The Commonage

This month marks 130 years since one of the most important events in the economic development of Newcastle, when an act of parliament released a large tract of land from a longstanding legal limbo. The Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, also known as the Commonage, consisted of 1600 acres stretching from Waratah to Adamstown. Summarising its history in 1889, the Sydney Morning Herald noted that

“The Newcastle Pasturage Reserve was marked out in 1850 for the purpose of affording a run for stock which were then being shipped to New Zealand. The immediate purpose of it passed away, but the reserve remained. On it were valuable coal seams, and after the passing of the Land Act of 1861 the land inside its boundaries was mostly leased for mining purposes. The opening of the mines drew a large number of miners to the district, many of them without much money, and they began to put up rough shelter for themselves on the reserve, close to their work. There was nobody to forbid them, or to levy any rent. The quality of the houses put up was very inferior, because as they knew they had no title the men naturally did not care to spend too much.”

In 1871 the 300 residents of the Commonage lobbied the government to obtain legal title. For the next eighteen years, governments alternately promised and procrastinated, until finally in June 1889 the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Act was passed. This gave the residents (now numbering 5000) the right to purchase the land they lived on, and allowed the remaining land to be sold or reserved for public use. Sittings of the Land Court in 1890 set purchase prices, and although residents grumbled they were too high, most took the opportunity to become landowners instead of squatters.

The legal certainty of land title granted by the Act was an essential step that enabled the development of housing, commerce, industry and recreational facilities in the heart of Newcastle, worth billions of dollars today.

The article above was first published in the June 2019 edition of The Local.

The area of the Commonage includes parts of ten different modern suburbs. Google Earth.
A legacy of the 1889 Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Act is the many sporting fields and parks in the heart of the suburbs.

Additional information

In the published article I quoted a small section of a Sydney Morning Herald article from 10 June 1889 which contained a good summary of the history of the Commonage. Here’s the article in full.

The Newcastle Pasturage Reserve was marked out in 1850 for the purpose of affording a run for stock which were then being shipped to New Zealand. The immediate purpose of it passed away, but the reserve remained. On it and cIose around it were valuable coal seams, and after the passing of the Land Act of 1861 the land inside its boundaries was mostly leased for mining purpose, and the land adjoining was conditionally purchased, The opening of the mines draw a large number of miners to the district, many of them without much money to start afresh in the world, and they began to put up rough shelter for themselves on the reserve, as a cheaper arrangement than going into lodgings, or buying an allotment and building. And, indeed, there seems to have been no superabundant supply of township land convenient for their purpose, even if they had been able to buy and build. The common was the most convenient spot for their purpose, and was close to their work. There was nobody to forbid them, or to levy any rent, and one trespass encouraged another. At the same time, the quality of the houses put up was very inferior, because as they knew they had no title the men naturally did not care to spend too much. The houses and rooms are stated to be very small, and many of them overcrowded, but the tenements seem to have been on separate allotments, and being thus detached have fortunately good ventilation.

When the trespassers had come to number three hundred, they felt themselves strong enough to approach the Minister and ask for a favourable consideration of their position. This was as far back as 1871, and Mr. John Bowie Wilson, who was then in charge of the Department, is said to have given the deputation a favourable answer. There is, however, no official record of the promise, and nothing was done. This was the beginning of a long series of deputations, and a series of promises, all of which were destined to be broken, for during eighteen years Minister after Minister has intended to deal with the matter, but has had to leave office before being able to do so. The bill that is now before Parliament is the first that has actually been prepared, the other departmental action having been only to survey the ground. These surveys, however, have been valuable preparatory work, because it appears from them that, with the exception of a few cases in which houses will have to be shifted off the main roads, it will be possible to give every existing occupier about a quarter of an acre, and the balance of the land may be reserved or sold as may be most expedient.

The promises of successive Ministers since Mr. J. B. Wilson first gave encouragement to the trespassers in 1871 seem to have acted like a charm. Every time a deputation went up to the Minister and came back again with an assurance that a bill would be introduced to give some sort of a title, the process of occupation proceeded merrily ; so that while in Mr. Wilson’s time there were only three hundred trespassers to be dealt with, there are now more than a thousand, while the whole population, including women and children, is nearly five thousand. If Mr. Wilson, when giving the first promise, had at the same time sent up a bailiff to see that there was no more trespassing, and had begun to levy a fair rental on the then occupiers of the said ground, the mischief would have been arrested at its then magnitude ; but the first Minister to do anything more than promise was Mr. GARRETT. He issued three writs of intrusion for the sake of asserting the Crown title, and he appointed a bailiff, and so for the last two or three years there has been no increase in the number of trespassers. The Select Committee having to deal with things, not as they ought to have been, but with things as they are, has considered the best course to pursue. At different times there have been different proposals. One Minister thought of giving trespassers annual leases; another proposed to sell the land by auction, securing to the occupier the value of his improvements ; and another to sell the land at an estimated value, and this last is Mr. Brunker’s plan. The committee report that they have considered all three schemes, and have finally decided to support that proposed in the bill. The eviction of so large a number of people is out of the question, especially in the light of so many Ministerial promises that they should be secured in their holdings. To lease the land would not give an adequate stimulus to improvement in the style of tenement, and that seems to have been very much wanted ; and at the whole of the common is not wanted for a reserve, there is no objection to selling, provided the Crown gets a fair price. The conclusion arrived at, therefore, seems to be the best under the circumstances. The trespassers, of course, have not a scrap of legal title ; and, as some of them have been there for more than twenty years without paying any rent, they have had the full value of their improvements. Still, there they are, and they have been encouraged to go there by the neglect of the Government, and to stay there by the promises of the Government, and under the circumstances a compromise must be arrived at. The value of the land will have to be determined by the local land board, but the evidence goes to show that the land is now worth from a hundred to five hundred pounds an acre, so that the Crown will, at any rate, get a revenue from the sale, and will, in fact, get more than if the land had been sold prior to its occupation. The people, by settling on the land and making a township of it, have given a value to the land which it did not previously possess. After all the claimants have been satisfied, there will still be a good deal available for auction, and an adequate amount left for public reserves.

Because there was some doubt as to whether the commonage area had been formally gazetted back in 1850 when it was first set aside by the government, the area was formally reproclaimed in the Crown Lands Alienation Act, published in the Government Gazette of 24 December 1861.

1888 map showing the area of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve with green borders. Note the date of 24 December 1861, being the date of the Crown Lands Alienation Act.

Some 60 years after the creation of the Pasturage Reserve, a short Newcastle Morning Herald article on 16 November 1910 indicated that the genesis of the reserve was in 1849.

The large area of ground known as the Pasturage Reserve, stretching from a point to the south-east of New Lambton well up into the Waratah municipality, was set apart about 60 years ago, for the purpose of enabling the residents of Newcastle to depasture cows thereon. The first reference to the matter of making the reserve is contained in a letter from Horace Charlton, local surveyor, to the bench of magistrates, at Newcastle, on 21st December 1849: – “Gentlemen – Having received instructions from the Surveyor-General, by his letter dated February 8th, 1849, No. 49/61, to consult the magistrates and other well-informed inhabitants of Newcastle as to the propriety of making a reserve for depasturing the townspeople’s milch cows, I forward herewith a map of all the lands in the vicinity of that city, and shall feel obliged by receiving your opinion as to which of the lands still vacant beyond Throsby’s Creek will be most suitable for such a purpose.

