Industries of Glenrock Reserve
The Glenrock Reserve contains more than 145 recorded historic sites, including the remains of Australia's first road/tram tunnel (Mitchells tunnel), NSW's first railway tunnels, Australia's first commissioned copper smelter, a unique coastal railway on Burwood Beach and one of the oldest and best preserved remains of a 19th century coal mine in the Hunter - the Burwood Colliery.
The first European visitors to Glenrock may have been the escaped convicts Mary and William Bryant, their two children and nine others who stole the Governor's boat in Sydney and rowed to Timor in 1791. They recorded stopping by a lagoon where coal was exposed on a beach. There is much speculation about the exact location of this beach, however Glenrock Lagoon and its opening to the sea fits their description. Soon afterwards coal was ‘officially’ discovered and a penal colony established in Newcastle. Glenrock was then regularly visited by Europeans on hunting expeditions and was also on a transport route to Lake Macquarie.
In 1835 Sydney doctor and businessman James Mitchell purchased about 900 acres of coastal land extending from the far side of Merewether ridge to Glenrock Lagoon. He named the property the Burwood estate, after his wife's family home in London and later extended it to 1,834 acres. In 1842 Ludwig Leichhardt visited the Burwood estate and drew up the stratigraphy of the coastline. Leichhardt may also have established the extent of the coal seams under Mitchell's property, as it was not long after Leichhardt's visit that Mitchell commissioned a tram/road tunnel through Burwood ridge (now Merewether ridge). Known as 'Mitchell’s tunnel' the historical events surrounding its construction make it one of the most significant sites in NSW. It was partly due to the tunnel’s construction that coal mining in Australia was opened up to independent mining, which in turn led to the Hunter's establishment as a coal-mining centre. It was also the first tunnel of its type to be constructed in Australia.
Mitchell publicly claimed construction of the tunnel was to allow access to Burwood Beach so he could build a salt works. In private, however, it appears Mitchell was planning to overturn the Australian Agricultural Company's (AACo) Government supported monopoly on coal mining. He had already approached Governor Gipps with several requests, including: that the Metallic Ores Act be repealed, allowing copper ores to enter NSW duty free; that Newcastle be made a free port so private vessels could enter the estuary without restrictions; and that he be permitted to mine and use coal from his estate as fuel for a copper smelter. Gipps agreed to the first two requests but felt he had no power to agree to the third.
Despite this set back, Mitchell continued with his tunnel project and commissioned its construction in 1846. It was constructed directly into a coal seam, located in line with present day Merewether Street. Work was carried out from both ends with the point of meeting marked by an obvious change in direction of the pickaxe marks. The roof was high enough to accommodate a horse team. Two to three thousand tons of coal were extracted, which Mitchell could do nothing with due to the AACo monopoly.
The AACo and the Government were also under a great deal of pressure from other quarters to relinquish the monopoly. A number of people operated small mines in the district in defiance of the monopoly, which the AACo mostly ignored. However, a former employee of Mitchell's mining near East Maitland, a Mr James Brown, brought the matter into the public domain when he directly undercut the AACo price to supply coal to steamships at Morpeth. He was subsequently prosecuted. The Government's legal advice after this case was that they would have to individually prosecute every other person involved in such activities. The then Governor, Fitzroy, expressed the opinion that the AACo should bear the costs of these prosecutions. In 1847 the NSW Legislative Council appointed a Select Committee to investigate the matter further. This was known as the Coal Inquiry, and both Mitchell and Brown gave evidence; Mitchell in relation to his tunnel, Brown in relation to price-cutting.
Before the committee could issue any recommendations the AACo gave in and relinquished its monopoly. Mitchell proceeded to lease out the coal rights on the Burwood estate, with five mines being quickly established by J & A Brown, Donaldson, Alexander Brown, Nott and Morgan. However, the AACo owned the land between the Burwood estate and the Port of Newcastle and refused to allow Mitchell to transport coal by rail across its land. Mitchell lobbied the Government again and in 1850 a Private Act of Parliament Mitchell's Tram Road Act (the first in NSW) was passed finally allowing him to carry coal through AACo lands.
The same year as the coal mining monopoly ended the Metallic Ores Act was repealed as promised by Governor Gipps, allowing copper to be brought into NSW duty free. Mitchell then established his copper smelter in 1851 in the dunes behind Burwood Beach (known as Smelters Beach for obvious reasons). The smelter was described as "a two storey building, 130 by 32 foot, with a shingled roof, housed two offices, an assay furnace, a large storeroom and two dwellings ... nearby stood the large shed, 50 by 28 foot which sheltered one calcining furnace, two melting furnaces, a refining furnace and a roasting furnace which was never completed. There was also... Blacksmiths and carpenters shops ... a managers house, a labourers hut and four three roomed workman's cottages. Stables for six horses and a harness room".
The smelter was never a success and operated intermittently for 21 years, using coal from the estate and copper ore from South Australia, Goulburn and Queensland. The smelter closed in 1872, although some of the cottages remained occupied well into the 1890s. The remaining buildings were finally dismantled in 1913 and the materials sold. Salvaged bricks were used to cap some of the old mines elsewhere in the estate. The smelter site is still marked by copper slag and brick foundations.
Mitchell floated the Newcastle Coal and Copper Company in 1854 and concentrated on coal and coke production, buying up the Burwood Ridge mining leases and introducing the latest technology by replacing the wooden tramroads with iron railways and the horses with steam locomotives. By 1858 the company was focused at one mine, the Victoria tunnel, but this became threatened by geological instability, so the company started the Red Head Tunnel on the southern shore of Glenrock Lagoon in 1861 and constructed a coastal railway to service it. The railway roughly followed the Aboriginal pathway along Burwood Beach and included two tunnels through Merewether bluff, the first rail tunnels in NSW (dating from 1861 and 1862 respectively).
