Stockton Colliery No. 3 Shaft

Illustration 1. Stockton Colliery No. 3 shaft – 6 September 2017 [Photo by Ron Boyd]

Stockton Colliery No. 3 Shaft
by Russell Rigby

University of Newcastle’s Hunter Living Histories
September 2017

Recent erosion of North Stockton Beach has exposed a rare example of 19th century mining technology, and also dramatically highlights how the beach has retreated more than 100 metres in the last century since the completion of the breakwaters at the harbour entrance.

Illustration 2. The Delta Collieries of Newcastle


Stockton Colliery operated from 1885 to 1908. It was one of the ”Delta Collieries” which were located around Newcastle Harbour, and worked the thick high-quality Borehole Seam below the low-lying land, harbour and ocean bed. There was almost no solid rock above water level, and mining conditions were often difficult, with the ever-present risk of inrush of water. This was partially balanced by the proximity to the harbour, with the 2 largest Delta collieries (Hetton and Stockton) being no more than 250m from the wharfs. Now there are almost no visible relics of these mines apart from streets and parks named after former mine officials, memorials to mining deaths and tragedies in parks and churches, and some awkward street alignments.

Initially the Stockton mine had just 2 main shafts for coal winding and ventilation at the southern end of Stockton. A few years later the decision was made to sink another shaft. The No3 shaft was completed in 1895, after more than 3 years work, at the northern end of the mine workings, for ventilation and to provide an emergency exit from the mine in the event of a water inrush. The original top of the shaft was 6.7m above high water mark, in the dunes about 110m from the shore line at the time.

Illustration 3. No.3 shaft location, with outline of Borehole Seam workings – red lower seam; green – upper seam [Russell Rigby 2017 – 2011 air photo]

Illustration 4. Strata section from No1 Shaft to No. 3 Shaft, showing thinning of solid rock cover towards north under Stockton [Atkinson]

The mine workings extended from the Hunter River bank west of No3 shaft, eastwards under the ocean bed for 1000m beyond the low-water line.


The need for a second emergency exit for the mine had been emphasised following a roof fall in 1893 in the lower seam workings on the western side of Stockton, near the river bank about 400m from the shaft site. The debris in the fall included unconsolidated alluvial sediments from the river bed almost 60m below the surface – the upper seam had been eroded away. Substantial coffer dams and bulkheads were quickly constructed and normal work stopped in this section of the mine, but there was a lengthy dispute between the colliery management and Government mines inspectors whether the mine was safe to operate at all, and whether the inspectors had the power to suspend operations.


No. 3 Shaft site

Illustration 5. North Stockton Beach1995 – shaft top possibly exposed to left of tube [Ross Craig Collection, UoN Cultural Collections]

For more than 20 years a vertical iron tube about 1m diameter has poked out of the sand on the beach in front of of the North Stockton Child Care Centre as the beach has eroded. Its exact purpose was uncertain, but it was quickly identified as part of the Stockton Colliery No. 3 shaft site. The tube was possibly the lining of a well sunk into the sand to get fresh water to use in the steam engines on-site. Even today many houses in Stockton close to the beach have spear-points for bore water to use in gardens.

More of the structure was exposed during beach erosion in late August 2017, until it collapsed and was washed away on Sunday, 3rd September. The same night the top of the surviving shaft casing was exposed right on the low-water line, about 10m further down the beach. The top of the casing is at about the level of a 0.35m low tide, so will only be fully exposed at very low tides, and relatively calm surf.

The shaft may have been exposed in 1995, but does not seem to have been noticed or recorded because of its location and the surf conditions at the time.

Illustration 6. North Stockton Beach 2 Sep 2017 – [ photo S Jones, FB]

Illustration 7. No.3 Shaft – top of ladder-way in shaft in surf on left, 2 Sep [photo S Jones FB]

The shaft casing itself does not present any danger to beach users (less than the rocks and WW2 tank traps scattered along the beach) although the exposed iron ladder-way and other ironwork may need to be removed for safety. The shaft will probably be covered by sand soon as the beach recovers from the latest erosion event, but will be periodically revealed after erosion in future storms and with rising sea levels. The cast iron appears to be in good condition as it has been buried in sand below the water-table for almost all of the past 120 years.

