Showing posts with label Coal mining Hamilton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Coal mining Hamilton. Show all posts

Saturday, 4 January 2014

A Great Fall of Roof - the Hamilton Mine Disaster

He denied he’d been warned, that the conversations had ever taken place. After all, James Sharp was acting Overman at the Hamilton Pit, and his word would be sure to stand over that of the miners before the Coroner. Sharp had the authority.

It was early on a Saturday, 22 June 1889, an ordinary working day for the 100 or so miners except that first up, they would change the working positions they’d held for three months. The change was based on a draw for places. Each pair of miners would move to fresh workings throughout the pit, 200 feet underground. They’d take in their tools and get organised for the long day. Wheelers, who pushed the loaded skips back out to the surface, were assigned to each position. That day, four ponies were down the Hamilton Pit.

The Hamilton Pit (or H Pit, Glebe Pit, or New Pit, as it was variously known), was under what is now Thomas Street, Hamilton South, near Glebe Road. The Newcastle Museum located the H Pit at 275 Beaumont Street. In some documents, the Hamilton Pit is placed in Merewether.

New Pit, Glebe, Newcastle NSW, 1887
Photograph by Ralph Snowball, part of the Norm Barney Photographic Collection, Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, Australia

Work started at 6.30 am;  men were making their way to their positions from 6 am onwards. Some had breakfast before starting work.

Miners crib tin and water bottle 
Crib’ refers to a meal eaten at break time in mines
Photograph courtesy of the Barry Howard Collection,
Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, Australia

Within three hours, ‘the most appalling’ disaster to have occurred in NSW’ [1] up until 1897 would terrify and trap men and boys underground, killing 11, and ruining the lives of their families.


Bronze relief from the Miners Memorial Wall, Aberdare

The permanent Overman, or mine manager, was absent that day, and James Sharp was Acting Overman. Two deputies, James Hodson and Anthony Turnbull, each had responsibility for a cluster of positions, or work sites. The delineation of responsibility was clear. Another Deputy, George Embleton junior, was not down the mine at the time of the calamity, though he assisted with the rescue effort later.

We know in detail what happened that morning, because of evidence given to an inquest [2] before City Coroner Mr George Martin, JP and a jury of twelve. The inquest was into the death of one man, Herbert Pettit. His was the first body to be recovered, a long 10 days after the disaster.

·         The boss, Overman Sharp had 40 years of practical mining experience. When he’d done his rounds that morning, he’d noted nothing to alarm him. At one position, where miner John Acton was to be working, he saw ‘the roof troubled, and the pillar ripping’ but thought there was no danger.

·         When Acton arrived at his position, he was definitely alarmed. Hearing the rock creaking very badly overhead, he brought out the tools, telling three wheelers not to go in. Finding Deputy James Hodson, his immediate superior, he reported that it was not safe for anyone to work at that position. John Acton also told Overman Sharp. He felt ignored by both bosses. Hodson would not survive.

·         Another miner David Inglis met John Acton making his way to safety. Inglis too decided to get out, warning others to do likewise or they would not come out alive. The booming right over their heads followed them all the way. Inglis thought the roof gave ‘excellent warning’.

·         Miner William Galloway also went in search of Sharp to tell him the mine was ‘working’. ‘He told me to let it come in, he could not help it’. Galloway started to push a skip but got no more than 60 yards when a blast of wind, coal dust and stone struck him and several of his men. They were knocked down and lost their lamps; they sheltered for a time under an upturned skip. Eventually someone found a light and they escaped with great difficulty.

·         Michael Ryan, a skip wheeler, heard the mine working and ran to find Hodson. When he told Hodson what was happening, and that he was afraid to go in for fear of a fall, he was told, ‘if you can’t do it, someone else will take your place’. Ryan felt intimidated, and went back to work, afraid he would be discharged.

·         Another wheeler, also by the name of Ryan, had experienced the bumping and creaking of the mine ‘working’, when he met Overman Sharp. He too, was afraid - he did not think it was his place to tell Sharp what he thought.

·         Anthony Turnbull, another Deputy, was not in charge of the headings where movement was occurring. But he visited one of them, heard the creaking, and ‘thought she would come down – within an hour’. Other men heard this forecast.

