Convict Transport and Life (1801 - 1823)

The early convict settlement at the mouth Hunter is often considered most brutal of the penal colonies. Convict coal miners were transported from Sydney to the Coal River working site by a small schooner, the ‘Alligator’. After a grueling 48 hour journey in chains they were allowed to bathe in the sea at Newcastle.

The convict miners had very poor and unsafe working conditions. The men were lowered by bucket into the mine shaft. They mined by the light of small lamps and large fires. Here they would hack large chunks of coal from the wall which would then be filled into wagons. These were dragged to the foot of the shaft where they were tipped out. The men ate and slept underground the entire week until they were allowed up on Saturday to bathe in the sea. Afterwards, they were taken to the barracks.  Sunday morning, punishment was dealt out with lashes of the whips for various offenses including ‘laziness’. On Monday morning the convicts were brought back down the shaft for another week’s work. Convict mining was continued until 1823, when the Newcastle penal colony was closed.

Abbott, J.H.M. The Newcastle Packets and the Hunter Valley. Sydney: Currawong Publishing Co., 1943. Print.

Illustration, Convict Miner, c. 1800's from UoN Dr. John Turner collection.

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