Mining – Coal
Ron Cairns has co-authored an article on the History of Coal Mining in the Illawarra for the Mine Surveyors Journal and it is a really good start to getting an idea of the history – click here to read or download, including its useful list of references.
The first observation of Coal in the northern Illawarra by Europeans was in 1797 by shipwrecked sailors of the Sydney Cove, which was confirmed by George Bass in 1797. Later in the 1830’s-40’s Captain Robert Marsh Westmacott tried unsuccessfully to establish Coal Mining in the Illawarra but was beaten by the Colony’s coal mining monopoly held by the Australian Agricultural Company in the Hunter Valley. Only in 1848 was that monopoly extinguished, seeing James Shoobert open a coal mine in Keiraville in 1849.
Bulli would not see coal mined and transported from its jetty at Sandon Point until 1863 – initially the wagons carrying coal moved under gravity from the pit to the jetty. The empty wagons were then drawn by horses along the tramway. On August 27 1867 Bulli Colliery reopened after a closure, and utilising a steam locomotive.
According to Michael Organ’s research into the locomotives in use at the Bulli Company, that in 1867 “it was ordered through Russel & Co., Sydney, …. was built by Vale & Lacy and became known as engine Vale & Lacy No. 2. This was the second locomotive built in the Colony, and the first for the Illawarra region.” It was reported as ” a beautiful specimen of engineering skill. The present engine has been constructed to the order of the Bulli Coal Company, and is what is generally known as a 4- wheel tank engine of 35 horse-power, working up to 100, it necessary, the cylinder being 7 3/4 inches in diameter, and weight of engine 32 tons; the whole work having been performed within the last three months. The first engine built by this firm is now at work at the Zig zag, Lapstone Hill, and has given unqualified satisfaction to the contractor for whom it was constructed.” – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. See photograph of this first Bulli steam locomotive, and also the very first NSW South Coast steam locomotive, shown below – sourced from article by Richard Horne in Light Railways – 2012.
More details on other locomotives in use and scrapped at Bulli Coal Company can be read at Michael Organ’s UOW page – with a summary from his page shown below
Number / Name / Period of active service
- Vale & Lacy No. 2 of 1867 (1867-c1923)
- 2. Vale & Lacy No. 4 of 1869 (1869-1906)
- 3. Robert Stephenson No. 2360 of 1879 (1880-1889)
- Baldwin No. 5451 of 1881 (1906-1934)
- Baldwin No. 6983 of 1884 (1907-c1928)
- Beyer Peacock No. 2662 of 1885 (1928-1929)
- Vale & Sons No. 41 (1929-1953)
- NSWGR No. 30 of 1911 (1934-1936)
- Kerr Stuart No. 780 of 1908 (1937-1940)
* Krauss No. 2179 of 1889 (Newbolds of Thirroul) (1938-1945)
- Avonside 1591 of 1911 (1952-1959)
- NSWGR “Z” 1915 (c1959-65)
- Beyer Peacock No. 2322 of 1884 (1965-72)
A timeline for the history of coal mining can be found at the Unofficial History of Coalmining in the Illawarra website – and an Illawarra Industrial Heritage Trail has been developed by an AUSIMM subgroup – also with a timeline. They have detailed information on a selected number of Illawarra collieries under their Sites tab in the top menu eg
- Coledale – Austinmer
- South Bulli … as well others further south
Ray Christison has also written of the Cultural Inheritance of Coalmining communities, including the Illawarra area.
But who were the people that shaped our own Illawarra Mining History ? – find out more here
‘From Trove: South Coast Times and Wollongong Advertiser Monday 8th February 1954 page 22s.
MINING INDUSTRY HAS FLOURISHED FOR OVER CENTURY
These are the surface buildings of Nebo Colliery situated just above the Mount Kembla township. Nebo is regarded in mining circles as one of the most modern in the world and as can be seen by this photograph is ‘ tucked away ‘ in the mountain side with a bushland setting. The main service shop is on the left, the general office, store and main workroom in the centre building and on the right is the bath house.
The oldest industry in the district and one which still plays a vital part is the coal mining industry. This industry, which has undergone the test of time, to-day employs over 5,000 workers. Records disclose that Capt. R. M. Westmacott set about mining for coal on one of his northern properties and formed the Australian Mining Company in 1839. He intended to supply the local steam ship company with coal, but the Australian Agricultural Company, which claimed a monopoly of coal mining, intervened. Although the objections of this company were overruled, the project did not proceed, probably due to the shortage of labour. In 1849 James Shoobert opened a mine at Mt. Keira. The adit of this mine was about 100 feet lower than that of the present mine.
