 lives, and just one survivor.

The accident

The accident and injury to Charles Noble was reported in the The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser on 22 June 1871. Note that Charles’ age is reported as “about seventeen”, however he had just turned 15.

I am sorry to have to report that an accident of a very painful nature occurred to a young man about seventeen [sic] years of age, named Noble, at the Lambton Colliery, on Saturday night last It appears the boy was uncoupling a set of coal trains at the incline bank in the pit, and by some means got his arm fast between the bumpers. The arm was so dreadfully lacerated as to create great fears that it will be necessary to amputate it. The bone was not broken, but the flesh, muscles, and bloodveins fearfully torn. Dr Hill and his assistant, Mr James, were fortunately at hand, and did what was necessary, and it is to be hoped they will succeed in saving the poor boy’s limb.

The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, 22 June 1871.

The following week, the Newcastle Chronicle reported on his recovery …

I am glad to be able to state that young Noble, the boy who lost his arm by the late accident at the Lambton Colliery, is progressing most favourably under the skilful treatment of Dr. Hill. Your contemporary the Pilot is in error in stating that it was through carelessness on the boy’s part that the accident happened, although, in the majority of cases, such is the case ; but in this instance it was anything but that, and under similar circumstances the most careful person might have been caught in a like manner.

THE Newcastle Chronicle, 27 June 1871.

Unfortunately the Chronicle reporter’s observation that the accident could happen to even the most careful person, proved to be tragically prescient. Just five months later a similar accident, at the same place, resulted in a youth of seventeen also requiring the amputation of his right arm.

Another of those serious and painful accidents which are of such frequent, occurrence, and present to the view of strangers coming among us so many fine healthy young men either maimed or crippled, occurred yesterday, at the Lambton colliery. A One smart young fellow, named Andrew Blimm, son of German parents, and about 17 years of age, while employed at his work, coupling and uncoupling the trams on the incline bank within the Lambton colliery, had his right arm so severely torn and lacerated from the hand to elbow joint as to leave no hopes of saving the limb. It was about this same, incline bank and this same rope that the young man, Charles Noble, not long ago lost his arm.

The Newcastle Chronicle, 25 November 1871.

Lambton Council

Charles Noble was elected as auditor to Lambton Council for 16 consecutive years in the period 1883 to 1898. The following year, with the council in the throes of the electric light scheme financial disaster, he was appointed as auditor by the Lieutenant Governor of NSW, when no-one was willing to nominate for positions in a bankrupt municipality.

Lambton council ceased to exist for a few years, but when it commenced again, Charles Noble was elected as an alderman at the election in September 1903. Being one of the three successful candidates who secured the lowest number of votes, his term as alderman only lasted until the next scheduled election in February 1904. He did not re-contest his position as alderman, but put himself forward for auditor again, but was unsuccessful.

Civic service ran in the Noble family. Charles’ brother Henry James Noble was town clerk of Lambton Council for many years, and brother George Noble was an alderman in Lambton for seven years and elected Mayor in 1905.

A short street in North Lambton with the prosaic name of “1st Street” was renamed to “Noble Street” in 1955, presumably in recognition of the service of the Noble brothers to Lambton.

OpenStreetMap

Residence

In 1902 a short report on the eighteenth birthday of Lydia Noble indicates that the family were living in Summerhill, which is the hilly area of Lambton east of the park, where Fitzroy and Illalung Roads run. It would seem they were renting there initially, for the first record of a land sale to the Nobles occurs in 1906, with Annie Noble purchasing Lot 1009 of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, in Fitzroy Rd. The block of land was subdivided into two parts in 1941 and is now 20 and 22 Fitzroy Rd.

Vol-Fol 1027-40. HLRV

Other photos

Newcastle library has another Ralph Snowball photo of the same group of colliery officials, minus one person. The photo was almost certainly taken on the same day, but at a different location at the colliery.

Noting that Charles Noble had lost his right arm, we can see that on the library site the photo is incorrectly displayed as a mirror image. I have corrected the mirroring in the photo below.

