New Lambton Public School

Opening of the school in 1880

This year marks 140 years of New Lambton Public School. It’s an anniversary that would have been celebrated a decade ago, if not for government inaction, squabbling colliery owners, and construction delays.

New Lambton began with a colliery in 1868, and within a year the newspaper reported that

“a good Public School will soon be required, there being now scores of children in the township.” (The Newcastle Chronicle, 16 Sep 1869)

Although the need was great, the government took no action until August 1875, when a deputation from New Lambton delivered a petition to the Minister for Education in Sydney, and a school was approved.

The New Lambton Colliery initially promised land for the school near Evescourt Rd and Victoria St, but nothing happened while the co-owners of the colliery, Alexander Brown and George Dibbs, engaged in a bitter dispute over control of the mine. After two years of fruitless waiting, the school committee asked for the present site north of Russell Rd, as it belonged to Lambton Colliery whose general manager Robert Morehead was known to be a generous supporter of public education.

A contract for construction was awarded to Edward Constable and the ceremonial laying of the foundation stone took place on 30 November 1878. With an expected construction time of ten months the stone was optimistically engraved with the year 1879. But delays due to contractor disputes and a scarcity of bricks meant that as 1879 drew to a close, the Newcastle Morning Herald reported, with a dose of dry humour:

“There is now no prospect of the Public School being ready for opening at Christmas. Many of the children in whose interest this school was first advocated, are now married, and have large families.”

Finally, on 2 March 1880, classes commenced for 270 children. The following Saturday over 400 people gathered for the opening ceremony, where it was remarked that

“the lack of this institution for years past has been so apparent as to make it appear strange that its erection was not an accomplished fact far earlier.”

Students assembled in front of New Lambton Public School, 13 February 1900. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.
The school in 2020. The original brick building was demolished in 1954, after suffering damage from mine subsidence.
The original foundation stone was laid in 1878, with the (misplaced) expectation that the school would open the following year. The stone was incorporated into the foundations of the new classrooms built after the original building was demolished in 1954.

The article above was first published in the February 2020 edition of The Local.


The originally proposed site

One of the sources I used in researching this article was the booklet produced by the school on the occasion of their centenary in 1980. 

Although there was much helpful information in the booklet, there were a number of errors, in particular when describing the originally proposed site for the school.

The booklet quite correctly states that “The first site chosen was on ground owned by the New Lambton colliery.” This means that the site was south of Russell Rd, that road being the border between New Lambton and Lambton coal leases. The centenary booklet then states that the proposed site was “around the south-eastern section of St James Rd.” I have found no evidence to support that statement. Instead, we know that:

I can only guess that the authors of the centenary booklet incorrectly assumed that the eventual site for New Lambton South Public School (opened 1944) was the originally proposed site for the New Lambton school.

I have put together a separate page of other corrections of material contained in the centenary booklet.

Additional Information

Tenders submitted for construction of New Lambton Public School, showing successful tenderer E. Constable, for a price of £3275 and a construction time of 10 months. From the New Lambton Public School centenary booklet.

