Engineers Australia

Convict mines of Newcastle

David Branagan


In his interesting and informative paper on the abandoned mine workings under Newcastle Hawkins (2005) refers to the workings mapped under the Newcastle Hospital (Newmed site) and supplies a plan (his Fig, 3) prepared by Moelle, Branagan and MacGregor (n.d.). While this plan is mentioned as coming from Coffey Geosciences (1979), this mapping was also described, albeit briefly. in Branagan and Moelle (1981), in a presentation accompanied by a number of coloured slides taken on the surface and underground. We differ from both Hawkins and Coffey Geosciences in attributing the mining to the Yard Seam and not the Dudley Seam. The area mined occurs between two readily recognisable faults, and it was postulated that there might be a connection with workings located beneath the Police Station and City morgue (Fig. I).

The original mapping has a number of details not shown in Hawkins’ Figure 3 and it seems appropriate that the map be reproduced at a larger scale with the additional information (essentially a working sheet), which might prove useful for future investigations (Fig. 2).

Branagan and Moelle (op. cit) postulated that the workings were possibly from 1814. The plan of March 1816 by Lt. C. Jeffreys (1782 – 1826) identifies this locality as the site of the operating coal mines at that time (Fig 3) (Branagan 1972). This map distinguishes them clearly from the 1804 workings, which are shown on the Newcastle Coal Mine Map available on the Coal River website. These workings were under Signal Hill, as they are shown as occurring 70 feet above sea-level, and the same distance below the top of the hill. That plan shows some systematic development (not quite bord and pillar), but the drives with several bends (H, I, K and L, M, N), possibly for exploration, show some similarities to the pattern of working which was used beneath the Newmed site. These older convict working drives might have been made to cut through coal coked by dyke intrusion or affected by faulting. The somewhat less systematic workings under the hospital possibly suggest a change in the mining foreman. Nevertheless, the work (particularly the arrangements for ventilation) was clearly being carried out by workmen with mining experience. Further research is clearly warranted to clarify the extent of mining under the city centre and to minimise the risk of foundation failure during further development of the area.