"Coal" may well be described as the "Black Gold" of the City of Cessnock. It was the advent of this mineral industry and its development that took place, that dramatically changed the total concept of the whole of our city from a quiet agricultural area to one of the main coal producing regions in Australia. This coal industry development brought in its train, a large population, rail and road transport, and an ever increasing commercial sector.
Australia's greatest asset, "Coal", was not discovered until almost 10 years after the arrival of the convicts in 1788. A Mr Clark, with a group of 17 people wrecked at Point Hicks, tried to make a long 400 miles journey overland back to Port Jackson. Due to their many hardships, the group had dwindled to five persons when they reached the Illawarra District on Friday 14th April 1797. On this very cold night, they found a large quantity of coal on the cliffs near the beach, and were able to kindle a fire. In August 1797, Dr Bass, in the ship "Reliance", found a stratum of coal, 6 feet thick at Point Solander (Mount Keira), but unfortunately no suitable harbour was located nearby to load the coal to ships.
In September 1797 when a Government boat, "Cumberland" was seized by convicts at Pitt Water, Broken Bay, Governor Hunter sent Lieutenant John Shortland in the "Reliance", accompanied by another vessel, to search for these convict pirates. On Saturday 16th September 1797, Lieutenant John Shortland records that due to bad weather, he entered a river south of Port Stephens, to shelter behind an island (Nobbys), laying offshore. The Aboriginal name for this locality was "Munbinba". Shortland reported that he had found a good quantity of good quality coal laying near the water's edge and convenient for ship loading.
The advice of "Easy Coal" soon attracted the early traders of Sydney Cove. Simeon Lord, James Underwood, P.F. Palmer and others, between 1798 and 1800, sent their ships to obtain cargoes of coal. In these small ships, like Lord's "Anna Josepha" and Palmer's "Martha", the tonnage was also only small, averaging up to 25 tons. These traders soon found the cedar trees, and timber was added to the ship's load. Hugh Meehan, captain of Simeon Lord's "Anna Josepha", in early 1800 constructed a sawmill at an anchorage near Pirate Point, (later Stockton), on the north side of the river. Later Meehan transferred this sawmill to a southern harbourside position roughly where Newcastle Post Office now stands. Coal was collected in bags and baskets to be carried to the ship.
"Coal" had been the main reason for the establishment of Newcastle itself. On Wednesday 10th June 1801 Governor King instructed Lieutenant-Colonel William Paterson to form a settlement at Coal River, (later to be known as the Hunter River). Lieutenant Grant was in charge of a small fleet, consisting of the "Lord Norfolk" and the "Francis". With Lieutenant Grant there was:
Lieutenant Colonel William Paterson
Surgeon John Harris
Ensign Barrallier (the engineer and surveyor)
J.W. Frewin A natural history painter
J.H. Platt A coal miner
? James A pilot
Six soldiers including Corporal Wixtead
A gang of convicts
An Aborigine named "Boongarie"
Mr Aitkin was in charge of the "Francis".
This small fleet reached the Coal River on Monday 15th June 1801. On Tuesday 16th June 1801, Paterson, Grant and Platt inspected the cliff and beach for coal. Platt had previously worked at Coal River seeking coal for the Sydney Cove traders. A number of coal seams were located.
Convict gangs were delegated to pick up this coal, place into baskets, and put into the vessel, "Francis".
Governor King by proclamation on Friday 3rd July 1801 set up the first "Coal-mining Regulations", amongst which were that a standard wicker basket to carry a hundredweight of coal was to be used for ship loading. Harbour dues were set thus:
Licence - 5 shillings ($0.50)
Entrance Fee - 2 shillings and sixpence ($0.26)
Clearance - 2 shillings and sixpence ($0.26).
The "Francis" departed Coal River on Friday 26th July 1801 with a coal tonnage of 24 tons. This coal was sold to the captain of the "Cornwallis" for £3.0.0 ($6.00) a ton.
On Wednesday 22nd July 1801 Lieutenant Grant and Lieutenant-Colonel Paterson returned back to Sydney on the "Lord Norfolk" leaving Corporal Wixtead in control of the new settlement. In August 1801 in a despatch to his superiors, Corporal Wixtead suggested that "some of the loose women" of Sydney Town might be sent to Coal River to act as coal wheelers. Coal was being carried to the shore to the ships in baskets at the rate of 3 tons a day. Time involved in carting was lost time for mining.
In September 1801 Surgeon Martin Mason was commissioned by the Governor to take charge of the new settlement. Within two months, the heavy iron rule of brutality and the lash by Surgeon Mason had replaced a climate of some kindness exhibited by Corporal Wixtead, had the convicts brooding for a mutiny. Conditions deteriorated to such an extent that Surgeon Mason was recalled on Tuesday 8th December 1801. Corporal Wixtead was again placed in charge pending the arrival of boats to return the soldiers and convicts back to Sydney. In late January 1802 the settlement was officially abandoned.
Surgeon Mason's last report to Governor King in late November 1801 did give some interesting details of the then coal mining. I quote:
"The daily output raised is 180 baskets or 9 tons. I have on hand 3820 baskets or 190 tons of coal, won by 3 miners and 3 carriers. The tunnels are now:
Mine No. 1 34 yards underground
Mine No. 2 31 yards underground
Mine No. 3 27 yards underground
Mine No. 4 10 yards underground
The strata (seam) is three feet high and has a band of clay, fourteen inches thick."
During 1802 and 1803, although the settlement at Coal River had been withdrawn, some vessels had still visited this area, with permission from Governor King, to obtain supplies of coal and cedar. Governor King had advised the English Home Government of this trade and situation. "Sydney Gazette" newspaper records in its issue dated Sunday 8th May 1803 that a new mine was being made by John Platt, then in the employment of J. Palmer. Other issues of this newspaper during 1803, lists the arrival at Sydney of ships with loads of coal and cedar from Hunter River. Some examples were:
|A. Sunday 17th July 1803||Thomas Raby's vessel "James" with cedar planking|
|B. Sunday 10th October 1803||On Friday 7th October 1803 the brig "Nautilus" had brought 65 logs of cedar 7 feet to 14 feet in length 173 logs of red pine 18 feet to 33 feet long|
|C. Sunday 23rd October 1803||"Edwin"|
|D. Sunday 30th October 1803||"Nancy"|
|E. Sunday 21st December 1803||"Charlotte"|
On Sunday 5th March 1804, a body of Irish convicts caused a riot at Vinegar Hill. The Irish rebels had planned to march to Sydney to capture ships in which to sail back home to Ireland. After the nine ring-leaders were executed, nine others received very heavy lash sentences. The court at Parramatta decided that some 34 more Irish insurgents should be sent to form a new penal settlement at the Hunter River. Governor P.G. King on Sunday 18th March 1804 appointed First Lieutenant C.A. Menzies to be the Commandant of this new settlement. On Tuesday 27th March 1804 Lieutenant C.A. Menzies with a little fleet consisting of the "Lady Nelson", "Resource" and "James" departed Sydney to establish the second settlement at the newly named town of "Newcastle". On board the "Lady Nelson" were:
Lieutenant C.A. Menzies - Commandant
Mr Milcham - Assistant Surgeon
Mr Bauer - Natural History Painter
Mr John Tucker - Storekeeper
6 privates of NSW Corps
An overseer of convicts
On the "Resource" were:
Mr J. Knight - Superintendent of Convicts
1 sergeant of NSW Corps
3 privates of NSW Corps
On the "James" were:
Mr G. Caley
3 miners (including J. Platt and J. Broadbent)
In addition these ships carried all necessary implements, stores and provisions for 6 months. This small fleet arrived at Newcastle at noon on Friday 30th March 1804. Almost immediately the convicts were put to work.
