So who discovered coal at Helensburgh? (Camp Creek). An extremely interesting article from The Sydney Morning Herald dated the 1st December 1884, holds the answer. This article describes in great detail the drilling for coal at Camp Creek. Namely a team consisting of Messrs, James Fletcher and John Coghlan, prospected for coal and iron in 18,000 acres of land. This land is roughly the area spanning between present day Heathcote to the north, Clifton to the south, and Woronora.
The article states that on the 20th November 1883, a diamond drill and engine was transported under the superintendence of a Mr, John Coghlan to the ground where the boring was to commence. The bore was put down a distance of 720 feet 9 inches on the top of a ridge overlooking the Camp Creek Gully. Putting down the original bore was difficult as the ground quality was so poor. £200 pounds of diamonds were lost before the team had reached 250 feet. The bore soon passed through a bed of soft shale and the earth caved in.
This was to be the end of drilling/prospecting at this site as the company at the time had not proposed to immediately proceed with further prospecting. It was Mr, John Coghlan that voluntarily offered to drop a second bore. The article goes on to say; “and it may fairly be said that it is in a great measure owing to the energy and perseverance of this gentleman that the present successful issue has been reached.” [referring to the seam found at the present day Metropolitan Colliery]. It is also interesting to note that three bores where created in total and not two bores that was previously thought.
It appears John Coghlan was personally instrumental in pushing for a second attempt than anyone else. Is it not clear in this article if Charles Harper was present at these drilling sites, but it does state that he “represents the company, and takes charge of the core.” I’m not dismissing Charles Harpers achievements in Helensburgh as he was instrumental in getting the mine functioning as well as significantly developing the town, but the one individual who wanted to not abandon the area after the first failed attempt to find coal was John Coghlan.
John Coghlan was responsible for introducing the Diamond Drill to Australia. His company had patented the rights from its French inventor Jean Rodolphe Leschote. John Coghlan had been quite successful in locating minerals around the colony and his business was called the Australian Diamond Rock Drill Company at 196 Pitt Street, Sydney.
This is a significant article on the history of Camp Creek / Helensburgh. For anyone interested in Helensburgh’s history, I whole-heartedly encourage you to read this fascinating and extraordinarily insightful 1884 written article.
The Sydney Morning Herald – Monday 1 December 1884
IMPORTANT DISCOVERY OF COAL AT HEATHCOTE.
A discovery of coal which, if future development bears out the success anticipated from present indications, will be of very great importance, has lately been made at Heathcote, a distance of 28 miles by railway and 32 miles by road from Sydney. Next July it will be two years since Messrs, James Fletcher, M.L.A., and John Coghlan took up an area of 18,000 acres of land to prospect for coal and iron. The land is bounded on the Sydney side by the National Park, and has a frontage of about 9 miles on the Illawarra railway line, this line also passing through an additional distance of 3 miles, having the property on both sides. The original holders of the land, soon after taking it up, formed it into a company of equal shares, reserving no advantage in that respect to themselves over their fellow shareholders. On the 20th of November, 1883, a diamond drill and engine, with all necessary appliances, were transported, under the superintendence of Mr. Coghlan, to the ground, where boring operations were at once commenced. The bore was put down a distance of 720 feet 9 inches on the top of a ridge overlooking a gully through which flows a stream known as Camp Creek, emptying itself into Port Hacking, and is said to be a constant and abundant supply of water for mining purposes. In putting down this bore much difficulty was met with, the nature of the ground being of such bad quality that not less than £200 worth of diamonds were lost in carrying out the work before a depth of 250 feet was reached. Eventually the bore was put down to the extreme depth mentioned, 726 feet 9 inches, but without any absolute indication of coal having been seen. The bore having passed through a bed of soft shale the earth caved in, and this impediment, together with the want of success so far, determined the abandonment of the bore. The company at the time not proposing to immediately proceed with further prospecting works, Mr. Coghlan voluntarily offered to put in a second bore, and it may fairly be said that it is in a great measure owing to the energy and perseverance of this gentleman that the present successful issue has been reached. The site selected for the second bore was at a point about 300 feet lower in the strata upon the near bank of the creek, and about a quarter of a mile distant in an easterly direction from the site of the first bore. It was also immediately at the side of the railway line; a viaduct, when the line is completed, spanning the gully. This bore was commenced on (the 19th July last, and was sunk a depth of 847 feet, at which depth, on the 22nd instant, decided indications of coal were come upon, and boring operations being continued, a seam of coal was entered. The good news that coal had been reached necessarily caused excitement among shareholders, but until the depth of the seam and its quality were tested by further boring the value of the find could not be estimated.
