Site Name: Darkes Forest Colliery/Part of the Coalcliff Colliery Mining operations
Address: Darkes Forest Road, Darkes Forest (West of Princes Hwy Maddens Plains) Post Code 2508.
GPS Coordinates: E 6210036  N 308372  HSL 366.0 Metres.
Site Access: Site not accessible.
Ship at jetty, 1878.
(from the collections of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society)

Just north of the present village of Clifton where the escarpment meets the sea, a seam of coal can be clearly seen in the cliff face.  This is the area where coal was found in 1797, and used to light a fire for warmth by sailors whose ship had gone aground in Bass Strait.  The ship (the “Sydney Cove’’) had been beached in February 1797 on an island in Bass Strait.  William Clarke, the Supercargo of the ship set off soon after in a longboat with sixteen others, to reach help at Sydney Cove. The longboat was lost in heavy seas on the east coast of Victoria and a decision was made to continue on foot.  Starvation, exhaustion and encounters with hostile natives reduced their number to five and this small group reached an area in the vicinity of Coalcliff in May 1797, where they found coal and lit a fire.  On the next day Clarke and one other man proceeded on to Sydney Cove and reported their discovery to Governor Hunter who despatched Surgeon Bass to the area.  Bass confirmed in his report the presence of a coal seam 20 ft (6.1m) above high water level at Coalcliff.  He also found on shore nearby the blood-stained clothing and bones of the three exhausted men left behind.   Despite the discovery, the difficult access to the area prevented the development of a mining industry in the area for many years.

Ownership of the land on which the coal lay changed several times from the 1840s eventually being acquired by Mr (later Sir) Thomas Mitchell.  Unable to develop the property, he passed the land to his son, Campbell Mitchell.  He also was unable to open a mine, and in 1876 the property passed into the hands of Alexander Stuart (later Premier of NSW) and his partners.

In April 1877 an adit was driven into the seam and work commenced on the erection of a jetty, reaching 500 feet (152m) out into the sea.  A timber slide was built to lower the wooden jetty piles over and down the cliff face and a rough access was made down the cliffs with ladders to provide access to the mine and jetty below.  The deck of the jetty adjoined the face of the cliff above sea level, to form a very small working area where a screening plant, storage area and bin, boiler plant, workshop, stores, stables and offices were erected.

The first shipment of coal departed the jetty in the chartered steamer the “Eagle’’ on 11 January 1878.  In June of that same year a violent storm washed away a substantial section of the jetty requiring major reconstruction.  A second adit was established at the mine to improve the ventilation of the workings and in 1878 a ventilation shaft was sunk from the surface above the cliffs with a furnace at the base of the shaft in the seam.

Jetty and screening plant from north
(from the collections of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society)
Jetty and screening plant from south 1900
(from the collections of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society)

The company had built two small steam colliers (40m, 250 tons) to operate to Sydney from the jetty, considered too dangerous to be serviced by sailing ships.  One of these (the “Hilda”) sank in Port Hacking in 1893, while the other (the “Herga”) continued service through the life of the mine.  (A replacement ship (the “Undola”) commenced in 1910 but in 1918 went down with all hands just south of Sydney, thought to have struck a German mine.)

Seas at the jetty
(From the collection of the Clifton School of Arts)

Despite ongoing repairs and modifications to the jetty, sea storms in 1881 and 1904 caused considerable damage to the jetty, creating delays to both production and shipping.

Problems in the mine workings created by faults, dykes and surface water flooding the workings proved to be financially disastrous for the mine employees and mine owners.

Mine buildings from the jetty
(From the collection of the Clifton School of Arts)

The opening of the South Coast rail line in 1888 compounded these problems by creating strong competition from other Illawarra collieries who had the option of transporting their coal by rail to markets in either Wollongong or Sydney.

In 1886 Alexander Stuart died with the property passing to his partners who in 1890 formed the Coal Cliff Coal and Land Company Ltd.  In 1892 the colliery was acquired by Ebenezer Vickery and in 1902 passed to E. Vickery and Sons Limited and in 1909 the Coal Cliff Collieries Limited Company.  (All three companies were largely controlled by the Vickery family until 1936.)

In 1909 a shaft was sunk to the west of the jetty adjacent to the South Coast Rail line and on completion of the shaft sinking the underground workings of the Jetty and the Coalcliff mines were joined together. The developing Coalcliff and remnant Jetty mine workings were ventilated by a “Schiele” mine ventilation fan that had been installed at a Jetty mine seam entry in 1899.

In 1912 the jetty ceased to be used as a means of shipping coal from the Coalcliff mine.  The entries to the Jetty mine were sealed with concrete in  1992,  and remnants of the mine site are visible beneath by the Seacliff Bridge.

More information:

General view of jetty 1910 – 1920.
(from the collections of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society)
Surface facilities and jetty ca 1910.
(from the collections of the Wollongong City Library and the Illawarra Historical Society)
The Coalcliff mine
(From the collection of the Clifton School of Arts)
Coalcliff miners
(From the collection of the Clifton School of Arts)



A Timeline – Jetty Mine

1797 (May)

Five crew from ship Sydney Cove find coal at Coal Cliffs

1797 (Aug)

Surgeon Bass confirms seam of coal at Coal Cliffs


Land in Coal Cliffs area owned by Sir Thomas Mitchell


Monopoly on coal mining granted to the Aus. Agricultural Company terminated


Sir Thomas Mitchell dies, land ownership passes to his son Campbell Mitchell


Mitchell sells land to Hon. MLA. Alexander Stuart (later Premier of NSW)


Adit driven into seam near sea level and jetty 152 metres in length erected

1878 (Jan)a

First shipment of coal despatched on steamer “Eagle”

1878 (June)b

Jetty washed away in storm severely damaged requiring major repairs


Second entry made and furnace shaft in service for mine ventilation


Jetty damaged again by storm, lengthy delay to production and work for miners


A. Stuart dies; partners create the Coalcliff Coal and Land Company (CC&LC)


The South Coast Rail line opens from Sydney to Wollongong.


CC&LC sell the mine to Ebenezer Vickery.


Mechanical ventilation fan installed at the Jetty Mine


Colliery owners name changes to E.Vickery and Sons Ltd.


Jetty damaged. Mine workings intersect faults and flooding from surface water


Mine shaft sunk to north west of Jetty mine, near to the S Coast Rail line and Shaft underground development workings linked to the Jetty mine workings


Earlier Vickery company name changed to Coalcliff Collieries Ltd


Jetty taken out of service as a despatch means of exporting coal.


The Coalcliff Colliery closed.


Mine entries at Jetty and Coalcliff Colliery sealed and buildings demolished.