The "Lady Nelson" returned to Sydney on Friday 20th April 1804 with 26 fine logs of cedar. The "James" and the "Resource" were despatched together on Monday 6th May 1804 freighted with coal and cedar. Unfortunately the "James" was lost at sea, but all its crew of five were saved.
The Irish convicts were sent for hard labour discipline. They had poor mining skills. In the first 20 years the Newcastle coal production was made by convicts, who had been sent to the outlying area as "added punishment" for offences committed after their arrival in Australia. The early coal was won by means of drifts or tunnels that penetrated just a short way into an outcropping in the headland now known as Fort Scratchley. The first coal shaft was sunk from orders given by Captain Wallis, the commandant, in an area which is now part of Watt Street, Newcastle. This shaft reached a depth of 110 feet. Coal was raised by a hand-windlass, and carted in barrows to the harbour shoreline near the now Newcastle railway station.
Over the first 20 years, conditions were very primitive. The control and discipline of the convict miners very harsh. With such poor type mining skills, plus inefficient management resulted in very limited coal output. Other alternatives of control and production methods were considered by the authorities.
The Australian Agricultural Company that has figured so prominently in the development of the coal trade in NSW, particularly on the northern fields, was formed in 1824 in England to farm and raise livestock in Australia. In 1825 the English Home Government decided that the workings of the NSW coal mines could be more properly and profitably carried out by private enterprise. Attractive offers of land grants, and an arrangement that almost amounted to a coal monopoly caused the Australian Agricultural Company in 1827 to accept the proposal from the Home Government that it should be this private entrepreneur. Early in 1827 the company brought to Australia skilled miners, a steam winding engine, other colliery plant, and an experienced mine manager, Mr John Henderson.
The first steam-propelled vessel, the "Sophia Jane", commenced trading between Sydney and Morpeth in September 1831. It was soon followed by the "Tamar" and others. These steamers, both by burning or transporting coal, soon attracted "business-minded" people to search for coal deposits near Morpeth, and in so doing threw out a challenge to the monopoly. Amongst these people were the brothers J. and A. Brown, who in 1844 worked a pit on the Shamrock Hill Creek, a tributary of Four Mile Creek, East Maitland. The Australian Agricultural Company requested the Government to protect their coal charter. The NSW Attorney-General took legal action against J. and A. Brown for their breaching of this Government coal charter. The Court consisting of Justice Dickinson and a jury of four, found the charges proved, but only assessed damages against J. and A. Brown at one shilling, but penalised the brothers by restraining them from coal mining for three years.
The Australian Agricultural Company realised the importance of this legal decision, and after some short period, in 1847 the company voluntarily relinquished their coal monopoly. The result from their decision and conclusion opened the coal development to a number of investors on the Newcastle field. Collieries mushroomed and the coal trade flourished. Some other coal mining investors had examined other Hunter Valley areas. The "Hunter River Gazette" newspaper in its issue on Saturday 18th December 1841 (Vol. 1 No. 2) reported on the coal industry's future in these terms:
"There is reason to believe the country around Maitland, if not the entire valley of the Hunter is intersected by rich coal veins. ...
... Turners and tanners require in their trades a quarter ton of coal daily. ...
... In East Maitland on rising ground behind the Roman Catholic Church, there is a new coal-mine. ..."
The introduction in 1855 of a railway system in the Newcastle district, had soon extended the areas of coal development surrounding Newcastle to Lambton, Waratah, Hamilton and Wallsend.
Government departmental officers, like Mr William Keene, Examiner of Coalfields, encouraged the search for other coalfields. Mr W. Keene had been appointed Examiner of Coalfields on 12th December 1854, and in 1856 he was promoted to Government Geologist. The NSW "Empire" newspaper in its issue dated 24th January 1856 reports that Mr W. Keene had discovered five (5) seams of coal in three creeks close to Mr Knox-Child's house at Mt Vincent near Mulbring. Also as a direct result of Mr Keene's encouragement, prospectors located coal at Anvil Creek (now known as Greta). Mr William Farthing, an East Maitland coal miner, commenced coal mining in Anvil Creek in the early 1860's. The "Newcastle Chronicle" newspaper in its issue dated 1st March 1864 describes the despatch by rail transport of coal production from W. Farthing's pit at Anvil Creek to East Maitland rail station, and from where it was carried by road to Morpeth to supply the "Australian Steamship National Company's (ASN) steamers.
The "London Mining Journal" also in mid 1864 gives details of surveys made separately by both Mr John Mackenzie, a NSW government officer, and Rev. W.B. Clarke, an amateur geologist. Both these surveys indicated vast coal measures in the Hunter Valley. The London Mining Journal examined in close detail the Newcastle, Tomago, Morpeth and Stoney Creek developments. The author was very impressed with the Honourable Bourne Russell's new pit, which was situated between what is now Rutherford, Telarah and Farley.
Mr William Keene, Government Examiner of Coalfields in April 1866 submitted a paper for discussion at London's Geological Society on "Cannel Coals in New South Wales", particularly that found in the Hunter Valley. He emphasised the recent developments at both Anvil Creek and Rix's Creek. He further outlined new workings and diggings at Dalwood Creek, adjacent to Mr Reginald Wyndham's "Leconfield" property. These were expected to prove similar coal seams to that being found at Anvil Creek, and hopefully of the same richness. He expected the evidence from these Hunter Valley workings to set at rest the controversy, as to the age of the carboniferous deposits in NSW.
A new company, the Anvil Creek Coal Mining Company was formed on 1st October 1872 to operate Mr W. Farthing's leases. This was followed in May 1874 by a second company, the Greta Coal Company, which worked leases adjacent to the earlier Anvil Creek Coal Mining Company.
