Coal Mines Historic Site
||Go to the National Heritage List for more information.
||Coal Mine Rd, Saltwater River
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.
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
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.
place shows the hierarchy of officers accommodation with the elevated location
of the commanding officers 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
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
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
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
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
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