The Land Court

In July to September of 1890 the government held 41 days of sittings of the Land Court, to adjudicate on applications from Commonage residents to purchase their allotments. The court either allowed or disallowed applicants to purchase based on the nature of the improvements they had made on the land. Occasionally there were multiple applicants for the same portion of land, and the court had to decide which (if any) applicant would be successful. For successful applicants, the court then set a purchase price, based on evidence provided by valuers, and occasionally calling witnesses to testify.

The outcome of the land court sittings were published in the newspaper each day. They provide an interesting snapshot of the residents of the Commonage in 1890, with incidental details of the nature of various businesses and enterprises conducted in the area at the time. I have compiled a list of all the names of people who were applicants in the land court hearings. The list is available in Excel Online or as a PDF.

The Historical Land Records Viewer has a two part map that shows the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve with the lot numbers as mentioned in the land court hearings. An excerpt of the map is shown below.

Note that this map is a seventh edition dated 18 August 1976, with later additions up to January 1978. Although this is nearly 90 years after the Commonage allotments were mapped out, I have provided a link to this map rather than an older one because the lot numbers are the same as in 1890 and are easier to read in this ‘modern’ rendering of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve map.

Click on the images below to view the full map details.

Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Map – Sheet 1
Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Map – Sheet 2
Day Date Occurred Date reported
1 7/7/1890 8/7/1890
2 8/7/1890 9/7/1890
3 9/7/1890 10/7/1890
4 11/7/1890 12/7/1890
5 18/7/1890 19/7/1890
6 19/7/1890 21/7/1890
7 21/7/1890 22/7/1890
8 22/7/1890 23/7/1890
9 23/7/1890 24/7/1890
10 24/7/1890 25/7/1890
11 28/7/1890 29/7/1890
12 29/7/1890 30/7/1890
13 30/7/1890 31/7/1890
14 31/7/1890 1/8/1890
15 4/8/1890 5/8/1890
16 5/8/1890 6/8/1890
17 6/8/1890 7/8/1890
18 7/8/1890 8/8/1890
19 8/8/1890 9/8/1890
20 11/8/1890 12/8/1890
21 12/8/1890 13/8/1890
22 13/8/1890 14/8/1890
23 14/8/1890 15/8/1890
24 15/8/1890 16/8/1890
25 18/8/1890 19/8/1890
26 19/8/1890 20/8/1890
27 20/8/1890 21/8/1890
28 21/8/1890 22/8/1890
29 22/8/1890 23/8/1890
30 25/8/1890 26/8/1890
31 26/8/1890 27/8/1890
32 27/8/1890 28/8/1890
33 28/8/1890 29/8/1890
34 29/8/1890 30/8/1890
35 1/9/1890 3/9/1890
36 2/9/1890 Day 36/37 reported together
37 3/9/1890 5/9/1890
38 4/9/1890 Day 38/39 reported together
39 5/9/1890 6/9/1890
40 8/9/1890 9/9/1890
41 9/9/1890 10/10/1890

Post 1890

Most people residing on the commonage prior to the passing of the Pasturage Reserve Act in 1889 took up the option of purchasing. Although the expectation was that this was a good investment and that land values would increase, depressed economic times meant that many people had trouble paying for their land in the time allotted. A report in September 1895 described the problem.

The occupiers were allowed to purchase their holdings by auction, the price being made payable by instalments. Since that time another short Act has been passed for the purpose of facilitating the purchases and promoting the objects of the original Act. But since the passing of the second Act a very serious change has come over the coal-mining industry in this quarter. Wages have gone down, work has become lamentably slack, the outside municipalities are generally staggering under burdens of debt, and serious shrinkages of values have taken place almost everywhere. Many of the people have had within the last two years hard work to keep soul and body together, without at all thinking as to how the instalments on their holdings are to be paid to the Government.

The Government in 1895 thus passed an amendment to the Pasturage Reserve Act to provide purchasers with more lenient repayment terms. As the newspaper report noted …

People are now beginning to discover that large tracts of land are next to useless without inhabitants, and that it is good policy to make the conditions of settlement so easy that the poorest person, if desirous of earning an honest livelihood, can fulfil them.

Land values remained depressed in the Commonage area for many years. Charles Baker of Waratah, writing to the newspaper in June 1906 complained that …

The land was never at any time worth the Government prices put upon. it. The effect of that mistake was that almost every resident became victims to departmental overvaluation. To-day probably 700 to 800 of these original residents have become dispossessed of their holdings from various causes, but chiefly owing to the price charged being beyond their means.

A newspaper report the following month in July 1906 stated that …

As regards land values, they have certainly depreciated from 15 to 25 per cent during the last ten years. This is due to three causes – depression in the mining industry, the cessation of Lambton, Waratah, Burwood, and other large collieries, which are worked out, and no longer give employment, and the opening and development of the Maitland coalfields, which have attracted large number of miners and business people from these suburbs.

Despite this temporary setback, the land eventually appreciated in value. In April 1921 it was reported that …

The unsold allotments in the Newcastle pasturage reserve, which a few years ago was regarded as little value, are being taken up, and in some instances the purchase has exceeded the upset [reserve] prices. Inquiries are being made almost daily from applicants desirous of purchasing land in the locality.

Current Value of the Commonage Area

In the published article I stated that the passing of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Act in 1889 “enabled the development of housing, commerce, industry and recreational facilities in the heart of Newcastle, worth billions of dollars today.”

I have no qualifications in geo-econometric modelling, so exactly how many billions of dollars the Commonage area is now worth, is difficult to say. However one piece of hard data that can help answer this question is the land value of residential property. The Valuer General of NSW has made available land values via the NSW Globe KML from Spatial Services.

Looking at a small section of residential housing in the middle of the Commonage area adjacent to Turton Rd New Lambton, there are 88 properties over 11 acres valued at a total of 39.5 million dollars. This averages out to 3.6 million dollars per acre.

The Commonage covered approximately 1600 acres, and about half that area is now used for residential purposes. In residential areas, the streets comprise about 15%, so the area of land of the actual residences will be about 680 acres. Therefore the total land value of residences will be approximately 680 x 3.6 million, which is 2.4 billion dollars.

About half of the 1600 acres of the Commonage is now used for residential purposes (shaded blue).

