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An Unofficial History of Coal Mining in the Illawarra

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Bulli Colliery in 1914


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Rev.0

(Old) Bulli Colliery
1863 - 1987

In 1861 the Bulli and Bellambi Coal Company was incorporated. Coal was shipped by them to Ballarat in 1862. The colliery area was 600 acres, owned by Dr. O'Brien and Messrs. Black and Sommerville. It appears that the coal was shipped at Bellambi as it was proposed to construct a railway to this location. Records show that mining took place in 1859.

Note: 1861 - A tunnel is driven at the site of the Old Bulli Mine

Bulli Coal Company commenced operations on June 23rd 1863, supplying coal for the Colonial demand. By August of that year it was also supplying coal to Shanghai, China, with the first shipment being loaded at the new Bulli Point jetty. The vessel which carried the cargo was the "Ironside".

Mr. William Robson was the first manager, followed by William Somerville in July 1863 and Alexander Ross in 1866, Evans taking over in 1889.

The colliery was owned by the Bulli Coal Company and in 1889 William Adams was the principal shareholder.

May of 1867 saw the first major step in mine mechanisation when a steam loco was commissioned to haul coal wagons the 2.5 kms. From the mine to the jetty, replacing the horses and bullocks.

Just after the turn of that decade production had reached 35,000 tons per year. The mine was capable of producing up to 600 tons per day, employed 80 men and used horses to haul the 4 ton "tubs" to the surface.

By 1876 the driveages extended about 1500 m in a NW and SW direction from the portal. The "Collieries Regulation Act" was introduced on June 1st of this year.

In 1878 a new pit was opened north of the original and connected by a separate incline to the railway at the foot of the hill. This pit lasted 25 years until replaced by the "B" pit further north from which the coal was hauled to the railway by teams.

In 1882 the Balgownie seam was opened at a point immediately west of the original mine. This was 4' thick and of good quality.

 A methane gas explosion
ripped through the mine at
2.30 pm on March 23rd, 1887,
killing 81 men and boys

The 1880's were punctuated by industrial disputes. Unionism had expanded throughout the colony and it's assimilation into the coal industry was a stormy one. The 1886 local mineworkers amalgamated with those from the Hunter district and together they began the push for an eight hour day and a number of less significant claims. Because settlement of these claims was a drawn out affair, financial hardship compelled the workers to move out of company owned homes into tents and a lifestyle at poverty level. In January 1887 the mine management decided to recruit non-union or "free" labour from Sydney. As this body of men was transported from the jetty to the mine site, their journey was halted by an irate group of family members of the striking mineworkers whose emotional pleas eventually convinced them to return to Sydney. Not long after this confrontation with the "blacklegs" from Sydney, the strike collapsed, the men agreeing reluctantly to return to work under a new set of conditions.

Just one month later, on Wednesday, March 23rd, 1887, the fortunes of these men turned to tragedy when a methane gas explosion ripped through the mine at 2.30 pm, killing 81 men and boys. Relief funds that were established raised 40,000 pounds for the surviving members of the miners' families. There was only one survivor of that fateful explosion. A boy named Herbert Cope who together with an array of debris and pit props was blown, unconscious, out of the tunnel mouth by the force of the explosion. He went on to live to the age of 84 and died in Hurstville in 1952.

The mine resumed production in July 1887 with safety lamps.

In 1890 naked lamps were again introduced at which time many men left the mine.

The jetty had a mixed career, it was designed by William Weaver with the first coal being shipped in 1863. In 1864 a 250 feet length of the jetty was washed away and again in 1867 there was severe damage when 40 tons of coal and 4 men were lost.

The Bulli Coal Co. continued operations until 1936, when it was sold to A. I. & S. A significant factor which contributed to the decision to sell was an extensive "cinder belt" which was inhibiting development of the mine. Overcoming this problem, A. I. & S. continued in the old workings using contract mining. The contract mining system ended in 1949.

In 1944 work was commenced on the driving of a drift through the escarpment, 3.6 kms in length at a grade of 1 in 139 to intersect the coal seam. The drift was completed in 1952. Modernisation of the machinery at Bulli took place in 1955 with the replacement of the Jeffrey type rail mounted cutters and loaders with continuous miners.

Four miners suffocated when a pocket of gas ignited in a panel, causing an underground fire several hundred yards from the main shaft, on November 9th, 1965.

Trivial facts about No. 1 Seam workings at Old Bulli Mine:-

  • Hand mining 1913 to 3/1947 created 142 kms of roadways

  • Mechanised (L400 loaders) 10/1940 to 6/1955 mined 85 kms of roadways

  • Cont. miners 6/1955 to 12/1965 mined 91 kms of roadways

  • 16,554,859 tonnes was produced since September 1958. This figure converts to the equivalent of a single heading 826 kms long.

  • Highest output / man shift of 23.5 tonnes was established on 18/3/1987

  • Record bonus of $303.10 was achieved during the week ending 20/3/1987

  • In the last 45 years prior to closure, there were approx. 2,900 job starts at the mine. An average of 64 per year (this figure includes those who left and recommenced at a later date).

Compiled from an article by Merv. Epps from research by J. Bullard (ex Bulli Maint. Clerk), 13/5/1987 and a paper by Gordon Sellers, the Illawarra Coalfield - a Brief History to 1905, delivered at an AusIMM Conference, Illawarra, 1976.

 


For more information on Bulli Colliery, see also...

Disasters - Bulli Colliery Gas Explosion - 1887
Disasters - Bulli Colliery Underground Fire - 1965
Museums
Photographic Gallery A-L
Companies
Minebase 1 (A - C)
Minebase 3 (O - Z)
Timeline 1 (1791-1862)
Timeline 2 (1862-1877)
Timeline 3 (1878-1887)
Timeline 4 (1888-1901)
Timeline 5 (1901-1923)
Timeline 6 (1924-1947)
Timeline 7 (1947-1961)
Timeline 8 (1961-1977)
Timeline 9 (1978-2000)

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