In order to place the discovery upon a thoroughly satisfactory basis, it was determined that the bore should be tested in the presence of a number of the shareholders and others. Accordingly, on Friday morning a party of visitors were driven to the company’s property. The route was the main road to Tom Ugly’s Point, thence across George’s River by punt, and then along the Illawarra road for a distance of about 18 miles till a track to the right hand was taken to Camp Creek. Beyond Newtown to George’s River the drive was an interesting one, the impetus given to land-purchase and house-building by the construction of the line of railway being very evident. Several large areas of land cut up into building allotments announced for sale; new houses, with gardens being formed; and other evidences of increasing settlement within easy walking distance of the railway line were noticed. At Rockdale a number of men were at work making the cutting and levellings for the tramway line which will connect the railway with Lady Robinson’s Beach. From George’s River to Camp Creek the scenery is comparatively uninteresting, consisting principally of rocky hills, covered with stunted shrub. Near the river the tints of the spring foliage of the young forest trees, bunches of Christmas roses, and occasional clumps of golden wattle in full bloom, brightened the landscape. After passing through miles of country where gumtrees, gnarled and twisted into strange outlines, coarse grass, and wiry ferns were the chief characteristics, the road crossed the section of the railway line now being formed. Several heavy excavations were seen and in the vicinity of Heathcote some extensive tunnelling works were being carried on. The little clump of sheoaks, known as Bottle Forest, with a bee farm by the roadside, was passed through, and then the route lay through rugged sandstone hills. Here and there a railway camp, with its tents and stores, its abundance of children, dogs, bottles, and debris, was passed through. Sometimes a glimpse at Botany Bay could be had from the top of one of the ridges over which the road lay. On either side were scrub-covered hills, with bald naked patches of sandstone cropping out at intervals, and breaking the dull sage-green hue of the foliage that clad the twisted branches of the stunted trees struggling upward from between the rifts and openings of the rocks. The formation of the country was that which is characteristically known as the Hawkesbury sandstone, and was capped in places with concretionary iron ore of a poor quality, but which might possibly be useful to mix with richer ores. Here and there were patches of iron ore five feet in depth. The formation, in fact, was precisely similar to that of all the Illawarra district to the south; that is to say, the Hawkesbury formation overlying coal measures. Camp Creek was not reached till late in the evening.
After a night under canvas the visitors were awakened at daybreak, and proceeded to the bore. Camp Creek Gully, in which the bore has been put down, may be described roughly as a wedge-shaped excavation, made by the action of water in the country. Its steep sides support a large quantity of straight, well, formed, sound timber, chiefly black-butt, turpentine and white gum, all of which will be of great value in working a mine. The gully was, in fact, to the visitors, after the many miles of dull country they had passed through, quite an oasis; in its shaded, watered depth being fern trees and foliage of many delicate hues of green.
