Shipping for the industries on the Illawarra coast was to a large part dominated by two mineral products.  While iron ore became important after the founding of the Port Kembla steel plant, the two materials  which drove the development of shipping facilities were coal and stone – both exports from the region.  While coal persists today, the stone industry, while still producing for Sydney and local markets, is now a much lesser player in shipping terms than it was for much of the last century.  But there were common aspects to these industries’ shipping – the difficulty of operating on an exposed and often rough coastline, and from that, the risk to men and ships from the elements.

Along the Illawarra Coast, ca 1900
(Courtesy of the Powerhouse Museum)

Coal: The ‘Colliery Jetties’

In volume terms the shipment of coal from the Illawarra region over the years has been characterised by large loading facilities located in harbours at Wollongong and Port Kembla.  But there were other facilities also, primarily jetties, which were important in their impact on the development of the coal industry in the region.  They are worthy of record also for what they reflect of the early days of the industry – their difficulty in construction, the ingenuity associated with much of their development, and the sheer persistence of those who built and repaired them.

The context in which this was done is well summarised in a passage from JLN Southern’s paper on rail and shipping in the Illawarra.  Speaking of the ‘Colliery Jetties’ (those jetties usually associated with a specific colliery), he noted “(t)he history of the coal loading jetties is grim.  The first impressions of the Illawarra coastline, as being devoid of satisfactory locations for jetties with enough protection to be free from the hazards of wind and storms, were confirmed in damage and destruction of jetties, and ships washed on shores and reefs.  Apart from the helpless early sailing vessels, many steamers had their propellers fouled by broken lines…”.  Life was often hard for those who built and operated the jetties, and the ships which worked them.

The first of the colliery jetties was completed less than nine years after the first shipment of coal from the Illawarra took place, from the Mt Keira mine, through Wollongong Harbour. In all, some six (or possibly seven – see note below) colliery jetties were built along the coast.   They were:

LocationBuiltAbandonedOwner/ CompanyTransportPurpose and Notes
Hale’s Woonona Jetty, Bellambi Point18581863Thomas HaleHorse, Wooden Rails, Standard Gauge 1858Shipping coal Woonona Colliery 1857-63
Taylor & Walker using Hale’s Jetty,18631864Taylor, Walker & Longmore CollieryHorse, Standard GaugeShipping coal 1863-1864
Bulli Jetty18631943Bulli CollieryHorse / Steam Standard Gauge 1867Shipping coal 1863-1936. Coke also shipped in this period
Coal Cliff Jetty18781924Coal Cliff CollieriesCable/ Horse 24 inch (609 mm)Shipping coal 1878-1910
Hicks Point Jetty, Austinmer1886/71896 Destroyed 1898/1903North Illawarra Coal CompanySteam 1886 Standard Gauge Rail TrackShipping coal from North Illawarra and Austinmer Collieries 1887-96
South Bulli Jetty, Bellambi Point18871955South Bulli CollierySteam, Standard Gauge 1887Shipping coal 1887-1954. South Bulli Colliery Jetty collapsed 1955. Demolished 1970
Model/Bellambi Jetty, Bellambi Point18891898Woonona Colliery, Model Colliery, Bellambi CollierySteam, Standard Gauge 1889Shipping coal 1889-1898. Linked to South Bulli Jetty at the Jetty site following storm damage.

Table 1: Colliery Jetties of the Illawarra (extract, from JLN Southern nd)

Thomas Hale’s Woonona Jetty at Bellambi Point

Thomas Hale owned the Woonona mine, the second mine to start operations in the Illawarra.  He was a man of initiative, and developed not only the mine, but also a jetty for shiploading (and an associated tramway from the mine), and a small fleet of ships to carry coal to his customers.  Bellambi Point was selected as the site because of the existence of a reef which provided some degree of shelter to a mooring there.  Prior to the jetty being built, coal was transported by rowing boat to ships lying offshore.  Efficiency was much improved by the construction of a jetty, completed in June 1858.  It was 150 m long (later extended to 173m) and 3 m wide, providing 3.6 m low tide depth of water.  Following commencement of operations at the jetty Hale bought more ships for a coal trade both domestic and export (to China and the US).  One of his purchased vessels was lost in a storm north of Bellambi Harbour and that, and poor trading conditions generally, caused him to close his mine in 1863, with a significant financial loss.

