|List||National Heritage List|
|Legal Status||Listed place (01/08/2007)|
|Place File No||6/01/106/0006|
|Summary Statement of Significance|
Coal Mines Historic Site contains the workings of a penal colliery and convict
establishment that operated from 1833-1848. It is associated with British
convict transportation to Australia and is one of a suite of probation stations
established on Tasman Peninsula to exploit the natural resources and provide a
secure and isolated location. At its peak the Coal Mines accommodated up to
five hundred convicts as well as over 100 people that included guards and their
families. It is a relict industrial landscape that demonstrates the structure,
spatial layout and operation of a penal probation station, and its support
industries (a lime kiln, stone quarry and tanning pits), as well as a colliery
that provided the hard labour for the most refractory convicts as well as third
class probation convicts.
The Coal Mines probation station was considered to be a most severe place of punishment. The many records of floggings and solitary confinements, convey the severity of convict life at the coal mines and are grim evidence of the realities of convict punishment. There are significant ruins such as the remnants of convict barracks with punishment cells and the later solitary alternating cell complex. The importance of the church for reform and moral development of convicts is evidenced in the ruins of the chapel located between the two convict barracks and the presence of a catechists house. The two hills Coal Mine Hill and Mount Stewart, provided locations for semaphore communication and surveillance and contain the sites of the semaphore structures and a guard house.
The Coal Mines was considered by the colonial administration and the Tasmanian community as the place where homosexuality was most rife and with its dual reputation for harshness and immoral activity, the Coal Mines contributed to the failure of the probation system and its demise.
Although not the first or largest colonial mining venture it was an important resource for the Van Dieman's Land economy in the early 1800s and unlike other colonial mines the site is intact and represents the role of convicts in the economic development of the colony. Major remaining features of the mining operation include coal seams at the beach, the remains of the original adits, the main pit head with original machinery footings, the boiler and the airshaft, and circular ground depressions which indicate the sites of the mine shafts. The place also contains features relating to the transportation of coal including the inclined plane for coal tram cars, which extends from the 1845 shaft on Coal Mine Hill to Plunkett Point, subsidiary inclined planes which appear as modifications to the natural landscape, the remains of wharves and jetties and mounds of ballast and coal in the waters of Little Norfolk Bay.
The place shows the hierarchy of officers’ accommodation with the elevated location of the commanding officer’s house, the relationship of officers’ quarters with overseers’ quarters, and prisoner accommodation. It also shows the link between the bakehouse, prisoner barracks and the chapel located in the barracks complex.
Different types of prisoner accommodation can be determined from the ruins: the barracks with dormitory accommodation and solitary cells, the group of 18 solitary alternating cells remaining from 36 built in 1845-6 to isolate convicts from contact with fellow prisoners, and the site of 108 separate convict apartments constructed in 1847.
The Coal Mines Historic Site has yielded and has high potential to further yield valuable information on the working conditions, technical skills, penal administration and the mining technologies used by convicts. Archaeological exploration of convict accommodation and associated structures, and in particular, the dormitories and solitary cells have the potential to provide a greater understanding of penal architecture and the lives and conditions of convicts.
The reserve in which the Coal Mines Historic Site
is located incorporates 214 hectares of gently rolling hills covered in open
forest and woodland. The eastern edge of the site is coastline with a series of
bays and low headlands. The main settlement is in a concentrated area
between Coal Mine Hill and an inlet of Norfolk Bay. |
The vegetation of the site consists of areas shrubby forests of Eucalyptus viminalis, E. amygdalina, and E. obliqua, heathy forest/woodland and sedgey woodland. These forests and woodlands are mostly regrowth. The area is also the habitat for many native and endemic species of birds and mammals. The Coal Mines Historic Site is one of the last refuges of two threatened or endangered species – the forty spotted pardalote and the hairstreak butterfly. Both are found in the Eucalyptus viminalis forest with Acacia dealbata and E. viminalis providing vital habitat for part of the butterfly’s life cycle (Parks and Wildlife 1997:20).
The Owen Stanley's paintings of the site during convict times (in Brand 1990, 2003:p.66) show a predominantly cleared landscape and it is recorded that local timber was used for the constructions, mine shoring and charcoal for fuelling the steam engines. A garden area was still discernable on slopes on Coal Mine hill in 1986, while a remnant row of Eucalyptus viminalis lined the former drive to the Commandant's House and exotic garden escapes were present around the structure (Egloff 1987:plate 18).
