Lake Macquarie History

Burwood Colliery

The City Council of Lake Macquarie acknowledge the Aboriginal people known today as the Awabakal, as the traditional Custodians of the land, respecting Aboriginal Elders past, present and future. Lake Macquarie City Council recognise the local Aboriginal community today in all of their diversity, who came forward to share their experiences, knowledge, images and memories.


In 1835, Dr James Mitchell, a former British naval surgeon acquired 900 acres south of Newcastle and a further 456 acres in 1849. It was named the Burwood Estate after the ancestral home of Dr Mitchell's wife Augusta, nee Scott. Mining began soon after 1848 on the estate when William Donaldson took a lease of fifty acres on the eastern extremity. Late in 1851 James and Alexander Brown leased fifty acres from Dr Mitchell, opening a mine.

photo: burwood colliery

An 1850 report by Geological Surveyor Stutchbury informs that the mine, developed by William and Alexander Donaldson, was well laid out and movement below ground for men and horses was easy. The coal seam lay close to the surface and could be cultivated by tunnels, thereby reducing costs. By 1854 there were six mines in operation on the Burwood Estate

Construction of a tramway from the mines to the Port of Newcastle began after an Act of Parliament was passed on September 20, 1850, granting Dr Mitchell to do so. Proposal of the railway had caused some problems as it was to cross over into land held by the Australian Agricultural Company. This dispute led to the passing of the aforementioned Act. An amendment to the Act was passed on December 3, 1853 for an extension of time for the line to be completed by December 1855. The tunnels constructed for the line were the first in New South Wales.

Ownership of the Burwood Colliery commenced with The Burwood Coal Company, owned by Dr Mitchell, from 1850-1853. The Newcastle Coal and Copper Company owned the mine from 1853-1865, The Newcastle Coal Mining Company from 1865-1894 and the Scottish Australian Mining Company from 1894-1932. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited took ownership on September 20 1932. Production of the mine ceased on October 1, 1982. The proprietors of the Burwood Colliery were also closely involved in shipping operations, The Maitland Mercury, in 1853, lists twenty two vessels owned by Novocastrians, nine of which belonged to the Burwood Coal Company.

Following the death in 1865 of Dr Mitchell, ownership of the estate passed to his widow, Maria. Mrs Mitchell died seven years later and their daughter, who was married to E. C. Merewether, inherited the debt-ridden Burwood Estate. Mr Merewether, the General Superintendent of the Australian Agricultural Company, took effective control of the estate. The Burwood Coal Mining Company was formed by a syndicate in Sydney with a capital of £100,000 in 1883. The company leased 1290 acres of land from Merewether, commencing mining operations in 1884. The No. 1 Pit was sunk on December 10 1884, the No. 2 following shortly after. The Sydney Morning Herald reported (October 5, 1885) the opening and tapping of the new seam of coal declaring it "was attended by gentlemen resident in Sydney and Newcastle, who seemed to take great pleasure in the proceedings."

The Scottish Australian Mining Company took over the assets of the Burwood Coal Company in 1894. The owners found the site at Glenrock difficult to mine and chose a newer site, Burwood No. 3 on current day Burwood Road, Whitebridge and now a housing estate. John Shoebridge in an interview about Burwood Colliery, for the Newcastle Herald in 2008 said that "the only living memorial left there for the moment is the Burwood Bowling Club opposite."

The Broken Hill Proprietry Limited (BHP) purchased the mine on September 20 1932, and saw the introduction and implementation of new and innovative mining techniques. The final production shift was Friday October 1, 1982.

The Burwood Colliery has been credited as

    • at one time being the largest single producing coal mine in the southern hemisphere,
    • the first to use powered roof supports in conjunction with a continuous miner and shuttle cars in a retreating shortwall coal mining operation in 1968
    • the last mine in Australia to work under the sea in 1962, until new laws allowed this operation to take place again in 1979.

Mining related deaths

The first recorded fatalities at Burwood Colliery were on June 12, 1856, killing 41 year old Thomas Straw and 47 year old Peter Bailey. In 1901, 26 year old John Malloy and 20 year old William Paterson died at the pit. A third young man, Walter Champion, died two days later from his injuries, having never regained consciousness. Eight other men received injuries from the gas explosion, which occurred around 8a.m on the 13th of November. A ten day inquest was held at Ackroyd's Hotel, Dudley shortly after. It was opened by the district Coroner Mr G. C. Martin and a jury of twelve men were empanelled. Representatives on behalf of the Mines Department, Miners' Federation (on behalf of John Malloy's widow), Scottish- Australian Mining Company and the Burwood Colliery were in attendance. In just four hours the jury returned the verdict of negligence. A warrant for the arrest of the examining deputy of Burwood Colliery, Samuel Selby, was issued following the jury's verdict. The charges were "that he, by neglecting to examine the working places of the shaft cross-cut district of the Burwood Colliery, caused the death of John Malloy."

To view all deaths at Burwood Colliery click here


A training school began on the site of the Burwood Colliery in the late 1940s, known as the Burwood School. Youths in the coal mining industry were given instruction in the fundamentals of mining and safety measures. In his book on Burwood Colliery, John Grothen records that 'the school panel was located in the Borehole Seam, close to the pit bottom". The school boasted an "underground classroom, a workshop and a working panel of eight bords", with two instructors on duty at all times. The course was three months duration and after completion the students were found a position in one of its collieries. The 1950s saw a decline in the number of men seeking employment in the mining industry and as a consequence, the famous Burwood Training School closed.

A new school emerged in January 1980 and centred around a trainee scheme for sixteen to eighteen year olds. On completion of five years technical training, trainees were eligible to sit for a Third Class Certificate of Competency (Deputy's Ticket).


Grothen, John F. (John Fredrick) 1982, Burwood Colliery : Whitebridge N.S.W, [John F. Grothen, Belmont North, N.S.W

Kingswell, George H 1890, The coal mines of Newcastle, N.S.W. : their rise and progress, [s.n.], Newcastle, N.S.W

Turner, J. W. (John William) & Newcastle Region Public Library (N.S.W.) 1982, Coal mining in Newcastle, 1801-1900, Newcastle Region Public Library, Council of the City of Newcastle, Newcastle, N.S.W

(2008) 'What's In A Name?', Newcastle Herald, 12 April