Mining has been a large part of the history of Lake Macquarie and has always been fraught with danger with every accident and death having a great effect upon the mining community.
The period covered in this research is from 1840 to 1950. The first fatality recorded in the Lake Macquarie district, is in 1848 at Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld's Ebeneezer Mine, situated at Coal Point. John (Thomas) Simpson, aged 34, died as a result of injuries he sustained from a fall of coal. The following entry in the Maitland Mercury reports his death:
MELANCHOLY ACCIDENT. - On Friday last, while a miner, named Thomas Simpson, who was well known and highly respected here, was driving a headway at the Ebenezer Coal Works, Lake Macquarie, a mass of soil and stones fell in on him, causing his almost in- stantaneous death. An inquest was held on the body on Saturday, before the coroner, Mr. Stacy, and a verdict returned of accidental death. The poor man has left a widow and two children to deplore his loss.
Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893), Saturday 20 May 1848, page 2
While the newspaper reports the fatality as Thomas Simpson, the inquest, dated 17th May 1848, identifies the miner as John Simpson. There is also a suggestion that John/Thomas Simpson is also the "Mr Russell" referenced in a footnote of Keith Clouten's Reid's Mistake.
Several major disasters were at South Burwood Colliery, November 1889, Dudley Pit, March 1898, Burwood Colliery, November 1901 and Redhead Colliery, January 1926. In the South Burwood incident, four men plummetted 625 feet (190.5 metres) to their death. The bucket used to transport miners to the surface failed to stop at the pit's mouth, and continued up to the poppet head, where it struck the beams at a great force that it broke the gear of the engine drum, causing the bucket to fall. The Dudley Pit rocked the surrounds with an explosion, causing the deaths of the fifteen shiftmen working that day. Two miners were killed and eight injured when an explosion of gas rocked Burwood colliery in 1901. One of the injured died a few days later in hospital. A verdict of negligence was reached at the inquest and Samuel Selby, examining deputy was arrested. January 1926 saw eleven men killed at the Redhead Colliery. Manager of the colliery, Edward Fallins, was charged with a breach of the Coal Mines Regulation Act in relationship to the disaster.
Concerns had been raised from the late 1800s in regard to the lack of reputable and skilled surveyors. September 1874 saw the inauguration of the Department of Mines, with the formation of the Institute of Surveyors follwing a few short years later in 1880. The Institute commenced publication of a journal, The Surveyor in July 1888 (renamed The Australian Surveyor in 1928), which raised the issues in the industry. In 1890, the journal expressed "Mining surveys do not receive that attention which their importance demands, either at the hands of the colliery or mine proprietors, the profession, or the Government."It went on to say that mine managers were "slow to realise their necessity" and drew attention to the advantages of having good surveys executed. Standards of accuracy for mine surveys did not exist until the introduction of The Surveying and Drafting Instructions for Colliery Surveyors (Underground) published in the Government Gazette in September 1976. Whilst the implementation of skilled surveyors did not prevent the occurences of mining accidents, it is plausible to assume the casualities could have been much worse without their expertise.
Rescue stations appeared in England around 1903, with the first one in Australia being built in 1907 in Ipswich, Queensland. The Newcastle Mine Rescue Station was built in the Lake Macquarie suburb of Argenton in 1926 and has become invaluable in the successful education and rescue work of the mining industry in the Hunter district.
It is also interesting to note that the compulsory hard hat was introduced in 1941, and then only optional. It has been suggested that this was in response to returning soldiers reentering the mines who had realised the protection the hard hat gave in combat situations. As many deaths occurred from coal or stone falling, it is easy to see that wearing protective head gear would be beneficial and possibly save lives. The photo to the left show miners in the late 19th century wearing flimsy head covering, if anything at all. The photo below shows the miners at John Darling Colliery wearing the now compulsory hard hat in the 1960s.
This research owes much gratitude to those diligent researchers who have spent incalcuable hours investigating and examining records and newspapers, from whom the following names and details were extracted. A large part of the information uncovered was from the exhaustive work of Frank Maxwell and Elaine Sheehan in their 3 volume research on coal mining related deaths in the Hunter Valley (Nineteenth Century Coalmining Related Deaths, Hunter Valley (2004); Coal Mining Related Deaths, Hunter Valley, NSW 1901-1925 (2006); Coal Mining Related Deaths, Hunter Valley, NSW 1926-1950(2008))
This work by Lake Macquarie City Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License