On the foreshore below the main settlement are the remains of the main coal wharf including a grid of logs and a conspicuous heap of ballast in deeper water. Stone remains of a number of smaller wharves exist between this site and Plunkett Point.
The remaining evidence of the coal mining operations include features associated with the extraction and transportation of the coal, the mining settlement, support industries and the communication and security systems. These are scattered throughout the shrubby forest. There is little evidence of the original adits other than disturbed landform. The sites of the 1838, 1842 and 1845 main shafts and numerous minor shafts are readily apparent as ground circular depressions. The associated spoil dumps and coal stockpiles are also present. A boiler thought to be from the 1845 workings has been relocated to the main pit head, where original machinery footings survive. One of the most impressive shafts in the area is the 'air shaft' also known as the 'convict well' although its original purpose has not been confirmed. The shaft is lined with cut stone to the level of the natural rock.
Many of the mines' original roads and tramways have survived including the formation of the inclined plane which extends from the 1845 shaft on Coal Mine Hill to Plunkett Point. All that remains of the numerous wharves and jetties is a grid of logs on the site of the original coal wharf, a conspicuous heap of ballast and the stone remains of a number of small jetties between this site and Plunkett Point.
The most striking historic remnants in the reserve are the buildings of the main settlement including the prisoners' barracks with solitary cells, chapel, officers' quarters, the group of 18 solitary alternating cells and the site of the 108 separate apartments. Other remnants include the commandant's house, a brick cottage and the military barracks together with several headstones on the slopes above the main settlement and several stone cottages located near Plunkett Point. Foundations and subsurface remains are all that remain of most other buildings, including the commissariat store. No early timber constructions have survived.
Several activities were undertaken to support the mines and settlement, including quarrying and stonemasonry, brick making, lime burning, tanning, blacksmithing, timber felling, charcoal burning, farming and gardening. Two quarries were used to provide building stones. Of these the northern one is particularly impressive with pick marks still visible in the quarry walls and a number of dressed blocks lying nearby. Other remains include the lime kiln, which is largely intact, and a series of tan pits to the west of the 1838 shafts. There is no evidence of blacksmithing, timber getting or charcoal burning.
The signal stations on Coal Mine Hill is marked by a small section of foundation and a pile of rubble. The remains of the semaphore and guard house on Mt Stewart are in a similar condition.
The historic mine features consisting of adits, roadways, tramways, mine shaft depressions, the inclined planes, engine mountings, ramped earthworks, slumped shaft, sites of jetties are all described in detailed and plotted on maps in the report by Bairstow and Davies (1987) and in Knaggs (2006: pp.3-12)
The air shaft also know as the convict well or sump shaft was convict-built, but its function is unknown, as there appears to be no record of its construction. It is commonly called the ‘convict well’ but is unlikely to have served this function given its distance from the settlement. It may have been a sump to lower the water levels in the underground workings, or, alternatively, an exploratory shaft.
In 1987 the massive timber remains of the coal wharf and jetty were in such good condition that it was deduced that it had been in use long after the convict settlement closed. A grid of logs extends 65 metres along the beach. A jetty ran into deep water from the centre of the wharf identified by heap of ballast which is above water at low tide. There are associated pile of sandstone blocks and a (drainage?) earthwork seven metres long. The position of a former small timber jetty shown on plans is marked mainly by submerged rocks, possibly ballast. A maritime archaeological study by Amell et al (2005) who surveyed the Plunket Point jetty and site reported that two concentrated mounds of ballast on the sea bed approximately 50 m form the shore, 6 large timbers, coals of varying sizes and numerous cultural artefacts were extant. A maritime archaeological study by Lennox (2001) confirmed the size of the wharf as being 70 m x 18m.
A quarry is located to the southwest of the Penitentiary and the main quarry is to the north of Plunkett Point. The northern quarry is 20 metres across and the vertical walls stand 15 metres high. Narrow drainage channels cut to the cliff edge are present. Pick marks are still visible in the walls. A site of stone dressing some 4.5 metres away is visible by remaining (rejected?) stone blocks. A possible smaller quarry or drainage structure is located to the west.
The remains of a conical lime kiln of the standard format found on the Peninsula stood to a height of 1.5 metres in 1987. Tanning pits are located west of the 1838 shafts. Bairstow and Davies identify them as from the convict period and suggest they were essential to supply leather for boots and mining apparatus. There are two associated water courses.