·         Miner Francis Ford checked out the position where Morgan and Thompson were working. He said he thought the timber should be renewed as it was not safe. Returning to his own position and beginning to fill a skip, Ford heard first signal of danger over his head. Then came a succession of cracks, like a rattle of thunder. As he ran for his life, down came the top – Ford was partly buried, lost everything, but others came, and somehow they escaped.

Miner’s safety lamp used 1815 to the 1930s
They were much safer than oil and carbide lamps as the flame was enclosed  to reduce the chance of igniting gases
Photograph courtesy of the Barry Howard Collection, Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, Australia

In small groups at their working positions, throughout the Hamilton Pit, miners heard the eerie creaking overhead. Urgently, intensely aware of what might happen, they shared information about the conditions among themselves.

No directions were forthcoming from the Overman or his deputies. Men everywhere were deciding for themselves it was not safe, and gathering their tools. They ran, warning others as they did so, while rock and earth fell around them. Men scrambled over the falls, and David Moore heard Peate senior calling for help. Earlier, Robert McDougall had been unable to help Peate in the fall, which left them all in the dark. Peate was left with only his head and shoulders uncovered.

William Galloway heard the voices of Dan Masson and John Banfield calling for help, but could find neither. He did find Jabez Roberts, an older experienced miner, on top of a fall of earth and coal, bleeding freely. At Jabez’ wish, Galloway left him, with a bottle of tea and some food. Jabez Roberts did not survive.

Mine disaster day – crowds gather to await news (1889)
Photograph courtesy Newcastle Museum

The verdict

The inquest found that Herbert Pettit’s death was caused by a fall of stone and coal in the Hamilton Pit on 22 June, 1889. Edward Blackburn received the highest praise and commendation of his efforts to rescue Pettit. The cause of the fall, in the opinion of the jury, was a weakness in the pillars, being too small for the weight of the roof.

Exhibition on Beaumont Street, Hamilton at the Newcastle Museum
The miner’s stories are re-enacted here – visitors are invited to listen to them by placing their head inside the adjacent module

Recommendations were made to legislate for specific dimensions of pillars and bords, and for more government inspectors with greater powers. The decision went on:

‘Finally, we consider that Mr James Sharp, the Overman, neglected his duty in not calling the men out when it was reported to him that the pit was working so badly’.

Miner David Inglis, in his evidence, had stated unequivocally that had the men been warned by Sharp when he came in at 8 am, there would have been time for all to get out – men and ponies.

Sharp had told the Inquest he was not aware of what Hodson had been told by Ryan and Acton. He denied telling William Galloway to ‘let it come in, he could not help it’.

How was it that so many of the men at work that morning, including one of the deputies, clearly grasped that danger was imminent, yet this escaped Sharp and Hodson? Were they so convicted of the need to keep the mine working that morning that they were prepared to ignore the most compelling of signs?

John Dixon, Inspector of Collieries for the Northern District, would not be drawn on whether he thought the men should have been called out. He was reserving that information he said, for the Minister for Mines. Rebuked by the Coroner, Dixon narrowly escaped being committed for contempt of court.

The NMH had been prolific and responsible in its coverage of the disaster. On 2 August, 1889 it published an assessment of Sharp’s neglect and concluded that there appeared to be a prima facie case of liability by the AA Company. The question of liability had implications for the future of the families who had lost breadwinners.

The rescue

Recovery of the bodies proceeded slowly, due to the danger the collapsed workings posed to the rescuers. While the first body, that of Herbert Pettit, was recovered 10 days after the fall, it was not until 2 August, 41 days later, that 2 more were found. Other discoveries followed, until the last, David Proctor, was brought to the surface on 8 September - 78 days after the fall.

Miner's body being carried out - bronze relief at the Miners Memorial Wall, Aberdare

How long did the men and ponies survive underground? The rescuers brought back harrowing descriptions of the state of those they found. At a later inquest into the death of Deputy Overman James Hodson, Dr Harris gave his professional opinion death was not due to starvation, but from the effects of foul air. How could this be consolation for anguished families and friends?

The jury viewed Hodson’s body, which presented a truly terrible sight, his skin hanging like folds of dried parchment. Aged 56, Hodson was considered a careful miner. How he would have wished that on 22 June, 1889, he had exercised even greater care and wiser judgement.

