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Early Days (1886)


First Mine at Cornwall (1886)


Cornwall Screens


Mt Nicholas Rope-Way


Harold the Blacksmith


Contract Miners


Electric Loco at Mt Nicholas (1904)

 


Cornwall Bank-Top (1954)

 


Miners in the process of putting up a timber roof support

 


Cornwall Rope-Way

 


The "Spragger"

 

 

THE STORY OF COAL

 

Coal is formed when large amounts of vegetation such as ferns, trees and leaves are covered with earth and compacted over millions of years. It is found in many parts of the world, but Its usage as a burning fuel did not start until some five hundred years ago in Wales. Although there have been recordings of it being used, in particular, by the Romans in England in AD 400 and the American Indians and Chinese in the twelfth Century, it wasn't until the mid 1600s, however, that the first recorded coalmines were established in Northern England.
Whilst its early use was merely for heating and cooking, the development of the steam engine by James Watt in 1776 saw coalmining grow to huge heights in England, which soon spread to China, United States, Russia and Australia.
In Australia coal was first discovered by an escaped convict at Newcastle in New South Wales in 1791, with the first coalmine opening in 1801. In Tasmania pockets of coal can be found all over the island, from Ida Bay and Cygnet in the south, all the way up the east coast, through the midlands at Cole River and Hamilton, to Macquarie Harbour in the west and the Latrobe area in the North West. Whilst most of the seams are small and commercially unviable to mine in today’s economy, almost all known seams have been worked at some stage over the last two hundred years or so. Indeed, the first recorded use of coal was by a Reverend Robert Knopwood at Colebrook in 1805. It is believed the coal was taken from an outcrop found in the nearby Cole River.
In 1834 the Colonial Government of the time opened the first productive coal mine in Tasmania using convict labour. They sank two shafts almost fifty metres deep at Saltwater Creek on the Tasman Peninsular and extracted coal from a 1.2 metre seam, bringing it to the surface in baskets and shipping it to Hobart Town where it was sold on the wharf for ten shilling per ton.
Ventilation was always a problem at Salt Water Creek and an old method of fires near the entrance was used; theory being that the heat would create a draught sucking the air out of the shaft helping it to circulate. The mine was leased to Alexander Clark in 1848 and convict labour ceased, but by 1877 it was worked out and closed.
In our East Coast area, Schouten Island was the first to start in 1843 but it was only a small pocket and the life of the mine was short lived and operations were concentrated at Denison River or Old Mines Lagoon, just north of Bicheno, where several shafts were sunk and a 6.5 kilometer wooden tramway with horse drawn skips was built to the wharf at Bicheno
Despite an expert in 1855 describing the Denison River coal fields as the best in Tasmania, the quality was poor, extraction and transport was costly. This caused the Company to fold in 1858 leaving some twenty specialized miners, who had been brought out from England, without a job.
But coal was still needed and exploration was still going on. The next venture was a few kilometers north at Seymour where in 1861 Mr. A. J. Swift employed twenty men and began sinking two 20 metre shafts down to the coal seam. The shafts were only a few hundred metres from the sea and a jetty along with an iron tramway from the mine to the jetty was completed. Small amounts of coal was shipped to Hobart in 1863, where trials were carried out in a number of steam ships and the Hobart Gas Works, both of which rejected the coal because, despite the coal being of good quality, it had too much shale mixed in and the ash content was too high. Consequently, ten shilling per ton, the current domestic coal price, was all Mr. Swift could get for his coal. He then went about extracting kerosene oil from the coal and in 1868 sent 2700 litres to Melbourne to be refined. Apparently it too was unviable as there is no record of any more being sent.
Although Seymour has had two brief workings in the Twentieth Century, 1928 to 1931 and 1959 to 1964, the original workings being the longest, lasting seventeen years and closing in 1880. The operation, however, was continually hampered by high shipping costs and rough sea damage to the jetty. Other coal mining ventures in the Seymour area, such as Dalmayne in the 1920s, also failed because of similar reasons
With the completion of the railway to St.Marys in 1886 the Fingal Valley coal fields became the most dominant and have remained so and whilst some 20 million tons of coal reserves remain in the Douglas River-Dalmayne area above Seymour the seams are reported to be full of faults; couple this with high transport costs and we are unlikely to see mining in this area in the foreseeable future.
The Fingal Valley coalfields have supplied the bulk of Tasmanian coal since the humble beginnings in that area in 1886 where production reached 100,000 per year early in the Twentieth Century and continued to slowly increase until cheap oil was dumped onto the World market in the late 1950s. This lead to all but one mine at Duncan, Fingal, closing and by the mid 1960s production had fallen to just 55,000 ton per year.
But the low oil prices did not last all that long and by 1980 Cornwall Coal Co. was winning back customers and a new mine was opened at Blackwood, near Cornwall and by 1983 coal production was again strong with an annual rate of 300,000 ton.
Since then Coal production in the Tasmania has remained steady with an annual production level of some half a million ton expected in the next few years with a workforce of around seventy five.