The remains of the brick kilns and the adjoining clay pits have survived in a private property adjacent to the historic site. The brick kiln is partially demolished so that its original form is no longer visible. It may have been a scotch kiln, although the extant walls are massive. The brick rubble is in an adjacent pile. The outline of one of the clay pits has been enlarged to form a modern dam. There is are remains of a well defined road linking the brick kilns to the settlement.
Brick and stone remains of a bakehouse oven are extant.
All the extant features were recorded and plotted by Bairstow and Davies (1987).
The place contains a harmonious mixture of historic ruins and natural beauty that contribute to a high degree of aesthetic appeal. The particular aesthetic characteristics are the weathered sandstone blocks and red bricks, combined with seascapes of Norfolk Bay, interspersed in the native forest setting. The underground cells are highly evocative conveying the concepts of entrapment and isolation experienced by the convicts in the early 19th Century. They create strong emotional responses in people.
The large collection of documents and archival records from the convict administration are in public records and include reports, letters, maps, plans, paintings and a magistrate’s bench book. A small stove from the site is in the Queen Victoria Museum collection.
According the reference (Knaggs 2006 quoting Evans 2000 and the Parks and Wild life Service A5 brochure "The Coal Mines Historic Site: Tasmania's first Operational Coal Mine), at the time of first contact with Europeans, the Tasman Peninsula was the country of the Pydairrerme band of the Oyster Bay tribe. The natural environment provided resources for food, shelter, clothing, pigments, tools, weapons, as well as decorative items such as shell necklaces, which contributed to a rich cultural life. Remains of middens and stone artefacts can be found throughout the Tasman Peninsula landscape from this period. At the Coal Mines Historic Site there are numerous artefact scatters and some remnants of shell middens.
The Introduction of the Probation System of Administration and Punishment
The probation system for convict management was introduced as a consequence of the dissatisfaction in Britain with the assignment system which was considered to be too lax, ineffective for reform or deterrence and likened to slavery. The assignment system was phased out between 1838 and 1843 (Brand 1990 in Pearson 2006). The probation system was introduced in existing prisons or small prison settlements established to requirements set by Governor Arthur and continued by Governor Franklin in 1837. The probation system was introduced following the Molesworth Committee report in 1839 that recommended a period of punitive imprisonment, followed by a period of sentence which could be foreshortened by good behaviour. Penal reformers suggested a system that strictly classified prisoners, with a separate prison for an initial period of confinement, and a comprehensive program of religious and moral instruction (Brand 1990:p.1). Lieutenant Governor Sir John Franklin in 1837 proposed a system of probationary gangs as well as some assignment until convicts completed their sentences. This was approved and implemented in 1839. Regulations for the system were issued in 1843.
The probation system was based on the idea that convicts could make amends and be redeemed for their crimes through systems of controlled labour. Newly arrived convicts were placed in Government work gangs for a fixed period, after which they became eligible for a probation pass. The pass entitled them to work for settlers for wages, with certain restrictions. After a period of good behaviour in this capacity the convict was eligible for a ticket-of-leave and pardons (conditional and absolute). The system continued, with some modification in 1846, until the cessation of transportation to Van Diemen's Land in 1853. The probation system was never tried elsewhere.
The probation system was considered a greater failure than the assignment system that preceded it as it involved congregating convicts in large parties leading to increased degradation. It also involved heavy capital costs in erecting buildings that included different types of prisoner accommodation, even when materials could be found on site (Brand 1990: p.97).
To be sent to the work at the coal mine was regarded as a punishment for the convicts at Port Arthur, although the work at the mines was no more severe than at Port Arthur and the rations were the same (Besford, 1958 in Bacon 1986:p.4). The punishment rate was high. For the year 1847, 14 000 punishments were meted out to the 400 convicts. These included 728 solitary confinement with bread and water, given out by the superintendent, while the Magistrate imposed 672 punishments of flogging, sentencing to chains or periods of solitary confinement (Hartwell 1954 in Bacon 1986:p.4).
The probation system intended that there be a strict classification of prisoners. Prisoners were to be divided into three classes with different living arrangements: separate confinement to separate cells for third class prisoners, in rooms contained ten men for second class prisoners, and in huts for 20 men for first class prisoners being those whose probation would soon cease. The purpose was to provide punishment work for the convicts away from settled areas (Kerr 1984:146). Issues arose from the need to provide the structured accommodation and Kerr (1984:146) notes how the construction of 100 apartments at the Coal Mines in 1846 were ill-built temporary structures and demolished shortly after completion.