From 1861 Hale had been sharing his jetty with a group who owned a mine at Russell Vale (Messrs Taylor, Walker and Longmore).  They had plans of their own for a jetty, to be built close to Hale’s.  While they had negotiated access with Hale, disagreements broke out between the parties over a number of issues, and the access arrangement broke down.  It is probable that their jetty was never completed, but there is conflicting evidence in this regard.  It is thought that they continued in operation using Hale’s jetty when Hale closed his mine, but that in 1864 (a year of downturn in the coal industry) their mine met a similar fate and closed.  That marked the end of use of Hale’s Jetty at Bellambi Point.  Further jetties however were later to be built at Bellambi Bay, as described below.

The Bulli Jetty at Sandon Point

Sandon Point is one of two points (the other being Waniora Point) framing 900m of east facing beach at Bulli.  In the year that Thomas Hale closed his mine, the Bulli Coal Company undertook the construction of a jetty at Sandon Point to serve their mine which opened that year.  The jetty was 680ft (207m) long, reaching out to 26ft (8m) of water at low tide, and consisted of multiple rows of piles ten feet (3m) apart.  It was of a twin-deck arrangement catering for vessels of different size, larger vessels being serviced from the upper deck, and smaller vessels the lower.  The jetty saw its first shipment on the “George”, a brigantine, in May 1863.  New steamships were subsequently purchased, to support daily coal supply services to Sydney.  The first, the Waniora, was a screw steamer, and the first ship built specifically for the Illawarra coal trade.  The second, Bulli 1 was a sail-assisted steamer.  The unfortunate Waniora sank off Botany Heads in 1882, only one person surviving.

Bulli Jetty ca 1920, Steam Tram Shunting Wagons
(Courtesy of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society (P03534) Collections)

The jetty was only in its second year when the first major storm damage occurred.  In a very severe storm, while plant and equipment such as wagons were moved to safety, nearly half (90m) of the jetty structure itself was washed away.  Three years later tragedy struck as four workmen were drowned when part of the jetty was washed away in another storm.  Following this incident, major modifications and structural reinforcements were made, the repairs and modifications being completed in August 1867, only two months after the storm.

Loading at the Bulli Jetty
(Courtesy of R Cairns)

The Bulli jetty was to remain in service for over seventy years, the last shipment of coal being made in 1936.

The Coalcliff Jetty – the Jetty Mine

 None of the jetties constructed on the Illawarra coast presented an easy task. In terms of a difficult environment, however, the next jetty to be built stands out – the jetty at Coalcliff, built to serve the Jetty Mine, and operating from 1878.  At the base of a steep cliff, with difficult access and little room to work, the jetty presented a major challenge.  Nonetheless it was built, and operated for over thirty years, eventually closing because of developments in its parent mine, and the availability of rail transport for its product.

The jetty was built by Thomas Hale who had earlier built the Bellambi Jetty.  It was 150m long, projecting out in a location with little protection from rough seas.  It experienced its first major damage in a storm of July 1878, only some six months after construction.  The extensive damage led to a raising of the height of the jetty by one metre over its length.  However the risk from rough seas remained, and ships moored at the jetty had to maintain a watch, and have steam raised, for a prompt departure from the jetty should there be signs of an approaching storm.  Further damage occurred in storms  in 1881 and 1904, both leading to major repairs and raising of the jetty, with consequent delays in coal shipping and production – it not being possible to store more than a minimal amount of mine output.

The Jetty Mine Jetty at Coalcliff
(Courtesy of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society (P16553) Collections)

The jetty mine and its associated colliery operations are described here.  The Coalcliff jetty shipped its last coal in 1910.

A Jetty at Austinmer – Hicks Point Jetty

Eight years after the construction of the Coalcliff Jetty, the North Illawarra Coal Mining Company (NICMC) built a jetty at Austinmer to serve their two mines – the North Illawarra No.1 and No.2  Collieries (at Coledale and Austinmer respectively).  It was built a little north of Brickyard Point and gained some shelter from that – but was open to weather from the north.  As at the Coalcliff jetty, vessels at the jetty had to maintain steam in readiness for a quick departure should weather suddenly change.  That did not save one vessel, the Waratah, which became wrecked on the rocks in 1887.

In an interesting corollary, one of the two ships hired at short notice to replace the Waratah had a history of own.  The two ships were the Hesketh and the Governor Blackall.  The latter (named after the then Queensland Governor) had been constructed by the Mort’s Dock and Engineering Company at Balmain, Sydney on an order (covering three such vessels) given by the Queensland Premier while he was visiting Sydney in 1869.  His parliamentary colleagues however rebelled, cancelling the order.  They were unable however to stop the first ship being delivered – but left the premier with little choice but to resign his office.  Thus it was referred to as “the ship that brought down a Premier”.  The Illawarra Historical Sciety holds a large model of the jetty, with Governor Blackall alongside, shown below at a local exhibition.  It was made by a former first mate of the ship.