Due to the waves breaking directly onto the shaft it was not possible to take detailed measurements of the shaft and the metal-work, or to take a sample. This may be possible before the beach builds up again but will any opportunity will depend on low tides and calm conditions. The approximate location (by GPS – accurate to about 5m) is:


6359040mN MGA zone 56 ,

0.35m RL AHD (from tide height).

Illustration 8. No.3 Shaft 6 Sep 2017 at 0.35m low tide – 3m diameter shaft- ladder-way on right, timber balk on left [photo RR]

Illustration 9: No3 Shaft, 6 Sep 2017, about half an hour after 0.35m low tide – WW2 tank traps and Stockton Seawall to south [photo RR]

Sinking the shaft

The details here summarise a section from a report by A A Atkinson presented to the Institute of Mining Engineers in London in 1902 – “Coal Mining under Tidal Waters, Hunter River, NSW”. The section dealing with the sinking of Stockton No3 Shaft was republished by F Danvers Powers in 1912 in his book “Coalfields and Collieries of Australia”, as an example of the technique for shaft sinking in water-saturated soft sediments.

Illustration 10: Sinking No.3 shaft – loading up the tubbing to force it down – the cross timber cribs under the platform corners were to reduce sudden unplanned movements, especially when divers were in the shaft [Atkinson]
The upper section of casing was 3 metres across, made up of 8 segmented rings of 30mm thick cast iron bolted together, with a smooth outer surface (“tubbing”). Each ring was 0.9m high. The bottom ring of the tubbing had a sharp cutting edge to assist penetration through the alluvium. To sink the shaft, the cast iron tube was forced down into the sand by loading up a 10m square platform on the top of the tubbing with sand and iron rails (as much as 1400 tons). Sufficient depth of water was maintained in the shaft to balance the pressure of the strata and control the speed that the tubbing was forced down while the water-saturated sand inside the tubbing was excavated with a grab bucket. Water baled from the shaft was recirculated to stir up the sand at the bottom of the shaft and decrease the resistance.

Illustration 11: Trepan chopper used to break up clay bands [Atkinson]
When bands of clay were encountered a large trepan chopper was used to cut up the clay, and divers were sent down the shaft to load it out, working underwater for 2-4 hours at a time in 20-30m depth of water.

After the top of the casing reached ground level the platform was unloaded, more rings of casing added and the process repeated until the casing reached down to solid rock about 60m below the surface, and finally to the Borehole Seam 78m below the surface. Because the loading required to overcome the resistance of the clay bands from 40m depth threatened to cause the failure of the 3m casing tube, a smaller 2.7m diameter section
(6 segments per ring) was “telescoped” inside. This required that the smaller tube was sunk from the surface after the original casing had been re-filled with sand. Once the casing had reached solid rock and the shaft was dry, the last sections of tubbing were added at the bottom of the shaft as it was deepened. Sinking the shaft took over 3 years to complete.

The Borehole Seam in this area has 2 coal sections each 3m thick, separated by 3.5m of shale, and both sections were worked at Stockton [section]. The upper workings were connected, and a sloping tunnel driven from the workings in the lower section. Initially there was a small cage installed in the shaft, but this was replaced by an iron ladder-way 4 years later.

There are newspaper reports of curious sailors from ships tied up at the ballast dolphins occasionally being found wandering around underground after climbing down the ladder.

The mine finally closed in January 1908. A timber head frame over the shaft survived for several years, and is prominent in the photo of Lord Kitchener of Khartoum inspecting possible sites for a fort in January 1910.

Illustration 12: Lord Kitchener at No.3 Shaft, January 1910 [Ross & Pat Craig collection, UON Cultural Collections]

The top section of the tubbing was probably reclaimed, but once the water table was reached removing the shaft lining would be very unstable and unsafe to continue. This would explain why the rim of the shaft looks relatively undamaged. A section of the ladder-way is also visible. There is no evidence that the shaft was capped – just left to fill with sand.

Illustration 13: 1910 & 2017 – where did the beach go?

Note: some references suggest that the No3 shaft site may be in the small ring road in Beeston Road, Corroba, about 400m north of the shaft site on the beach. The “ring road” is part of the street layout for the 1920s “Garden Suburb”, and has no relationship to the mine. Incidentally only the western part of the suburb was ever developed – the proposed eastern half would also now be in the surf zone north of the shaft, so there is a connection of sorts.