 

 

 

Cornwall Coal Co NL

 

With the completion of the Conara-St Marys railway due to be completed in June 1886, a group of Launceston business men led by William Gurr saw the potential in the coal reserves found in the Mt Nicholas Range.
Whilst Frederick Ransom of “Killymoon”, along with his son in laws George Crisp and Edward Gaunt, had marked out some 1820 acres of coal leases on the Mt Nicholas Range, they were graziers not miners and weren’t prepared to put up the capital needed for serious mining. They did, however, drive several exploratory tunnels into the coal seams providing enough evidence that ample coal reserves existed.
Preliminary meetings of the Launceston business men were held and on the 13th April 1886 the first board of directors were elected with Charles Smith appointed Chairman, Edward Gaunt the representative of the Ransom family, John Shaw mine manager, with Thomas Astles his assistant.
At the next meeting of the board on the 14th May 1886 arrangements were made to build a managers house near the proposed mine site at Cornwall at a cost not exceeding 50 pounds. As well a self acting tramway at £1318, a railway at £1768, 50 trucks @ £6 each = £300 and 10 tons of rails @ £10 a ton = £100 were all approved to be purchased without delay.
The first years of the company was not without its problems with construction costs blowing out over a £1000, over inflated freight costs and Tasmanian Railways continued to use Newcastle coal. To add to their woes Mt Nicholas Coal Company started up and competed in the limited coal market. Finally the board was forced to seek help from the National Bank.
On the 5th January 1887 10 persons were authorized to act as guarantors to the Nation Bank for £2500. In return each was given 100 shares in the Company. All outstanding debts were then paid out and a telephone line was erected from the mine site at Cornwall to St Marys. The telephone number was: St Marys 1.
This appeared to be the turning point for the Company, by April 1887 the Railways began to purchase Tasmanian coal at a fixed price of 7 shillings per ton. In 1888 a major strike by coalminers in Newcastle saw the Victorian Government seek coal from Tasmania and although the strike was settle in November 1888, Victoria continued to take Tasmanian coal until the end of 1890, making up around half of Cornwall’s production during that time.
In March 1890 the Company made its first profit of £365 from the production of around 22,000 tons per year. By the end of that year profit increased to £1210. But it wasn’t until 7th September 1891, after five years of operations, that a dividend of sixpence per share was paid to the shareholders.
From that time on, given a period during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the ten weeks strike in 1940 and times of heavy capital expenditure, Cornwall Coal continued to pay a dividend to shareholders on a regular basis.
Cornwall Coal Co. from its humble beginnings of the 1880s is now a multi- million dollar company with a multi-million dollar turnover. It was taken over by Goliath Cement Holding in the late 1970s, but is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Cement Australia, with its directors now chiefly based in Sydney. It has a current work force of some 70 employees all of whom contribute to the production of almost half a million tonnes of coal per year.
The coal is presently mined from four locations: Duncan Colliery at Fingal, Blackwood Colliery near Cornwall, Cullenswood open-cut near St Marys and Kimbolton open-cut near Hamilton. All coal is taken to the Preparation Plant at Fingal and then transported to Tasmanian Industries by either rail or road.
Cornwall supplies 90% of the coal burnt in Tasmania, all of which is used in the production of cement, paper, beer and chocolate, as well as supplying energy for agriculture and metal industries.

 

Jim Haas

 

 

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