Hicks Point Jetty Model, with Governor Blackall Alongside

More information on the Hicks Point Jetty may be found here.  A detailed 1887 paper on the construction of the jetty may be found here (Note: 10MB download).

North Illawarra Jetty at Hicks Point, ca 1880
(Courtesy of Trove, National Library of Australia Collections)

The last coal left the Hicks Point Jetty in 1896 after its relatively short life of some ten years.

A New Jetty at Bellambi – the South Bulli Jetty.

Ship Loading, South Bulli Jetty
(Courtesy of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society (P13955) Collections)

The re-opening of the South Bulli Colliery in 1887 by Thomas Saywell brought with it a new jetty at Bellambi Point, to the north of, and quite close to, Thomas Hale’s jetty described above.  The jetty extended 820ft (248m) past the high-water mark, offered a depth of 26ft (8m) above low tide mark, and cost £40,000 to build – but was however to last, shipping coal, for nearly 70 years.

Loading on the South Bulli Jetty at Bellambi
(Courtesy of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society (P03400) Collections)

A Third Jetty for Bellambi

In 1889 the newly-formed Bellambi Coal Company (BCC) built a new jetty at Bellambi, a little distance north of the South Bulli jetty.  The last jetty on the Illawarra coast dedicated to a specific colliery, its construction was overseen by Mr George Williams and the veteran jetty builder Mr Anders de Flon.  It provided a mooring of 25ft (7.6m) at a distance of 1200ft (362m) from shore.

The Jetties at Bellambi
(From Transporting the Black Diamond Gifford Eardley 1965, p.39)

This third jetty was directly related to the first: the coal it handled came from Thomas Hale’s original Woonona mine.  It had been reopened by Henry Osborne in 1882 and subsequently leased in 1883 to Messrs Mitchell and Woolcott-Waley, being known as the Model/Woonona Colliery.  The two lessees  bought the lease of the mine in 1888, and formed the BCC.

The new jetty however was not long-lived.  In 1898 it was destroyed by a storm, which also sank a collier at mooring.  Rather than replace the jetty, the BCC negotiated with South Bulli Colliery for use of their neighbouring jetty, installing new rail loop lines todivert the BCC output to that jetty, and so the South Bulli Jetty came to serve both companies.  Indeed in 1901 the Bellambi company took over South Bulli, and the operations of the previously separate companies were merged.  The jetty formed a significant component of those operations, and remained so until 1954.

Collier Losses

As is apparent, there existed substantial risk to the jetties along the exposed coast, and to those working on them.  The risk however was even greater for the vessels which plied their trade through these jetties.  The area around Bellambi was a major black spot.  The table below lists twenty colliers which traded along this part of the Illawarra coast, and were lost.  All but three (Buonaparte, Waniora and Waratah) were wrecked at Bellambi Bay.  Another, not on that list, was the Hannah – a vessel in transit from Shoalhaven to Sydney with a cargo of food, which was wrecked half a mile north of the Bellambi jetty in 1870.i

1859HelenCutter4th September
1859Victoria PacketBarque4th September
1860Ocean QueenBrigantine
1860ProspectorSchooner18th November
1863Duke of WellingtonSchooner15th June capsized
1864ReaperSchooner12th June
1864BreadalbaneBarque1st October
1864BuonaparteSchooner17th Nov. Sank at sea
1881Queen of NationsBarque
1882LlewellenSteamship22nd May
1882WanioraSteamshipSank Botany Heads
1885Little PetSchooner 13th June
1887Waratab SteamshipJune. Sank at Hicks Point
1895NormanSchooner 28th October
1898MalcolmBrigantine February near jetty
1898SaxoniaSteamship17th May
1909ResoluteSteamship12th July
1949MunmorabSteamship17th May

From Chapter 7 of A History of the Prospecting and Development of Coal Mining in the Illawarra, Southern Highlands and Burragorang Valley  R Cairns, AusIMM Minerals Heritage Subcommittee,  Wollongong, 2017

Other Loading Facilities: The Stone Trade

While the shiploading instillations from Port Kembla north were largely devoted to coal shipment, other facilities south of that port were developed not around the ‘black diamonds’of the north, but the ‘blue gold’ of the Kiama/ Shellharbour area – the basalt rock of volcanic origin found so plentifully there.  The development of the colony and Sydney in particular drove a demand for processed basalt – blocks for Sydney streets, and crushed stone for railway ballast use.  Forany years that trade  was substantially served by sea, and numerous small ships – the ‘stone fleet’.  Like the northern Illawarra, much of the industry depended on that sea transport.  Also and unfortunately like the north, the coastal ex[posure and sea conditions meant that lives and ships were all too often lost.