During 1884, the then Government Geologist, Mr C.S. Wilkinson, made an examination of portions of this new coalfields area, and he furnished a report to the government on the coal measures and the geological structure of the district. Mr Wilkinson's report published in the 1884 Mines Department Annual Report gives much information on the coal mining developments in the Greta - Branxton area of that time. It details in particular Greta Colliery, Anvil Creek Colliery and the proving of seams during 1884 at Leconfield and on Wyndham's Estate. These coal seams were found by Mr Wilkinson to be some twelve (12 ft) feet in thickness of "good firm bituminous coal with occasional small partings". Coal analyses made during that year had described the coal from this area as generally averaging nine per cent (9%) ash content and sulphur at two per cent (2%).
Mr William Tester who was a selector on an area we now know as Tester's Hollow, had farmed several other areas in the district. One such area, Portion No. 58, Parish of Stanford, he acquired in 1886 by Application No. 7 for Conditional Purchase. Another area held by Mr W. Tester, was forty (40 Ac.) acres on the headwaters of Deep Creek, sometimes known as Swamp Creek, almost in line with the present Neath railway station. In the 1920's this area was known as the "Orchard", and was up-stream on this small creek, a tributary of Deep Creek. From time to time after local creek floodings, Mr Tester had found lumps of coal in this area, and he had advised the NSW Mines Department. Mr C. Wilkinson in 1886 directed a then new Government Geological Surveyor, Mr T.W. Edgeworth David, to make a detailed survey of the Hunter River region, and to give attention to this area shown on early Parish maps as "Swamp Creek". Acting on the information from Mr W. Tester, Mr Edgeworth David located and proved the coal seam in this creek in an area later utilised to build a dam to supply water for the boiler providing steam to drive the air-fan at Abermain No. 1 Colliery.
According to Mr Jack Gehrig of Maitland Road, Cessnock his father, Mr C. Gehrig and Mr D. Gallagher, a son of David Gallagher were Mr Edgeworth David's labourers, and dug the trenches to prove the seam. Mr C. Gehrig married the daughter of Michael and Margaret Carroll. The Carrolls had been the first licensees of the Cessnock Inn built in 1857. David Gallagher (senior) was also an early Cessnock resident, and was the first blacksmith in the area. In the early Cessnock mining days, Mr C. Gehrig resided in a farmhouse at the corner of Maitland Road and George Street, Cessnock, (Note - now a motel site). Mr D. Gallagher lived on the opposite side of the Maitland Road from the Gehrig home, also in a farmhouse on his father's "Gallagher's Estate". Mr Jack Gehrig has in his possession a photograph of a trench being dug. An examination of the photograph's background indicates that this digging was in the region of "Fan Hill", Abermain. A similar photograph appears as a plate in Professor Edgeworth David's 1907 "Memoirs".
On 3rd August 1886, Mr Edgeworth David advised his superiors that at Abermain he had proved a coal seam some five feet five inches (5 ft 5 ins) thick, and that it was coal of good quality, suitable for gas making. He estimated that allowing one third for waste in winning the coal, it should produce 4088 tons of large coal and 136 tons of small coal per acre. The seam dipped from south 23º west to south 20º east, or an average dip of one foot in twenty feet (1 in 20). In the 1888 Mines Department Annual Report at page 150, Mr Edgeworth David informed that he had revisited his "proving trench", and that a syndicate had sunk a bore some four chains ten yards from it (Note - probably the Silkstone Company). From his inspection of this syndicate's bore on his visit on 25th February 1888 Mr Edgeworth David revised his earlier estimation and reported that the seam was thirteen feet five inches (13 ft 5 ins) thick dipping in a south south-west direction at one foot in eighteen feet, (1 in 18). He added this further comment:
"From the very hard nature of the coal, it is well adapted for shipment, and it is useful for steam, gas and household purposes."
Mr T.W. Edgeworth David prepared fine detailed plans and outstanding geological maps, on a scale of an inch to the mile, that traced the outcrop and line of these particular wonderful coal seams right around the Lochinvar Dome. The seams were soon known as the "Greta Coal Seams Measures".
The 1888 Department of Mines Annual Report gave this extraction from Mr Edgeworth David's annual submission to his superiors:
"The continuation of the outcrop of the same coal seam has been observed quite recently near Cessnock, and within three miles of Aellalong. All the Crown Lands covering this coal seam, where it lies at a workable depth, have been recommended for reservation for mining purposes, and four companies have already commenced prospecting operations within the reserved area."
In another section of this 1888 Annual Report, under a section titled "New Developments", is this advice:
"A company is to be formed to open a colliery in the Parish of Stanford upon an area of 1996 acres held under lease."
Also in this same section, this information appears:
"Four new companies have started to prospect the seams discovered by Mr Edgeworth David at Deep Creek, viz Silkstone Company, Richmond Vale Company, East Greta Company and Heddon Greta Company."
Still further, later in this section:
"On 25th October 1888 John R. Riggs gave notice of sinking a shaft for Richmond Vale Company."
Following the furnishing of David's report to the Mines Department, a Sydney-based syndicate consisting of Richard Tilden Smith, John Thomas Mance, J. Gardiner and others formed a company, the "Silkstone Coal Company". It took up a mining lease of 1996 acres, which included the area where Mr Edgeworth David had proved his Greta Coal Seam on the creek bank near "later" Fan Hill, Abermain. The company arranged for bores to be sunk by Mr Edwin (Ted) Pepper on their lease.
With the coal seams proved by its bore, the Silkstone Coal Company realised that it had an urgent need for a railway to transport any coal it produced to the Newcastle shipping and the markets. The company sought permission from the New South Wales Parliament to construct a railway from Maitland to its coal lease. Authority was granted by the Silkstone Railway Act, assent to which was made on 30th September 1889. The Silkstone Company due to its prospecting operations found itself in financial difficulties, even before it commenced construction of its railway. It sought and obtained from Parliament an extension of time for the railway construction. Finally the Silkstone Coal Company sold its assets and rights to the Clyde Coal, Land and Investment Company Limited.
In early 1888 a small group of West Maitland and Hunter Valley businessmen, including Messrs H.J. Adams, R.A. Young, O.K. Young and P.W. Waddy purchased from the Hungerford family "Lochdon" Estate, 245 acres of coal bearing land surrounding the area where the present village of Gillieston Heights (East Greta) now stands. The small group engaged Henry Cartwright, an experienced miner to work their proposed mine. On the 18th July 1888 Henry Cartwright set to work to drive a tunnel. This was situated between the now Maitland-Kurri Road, and the South Maitland Railways at the Kurri end of present Gillieston Heights, fairly close to the current rail track. Almost immediately coal was found at a depth of 18 inches. In just three weeks on the 8th August 1888, at a depth of 50 feet, Henry Cartwright had reached a good seam about 16 feet thick. First coal production from the early East Greta tunnel was carted by Tom Doherty in his horse and dray to West Maitland and sold locally there.