Note that this estimate of 2.4 billion dollars is just the land value of residences, and doesn’t include the value of buildings, or of industrial land and facilities, public reserves, streets or other infrastructure. Including all these probably puts the value of the Commonage area today into the tens of billions of dollars.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
4 Nov 1857Brief mention of the Commonage Reserve in connection with discussions on the proposed Newcastle Municipality.
25 Oct 1860“Mr. ROBERTSON said that no portion of the surface land referred to had been leased to any one, but permission had been given some years ago to Messrs. Morehead and Young to work the coal on the land before the reserve was made, and that permission had afterwards been transferred to the A. A. Co. It was clear that the Municipal Council of Newcastle could have no claim to the coal. The land was given to them for grazing purposes, and was still at their disposal for commonage."
24 Dec 1861Proclamation in the Government Gazette of "The Crown Lands Alienation Act, 1961". As there was uncertainty about whether the Newcastle Commonage had been formally proclaimed back in 1850, this Act reproclaimed the commonage area as being excluded from conditional sale.
1 Jun 1865Public meeting on the issue of reserves, at which it is bemoaned that Newcastle Council had not been granted title to the surface of the commonage area, whilst under the surface the state government had leased out the mining rights to coal companies at a measly rate of £2 per acre.
2 Sep 1871Public meeting of the Commonage residents, held at Griffiths Flat.
21 Sep 1871
20 Sep 1871
Public meeting of the Commonage residents, held at Griffiths Flat, reporting on the deputation sent to the Minister for Lands.
20 Nov 1873The name 'Newcastle Pasturage Reserve' first appears in the newspapers, in an article about the nuisance of goats roaming the streets … "We see no reason why these useful animals should be denied the right of pasturage on the public reserves. The 2000 acres usually designated Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, was intended by the Government for this very purpose."
29 Sep 1874“Urged by deputation after deputation, the Government consented to survey and value the Commonage, and put it up for sale by auction. Accordingly Surveyor Evans surveyed the Common into allotments, and made a valuation thereof. The persons resident thereon were much elated by this proceeding, and thought that they would be able to purchase the land on which they dwelt, but their joy was not of long duration, as since the survey and valuation nothing towards a final disposal of the allotments has been done.”
22 Sep 1875“The influx of strangers into this part of the district is creating a great demand for houses, which are not to be obtained at any price. Several very substantial houses are at present being built on the Commonage. It is fortunate for poor people that they have the Commonage to build upon, as the high price of land in the township takes it completely out of their reach.”
26 Mar 1885Waratah Council meeting discusses the Commage … “Alderman CHAPMAN said the Mayor was in error with reference to the trustees been appointed for the Commonage. It was only proclaimed in a Government Gazette as the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve. The MAYOR said he had been informed by a very good authority on the history of Newcastle. Alderman TURTON said that the late Mr. James Hannell, when member for Newcastle, was asked to nominate trustees. He did so, but they were never officially appointed.”
1 Aug 1885"Last Saturday the Minister for Lands visited Newcastle with the view of making himself acquainted with the circumstances attending the settlement of a large number of people on the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, better known as the Common. This reserve is situated about four miles distant from the city, in the vicinity of Adamstown Hamilton, Waratah, and Old and New Lambton. It comprises an area of 2000 acres, and is settled on by 800 families, representing an estimated population of 4000 souls."
15 Dec 1888Mr Brunker introduces a bill to the Legislative Assembly to deal with the Commonage question. "Petitions were forwarded and deputations waited upon Ministers year after year, but with little success ... One Minister after another shrunk from solving this problem, and it appears to have remained for Mr. BRUNKER to make a final effort to do so."
23 Apr 1889"It is about time that the residents on the Commonage began to take an earnest and intelligent interest in the question of the legalisation of their unauthorised occupation of portions of the public estate."
24 Apr 1889A meeting of the Commonage residents held in Lambton Park, where "it was decided to appoint Mr. Melville to represent the interests of the commoners before the select committee of the Legislative Council."
27 Apr 1889A history of the Commonage as presented by the residents of the common in the lead up to the passing of the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Bill later that year.
10 Jun 1889A report on the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Bill contains a good summary of the history of the commonage.
22 Jun 1889
21 Jun 1889
"PARLIAMENT. FRIDAY, JUNE 21, 1889. LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY. The Speaker announced the assent of the Governor to the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve Bill."
24 Jun 1889
22 Jun 1889
Meeting of the Commonage residents near the New Lambton bridge. "Mr. MELVILLE said he had felt that, seeing the Commonage bill had been passed, it was now his duty to come up and explain the position of the residents."
18 Jul 1889“The history of the Commonage, as told by Mr. GEORGE LEWIS to the Select Committee on the bill, shows that prior to 1861 the land was shown on the maps as a reserve for the purpose of depasturing cattle prior to their shipment for New Zealand and elsewhere. The boundaries were clearly defined and charted, and have never been questioned. It is yet a moot point whether the land was formally dedicated by the Government as a reserve.”
3 Nov 1894"The Minister for Lands was urged, the other day, by a deputation to have a reappraisement of the holdings on the Newcastle Pasturage Reserve, or to grant a reduction or rebate of 25 per cent, of the appraised value, or to waive the claim for for interest on the deferred payments."
28 Feb 1895"A MEETING of Commonage residents was held at the Premier Hotel, Broadmeadow, on Friday evening, to receive the report of the deputation which waited on the Minister for Lands, asking for a proportionate reduction in the appraised values of their respective holdings."
21 Sep 1895A bill introduced to Parliament to amend the Pasturage Reserve Act to provide more lenient repayment terms.
10 Jul 1906"from recent estimates by the police and local council clerks, the settled population on the pasturage reserve is between 7000 and 8000 ... the total area of the reserve is about 1600 acres; it was subdivided into about 2500 portions of which number only 585 remain vacant... As regards land values, they have certainly depreciated from 15 to 25 per cent during the last ten years."
16 Nov 1910"The first reference to the matter of making the reserve is contained in a letter from Horace Charlton, local surveyor, to the bench of magistrates, at Newcastle, on 21st December 1849."
18 Apr 1921"The unsold allotments in the Newcastle pasturage reserve, which a few years ago was regarded as little value, are being taken up, and in some instances the purchase has exceeded the upset [reserve] prices. Inquiries are being made almost daily from applicants desirous of purchasing land in the locality"

Clearing up the halls

In the days before fast and reliable transport, entertainment was a necessarily a local affair, and Lambton had a multitude of halls.  This month I clear up misconceptions about two of Lambton’s venues.

In the 1880s roller-skating was wildly popular, and in August 1888, Nathaniel Elliott opened the Criterion Skating Rink in Morehead St. As well as skating, the building was used for social and community events, including the banquet to celebrate the opening of the electric light scheme in 1890. The skating craze soon waned, and Elliott installed a stage and re-opened his rink as the Star Theatre on 3 May 1892.

For the next nine years the theatre was regularly used for dramas, concerts, political meetings, exhibitions and lectures. From 1901 it fell in to disuse and by 1906 was described as “dilapidated”, and Lambton Council called for the owner to make repairs. The theatre was demolished and a new building erected in 1909.

Two years later in May 1911, the proprietor of the Northumberland Hotel, George Smith, invited tenders for “the erection and completion of large brick hall in Morehead St.” His building opened in December 1911 as the Coronation Hall, in honour of King George V. The building later became Kings Theatre and is now Lizotte’s. Because George V became king in 1910 on the death of his father, the hall is often erroneously dated to that year. However, the coronation ceremony took place the following year on 22 June 1911.

In the 1920s roller-skating had a resurgence, and the hall was briefly known as the “Coronation Skating Rink”. The similarity of name with the “Criterion Skating Rink” of 1888 led to some confusion, with some books incorrectly stating that the Criterion Rink/Star Theatre was located on the corner of Morehead and Kendall Streets.  However, contemporary newspaper reports and a Hunter Water Board map from the 1890s make it clear that the Star Theatre was located on the south-west corner of De Vitre and Morehead Streets.

1890s Hunter Water Board map showing the Criterion Skating Rink/Star Theatre (1888-1909) on the southwest corner of De Vitre and Morehead St, Lambton. Newcastle Region Library.
The Coronation Hall (now Lizottte’s), corner of Kendall and Morehead St, Lambton, erected in 1911. Photo from April 2019.

The article above was first published in the May 2019 edition of The Local.