The probation system was based on 2 000 convicts being sent to the colony each year (Brand p.50) but by 1840 the number was over 4 000 and continued at this average for the next four years. To deal with this influx, 78 probation stations were established (Brand p.225) and many did not have the intended facilities of separate cells.
The Coal Mines site was reclassified as a probation station in the early 1840s. The Coal Mines which held up to 600 prisoners between 1841 and its closure in 1848. During this period a new Mining Superintendent reported directly to Hobart rather than to Port Arthur, although the Port Arthur Commandant remained in charge of other aspects of the settlement, including security.
Bairstow and Davies (1987:p.21) noted:
'Until 1841, coal mining was still considered a form of punishment (Brand ms:81-82). In 1841 the Probation system was introduced. Prisoners under probation, if they had mining experience, were sent to the mines (Brand ms: 75). The result was an increase in the skilled work force (Brand ms 80 and 83) but coal production did not increase proportionately.'
By 1838 there were 203 prisoners at the Coal Mines. By 1842-3 there were 579 prisoners at the Coal Mines. In the records of 1846, there were 186 first class prisoners, 82 second class and 104 third class. The prisoners were used for a variety of tasks particularly in infrastructure development. The return of convict stations of 1846 notes 5 blacksmiths, 10 boat crew, 4 brick makers, 8 boat builders, 8 charcoal burners, 15 carpenters, 23 carting, 14 clearing and cultivation, 12 erecting barracks, 2 masons and quarrymen, 5 stone breaking, 5 splitting, 12 sawing, 5 bakers and cooks, 16 servants, 8 in the warehouse, 11 as watchmens,13 as wood and water carriers, others doing miscellaneous tasks, 196 other hard labour (it is assumed that this was mining work).
Due to the influx of convicts and to suit the progressive system of punishment and reform new buildings were constructed as wings to the initial convict barracks creating 1st, 2nd and 3rd class convict quarters all with separate apartments. The old barracks were fitted with sleeping births separated by battens. By 1846 new solitary cells for punishment has been constructed. By 1847 there were 108 separate apartments at the Coal Mines (Brand 1990: copy of Enclosure 2).
During this period the Coal Mines acquired a full complement of civil officers and new masonry houses were constructed for the Superintendent, the catechist and medical officer. An 1842 plan also shows quarters planned for coxswain, a clerk including an office, guardroom, tool stores, boats crew hut and sub-constables quarters. The double storey stone Commissariat Store was constructed c. 1842 as part of the Probation Station improvements, removing the store out of the ‘third class’ yard.
Many sent to the coal mines during this time had previous mining experience, prior to transportation. The mining operation itself was greatly extended with new shafts; new steam operated pumps and an additional inclined plane railway. Despite this expansion of workings and convicts management was inefficient and coal productions did not increase as intended. In 1847 output was 300 tons per week and of the 403 prisoners present only 196 worked the Coal Mines (Knaggs 2006 pp.5-6).
The incidence of homosexuality amongst convicts at the station also became a major issue. It figured in correspondence between William Gladstone and Charles La Trobe, and Gladstone and Dr John Hampton, the Comptroller General of Convicts (Brand, pp 63-64). The Coal Mines became a key focus in anti-transportation debates. The dark recesses of the underground workings were believed to be ‘sinkholes of vice and infamy’. In an effort to curb such acts, additional lighting was placed in the tunnels, auger holes were made in the doors and shutters of sleeping wards and visits by constables were made at irregular times and 108 separate apartment cells were built in 1846 in an attempt to keep prisoners segregated at night. Additional punishment cells were built below, the remains of which can still be seen today. The Comptroller General reported in 1848 that: ‘…great care has been taken to prevent unnatural crimes among the convicts at the Coal Mines, yet from the extreme difficulty of maintaining complete surveillance over the men while at work, the Coal Mines always has been in this respect, the least satisfactory of all the stations’ (Knaggs 2006 p.6).
During the fifteen years that the Tasman Peninsula penal colliery operated, methods employed in social reform as well as mining technology, underwent changes. Conditions for the convict miners were wretched. Prisoners were required to work in the low tunnels while still having their legs 'in irons' and in the early years they were accommodated in cells in the adits. Punishment was administered by flogging, and it was not until after the closure of the penal management of the mines that the punishment system began to moderate. Flogging was finally abandoned in 1848 and replaced by solitary confinement (Becke 1899, and Wiedenhoffer 1981:71 in Egloff 1987:p.35).