The management of the rescue operation is another story. It seems fraught with failures of judgement, decision making and action by those in authority. In the second inquest, the AA Company was criticised for a lack of urgency in its approach to the rescue effort, and not using proper procedures. Reading the accounts, one word comes to me – callousness.

This jury returned a similar verdict to that in the case of Pettit, again stating the view that Sharpe was culpable, and to a lesser extent, Hodson.

Funeral of Glebe Pit men, St Augustine's, Merewether (3 July 1889)
Photograph by Ralph Snowball, part of the Norm Barney Photographic Collection, Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, Australia

Sharpo the pit pony

The plight of the pit ponies should not be forgotten. Four ponies laboured underground with the wheelers. Regan’s pony was found dead from starvation, a mass of skin and bone. Twelve days after the mine collapse, a member of the rescue party heard breathing. A pit pony was found, miraculously surviving by licking water that was dripping onto his foreleg. The pony was carried to the underground stables on boards covered with canvas, tended with great care, and given gruel. He was identified as Sharpo, and for three days, became a celebrity and symbol of hope for waiting families. Sadly, three nights later, Sharpo refused food. He died the next morning.

Coal miners and a pit pony, Hunter Valley, NSW (n.d.)
Photograph courtesy of the Bert Lovett collection, part of the Norm Barney Photographic Collection, Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, Australia

Relief efforts and compensation

Quickly after the disaster, the community acted to raise funds for the relief of those affected.There were appeals, concerts and generous acts, such as the cancellation of debts by business owners.

The AA Company fought back, protesting against the verdict at what seemed to be a staged public meeting in Williams’ Hotel, Hamilton. It was not until 4 November, 1889 that an announcement was made by the AA Company as to the financial assistance it would provide for the families of the deceased. The Company recognised no legal responsibility for what had happened to their breadwinners, but would make fortnightly payments in respect of wives and children.

These are the men who died

...entombed in the Hamilton Pit disaster of 22 June, 1889 -












Miners Memorial Wall, Aberdare

This memorial commemorates the deaths - and lives - of at least 1532 of those who have died in the Northern District Coalmines of NSW since mining began there in 1891. It includes those who died in the Hamilton Pit. The memorial wall can be found in the grounds of the United Mineworkers Federation of Australia, Aberdare.

To learn about other Hamilton miners who lost their lives, read this story.

Unattributed photographs by Ruth Cotton.


Special acknowledgement is made of the chapter on 'The Catastrophe at the Glebe' in the book by Frank Maxwell and Elaine Sheehan: Nineteenth Century Coalmining-Related Deaths in the Hunter (2004).

[1] Stated by City Coroner Mr George Martin, JP as reported in the NMH 10 July 1889.
[2] Maxwell, F and Sheehan, E: Nineteenth Century Coalmining-Related Deaths in the Hunter (2004) Chapter ‘The Catastrophe at the Glebe’.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

A Mine Manager's Retreat - the AA Company House

Status is having a house on the crest of a hill, fireplaces in every room, and your own underground water tank  so you don’t have to queue to draw water with the wives of miners.

Status can also mean responsibility - lying awake, desperate for sleep, dreading the first light. Imagine that your boss, Superintendent of the AA Company, [1] has commissioned you to bring in ‘scab labour’ from Victoria and South Australia, and to destroy the coal miners union, once and for all.

John Barron Winship was the third senior AA Co. employee (the Viewer, or manager, of collieries) to live in the compact but elegantly proportioned 19th century residence on Cameron’s Hill. 1862 was a big year for industrial unrest and conflict in the mining settlements that were to become Hamilton. He would have had a multitude of sleepless nights.

AA Company house with lime wash over brick on exterior walls (2013)

Winship had had an early triumph, striking “good, clean” coal in 1861. His predecessor, Robert Whytte, had had a terrible time trying to prove a coal seam existed. Winship was the gambler sitting down at a poker machine just after the previous occupant has left, broke and in despair. At the first pull, the machine spews out everything it’s been holding onto. Robert Whytte had been dismissed in January, 1860. Winship got the payout.

Winship’s luck was not to hold. First, though, the house.

