This mine opened on land owned by Colonel Plunket in the Parish of Wollongong on the slopes of the escarpment on the northern face of Mount Keira.  Coal prospectors had earlier discovered coal outcropping in cliffs and gullies in many areas of the Illawarra and in 1857, some 2 km south of Plunket’s land, Messrs Robson and Osborne opened the Osborne Wallsend Colliery in the Bulli Seam.  This was the first commercially successful mine in the Illawarra.

In 1861 Patrick Lahiff and Benjamin Fawcett, it is believed, drove a tunnel into the outcrop of the Bulli Seam on Portion 32 of Colonel Plunket’s property, some 200 metres above sea level, and extracted their first coal in July of that year.  The coal was taken on sleds hauled by oxen down the steep slopes to the bottom of the escarpment, to be loaded into carts, and delivered to local customers by horse and cart.

Mt Pleasant Colliery ca 1873
(Courtesy of Wollongong City Library and Illawarra Historical Society P08242)

The colliery holding of the Illawarra Coal Company consisted of Portions 51, 52, 53 and 55, County of Camden, Parish of Woonona, adjoining the Osborne Wallsend Colliery holdings.  In 1862 the main entry roadway of what became known as the Mount Pleasant colliery, was driven into the Bulli Seam in Portion 55, an area of 30 acres (12 hectares).  This area was systematically mined using the Welsh Bord and Pillar system of mining, with the main entry roadway driven in a northerly direction close to the seam outcrop.  This system enabled sub headings to be driven to the surface at regular intervals, to drain the surface water mine entering the mine workings, and to ventilate the mine. Workings were also developed to the south and the west, adjacent to the Osborne Wallsend mine workings.  A furnace ventilation shaft was constructed adjacent to the mine entry on the border line of the mine leases separating the Mount Keira and Mount Pleasant mine workings. The coal mined was loaded into small capacity coal skips and hauled to the surface by pit ponies.

Messrs Lahiff and Fawcett realised that they did not have the capital funding required to develop the mine and in 1862 two Sydney merchants, James and William Byrnes, took over the mine to form the Illawarra Coal Company (ICC), and appointed Patrick Lahiff as the mine manager.  The development of the mine followed and included a decision to construct a tramway to Wollongong Harbour, and erect a screening plant and other supporting buildings at the pit top.  

The construction of three feet eight-inch (3ft 8 inch) rail gauge tramway commenced at a screening plant erected at the pit top, along with a self-acting, incline haulage system designed to lower the full wagons down the incline and return the empty wagons back to the screening plant.  This haulage system included manually operated mechanical clutches that could be engaged to provide the mechanical power required to operate the endless rope haulages delivering coal skips in and out of the mine, and later in the development of the mine, a surface rope haulage linking the No2 mine entry to the screening plant.  The screening plant loaded the treated coal into the incline rail wagons, after separating the small coal and dumping it as a waste product.  

The self-acting incline haulage rail track system included a midpoint passing loop, and sidings at the bottom of the incline to accommodate the full and empty wagons.  The bottom of the incline was located adjacent to what is now the north western corner of the University of Wollongong property and Robsons Road (Keiraville).  Some 800 metres of dual rail track was laid from the bottom of the incline, in a south east direction on a slightly descending grade. This enabled the full wagons to be hauled from, and empty wagons delivered back to, the bottom of the incline using a steam powered, rope haulage.  This rope haulage was later removed when steam locomotives were installed for wagon haulage on the tramway.   

The tramway was initially laid on wooden sleepers, and wooden rails capped by a strip of iron.  The overland route of the tramway included the crossing of the main road to Bulli and later the South Coast railway at North Wollongong, and a bridge erected over Fairy Creek, before turning south adjacent to the present North Wollongong Surf Club Building.  From here the tramway followed the route of what has later become a walking/cycle pathway to Belmore Basin and has in recent times been extensively upgraded as part of the Wollongong City Council’s ‘Blue Mile’ project.  Initially the rail wagons were drawn by horses to Wollongong Harbour, where primitive ship loading facilities had been provided, and the empty wagons hauled back by horse to the area adjacent to the base of incline area.

