I don’t know how many times as a child I would ride in the family car along the ‘Coast Road’ (Lawrence Hargrave Drive), but it was always an exhilarating feeling. The Clifton end with its sheer drop to the ocean below was a beautiful and clean sight. On a summers day with blue skies it was truly spectacular; on a winters day with grey clouds, rain and gusty winds, it was an isolated, lonely feeling.
Never did I suspect a mine to be created along these cliffs, especially at the area along the cliffs where it seemed the most dangerous and impossible. It wasn’t till later in my life did I discover that the Coalcliff Colliery started out its existence as a mine straight into the bare cliffs, utilising a jetty for loading. This became fascinating to my imagination on how this was achieved back in those days.
The name Coalcliff is said to have originated back in 1797 when survivors of the shipwreck Sydney Cove, set out to reach Sydney from Gippsland. It was here that five survivors found a coal seam in the sides of the cliff. Two of the survivors stayed here while three continued to Wattamolla and were eventually rescued. William Clark was one of the three survivors. After their rescue, Governor Hunter sent George Bass to investigate these claims of coal. Bass had found the bloodied remains of two survivors (presumed murdered by Aborigines), as well as several coal seams in the cliff face which may extend throughout the range.
Interactive Map Provided by © Bing Maps.
In 1824 Matthew John Gibbons received a promise of a grant for one thousand and twenty acres from Governor Macquarie. The grant included land from the top of Bald Hill to Stony Creek, and was fully granted to him in 1833. Gibbons is said to have renamed Little Bulli to Stanwell Park after a place in Middlesex.
From here this land was then purchased by Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell in the late 1830’s. Sir Thomas Mitchell was a well known explorer and Surveyor General of New South Wales. He had purchased the property in anticipation of a highway passing through these lands. The highway was surveyed but not utilised to any great extent. Mitchell lacked the means to develop his lands in the Illawarra and it eventually passed on to his son Campbell Mitchell. There is evidence in my research that suggest Lewis Gordon was granted lands known as the Coal Cliffs (Coalcliff – Clifton) in 1840, but I’m yet to determine exact dates and timelines. [Portion number 18 & 21, Southend Parish of Scotland].
John Fletcher Hargrave, former judge and parliamentarian, eventually purchased the entire 1325 acre estate in 1872 for two pounds per acre from Campbell Mitchell. In the coming years John Hargrave was able to sell off parts of his estate at 10 pounds per acre to coal speculators. In the immediate years just prior to this, John Hargrave had asked his son Lawrence Hargrave to give an opinion on developing a mine and jetty. In 1870 Lawrence Hargrave designed a floating breakwater for the Coal Cliffs and presented it to his father. Lawrence had dreams of exploring and continued with those in 1872 and beyond; coal mining was not a great passion for Lawrence. John Hargrave continued with his other two sons Ralph and Gilbert who both developed the estate. John Hargrave built his own country house at Coalcliff in 1874 and never did get to exploit the coal at the Coal Cliffs. John Hargrave did however make the Coal Cliffs an attractive investment and in 1876 the Coal Cliff Land and Coal Mining Company purchased 315 acres from him (from Clifton to Stony Creek), netting him a nice return on investment. John Hargrave was to retain 17-20 acres around his country home.
Alexander Stuart, (who was to become Premier of NSW from 1883-1885) was at this time (1876), the principle proprietor of the Coal Cliff Land and Coal Mining Company. Thomas Walker was a merchant and financier, and helped to fund the coal mine. Together they founded the Jetty Mine at Coalcliff in 1877, officially opening on the 11th January 1878. [There is evidence to suggest John Robertson may have been instrumental in forming this company with Alexander Stuart].
From 1878-1880, a man named Thomas Hale was engaged by Alexander Stuart as Mine Manager. Thomas Hale (former owner of the Bellambi Colliery), was to bring much needed experience with him to the construction of the Jetty Mine, as his team had been involved in the construction of jetties at Bellambi and Bulli. Thomas Hale’s team was able to erect a jetty some 150m into the sea from the Coal Cliffs. In April 1877 an adit was driven into the coal seam to prove the seam. A timber slide was constructed to lower wood down to the rock shelf below the adit. While a rough pathway to the rock shelf and adit was hacked down into the cliff face from the southern side utilising ladders.
On the same day as the official opening, the first steam collier ‘Eagle‘ left the jetty mine for Sydney; the mine was an instant success. Alexander Stuart had two small steam colliers constructed in Glasgow, the ‘Hilda‘ and the ‘Herga‘, designed for treacherous conditions. Hilda was lost after hitting a reef near Port Hacking in 1893 but Herga continued work throughout the life on the jetty mine.
In June 1878 just six months after opening, huge seas destroyed several outer spans of the jetty, necessitating the entire jetty to be rebuilt three feet higher than before. Due to its location, the jetty would be held to the full force of nature regularly, and again in June 1881 it was severely damaged forcing the mine to close for four months. Again in 1904, a storm caused considerable damage to the jetty.
Thomas Hale continued to developed the jetty mine with a large working platform, boiler plant, workshop, stores, stables, offices, etc. (evidence of these can be seen in historic photos). A second adit was established for ventilation purposes and a furnace type ventilation shaft was built level to the former Lawrence Hargrave Drive.
In 1880 Charles Harper* would replace Thomas Hale as the mines manager while 3 years later in 1883, Charles Stuart (nephew of Alexander Stuart) would replace Charles Harper as mine manager. In 1882 a miners strike was settled with Alexander Stuart conceding a 3 pence per ton above other mines. I am sure Charles Harper had a great deal to do with these negotiations as he is remembered for his fairness to all.
*Charles Harper would go on to be instrumental in the founding of the Camp Creek Mine and township soon to be named Helensburgh.
In 1883-1885, Alexander Stuart became the Premier of New South Wales. Demand for coal around this time took a dive and underselling was rife. Despite the success of the mine, Alexander Stuart died in 1886 financially ruined by the Jetty Mine which he kept running at a loss in hope of returning fortunes. After Alexander died, the property was passed to Alexander’s wife, Christiana Stuart who died herself on August 1889. Soon thereafter, the company was incorporated and two of Alexander Stuart’s partners, Sir John Robertson and Charles Cowper, took control of the Coalcliff and Land Company Ltd in 1890. With the grand opening of the Illawarra Railway Line on the 3rd October 1888, the Jetty Mine now faced stiff opposition from other mines who could transport their coal via the railway to Wollongong or Sydney.
In 1892 the colliery estate and two ships were acquired by Ebenezer Vickery and he had decided to develop a shaft. In March 1893, Ebenezer Vickery banded with other local mine owners and formed the Southern Coal Owners’ Agency. Their aim was to sell coal for various mines. 1902 saw legal ownership transferred from Ebenezer Vickery to E Vickery & Sons Ltd and later to Coalcliff Colliers Ltd in 1909. Changes were formal as these companies were controlled by the Vickery family until 1936.
The last collier to depart the Coalcliff Jetty Mine was in 1912. At this time a double inlet, 77 diameter Sirocco centrifugal fan, driven by two vertically mounted, 17 diameter x 9 stroke single cylinder steam engines, were installed at the jetty site. The Jetty Mine site continued to be used for ventilation right up until the mine ceased production in 1991 after a life of 114 years.
The multiple Jetty Mine entrances were sealed in concrete in 1992.
Images/Photos, and Article © Ian Piggott 2013 – all rights reserved,