References and bibliography:

Atkinson A.A. (1902) “Working Coal under the River Hunter, the Pacific Ocean and its Tidal Waters, near Newcastle, in the State of New South Wales. (Trans. Inst. Mining Engineers, London, 1902.)

F. Danvers Powers (1912) “Coalfields and Collieries of Australia”; Critchley Parker, Melbourne

Annual Reports, Department of Mines

Tonks, E (1985) “Beneath Tidal Waters – the story of Newcastle’s Harbour Collieries”; Headframe Publishing

Ross & Pat Craig Collection, University of Newcastle Cultural Collections –

Facebook – “Lost Newcastle”¬if_t=group_comment_follow¬if_id=1504687449634469


11 thoughts on “Stockton Colliery No. 3 Shaft

  1. Sorry, I could be wrong, but I cannot beleive that the metal tubing is part of Stockton Colliery.

    The “above water” tube has manufactured holes in the sections. You can see the rivets around the holes. Also if the tube was sunk by the method of forcing the sections into the ground why is the outside surface not “smooth”?

    If you wanted to push something into the ground then the outside surface would need to be smooth to reduce friction as the tube travelled through the the ground.

    The “edge” that the sections were joined at would clearly need to be on the inside of the tube and the “holes” in each section would not be required as they would never be accessible once sunk into the ground.

    I understand that the tube sections may have been recycled from something else but this does not explain the joins being on the outside.

    According to the maps I have available the “eastern section” of the Garden Suburbs development never proposed and regardless the land it would have occupied would not have been in the surf zone.

    The proposed “western” development had a road (according to the map) between it and the sea. The road was called “Front Avenue.” Like the present day Mitchell street the road ran along the edge of the high tide mark.

    If the area that Front Avenue “had possibly” occupied had of fallen into the sea then Mitchell Street would have likely have disappeared also.

    I agree the shore line has moved over the decades but I cannot understand why a coal shaft would have been sunk so close to the sea. I would beleive it actually is located elsewhere and not the current perceived location.

    My earliest map I have in front of me is dated 1915, the next 1928 and last c1953 and all three show, roughly, the same shoreline that we see today.

    As such the “shaft” would have been sunk at the high tide line.

    Coal mine maps are not that accurate, as the miners at Gretley colliery found out.

    I have visited the Mines Subsidence Board in Newcastle and viewed some of their maps so I can say this with some confidence.

    Again In regards to the “tubes” I could be wrong but until somebody actually produces a map or further evidence as to the location I think we are not looking at mining history but something else.

    Maybe we should be looking at how sailing ships were constructed as the wooden mast had to be “mounted” within the steel structure of a ship. If you need to maintain the wood then you may have need inspection holes to do so.

    If the “mounting” was made from sections of tubing then the joins would be on the outside of the tubes.

    Just a theory.

    Best to keep an open mind.

  2. If you need documented evidence of how the shore has moved please consider the following record.

    12 October 1942 time 0830 (8.30am)

    Heavy seas worked out beach along Stockton Beach for a distance of approx 150 (137m) to 200 (182m) yards from original line and to a depth of approx 6 (1.8m) – 20 (6m) feet.

    Tetrahedrons along the coast line were undermined and dropped.

    13 October 1942

    Dune 3 pounder emplacement and observation post undermined by heavy seas and dropped about 12 (3.6m) feet

    15 October 1942

    Heavy seas still breaking along the coast.

    Dune Battery is only visible after a “heavy sea” just like the larger metal tube.

    If you ignore the available maps and beleive the military records that the above information was sourced from then yes you could state Number 3 shaft is where it is currently claimed to be but maps show that the shoreline was never 182 metres further out from the current shoreline.

    Even if you change the yards to feet then the shoreline during would have been 70 metres further to the east.

    A 70 metre loss is something I would support as Dune Battery now sits in a similar location (both only visible after a storm and at the edge of the low tide Mark) as the larger tube does.

    Both these structures have been visible when viewing Google Earth and the distances from the current shoreline can be measured.

    Again something to think about.

    The big question is if the bulk of Stockton Beach was actually vegetated, between Stockton and Port Stephens up until the 1920s.

