In 1857 Thomas Hale, a Woonona businessman, opened the second coal mine in Illawarra, on the Escarpment behind Woonona on Portion 63, Parish of Woonona, on land owned by Henry Osborne.  Hale leased the working of the mine to John Mullen on a royalty[1] basis, with Mullen later becoming a partner with Hale, in this venture.

A two-tunnel system of mining was chosen, and these tunnels were driven in the Bulli Seam.  This system of mining was to adversely affect the profitability of the mine, when one of these underground roadways intersected the cinder band in the Bulli Seam, and limited any further development of the mine to the west. Mining continued to the south in good quality coal, that was dumped on the surface into an inclined wooden chute.  This coal was passed over an iron grating to be screened and unloaded into drays.  The drays were hauled by bullocks across country to a jetty erected at the Bellambi Point.  The coal was unloaded on to the jetty and reloaded into a rowing boat/s, and taken to the ship waiting offshore.[2]  The first load of coal was transported to the jetty on the 11th of November 1857,[3] and on the 17th of December of that year a load of 40 tons of coal was shipped to Sydney to bunker the awaiting ship, the Washington.

Bulli Mine, 1857
(Courtesy of Wollongong City Library and
Illawarra Historical Society P08242)

The demand for coal from this mine increased rapidly, and Thomas Hale found it necessary to upgrade the facilities at the mine.  The original low level, short length wooden jetty erected in the Bellambi Harbour reached out into the sea to a shallow depth of 6 ft. (0.9m) of water at its outer end.  A punt capable of carrying 15 tons of coal was later employed to replace the earlier rowing boats.  In 1858, construction was commenced on a 3ft 6in. (1.06m) gauge tramway, 2.75 miles (4.5 km) in length, from the colliery to the loading point at the Bellambi Harbour.  The “rails” for this tramway were constructed of hardwood with a covering strip of steel and attached to wooden sleepers laid on the ground.  The rail wagons were hauled along this rail track, by horses.  Further work on the jetty led to its being progressively extended to a length of 570 ft. (173m), and in 1858, the annual production output from the mine, reached 3580 tons (3637t).[4]

In early 1858, Hale purchased the schooner Nightingale for the coal trade, and in 1859 the owner of the property in which the mine was located, Mr Henry Osborne, purchased a 50% share in the Woonona Colliery.  Thomas Hale purchased several ocean-going vessels to enable the company to maintain a regular supply of coal to both overseas markets, and to Sydney, Adelaide, and Geelong.  In June 1863, the Duke of Wellington, a vessel purchased earlier by Mr. Hale, capsized during a storm while standing offshore, north of the Bellambi Harbour.[5]  Five lives were lost in the sinking. The loss of this vessel, and the earlier decision to adopt the two-tunnel system of mining, were to create severe financial constraints on the continued development of the mine, and hence its production capacity. In 1863, these issues and the loss of the Duke of Wellington, led to the closure of the mine, and an advertisement appeared in the press seeking its sale. Mr. John Mullen (the original partner in the project) purchased the mine soon after, only to close it again after a short time.  The mine, railway and jetty were abandoned for some twenty years, during which time the tramway and the jetty both suffered the ravages of time and were rendered worthless  

Illawarra Mercury 16 June 1863 (via Trove)

In 1882, Henry Osborne re-opened the original Hales Woonona mine and in 1883 leased the 800 acres (323ha) of coal and surface lands of the mine to Messrs Mitchell and Woolcott–Waley.  These two men commenced the restoration and development of the mine by driving new tunnel entries between the two entry tunnels driven earlier to open the Hales Woonona Mine.

The existing surface mine entry and screening plant areas were found by the new owners to be congested and the original incline haulage system was repositioned, on a new alignment to the north of the original incline, along with new incline haulage plant.  The incline haulage rail track was now some 600 metres in length, with a mid-point passing loop for the descending (full) and the ascending (empty) wagons.  A new tramway following closely along the route chosen earlier chosen by Hale was constructed, and a new jetty erected at the Bellambi Harbour, a short distance to the north of the South Bulli Colliery jetty.  The  jetty was erected under the supervision of Mr. George Williams assisted by Flon, a veteran jetty builder, and was designed to reach 1200 ft. (365m) out to sea, and provide a depth of 25ft.(7.6m) of water at its outer end.[6]

These facilities enabled the mine to achieve an initial production capacity of some 450 tons per day.  From 1883 onwards, the colliery was known and variously reported as, the Woonona, the Model, or the Bellambi Colliery.

The Model (aka Woonona or Bellambi) and South Bulli Collieries rail lines,
 and the port at Bellambi Point Jetty.[7]

In 1887, Messrs Mitchell and Woollcott-Waley secured a contract to market all of the coal mined at the adjoining South Bulli Colliery for a period of five years, for six shillings and six pence (6/6d) per ton, delivered on board to steamers at the Bellambi Jetty.