Clearing up the confusion

I’m not sure when or where the conflation of the Coronation Hall with the Criterion Skating Rink began, but I was introduced to it when I first started researching and writing on Lambton’s history in 2015. Although a number of modern sources stated that the Coronation Hall was built on the site of the Criterion Skating Rink I could find no early evidence for this. Over the next few years I kept expecting that at some time I’d stumble across something to confirm the location, but nothing turned up. In 2018 I found a couple of newspaper articles that were suggestive that the Star Theatre was NOT on the corner of Kendall and Morehead St, but not definitive.

By 2019 I was also increasingly frustrated with the conflicting dates reported for the construction of the Coronation Hall, so I made a concerted effort to pin down the dates and locations of the Criterion Skating Rink/Star Theatre/Coronation Hall. A key component in this investigation was to compile a spreadsheet of references to newspaper articles that referred to these venues. As clues to the location/dates of the venues emerged, I overlaid key information into Google Earth.

I was eventually able to confirm the location of the Star Theatre with the following information:

  • A 3 May 1892 article makes it clear that the Criterion Skating Rink became the Star Theatre.
  • A 24 January 1889 article states that the skating rink was on De Vitre St.
  • A advertisement from 18 February 1903 indicates that the Star Theatre was near the corner of Morehead and De Vitre Streets.
  • A couple of articles about footpath and kerb maintenance (23 November 1893 and 21 June 1894) indicate that the Star Theatre was on Morehead St, probably on the west side.

The evidence thus far points strongly to the theatre being on one of the corners of De Vitre and Morehead St, but which of the four corners?

  • The advertisement from 18 February 1903 is for a house and property on one of the corners. By comparing the dimensions of the blocks of land with property boundaries available from the NSW Globe KML I could determine that the land for sale was on the north-west corner.
  • The north-east corner was ruled out as maps were clear that it was part of the block of land allocated for the Post and Telegraph Office.
  • The south-east corner was a promising possibility. To this day there is a hall standing on this location (now a private residence). Could this hall have been the Star Theatre? However newspaper articles and photos from Newcastle Library Photobank make it clear that this hall was the Masonic hall, constructed in August 1906, prior to council calling on the owners of the Star Theatre to make repairs in September 1906.

By a process of elimination, the Star Theatre must have been located on the south-west corner. Having come to this conclusion, shortly afterwards Julie Keating provided me with confirming evidence by pointing me to the 1890s Water Board maps, which showed a theatre on that location, just as I had deduced it should be.

Regarding the Coronation Hall, references to that name only started appearing in the newspapers in late 1911. But there was some doubt as to whether that was because it was newly erected building, or the renaming of an existing building. I confirmed that it was a new building when I found the advertisement from 10 May 1911 where “Tenders are invited for the erection and completion of large brick hall in Morehead-street, Lambton, for Mr George Smith.”

Other halls

Lambton has had a large number of different halls, theatres, and entertainment venues over the years. Some of the halls were associated with hotels, and often the hall was named after the hotelier at the time. Consequently the same hall could be referred to by many different names over the years. To help keep track of the different halls I have created a spreadsheet with references to relevant newspaper articles. Note that this is a work in progress, and not a definitive list.

Star Theatre

The Star Theatre was used for many different purposes. The following list is a sample of the kinds of events held there.

  • 3 May 1892 – Drama
  • 8 June 1892 – comedy, music, dancing, and phrenology!
  • 25 June 1892 – Anniversary service and public tea for the Lay Methodist Sabbath School
  • 25 July 1892 – Political meetings, on this occasion an address by George Houston Reid, then leader of the NSW opposition, who later became Premier of NSW (1894-1899) and Prime Minister of Australia (1904-1905).
  • 30 July 1892 – Benefit concert, to aid an invalid miner.
  • 17 December 1892 – Lecture – “The Story of C. H. Spurgeon.”
  • 26 August 1893 – Church of England social.
  • 5 June 1897 – Wakely’s Cinematograph
  • 14 September 1897 – Photographic exhibition by Herr Gustav Paul
  • 28 October 1898 – Spiritualism and Clairvoyance
  • 16 February 1899 – “Chippeway” the Indian Healer – Lectures and Public Cures.
  • 30 June 1899 – wedding reception.
  • 10 November 1899 – meeting of Lambton ratepayers
  • 26 February 1900 – “CAPTAIN JOHN RUSSELL, the world renowned Explorer, will give one of his popular and amusing Entertainments, illustrated by one of the most powerful Syopticans in the world.” (A sciopticon was also known as a magic lantern.)

The Victoria Hall

For reasons of space and simplicity, one detail I omitted from the published article was what was built on the site of the Star Theatre in 1909. An article from 7 June 1890 reported on a dance to celebrate the opening of the Victoria Hall.

The hall is a neat structure, and is erected on the site of the old Star Theatre at the corner of Morehead and De Vitre streets. It occupies a floor space of 50ft by 24ft., with a stage on the western end. Ventilation has been well arranged, and with high walls the sounding propensities are good. Mr. J. Hutton was congratulated on his enterprise.

For the next year, there are a few references to this hall, until a final mention on 21 July 1910. What happened to this hall is unknown. As is often the case in researching local history, as one mystery is solved, another rises in its place.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
10 Aug 1888"Two of our enterprising townsmen are about to erect large skating rinks. Mr. N. Elliott's, in Morehead-street, when complete will be about 50 x 50, and will certainly surpass any building for size in the town." (There is no evidence that the second rink, planned to be erected by Mr Cairns, was ever built.)
14 Aug 1888First mention of the Crriterion skatin rink by name. In an advertisement: "CRITERION SKATING RINK, Lambton.-Skating Match between two local amateurs will take place TO-NIGHT; £5 stakes, and half-mile race."
24 Jan 1889In a council meeting … "Alderman PALMER asked who supervised the repairs to the end of De Vitre-street, near the skating rink ?"
3 May 1892
3 May 1892
Opening of Mr. ELLIOTT'S STAR THEATRE, Lambton, with a performance by Sample's Dramatic Company of the Great Romantic Hunter River Drama, entitled "The Dagworth Mystery, and Anthony's Dream."
3 May 1892"Mr. Elliott, the proprietor of the Criterion Skating Rink, has decided to make a change in his building, which deserves special mention. A stage has been fitted up with the necessary appliances added, also the floor covered with commodious forms, and additional electric lamps have been arranged suitably, which gives the building quite a changed and taking appearance. It now bears the name of the Star Theatre."
23 Nov 1893In a council meeting … "Alderman Conn called attention to bad state of the kerbing between his shop and the Star Theatre."
21 Jun 1894In a council meeting … "Alderman Coleman called attention to the bad state of the footpath from the Star Theatre to the Prince of Wales Hotel."
2 Mar 1901The last time the Star Theatre is mentioned in an advertisement.
18 Feb 1903"For Absolute Sale. LAMBTON. A Very Comfortable 6-Roomed Cottage, Fronting Morehead and De Vitre Streets, near the Star Theatre." This house was on the north west corner of the intersection.
23 Oct 1903"The old Star Theatre has become very much delapidated, and, since the demolition of the Music Hall, the suburb stands in need of a large hall."
9 Jan 1905
7 Jan 1905
Last mention of the Star Theatre being used. (For a miners' meeting.)
24 May 1906At a council meeting … "Alderman Burg suggested that the attention of the owners be drawn to the dilapidated condition of the building in Morehead-street, known as the Star Theatre."
12 Sep 1906At a council meeting … "Dr. Dick also advised that the owners of the old Star Theatre be requested to make certain repairs to the building."
7 Jun 1909
4 Jun 1909
"A dance to celebrate the opening of the Victoria Hall, Lambton, was held on Friday evening. The hall is a neat structure, and is erected on the site of the old Star Theatre at the corner of Morehead and De Vitre streets."
21 Jul 1910
20 Jul 1910
Last mention of the Victoria Hall in Lambon.
10 May 1911"TENDERS are invited for the ERECTION and COMPLETION of LARGE BRICK HALL, in Morehead-street, Lambton, for Mr. George Smith."
25 Oct 1911"The Coronation Hall, Lambton (near tram terminus), will shortly be opened as the Adelphi Picture Palace, under the direction of the lessees, Messrs. A. F. Ralph and Son. There will be seating for 600 to 700 persons. Provision is also made to enable a large picture to be produced by a powerful electric plant and cinematograph."
25 Dec 1911
23 Dec 1911
"There was a fairly large and appreciative audience at the Coronation Hall at the opening of Ralph's Adelphi Pictures on Saturday evening."
23 Mar 1912
20 May 1912
"A social was tendered to Mr. H. J. Noble by his relatives and Lambton friends on Wednesday evening in Smith's Coronation Hall, as a send-off prior to his departure for Bowral."
25 Jun 1921Report on the jubilee of Lambton Council. "Until the erection of the Coronation Hall, the principal places of amusement were the music hall and the Star Theatre, which were demolished many years ago."
19 May 1925"SKATING To-day and To-night. Coronation Hall, Morehead-st., Lambton. Good skates, good floor, good music."
15 Jun 1925"SKATING CARNIVAL, Plain, Fancy, Comic, and Poster Dress. At the Coronation Skating Rink."
23 Jun 1925"Success attended the skating carnival which was held in the Lambton Skating Rink, in Morehead-street."
16 Jul 1930Last mention of roller skating in the Coronation Hall.
14 Jul 1937First mention of Coronation Café.
25 Jun 1938"Messrs. Castleden and Sara invite tenders for repairs and alterations to the Coronation Theatre, at Lambton."
12 Jul 1938Last mention of Coronation Hall.
17 Jan 1939
16 Jan 1939
"The remodelled Lambton Theatre was opened last night by Mr. L. J. Copeland. A big crowd was present for the first screening in the building since it was closed some months ago for alterations. The building shows a tasteful use of the modern architectural style without unnecessary adornment."