    My grandmother told me how she had to walk through the the bush from Salt Ash “to the shoreline” not the Sand dunes. The yellow sand dunes were not visible then apparently.

    The dead trees visible sticking out of the yellow dunes provide evidence of the sand moving suddenly.

  3. Graeme,
    if you look at the figure 6 which shows the recently exposed section of the smaller tube (subsequently broken away) you will see timber lagging on the outside of the external flange joints – this would have formed a smooth outer surface for driving the tube, possibly as a well for fresh water for supplying the steam engines. The timber would not have been as strong as the cast iron when exposed by the erosion, and so did not survive for long on exposure.
    If the smaller tube was a well the main purpose would be to keep back the loose sand, so holes in the cast iron from reused boilers or flues would not have been a significant problem especially if the outside of the tube was encased in vertical timber strips.

    The 3m tube exposed at the low water level is the top of the remaining casing for the No3 shaft itself. The position, construction and description fit perfectly with the mine plans and contemporary reports by Atkinson of the sinking of No3 shaft. The flanges on the 3m shaft tubbing are internal, so there would have been less resistance to driving the tubbing down as the sand was extracted from inside the shaft.

    Contemporary mining maps c1905 record the shaft position, and low water mark approx 110m east of the shaft. A subdivision plan from Dept of Lands (1893) shows an “approximate position of the new shaft” immediately northeast of the intersection of Flint and Carlisle (Mitchell) Sts, and the water line (HWL/LWL?) 5.5chains (110m) east of the centre of the Carlisle/Flint intersectiont, I have no reason to doubt these maps as they have been accurate in all other circumstances I have checked, and a connection between 2km of underground workings and a vertical shaft is not a trivial exercise.

    I don’t have any company documentation on the selection of the No3 shaft site, but I surmise that it was chosen
    1/ because it was to the north of the workings as they were then. No3 shaft in this location would provide an emergency exit to the rise of most of the workings from the mine in case of inundation, (fig 4)
    2/ the site was on crown land that had not been subdivided recently and was what appeared to be a reasonable distance from the shore line.
    3 the position of the shaft would aid mine ventilation. As a ventilation shaft and 2nd egress the shaft did not have to be big enough for coal winding, or have a permanent surface rail connection.
    4/There was also at least one proposal for a tramway along the eastern side of Mitchell Street in the beach reserve.

    Remember at this time there was a much shorter Stockton breakwater, and the southern breakwater did not extend as far beyond Nobbys as it does now.. There was probably no expectation during the planning of the shaft of the extent of beach erosion during the life of the mine.The geological log of the shaft indicates that the ground surface was at 7m above water level, and the 1910 Kitchener photo shows the dunes in the area.

    I can’t comment about the effects on Dune Battery of beach erosion in the 1940s as I have not looked at that in detail apart from newspaper reports of the general beach erosion – certainly not at surveyed location plans if they exist.

    Similarly no comment about changes to the vegetation on Stockton Beach further up the bight, although journal notes for 10th May 1770 by Banks and Parkinson on “Endeavour” mention areas of sand along the coast, heading towards Pt Stephens. The exact location they are describing is not identified, and may refer to anywhere on the coast from Swansea to Stockton Bight but the bight looks more likely::

    Thursday 10th May

    Last night a very heavy squall came off from the land which
    according to the seamens phrase made all sneer again; it pay’d
    however for the trouble it gave by bringing a fair wind.
    In the morn the land appeard broken and likely for harbours; its
    face was very various, some parts being well wooded and
    others coverd with bare sand.

    In latitude 32° 51, on the 10th, the land appeared considerably
    higher, and more broken, very sandy, and less fertile. We saw
    several clusters of islands; among which, it is probable, there
    may be some good harbours.

    There is an another version of the proposed “Garden Suburb” which I think shows a more extensive eastern subdivision, beyond what is sometimes called Ocean Front Ave, but I can’t find a copy just now – I’ll keep looking.

  4. Russell, thanks for the information.

    I did notice the wood around the tubes at the time of writing.

    Seems a bit strange to sink a well next to a shaft to get water for a boiler yet I assume water from the shaft probably would not be fit for boiler use due to sedimentation caused by sinking operations.

    You state that ground level was 7m above sea. If you was to visit the northern searchlight emplacement you may find that the ground levels have dropped a similar distance due to wind erosion.