The railway proved a costly exercise. The construction costs, conflict and court action between the company and the builder plus a miners' strike lead to the company's failure in 1864. The new mine was in full operation and employing 120 men at the time. As landlord Mitchell resumed control of the company's leases and as principal creditor he took over all other assets. He then formed the Burwood Coal Company and renamed the Red Head Colliery the Burwood Colliery.
In 1865 Mitchell went into partnership with Charles Wolfskehl. After Mitchell's death in 1869 his family discovered that he had left everything to Wolfskehl. The family disputed the new will on the grounds of mental incapacity and undue influence. The resulting lawsuit in the Supreme Court aroused considerable public interest throughout the colony of Australia, and was known as the 'Great Will Case'. Judgment was in favour of the Mitchell family and Wolfskehl was exposed as a charlatan, fraud and swindler. Mitchell's properties reverted to his widow Augusta Maria and the Burwood Colliery closed. After Mrs Mitchell died in 1872 the Burwood Estate passed to her daughter and was managed by her husband Edward C Merewether. Merewether was an administrator and had been an aide de campe to three Governors, Commissioner of Crown Lands and Clerk of the Executive Council. When he took control of the property it was encumbered with debt. The family did not have the resources to undertake further exploration for viable coal seams nor the infrastructure to reach them. Merewether therefore sought other interested parties to undertake these ventures. By the end of 1884 he had negotiated mining leases with several companies who were permitted to mine coal beneath his estate paying a fixed rent, a royalty and in some cases a way leave.
Merewether also leased out land for residential and business purposes until 1910 when tenants were allowed to purchase their holdings. This was the start of the suburb of Merewether. The last commercial land sale by the Merewether Estate took place in 1969.
In 1884 Merewether negotiated a lease with the Burwood Coal Mining Company. They sank two shafts adjacent to the old Burwood Colliery workings near the lagoon down into the Borehole seam, the richest seam in the Newcastle coal measures. Burwood No 1, the main extraction shaft was 83.8 metres deep. The No 2 or ventilation shaft was 91.4 metres deep. By 1887 the company was raising 111,782 tons of coal, employed 400 men and boys and had 225 hoppers in daily use on the coastal railway. In 1893 the company opened a third shaft at Whitebridge and soon afterwards sold the colliery to the Scottish Australian Mining Company. The No 1 and No 2 shafts near the lagoon were then used for access and ventilation purposes and the surface works became redundant, however coal continued to be mined underground being raised via the No 3 shaft at 'New Burwood'. In 1900 the No 2 furnace shaft was superseded by a Walker Indestructible fan erected at the top of a No 4 shaft at the New Burwood. The coastal railway ceased operation as the new company used the Redhead Coal Company's railway via Adamstown (which is now the present day Fernieigh Track). In 1904 the Scottish Australian Mining Company sublet a portion of their lease to Howley and Foreshaw who established the Glenrock Colliery on the northern side of the lagoon and reopened the coastal railway. They also took up the rails crossing the lagoon and reused them to form an extension along the northern side of the lagoon. The Glenrock Colliery opened with a workforce of only four men, using horses for transport until 1910 when they acquired the well known 'coffee pot' locomotive. Two other locomotives were used by the company until it closed in 1944 and the railway tunnels were sealed in 1945. Railway relics can be found along the old railway route on Burwood Beach.
In 1932 BHP acquired the Burwood Colliery (both 'old' and 'new') from the Scottish Australian Mining Company. It then became a major supplier to BHP's steelworks at Port Waratah up until the company donated its land to become part of Glenrock Reserve in 1986. At its peak the Burwood Colliery was the fourth largest mine in the district. Today the remains of the 'Old' Burwood Colliery may still be seen adjacent to Glenrock Lagoon and the nearby Scout Camp. It is now one of the oldest and best preserved remains of a 19th century coal mine in the Hunter, which has contributed to its listing on the State Heritage Register. In contrast, the 'New' Burwood Colliery at Whitebridge was redeveloped into a housing estate known as the Dudley Beach Estate.
Other state heritage listed sites occur along Flaggy Creek and the Yuelarbah Track, including winding engine foundations at Leichhardt's Lookout, brick-lined air shafts, a dry stone rock wall, railway relics and the 'ziggy track' – a cutting through solid rock created by miners. Numerous open shafts and tunnels occur throughout the park. Many of these have been capped, however others are still to be identified and could pose a risk to people straying off formed tracks.
Another locally important group of features are the relics of orcharding operations in the southern and northern ends of the park. In 1856 Mr Walter Bailey developed a 120 acre orchard and market garden in the valley above the southern end of the Dudley Beach. The farm was called Mount Pleasant and produced a variety of vegetables and fruit. After the death of Walter and his wife the property was divided amongst their eight children. Two of the children, Arthur and Charles Bailey, bought more land at the northern end of the park from the old Burwood/Merewether estate, and also set up orchards.
The Scouting movement acquired a 99 year lease adjacent to Glenrock Lagoon in 1932 and established the Glenrock War Memorial Scout Camp. They obtained freehold title to the property in 1971. The Burwood Colliery under-manager's house, known as the Overman's Cottage (1887), is situated on their land, along with various mining relics. For the duration of World War 11 the area and buildings were used by the Defence Corps, which built machine gun nests, gun emplacements and trenches in the area.
Compiled from Glenrock State Conservation Area - Plan of Management 2010
Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association