[FIRST SHIPMENT OF COAL FROM THE ILLAWARRA]
One of the most bizarre processions in the history of the South Coast approached Wollongong in the early afternoon of August 27, 1849. The Wollongong Band, instruments gaily blaring the march tunes of the day, led a crowd of horsemen and citizens forming a proud guard of honour to a number of horse drawn carts. The carts carried coal — the black ‘gold’ that 100 years later was to make Wollongong the third-largest industrial city in N.S.W. This was the first consignment from, the newly-opened Mt. Keira Mine. The delivery of the coal was dramatically staged in Wollongong. The coal carts were met at the Cross Roads by a large number of residents and farmers. After partaking of Mr. Geard’s hospitality, the procession, now gay, marched to Wollongong, led by the band. Behind the band were horsemen carrying the Union Jack followed by miners with the British Ensign, then a large number of pedestrians. These were followed by coal carts, each drawn by two horses. The leading cart carried a banner inscribed “Advance Illawarra”. After the carts were horseman led by Messrs Shoobert and W. D. Meares, J.P. The procession marched through the town to the wharf. At the wharf was the steam- ship. William the Fourth, decorated with flags.
The present Mount Keira mine was opened in 1857 by William Robson and he was later joined by Henry Osborne, who had acquired most of the coal bearing land in this district. This mine was then known as the Osborne Wallsend Colliery. Late in 1857 Thomas Hale opened a mine at Bellambi and also constructed a jetty at Bellambi from which to ship coal, Bulli was the next site for a mine in 1858…”
Our Museum Main Waiting Room holds a mining collection concentrating on 3 local coal mines : Bulli, Woonona (Bellambi or Old Model) and South Bulli, only South Bulli still operates.
Bulli Mine, also known as Old Bulli, operated at the western end of Hobart St Bulli, west of Bulli Public School saw some activity at the site from 1858 – but it is argued that only in 1863 was coal truly commercially mined at Old Bulli. A tramway was built for the horse drawn wagons carrying the coal down to the first jetty at Sandon Point. Men came to Bulli to mine the coal – and to Bulli this brought business, churches, schools and & Illawarra’s first trade union in 1879.
From Illawarra Coal …
The 1880’s were punctuated by industrial disputes. Unionism had expanded throughout the colony and it’s assimilation into the coal industry was a stormy one. The 1886 local mineworkers amalgamated with those from the Hunter district and together they began the push for an eight hour day and a number of less significant claims. Because settlement of these claims was a drawn out affair, financial hardship compelled the workers to move out of company owned homes into tents and a lifestyle at poverty level. In January 1887 the mine management decided to recruit non-union or “free” labour from Sydney. As this body of men was transported from the jetty to the mine site, their journey was halted by an irate group of family members of the striking mineworkers whose emotional pleas eventually convinced them to return to Sydney. Not long after this confrontation with the “blacklegs” from Sydney, the strike collapsed, the men agreeing reluctantly to return to work under a new set of conditions …. The mine resumed production in July 1887 with safety lamps…. In 1890 naked lamps were again introduced at which time many men left the mine. … The Bulli Coal Co. continued operations until 1936, when it was sold to A. I. & S. A significant factor which contributed to the decision to sell was an extensive “cinder belt” which was inhibiting development of the mine. Overcoming this problem, A. I. & S. continued in the old workings using contract mining. The contract mining system ended in 1949 …. Four miners suffocated when a pocket of gas ignited in a panel, causing an underground fire several hundred yards from the main shaft, on November 9th, 1965.”
The mine, still under BHP – AIS ownership, closed in 1987 due to market conditions, and it is not possible to access the legally access the Old Bulli Mine site.
Note – the above photos are from the Black Diamond Heritage Centre Collection or from the Sandon Point Bulli Then and Now Facebook Page.
Old Bulli Mine was where the gas explosion occurred in 1887, which killed 81 miners – the second worst industrial disaster in Australia to this day (NSW State Records) – it was only overtaken by the Mount Kembla Disaster fifteen years later in 1902 (Jamie’s Page) where 97 miners died. Scroll down to see more information below on the Bulli Mine Disaster 1887. Click here to read an interesting article on Davey Safety Lamps in Mines from the Illawarra Historical Society
Woonona Mine was west of Gray St Woonona, in which is now the Edgewood Housing Estate, Woonona, and operated from 1857 until 1921. The mine was operated by Thomas Hale and later by the Bellambi Coal Company – see Illawarra Coal site on history of Woonona Mine
South Bulli Mine is situated halfway up the escarpment, west of Bellambi Lane, above Russell Vale, and has operated since 1862. Currently it is still operating, with its parent company having recently being renamed from the Gujarat NRE to Wollongong Coal – see historical article by Martin Kimber.