Cattle are known to have grazed the site substantiated by the presence of tanning pits (Bairstow and Davies1987:p.34). In 1877 the land near the coal mines was surveyed and described as being 'open heathy land' and near Coal Mine hill, noted as 'having some very good feed' (Egloff 1987:p.36). Large garden areas are shown on a plan of the coal mines site (Brand 1978:p.71).
Despite measures to control homosexuality amongst the miners Reverend Henry Phibbs Fry visited the mines in late 1847 and reported that the miners were still, '...in the habit of committing shocking crimes and that there was no means of putting a stop to their evil practices'. As a result of Fry's efforts to control homosexuality and the inefficiency of the mining operation the Comptroller-General decided to close the mine. On 8 April 1848 an advertisement appeared in the Hobart Town Courier and Gazette seeking private tenders for the lease of the site. The coal mines were then leased to a private operator who used the convict labour assigned to him until as late as 1854.
Coal Mining History
Since the establishment of a colony at Risdon Cove in 1803, most of the coal requirements of Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) had been transported from New South Wales at great expense. The discovery of a local replacement for this costly import was highly desirable and the Van Diemen's Land authorities promptly investigated any reported findings of coal in the colony.
Because of its rich timber resources and natural prison landscape, Tasman Peninsula was proposed as a prison in 1827 and by 1830 Port Arthur had commenced with dormitories established for prisoners. Charles O'Hara Booth was appointed commandant of Port Arthur and all the stations on Tasman Peninsula in 1833.
Coal was discovered on the Tasman Peninsula coast near Plunkett Point in 1833 by two government surveyors, Woodward and Hughes as a seam 2 m thick. The discovery of the coal deposit not only had the potential to supply the needs of the colony but also provided the administration with a way of punishing rebellious convicts.
Not long after the discovery, a small group of miners, supervised by the convict Joseph Lacey, began work at the site. Joseph Lacey, a convict with practical mining knowledge, was sent with a small party of convict labourers to commence the work in 1833. A shaft was first sunk two to three hundred metres inland and then connected to the coast by an adit (Bairstow and Davies 1987:pp.15-16). In 1837 a drunken skirmish with the master of the Swan River Packet nearly cost Lacey his overseer’s position. He was reprieved after a written apology to Lt. Stuart, the military officer in charge of the station, who had reported him. In 1840 Lacey was sent to search for viable coal deposits at Southport (Knaggs 2006).
Mining initially consisted of cutting a drift into the two metre thick coal seam exposed at the coast. Work soon commenced on sinking a shaft some two to three hundred metres inland and the construction of a connection adit to the coast. From 1833-37 mining was carried out with adits driven into the seam. Shafts were sunk at the inland extent of the adits. They extended 21m in and were on two levels. Windlasses were used for extracting water. The mines were shored with local timber. It was carried from the galleries in baskets, emptied into small carts which ran on rails along the adits to a stockpile on the beach. The coal was screened on the beach and then transported in wagons pushed by convicts on tramways to two jetties. Cells for convicts were constructed within the adits while other housing consisting of a timber convict barracks, a brick military barracks and a stone house with outbuildings for the commandant were constructed. The mining sites were linked by roads or tracks to security outposts and to the main settlement (Bairstow and Davies 1987:pp.15-19).
In 1837 Dr John Lhotsky was employed by the Lieutenant-Governor Franklin at 10 shillings a day to report on the management and situations in which the coal mines could be worked so as to be most productive. He spent 3 months at the probation station when the adits were the mining operation. A chart of the mine was made by Lhotsky in 1837 (Archives Office of Tasmania) showing the extent and branching of the tunnels and the adit. Lhotsky prepared a report in 1837 that recommended removal of Lacey from the charge of operations at the mine, finding another locality with better quality coal and boring to a greater depth (Brand 1978:34). He made a complete geological map of Tasman Peninsula (Whitely 1967). By the end of 1838 the shaft was 150 feet (45.72m) deep and the workings extended for 500 yards (457.2m), diverging in all directions.
The first shipment of coal left the mine on 5 June 1834 aboard the Kangaroo making the Plunkett Point mine the first operational mine in Tasmania. Additional seams were soon discovered and more shafts sunk. Coal was transported from the mine galleries in baskets which were emptied into small carts which ran on rails along the adits to the beach. Here the coal was screened before being transported in wagons pushed by convicts to the end of a jetty. Also in 1834 four underground punishment cells were excavated in the mine close to the bottom of one of the shafts (Knaggs 2006 p13).
