The Coal River Heritage Precinct is a distinctive area of public land at the mouth of the Hunter River encompassing Nobbys, Macquarie Pier, Convict Lumber Yard, and the original convict coal mine workings at Colliers Point and beneath Signal Hill (now Fort Scratchley). Prior to December 2003, the Convict Lumberyard or Stockade had been recognised, but sadly the same could not be said for Nobbys, Macquarie Pier, Colliers Point and the convict coal mines and Signal Hill. Fortunately these sites are still in public ownership.
It is a significant historical place that gives a tangible expression to Newcastle’s Aboriginal & European Heritage. (Click the Coal River Google Earth addon for an even closer look).
The University of Newcastle formed the Coal River Working Party in February 2003 to restore Newcastle and the Region’s significant historic contribution back into the Australian story.
Newcastle is no longer present in the narrative of the making of the Australian Nation, as is evidenced in reading the index pages of any recent work on the topic.
According to the 1930 Royal Commission into the Coal Industry (p.50):
The discovery of good quality coal dates from the earliest period of white settlement in Australia… During early exploration of the coastal belt outcrops of coal were found near Newcastle in 1796 and at Coal Cliff, near Wollongong in the following year. The importance of the discovery was not overlooked at the time, although there was no knowledge then of the immense extent of these coal beds, which have been by far the most productive of all that have been discovered in Australia and have exercised a powerful influence upon the development of New South Wales.
Coal Cliff proved unworkable, yet Newcastle (Coal River) proved to be the site of the first export:
We have also some hopes that coal with which the country abounds will be of much Colonial advantage. A ship lately returned to Bengal loaded with coals, and it gave no small satisfaction to every person interested in the prosperity of the colony to see this first export of it; and I am hopeful from these advantages that New South Wales, however contemptible it may at present appear in the list of our colonies, may yet become an acquisition of value to the mother country.
- 8 September 1799. Mr John Thomson to Captain Schanck, H.R.N.S.W., Vol. III, pp. 716 – 718
Captain Schanck is the person that the place now known as Maitland was originally named after by Colonel Paterson back on the original survey mission 1 July 1801:
This I named Shanks’ Forest Plains in honor of Captain Shanks, the projector of the Lady Nelson, a gentleman much interested in the prosperity of this colony.
- Lieutenant-Colonel Paterson’s Journal and Discoveries at Hunter River H.R.N.S.W., Vol. IV, pp. 448-453
Governor King to The Duke of Portland in a letter dated 21st August 1801 in speaking about the first export from Coal River says:
I have established a small post there, consisting of a trusty non-commissioned officer and eight privates, with twelve prisoners to collect coals for such Government vessells as can go for them. Since the Lady Nelson went there, two Government vessells have brought 45 tons of coals which has been bartered with the master of the Cornwallis for articles for the public use. This being the first natural produce of the colony that has tended to any advantage, I have enclosed the Commissary’s statement of that exchange, being more a matter of curiosity than of consequence. At present several boats are employed getting coals for the Cornwallis, and a prize brig, belonging to an individual, is now at the Coal Harbour lading with coals and timber for the Cape of Good Hope. By the inclosure your Grace will observe that I have made the coals and timber an article of revenue. How far it will be productive must depend on events.
- Governor King to The Duke of Portland, H.R.N.S.W., Vol.IV, p. 477.
Coal River was not only the site of the first export, but also the site of the first return (or profit) made in the fledgling colony of New South Wales, (2 pounds, 5 shillings) and was recorded by Governor King in a letter to Sir Joseph Banks in August 1801
The first cargo of coals brought from the Coal River in a Government vessel I exchanged with the master of the Cornwallis, who goes to Bengal from hence for iron, which he gave at 30 per cent. Profit for our coals at two pounds five shillings per chaldron. I believe this is the first return ever made from New South Wales.
- Governor King to Sir Joseph Banks (Banks Papers.), H.R.N.S.W., Vol.IV, p. 359.
Newcastle and the Hunter Region have bankrolled the Australian economy from its inception to nationhood, and continue to underpin Australia’s prosperity.
The Party aims to protect Newcastle’s culturally important landmarks in the Coal River Precinct that were only recently placed on the NSW Heritage Register. The overall vision is to create an Interpretive Centre and Heritage Park to express Newcastle’s unique Aboriginal, convict and industrial heritage and a management plan for the entire site.