In1888, Mitchell and Woollcott -Waley, formed the Bellambi Coal Company Ltd. (BCC), and purchased the lease granted to them in 1883 by the Osborne family.  A BCC share offer raised £60,000 in capital funding, with all of the shares in the company being fully subscribed.[8]

Prior to the BCC being formed in 1888, Mitchell and Woolcott-Waley had established a partnership as contractors, supplying steamship carrying services to collieries, and marketing all of the coal mined at the adjoining South Bulli Colliery.  As contractors and members of the board of directors of the BCC, Mitchell and Woolcott-Waley prepared an offer to market all the coal mined by the BCC, which was accepted by the board.  Their offer was to market the coal at a guaranteed sale price and profit margin for a period of 5 years.[9]

In 1901, the neighbouring South Bulli Colliery was purchased by the BCC from Mr. Ebernezer Vickery.  This acquisition was followed by a substantial increase in the capital funds of the Bellambi Coal Company.[10]  While Joseph Mitchell occupied the position of a director of the BCC, he was also in control of the operations of the Bellambi Colliery, and in the words of Mr. Gordon Sellers “it operated successfully until 1893, when Mitchell was forced out of the BCC Company.” [11]  

Waley (earlier Woolcott-Waley) Belllambi Coal Company, 1909

It is interesting to note, that in the year 1893, Mitchell and Woollcott Waley dissolved by mutual consent their business partnership as coal contractors.  Joseph Mitchell either chose, or was encouraged by others in the BCC, to cease his involvement in the BCC.  The business carried on following Mitchell’s departure, under the style and title of the BCC.  Woollcott-Waley was appointed manager of the BCC, based in Sydney, occupying the office space previously used as the Sydney office of his partnership with Joseph Mitchell.[12]

The events of 1893 suggest that the continued operation having the contracting business within the BCC, with Woollcott-Waley (now referred to as ‘Waley’) appointed as the manager of the company, was a very attractive arrangement as it included in addition to the marketing of BCC coal, that of all the coal mined at the South Bulli Colliery. [13]

The Model/ Woonona, and Bellambi Colliery mines continued to operate until 1914, when closed for the duration of WW1, and later re-opened for a short time in 1918, before finally closing in 1921.[14]  At a later stage in the development of the adjoining South Bulli Colliery, part of the abandoned working of the Woonona Colliery became part of the underground workings, of the South Bulli Colliery.

An Aerial Ropeway over the Escarpment for Timber Transport

The Model (aka Woonona or Bellambi) Colliery [15]

The Sassafras Sawmill was established in 1917, west of the Model Colliery site, and behind the Escarpment in the Bellambi Creek area.  The site of the mill is now occupied by a State electricity supply substation visible from the passing Mount Ousley/Bulli Tops highway.  The overhead “flying fox” ropeway was installed by the colliery to deliver a supply of pit props down to the mine, from the top of the Escarpment to the mine screens area.  Saleable timber products were also delivered by the same means to the mine screens area to be loaded into wagons and taken down the mine incline.  From this, they would be hauled by steam locomotives to rail sidings on the South Coast railway line for transport to the purchaser.  The sawmill provided pit props for both the Model and South Bulli Collieries.  It was burnt down in 1923, and rebuilt, but was burned down again in 1925-26 and not rebuilt. [16]

RAC 28112021

[1] Illawarra Mercury “Opening of the Bellambi Coal Mine” 16th November 1857p.4

[2] Ibid. p3

[3] Illawarra Mercury “Opening of the Bellambi Coal Mine” 16th November 1857 pp.1-4.

[4] Illawarra: “A Century of History 1788-1888 ’’ James Jarvis Royal Aust. Historical Society 1942 p.287

[5] NSW Heritage Office publication Shipwrecks – Bellambi

[6] Illawarra Mercury 5th January 1899 p.2

[7] Gifford Eardley ‘’ Transporting the Black Diamond’’ 1965 p.48

[8] Illawarra Mercury 5th January 1889 pp.1-5

[9]The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria: 1848-1954)December 15th 1888.p.15.Illawarra Mercury 3rd Nov.1887 p.3

[10] Austen & Butta Ltd. Historic Overview National Coal Week Exhibition 17th April 1991

[11] Mr G. Sellers “The Illawarra Coalfield-A Brief History to 1905” p.18 Aus.I.MM Conference May 1976

[12] Sydney Morning Herald 6th January 1893 p.1

[13] The Mines of the Bellambi Coal Company Ltd 1909 p.1.

[14] Ibid p.18

[15] Aus.IMM Mineral Heritage Collection.

[16] “The Cram Family & the Sassafras Sawmill”  Visit –