HOME OF THE LADY DENMAN - Local history isn't always about the big story - the everyday story of life in the early development of the region can be a fascinating, entertaining and educational journey.

2 February 2017

Black Diamonds Jervis Bay.


Black Diamond recovered from the wreck of the Plutus at Currarong..

Did you know?
In the early 1900’s coal was discovered near Jervis Bay, the news motivated capitalists into investing time and money into trying to persuade the Government of the time, to contribute to the many mining schemes and turn the speculation into profit.


1874 - A meeting of about thirty gentlemen met at City-Hall for the purpose of hearing a scheme for floating a coal company at Jervis Bay,  it was stated immense seams of coal,  besides other minerals, such as iron, anthracite coal and fire-clay were known to exist. They showed specimens of coal and other minerals from the intended mining sites.  The area concerned was about 22 miles from Jervis Bay, and consisted of 3000 acres of land,  containing two seams of coal,  one 22 feet wide,  and the other 20 feet, besides smaller seams,  and was computed to contain 259 million tons of coal.

The speaker had prepared a scheme for forming a company, a capital of 150,000 pounds would be required,  the chief items of expenditure being:-
Purchase of lease, 11.000 pounds.
New South Wales Government, 7000 pounds.
Proprietary shares, 6000 pounds.
Railway, 25 miles at 3000 ponds a mile, 75,000 ponds.
Locomotives, 20.000 pounds. 
Trucks, 15.000 pounds.
Opening mine, 5000 pounds.
Wharves, 18,000 pounds.
Survey, 7000 pounds.

Against this there were 37.000 acres of land containing 70.000 tons per acre, which would yield 103,600.000 pounds; and by allowing for 1000 tons per day being shipped,  the outlay would give a yearly income of 105.000 pounds.

In it's time the sums being spoken of were quite substantial and the returns on their investment quite lucrative.
The meeting broke up without any decision being arrived at.

Over the following years the interest in the coal deposits and the prospects for development and huge returns were very much on local investors minds.

1884 - A deputation comprising a local doctor, the Mayor of Nowra and the Mayor of Shoalhaven approached the Mining Minister to ask for the use of a diamond drill and the necessary skilled labour, to be supplied free of charge, to bore for coal on Government Land in the vicinity of Jervis Bay.


The minister refused the application on the terms mentioned.  -  "After all, prospecting for coal at Jervis Bay was a matter of private speculation,  and the Government had laid down certain regulations upon which the diamond drills would be lent to the public." - he went on to state  - "Our present coal fields were already sufficient to supply demand." -   He acknowledged the importance of future investigation.  " But was inclined to think there was sufficient
enterprise there to pay the cost of the drills."

1890 - A private land holder sunk a bore 103 feet deep on his land a Sassafras,  and in the words of a competent authority, 'is in splendid coal measures." with every indication of soon striking a seam...

Nothing more was heard about this.

1900 - Coal deposits were identified in the Jervis Bay Region and there were companies activity pursuing leases for the purpose of coal mining.  One such lease was for the parish of Tiangara immediately west of Jervis Bay where eleven square mile was applied for to take up coal mining. Australian and British investors had inspected these sites near the base of Sassafras Plateau and determined the coal was equal to the best Welch coal for steaming purposes.


1902 - The Sassafras area came under consideration as the possible location of the Federal City, and with this some twenty sections were measured off as coal mining sites by capitalists..

1907 – Workable coal seams - The government geologist had identified the occurrence of workable coal seams in this district and being accessible to the fine harbour if Jervis Bay was considered as "One of considerable importance."

1908 - Further exhaustive investigation by mining experts were confident – “That valuable seams exist in the vicinity of the Falls, Jervis Bay."   - This prompted local people assisted by the shire council to urge the Government to sink a bore, to prove that southern coal deposits extend to Jervis Bay.  - "It would be a great factor in opening up the district." -  It was anticipated a positive result would result in the establishment of large smelting works.

1908 - Trial bores refused.
The Clyde Shire Council was informed by the Under Secretary for Mines that the application made by council for trail bores in the neighbourhood  of Jervis Bay cannot be granted.

1911 - No coal of commercial value.  The geological surveyor for the Department of Mines stated  "He was absolutely certain that there was no coal of commercial value south of Mount Kembla.  It may be suitable for coke making. -  “ I am prepared to admit however,  there  may  be a time when it will be necessary to develop even this unpromising source of coal supply."

The statements above didn't deter potential investors or the local council,  they saw it as a way of promoting the districts commercial prospects.

1912Links to Federal Port - With the proposed linking of the new Federal Port of Jervis Bay by railway with Canberra,  the interior,  and Sydney,  a Sydney M.P made an application   for 1920 acres of land for the purpose of mining coal in the parish of Tianjara, county of St. Vincent. This was driven by reports from a licensed surveyor employed by  Sydney capitalists to inspect the country seaward side of Sassafras.
He gave the opinion the coal area embraced an extensive area north and south of Pigeon House.
Capitalists were excited by the prospect of the proposed railway to Canberra and Sydney running right through the area concerned, then linking with Jervis Bay.

The surveyor also applied for three leases of 640 acres each,  these adjoined the same leases mentioned beforehand, declaring   -  "The coal in these deposits to be equal to anything in Australia"
The rush was on and another investor applied for 320 acres to mine for coal in the same location..

The area applied for was part of that tested 20 years earlier by the Shoalhaven syndicate.  "The Tianjara and Jervis Bay Coal Mining Co."

1913Jervis Bay Coal Syndicate - Efforts were still being made by local and Sydney investors to develop the coal fields close to the Federal Port,  where the Jervis Bay Coal Syndicate have 1920 acres under lease,  20 miles from Jervis Bay and one mile from the surveyed railway line from the Canberra to Jervis Bay.
The syndicate drove a tunnel 80 feet on a 7 feet seam of coal,  which analysis showed to be of excellent steaming quality.
"The future of the Federal Port as a great naval base is assured,  the opening up of the coal industry there should give a great boost to the district and capital and also help develop other large industries in the success of which  'black diamonds' are such an important factor."

1923 - A Sydney investor pegged out an area of eight square miles near Sassafras for which he has made and application for a lease to mine coal.

Nothing came of the above application.

Back to 1884 - The only record I have found of actual mining was a small operation which did get started at the head of the Clyde River, spurred on by coal being found, particularly after heavy rain amongst the boulders along the river.     A group of 10 men endured unbelievable hardships exploring every possible creek and gully along the river, they eventually found an exposed seam, at the head of the river, which they decided to develop.
Because of the location the work was done by hand, this required the coal to be hauled 600 feet up the side of a steep mountain on the men's back, to be loaded onto waiting bullock teams, the men had to cut steps in the face of the mountain to make the task manageable.

The venture proved a failure as coal was cheap at the time and the long and arduous haulage swallowed up any profits..  Ambitious proposals were made to sink a shaft and haul the coal to level country to be loaded on to a tramway built to Jervis Bay.

Like so many other schemes it did not reach fruition.

Despite continued interest, coal mining never developed in the district, nothing came of the railway or the Jervis Bay Federal Port.   Coal in commercial quantities has never been commercially extracted from the district. 


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