Poor quality coal was a constant problem. Thomas James Lempriere, the Commissariat Officer at Port Arthur, complained in 1839 that ‘The most disagreeable feature attending Port Arthur coals is that when at first lighted they crack and throw out small pieces in great quantities, to the detriment of carpets, furniture, ladies’ gowns etc’ (Knaggs 2006 p13).
During 1838-41 a double shaft system consisting of a winding shaft and air shaft was operating with a manually operated windlass for removing water. A new shaft constructed in 1841 was over 155ft (47.24m) deep and serviced by a steam engine with boiler. At this time 5 officers and 200 men were employed at the site and 10 817 tons of coal produced. Structures established during this period consisted of stone barracks with solitary cells, a chapel, a school room, a cookhouse, a bakehouse, a washroom and a store. The network of roads increased, additional tramways and a lime kiln were built. Smithies, masons, quarrymen and charcoal burners were employed. Semaphores were established on Coal Mine Hill and Mt Stewart (Bairstow and Davies 1987:p.21:pp.19-27).
During the 1842-48, the 1841 (also called the 1842) shaft continued to operate and twin shafts were sunk nearby. The new shaft brought into production in 1845 was over 300ft (91.44m) deep. This increased production and was equipped with a steam engine. It was the first mechanised mine in Tasmania and sunk through rock using explosives. It had a workshop, a blacksmiths shop, a large engine complex with a boiler and self acting inclined plane. Coal production averaged 50 tons a day but by 1847, production had slumped to less than half of this amount leading to increased prices for coal in the colony. The increased prices resulted in public protest about the prices and also about the poor quality of the coal.
The underground workings were dark, damp and confined. In 1842 David Burn was lowered down a shaft to inspect the mine: ‘The winch was manned by convicts under punishment. One stroke of the knife might sunder the rope… however, it has never been tried, deeds of ferocity being very infrequent. A gang on the surface worked the main pump and another below worked a horizontal or slightly-inclined draw-pump which threw water into the chief well… The seam has been excavated 110 yards from the shaft, having also several chambers diverging right and left. The mines are esteemed the most irksome punishment the convict encounters, because he is not a practised miner, and because he labours night and day, eight hours on a spell’ (Knaggs 2006 pp.8-9.)
By 1847 the main shaft was down over 300 feet (91.44m) with an extensive system of subterranean tunnels and caverns. The work of extracting the coal was carried out by convicts in two eight hour shifts. The men had to extract 25 tons in each shift to reach the day’s quota.
Reverend Henry Phibbs Fry ventured into the depths of the mine in 1847. The scene was ‘unforgettable’: ‘Convicts laboriously worked hand-driven machinery at the mouth of the coal mine. I descended into the mines accompanied by Mr Skene, being let down in a bucket, the shaft is 303 feet deep. On reaching the bottom we would have been in complete darkness but for the lights borne by some men who descended with us. We groped our way with difficulty along passages which are said to be five miles in length. The roof, in many places, is so low, that we were obliged to creep along the passage beneath it. The air was so confined and damp, that our lamps could with difficulty be kept burning and several of them went out… A few lamps at long intervals were attached to the walls, but seemed only like sparks glimmering in the mist, and not many yards from them the passage was in perfect darkness. There were 83 men at work in the mines when I visited them, the greater number employed in wheeling the coal to the shaft to be hoisted up. They worked without any other clothing than their trousers, and perspired profusely. The men in the mine were under the charge of a prisoner overseer and a prisoner-constable… Having had full evidence of the deeds of darkness perpetrated in the mines, I contemplated the naked figures, faintly perceptible in the gloom, with feelings of horror. Such a scene is not to be forgotten.
Initial buildings at the settlement were of timber and were soon dilapidated which suggests they were only ever proposed to be temporary.
