The first official recording of coal discovery in Australia was by a party of escaped convicts in 1791, travelling in an open boat from Port Jackson. The party was led by William and Mary Bryant and included their children. The actual location is not certain, however a likely spot is speculated to be near the entrance of Glenrock Lagoon.
Judge Advocate of the Colony, David Collins, noted in his diary in June 1796, that people in a fishing boat had returned from a bay near Port Stephens bringing several large pieces of coal, which had been lying in large quantities on the ground. In 1797, Lieutenant John Shortland, was sent north to recapture a party of escaped convicts. On his return he entered a river, which he then named the Hunter River, after the Governor of the day. Here he found considerable quantities of coal. In September 1800, Captain William Reid was sent with official instruction to obtain coal from this site, initially called Coal River, then Newcastle. Mistakenly, Captain Reid entered into Lake Macquarie, remarkably also discovering coal on the southern side of the inlet. Hence the area was known for many years as Reid's Mistake.
In 1801, in an attempt to separate Irish political prisoners, Governor King sent some of the leaders of the unrest to Newcastle to work in a newly commissioned coal works. The mining operation temporarily closed in 1802, when Governor King withdrew troops and convicts. After another uprising in 1804, Governor King reopened the settlement and coal works, issuing an order that private mining was not allowed unless a permit was obtained from the Governor. This remained in force until 1820 when commissioner Bigge made a recommendation to the Home Government to allow private leasing.
After several years of negotiations the Australian Agricultural Company brought their mine to Newcastle, now a free settlement. From 1838, the company was given monopoly rights for 31 years. A borehole was sunk in 1848, which ran into coal and later became known as the Borehole Seam. Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld set up a mission for the local Awabakal people, on present day Belmont, moving to the western side in 1829. It was here that Rev. Threlkeld started mining coal (Coal Point), having won the right to do so after challenging the monopoly of the Australian Agricultural Company.
Coal and Allied founders, J. A. Brown, opened a mine at the Burwood Estate in 1852 after successfully operating a mine at Four Mile Creek, near East Maitland since 1843. Doctor James Mitchell and others formed the Newcastle Coal and Copper Company in 1853. Along with the smelting works started by Dr Mitchell, the company bought the Brown's established colliery. The extent of the Victoria Tunnel Seam at Burwood is seen in a geological map of the district, drawn up in 1855.
The opening of railway corridors was the single most important factor affecting the production of coal, as they allowed for better transportation of coal and other minerals to the wharf at Newcastle Harbour. The Newcastle-Maitland line was opened in 1857, with the first section of the Richmond Vale Railway extending from Hexham to Minmi. In 1904, the J and A Brown Company further extended the railway to the Richmond Main Colliery and to the Pelaw Main Colliery near Kurri Kurri. Safety and technology were sadly lacking in the early mining industry and between 1898 and 1926 there were 47 fatalities in underground mine explosions. The 1900s saw an improvement in and focus on safety as well as heralding in new technology to mine the coal.
Mines in Lake Macquarie
(this is not a complete list)
The names of the mines are a history in themselves. Some are named after famous people or local places, but more often than not they were named after famous British Mines in order to capitalise on their reputation. It was believed that an established name from the old country with a reputation for top quality product implies, in the eyes of the consumer that the product will be of equal quality.
Andrews, Brian John & Coal Services Pty Ltd 2011,Coal mines of NSW, Coal Services Pty Ltd.], [Sydney]
Branagan, David F. (David Francis) & Newcastle Public Library (N.S.W.) &Newcastle and Hunter District Historical Society 1972, Geology and coal mining in the Hunter Valley, 1791-1861, Newcastle Public Library [in association with Newcastle and Hunter District Historical Society], Newcastle, N.S.W
Clouten, Keith 1967, Reid's mistake : the story of Lake Macquarie from its discovery until 1890, Lake Macquarie Shire Council, [Speers Point, N.S.W.]
Comerford, Jim 1997, Coal and colonials : the founding of the Australian coal mining industry, United Mine Workers Federation of Australia, Sydney
Elford, Harold S. (Harold Stewart) & McKeown, Maurice R 1947, Coal mining in Australia, Tait Publishing Co, Melbourne
Fryer, J. G. (John Graham), (ed.) & Institution of Surveyors, Australia. New South Wales Division & Institution of Surveyors, Australia. Hunter-Manning Group 1980, Surveying the Hunter : a story of surveyors and their work in exploring and developing New South Wales in particular the Hunter Region, Hunter-Manning Group, Institution of Surveyors, Australia and Institution of Surveyors, N.S.W, [Newcastle, N.S.W.]
Hartley, Dulcie 2004, Reverend Lancelot E. Threlkeld 1788-1859, Dulcie Hartley, Fennell Bay, 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
1990. Lake Macquarie : the way it was. Council history, Chatswood Production Co, [Lake Macquarie, N.S.W.?]
Lake Macquarie (N.S.W.). Council & 2NUR-FM (Radio station : Newcastle, N.S.W.) 1991, The Human face of coal : an oral history of the early years of coal mining in Lake Macquarie, Lake Macquarie City Council, Lake Macquarie, N.S.W
This work by Lake Macquarie City Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License