    The 1942 storm I referred to blew away the sand from around the emplacement and as a result the structure, built on level ground, became situated on a hill approximately 4m high.

    It could be that the shaft was effected by the same storm.

    I am of the opinion that Stockton Beach has been altered on two or three occasions in the last century. If I remember correctly there was the “Maitland” storm during the 1890’s.

    There was another storm (Buribi?) in the 1920’s that could have resulted in the formation of the beach prior to the 1940’s.

    It refreshing to find someone who talks as much as myself. Your constructive and educational response is much appreciated.

    Have you looked into the “other” Stockton mine at Hexham?

    It’s 3.30am so I might have my be wrong as to the name of the mine.

    I shall get back to this one.

  5. Just to refine my comments:

    The Uralla wreck (1928), east of Salt Ash, some 30 to 40 kilometres north of the “shaft”.
    Dune battery, undermined 1942, behind the old sewerage works at Stockton
    The “shaft” at Stockton is 500 metres south of Dune Battery

    All sit in the same low tide zone.

  6. Russell

    You seem to be using “secondary” information and not “primary” which is what historians tend to use, if available.

    I am using primary sources that are not be sourced from other people’s “published” research.

    You mention two maps.

    (a) Subdivision map dated 1893.

    (b) Department of Lands map (Parish map, I beleive) dated 1905.

    You state that:

    (a) shows the distance “from the shaft” to the low water mark to be 110 metres.

    (b) shows the distance “from the corner of Flint and Mitchell streets” to the “water line” to be 110 metres.

    The width of the blocks between Mitchell street and Dunbar, Dunbar and Douglass are 138metres.

    The Mitchell to Dunbar block is shown on the 1915 map, I own, as “block” 25. The Dunbar to Douglass is number 26.

    East of Mitchell street is numbers 24 which is the Surf Club area, and to the north of “Brown” (now Griffith) street to “Ultimo” (now Meridith) is number 30.

    My 1915 map shows the high tide mark to be approx 69 metres from the intersection of Mitchell and Flint streets. The low water mark approx 130 metres.

    It would appear the shoreline advanced eastward around 28 metres between 1905 and 1915.

    If the “shaft” is used a reference point (1893) then the low tide mark would be 69 metres further out which would place the low tide at roughly 200 metres from the present location.

    If this was the case then the October 1942 “Dune Battery” report may be considered as accurate as to the erosion statistics (182 metre loss) mentioned at the time.

    Allowing for the fact I am not an “historian” it would appear that almost half of the east west land mass has been lost in this area if reclamation works artificially widened the land on the harbour side.

    Something that I find a bit strange though is your “Illustration 13, 1910 & 2017. – where did the beach go?”

    If you believe the shaft is at the surf club site why provide a comparison (corner of Eames ave and Meridith street) that shows the lights of Corroba Oval in the background?

    Clearly a comparison “on site” would have provided more “food for thought” in regards to the preferred surf club location.

    Here is a bit of “primary” information that should be the final nail in the location question.


    06 October 1908
    Singleton Argus, page 01


    A drowning accident occurred on Sunday on the Stockton beach, nearly abreast of what is known as the Stockton Coal Company,s No.2 shaft, a little to the north of Flint-street. …


    Yes it does say “No.2 shaft.”


    Here is another bit of history.

    Mine water was pumped from a nearby shaft to “christen” the new Stockton Council Chambers when it was opened.

    It appears this shaft was sunk in 1870.
    The Council Chambers appear to have been in Douglas street between Monmouth and Clyde streets.

  7. Just remembered.

    The name of the coal mine at Hexham was “North Stockton”.

    Maybe that is where No.3 shaft is???????

    Just pulling your leg.

  8. Graeme,
    the street corner you can see in Fig 13 is the Mitchell/Stone intersection, at the northern end of the sea wall (visible below the 1910 insert), so the photo was taken just north of Flint St – nowhere near Eames Avenue. The wooden poppet head in the 1910 photo has been aligned with the shaft location on the beach.