Steam Locomotive : to the south of the museum, resting on the grassy knoll is the Hudson Clarke 297 of 1888 steam locomotive. It was the South Bulli No. 2 Loco, which was said to be imported by Thomas Saywell in 1888, and was in use until the early 1960s.
Download notes on – click : South Bulli Hudswell Clarke No.297 of 1988 Steam Loco
Photographs below are of the South Bulli Colliery, Steam Loco, Coal Wagons and Bellambi Jetty.
“Possibly Hudswell Clarke 297 of 1888 – This locomotive may have originally worked on the Ringwood Colliery Railway, Bundanoon. It spent most of its life at South Bulli Colliery. It was part of he NSWRTM collection at Enfield in the early 1970’s but was not transferred to the NSWRTM’s Thirlmere site in 1974, instead returning to the Illawarra region for display at the Illawarra Light Railway Museum at Albion Park. In the late 1990’s it was cosmetically restored and moved to Bulli Station for display at the local museum.”
Sydney Tramway Museum information from 1982 indicates that when it was transferred to the Illawarra Light Rail Museum it was restored in the period 23.8.75 to 17.12.78, and then placed on static display.
Information from LIGHT RAILWAY NEWS – Published by The Light Railway Research Society of Australia – No. 108 October 1995 – Hon.Editor: John Browning,
“The transfer of Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0T SOUTH BULLI No.2 (297 of 1888) from Albion Park has been completed. It is displayed outside the old Bulli station with a 4-wheel non-air hopper wagon and an ex-AIS CHG-type brakevan.“
Click here for 1965 images of South Bulli No.2 Steam Locomotive
From Sydney Tramways in 1974
The second project was the arrival of the standard gauge ‘Hudswell Clarke ‘ loco South Bulli No. 2 at Albion Park on 15th October. This loco was donated to the Australian Railway Historical Society by the South Bulli Colliery in 1965 and was handed over to that group on 12th March 1966 and taken to Sydney , eventually appearing at the Enfield display of the N.S.W. Rail Transport Museum. The loco carries builders number 297 of 1888 and was one of two units built for Thomas Saywell . No. 297 worked on the Rockdale Tramway from 1888 until 1900 as Pygmy and later appeared on the Toronto Tramway. South Bulli No. 2 was delivered to Saywell’s Ringwood Colliery at Bundanoon , N.S.W. but when this enterprise failed to live up to expectations the loco was transferred to Bellambi where it worked on the South Bulli Colliery line for almost 80 years. With the transfer of the R.T.M. to Thirlmere near Picton in N.S.W., the A.R.H.S . approached th e I.L.R.M.S. t o ascertain if the loco could be transferred to Albion Park on loan as the Historical Society felt that such a relic would have more interest value if it returned to the Illawarra area where it worked for so long . The necessary formalities were settled and the loco ha s now ‘returned home’ . The engine is in remarkably good order and a start is expected to be made on an external repaint during 1975 .
From Sydney Tramways in 1981
“At the start of June work commenced on repainting the 0—6—OT standard gauge loco South Bulli 2 (Hudswell Clarke 297 of 1888). This loco is owned by the ARHS (NSW) and was last painted at ILRM in 1977.”
The wagon is apparently the sole remaining, preserved Corrimal wagon.
Note – It appears that there are 97 Hudson-Clarke steam locos listed globally, with about 20 Hudswell Clarke /Hunslet 0-6-0 steam loco’s in Australia. Possibly there are only four such steam loco’s in NSW – with the South Bulli No.2 being the oldest in Australia ? And many of these Hudson Clarke steam loco’s would appear to be not as old as the South Bulli No.2 Steam Loco, which would appear to be the only Hudswell Clarke still in NSW that was used for Collieries ?
Hudswell Clarke was an engineering and locomotive building company which was located at Jack Lane, Hunslet, Leeds in West Yorkshire, which commenced operations in 1860, and still operates in a form as the Hunslet Engine Company. During WW2 it diversified into armaments operations.
According to its Wikipedia entry, there are not many surviving 19th Century Hudswell Clarke Steam Locomotives.
Also Refer : History and Images of Illawarra Colliery Wagons
Bulli Mine Disaster of 1887
About 66 of the 81 miners killed were buried at St Augustine’s Bulli, others at Corrimal Catholic Cemetery or the old Woonona Presbyterian Cemetery. There appear to have only been individual gravestones for about 1/3 of the miners – and for 2/3 there seems to be no individually identified gravestones. Note – there were nine miners who could not be identified and were buried with a gravestone giving the date of the disaster but without a name.