It’s called the AA Company house, in a battle-axe block behind 195 Denison Street, Hamilton. The gate is secured with a mighty lock.

Notice on the entry gate to the AA Company house

Owned by the Newcastle City Council since 1995, the most obvious anachronism at first sight is the gleaming silver 21st century Colorbond roof. A heritage viewing panel allows sight of the original timber shingles.

AA Company house showing original timber shingles

The condition of the house is described in the Council’s heritage assessment as
fair to poor, suffering dry rot, termite damage, rising damp and other problems due to age and long years of neglect. [2]  Although the house has been opened to the public on occasion in the past, its condition is now considered too delicate. Sarah Cameron, the Council’s Heritage Officer, opened it for Jenny Pritchard, fifth generation descendant of the previous owners, the Little family, and me.

For almost 140 years, the Little family, and their descendants were resident in/owners of this house  - from 1876 until it was purchased by Council in 1995. Jenny Pritchard grew up with her grandparents and parents in an adjacent house at 197 Denison Street, built in 1937 on land that had been subdivided from the original AA Company house block. Her great grandparents William and Alice Little  lived in the AA Company house, William having purchased it from the Company in 1914.

Walking through this old home with someone who had grown up running in and out of it as a child breathed  precious vitality into its desolate, silent spaces.

The large block, with its lawns, fruit trees, flower and vegetable gardens and chicken coop, was sub divided around 1920. Long since cleared of any trace of the self sufficient lifestyle of its early occupants, the much smaller yard is neatly maintained. Newcastle City Council has connected power to the house, stabilised and repaired the roof, had damaged windows reglazed and doors repaired. An archiving and cataloguing project has been completed, with 108 items identified of heritage interest, including furniture, linoleums, wallpapers and soft furnishings.

Jenny Pritchard, 5th generation descendant of the Little family (2013)
Jenny is in the yard of the AA Company house  where as a child, she climbed her favourite peach tree to watch the Broadmeadow races from her perch

On Entering...
As we walk in, I am captivated by the narrow, concrete floored verandah with a decorative timber valance.

The verandah ceiling is rustic, with exposed timber beams, battens and roof shingles.

Then I see the front door, with four glass panels etched with fleur-de-lys, and an impressive knocker. This was status!

A long narrow entrance hall extends before me, and I immediately begin to watch where I step. Sarah has switched on the lights, which is a great help.

In his poem ‘The Halflife of Coal’ written for the 2010 Exhibition Brought to Light [3]  multi award winning Australian poet Mark Tredinnick writes:

Down the hall time has passed violently at least once –
The earthquake of ’89 or subsidence has opened a seam
In the plaster wide enough to mine.

As I pick my way carefully through the rooms, I am struck by their spaciousness and high ceilings. I had imagined low doorways, and small oppressive rooms.
Every ceiling is different - lath and plaster, corrugated iron sheet with timber mouldings, pressed metal, and fibrous plaster board. Sitting and dining room ceilings are coffered, with sunken panels.

Not all have survived –
                                                      ......and here the ceiling slumps
Between its battens, out of its mind with missing the child, perhaps. [4]

There is a pantry, and the adjoining kitchen is huge, compared with my imagining…

In the kitchen
There’s a tap without a basin, and no one stopped the newspapers
Till late September ’65.[5]

Floors are timber board, with several layers of linoleum. Their patterns can be seen here. Newspapers used to be placed under new  lino, leaving a treasure trove of history to be discovered by future generations of renovators. Old newspapers are scattered in the kitchen but no treasures are to be found. Anything of historical value has been removed for storage in the Newcastle Museum. Some items been lost, custodians unaware of their heritage story.

Curtains and wallpaper are still there, in poor condition but intact.


Deterioration is everywhere.

                                    ...the house feels as empty

As a tomb. [6]

The large drawing room has been set up with a historical display but the posters are faded and out dated.

Fireplaces abound. In the parlour, bedrooms and dining room they have cast iron inserts, with surround and mantles of timber, and decorative hearths of ceramic tiles.

Jenny Pritchard in the drawing room (2013)

Outside again
The bathroom/laundry outhouse is a free standing timber building clad in sawn weatherboards. It is accessed from the kitchen.


