Geological Sites of NSW banner

Coal & Allied's Coal Mine at Lemington in the Hunter Valley

Permian Coal Seam at Glenrock Lagoon
Outcrop of Lower Pilot Seam in rock platform at Swansea Head
Coal seams in the cliff face south of Merewether Beach
Coal & Allied's Coal Mine at Lemington in the Hunter Valley
Remains of Mitchell's railway from Burwood Colliery to smelters
One of the first railway tunnels built in Australia through the headland to Merewether

Hunter Valley Coal Heritage

Latitude -32.925981, Longitude 151.784931

Located in the Hunter Region of NSW, nearest large town Newcastle

Source: Geology and Coal Mining in the Hunter Valley 1791-1861 by D.F.Branagan



Link to Detailed Map

The Hunter region, located on the edge of the Sydney Basin is currently the largest coal producing area in NSW. The first recorded coal discovery by white men in Australia was made on the Hunter coast by a party of escaping convicts, led by William and Mary Bryant. Although the actual location is in doubt, a likely spot is near the entrance to Glenrock Lagoon where a Permian Coal Seam outcrops in the low cliff just above the sand.

In September 1797, Lieutenant John Shortland, R.N., discovered a considerable quantity of very good coal near the mouth of the Hunter River. In September 1800, Governor Hunter dispatched a vessel under the command of Captain William Reid to obtain coal from Newcastle. Sailing north from Port Jackson, he rounded Moon Island, which he thought was Nobby's, and entered the inlet of Lake Macquarie, to the south of Newcastle. The coal he discovered probably came from the Pilot Seams on the southern side of the inlet, near the site of the later Pilot Station. For many years the general area was known as Reid's Mistake; it is now known as Swansee Heads.

Governor Philip King succeeded Hunter in 1800; King had the advantage of growing up in the mining area of Cornwall, England. As luck would have it, Platt, the colony's first coal miner, had been sentenced for life at Lancaster in 1798 and in 1800 arrived in Australia. King organised an expedition under the charge of Lieutenant Grant in June 1801 and among the convicts were coal miner John Platt and his crew. After much investigation, a site opposite Nobby's on the mainland to the south was chosen and digging began. Fortunately for Platt, another miner named Broadbent arrived in Sydney about this time and was sent to join him. Platt and his men began work near the present Fort Scratchley. Their original workings were found again in 1881 when the foundations of the fort were being constructed. The seam they worked was the Dudley, probably the upper split, and the tunnels varied in height between four and seven feet.

Newcastle developed faster than the southern coalfields because of its better harbour facilities and available land for settlement, although the treacherous river entrance made entry difficult. Over time, many haphazard coal mining operations took place but with few people experienced in mining techniques, not much success was achieved and the miners had trouble with water flooding mines, unsafe bracing of the mine ceilings and sub-standard coal.

During the 1840s a considerable amount of geological information began to accumulate. Exploration was undertaken by Dana, Adolphe Brongniart, Dr Ludwig Leichhardt, Count de Strzelecki, J.B. Jukes, W.B. Clarke and very hot debate took place about the ages of the Newcastle Coal Measures. Clarke's later theory that the coal measures were Permian proved to be correct.

Professor Edgeworth David later stated that the exposures of the Newcastle Coal Measures in the cliff faces between Nobbys and just south of Catherine Hill Bay were probably the finest of their kind in the world. The same Newcastle Coal Measures examined by the early scientists are easily seen today in the coastal headland at Merewether near the pool. The Yard seam is visible at sea level and the Dudley seam about 10m above sea level (asl) then the Nobbys Seam 12m asl overlain by about 15m of Nobby's tuff. The highest seam exposed is the Victoria Tunnel Seam which is overlain by the Merewether Conglomerate.

Geologists who came to Australia tried to apply the 'principles' of mapping and fossil identification to work out the ages of the rocks they studied. However, there were many difficulties. In particular many of the fossils they found in the coal measures of Newcastle were quite different from those found in the coal measures in Europe.

Development of the Newcastle Coalfield benefited by the completion of a breakwater between Nobby's and the mainland in 1846, which made the harbour entrance safer for ships, a project which had commenced in 1818.