By 1839 the Coal Mines employed 150 prisoners and a detachment of 29 officers was stationed at the mines. The layout of the Coal Mines settlement represents a planning hierarchy typical of convict stations with the security of troops and stores paramount. Large stone barracks, erected in 1838, housed up to 170 prisoners and was built within a fenced compound. Underneath the convict barracks were 16 solitary cells which meant the early timber punishment cells within the mine working were then little used. The Chapel/schoolhouse sat in the centre facing the courtyard wall to the north. The cookhouse, bakehouse, washroom, guardhouse and store completed the stone ensemble. These are the ruined stone buildings set in a U-shape in the main settlement. Allowing surveillance and a degree of separation, the weatherboard military barracks and more comfortable brick buildings housing the officers, surgeon and other officials such as the chaplain, were situated on the hillside above the convict compound. The wives and children of some military and civil officers meant that there were 8 children attending day school at the settlement by 1840.
Due to security problems of having the stores adjacent to the convict barracks, an imposing new stone Commissariat Store was constructed in 1842 at the Plunkett Point Jetty. Although aborted a new hospital and chapel more separate from the prisoners compound was also planned.
By the early 1840s the convict population at the coal mines had increased to 579 and the site had been reclassified as a probation station (Brand 1989:p.73). In the period of 1842-48, a large stone building was built as a commissariat store at Plunkett Point. A new solitary cell complex was constructed with separate apartments built above. New officers’ quarter, overseers' quarters and cottages were attributed to this period (Egloff 1987:p.35). By 1847 the Coal Mines Station had accommodation for 600 and held 403 men. New accommodation for prisoners was developed west of the main barracks complex, during 1845-47 when a group of 36 solitary cells were constructed and 108 separate apartments that replaced the earlier wooden buildings. La Trobe in his report on the present state and prospects of convicts in Van Dieman’s Land dated May 1847, refers to the complex having 108 separate apartments built of stone and brick with 54 fully completed (Brand 1990: p.185). Fifteen acres was in cultivation (Evans 1996:p.116).
Besides the men who worked underground extracting the coal, other prisoners were employed in activities typical of the larger Tasmanian convict establishments such as building works, timber getting, quarrying, stonemasonry, brick making, lime burning, tanning, blacksmithing, charcoal burning, farming and gardening. Despite the poor soil at the Coal Mines, the 1842 plan of the station shows extensive gardens behind the military barracks and by 1847 15 acres had been planted out. Archaeological remains of some of these industries survive in addition to the mining structures and artefacts.
In 1844 there were 90 children from the families of civil and military officers. Although a schoolroom was proposed it appears it never went ahead. A cemetery for the officers and their families is located at the rear of the Military Officers quarters. The convicts were apparently buried south of the settlement at Turner’s Point (Knaggs 2006 Att.C:pp.4-5).
Sea transport was the main means of transporting coal and receiving stores. It is presumed that a jetty was in place by 1834 when the first shipment left the site on board the Kangaroo. With the construction by 1837 of the convict railway connecting Port Arthur at Long Bay with Norfolk Bay (at the place now known as Taranna) there would have been increased shipping on Norfolk Bay.
The initial jetty opposite the 1833 adit entrance constructed c. 1836 extended 360 ft (110 m) into the bay, however the jetty was too short and waters too shallow to service large vessels. A new pile jetty was constructed 920ft (280.4m) in length that was extended in 1838 to a length of 360yds (329.2m) (Bullers 2005 pp14-15 and (Brand, 1989, pp. 16,17 and 43). Vessels of 300 ton or more could use the new jetty. Lempiere noted in 1838 that a vessel of 100 tons could be loaded in seven hours. By 1843 new jetties had been constructed at the main beach and at Plunkett Point, although by 1847 the latter was in poor repair. Five jetties were constructed during the operational time of the mine.
Amell et al (2005) note that in 1847 the Plunkett Point Jetty was reported to be an insecure state. It was recommended that ‘a small addition to the side of the coal jetty at a lower level and sweeping around to the Commissariat store for use by steamers’ (Bullers, Rick. 2005: p18), be constructed alongside. After numerous efforts over the years to secure and reinforce the jetty, the Plunkett Point jetty collapsed in 1867 in a storm and was washed away. At the time of collapse, there had been 32 wagons of coal standing on it and 18 of these were completely lost (Bullers, Rick. 2005: p19). The tramways were then re-routed to the Commissariat Store jetty (Bullers, Rick. 2005: p19) from which future coal loading services were provided.
Double lines of timber railway tracks ran from the adits to and along the jetties carrying wagons containing 196 lbs (88.9kg) of coal. In addition to the jetty railroad Port Arthur Commandant Booth proposed in 1838 a timber railroad one mile and five and a half furlongs long built of stringybark in 3m lengths from the then new shaft to the shaft at Slopen Main. Timber rails guided the coal baskets up and down the main shafts. Self acting tramways with timber rails ran on the inclined planes installed from the 1841-42 and the 1845 main shaft. The wagons on each line of double railroad were connected by rope. As the laden wagons ran down under gravity the empty wagons were hauled up. Requests were repeatedly made for iron tracks on all the railroads and tramways but it appears they were never installed.