By 1891 the small West Maitland coal entrepreneurial group realised that whilst it had sold without difficulty all its production to become a viable organisation, it required finance for its colliery's further development, and it badly needed a connecting rail transport. The group early in 1891 entrusted the Newcastle firm of Earp, Gillam and Company to float a limited liability on their behalf. The "East Greta Coal Mining Company" was formed and registered on Thursday 23rd April 1891. At its first directors' meeting, the company engaged Mr Azariah Thomas to be the colliery manager. This gentleman was experienced in steep seams mining, a feature of the East Greta Tunnel. More importantly the new company initiated overtures for the construction of a rail link.
Clyde Coal, Land and Investments Company, (successor to the Silkstone Coal Company), had been hampered by the financial depression of the early years of the 1890's in its efforts in developing its coal mining activities. The new "East Greta Coal Mining Company" on the 20th June 1892 purchased from the Clyde Coal, Land and Investment Company, the rights and freehold lands in order to construct a railway under that company's "Silkstone Railway Act". This rail track was to run from a junction with the Government Railways at Regent Street, West Maitland to the East Greta colliery workings. Mr W.G. Kerle, a Sydney contractor, was engaged to build the short 2½ miles long railway. This was completed and ready for operation in October 1893.
Meanwhile other people and other groups had read Mr Edgeworth David's reports to the Mines Department, and showed interest in the new coalfields. One such group to actively demonstrate such interest was a company formed in 1888 to seek out this new promised fortune in "coal". This new company was comprised chiefly of Melbourne capitalists. It purchased a large area, some 4,000 acres of undulating country along the Wallis Creek, from John Scholey of Waratah. This new company became known as the "Richmond Vale Estate Company". On the 25th October 1888 this company started boring operations to prove the existence of coal on the property. When the bore did prove the seam, the company commenced to sink a shaft.
The 1889 Mines Department Annual Report under the heading, "New Pits", informs that another small group of West Maitland investors led by Henry Trenchard, manager of the Maitland branch of the Bank of Australia, had commenced operations on John H. Garven's original grant of 640 acres (now Heddon Greta). Very little was achieved in that year. In 1890 Messrs Taylor and Wilkinson were engaged to sink a proving shaft. In 1891 Mr T.W. Edgeworth David advised the Mines Department that he had examined this shaft, and that he also found there a tunnel about 100 feet long, and which ran from the outcrop to the bottom of this shaft. Further Mr David stated that the contractors were employing 5 men on this activity. Perhaps the financial climate, (the Depression) of that period had had an effect, because the Mines Department 1892 Annual Report informs that operations had been suspended.
The Annual Report for 1891 for the Department of Mines at page 195, again under the heading, "New Pits", shows that yet another small group, again led by Henry Trenchard, had engaged four men to drive two tunnels at "Stanford Greta", one each on mineral leases, Nos. 6 and 7, Parish of Stanford. Due to this group's limited capital, financial difficulties occurred resulting in the operation laying dormant for a period of years.
The East Greta Coal Mining Company's fortunes had fared well. Coal orders from Melbourne's Metropolitan Gas Company, Sydney's Australian Gaslight Company, Bundaberg Gas Company and other gas institutions showed keen demand for the tunnel's production. It was not surprising then that in 1896, the East Greta Coal Mining Company declared a dividend, and that the company commenced to drive a new mine, (East Greta No. 2 Tunnel). This was 566 yards back, closer towards West Maitland, and quite close to the later location of the East Greta railway station platform.
The Melbourne-based company, "Richmond Vale Estate", having successfully completed the sinking of its shaft, commenced to win coal. By the end of 1891, it had produced a total of about 2000 tons of coal. However this isolated mine had no rail transport, and quite a distance for the road vehicles of the period to cart to interested markets. This added greatly to production costs, and to the coal's sales price. On 25th January 1892, the manager, John R. Riggs notified the Mines Department, that the mining operations at the Richmond Vale Estate property had been suspended. Evidently its financial backers could not carry the ever accumulating financial debts. The Melbourne Branch of the Standard Bank of Australia organised a "forced" mortgagee auction sale. At this sale held on Thursday 15th July 1897, John Brown, of J. & A. Brown Limited, was the successful purchaser with a bid of £39,500-0-0 ($79,000.00). Without suitable transport for any coal that might be produced, John Brown temporarily placed his "new mine buy" in moth-balls.
An extensive roof fall in East Greta No. 1 Tunnel on the 18th November 1898 resulted in the loss of life of three miners, Daniel Gronow, Bertie Moncrieff and Richard Barnes. The first fatalities of many such sad occurrences that happened later on this new mining field.
During 1898 Samuel Clift, Henry Trenchard and others in their group showed renewed interest in the "Stanford Greta" tunnels. The results must have been encouraging, because efforts were made to seek the NSW Parliament's permission to construct a railway to the Stanford Greta Tunnels. Authority was granted to Sam Clift and others by the Stanford Railways Act, assent to which was made on the 25th July 1900.
Some people involved in this particular "Stanford Greta" group were also financially interested in the "Heddon Greta" project (Garven's land). It would seem that to a degree, that these groups had somewhat over-extended their joint finances, and some participants saw problems in funding the railway construction. From this situation, the "first take-over" on the South Maitland coal-fields occurred.
On Wednesday 1st August 1900, two major coal companies of that era, jointly made an offer to the shareholders of the Stanford Greta Tunnels Company to purchase their lease. These two companies were the East Greta Coal Mining Company and J. & A. Brown Limited. The offer was accepted, and the two companies agreed to divide the Stanford Greta lease into two portions. The eastern part and tunnel, an area of 1500 acres was taken over by the East Greta Coal Mining Company for a purchase price of £12,000-0-0 ($24,000.00) This section was renamed "Stanford Merthyr Colliery", and operations commenced on 4th February 1901. The western portion of some 3195 acres and the No. 2 Tunnel was purchased by J. & A. Brown Limited. This No. 2 Tunnel was renamed "Pelaw Main Colliery", and J. & A. Brown commenced mining operations there on Friday 28th December 1900.
The East Greta Coal Mining Company appears to have acquired the right to construct the Stanford Railway by its purchase of the No. 1 Tunnel. This was 5 miles 18 chains of track from the East Greta Tunnels to Stanford Merthyr. The track included 5 bridges and a number of cuttings and embankments. One cutting alone was 30 feet 6 inches deep through solid rock. The largest embankment required 35,000 cubic yards of fill. These construction workers certainly accomplished a massive effort, considering the primitive equipment of the times, "horse and dray" or "horse and scoop". Within just nine months the railway was completed on the 6th September 1901. The first train of coal from Stanford Merthyr Colliery was despatched on 17th January 1902. A link line from Stanford Merthyr Colliery to
Pelaw Main Colliery was completed on 17th November 1901. The first train of coal from that point was also despatched in late January 1902.