In 1848 the A.A. Co sank a borehole which intersected coal which later became known as the Borehole Seam. The use of drilling in the search for coal at this time suggests that its value was being realised and it began to be a regular feature in the development of the coalfields. The improved quality of cutting tools played some part in the revival of interest in drilling or boring.

In 1843, the Brown brothers (J and A Brown, later Coal and Allied) began mining coal at Four Mile Creek near East Maitland. Production was so successful that they tendered to provide coal to the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company, who accepted the tender. The Brown brothers sustained their dominance of the coal industry, opening a mine at the Burwood estate near Newcastle in 1852 and acquiring the Minmi mine in 1859, which had commenced operations in 1853. The Minmi mine increased its production levels from 44,000 tonnes in 1860 to 111,000 tonnes in 1862.

In 1853, the Newcastle Coal and Copper Company was formed by Dr Mitchell and others. The company acquired the smelting works Mitchell had commenced at Burwood in 1846 and bought Brown's developed colliery. A plan of 1855 appears to be the first detailed surface geological map prepared in the district, and shows the general extent of the Victoria Tunnel Seam at Burwood. By far the most important direct factor affecting coal production was the opening of railway lines Sydney-Parramatta 1855 and Newcastle-Maitland 1857. By 1861 there were 391km of railway in operation.

In 1854, the Hunter Region Coal Miners' Protective Association was formed becoming one of the first organised unions in Australia. In 1857, the first section of the Richmond Vale Railway was opened extending from Hexham to Minmi. This was of great importance to the mining industry as the railways allowed for the improved transportation of coal and other minerals to the wharf. 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.

In the early twentieth century, the Northern district, comprising the Hunter region and Newcastle, was by far the biggest producer of coal Australia-wide. The Northern district in 1908 produced 6.5 million tonnes of coal, out of NSW's 9.1 million tonnes.

The early mining industry lacked the safety and technology of the contemporary industry and between 1898 and 1926 underground mine explosions killed 47 people.

The discovery of the Greta coal seam was significant in the subsequent exploitation of the South Maitland coalfield. Collieries were established in the 1890s in localities like East Greta, Stanford Merthyr, Pelaw Main, Abermain and Aberdare.

In the 1949 Miners Strike, the Prime Minister Ben Chifley sent in troops to work the South Maitland mines. This was the first time in Australia's history that the military was used to break up a trade union strike, setting a precedent for later strikes. Two weeks after the military was introduced, the miners returned to work, their modest conditions unmet.

Coal mining became the dominant industry in Cessnock in the early twentieth century following the establishment of the South Maitland coalfields. The Hunter Valley Rothbury mine near Cessnock was the site of an infamous lockout in 1929. Due to difficult economic times, the mine owners operating in the Northern coalfields of NSW had decided to reduce miners' wages. However the Miners Federation did not agree to the terms and the mine owners subsequently closed down the Northern NSW mines. Eight months into the lockout the Rothbury mine was opened using scab or non-union labour which the union-miners opposed. A purported 10,000 protesters attempted to confront the scab miners but were hindered by police, called in to break them up. In the ensuing debacle, one miner was killed by police gun fire and many more were injured. The miners finally accepted the pay cut in May 1930 and returned to work. The lock-out and confrontation became known as the Battle for Rothbury.

Richmond Main Colliery was a significant mine in the Hunter Valley and is purported to have once been the largest vertical shaft mine in the southern hemisphere. The mine also held the record for coal production in a vertical shaft mine, with 3,482 tonnes wound up a single shaft from the Holmesville seam. The mine closed down in 1967, having produced 14 million tonnes of coal over its lifespan.

Coal mining in the Gloucester area was a late comer with operations starting in 1995 near the village of Stratford, 12 kilometres south of Gloucester. The first mine to open in Muswellbrook was in 1907 and the area became known for coal mining, particularly with the expansion of the industry in the later part of the twentieth century. The Liddell and Bayswater coal-fuelled power stations are conveniently located near the coal resources of Muswellbrook.

© Copyright Cartoscope and Others