The Sturey Mystery

Who was George Sturey? His name is one of 140 engraved on the Lambton Park WW1 memorial gates, and one of 29 shown as killed in action. This month marks 100 years since the planned opening ceremony of the gates in April 1919, a ceremony that never took place because the influenza pandemic at the time restricted public gatherings.

For the centenary of the gates, I set about compiling information on the soldiers listed on the pillars. By searching online resources from the Australian War Memorial and the National Archives, I managed to confirm the identity of most of the men, including all but one of those listed as killed. While newspapers were filled with reports of Lambton boys enlisting, departing and returning, there was but one scant reference to Sturey, in July 1918 where “Mrs Hincks of Pearson Street Lambton has received word that Private George Sturey has died of wounds.”

Searching the online records, I could find no trace of Sturey. In researching other soldiers I had found numerous errors with the gate inscriptions. Perhaps “Sturey” was a mis-spelling, or maybe an anglicised form of a German surname? Searching every possible name variant I could think of revealed nothing.

Eventually, after a page-by-page study of the embarkation rolls, in the records of the SS Port Napier, I located Salvatore Sturiali of Lambton, a surname that Australians would naturally shorten to Sturey. Confirmation came from the Red Cross “Wounded and Missing” files where a soldier reporting on Sturiali’s death recalled “We used to call him George”.

Sturiali died on 21 June 1918 on the Somme battlefield, when a German artillery shell hit the cookhouse he was serving in. His fellow soldiers described him as a “short, dark, curly headed chap” who “was very popular”.  An Italian born immigrant to Australia, killed on French soil, alongside the British in a war against Germany, Sturiali stands as an example of why the 1914-18 conflict was aptly named a World War.

The elusive name “Sturey G.” engraved on the Lambton Park Memorial Gates.
The 1916 enlistment form of Salvatore Sturiali, one of the documents that confirmed the identity of G Sturey.

The article above was first published in the April 2019 edition of The Local.

His identity

There were three key documents that confirmed that the George Sturey on the Lambton Park Memorial Gates was Salvatore Sturiali.

Sturiali’s name in the embarkation roll of the SS Port Napier.
“We used to call him George”. The Red Cross Missing and Wounded files.
Enlistment form of Salvatore Sturiali, with postal address of “Pearson St, Lambton”

His life

The following points summarise what we know of Sturiali, as gleaned from his war service records.

  • Born 1892 in Riposto, on the island of Sicily, in Italy.
  • Had a brother in Italy
  • No relatives in Australia
  • His mother Angelina Sturiali resided in Riposto, Italy at the time of his enlistment.
  • Served as an apprentice for 12 months on the sailing ship “Australian”
  • Lived in Pearson Street, Lambton.
  • “Prior to enlisting he was employed by Messrs. J. C. Davies and Sons and W. Timmins, contractors.”
  • Occupation on enlistment form shown as “Bricklayers Labourer”
  • Physical characteristics
    • “a little short dark chap”
    • “he spoke broken English”
    • “dark curly hair”
    • “about 5ft 7in in height, dark, curly headed, clean shaved”
  • War service
    • Enlisted 11 Sep 1916, aged 22 years and 8 months.
    • Assigned to 7th reinforcements of the 46th Infantry Battalion.
    • Embarked from Australia on SS Port Napier, 7 Nov 1916.
    • Was in D Company of the 46th Battn.
    • “employed in the officers mess”
    • “was batman to several officers”
    • “He was an officers’ cook”
    • “He was an officer’s waiter”

His death

  • Wounded at Battalion Headquarters at Sailly-le-Sec, when a German artillery shell hit the cook house Sturiali was serving in at about 9am on 21 June 1918. The battalion headquarters was located in a gully north-west of Sailly-le-Sec, and was about a mile behind the front line.
  • Taken to the 12th Field Ambulance nearby.
  • Died of wounds a few hours later at the 47th Casualty Clearing Station near Corbie.
  • Buried at Crouy British Cemetery, outside the village of Crouy-sur-Somme.
A map from the 46th Battalion War Diary June 1916, showing the location of the battalion headquarters in a gully north-west of the village of Sailly-le-Sec.
A Google Earth view of the gully where the 46th battalion headquarters was located in June 1918.
Google Earth image of the Somme Valley, showing where Sturiali was injured (Sailly-le-Sec), died (Corbie) and buried (Crouy-sur-Somme) in June 1918.
The location (marked with a red star) in Crouy British Cemetery, Somme, France, where Pte Salvatore is buried.
Pte G Sturey, listed on the Lambton Post Office Honour Roll.

Sturey is also listed on the Honour Roll at the front of the former Lambton Post Office, although his stated age of 25 is probably incorrect. On his enlistment form in September 1916 Sturiali lists his age as 22 years and 8 months, which means he would have been 24 years of age at his death in June 1918.

