Electric Light Station

Electric Light Station

Lambton Electric Light Station. September 1890. Photograph by Ralph Snowball. Hunter Region Library

plaque100The small black plaque above the door of this unassuming building reads “Lambton Electric Light Station. W.T. Dent – Mayor 1890”. September 9th, 2015 will mark 125 years to the day when this Ralph Snowball photograph was taken at the official opening ceremony.

To power 160 street lamps spread over 25 miles of wiring, this station was constructed in a disused quarry between High St and Young St (now Newcastle Rd.) The system was supplied and installed by H.H. Kingsbury at a cost of £6350 to the council. Lambton was just the third township in the state to have electric lighting, following Tamworth and Young.

Electric Light Station

Interior of Lambton Electric Light Station, September 1890. Photograph by Ralph Snowball. Hunter Region Library

The other photograph shows the interior of the station, with two 20 horsepower Fowlers’ steam engines manufactured in Leeds, England. The two engines “Amy” and “Thirza”, were christened by and named after Amy Palmer and Thirza Payne, daughters of two Lambton aldermen. The new system was a source of considerable pride to all concerned, as can be seen by the beautifully polished machinery, and gleaming tiled floor.

The electric generators were manufactured by the Thompson- Houston Company in Boston USA, and were a cause of many months delay. Just as in modern times when a new technology arrives, it seems everyone wants it at once and the manufacturers can’t keep up with the demand!

The electric light station operated for 9 years, before sending the council broke, and even landing some of the aldermen in Maitland Gaol over loan defaults. In 1899 the bank seized control of the station and put the equipment up for sale. The national enthusiasm for electric lighting was somewhat dimmed by now, so the plant wasn’t sold until 1904 when it was eventually bought by the Caledonian Coal Company and sent off to the Killingworth and Mt Kembla collieries.

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

Additional details

Additional photos

The roofline of the electric light plant buildings are just visible in the background of this photo, taken on the day the electric lights were turned on.


A close up from photo of Lambton in 1900 (below), looking north, shows the electric light station buildings. By this time the council was broke, the plant was idle, having been seized by the Bank and put up for sale.

Part of this 1904 panorama shows the site of the electric light station shortly after the equipment was sold and the building dismantled.


Overlaying an 1890s Water Board map into Google Earth, shows that the power station building was located at 7 High St.

The plaque

Thirty two years after the electric light station was dismantled, a 1938 newspaper article reported that …

“When a house was being demolished in Kendall-street, Lambton, some time ago, workmen found beneath it an old cast iron plate. It was rusted and slightly the worse of wear, but it told the story of a venture undertaken by Lambton Council 48 years ago, when a desperate attempt to leap to prosperity ended in a glorious failure.”

electriclightplaqueThe report ended with …

“Taken to the council chambers some weeks before the council disbanded the plate was cleaned up and lettering picked out in white. It still leans against a wall in the silent interior of that abandoned room.”

The plaque was on display in Nesca House in 1985, where Ed Tonks photographed it.

The plaque in Nesca House in 1985. Photo kindly supplied by Ed Tonks.

After Nesca House became part of the University of Newcastle, the location of the plaque was a mystery for many years until …

The plaque is found!

The plaque that was on the front of the power station building has turned up! It has been in storage at Ausgrid’s Wallsend depot, and was on display at Lambton library in June 2021 as part of the Love Lambton 150 year celebrations.

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