Following his successful entry into the South Maitland coalfields area by his purchase at auction of the Richmond Vale Estate Coalmine, John Brown set out to connect his "New Lease" to the earlier J. & A. Brown Limited's Minmi Pit. The Minmi Colliery had been connected with rail transport from Hexham, and this railway had opened in April 1859. Now J. & A. Brown Limited sought permission from the New South Wales Parliament to construct a railway branch line to link their Hexham-Minmi Railway with the Richmond Vale Estate. This was granted by the Richmond Vale Railway Act, assent to which was made on the 21st October 1900. This new railway link was to provide a service to the shipping facilities at the Hunter River or via the Government Railways to the shipping and the coal markets at Newcastle. It was estimated that the 11 miles 45 chains of rail track including tunnels and embankments would cost £70,000-0-0 ($140,000.00). Work on this link was commenced in February 1901.
The early local pioneer Cessnock District residents had been curious of the coal prospecting within their area. Some of their local labourers had assisted Mr T.W. Edgeworth David in his field work in proving the Greta Coal Seams. It was not surprising then that Cessnock Village's leading citizen and landholder of that period, Mr George Brown was also very interested in the future and financial possibilities of this great new industry. Professor T.W. Edgeworth David in his 1907 "Memoirs" at page number 158 informs that he advised Mr George Brown, the site of his (Brown's) land at which to sink a bore. On the 17th March 1890 Mr George Brown engaged Mr Allan Wilde to sink a bore a few chains west of the corner of Portions 16 and 17, Parish of Cessnock. This bore site was at the rear of what is now No. 3 South Avenue, Cessnock. The bore proved a seam of coal that was 34 feet thick at a depth of 70 feet, and it had 3 bands.
A report on an analysis of coal taken from near Cessnock appears in the 1891 Mines Department Annual Report (Author's Note - quite possibly coal from Mr George Brown's bore). This analysis is shown thus:
"Bright and dull bituminous coal with semi-conchoidal fracture.
|Sulphur in coal||=||3.74%|
|Coke||=||Fairly swollen, firm and lustrous|
One pound of this coal will convert 13.1 pounds of water into steam."
Yet another mining company, the "Aberdare Collieries of NSW" was formed at a meeting held in Newcastle on 24th January 1901. At the first meeting the following directors were appointed, Messrs G.F. Earp, Joseph Wood, H.J. Adams, A.F. Hall, John Scholey, Samuel Clift and Henry Trenchard. (Author's note: all these gentlemen had been directly connected with at least one of the other early coal mining companies on the South Maitland Field). This new company was not associated with the Caledonian Coal Company, then operating at Waratah West Wallsend and Killingworth, and later in January 1904 came to the South Maitland Field and opened the "Aberdare" Pits. The company, "Aberdare Collieries of NSW" took up a large mining lease of 12,442 acres, and which had included the lease originally held by the Silkstone Coal Company, and stretched as far as the rural and agricultural hamlet of Cessnock. Like the earlier Silkstone Coal Company, the "Aberdare Collieries of NSW" saw the urgent need for rail transport. It too sought the NSW Parliament's permission to construct a railway to join to the Stanford Merthyr Railway recently completed on the 6th September 1901. Authority was given by Parliament by the Aberdare Railway Act dated 27th December 1901. The plans and surveys deviated from the original Silkstone designed rail line. The company estimated that its railway construction would cost £16,000-0-0 ($32,000.00) for a rail track to Cessnock.
Before this railway was built, another major coal company, the early coal monopolist, the Australian Agricultural Company had sought its stake in the Greta Coal Seams. It took up the "Hebblewhite Estate" of 1280 acres, and in addition it purchased coal lands adjoining from the "Aberdare Collieries of NSW Company", and named their new area the "Hebburn Leases". The new "Aberdare Railway" was not planned to service the "Hebburn Leases" area. To attain a railway service to its new lease, the Australian Agricultural Company offered to take up a half interest in the Aberdare Railway. The "Aberdare Collieries of NSW Company" accepted this offer, and made the necessary deviation to connect to Hebburn Colliery. The railway was completed to Cessnock in early 1904.
Abermain Colliery Company commenced driving a tunnel on the 28th April 1903. This company had been closely connected to the Seaham Colliery Group on the earlier Newcastle field. The Seaham Company had provided the new Abermain Colliery Company with some "know-how", some finance, some mining machinery on loan, and more importantly supplied some of its best workforce on a temporary basis to commence the new mining operation. The company's coal-lands and leases totalled 4174 acres, and had been purchased from the "Aberdare Collieries of NSW" Company. This area included the 1996 acres originally held by the "Silkstone Coal Company" in 1888. In just over seven months, the Abermain Colliery Company had driven into the seam, constructed its pit-top buildings, and laid its rail sidings, and on Monday 16th November 1903, it despatched its first 100 tons of coal by rail.
The Caledonian Coal Company, a Scottish firm registered in Glasgow in 1895, had moved into the lucrative coal trade of New South Wales with collieries at West Wallsend, Killingworth and Waratah. It was not surprising then that on 20th January 1904, the Caledonian Coal Company purchased from the "Aberdare Collieries of NSW Company" the balance of its coal leases remaining after Abermain Colliery Company had bought its area. Here was virgin country, undeveloped in the new Greta Seams coalfields. Test bores had shown great depths of good class coal. At West Wallsend the Caledonian Coal Company had had its own railway servicing its colliery. Here on the South Maitland Coalfield although the Caledonian Coal Company did not have a financial interest in the railway, it did receive an agreement with its "Coal Land and Lease" purchase, that gave Caledonian Coal Company an assurance and guarantee of rail transportation under the Aberdare Railway Act a service right to their lease and proposed coal mines at no installation costs to the Caledonian Coal Company.
Like every other mining area in New South Wales, the commencement of a new colliery on this Coalfield also brought its adjoining little mining satellite village. Firstly the miners lived in tents or a hessian bag "humpy". Then as the miner brought his family to live with him, whilst still primitive and although small in size, more solid type dwellings were erected, frequently "squatting" on the colliery lands. Similarly today, land speculators soon cut up farming areas to commence larger villages. The NSW Government surveyed and sub-divided Crown Land areas to provide town sites like Kurri (1903), Abermain (1905) and Aberdare (1906). For the twenty to thirty years, land "auction" sales, both private and government, were almost a weekly feature.