Mt Pleasant Rail line to Harbour ca 1910
(Courtesy of Wollongong City Library and Illawarra Historical Society P04884)

The Act authorising the construction of the Mount Pleasant tramway to the Harbour was promulgated in 1862 as the Mount Pleasant Tramway Act, and the regular haulage of wagons to and from the Harbour, commenced in December 1862.  The Illawarra Coal Company later replaced the steel capped wooden rails and horse drawn haulage system with iron rails and steam locomotives, while retaining the original 1,130 mm (3ft 8½”) gauge rail system. On reaching the harbour area the Mount Pleasant tramway adjoined the Mount Keira Colliery tramway.  As the gauges of these two rail lines were different, separate rail lines were extended from their meeting point at the Belmore Basin to the coal loading staithes erected at the harbour.

Details of the Mount Pleasant Colliery Tramway
From Gifford Eardley “Transporting the Black Diamond” 1965

Included in the above map is a small diagram showing the surface endless rope haulage installed to link the No1 and No2 Mount Pleasant pit top areas, and the details of the surface coal handling arrangements adopted in the 1950-55 period by Australian Iron & Steel at the No2 Colliery.  These were to facilitate the mining of remnant pillars of the Bulli Seam at the colliery and deliver the coal by road, to the Port Kembla Steelworks.  

In 1859 approval was granted by the state government to increase the working area of Wollongong Harbour and the coal loading facilities, to enable them to handle the increasing level of coal being exported from the Mount Keira mine and the general trade passing through the harbour.  The contract for these extensions was awarded in 1861, and in 1864 it became apparent that, with more coal being delivered to the harbour from the recently opened Mount Pleasant mine, the original plans for the extensions were inadequate.  This led to an agreement to increase both the dimensions of the inner basin of the harbour, and the number of ship-loading staithes. This work was completed in 1868, and the harbour given the official name of Belmore Basin.

In 1873 County of Camden Portions 45, 47, 48, 49, 50 and 62 were acquired by the colliery, and while access to these additional coal properties was helpful in extending the mine holdings to the north, the colliery working area was at that time confined to a narrow 245 metre strip of land along the escarpment.  Following the above acquisition of the above portions, a roadway was driven from the seam outcrop in Portion 25. This assisted in draining water from both the Mount Pleasant and adjacent Mount Keira mine workings. This tunnel, along with several other “daylight tunnels”, as they became known, served the dual purpose of draining water and creating an additional intake airway facing to the north east, and assisted in the ventilation of the mine.  In 1876 the mine workings had reached Portion 45 of the mining lease and another tunnel was driven to the surface, to assist in the ventilation of the mine. 

At this point in time Mr. Lahiff noted that coke was being produced from the fine coal dumped adjacent to the screening plant, as a result of bush fires and the spontaneous combustion of the fine coal in the dump.  He then proceeded with the erection of two beehive coke ovens at Wollongong Harbour. The product from these ovens proved to be successful and the first coke was shipped to customers in February 1892. This was the beginning of what became a large coke-making industry in the Illawarra.  

In 1884 Portions 33 and 44 were acquired and extended the colliery’s leases to the boundary of the newly formed Brokers Nose Coal Company to the north.  As the coal available for working the mine up to that time was being extracted from a relatively narrow strip of Bulli seam that was now almost exhausted, planning and construction commenced on driving a tunnel to the surface and establishing what would later become known as the Mount Pleasant No2 mine.  As this entrance was located some 850 metres north of the original No1 Tunnel entry, an overland skip rail haulage was installed to link this site to the No 1 Tunnel entry pit top area and haul the coal to the screening plant at that site. The above works were completed in 1886 and included the laying of a 860 mm gauge rail track along the escarpment .  

In 1888 the Mount Pleasant Coal and Iron Company (MPSC) was formed, taking over the assets of the Illawarra Coal Company, and acquiring Portions 21, 22, 31, 36, 46, MP15 and MP16, that amounted to a total of 526 hectares of land.  These land acquisitions extended the Mount Pleasant Colliery holdings to the northwest, between the land holdings of the neighbouring Osborne Wallsend and Brokers Nose Coal Companies. This large increase in coal leases offered the colliery a potential new lease of life.

The MPCIC also had an interest in constructing a blast furnace to complement their coal mining operations.  In 1882 Patrick Lahiff constructed, a very crude experimental blast furnace at the foot of Mount Pleasant Colliery incline, adjacent to the north end of what is now Robson Road Keiraville.  The coke required for the furnace was readily available from the nearby slack coal dump, and both ironstone and limestone deposits were available on the mine site. Whilst a test sample of 10 tons of iron was produced, the depression in the iron industry market at that time and the inability to attract capital funds, resulted in the planned commercial enterprise being abandoned.