Note – the Victims with gravestones at St Augustine’s Bulli that have been recorded are : John Bentley, Greener Brodie, William Brodie, Cecil Cavill (Knight), Joseph Crompton, William Henry Hickman, Robert Millward, Abel Newton, Robert Newton, John Rigby, William Schofer, John Urwin Smith. It is p.ossible that some were buried in a mass grave and others may have had wooden markers which have been lost.
At the old Woonona Presbyterian Cemetery were buried – Edwin Bean, Thomas Davis, Henry Greenslade Dean, John Thomas Gallaway, Luke Jackson, Richard Smith Wade, William Wade, Thomas Wishart. There are no gravestones remaining at Woonona, only memorial plaques.
Safety regulations were less tight in those days -a naked flame used for lighting in the gassy environment like in a coal mine is always a risk. Yet risks were taken & people hoped not to get hurt.
The then minister of this church Reverend H W Taylor was in Parramatta on his way to England. He came back to bury over 60 miners in the graveyard here – 9 could not be identified. One of the wardens of this church was a victim. Others were buried in the old Woonona Presbyterian graveyard, and some at the Corrimal Catholic Cemetery provided by the Farraher family, who were also benefactors of St Josephs Church and the School further down Park Rd.
After six months of the miners being on strike, there was a return to work, the gas had built up underground. So when after that six month long strike, men with families were the first one’s taken back on by mine management, but union officials deemed troublemakers were excluded. The pain was greatly felt by the dozens of families of lost loved ones and their close friends. A telegram was sent to the NSW State Parliament from the Bulli Telegraph Office – there were no phones then.
Old news clippings of the 1887 Bulli disaster via Trove reveal how the whole of Australia responded to the fundraising effort for the miners’ families – widows, fatherless children and orphans plus elderly dependents.
Illawarra Media Stories & Articles
- Illawarra Mercury – Disaster Commemoration & Memorial – Letter from 2014 – 2004
- Michael Organ – Lessons from the Past
- The Battle of Bulli
- NSW State Records of the Bulli Mine Disaster
- Donald Dingsdag
- Illawarra News Online
At our 2015 commemoration we had descendants and family of the following victims of the disaster :
Greener Brodie, William Brodie, Cecil Cavill, George Ralph, Richard Smith Wade, William Wade, William Williams – and since we have had contact with family of John Wynn.
The 2015 ceremony was part of the 2015 National Trust Heritage Festival events and was also attended by Ryan Park MP for Keira, Steve Barrett of the CFMEU and Paul Oxbridge, Wongawilli Mine Manager – Ron Cairns of the AUSIMM sent his apologies. See photos below :
Plans are underway for the March 23 2017 Ceremony which will commemorate the 130th Anniversary of the Disaster.
It has been said that for us to truly respect the legacy of this disaster, it is to remember those who were lost here at Bulli in 1887, and also all their families. And the other disasters – four men lost in the Bulli Mine in 1965, those in Mt Kembla (1902) and Appin (1979) disasters also. And to reflect … that it is not enough to feel sadness – but in order to honour them it is right to support those advocating for safer working conditions for workers, and all round good safety regulations … especially in this era of governments cutting red – tape and so-called bureaucratic regulations. We must never forget.
Mining continues in the Illawarra today – with a much greater focus on safety than in the 19th Century and early 20th Century years. And there are far less people involved in the Illawarra Mining industry today compared to 50 years ago and earlier. The Mining Industry today has attracted a fair amount of controversy – especially with concerns of long wall mining leading to cracking and subsidence allowing precious water to escape.
And of course the Coal Seam Gas – Fracking controversy continues to gather steam and increasing opposition. Some are querying how it could be considered to be allow such activities to impact Sydney Water Catchment Special Areas, when folk like the descendants of Sherbrooke are forbidden to enter on a supervised basis and pay respects annually to their forebears.
According to Michael Organ – brickmaking was commenced in the 1830-40’s by Captain Robert Marsh Westmacott on his property, which in later years was the site variously known as AIR, Newbold and Vulcan Brickworks over the 20th Century years (Additional references – 1, )
In 1879 George Osborne was producing bricks near the Wollongong Cemetery, near Kenny St ? or the Roman Catholic Cemetery as in 1880 William Osborne had the brickyard near the Roman Catholic Cemetery up for letting. In 1884 Finger and Marceau appear to have entered into a partnership to produce bricks at this same site with their agent being William Osborne.
In 1880 the miners were laying out the brick paddock at Bulli Company coal mine site for a cricket ground with the company’s permission.