    The Scottish-Australian Mining Co (ie the Lambton Colliery co) sank a shaft about 1870. The shaft sinking was unsuccessful as the tubbing string was not vertical, and abandoned. The location was close to the line of Douglas St, between Clyde & Monmouth St (near present police station, and just north of old Council Chambers – now RSL)

    I don’t understand your comment about secondary sources. I have used and quoted contemporary maps from the mining companies, harbour charts, Mines Dept and Lands Dept, Mines Dept annual reports, Atkinson’s article (1902) report describing in detail the No3 shaft sinking, and newspaper reports from Trove. The only secondary source I have referred to in passing was Ed Tonk’s book which mentioned incorrectly that the No3 shaft was in the Beeston Rd “circle”.

    Where possible I have used multiple sources so that errors or typos like the 1908 Singleton Argus “No 2 Shaft” reference are identified.

    Where can I find more info about the Dune Battery?

    North Stockton Colliery is a whole new topic.

  9. I have just had a look at the 1893 “Map of the town of Stockton, Parish of Stockton County of Gloucester Land District of Newcastle” Parish Map.

    This map, in regards to the shore line and street layouts, is the same as my 1915 map.

    It would appear that the shoreline had not moved between 1893 and 1915 but more than likely the representation of the land features were not as important, therefore did not require accurate representation.

    Using the 1893 map, as the 1915 is the same in regards to the high and low water marks, the shaft would have always been at the edge of the high water level mark.

    Funny enough it appears that the low water mark has not changed but the high tide intrusion has varied over the decades.

    Mitchell street is shown as being straight for entire length to Ultimo street, (Meridith ave) in 1893

    Current maps show that Mitchell street ceases at Flint street and that Barrie Cresent replaces Mitchell St northwards with a curve inland from this intersection.

    The area to the east of Barrie cresent is the surf club site. Anybody can see this by looking at a street directory

    What most people would not know is that Griffiths ave is shown as being between Barrie Cresent and the low water mark. This section, if constructed, would be in the high tide area, as shown on the 1893, 1915 maps, and clearly would be at risk of being eroded.

    This section of Griffiths avenue would also have been built over the metal cylinders that were recently rediscovered.

    The point to all the words is that you are relying on a maps that are not topographical (detailed) and apparently second hand research.

    As an example I am looking at Stockton historical society information.

    “1893: Stockton Coal Co. Sunk a shaft near Dunbar and Flint Streets. (No.3 shaft.)”
    “1908 In January the mine ceased production.”

    You would agree with this research but the 1893 map you have used does not show the “high tide mark 110 to 200 metres from Flint street or the shaft.

    Russell on paper you are wrong as the 1893 map was “compiled, drawn and printed 6th July 1893.”

    The shaft was sunk during 1893 and according to the 1893 map the location would have been between the low and high tide marks.

    Based on this information, that you have used, it is not possible to provide any conclusive research as to a definitive location in regards to the shaft.

    Yes I can agree with what is shown in the photos provided, but there is no logic in stating that a shaft was sunk on land that did not exist when the shaft was sunk.

    If somebody beleived that the shoreline has receded 100 or 200m and assumes this will continue theoretically you could be in legal trouble.

    Property values could be effected and people could lose money and go hunting the “fear monger,s” who started “a rumour” rather than provided fact.

    A theoretical example: please consider that tour operators on Stockton Beach could be accused of “false advertisement” in promoting Tin City as a depression era settlement.

    I was advised (Department of Fair Trading) that unless a business, that promotes Tin City as a depression settlement, can provide evidence of the settlements history then said promotion would be considered false.

    I guess that also a customer could seek a refund for any fees or charges due to disappointment???? I have not sought any advice on this matter.

    To date nobody can provide any evidence of Tin City,s history before the early 1970,s.

    I was born in 1966 and we visited “our backyard” many times over my life and my grandmother, my father and myself cannot remember any shacks in the early 70’s.

    So what you see and what you can prove are a universe apart without something to connect the two.

    I note the following article in the Star newspaper, 01 November 2017.


    “The long standing issue of erosion on Stockton Beach has already threatened the local surf club, and left part of the Stockton Colliery – once more than 100 metres from the low tide point protruding metres out of the sand in June.”

    “… When the colliery was first installed [in March 1885] it was around was around 110 metres from the low-tide point on the beach, …”

    Who started this belief????

    “When the shaft was sunk in “1885”????

    History is almost dead as armchair experts get all the media.

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