Mining operations at the Metropolitan Colliery commenced in March 1886, accompanied by an official ceremony to mark the turning of the first sod for the sinking of the No1 shaft. The shaft struck the coal seam on 14 March 1888. The plans to open a mine followed The Cumberland Coal Company being granted a long term lease of 18000 acres (6020 ha) of Crown land in the Parish of Heathcote, and in 1883 commence the sinking of a number of prospecting boreholes. In November 1884 the results of this prospecting confirmed that the coal seams being successfully mined in the Illawarra to the south were present below the surface and a site nearby Camp Creek was chosen as the site to sink two shafts and develop a mine. The capital funding required to open the mine were raised in England, after attempts in Australia were unsuccessful. The Metropolitan Coal Company was floated in London in 1886 with a Directorate of the Company based in Sydney. In 1886 the Metropolitan Coal Company was registered in Sydney.
The mine site was located 28 miles (45 km) from Sydney. The Sydney to Wollongong rail line was under construction nearby at that time, and would provide the opportunity to deliver coal by rail to markets that could include the State railways, visiting shipping and customers in the Sydney area.
Sinking of two vertical shafts commenced in 1886 and the No1 or Bulli Seam was intersected by the No1 Shaft in March 1888 at a depth of 1095 ft. (335 m) with the No2 Shaft reaching the seam in 1889 after intersecting a 220 ft. (60 m) fault lying above the Bulli seam that was to delay the completion of the sinking and providing a roadway linking the two shaft underground. Orders were placed overseas for the supply of the major plant and included shaft headframes and winding engines, steam power plants, mine roadway haulage engines, mine ventilation fans. Work commenced on the construction of a spur line to the passing Sydney to Wollongong rail line, rail wagon handling loop lines and shunting areas along with surface and administration buildings.
A daily production of 40 to 50 tonnes of saleable coal was achieved during 1888 and whilst the coal was very easy to mine and explosives were not required, the seam was very gassy, and all underground employees were provided with locked oil flame safety lamps. At the start of mining in 1889, 74 men were employed and production for that year reached 14,500 tons. In 1893 the men employed had increased to 331 and the mine recorded an annual production of 194,500tons.
The mine was the first in Australia to encounter the outbursting of gas from the seam when a high pressure pocket of carbon dioxide and/or methane gases, resulted in the deaths of 3 men in June 1895. Further outbursts led to both fatal and non fatal injuries to miners and pit ponies from suffocation. Outbursting became a feature of this mine whilst ongoing preventative measures were researched, trialled and adopted. (Outbursts accounted for the death of 7 men at the mine, 3 in 1896, 2 in 1925, and 2 in 1954.)
As the mine developed electric generating plant was installed to satisfy the mines increased needs for electric power and to supply, for a time the township of Helensburgh and the nearby Waterfall Sanatorium.
The Contract system of mining ceased in 1951 and the progressive introduction of the mechanised mining equipment, that began in the 1950’s followed. The Shaft skip winding coal haulage system was replaced by the driving of an inclined drift from the surface to underground. A seam to surface Conveyor belt coal haulage system and rail track system, supported by a direct rope haulage was installed for transporting Personnel and Materials in out of the mine.
A Coal Preparation Plant was erected in the late 1950’s. The plant has been the subject of a number of major upgrades and continues to operate at this time. During the AI&S ownership of the mine washed coal from the plant was purchased by the BHP Newcastle Steel Works for Coke making.
The mine was purchased by AI&S in 1965. A major refurbishment of the mine site was undertaken as part of plans to increase the production capacity of the mine and improve the existing mine facilities. This work included an upgrade of the mines power supply system and the No2 Shaft Koepe Personnel Winder. The mine surface working area was increased by infilling and providing the drainage of a valley crossing the surface area, constructing a covered access way from the Bathroom/Lamp Cabin/Mine Office complex to the Drift Portal area, and addressing the environmental issues related to the mine site.
A ventilation shaft was sunk in the south western area of the mine lease in 1976 and a modern Mine Ventilation Fan installed to support the increased underground ventilation needs of the mine.
Several changes in the ownership of the mine followed the AI&S sale of the mine in 1987.These changes including a reduction in employees and on several occasions a doubtful future for the continued operation of the mine.
In 1995 the owners at that time, introduced the Longwall system of mining. This method of mining brought with it the need for careful consideration of the covering surface areas, natural and manmade features, water storage dams and their catchment areas, roadways and adjacent streams and water ways.
The mine has experienced over its very long life a succession of owners, and is currently owned and operated by the Peabody Energy Company who purchased the mine in 2007.