Links to information on Salvatore Sturiali

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
20 Jul 1918
21 Jun 1918
"Mrs. Hincks, of Pearson-street, Lambton, has received word that Private George Sturey has died of wounds. Prior to enlisting he was employed by Messrs. J. C. Davies and Sons and W. Timmins, contractors."
14 Apr 1919
12 Apr 1919
"There was a fairly large gathering on Saturday afternoon to witness the unveiling of the roll of honour gates. At the time fixed for the opening, Alderman Hardy said it was regretted that in consequence of the influenza restrictions the proposed opening ceremony would have to be dispensed with."

Adamstown Council Chambers

In 1869 Thomas Adam purchased 54 acres of Crown land south of Glebe Rd, subdivided it, and began selling lots to the public. Adamstown was born. In the next 15 years the population grew to about 1000, and the residents began petitioning for a local council to be formed. Their principal concern was the poor state of roads in the town. A counter petition was led by the mining companies, principally objecting to the rates they would have to pay.

The arguments for local government won the day, and on 31 December 1885 the NSW Governor officially proclaimed the “Municipal District of Adamstown”. The election of nine aldermen took place on 6 March 1886. For the next few weeks, the Council met in local halls and hotels while they quickly arranged the erection of a small weatherboard building in Victoria St to use as Council Chambers.

Six years later, in April 1892, they commissioned larger and grander chambers. Designed by architects Bennett and Yeomans in the Renaissance style, the building was erected on the corner of Narara and Kyle Roads. With construction not fully completed, 500 people gathered for the official opening on 22 August 1892. The Postmaster-general John Kidd declared the chambers open, and the fire brigade then “christened the building with a copious stream of water.”

The building was used for the next 46 years until Adamstown Council ceased to exist with the formation of the City of Greater Newcastle Council in March 1938. It was subsequently leased to the Returned Soldier’s League in 1941. From 1947, the building was used for a number of purposes, including at one stage as emergency housing for a homeless family. As the building aged, it gradually fell into disuse and disrepair.

Curiously, while the grand council chambers in Narara road was demolished over 50 years ago, and the site is now used by Hunter Health, the initial modest building in Victoria St survived, and is now used for a medical practice.

The article above was first published in the March 2019 edition of The Local.

The building in Victoria St used as Adamstown Council chambers 1886-1892.
Opening of the Adamstown Council Chambers in Narara Road, 1892. Photo courtesy of Newcastle Region Library.

Additional Information

For further information on Adamstown Council and other suburban municipal councils can be found from my Newcastle Municipal Councils page.

The Well Travelled Brick

The Jesmond bushland may be a nature reserve, but it also contains a fair amount of rubbish from 200 years of European settlement. However, the garbage of one generation can become the historical artefacts for a later generation.

A few years ago, amongst the discarded soft drink bottles and cans of this age, I found half a brick bearing a partial inscription “EJ & J PE… LTD STOU…” With a bit of guesswork as to what the missing letters might be, an internet search revealed that it was from the EJ & J Pearson Firebrick Works in Stourbridge, in the Worcestershire district of England.

Firebricks are a specialised kind of brick that can withstand high temperatures, and are used in the inner linings of furnaces or kilns. Although they were being made in Australia in the 19th century, they were considered inferior to those from the ‘mother country’. Stourbridge in England was the celebrated hub of firebrick manufacturing. The Sydney Morning Herald reported in 1879 that “the Stourbridge fire bricks are known all over the world for their durability; indeed the clay used for this purpose cannot be surpassed.”

The “EJ & J Pearson” company was one of many brick makers in Stourbridge, and was founded in 1860 by Edward Jewkes Pearson and John Pearson. By 1903 the company operated three sites and were producing approximately three-quarters of a million firebricks per week, to be used in England and around the world.

The brick that lies in the Jesmond bushland would probably have been used in a furnace, perhaps to provide air ventilation for the Lambton Colliery, or possibly to heat a boiler that powered a steam engine. It is impossible now to know its exact purpose, or what year it arrived on our shores. But this well-travelled brick is a reminder that Newcastle with its port and industries has been from the beginning, and remains to this day, a globally connected city.

The article above was first published in the February 2019 edition of The Local.

A firebrick from the EJ & J Pearson Company lies in the Jesmond bushland.
The Delph works, one of the three EJ & J Pearson brick making sites in Stourbridge UK. Photo courtesy of

More photos of the Stourbridge brickworks can be see on the website.

Additional Information

For simplicity, in the published story I referred to a single brick that I had found in the Jesmond bushland. I actually found two EJ & J Pearson firebricks, the second one located about 15 metres away from the first

Another firebrick from the EJ & J Pearson Company, found in the Jesmond bushland.

The regard for Stourbridge fire bricks is exhibited in a newspaper report on 31 December 1884, on the silver mine at Sunny Corner (between Bathurst and Lithgow), where it is stated that …

“Just now the larger furnace is idle, the brick lining having been burned out. This was of colonial fire bricks, but did not prove suitable, and only the best Stourbridge bricks will be used in future.”

An import list from January 1878, showing that 5000 Stourbridge firebricks were landed at Port Pirie SA.

The Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History has a number of pages relevant to the EJ & J Pearson firebricks

The history of the EJ & J Pearson company is a long and convoluted one of mergers, take-overs, name changes and de-mergers. After a merger in 1957 they became “Price-Pearson (Refactories)”, and then merged with “J. and J. Dyson” in 1968. The present day company “Dyson Technical Ceramics” can trace its history back to the original EJ & J Pearson company.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
9 Jan 1878Import list of the ship Flensborg, showing that 5000 fire bricks from Stourbridge were landed at Port Pirie in South Australia.
20 Sep 1879"The Stourbridge fire bricks are known all over the world for their durability; indeed the clay used for this purpose cannot be surpassed."
31 Dec 1884Stourbridge firebricks are held in high regard … "Just now the larger furnace is idle, the brick lining having been burned out. This was of colonial fire bricks, but did not prove suitable, and only the best Stourbridge bricks will be used in future."

Lambton/Mayfield Tramway

The first tramline in the city, running from Newcastle to Wallsend opened in 1887. Only two other lines opened in the next decade, but tramway fervour increased when Edward William O’Sullivan became NSW Minister for Public Works in 1899. O’Sullivan was a passionate supporter of public transport. He was the visionary in the construction of the ornate Central Railway Station in Sydney, and instigated many other rail and tram projects in NSW.

In Newcastle by 1901, Merewether, Adamstown and Mayfield had been added to the tram network, and many other suburbs clamoured to be the next tram destination. Lambton residents wanted a tram between their town and Mayfield. However the Mayor of Waratah, N. B. Creer, was highly critical, declaring that the proposed route

“comprises a variety of pitfalls and the land might subside at any time”

and that the income from passengers

“would not pay for grease for the rolling stock”

Creer’s preference was for Waratah to be connected by a line from Hamilton via Georgetown. The Minister agreed, and O’Sullivan promised that construction would start by 1903. However, drought and a downturn in the London money markets dried up funds, and government spending was reined in. O’Sullivan lost office in 1904 and the Waratah via Georgetown tramline was put on hold. The line eventually opened in 1915, the final extension of the tram network constructed in Newcastle.

In 1918, the Lambton to Mayfield route was again advocated, to provide transport for workers in the western parts of the city to the newly opened steelworks. But it was never to be. In the 1920s the rise of motorised bus services led to a decline in tram patronage, and from 1930 tramlines in Newcastle began to close. The last tram service in Newcastle ran on 11 June 1950 on the Waratah line.