And in 1888 there was mention of a brick paddock at the Bulli Company coal mine site.
In 1893 the Mercury reported that land was being acquired for a brick, tile and coal company at Bulli – presumably Bulli Brick and Tile Company ?
1897 saw reports of the efforts of the Bulli Brick and Tile Company manager, Mr Joubert, travelling to Western Australia in regard to the company’s products. And later in 1897 in October, Mr Joubert was reporting that full production was imminent.
Presumably there were glitches in 1898, as in August Mr Joubert of the Bulli and Brick and Tile Company believed that production would be back in full swing over the following week, with strong orders. Though by late September 1898, this had not been achieved. Early December 1898 and Mr Joubert was arranging for customers to visit the works for their construction projects – after the George St Markets were completed, the plant had been idle for 9 months, however he was confident of 7 months work ahead.
March 1899, and Mr Joubert seemed to have plenty of work for the Bulli Brick and Tile Company – a proposed new Technical College in Wollongong, and work for the Federal Capital.
And then in April 1899, production seemed to be going well at the Bulli Brick and Tile Works under Mr Joubert.
In 1899, the Bulli Brick and Tile Company attracted glowing reviews from the Illawarra Mercury under its Managing Director, Mr Joubert.
Pendlebury’s Woonona Brickworks established by Thomas Pendlebury was being excavated for construction in January 1901. In his obituary in 1927, Thomas Pendlebury was described as having first worked for Mr Joubert’s works in Bulli on his arrival in the Illawarra about 30 years previously – having previously learned brickmaking in his native England. More on this from a 1959 Bulletin of the Illawarra Historical Society.
Timber cutting was believed to be well under way in the area by 1815. …..
Timber Men on Bulli Mountain.
The story of the Timber Men on Bulli Mountain has been told by Westie Hapgood.
Westie Hapgood lived in Rixon Pass Avenue Woonona, under Bulli Mountain. At the 1989 Back to Bulli Heritage Festival, he was spoken with reverence by Rita Roberts, mother of long time Bulli History and Heritage writer Mick Roberts.
Westie was born in Milton down the NSW coast in 1913, but in 1916 his family moved up to the Woonona area. His father was one of the Timber men of Bulli Mountain, and Westie was first taken up the Mountain when he was only 4 1/2 years old. He loved the tales of Bulli Mountain and Sherbrooke…
From Mick Roberts Tribute in The Northern Leader, February 2000…
“He was the last living employee of the Sassafras Saw Mill, which operated on Bulli Mountain in the 1920’s… Fortunately he leaves somes revealing and detailed accounts of life on the escarpment in his book “Deep Valleys, Tall Timbers, Tough Men & Women – Pioneers of Bulli Mountain.”
The original edition published in 1992, is now out of print, however a 2nd Edition was done by the Black Diamond Heritage Centre’s Graeme Stewart in 2005 with permission by Westie Hapgood’s daughter Mrs Glennice Miller. Some copies are still available at the Black Diamond Heritage Centre, Bulli Railway Station East.
It is really worth a read to gain an appreciation of life at Sherbrooke and on Bulli Mountain – before Sherbrooke was sacrificed by the NSW State Government in 1902 -1903, for the construction of the second Cataract Dam. This followed terrible floods in 1898 which saw the original Cataract Dam wall washed away, and then more damage to the original Dam in the flood of 1900. A very severe drought in 1902 threatened Sydney’s Water Supply, which led to a Royal Commission and the death knell for Sherbrooke.
In Westie’s book, there are also stories of the Private Village of Bulli of the 1860’s from the early days of coal mining in Bulli, and also of Biddulph Henning’s cottage where his sister wrote some of her letters which have become known as “The Letters of Rachel Henning”. My great great great grandparents, James and Margaret Hicks, owned their 48 acres immediately to the east of Biddulph Henning’s land. They and Biddulph sold their land to the Henry Osborne for coal mining around 1857. The knowledge of this part of the Hicks history and its links with the Hennings had been lost, until I became involved in The Sherbrooke Sisters, as Sandra Jones began sharing the photographs and records of her grandfather, Robert Trevis Charles Jones.
Descendants of the Sherbrooke and Bulli Mountain people, like my friends and cousin, still remain across the Illawarra. Some know the stories of their families on Bulli Mountain, whereas others have only a little knowledge. We cannot enter the Catchment Area of Cataract Dam anymore, but through the recollections of Westy Hapgood, we can gain an appreciation of life over the Mountain of the 19th Century.
See also William Henry Mitchell’s 1993 article on the Cedar Cutters, a not so romantic view.