The coal companies, who owned and operated "coal-mine" railways, were both pressed and pressured to provide passenger train transport services on their tracks, to replace the horse coach travel of that era. A passenger service ran from East Greta Junction to Stanford Merthyr Platform (Author's note: later named Kurri Kurri), commenced on 14th June 1902. Intending rail passengers were required to walk to or from East Greta Junction station to or from West Maitland Station to continue their journey. A direct service to West Maitland started on 1st August 1903. A passenger train service to Cessnock began on 1st March 1904.
There was another public utility service sought early by not only the colliery owners and coal mine employees, but also by the rural population. This was the laying of the water mains of the Hunter District Water Board. Just over ten years from the commencement of this very necessary system to Newcastle, the new South Maitland coalfields were joined to the pipelines of this new public service. Kurri township was connected by December 1903 and Cessnock via Aberdare Village in June 1905. (Author's note: see my monograph entitled "City of Cessnock 1788-1988 Section - "Water Supply and Sewerage Service Utility", at Newcastle City Library).
The Richmond Vale Railway Act did not expressly give permission for a link to the Pelaw Main Colliery from the new railway being constructed to Richmond Vale Colliery. John Brown of J. & A. Brown Limited was very aware that a small spur branch railway, 2 miles 25 chains (3.7 kilometres) in length across their own company land, would allow Pelaw Main Colliery coal production, transport over J. & A. Brown's own railway service instead of depending on another coal company, and perhaps adding to that company's profits. When the Richmond Vale Railway construction reached a selected and proposed junction point, work towards the Richmond Vale lease was suspended, and a branch track to Pelaw Main Colliery was completed on 26th June 1905. The rail construction workers then returned to finish the section to Richmond Vale Colliery.
John Brown was a "canny" Scotsman and prudent in his outlays. His company's Pelaw Main Colliery was on leaseheld land with a possible restricted time period. With the completion of a railway to Pelaw Main in 1905, he again placed his freehold land Richmond Vale Colliery on "hold", and concentrated on the development at Pelaw Main Colliery. It was not until about 1912, that J. & A. Brown Limited seriously started to mine coal at Richmond Main Colliery.
In the early a.m. on Sunday 29th October 1905 an underground fire and explosion took place in Stanford Merthyr Colliery. Efforts were made to control the fire by temporary stoppings or seals. At about 11.30 a.m. the same day in the midst of the "sealing" effort, another more serious explosion occurred. In this blast, six men were killed and nine more were injured. Amongst the six killed was Henry John Adams, one of the original group who had started the East Greta Tunnels. Amongst the nine injured were O.K. Young, chairman of the East Greta Coal Mining Company, H. Williams, Manager of the Stanford Merthyr Mine, and H.J. Thomas, the then manager of the East Greta Tunnels.
Wickham and Bullock Island Company, another large Newcastle-based coal company spread its interests to this new "Greta Seams" coalfields. It commenced its operations at Neath Colliery on the 18th May 1906, and had its first train of coal ready for despatch on the 26th February 1907. The Wickham and Bullock Island Company had provided for rail transport from its new Neath Pit by the construction of a rail spur line running parallel to the "Aberdare Railway" from a junction at Abermain railway station. This spur line swung away from its parallel situation at what is now Neath Railway Station, to make its journey up the hill to Neath Colliery. Later when the "Aberdare Railway" was being duplicated, part of this spur line was acquired to form the "Aberdare Railway Up Main Line", and a signal-box was erected at Neath Junction.
About the same time as the Wickham and Bullock Island Company was developing Neath Colliery, still yet another large Newcastle-field coal producer, the Hetton Coal Company sought leases on the South Maitland field. Bores were sunk on Mining Lease No. 15, Parish of Cessnock, by "Edwin (Ted) Pepper and Son" to prove the coal. The original lease was held by Scholey and Cohen. Evidently the area and the bores encouraged the interest of this Newcastle company, because early in 1906 by application (No. 1906/19) the Hetton Coal Company sought the granting of a lease. The 1908 Mines Department Annual Report at page 158 under the heading, "New Collieries" informs that Hetton Coal Company had commenced a new pit, "Hetton Extended Colliery", on 12th February 1908 by driving two tunnels on their Bellbird lease. Early coal production was conveyed by road to Cessnock Railway Goods Yard for loading into the company's rail hopper wagons. During 1906 Mr Archibald Gardiner, a surveyor, marked out a track for a proposed railway spur line to link the new Hetton Coal Company's workings to the then new Aberdare Railway. The construction of this rail branch was authorised under "permit" from the NSW Lands Department, and was completed in December 1910. On 27th October 1911, these "Hetton Coal Company" workings had its name changed to Bellbird Colliery.
The Anvil Creek Colliery and the Greta Coal Company had operated intermittently from 1872 and 1874 respectively. Fires, heatings and fall-ins at various times, locations and occasions had disrupted workings in these two collieries, sometimes for lengthy periods. A serious fire and explosion at Greta Colliery on 5th December 1900 claimed the lives of five men, and the colliery was sealed. Despite several attempts to re-open, none were successful. On 25th April 1908, a new mining enterprise purchased the old Anvil Creek Colliery and recommenced operations. This group renamed the lease "Central Greta Colliery".
Another Newcastle based group, the Newcastle Coal Mining Company, on 30th August, 1907 Drove a new tunnel into the outcrop of the Greta Main Seam in an area between the old original Greta Colliery and the Greta township. At first, this new colliery was known as "North Greta Colliery", but this was soon renamed "Whitburn Colliery". An adjacent colliery to these Greta mining operations was opened in early 1908. This particular colliery over a period of years had a number of names. Firstly it was called "EBBW Main" Colliery, then "Broxburn - Maitland" Colliery, followed by "Broxburn - Leconfield" Colliery, and finally in January 1918 it was renamed "New Greta Colliery".
Rothbury Colliery on the perimeter of the Lochinvar Dome in the Greta-Branxton region was opened by two brothers, Edward A.M. Merewether and Henry A.M. Merewether on the 29th November 1910.
Another public utility "now" essential service introduced to the South Maitland coalfields as a result of the coal mines was the supply of electricity for both household needs and for street lighting. Most collieries found they required electricity to operate the coal-cutting machines, pumps and underground lighting. Electricity generation plants were installed at quite a number of collieries. Following this trend by 1915 Caledonian Collieries from its units at Aberdare Colliery and Aberdare Extended Collieries supplied domestic electricity and street lighting for Cessnock; the East Greta Coal Mining through its Stanford Merthyr Colliery supplied Kurri Kurri, and through its Stanford Main No. 2 Colliery supplied Paxton Village; Hebburn Collieries Limited firstly from its Hebburn No. 1 Colliery and in latter years from its Hebburn No. 2 Colliery supplied Weston; Bellbird Colliery supplied Bellbird Village. It is of interest that most streets on the South Maitland coalfields had street electric lighting before George Street, Sydney City.