In 2019, light rail services return to the city, and the opening of the Newcastle to Wickham line raises the same question asked in 1901, “Where to next?”

The article above was first published in the January 2019 edition of The Local.

Mayfield-Lambton Tramway Proposals 1901. Map by Ken McCarthy, Trolley Wire magazine October 1982. Courtesy of Sydney Tramway Museum Archives.
A tram sits at the intersection of Howe and Morehead Streets, Lambton, where the
proposed route to Mayfield branched off. Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Additional Information

Timeline of tram operations in Newcastle, 1887-2019

Date Tram line Event
19 Jul 1887 Wallsend/Plattsurg Opened
19 Apr 1894 Tighes Hill Opened
19 Apr 1894 Glebe (originally called Merewether line) Opened
13 Aug 1900 Adamstown Opened
11 Jan 1901 Mayfield (extension of Tighes Hill line to Hanbury St) Extended
21 Sep 1903 Merewether (beach) Opened
27 Apr 1907 Racecourse Opened
19 Sep 1910 West Wallsend Opened
11 Jul 1911 Wallsend (Newcastle to Lambton portion) Duplicated
15 Jan 1912 Speers Point Opened
23 Sep 1912 Carrington Opened
July 1914 Maryville (Port Waratah) Opened
20 Jan 1915 Waratah Opened
15 Dec 1923 Mayfield Electrified
27 Jul 1924 Merewether Electrified
2 Nov 1924 Glebe Electrified
2 Feb 1925 Adamstown Electrified
6 Apr 1925 Waratah Electrified
Nov 1925 Racecourse (possibly 11/11/1925?) Electrified
27 Dec 1925 Wallsend Electrified
15 Aug 1926 Carrington Electrified
11 Oct 1926 Port Waratah Electrified
1 Nov 1930 Speers Point Closed
1 Nov 1930 West Wallsend Closed
19 Nov 1938 Carrington Closed
19 Nov 1938 Port Waratah Closed
26 Sep 1948 Mayfield Closed
6 Nov 1949 Wallsend Closed
25 Feb 1950 Glebe Closed
25 Feb 1950 Merewether Closed
16 Apr 1950 Adamstown Closed
Apr 1950 Racecourse Closed
11 Jun 1950 Waratah Closed
17 Feb 2019 Newcastle Beach to Newcastle Interchange (Wickham) Opened
Passengers on the Newcastle Light Rail on the community open day, 17 Feb 2019

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
8 Mar 1889Carrington Council asking "the Government to make a tramway from Carrington, via Tighe's Hill and Mayfield to Lambton."
1 Sep 1900"The land on the suggested Lambton to Waratah route comprises a variety of pitfalls, and where falls have not taken place the land might subside at any time, a great deal of the country being undermined and the coal extracted from near the surface. "
"The Mayor of Waratah contends that a tramway between Waratah and Lambton would not pay for grease for the rolling stock, and suggests that this project might be dropped so as not to prejudice the construction of the Georgetown route, to which the Minister and the Commissioners are said to be favourable."
4 Sep 1900"The construction of a tramline between Waratah and Lambton is not advocated solely with a view of benefiting the residents living in the vicinity of the route, but also for the convenience of the travelling public of the whole district, more especially the people of the large centres of Wallsend and Plattsburg, who are at present unable to reach Hanbury, Tighe's Hill, Mayfield, or the Hunter River by tram unless they proceed via Wickham, which is both a costly and tedious journey, in order to reach those centres of population."
15 Nov 1900
13 Nov 1900
Conference between Lambton Citizens’ Committee and Waratah Council to discuss the competing routes. Lambton argued that the tram was “necessary as a means of conveyance for youths employed at the Soap Works, a number of workmen who travelled at week-ends and holidays to the river to fish.”
14 Jun 1901
13 Jun 1901
Mr G Fischer, the Engineer for Tramway construction, inspects a number of proposed tram routes. There is detailed description of the Lambton/Mayfield route that was subsequently illustrated in the map in Trolley Wire magazine in 1982.
The praises of William O'Sullivan are sung … “Very little doubt exists that a line will be made if Mr. O'Sullivan remains in power. His vigorous policy has already done much good for the district, and his present tramway proposals are held to be an evidence of his sincerity to make Newcastle up-to-date as the capital city of the great northern part of this State.”
15 Mar 1902"New South Wales is shortly to go on to the [London Money] market, but is holding back because of the unsettled condition of the market owing to South African affairs."
19 Mar 1902The Minister for Works writes to Waratah Council stating that the Waratah Broadmeadow tramway extension could be commenced at the end of June next. (June 1903)
20 May 1903"A deputation … interviewed the Minister for Works, Mr. O'Sullivan, to-day, and urged for the early redemption of his promise to construct the extension of the tram from Broadmeadow to Waratah."
The Minister said "he had given promises in good faith, but a man was sometimes the victim of his environment, and so was the State. Since the promises were given they had fallen upon bad times. The drought, the bad money market in London, and other troubles, and the Government had decided to reef-sail in the matter of expenditure."
8 Aug 1905"The residents of Waratah … are waiting patiently for the construction of the branch line from Broadmeadow Junction. The line was surveyed some years ago, and pegs mark the proposed route. "
"When Mr. O'Sullivan was Minister for Works he was taken over the route. He decided then that it was the proper way to take the line, and promised that it should be constructed. However, he went out of office, and the matter has been hung up since. "
19 Jun 1918Lambton Council meeting: "Correspondence was received from J. Estell, intimating that he would assist thecombined councils in urging the Government to construct a tram line from Lambton, via Waratah and Mayfield, to the steel works."
10 Mar 1920Call to convene a conference "for the purpose of taking concerted action towards procuring the construction of a tramway to the Steel Works either from Lambton or New Lambton."
10 Apr 1920"The necessity for constructing a line of tramways to give direct access from the western suburbs to the Steel Works at Port Waratah was affirmed by a conference of municipal representatives held at the Lambton Council Chambers last night."
24 May 1920“The proposal for the construction of a tramline from Lambton to the steel works was mentioned by the Mayor ... Mr. Phillips (District Superintendent of Tramways), in reply, said that he could see very little hope of any new lines being constructed in the Newcastle district until electrification was brought about.”
19 Feb 1925
17 Feb 1925
Waratah Council is "urging the Railway Commissioners to construct a tramline to the steel works and other industries at Port Waratah."
21 Oct 1930
1 Nov 1930
Speers Point and West Wallsend tram services cease. They had been operating at a loss of £16,229 per annum.
12 Jun 1950
11 Jun 1950
Last tram service in Newcastle, on the Waratah line.

The first Commercial Hotel

My December article for The Local is out, this month on the Commercial Hotel/Snake Gully Hotel/Hotel Amos/Bar 121, on the south west corner of Elder and Grainger Streets Lambton. This soon to be demolished building was erected in 1888, but in researching the article I discovered there was an earlier and different Commercial Hotel in the period 1879-1882, on the north side of Elder St.

The references to it were fairly scant, and I had little hope of determining where it was located. But last weekend, thanks to an 1885 advertisement of sale of an oddly shaped land allotment, and the NSW Globe KML, I’m reasonably confident that the first Commercial Hotel was at 102-104 Elder St, where Raine & Horne Real Estate was formerly located, and Williams Artisan Bread & Espresso is currently located.

102 and 104 Elder St Lambton. Site of the first Commercial Hotel in Lambton.