Towards the end of World War II, when Jenny’s parents married, they moved to live with her mother’s parents, Dixon and Clarice Little at 197 Denison Street. When Jenny and her sister were born, there were three generations living in the same house.

Jenny’s father Donald McCourt used the outhouse next door as his den – a retreat from hectic family life in quite a small house. ‘The den had carpet, comfy chairs, a stereo and books,’ Jenny tells me.

The toilet is on the southern side of the house, oddly opposite to the bathroom, but sensibly near the bedrooms.

Back on the front verandah, I see the big lock hasn’t deterred everyone. Names have been scrawled in the dust on the four-pane double hung timber windows, which are deteriorating.

Along the veranda, the bricks have been painted and many layers can be seen here.

  In his poem, 'The Halflife of Coal', Mark Tredinnick wonders  -

 How many women have run their hands like rivers

Along these pitted bricks incarnadine, on their way
To the well out back?

An underground tank  providing the family with their private water supply is preserved in the back yard of the house next door. Water from the roof would have been directed into it from the roof. Peering carefully through the fence, we are surprised at how large it is.

A metal sun hood protects the attic from the strong northern sun.

Jenny's childhood playhouse  is now out of bounds because of the precarious stairs.

Era of the mine managers

Can a house go on a journey?

Why was it brought into existence? What befell it, over the years? Who loved it, and who abandoned it?

The original cottage was built in 1849/50 for the Overman of the AA Company’s mining works at Hamilton. The Company wanted a supervisor resident on the spot, not three miles away at their Newcastle operations. The downside was that the managers and their families were quite isolated, especially from their peers.

The first resident of the house was James Lindsay, from 1849 until at least 1854. As Overman (today the equivalent to a deputy), Lindsay was  employed to oversee the day to day operations of the collieries, including the newly opened D Pit.  The D Pit was between Denison and Veda Streets, more or less opposite St Peter’s Anglican Church. It became known as The Borehole.

The house was within easy sight of D Pit, fronting the track known as Pit Row, separated from the workers slab huts opposite by a high picket fence with double gates. We stood on the front veranda and imagined looking down at the motley collection of huts.

AA Company's Borehole No. 2 Pit, Hamilton
Courtesy Newcastle Region Library

In the 2010 Exhibition Brought to Light, Adelaide visual artist and photographer Darren Siwes restaged and enlivened this imagining through enacting a scene of neighbouring miners crowding against the separating fence, pushing against the mine manager’s privacy as a figure hurries inside the front door. Darren’s photographs are eerily haunting – look them up here.

Although originally just four rooms around a central corridor when it was built in 1849/50, the house was substantial and ornate enough to set it well above the average workers’ housing. Read more about miner’s living conditions  here.

Lindsay was a skilled mechanic who planned and supervised the re-laying of the tramway which led from the Borehole to the Company’s coal staithes at Newcastle. That project alone would have given him plenty of sleepless nights. In addition, he managed to keep the C Pit in Newcastle in production for two years longer than expected.

Lindsay Street, Hamilton is named for James Lindsay.

A sturdy wheelbarrow sits patiently beside the front door. Jenny Pritchard recalls her mother passing on her understanding that the wheelbarrow was an original, from C Pit. Perhaps it was a souvenir acquired by James Lindsay – if not from C Pit, then most likely from the nearby D Pit. I am glad to see it is still there. When I drive along Lindsay Street, that’s what I’ll think of – the lonely vigil of a wheelbarrow, on guard since perhaps 1850 – could it really be 165 years old?

Wheelbarrow thought to have been from C Pit - perhaps 165 years old

Robert Whyte was believed to have followed James Lindsay in the house, possibly living there from 1858. As Viewer, or Manager of the Company's collieries, Whyte was determined to modernise mining practices. His big challenge was to prove the existence of coal by drilling a new colliery at No 1 Pit, which was to be his showcase. The first shaft flooded; Whytte struggled with old engines, inadequate equipment and tools. The pressure on him was immense; especially since the top man, AA Company Governor Edward Hamilton was visiting for five weeks at the time.

In May 1858, Whyte tried a new location – No 2 Borehole. After heroic efforts, and fearing that the total collapse of the shaft was imminent, he cut his losses and suspended drilling.