Coal production from the Greta Seams on the South Maitland coalfields in its early years showed big tonnages. The Mines Department in its 1903 Annual Report informs that this area in that year had supplied 571,096 tons or 13% of the Northern District total. In its 1907 Annual Report it stated that in that year, the production from the South Maitland field was 1,874,624 tons or 31% of the Northern District total.
With many markets demanding more and more of this wonderful coal, which possessed such rich and great qualities, particularly in gas making and for steaming, the larger coal companies on the South Maitland Field looked at expansion and for more collieries to open, to gain a greater share of these ever increasing markets. Other coal company entrepreneurs not already involved on this field by 1910 also sought to have a stake and share in this great field. By the mid-1920's mining developments had spread to the seams at greater depths. These new mines opened:
Aberdare South Colliery in 1913
Aberdare Central Colliery in 1914
Pelton Colliery in 1916
Kalingo Colliery in 1921
Stanford Main No. 2 Colliery in 1922
Ayrfield No. 1 Colliery in 1923
Ayrfield No. 2 Colliery in 1924
Elrington Colliery in 1925.
In addition some other smaller companies and coal mines commenced operations. Amongst these were: Glen Ayr Colliery, Greta Main Colliery, Millfield Greta Colliery, Maitland Main Colliery, Hillend Colliery, etc., etc.
Tragedy has always been closely connected with the mining industry. All too frequently fatalities and accidents occurred in this most hazardous of occupations. But those incidents that strike home the hardest is when a group are involved. Even in these such occasions, the coal miners always demonstrate their finest quality - their consideration for their fellow workmates. Each and every miner is prepared to risk his own life to make an attempt to rescue and recover any worker, who may be trapped, or held and caught in danger, or injured in his occupation. Saturday 1st September 1923 was one such day, a very sad day, on the South Maitland Field, when an explosion at Bellbird Colliery claimed the lives of 21 persons from the mining industry. A day when many miners clearly demonstrated their own personal courage.
Out of this misfortune came one very good result. Many mining people, including the managerial section, the miners themselves, Mines Department inspectors, Miners' Federation officials, etc., etc., had long sought central locations throughout the mining fields of NSW, where rescue equipment could be kept. A place where mining industry employees could also be trained to use this equipment, and to be ready to meet any emergency that might occur in the industry. In the mid 1920's a number of Mines Rescue Stations were constructed in NSW. One such station was erected at Abermain on the South Maitland Field. Not only did the station hold the equipment, but also special simulated underground places were erected for the training of interested mining staff personnel who volunteered. Homes adjoining the Rescue Station housed the Rescue Station Superintendent, his instructing staff, and a special team of personnel who could be called upon to work in special oxygen suits to handle the most hazardous and dangerous situations. Over the years in numerous calls and conditions, these trained personnel, or "proto-teams" as they became known, showed their true value, thus, they proved the foresight of the industry workers, who had "pressured" to obtain the Rescue Stations. In the early 1980's with the decline of colliery numbers on the South Maitland Field, the Rescue Station at Abermain, was sensibly and logically transferred and relocated to Singleton.
Of course the miner has always shown his solidarity and his beliefs in his unionistic principles. The miners at mass meetings or by local ballots laid down the guidelines for the conditions of his employment. He, in a body or "local lodge" was prepared to support these decisions, by withdrawing his labour in a strike, if this was deemed necessary. Sometimes these strikes were limited to a "day stoppage", or on more major issues quite lengthy periods. But all strikes or stoppages were costly to the industry, the miner and to his family. Also the miner supported the causes of his fellow unionist in other industries, again frequently by "strikes" in the mining industry. Like the "Eureka Stockade" of the gold-mining days, certain strikes stand out like beacons, that showed the miners' determination to support their unionistic beliefs. Some of these were:
The "Peter Bowling" Strike of the first decade of the century,
The "Railway" Strike of 1917,
The "Miners Lockout" in 1929,
The major coal-mining strikes in 1938, 1939 and 1949.
All moulded the character that is the "coal miner". Perhaps the "Rothbury Clash" on 16th December 1929 was the most significant, for this was the first time in Australia that a coal miner (Norman Brown) lost a life in demonstrating his right to strike.
One cannot write these brief historical background facts without paying a special tribute to the coal mines pit horses and a recognition of the role they played in the coal mining history. In the very early days of coal mining on the South Maitland Field, the pit horses were daily used underground. In some larger collieries, the horses were taken below on the Monday morning and remained down the mine housed in underground stables at the completion of the daily work, until the Friday, when the horses were again brought to the surface. Miners always had "funny stories" about the idiosyncrasies of their equine workmates, that are told with much affection, humour and lots of respect. It was no wonder then, that when Aberdare Central Colliery caught fire below on Saturday 24th July 1943, and 91 pit horses were trapped underground, when the decision was made to seal off the mine to quelch this very serious fire, the "proto mines rescue station team"(( and the local colliery miners present to a man stated that before the "sealing", that the pit horses should be rescued first.)) A brave, courageous attempt that saved 81 horses, and one in which many of the rescuers were badly burnt on their hands, faces and clothing.
Another mine disaster that involved "pit horses" was the inrush of flood waters into Aberdare Extended Colliery on Friday 17th June 1949. At about 7 a.m., some 11 employees were underground performing special duties, including "pre-shift inspections", attending to pumps, and some taking the horses down for the day's work. These men were warned urgently of an impending danger from a swollen creek's waters from overnight torrential rains, and all were advised to "get out immediately" by the best methods they could. Suddenly the mine overburden in an area adjacent to the flooding creek waters caved in. Most of the men underground found themselves in such perilous positions, and all had very exciting times in reaching safety. Not so fortunate were the pit horses. Of the 62 horses taken underground, 22 were caught in the whirlpool that flowed at terrific pace racing down to the lower levels. A fierce stream caught up steel rails, large water pipes, etc., twisting them all into fantastic shapes. A frenzy of destruction that ripped and gouged deep holes in the inky-black cavern-like tunnels. A torrent that knocked down the heavy timber mine "props" as if they were matchwood, splintering and smashing them. It left very little chance for the unlucky pit horses.
The recovery of the Aberdare Central Colliery after the underground fire on 24th July 1943 stands as a tribute to the tenacity of a special group of miners. This group had been trained by the Mines Rescue Station personnel to work in "proto suits" to seal off the fire area near the Aberdare Central Shaft pit-bottom. Even after this twelve months' period of "sealing", this area still carried great heat. The men worked in three small teams, with one team always on "stand-by" to effect a rescue to the working team if necessary. The third team rested on the surface. Work in the actual fire area was limited to two hour stints. Many of these mine workers involved in this unique mine recovery lost a great deal of personal weight. It should be put on record of their great courage and drive, and with their three years solid work, for the first time in the world, a coal shaft on fire underground was recovered and made available for re-working.
