A little light history

During the April storm, parts of our city were plunged into darkness due to power outages. As inconvenient as that was, it was a reminder that in Lambton’s early days, that was the permanent state of affairs. But that changed on 9th September 1890, when Mrs Dent, the Mayoress of Lambton, speaking from a specially erected platform on the hill near the top of Morehead St said:

“When I first came to Lambton the streets were so bad that you could almost bury yourselves in them, and I am now very pleased to see such a change, both in the streets and other matters, and now have much pleasure in switching on the electric light to light up the streets of the town.”

Lambton was the first township in Newcastle to have electric street lighting, so it was cause for a grand celebration in Lambton Park as this Ralph Snowball photo shows. At the extreme left of the photo can be see one of the new light poles, painted bright white. The generators powered a total of 160 street lamps, as well as lighting up the post office, council chambers, hotels, stores and dwellings. The day’s festivities ended with a banquet in the Criterion Skating Rink, in Morehead Street, which was fittingly illuminated by 30 electric lights.

Lambton Park 1890
Ralph Snowball’s photograph taken from the corner of Elder and Morehead Streets. The occasion is the advent of electric lighting in Lambton. The Lambton Municipal Council chambers is in the foreground, the rotunda and the relatively treeless expanse of Lambton Park in the background. Living Histories, University of Newcastle.

Although the lights were a technical success, sadly they were a financial disaster. Low connection rates from residents left the Council struggling to pay off the construction loans, and the lights were decommissioned and the generating equipment dismantled and sold off by 1904. Electric lighting eventually returned to Lambton in 1921. This September will be the 125th anniversary of electric light in our town, and a timely reminder to appreciate how electricity (barring the occasional storm) lights up our homes, streets and parks.

Lambton Park 2015
Lambton Park 2015. The former council chambers is now the Lambton branch library. Photo by L. Wetherall

The article above was published in the June 2015 edition of the Lambton Local.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
10 Sep 1890
9 Sep 1890
Lambton electric lighting scheme - the switching on ceremony.
10 Sep 1890
9 Sep 1890
Christening of the electric light generating engines – ‘Amy’ and ‘Thursa/Thirza’.
10 Sep 1890
9 Sep 1890
Tram accident delaying passengers returning from the opening celebrations for the Lambton electric light scheme.
10 Sep 1890
9 Sep 1890
The school children’s involvement in the opening celebration.
10 Sep 1890
9 Sep 1890
Opening of the Lambton electric lighting scheme - banquet and speeches.
10 Sep 1890Technical details of the generators, circuits, lamps, switchboards etc.
10 Sep 1890Lambton electric lighting scheme - editorial praising the merits of electric lighting.
The plant consists of
Switchboard, transformers, Lamps and Fittings, comprising a complete Electric Lighting Outfit.
21 May 1904"The machinery connected with the old electric light plant at Lambton has been disposed of by the Commercial Bank of Australia."
10 Sep 1918Call for a return of electric lighting to Lambton.
5 Aug 1921
4 Aug 1921
Electric lighting returns to Lambton.

Peering into the past

One of the things I love about Ralph Snowball’s photos is the little details hidden away that can be easily overlooked. For example in the photo above, although slightly blurred, you can see a small child looking through the fence at the adult celebrations. I can’t help feeling that child is symbolic of me, peering into the past through the historical picket fence of Ralph Snowball’s wonderful photographs.


One thought on “A little light history

  1. Pingback: Peering into the past | A bit of this, a bit of that

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