We also seek to inspire a renaissance in new and symbiotic approaches to energy and cultural innovation for the Regional, National and Global community.
A Beginners Guide to the Work of the Coal River Working Party
- Prepared by Mr Keith Davey
The way forward is to:
Acknowledge and promote the identified Nobbys Coal River Precinct.
Support the listing of the Precinct on the NSW Heritage Register.
Research, Investigate and Conserve the heritage fabric of the Precinct.
Create a Heritage Conservation Master Plan as an instrument to identify, promote, conserve and coordinate the Nobbys Coal River Precinct.
Celebrate the founding of the permanent settlement of Newcastle 30th March 1804.
Request State Government to vote $500,000 to identify convict coal workings and prepare Nobbys Coal River Heritage Master Plan to coordinate activities in the area.
Nobbys Coal River Precinct is:
A significant historical place that gives a tangible expression to Newcastle’s Aboriginal & European Heritage.
A distinctive area of public land at the mouth of the Hunter River encompassing Nobbys, Macquarie Pier, Convict Lumber Yard, and the original convict coal mine workings at Colliers Point and beneath Signal Hill.
Potentially one of Australia’s most significant sites: It is a place of Aboriginal heritage. It is the location of Shortland’s discovery of a Coal River (named Hunter River) and of winnable coal. It is the historic focus of the founding of Newcastle 30/3/1804 and of the beginning of convict coal mining, port development and maritime heritage. It is also a place of later military heritage.
February 2003 Coal River Working Party (CRWP) formed.
After two announcements on 24 February 2003 (Hon Dr Andrew Refshauge, Deputy Premier of New South Wales) and 11 September 2003 (Assistant Planning Minister Diane Beamer) the Coal River Precinct was registered on the NSW State Heritage Register on the 19 Dec 2003. The listing provides the precinct with further recognition and protection. http://www.heritage.nsw.gov.au/07_subnav_02_2.cfm?itemid=5053900.
December 2003. Plan of Flag Staff Hill Newcastle (1856) Archives Authority Map No. 4604 [of which a copy was located by Gionni Di Gravio among the John Turner papers] marks the locations of three of convict coal mines marked as “drifts”. One on the harbour side (near the salt pan ) which Platt reported was of inferior quality, and another two on the sea side which were of best quality.
19 February 2004 The CRWP successfully researched and pinpointed the historic site of the first convict coal mines at Newcastle with the assistance of Newcastle Council surveyors. This significant discovery located the site of the first profit ever made in the fledgling colony of New South Wales, at Coal River in 1801. As Newcastle is currently the world’s largest coal export port, this new information places Coal River as, not only the birthplace of the Australian Coal Mining Industry, but also the Australian Economy.
1 March 2004. Monteath & Powys Pty Ltd Consulting Surveyors & Planners and Coffey Geosciences Pty Ltd come on board to assist in checking the above results and preparing for a drill. Newcastle City Council provide a $10,000 grant of funds to assist location and drilling into convict mines.
CRWP in Hansard. The CRWP’s successful community work was recognized and placed on New South Wales Parliamentary Hansard on two occasions. On 30 March 2004 the work of the CRWP was applauded in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly under title of “Newcastle Coal Heritage: Matter of Public Importance” Page: 7708. On 2 June 2004 Hon. Patricia Forsythe in her speech to the NSW Legislative Council called upon the city council, business, the university and the community to work together to develop the Project, and urged Newcastle City Council to give “this concept the priority it deserves by giving leadership to its promotion, and co-ordination.” She also expressed a hope that the State and Federal Governments (as well as many committed private firms in the Coal Industry) would provide the funding needed to realise the vision.
30 March 2004. Open Day 12 noon on Tuesday 30 March 2004 signalled exactly 200 years since Lieutenant Menzies and a party of convicts and solidiers re-established the Coal River settlement on 30 March 1804. The Working Party’s Open Day, timed to coincide with this significant historical moment, was a great success. Due to the efforts of Working Party members and more than 20 volunteers from the University of Newcastle, our commercial partners and the broader community, we were able to entertain over 120 children and a similar number of adults on the day at what we have named the ‘Coal River Heritage Park’.
7 April 2004. Commonwealth approval to proceed with the proposed drilling into the convict mines under Fort Scratchley has finally arrived.