Newspaper articles

Article Date Event DateNotes
16 Sep 1869“A good Public School will soon be required, there being now scores of children in the township; the Public School at Lambton is too far distant for tender children to attend.”
11 Nov 1869“We understand that it is in contemplation to make an application to the Council of Education for the establishment of a public school, at New Lambton, where such an institution is very much required”
20 Jun 1874“Great efforts are being made here to obtain the benefit of a public school.”
22 May 1875“the movement in relation to the opening of a Public School in New Lambton is making progress”
5 Jun 1875"There are 172 children under four years of age, and 427 between the age of four and thirteen years. These children have to walk a considerable distance to the Lambton Public school, and the road (particularly in wet weather) is very bad. Mr. Alexander Brown, one of the proprietors of the colliery, has consented to dedicate a piece of his land to the school board."
31 Jul 1875A deputation to Sydney "for the purpose of presenting to the Council of Education the petition recently signed by the inhabitants of this neighbourhood, praying that a Public School may be established at New Lambton."
10 Aug 1875"The deputation to Sydney have returned. They have been successful in their endeavours to obtain a Public School for New Lambton. It is presumed that nearly three hundred children will attend the school when opened."
1 Oct 1875Governement Gazette: application received for new public school at New Lambton.
23 Oct 1875
15 Oct 1875
Letter from the Council of Education to New Lambton Public School: committee: "1. The Council has finally resolved to establish the School as a Public School. 2. The Council has further agreed to accept the land offered by the New Lambton Coal Company."
8 Dec 1875"There is only one obstacle in the way of commencement with the building at once and that is the delay of Mr. A. Brown in handing over the land promised for the purpose. It is now seven or eight weeks since he promised to come up and hand over the land but has not done so yet."
11 Dec 1875"Mr. Alexander Brown came up on Wednesday, and, in company with Messrs. Sharp and Rippon, examined the most likely pieces of land, and at last picked upon a splendid site on the side of the hill near to the Wesleyan Church."
8 Apr 1876"Nothing further has as yet been done concerning our public school … There are upwards of 300 children in New Lambton able to attend school, the majority of which have to travel to the Lambton public school, which is about two miles distant from some of their homes."
13 May 1876"The delay in handing over the site is the only obstacle to a public school being built in New Lambton. The land was promised some months ago by Mr. A. Brown, jun., but has not yet been handed over, owing probably to the unfortunate disagreement between the Messrs. Brown and Dibbs."
28 Jul 1876"A deputation had visited the Messrs. Brown's recently, but had received no satisfaction, and the promise had evidently been withdrawn." Mr G. Holland of the school committee subsequently "met Mr. A. Brown, sen., in the street at Newcastle recently, and asked him if he would receive a deputation on the school question. Mr Brown informed him then that at present nothing could be done in this matter. The New Lambton people might therefore rest assured that they would not got any land from the Brown's estate. It was therefore their duty to try some other means of procuring a school site."
7 Aug 1876A letter of stinging rebuke regarding inaction on the school: "We are, therefore, in a fix, and must, at least so far as can be seen at present, submit to bring up our children in ignorance … it is rather too bad that a few individuals should be allowed to monopolise hundreds of acres while the public can not procure a few feet whereon a a school can be erected … When next our Legislative wiseacres indulge in their educational clap-trap, it would be well if they would say, 'Educate the children of the colony, but lift not the veil of ignorance from New Lambton.' "
16 Jul 1877"There can be no doubt that the the proprietors of the New Lambton Colliery are in a great measure to blame for this unfortunate state of things, for they have never by word or deed seconded the efforts of the people; but in the choice of a suitable site have thrown every possible obstacle in the way. These gentlemen would do well to take a pattern in this matter from some other colliery proprietors and officials in this district who have evinced a regard for the educational requirements of their workmen's children."
28 Aug 1877
17 Jul 1877
A petition is presented to Minister for Education requesting change of site for the school. “The site proposed is on the Commonage, at the boundary of the Lambton and New Lambton Company's estates, where it is thought that a barrier of coal has been left in.”
31 Jul 1877In the dispute between colliery owners Brown and Dibbs preventing the granting of land for a school, it appears that Brown is the culprit … "I am informed that the Messrs. Dibbs are doing all in their power to further the movement ; but Mr. A. Brown is inexorable, and will not grant anything which will be a benefit to the people."
29 Jan 1878The grant of land for the school, may be held up "until the matter of the Newcastle Common, of which the land in question forms part, has been settled."
16 Mar 1878
11 Mar 1878
"The Minister for Lands has now approved of the appropriation for Public School purposes of the two acres of land at New Lambton, applied for by the Council on 11th October last. Steps will now be taken for the erection of the school building as early as possible."
16 Apr 1878"Failing to obtain a site at New Lambton from private individuals, the Council [of Education] made application to the Government on the 18th October last, for portion of land for the purpose. An intimation that this site has been granted, was received at this office on 20th March instant, and the usual steps have been taken for the erection of a public school with the least possible delay."
10 May 1878"The Commonage land promised for a school site is a portion of the Lambton Company's lease ... it is well known that there is not a better friend of education in the colony than Mr. Morehead, who will, no doubt, forfeit all claim to the land in question as soon as application is made to him, and the object for which it is required made known."
10 May 1878Advertisement: "TENDERS are invited for the Erection and Completion of a PUBLIC SCHOOL, at NEW LAMBTON."
5 Jul 1878Contract for erection of New Lambton Public School has been awarded to Mr. E Constable.
9 Sep 1878"It would appear that the fates are against a public school ever being erected at New Lambton. After years of agitation, tenders were accepted several weeks ago for the erection of a school, but the contractor evidently thinks that some time in the next century will be soon enough to complete his work, as beyond a few stones being carted on to the ground, there is no sign of a start being made."
2 Dec 1878
30 Nov 1878
Ceremonial laying of the foundation stone.
26 Feb 1879Work on the New Lambton Public School "has been stopped, owing to some dispute between the contractor and a contractor, and to a scarcity of bricks."
2 Jun 1879"The new public school building has so far progressed as to be ready for the shingles. The building seems to be of a very substantial nature, and will, when finished, be an ornament to the place, as well as a blessing in an educational point. The children, no doubt, wish it was completed, as those who at present attend school have to tramp up to their knees in sludge to the Lambton school."
25 Dec 1879"There is now no prospect of the New Public School being ready for opening at Christmas. Many of the children in whose interest this school was first advocated, are now married, and have large families."
8 Mar 1880
6 Mar 1880
Official opening of the school on Saturday 6 March 1880. (First day for students was Tuesday 2 March 1880.)

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