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Coal Mines Historic Site

Source: Go to the National Heritage List for more information.
Identifier: 105931
Location: Coal Mine Rd, Saltwater River
Local
Government:
Tasman Municipality
State: TAS
Country: Australia
Statement of
Significance:
The 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.
 
The 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 house.
 
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.
 
The 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 complex. 
 
Different 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. 
 
Description: 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 Plunkett Point.

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 burning.

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 exploratory shaft. 
 
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 (1987).
 
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 Museum collection.

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Report produced : 31/10/2014
AHPI URL : http://www.heritage.gov.au/ahpi/search.html