Convict Era Tunnel (c1816) and Brick Culvert (c1850s)

During his presentation at the 2012 National Trust Forum on Innovation and Invention Mr Bill Jordan introduced us to a convict era tunnel dating from around 1816 that lies beneath Church Street, Newcastle (Australia).

He believes that it is the oldest example of Australian civil engineering works still in use to this day and quite significant. The convict hewn tunnel was used to drain the water from convict era mines out through the cliff face on south Newcastle Beach. It is still in operation to this day and displays sophisticated hydraulic knowledge in its construction and design.

Under the southern edge of Church Street, Newcastle, running between Newcomen and Watt Streets, outside the Courthouse and Police Station, runs a circular drainage culvert, built from two rings of brickwork.

Examination of the bricks and mortar used indicates that it dates from about the middle of the 19th century.

The downstream end of the brick culvert discharges into a hewn rock tunnel, of similar size, which discharges from the cliff face above South Newcastle Beach.

The hewn rock tunnel is believed to have been excavated by convict labour around 1816 to provide drainage for one of the first shaft mines established in Newcastle in the grounds of what is now the James Fletcher Hospital.

Sometime around 2008 a robot camera was sent through the tunnel to ascertain the level of maintenance repairs required to the convict structure.

Treasure Found Beneath City Road (Newcastle Herald 10 April 2010)

6 thoughts on “Convict Era Tunnel (c1816) and Brick Culvert (c1850s)

  1. Re. the NH report from over 2 years ago; is there an update? Have repairs been carried out or was it another “Council Initiative” that went nowhere?
    Is it possible to view part of the structure?

  2. Convict built tunnel. What a load of &*(#.

    The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser
    19 November 1861, Page
    THE CORPORATION TUNNEL
    On Thursday morning, the operation of tunnelling the drain in Church-street was successfully brought to a close. The object of the work, as is probably known to most of our readers, is to draw off that large quantity of water, that, when heavy rains occur, flows down from the higher parts of the city into the town, and by the great amount of sand that it carries with it, damages the streets and private property. The completion of the work will have the effect of entirely reclaiming the paddocks in Bolton and King streets, which hitherto have been so much waste land. The tunnel was commenced at the beginning of June, the contract being signed by Mr. Charles Mathews on the first of that month, the work to be finished in six months so that it is completed a little before its time. The tunnel is 133 yards in length, and commencing at the corner of Watt and Church streets, being entered by a shaft at that spot, terminates in the cliff overhanging the sea beach. The price for which the contract was taken was about 2 per yard, and it has been excavated through rock, which of course has added considerably to the difficulty of the work. From the size of the tunnel, apparently about a yard wide by 4 feet 6 inches, it will afford ample room to carry off the whole of the overflow, and will prove an immense advantage to the city.

    Back in the 1980’s we walked and crawled through the tunnel all the way to beneath the laundry block in James Fletcher Hospital.

    There is a drain that runs the length of the driveway into the hospital and at the main gate end the drain has been bricked up just short of Watt Street.

    30 years after exploring the drains I will agree that common sense is something you learn with age sometimes.

    Still why would you use a robot between the beach and the courthouse section as it has free airflow.

    At the court house end there is another bricked up drain that runs towards the building.

    And again I will state that the Bogey Hole, we see today, was built by Newcastle Council in the 1860’s. The excavation we see today was not built by convicts.

    Is the Coal River Working Party actually working or are they using Wikipedia for their research????

    As for the Herald article, “Treasure found beneath city road.”

    I quote: “It is very similar in appearance to the Fernleigh Track tunnel, JUST UNDERGROUND.”

    DID ANYBODY NOTICE THE BIG HEAP OF DIRT ON TOP OF THE “ABOVE GROUND” FERNLEIGH TUNNEL????

  3. Hi Graeme Steinbeck,

    Thanks for sharing the find. Find it in Trove? Isn’t it great?

    As stated clearly in the post, the information provided about the convict era tunnel and brick culvert comes from the work of Bill Jordan. It is not the ‘work’ of the Coal River Working Party, nor ‘Wikipedia’. We provide what information we can through the website.

    Here is a link to the Bill Jordan’s presentation from the 2012 National Trust Event at Town Hall: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VfNGEPAO8CM

    On the second matter in regards to the Bogey Hole:

    We quote John Bingle’s recollections of his visit to Newcastle in 1821:

    “The Commandant’s Residence named the Government House, was situated in the line of Watt-Street, about one hundred yards from the corner of the Barrack wall in Church Street. This building was a convenient and pretty cottage, but was unfortunately destroyed by fire some time after Major Morriset left to join his Regiment. At the back of it, over a hill, the Major had made a pretty (p.12) walk called the Horseshoe, the only outlet even to the present day, in the shape of a pleasant stroll, and as the rocks washed by the sea he had a bath excavated for his own use, which remains in its primitive state – called Morriset’s Bath.” – John Bingle, Past and Present Records of Newcastle NSW, (1873) pp. 11-12

    See the document online here: https://coalriver.wordpress.com/2012/08/31/origins-of-king-edward-park/

    Direct link: https://coalriver.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/records_of_newcastle_nsw.pdf

    In addition there is also a sketch drawn of Morriset’s Bath by artist Conrad Martens in 1841 at the State Library, reference and image are on the same link above.

    Yes, the bath was expanded by public works over the years, but there is certainly evidence that it existed prior to the 1860s and back to the convict era. We did search for official evidence of this, but none was ever forthcoming. The evidence for the Bogey Hole being of convict origin appears to be in Bingle’s 1873 account, which we consider is an eye witness account. Why no official reference in the correspondence of Major Morriset? Well, he wouldn’t have made an official record of a “foreign order” to his superiors would he, but reading between the lines he obviously couldn’t resist telling a young contemporary.

    So, if your point is that both structures are not convict era, but constructs of later 19th century, that doesn’t appear to be case with the Bogey Hole.

    With regards to both structures, yes, more investigation and research needs to be undertaken, and we will continue to provide what we can freely to the wider community to help raise awareness and debate. What we know we share.

  4. “With regards to both structures, yes, more investigation and research needs to be undertaken, and we will continue to provide what we can freely to the wider community to help raise awareness and debate. What we know we share.”

    Funny how what you know is from somebody else’s information and if it is right or wrong it’s “not the research of the Coal River Working Party” in this case.

    Sounds a bit like Wikipedia!

    In regards to the “Bogey Hole” and the “brick culvert” there is not much more to be researched. Council records and newspaper articles clearly define the history of the present structures. My research was done prior to the World Wide Web so no I did not use Trove.

    Trove will change history but only if you know how to see more than what you seek.

    Here is an example: I place before you a blank piece of paper.
    How much did the paper cost and how much is it worth?

    If you cannot answer this question why bother printing words on the paper let alone reading them!

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