The diamond drill is the properly of Mr. Coghlan, who, as previously stated, was one of the original shareholders, and whose name has for many years past been connected with boring operations in this colony. It is under the charge of Mr. W. Williams, assisted by Mr. Thomas Wilkinson. Mr. Williams was one of those who were employed in putting down the bore on the Holt-Sutherland Estate to a depth of 2200 feet, and Mr. Wilkinson was one of the engineers who assisted Mr. Coghlan in putting down the bore at Moore Park in 1860. Mr. Charles Harper, representing the company, takes charge of the core. On Saturday morning the visitors present were Mr. Fletcher, M.L.A., chairman of the board of directors; Mr. John Sutherland, M.L.A., one of the directors; Mr. C. S. Wilkinson, Government Geologist; Mr. Coghlan, and the representatives, of the Press. In the afternoon a second party of visitors arrived, consisting of Mr. E. C. Cracknell, Mr. Fred. Want, and Mr. Peebles. Previous to Saturday the seam of coal had been bored into a depth of 3 feet, and shortly after midday it was announced that the bore had been sunk a further distance of 3 feet 1 inch. It was then determined to lift the rods, and when this had been done, amid much anticipation as to the result of the bore, the tube was emptied. It was found that the bore was still in coal, making the thickness of the seam so far 6 feet 1 inch. The coal was dull, with occasional streaks of brighter bituminous appearance, it was closely examined, but no sign of a band in the seam could be detected in the core. So far as the core could be accepted as evidence of its quality, it was a solid, compact seam. Mr. Wilkinson pronounced it to be “good, firm, bituminous coal, resembling that of Coal Cliff and Bulli in every respect. It is without bands so far as I have seen it. It would be good coal for household and steam purposes, it being more a steam coal than a gas coal; that is to say, it will be superior for the one rather than for the other. “It will also be good for smelting purposes.”
Should the new coalfield prove to be as extensive as, present prospects give reason to believe, it will not only be a source of much wealth to the fortunate shareholders, but will be a great advantage to Sydney consumers, as the facilities for transit being so great, the produce, no doubt, can be put in the market at a price very satisfactory to consumers. The company intend to have the shaft sunk and the necessary works for the raising of coal completed by the time the railway is open to Sydney. The shaft will be put down on the slope of the side of the gully, a distance of about 75 feet above the present bore, so that a depth of about 922 feet will have to be sunk to strike the seam. The site of the shaft will be on a level with the railway line, to which sidings will be cut into the slope to junction with the line, at a point between a tunnel some distance back and the viaduct over the creek. The distance of the site of the shaft from the railway line is only about four chains, so that the cost of construction will be comparatively trifling. Also, by the construction of 2½ miles of railway line the company will be able to take the coal to a point at Botany Bay, where it can be shipped; or a less distance of line will enable them to ship it at Port Hacking. At the present time the nearest coal-mine to Sydney is at Coal Cliff, which is eight miles beyond the point where the recent discovery has been made. With these advantages, and abundance of wood and water, the prospects of the company certainly look very hopeful; and, should the bright anticipations raised be fully realised, the advantage to Sydney and the addition to the wealth of our colony generally will be far from inconsiderable.
The visitors returned to the city on Saturday evening. Yesterday (Sunday) Mr. Coghlan arrived in Sydney, and stated that the bore had been sunk a further distance of 3 feet, and was still in coal. This so far gives a depth of 9 feet 1 inch in coal, and still more to go through. He brought with him a piece of the core, which showed a marked improvement in the quality of the coal, it being much brighter in appearance and more bituminous in nature. So far no perceptible increase of water has been caused by the coal deposit being entered. The discovery of this apparently splendid seam of coal is undoubtedly it matter of exceeding importance to the community, and will cause no little interest in mining and commercial circles, it having been by many regarded as improbable that any extensive coal deposit would be struck this side of Coal Cliff at a depth which would render it possible to successfully work it. The sample of the coal brought into the city yesterday will today be on view in Messrs. Paling and Co.’s window, George-street.
You’d agree that this article is truly a magnificent capture of the birth of Helensburgh, the writing style, and Victorian Period culture of the times.
I will leave plenty of room for further expansion of this story when more information becomes available to me.
by Ian Piggott – 17 April 2013
Images/Photos, and Article © Ian Piggott 2013 – all rights reserved,