The three main bases for the trade were quarries at Bass Point, Bombo and Kiama.  Jetties were the shiploading means for the first two, and a small basin harbour for the third.

Bass Point Jetty

The name Wentworth was as prominent in the development of Bass Point as had been the case in Port Kembla.  d’Arcy Wentworth, a wealthy colonial official, was granted in 1816 land of 3,650 acres (1478 ha) which included Bass Point (originally Long Point).  Wentworth named the area the Peterborough Estate.  He later sold 2,560 acres (1036ha) (including Bass Point) to George Laurence Fuller, described as “a proprietor and business man”.  Fuller set about developing a quarry operation, and in 1880 commenced producing from the Bass Point quarry.  A jetty of some 480ft (145m) in length was built by Chambers & Company to service the quarry.  When that company failed, Fuller bought their assets and added more equipment, also buying a steamer, the Platypus.  By 1890 he was operating a thriving basalt business.  He then improved and extended the jetty to 500ft (151m), and commissioned the construction of a ship, the SS Dunmore to carry basalt from Bass Point to Sydney.

SS Dunmore Loading at Bass Point ca 1917
(Courtesy of Shellharbour Library)

The Dunmore remained in service on the Bass Point – Sydney run until 1940 when it and another local steamer (the SS Bombo) were requisitioned for wartime service by the Australian Navy.  While the Bombo returned in 1947, there are no records of the fate of the Dunmore.  It had enjoyed some notoriety in its working life – it being suggested to have been in collisions with (and sunk) six ships in that time.  The quarry itself  had virtually  closed at the onset of World War 2.

The original jetty remained until 1957, when it was largely destroyed by heavy seas. It was later  replaced with a more modern jetty a little to the east of the original, in 1973 when the quarry was reopened.  That jetty is still in operation.

Bombo Jetty

The Bombo jetty had but a short life – not because of a lack of material to transport, but through the arrival of the railway, which provided an easier route for its product to the Sydney market.

In 1834 one James Holt received a land grant of 800 acres (324 ha), which included the Bombo headland immediately north of Kiama. In 1880, a portion of the headland was developed as a blue metal quarry.  In its early days many of the workers lived in tents on site, rough living with a cloud of dust usually covering the operation.  Workers there set up their own hotel, which acquired a reputation as a ‘riotous place’.  To service the output of the quarry, a jetty was developed in 1883.

Bombo Jetty ca 1880s
(Courtesy of Kiama Library)

The jetty’s use was to continue only until 1889.  In 1887, the rail line from Sydney was extended from Port Kembla to Kiama, with a spur line provided to the quarry site.  In 1889, the Railway Commissioners of NSW took over the quarry, and the jetty’s working life was finished, with quarry product diverted to rail.  It fell into disuse and disrepair, and fell down some years later.

Kiama Harbour

Kiama Harbour
(Courtesy of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society (P18852) Collections)

Shipping from Kiama was initially largely about cedar timber being shipped to Sydney.  Taken through Black Beach on the western side of the present harbour from around 1815, the trade was significant – by the 1820s around ninety percent of cedar used in Sydney was shipped from Kiama.  Later gravel from quarries was to join the export trade, and ship loading capacity was augmented by fixing mooring chains to rocks at either end of Black Beach.  (Two of the iron posts securing the chains may still be seen.)   It was a very limited facility.  EO Moriarty, the NSW Engineer-in-Chief for Harbours and Rivers, described it as “a small and shallow indention (sic) in the coast, with a rocky bottom and no anchorage” .  Any meaningful development of the harbour required the provision of a basin and appropriate wharfage – with significant costs.

That development (a basin and associated breakwater) was to take place over nearly seventeen years from 1859, slowed by the presence of hard rock in the basin floor, a storm in 1864 which destroyed much breakwater work done to that time  – but above all by lack of funds.  Funds from government for infrastructure were in total hard to obtain, and made the harder for Kiama by the priority given Wollongong and its basin development.  When the basin was finally completed in 1876, its much anticipated opening was to be a pronounced anti-climax.

Kiama Harbour Under Construction Behind Coffer Dam
(Courtesy of Kiama Library)
Coffer Dam Detail, Kiama Harbour Construction
(Courtesy of the State Library of NSW)

Like the basin at Wollongong, the Kiama basin (to be known as the Robertson Basin after the then Colonial Secretary) had been excavated behind the protection of a coffer dam, with associated pumping to keep the site workable.  The coffer dam as may be seen from the photograph was well stayed internally to resist the pressure of water.  When the long-awaited time came to flood the basin, one of the timbers in the dam was cut to the low water mark to allow the ingress of water, and left overnight on the night of the 3rd September 1876 for the basin to fill.  That part of the operation went successfully.  However the opening in the dam wall had not been made large enough to allow water to quickly escape from the basin when the tide fell.  Persons in the vicinity heard loud noises from the basin around midnight – and in the morning the dam wall was found to have been completely swept away by the outward water pressure of the filled basin.  Fortunately the heavy ballast rock with which the dam had been weighed down had been removed, and so the basin somewhat unceremoniously entered service.