Not only was the Tasman Peninsula selected for its isolation, but the Coal Mines themselves were isolated from the main settlement at Port Arthur. From 1834 onwards, there is a gradual criss-crossing of communication systems – signals, roads, tramways, regular boat services. By the 1840s the rash of probation stations strung along Norfolk Bay were in constant communication, sharing both officers and convicts. Shipping remained the main form of transport for people, food and coal.
Maintaining contact between the outstations was crucial for the security of the Peninsula. Commandant Booth at Port Arthur had a passion for signals, and his system, lauded both here and in London as ‘an ingenious adaptation of the semaphoric system’ consisted of 11 300 notations enabling coding and decoding messages of actual events such as escapes, arrivals of Governors, etc. Those not part of the penal machine, such as fishermen, rush collectors and duck shooters, were kept firmly off limits.
By the early 1840s a road network existed between the various convict stations on the Tasman Peninsula. Within the Coal Mines settlement roads were essential for the linking of officers residences, convict barracks, the various utilitarian buildings, mine workings and jetties. The current road between the main settlement and Plunkett Point and Lime Bay Road (the road from the settlement to the c. 1841/42 shaft) follow roughly the same alignments as the convict roads. Convict roads also ran from the settlement to Lime Bay, Slopen Main and to Long Point.
There were several recorded escapes and attempted escapes from the mines, including that of the mines overseer, Chartist Zephaniah Williams, and a daring whaleboat hijacking. Attempted escape was one of the most severely punished crimes, and it is probable that many convicts were sent to the Coal Mines for that offence.
The 1848-77 period marked the time when the mines were leased to private miners who still employed convicts as late as 1854. Old shafts were worked out and new shafts were sunk. By 1877 most of the field had been worked out ) although leases were held by prospectors until 1901 (Marshall 1997). By 1900 all mining activity had ceased the buildings were in ruins and pillaged for stone and brick. A total of 60,000 tonnes of coal were extracted from the area during the 44 year life of the mines (Parks and Wildlife 1997:p.8).
Following the closure of the mines in 1877, the cutting of firewood continued as did quarrying for fill and road base material.
The ruins of the mine settlement were purchased by the Scenery Preservation Board (SPB) in 1938 for the creation of a public reserve. David Young (1996: p.88) notes that initially the board 'was established for the protection of Tasmania's natural beauty rather than from a concern to protect the convict ruins' in 1915 and was constituted under the Minister for Lands. However it was the ruins of Port Arthur and the Coal Mines site that encouraged the intervention of the SPB, in order to protect them for the tourism industry, which had rapidly expanded in the 1920s-30s. Following their reservation in 1939, the Coal Mines were virtually ignored by the SPB for over a decade (Young, 1996:pp.145). The site was extensively pillaged for bricks, cut stone and mining machinery (Parks and Wildlife Service:1997:p.8). The area was added to 1949 and in 1966 (Parks and Wildlife Service, Tasmania 1997). Although the SPB tried to appoint a caretaker during the 1960s little was done to protect or interpret the site until 1969 when two interpretive signs were erected (Young, 1996:p.146).
|Condition and Integrity|
The Coal Mines Historic Site
has substantial standing ruins at the main settlement, while the remains of
other buildings are foundations or subsurface archaeological evidence. The
standing ruins have been stabilised and subject of ongoing monitoring, while
the archaeological sites have a generally high level of intactness. The site
has lost some buildings, structures and fabric during the post-convict period. |
The industrial nature of the site is represented by the main shaft, complete with original footings of pit-head machinery, and an iron steam pressure vessel. The inclined way of the tramway from main shaft to wharf survives, as does the base of the stone wharf and jetty. Other landscape features including the sites of mine shafts, adits, tramway routes, tanning pits, lime kiln, stone quarry, formed tracks and semaphores are intact. The air shaft is intact.
About 350ha, 3km north of Saltwater River,
comprising the following areas: |
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Flinders University, ARCH 8103|
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Marshall, D. (1997) CRA Site Record Form. Coal Mines Historic Site.
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Report Produced Tue Dec 10 19:17:58 2013