Colliery officials, Lambton mine, 1897. Ralph Snowball. Hunter Photobank
Charles Noble. Photo from ancestry.com supplied by Amy Gibbs.
Elizabeth Lydia, Annie, Charles and Mildred Noble. Photo from ancestry.com supplied by Amy Gibbs.
Grave site in Sandgate cemetery of Charles and Annie Noble , and other members of the Noble family.
The inscription on the headstone for Charles and Annie Noble is hidden by vegetation.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
22 Jun 1871
17 Jun 1871
Accident at Lambton colliery in which fifteen year old Charles Noble has his arm so severely crushed that it required amputation.
27 Jun 1871"I am glad to be able to state that young Noble, the boy who lost his arm by the late accident at the Lambton Colliery, is progressing most favourably under the skilful treatment of Dr. Hill."
25 Nov 1871
24 Nov 1871
Andrew Blimm (aged 17) loses an arm in an accident at Lambton Colliery, in very similar circumstances to Charles Noble five months earlier.
11 Jan 1873"Master Charles Noble was called up to receive the first prize of the school for good behaviour and general proficiency ; he proved to be one of the two young men who unfortunately lost one of their arms at the Lambton Colliery."
2 Sep 1874"The Lambton miners presented Andrew Blim, a young man who lost his arm some three years ago on the Lambton colliery, with the sum of £10 on Saturday last. They also intend giving a like sum to Charles Noble, who lost his arm about the same time, and while working at the same place as Blim."
12 Dec 1876
10 Dec 1876
"At the camp meeting on Sunday, a young man named Charles Noble, sat down on a glass bottle, and cut one of his fingers to the bone. As he has only one hand this accident is very unfortunate."
28 Dec 1878Charles Noble, secretary of the "Morning Star Band of Hope" lodge in Lambton.
2 Apr 1879
31 Mar 1879
"On Monday last Mr. Charles Noble, one of the officials of Lambton Colliery, happened a rather nasty accident. Whilst endeavouring to get out of the way of a skip, he ran his head up against a piece of iron, and inflicted a severe scalp wound, which caused the loss of much blood."
17 Nov 1883Charles Noble, marriage to Annie Robson, at Wallsend.
9 Apr 1891In testimony at a court case, Charles Noble states his occupation … "I am underground boss in Lambton pit."
23 May 1894Charles Noble elected as one of the Trustees of Lambton Mechanics' Institute.
24 Jul 1902Charles Noble elected as treasurer of Lambton Park Trust.
5 Oct 1904"The Scottish-Australian Mining Company has leased the old Lambton colliery to Mr. Charles Noble on tribute, and it is intimated that there is room for about 30 miners in the pit on district rates of pay."
5 Dec 1904
3 Dec 1904
Death of Mark Noble, father of Charles Noble.
9 Apr 1910
8 Apr 1910
Death of Elizabeth Noble, mother of Charles Noble.
30 May 1921"Mr. Charles Noble, the present undermanager has been employed with the company for over 52 years, which can be regarded as almost a record of service. He commenced work in the pit after leaving school as a set boy, and about two years afterwards he met with an accident while taking off the rope, necessitating the amputation of one of his arms. Work of a light nature was subsequently found him. He became studious, and had no difficulty in passing the examination qualifying for an underground manager."
11 Jul 1921
10 Jul 1921
Obituary on the death of Charles Noble.
11 Jul 1921
10 Jul 1921
"The death took place at Lambton yesterday morning of Mr. Chas. Noble, brother of the town clerk (Mr. H. J. Noble) at the age of 66, from heart failure. Deceased, who was a native of Somersetshire, England, lived at Lambton for 56 years, and was associated with the Lambton Colliery (during the greater portion of the time as under-manager), for 53 years."
12 Jul 1921
11 Jul 1921
"Lambton colliery was idle yesterday, so that its employees might attend the funeral of the under-manager, Mr. Charles Noble, who died on Sunday morning."
12 Jul 1921
11 Jul 1921
Funeral of Charles Noble.
17 Aug 1921
14 Aug 1921
Memorial service for Charles Noble at Lambton Methodist Church - "Mr. Noble had been associated with the church since childhood, and was a trustee for many years. "
20 Jun 1934Death of Ann Noble (widow of Charles), aged 71.
4 Nov 1955"First Street" in North Lambton renamed to "Noble Street".

The plaque is found

Back in September 2015 I wrote about the power station built in Lambton in 1890 to supply the electric light scheme. In a follow-up article in August 2017 I wrote about the commemorative plaque that had been placed on the power station at its opening, and that its last known location was Nesca House in 1975. Ed Tonks subsequently provided to me a photo showing the plaque on display in 1985, but that its current whereabouts was unknown. 

A few weeks, thanks to keen work from Robert Watson, the plaque was located in storage at Ausgrid’s Wallsend depot. This weekend the plaque is on display for the Love Lambton 150 celebrations, in the Lambton library, which is the former Lambton council chambers where all the decisions about the electric light scheme were made by the aldermen and mayor.

The Lambton Electric Light Station plaque, on display in Lambton library. 26 June 2021.