Coal Mining

With the newest threat to the tranquillity of our community coming in the form of coal mining, it is interesting to reflect on the history of Canyonleigh along with the history of the Southern Highlands, and the role coal mining has played.

The Berrima Colliery at Medway has been there forever, well that’s how it seems. If you read the history of Berrima Colliery, aka Medway Colliery, there has been mining on the banks of the Medway Rivulet on and off since 1867. The existing colliery started in 1924 and from the time the Cement Works was constructed in 1926 the colliery has supplied the coal for the kiln, as it does today. 1

This was not the first case of coal mining in the district. It is reported that coal was first discovered in the local district in 1829 during the excavation of the Great Southern Road.2

In May 1853 mining surveyor, William Keene was requested to “examine whether there are such indications of a workable coalfield at Mittagong as will warrant the leasing of it, in portions, on royalty…” In his report Keene stated that this was “largely confirmed by an examination of the locality of Black Bob’s Creek – a few miles beyond Berrima. Here there is ample evidence of the existence of a very regular deposit.” Based on the evidence given to the Select Committee of the Fitz Roy Iron and Coal Mining Company’s Bill, the Fitz Roy Iron Works was using Black Bob’s Creek coal in 1854. This is only a year after Keene was directed to carry out his survey. Coal from Black Bob’s Creek proved to be expensive, as it had to be transported more than 18 miles over rough and rugged roads. Encouraged by Keene’s report, Fitz Roy Iron Works took out a lease on 945 acres of Crown Land adjacent to the iron works and bounded by the Nattai River.2

In 1867, AR Huntley and JR Brereton opened the Cataract Coal Mine beside a waterfall at Medway Rivulet, near what is now know as the village of Medway, to supply good quality coking coal to Fitz Roy Iron Works. This would certainly end any necessity for the iron works to take coal from Black Bob’s Creek.

No firm evidence has been found of the location of the Black Bob’s Creek coal mine serving the Fitz Roy Iron Works. It has been recorded that Department of Primary Industries Coal Mining Archives have no record the mine and it was probably opened before any formal lease granting and recording authority was established.

The Parish Maps of Belanglo (4th Edition, dated 1899) 3 displays the transfer of numerous blocks from George Thos. Somerville to the Wingello Coal Company Limited. On the 1899 Parish Map of Nundialla, a proposed railway for the Wingello Coal Company travels across these blocks from land on the southern side of what is now Canyonleigh Road. Further investigation has revealed a notice in the Sydney Morning Herald on 25 June 1888 reported by a London correspondent on May 18, 1888 as follows: “In consequence of erroneous reports coming to this country from Sydney respecting the Wingello Coal Company, three of the directors petitioned for the winding up of the company. Mr Justice Stirling ordered a general meeting to be held on 11th instant, to ascertain the wishes of the shareholders appointing an independent chairman, Mr. Henry Dever, of the firm of Messrs. Deloitte, Dever, Griffiths, and Co.  The votes were 8019 for liquidation, and 10,100 against liquidation. Upon the report being handed to Mr Justice Stirling yesterday, he dismissed the petition for liquidation without costs. The three petitioning directors consequently retired from the Board.” As the company had been floated in January of the same year with a capital of £185,000 to work the Wingello coal mines at Camden, one has to wonder where the money went. A letter to the editor from an outraged shareholder in London was published on April 13th, 1888 questioning the board’s action “…it seems strange that the directors with their chairman, who should know their business, should have recommended to the public a concern which in less than three brief months they seek to throw up. Now, many of the subscribers may be, like myself, poor men ; to us the loss will be much. Why do not the directors return our money ?”

This was followed by a snippet on 26 October, 1888 also in the Sydney Morning Herald reporting on question time on the previous day in the NSW Parliament regarding the amount of stamp duty charged on the transfer of certain mineral conditional purchases in the land district of Berrima from vendors of the Wingello Coal Mining Company. Some two years later another snippet appears in the Sydney Morning Herald reporting from “The Metropolitan District Court on Gale vs Wingello Coal Company Limited. The plaintiff, Mr C C Gale, solicitor, of Moss Vale, sued the Wingello Coal Company, Limited, 41, Castlereagh Street, Sydney, for £21 19s. 6d for professional services rendered. Verdict for plaintiff subject to taxation within a month.”

All is quiet until 1908 when an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald appears for the sale of  “The Wingello Coal Company’s property consisting of 2456½ acres of freehold land. Situated about eight miles from Kareela Platform, 12 ½ miles from Wingello Railway Station, Main Southern Railway, about 2 miles from Cross-Roads, Sutton Forest. Instructions are to sell the whole for the purpose of liquidation. The Property is suitable for Grazing purposes or subdivision by syndicate. If not sold in one line, the Land will be offered in lots.”

Almost another 25 years pass and then once again the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday 24 March, 1933 displays and advertisement reading:
“Overdue Rates – Shire of Wingecarribee. Land to be sold for default. To the Wingello Coal Company Limited take notice that the Council of the Shire of Wingecarribee has applied to the Public Trustee to sell Portions 85, 92, 94, 95, 110, 198-201, 72-80 and 82-84 in the Parishes of Nundialla and Belanglo, of which you appear to be the owner or appear to be interested, for overdue rates amounting to £116.9.10, and that in default of payment forthwith to the Public Trustee of the said rates and all interest charges and expenses in conjunction with the said application and proceedings by the Public Trustees, the said land will be offered for sale by the Public Trustee and Public Auction.” The result of this notice is not known so it can only be assumed that because of the Depression the land would have been auctioned. The question of whether or not any coal was actually mined on these holdings has also not been determined.

More next issue….

Sources:
1. Berrima Colliery aka Medway Colliery 1926 –  at www.illawarracoal.com/berrima.htm
2. Early Industries of the Mittagong District by R Else-Mtichell
3 Department of Land – Parish Maps Preservation Project – online at:
parishmaps.lands.nsw.gov.au/pmap.html

Other Sources:
Sydney Morning Herald articles and advertisements are available at:
Historic Australian Newspapers 1803-1954 – newspapers.nla.gov.au
Special thanks to Berrima District Historical & Family History Society for use of their collection.