Whyte’s apparent failure led to his dismissal early in1860. 

If Whyte had bad dreams, his successor, James Barron Winship, would have had nightmares.

Winship took up drilling at the No. 2 Borehole, and persisting single mindedly, struck a good seam of coal in 1861.

What followed had its roots in a change in the balance of power among coal proprietors, as the AA Company lost its monopoly; both the supply of coal and its price were a rollercoaster; and the coal miners unions were flexing their muscles in revolt against pay and conditions.

The zeal Winship had already displayed in drilling despite the risks was now transferred to destroying the unions on behalf of his employer. He became public enemy No. 1 in the settlement, and would truly have needed his retreat.

Too long and complex a story to tell here, it includes strikes (one of them lasting two months), women protesting and setting up barricades  (‘the feminine riots’), and the importing of ‘scab labour’ from interstate and overseas as strike breakers.

Angry and heart breaking scenes of miners and their families being evicted from their poor dwellings to make way for scab workers were common.

Anyone who sympathised with the unions was prosecuted.

Winship took his prosecution role very seriously. One story tells how he pursued two Adelaide men who had absconded from the mines “by locomotive, car and on foot,” until he captured them, arrested them with the help of local police, and had them brought back in chains.

Yet he was a contributing  civic citizen, being on the Hamilton School Board, and instrumental in getting an entirely new building and teachers residence in 1871.

Denison Street [8]used to be called Winship Street. I guess Winship was doing his bosses’ bidding, but he could hardly have been popular.

The first kitchen of the AA House was probably detached, and it is no surprise that a new kitchen was built in 1861, and possibly the back verandah. James Winship’s wife would have been the first to benefit from these welcome additions, especially the kitchen. With her husband at war with the workforce, she would have welcomed such consolations.

Winship resigned in 1876, and subsequently drowned.

Era of the Engineers

After Winship had resigned in 1876, the AA Company house was used to accommodate Company engineering staff. Thus began almost 140 years of association with the Little family. Over these years, a kind of campus for the extended family developed over the sub divisions of the original block.

Dixon Little was a highly respected engineer with a background in major water supply projects in England. He followed Winship’s occupancy of the AA House, with his wife Mary.

Dixon Little (n.d.)
From the personal collection of Jenny Pritchard

Mary Little (n.d.)
From the personal collection of Jenny Pritchard  

Dixon Little was to work for the AA Company for 16  years. He superintended underground engineering operations at the time of the tragic fall in H Pit, in which 11 workers died in 1889. On his retirement, he was presented with an Illuminated Address for his dedicated service to the AA Company, and  a purse of sovereigns as a token of the respect in which he was held.

Illuminated Address presented to Dixon Little by the AA Company
From the personal collection of Jenny Pritchard
Double click on the photo to enlarge and read it

Dixon Street, Hamilton, is named after Dixon Little.

Interestingly, William Little, Dixon’s son and Jenny Pritchard’s great grandfather, took over not only his father’s position as an engineer with the AA Company, but also the residence. Some renovations were made at this time.

William Little (n.d.)
From the personal collection of Jenny Pritchard

William and Alice Little were in residence when further additions of a dining room/pantry were made in 1899/1900, and a large sitting room created by opening up two existing rooms. At this time the house virtually doubled in size.

William Little purchased the house from the AA Company in 1914, as it became surplus to Company needs. Subsequently, the land was divided into three blocks, with new residences built for family members on either side of the original house.

In 1920 the interior of the AA House was redecorated, and the bathroom/laundry constructed. How had the families managed without these facilities up until 1920?

In 1933, William Little retired.

After William died in 1945, his wife Alice and son Charles continued to live in the AA House. Alice died in 1948 – Jenny was just 2 years old, but remembers her great grandmother playing with her on the front verandah of the house.

Alice Little (n.d.)
From the personal collection of Jenny Pritchard

Charles, William’s son, who had never married, was killed in 1963:

And the last life lived here stopped in 1963. Charles

Milligan (sic) is killed and the house stands unused: [9]

The AA House remained vacant for 30 years, owned by William Little’s granddaughter and Jenny’s mother, Mrs Naomi McCourt. No one knew quite what to do with the house, but the family cared for it as best they could.