15 April – 2 May 2004. Coal River at Hard Work Exhibition.
14 May 2004. The original 1804 plans showing the layout of the Newcastle’s first coal mine were uncovered. The original plans, held in the Public Records Office in London, were made in July 1804 by Lieutenant Menzies and sent by Governor King to Lord Hobart in England. It shows the Drives, Headings and Crosscuts made at the coal mine at Colliers Point Newcastle. A copy of these plans was uncovered in Sydney by Mr Doug Lithgow at the Mitchell Library on microfilm BT36 frames 26 and 33.
3 June 2004 The original 1804 plan showing the layout of the Newcastle’s first coal mine has been located in the Public Records Office in London. The plan was located by the staff of the Research and Editorial Services Department of the National Archives. After searching through the volumes of correspondence for Australia in 1804 at the very end of CO 201/302, where it bears the dexter stamp number 311.
31 July 2004. Bicentennial Event Fort Scratchley closes for renovations. Members of the steering committee for the event requested a display on the history of the University and the Coal River Working Party. Gionni Di Gravio and Keith Davey created a series of 12 panels describing the history of the University of Newcastle, which celebrates its 40th anniversary next year and work of its Coal River Working Party. In addition, members of the Working Party spoke and provided information on the University’s programs and outreach activities.
November 2004. 1804 plan is digitised and made available to the Newcastle community via the CRWP website.
March 2005. Mr Gionni Di Gravio addresses the 33rd Hunter and Coastal History Convention at Raymond Terrace.
In 2005 the Nobbys Coal River Website is archived by the National Library of Australia as a site of ‘national significance.
April 2005. Dr Erik Eklund presented a seminar entitled ‘In Search of Newcastle’s Lost Convict Coal Mines’ at the University of Newcastle.
31 January 2006. Investigation of Convict Coal Mine Workings Beneath Colliers’ Point, Newcastle East Results of Drilling Investigation. Report by Coffey Geosciences Pty Ltd November 2005.
10 August 2006 Barrallier’s ‘Lost’ Map Found.
15 August 2006. Coal River makes its appearance on Google Earth through the Google Earth addon.
26 September 2005. The drilling into the convict coal mines and camera descent on the 30 September 2005 garners great and unprecedented media coverage for the University and its business and community partners.
October 2006 Monteath and Powys Pty Ltd, won the People and Community section of the 2006 NSW Awards for Excellence in Surveying and Spatial Information for their work in locating and rediscovery of Newcastle’s historic convict coal mines. Software company Extra Dimension Solutions Pty Ltd provided 12D Model for a student project modelling of the Coal River site to complete their degree qualification.
21 – 24 October 2006 A replica of the Dutch vessel ‘Dufken’ visited Newcastle, and the University mounted a display featuring posters on the Coal River project (thanks to Gionni) and some promotional material from the University. This was a great opportunity for representatives to talk to the general public about Coal River.
27 October 2006 A DTM of Fort Scratchley by Alex Widgery and John Wilson presented to the Surveying School University of Newcastle.
December 2006. Funding from the NSW Heritage Office to create walking tours of the Coal River Precinct.
29 March 2007 Newcastle’s Coal River Project — Convicts and the Dreamtime to Google Earth. Presentation to the New Institute by Peter Sherlock and Gionni Di Gravio. Features a three dimensional Nobbys restored to 203 ft.
3 April 2007. Boyce Pizzey presents Conservation and Cultural Tourism Management Plan – Working Paper 4 on interpretation of Coal River Precinct.
27 April 2007. The Coal River Working party has proudly completed and submitted its National Heritage Nomination for the Coal River Precinct and Convict Lumber Yard.
May 2007. Original Survey of the Newcastle and Hunter Region drawn by french surveyor Francis Barrallier dating from June/July1801 located in the London Public Records Office. A digital copy is ordered and printed for a forthcoming presentation ceremony. The Hartley Bequest Program generously agree to sponsor the framing of the work for the presentations.
On 27 September 2007 these students, John Wilson and Alex Widgery, won the University Student Project category in the 2007 New South Wales Institution of Surveyors Excellence in Surveying Awards for their work on the Coal River Project.
Climate change knows no borders and we believe that the Hunter is at a crossroads.
Luckily our history holds the key to our future.
For the last 200 years our Region has led the world in the creation of fossil fuel energy.
Our challenge to reinvigorate an international renaissance as clean energy innovators and set a goal of a renewable Hunter Region by 2020, using current profits to research renewable energy solutions that will kick us all off our fossil fuel addiction.