Both during World War II period, and the immediate post-war years saw increased demands for coal. To meet this urgent situation the out-crop areas on the South Maitland Field and the Greta-Rothbury region were worked by "open-cut mining" methods. This was a system where shallow overburden was stripped by bulldozers to uncover the coal seam itself. Then the "dozers" and "drag-lines" ripped into this coal. Large lorries or semi-trailers transported the coal along the surface for screening and loading into the rail wagons usually at the normal pit-top. This type of operation was limited, and in just over 10 short years, the out-cropping areas open-cut were worked out.
Some mining by mechanisation methods was introduced into some mines in the late 1930's. However, in 1941 at the behest of the Miners Federation, some restrictive proposed by John Marcus Baddeley (MLA) to the NSW Parliament, prohibited the use of machinery in the removal of "pillar-coal", and was only allowed for the driving of headings, bords and cut-throughs in first workings. Mr J.M. Baddeley was the Minister of Mines, and he was also the NSW Parliament Member for the seat of Cessnock. This particular legislation was not lifted until the late 1950's. The trend towards removing some of the heavy mining work was achieved by the introduction of power-boring to drill holes for the later explosive charge. Some early mechanisation were the coal-cutting machines, which under-cut the "face" also aided the coal-falling. The next progressive step, the "scraper-loaders" lessened some of the back-breaking skip filling. Even the pit horses' lot was assisted by the introduction of battery powered locomotives, and which evolved to stronger diesel locomotives. Coal transportation by conveyor belting systems was a further stage in the coal-labour reduction development.
The "day" of the contract miner was removed by the commencement of the use of coal mining machines and improved mechanisation. Mechanised "units" superseded the need for boring machines, shot-firing and timbering machines. Linked to improved conveyor belt systems, it provided much more humane methods for "coal-winning" for both the miner and the mine horse.
The New South Wales Government in 1947 formed the Joint Coal Board, as an organisation to examine the coal industry's problems. One of its first functions was to arrange for prospecting to be made to locate additional coal measures and new coalfields. In particular this prospecting was done in the Singleton-Jerry's Plains-Muswellbrook regions. Another important achievement by the Joint Coal Board was the formation of the "Coal Conservation Committee" to research for suitable materials and capable machines to stow the earlier mining workings of the South Maitland Field with a view to controlling spontaneous combustion and thereby better methods of obtaining more coal. Tests were made in constructed simulated conditions on the surface at Richmond Main Colliery on various clays, shales and loams, utilising a number of special types and styles of equipment. Funds were raised by a levy on coal production from all mines on the South Maitland Field to finance the gear and the research. Four collieries, Abermain No. 3, Aberdare Extended, Hebburn No. 2 and Bellbird, were selected to be given more practical trial tests in actual workings. After three years, in 1957, it was decided to cease the trials due to the economic climate and the then future prospects of the South Maitland Field.
By the late 1950's the older mines of the South Maitland Field had almost reached the extent of their economic working. Haulage transport in the "tunnel" type colliery in these early coal mines was by the old wire haulage rope. The "shaft" type colliery were restricted in the volume of coal that could be raised. Most mines had reached their limits or boundaries underground. Demands on types, sizes and qualities of coals had forced producers to construct expensive coal handling plants, covering crushing, washing and treatment. More importantly in this period, there was a dramatic change in the "purchasers" of the South Maitland Field's coals. There was a steady decline in sales. Finally many mines were not able to meet the strong competition for the shrinking market and were forced to close. Some coal markets were lost, brought about by cheap fuel oil replacing the traditional gas coal production. Dieselisation of the various States' railways also sliced a huge section of the field's coal sales. Add to these causes, the unreliable supply due to the miners' industrial actions, their "go-slow" tactics and seemingly unnecessary strikes, did not encourage the "buyers". Not only were a large number of mines closed, but the total of the work forces at the continuing producers, also dropped greatly. To quote just two examples in the consecutive years 1958 and 1959. The J. & A. Brown Limited mines, Richmond Main and Pelaw Main Collieries dropped a joint mines total of 654 men to 280. The Abermain Collieries Group in the same two years dropped from 841 men to 357.
In the late 1950's and early 1960's because of the loss of their earlier traders, the coal companies had to seek new markets. After great effort, keen advertising and strong negotiations, these were found overseas particularly in Japan. However to meet the shrewd bargaining abilities of this new market, it was found necessary to improve the general mining expertise and to make more drastic cost production savings. Further it forced many of the early coal company giants to unite. Caledonian Collieries Limited in early 1959 had taken over Cessnock Collieries Limited. In 1960 this was followed by Caledonian Collieries Limited merging with J. & A. Brown Abermain-Seaham (J.A.B.A.S.) Limited to form Coal and Allied. Inroads by the larger coal shipping companies in "take-overs" plus the interest from multi-national companies in the world demand for the Australian mineral export trade, brought about a situation in the 1970's, where the only companies remaining in the coal industry on the South Maitland "Greta Seams" coal fields were Coal and Allied Limited, Peko Limited (Newcastle-Wallsend Pelton Colliery) and R.W. Miller & Company.
Newcastle-Wallsend Company on their Pelton Colliery lease by extending its coal-lands, geared itself to a new method of mine-working "the long-wall system". On its lease, it opened a new mine, "Ellalong Colliery", purchased very expensive machinery, and installed an efficient, economical mine-working with the capacity to produce 10,000 tones of coal a day. At the end of April 1988, the only other South Maitland coalfield mine operating, Coal and Allied Limited's Aberdare North Colliery was closed. Coal and Allied Limited also have examined the "long-wall system" method for operation at its Stanford Main No. 2 Colliery. Likewise the Southland Coal Company have made a feasibility study for "long-wall mining" on their Bellbird Colliery Lease. Perhaps even now, the wonderful South Maitland "Greta Seams" coalfields still have a bright future and at present are only "marking time".
Let us now look a little deeper at all these mining developments, commencing with the East Greta Tunnels and progressing towards the south-west following the outcrop. This will be followed by a description of the collieries on the Greta-Branxton section of the field. Nearly all these collieries are situated within the City of Cessnock Municipality. Whilst the East Greta Colliery Tunnels were not within the City of Cessnock Municipality boundaries, but because the East Greta Coal Mining Company was the first active continuous pioneer coal company and by its railway operation tied the whole South Maitland Field so much together, this company too has been included in this history.
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