The future of the AA House was to change radically when Newcastle resident and local historian David Campbell identified the heritage value of the house and convinced the Newcastle City Council of its significance. Then began a period of dialogue with Mrs McCourt, which finally saw the house saved and transferred to public ownership. That is another story.

In the meantime, Mrs McCourt cared for her aging father Dixon Allan Little, with whom she had shared a house her whole life.

Dixon A Little (n.d.)
From the personal collection of Jenny Pritchard

After Dixon A Little  died in 1992, aged 100, Naomi decided she wanted her own home at last. She had a new house built at the front of 195 Denison Street, the AA House becoming a battle axe block. Sadly, she was only to enjoy it for 5 years before having to move into a care facility. Naomi McCourt died in 2010.

Naomi McCourt (n.d.)
From the personal collection of Jenny Pritchard

What Next?

For Jenny Pritchard, the AA House was always part of her life, until she qualified as a teacher and left Newcastle.

Jenny Pritchard tells me:

‘As a grew older, I used to say – this house would be a good museum. But others were not aware of its importance until it was almost derelict and found by David Campbell.’

There is a Conservation Plan for the House, but Newcastle City Council is experiencing severe financial constraints right now. It is not likely much more will be done for the house, in the short term. The good news is that the House is not on the list of Council assets up for sale.

‘I felt quite sad at the state of deterioration inside,’ Jenny says. ‘I really do hope that restoration can continue.’

Perhaps if someone came along who was willing to bring life back to this unique house, with full regard to its heritage, Council might be willing to have a conversation. It is, after all, considered to be one of the oldest intact colliery structures in Australia.

Mark Tredinnick has the last word, for now -

The past is in here somewhere: for there’s no present without a past,
And here we are. To forget the past, it is said, is to plant cut flowers

In your garden, and plainly there’s no future in that.[10]

Update - sale and NSW state heritage listing

In August 2016, the AA Company house was put up for sale by the Newcastle City Council. Purchase by a qualified buyer was approved in May 2017, with a positive covenant to implement the Conservation Management Plan. A portion of the sale proceeds are to go to interpretative plaques highlighting the history of the AA Company in Hamilton.

In August, 2017 this house achieved a special honour for Hamilton: it is now listed in the NSW State Heritage Register. This listing recognises its heritage significance to Newcastle and to the people of NSW. 

Even though the AA house is no longer in public ownership, a private owner committed to its heritage, the proposed interpretive plaques and the recent NSW State Heritage listing secure its future as a tangible reminder of the mining origins of the suburb of Hamilton.


Sarah Cameron, Heritage Officer, Newcastle City Council.

Jenny Pritchard, 5th generation descendant of the Little family.

David Campbell, Heritage Consultant.

Brought to Light, 2010 Exhibition of the Newcastle Lock-Up Cultural Centre.

Mark Tredinnick, for his poems published as part of this Exhibition.

NSW Department of Environment and Heritage – Statement of Significance – AA House. This includes substantial references to David Campbell’s independent research, reproduced in the Conservation Management Plan, Suters Architects.

Peter Murray, From Borehole to Hamilton Jubilee, 1858 – 1921, Self published, 2006.

Unless attributed, all photographs by Ruth Cotton.

[1] The Australian Agricultural Company, owner of lands and coal mines in Newcastle and the Hunter.



[4] Mark Tredinnick, The Halflife of Coal, published in 2010 Exhibition of the Newcastle Lock-Up Cultural Centre.

[5] Mark Tredinnick, The Halflife of Coal, published in 2010 Exhibition of the Newcastle Lock-Up Cultural Centre

[6] Mark Tredinnick, The Halflife of Coal, published in 2010 Exhibition of the Newcastle Lock-Up Cultural Centre

[7] Mark Tredinnick, The Halflife of Coal, published in 2010 Exhibition of the Newcastle Lock-Up Cultural Centre

[8] Sir William Denison, after whom Denison Street was named, was Governor of NSW from 1855-1861.

[9] Mark Tredinnick, The Halflife of Coal, published in 2010 Exhibition of the Newcastle Lock-Up Cultural Centre

[10] Mark Tredinnick, The Halflife of Coal, published in 2010 Exhibition of the Newcastle Lock-Up Cultural Centre.