Coal River –workshop 5/4/2003 Notes re John Platt
Jim Comerford’s book ‘Coal and Colonials’ is a mine of information on Coal River, the beginnings of the coal industry and work of convict coal miner John Platt.(1763-1811)
Coal is the energy of the industrial revolution and still comprises 80% of the tonnage exported from Newcastle, NSW, which is the largest coal export port of the world.
Jim writes fondly about the miner John Platt and incisively on the significance of coal and the beginnings of the coal mining industry.
Captain Cook when he noted the ‘small clump of an island’ that was Nobbys on the 10 May 1770 was carrying in the bunker on board the Endeavour coals perhaps from Newcastle on Tyne.
Coal was used for cooking and heating and extended the range of sailing ships like the Endeavour.
Platt a convict with mining experience was aged 35 years when sentenced at Shrewsbury on August 18th 1798. He was transported for life and arrived in Sydney aboard the Royal Admiral 22/11/1799.
Sydney Traders who had been interested in the coal resources at Coal River applied to have Platt assigned to their coal gathering enterprises. He had been examining the coal outcrops south of Sydney and had developed the belief that the north and south outcrops were part of a single extensive coalfield. Platt was intelligent and had a grasp practical mining problems.
Governor Phillip Gidley King set Platt and eleven other convicts to work boring for coal bearing strata in the Georges River area using boring gear that had been made by Wapshott toolmakers for Joseph Banks and brought out to the colony by Governor King.
They sank a vertical shaft 24 feet in six months and bored down a further 50 feet without striking the seam. The final depth was to be 98 feet before abandoning the shaft.
Prospect Creek where they were working was long known as Coal Creek.
The Balmain Colliery shafts were put down to the coal seams 90 years after Platt’s work and were 2,880 ft. deep. They were abandoned in 1933.
Simeon Lord and Hugh Meehan, transportees turned traders, were the new owners of the 170 ton ex-Spanish ship Anna Josepha. This vessel was sent on a number of trips to Coal River between June and October 1800 for cargoes of coal and timber which they sold for a hansom profit.
Governor King was convinced of the need to make preparations to begin coal mining at Coal River. Colonel Patterson and James Grant together with six soldiers, 2 Sawyers, a Pilot, a Miner and a Native (Bungaree) were in the party as well as surgeon Harris and Louis Barrallier. The Lady Nelson and the sloop Francis arrived off the Hunter on Sunday June 14th after checking the entrance of the Lake Macquarie (Reid’s Mistake).
Platt guided the miners to where he had won coal for the Sydney Traders.
Colonel Patterson named Nobbys Coal Island and the mainland headland Colliers Point.
Dr D F Branagan 1966 identified the seams mined by the convict miners as the Dirty or Dudley Seam and the bottom seam as the Yard Seam, which yielded the best quality coal.
Archaeological and geo-technical work proving the systemic way Platt had set out the convict mines has not yet been carried out. It is obvious however that the bell mining technique was not used and the more modern bord and pillar was adopted for the underground layout.
Robert Harle General Collieries Manager for the AA Company told the Royal Commission on Earth Subsidence in 1908 of convict built ventilation shafts. Other convict workings were entered at Glenrock and found to be neatly formed with drives and ribs.
34 Irish convict survivors of the March 4th insurrection at Vinegar Hill were sent to establish the permanent settlement at Coal River to be named ‘Newcastle’. Lieutenant Charles Menzies and party landed the 30th March 1804. The convicts were put to work at Colliers Point under the Chief Miner John Platt. John Platt died in Sydney Hospital June 10, 1811 aged 48 from ‘Asthma’.
The convict coal miners with their flesh blood and sweat have rendered the most valuable service to the fledgling colony of NSW. Notes D. Lithgow inspired by ‘Coal & Colonials’ 1997-Jim Comerford.