Coal mining in Australia started in Newcastle in 1801 (permanently in 1804) although the first export of coal; and the first export for the colony of NSW was in 1799. The first coal mines were operated by the colony of NSW using convict labour. The modern sites of Fort Scratchley and the James Fletcher Hospital site are some of the locations of these mines. The method used was the bord-and-pillar system. Newcastle ended as a penal settlement in 1823, and shortly after the region was opened up to settlement.
The A.A. Company
In 1824 the Australian Agricultural Company was formed and in 1828 this company was given a monopoly on coal mining in NSW. This denotes a shift from government control to private enterprise. The Australian Agricultural Company was granted 2000 acres of land in Newcastle. The company operated mines in Newcastle, and Hamilton. The mines in the colony of NSW had started their spread from the ocean fringe to west and the Upper Hunter. These mines were worked by convicts and immigrants from England Wales and Scotland.
Although the Australian Agricultural Company was granted a monopoly on coal mining, other mines came into operation into existence before the monopoly was agreement was terminated in 1847. Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld, and William Brooks operated mines at Lake Macquarie, while John Eales, John Christian and James Brown operated mines at East Maitland.
With the Australian Agricultural Company monopoly at an end, mining developed in the majority of suburbs in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie. Mines were established in Cessnock and surrounding Maitland, and now operate throughout the Hunter Valley.
Change and the Coal Industry
The coal mining industry has been the source of economic, industrial and community growth throughout the Hunter Valley. It has been the catalyst for the development of navigational and rail transportation in the Hunter and for the development of of the Newcastle Steel works. Coal mining has supplied electricity, established towns and has been supported by engineering and manufacturing companies.
Mining technology has advanced from the use of picks and bord-and-pillar mining to longwall mining with continuous miners to open cut mines. Dangerous mining methods have given way to advancements in technology including safety lamps, dedicated trained mine rescue, better ventilation, mine surveying and safer work practices.