Commercial Hotel

The intersection of Elder and Grainger streets was at one time the hotel hub of Lambton, with three of its four corners hosting a licenced establishment. In 1865 John Stoker opened the Gold Miners’ Arms on the north east corner, and in 1868 Michael Doyle opened the Rose, Thistle & Shamrock Inn on the south east corner.

In 1888 the Commercial Hotel opened on the south west corner in a newly erected building. The name was familiar to locals as there had been a previous but unrelated hotel of the same name on the northern side of Elder St for a brief period around 1880. The new Commercial Hotel building was commissioned by Mr G Buckley, designed by local architects Bennett and Yeomans, and constructed by Mr J Frogley. The newspaper at the time reported that

“The building is of brick, containing fifteen rooms, with large cellar 20 x 16, bathroom and water tank, wardrobe, large yard, stables and out-offices. The main building contains a large hall, used by the Masonic Order, 36 x 18, with ante-room attached; billiard-room, 26 x 26, high and lofty, fitted with fire-place, large-sized table, and eleven ventilators, making it cosy in winter and cool in the summer.”

The first publican was Mr W Brown, followed by John Sample in 1889. Another notable publican was George Smith, who held the license of the Commercial Hotel from 1901 to 1912, before becoming publican of the Northumberland Hotel at the other end of Elder St from 1913 to 1920.

After 84 years of trading as the Commercial Hotel, in 1972 it was renamed the Snake Gully Hotel. In 1979 it became the Hotel Amos, then reverted to Snake Gully Hotel in 1982. In 2002 it was renamed Bar 121, and then renamed to Snake Gully Hotel again in 2016.  The hotel closed in August 2018 bringing to an end over 150 years of continuous hotel operations at the Elder/Grainger St intersection.

The article above was first published in the December 2018 edition of The Local.

John Sample’s Commercial Hotel 1893. Photograph by Ralph Snowball. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
The Snake Gully Hotel in July 2018
June 2019. The old Commercial Hotel has been demolished, awaiting construction of apartments.

The First “Commercial Hotel” in Lambton

Several books, including one I collaborated on (Lambton, A nineteenth century mining town, 2nd edition) state that the Commercial Hotel on the south west corner of Elder/Grainger Streets dates from 1880. This is incorrect. While researching this article I discovered that the Commercial Hotel of 1880 was a different hotel, somewhere on the north side of Elder St. The Commercial Hotel that opened in 1888 on the southern side of Elder St was described at the time as a newly erected hotel.

Mr R Ward operated the first Commercial Hotel until 1882, when he advertised the sale of the property.

Note that the location is described as being …

“erected upon a quarter of an acre of land, fronting Elder-street, and running through to De-Vitre-street, thus having two frontages to the principal streets.”

In August 1882 the Newcastle Morning Herald reported that …

“Messrs. W. Lightfoot and Son have removed to Lambton, and commenced business in the premises in Elder-street, lately known as the Commercial Hotel, as grocers, drapers, ironmongers, dealers in colonial produce, etc.”

A few years later, in January 1885, the property was again advertised for sale, split into two allotments.

The first allotment is described as having a frontage to Elder St of 33 feet. Note however that the second allotment has a frontage to Elder St of 18 feet but a frontage to De Vitre St of 35 feet. The difference in frontages can only occur if the block is either wedge shaped, or has an irregular shape. Loading up lot boundaries from the NSW Globe KML (from NSW Governement Spatial Services) into Google Earth shows that there are no wedge shaped blocks on the north side of Elder St, but there is an irregular set of lots where

  • the total area is 0.25 acres (matching the area described in the 1882 sale)
  • the western lot has a frontage to Elder St of 33 feet, and the eastern lot a frontage of 18 feet (matching the details of the 1885 sale)

There are no other lots that match the details of the 1882 and 1885 sale advertisements, so I am reasonably confident that this is where the first Commercial Hotel in Lambton was situated. The site is at address 102-104 Elder St, where Raine & Horne Real Estate was formerly located, and Williams Artisan Bread & Espresso is currently located.

102 and 104 Elder St Lambton. Site of the first Commercial Hotel in Lambton.

Additional Information

The University of Newcastle Cultural Collections has another Ralph Snowball photograph of the Commercial Hotel, captioned “George Smith’s Commercial Hotel, Lambton NSW, 11 August 1891”. The date cannot be right as George Smith did not become licensee of the Commercial Hotel until late 1900 or early 1901.

George Smith’s Commercial Hotel, Lambton NSW. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Licensees (to 1921)

Licensees after 1921 (incomplete list)

Name changes

The Australian National University archives has a photograph of a card from Tooth and Company Limited that shows two of the hotel’s name changes in the 1970’s.

  • Changed from “Commercial Hotel” to “Snake Gully”, 8/6/1972
  • Changed from “Snake Gully” to “Hotel Amos”, 1/11/1979

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
24 Jun 1868Advertisement for Michael Doyle's "Rose, Thistle, & Shamrock Inn" at Lambton.
21 Aug 1879"Mr. Henry Laurance, the oculist optician ... will be at the Commercial Hotel, Lambton, on Thursday next."
19 Nov 1880"Richard Ward applied for the transfer of his license of the Marquis of Lorne Hotel, Dixon street, to a house in Elder-street." The request was refused by the bench. Was the house in Elder St the Commercial Hotel which R Ward occupied in 1882?
6 Apr 1882Advertisement for the sale of Mr R Ward's Commercial Hotel. It is described as being on a quarter acre block between Elder and De-Vitre street in Lambton.
8 Aug 1882"Messrs. W. Lightfoot and Son have removed to Lambton, and commenced business in the premises in Elder-street, lately known as the Commercial Hotel, as grocers, drapers, ironmongers, dealers in colonial produce, etc."
17 Jan 1885FOR SALE - "That splendid BUSINESS PREMISES situate in the best part of Elder-street, Lambton, and occupied at present by W. Lightfoot and Sons as a Drapery establishment, consisting of two good shops, with a seven-roomed dwelling, kitchen, out buildings, and two underground tanks. The land has a frontage to Elder-street of 33 feet, by a depth running back to De Vitre street."
2 Nov 1888"The new hotel built to the order of Mr. G. Buckley, situate at the junction of Elder and Grainger streets, is now complete." "Mr. Brown has spared no pains in tastefully furnishing every room, so that the Commercial Hotel, with its genial host and sanitary surroundings, can be safely recommended as ranking amongst the first-class hotels of the district."
7 Nov 1888
5 Nov 1888
Mr. W. Brown, the host of the new Commercial Hotel, celebrated the opening of the house by inviting a few friends to partake of a neat "spread" on Monday night.
11 Jul 1889At the Waratah Licensing Court, the licence of the Commercial Hotel was transferred to John Sample, despite objections of the police.
22 Sep 1897"FOR SALE, the License, Stock-in-trade, Goodwill, and Furniture of the Commercial Hotel, Elder-street, Lambton. Apply on premises, Mrs. A. J. Buckley."
5 Apr 1898"Mrs. Ann Jane Buckley, of the Commercial Hotel, Lambton, applied for a transfer of her hotel license to Thomas Liddle, of Newcastle."
18 Jan 1921At the license renewal hearing, the Commercial Hotel is described as "a fairly new brick building of two storeys" with "nine bedrooms, six of which were available to the public." The licensee at the time was Stephen Thomas Shipley, and the owner was Anne Jane Buckley.