Unlike the Wollongong basin development, there was no extension of the basin during or after initial construction, so the harbour remained a modest size.  As a harbour it catered to both steam and sailing vessels, and its small size was shown by the method needed to be employed to assist sailing ships to not strike the harbor wall opposite the entrance.  A heavy chain was laid on the seafloor across the harbour mouth, and as a sailing ship entered (particularly with a tail wind) it would drop anchor before reaching the chain.  If matters went to plan, the anchor would ‘snag’ the chain on the seafloor, thereby slowing the ship ands allowing safe berthing.  This did not always work.

SS Illawarra in Kiama Harbour (staith on left)
(Courtesy of Kiama Library)

Two staithes for the loading of blue metal were fitted along the eastern side of the basin in 1881, and these allowed dispatch rates of up to 400 tons of blue metal per day by 1883.  Carriage of the blue metal by dray down Kiama’s main street however caused a significant dust problem and other damage.  A tramway was built to ameliorate the problem, but was not successful.

Loading Blue Metal, Kiama Harbour ca 1880s
(Courtesy of the PowerHouse Museum)

In 1911, after the state government had taken over the company transporting the blue metal, another tramway of wider gauge was built, and operated successfully.  Hoppers were installed on the eastern side of the basin, and wagons would pass over the hoppers and drop their loads.  The system was most successful, and the trade continued to grow until the Depression of the 1930s, when many quarries closed.  Then World War II followed, with ships being conscripted for the war effort.  By the time the ships returned after the war, the industry had re-oriented towards road and rail transport, and the days of high port activity were not to return.  While there remained some supplementary use of ships for the trade, the days of Kiama harbor as a busy stone port were over, and the harbour progressively evolved into the picturesque visitor destination and pleasure craft home it is now.

Ship losses in the Stone Trade

Where the ships of the northern Illawarra coast had to contend with rough seas and encounters with other traffic, the ships of the stone fleet had to contend also with another source of danger – the potential for loads to shift in rough seas, or when a vessel turned sharply.  Clark  lists some eighteen sinkings, many with loss of life, his list not including one of the best known – the Bombo which went down near Port Kembla in a storm in 1949, with the loss of ten men.

Some Ship Losses Associated With the Stone Trade

Northern LightMarch 1878
 BerthaSeptember 1879
Franz September 1879
Gosford Packet1881
Prima Donna1882
Pioneer 1883
Merchantman 1883
Nile February 1883
Annie Powell1886
Ino 1889
Scotia 1889
Resolute 1894
Kelloe 1902 (in collision with Dunmore)
Resolute 1907  (different ship to above in 1894)
Kiltobanks 1923
Annie M. Miller1929
Belbowrie 1939
Bombo February 1949
 Data from Jack Clark “Blue Diamond Trade” Accessed 260417 at and others

A Wartime Loss

Arguably one of the best known ships wrecked on the Illawarra coast was engaged in neither the coal nor the stone trade.  Rather, it was a tanker, the Cities Services Boston, which came aground at Bass Point during World War Two.  All the crew were saved, but sadly, four of the rescuers were lost.Bass Point Memorial Plaque
Cities Services Boston Aground, 1943
(Courtesy of Shellharbour City Library)

On a stormy night on 16 May 1943, the 9,000 ton US tanker was part of a convoy travelling up the Illawarra coast close inshore because of fears of Japanese submarines lurking in those waters.  Caught in the storm the Boston hit an offshore reef.  To avoid having the ship break up in deep water, the ship was run aground at full power, leaving its 62 crewmen stranded well off the beach.  Local defence forces were called in to assist and carried out a daring rescue of all crewmen, swimming out to sea with ropes.  During the rescue a huge wave swept away ten soldiers and seamen- of whom four lost their lives.  All four were from the 6th Machine Gun Battalion, Australian Infantry Forces, and a memorial is maintained at the site to commemorate their bravery.

In all, the relatively short length of the Illawarra coastline has been responsible for more than its share of losses of men and ships – with most being related to the basic industries of the region.

i NSW Heritage Register


iii KISA 060373

iv KISA 140664

v KISA 050976



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