Experimental Blast Furnace Remains Adjacent to the Base of the Incline
From the collection of JLN Southern

In 1889, Messrs Robshaw and Figtree built a set of four beehive coke ovens on the south western side of Mt Pleasant Colliery’s tramway crossing of Wollongong to Bulli Road and the South Coast rail line.  The small coal required to supply the operation of these ovens was obtained from the Mount Pleasant Colliery, and by 1901 the number of ovens had increased from the original four to fourteen.

Vent Furnace Chimney ca 2000
Minerals Heritage Subcommittee

In 1895 the Mines Department Annual Report recorded that a shaft some 24 metres in depth had been sunk on the northern side of the No.  2 Tunnel, and preparations were being made for a mine ventilation Furnace to be built. This work was expected to be complete in three (3) months and would greatly increase the quantity of ventilating air flowing through the mine. 

A copy of the mine plan shows that the furnace shaft referred to above was linked by an underground roadway driven a short distance to the north to connect with a staple shaft sunk from the Bulli Seam down to the Balgownie Seam below. The primary purpose of the furnace shaft was to provide an immediate improvement in the ventilation of the mine, and to link with one of two parallel entries to be driven from the seam outcrop of the Balgownie seam at the No2 Tunnel site.  Those entries were planned to intersect the Bulli Seam some 2.5 km from the surface and create a new main return airway to ventilate Bulli Seam workings. A roadway driven from the bottom of the furnace shaft to the staple shaft was designed to ventilate the Bulli seam workings located to the north and west of the No. 2 Tunnel entry. The remnants of these entries and the furnace shaft brick chimney remain evident on site to this day

Base area of Furnace Shaft and Furnace adjacent to the No. 2 Tunnel Entry
(Sketch prepared by the late Mr.  Geoff Mould)
Base area of Furnace Shaft and Furnace adjacent to the No. 2 Tunnel Entry
(Sketch prepared by the late Mr.  Geoff Mould)

In the 1880’s the management of MPIC developed plans to increase the overall capacity of the mine and make changes to the existing mine haulage systems to accommodate an increased mine output.

The mine haulage systems at the mine included an overland rail track rope haulage, delivering coal in skips from the No2 mine entry to the screening plant, and the incline haulage both located at the No1 mine entry pit top area.  The drive power for overland rope haulage was sourced from the incline haulage drive system and this required the coal being delivered by the overland haulage to arrive at the screening plant at the same time as the empty incline haulage empty wagons arrived.  Whilst this arrangement was capable of handling 500 to 600 tonnes per day of mine output, it restricted any planned increases in output from the mine. This led to the purchase and erection, of a power house, boiler plant and a steam powered overland rope haulage, totally independent to the operation of the incline haulage.  This equipment was placed in service in 1903 and increased the capacity of the surface haulage linking the two mine sites. to 1000 tons per day.  

Other developments also included expenditure on the existing underground to surface mine haulage systems and surface the mine facilities that resulted in a marked improvement in the operation of the mine. 

In 1902 a steam powered rope driven Walker mine ventilation fan was installed on the surface at the No2 Tunnel mine entry to replace the earlier furnace ventilation system installed at that site.  This fan had an impellor some 3.65 metres in diameter, and the capacity to generate 2,850 cubic metres of ventilating air per minute.  The on-site Lancashire boiler installation provided the steam required to supply the steam engine driving the mine fan.

In 1907 the MDAR noted that a 20-kW capacity 500 volt DC electric power supply package had been installed at the No.1 mine site to provide power to the surface facilities, underground lighting and two water pumps.

In 1909 the Figtree brothers, commenced the construction of a battery of forty (40) beehive coke ovens that became known as the Mount Pleasant Coke Works.  This plant was located on the eastern side of the South Coast railway line, north of the Bulli road crossing of that rail line. The earlier fourteen coke ovens operated by Robshaw and Figtree were shut down and the plant demolished.

In 1916 a power house was built in the working area associated with the mine incline and tramway area near the southeast corner of the present TAFE College complex.  The powerhouse consisted of one 352 kW, 50 cycle, 6.6 kV alternator driven by a condensing steam engine along with a boiler plant, condenser, and cooling tower. A 6.6 kV overhead transmission line was erected beside the incline haulage roadway, from the Power House to supply the pit top area, and underground plant.  Electric drive motors were fitted to the endless rope coal, and Main and Tail man transport haulages, previously driven by steam engines. In 1921 a second 352 kW, 50 cycle, 6.6 kV alternator driven by a duplicate condensing steam engine was added, increasing the capacity of the Power House to 704 kW. Armoured 6.6 kV power supply cables were laid on the floor from the surface in an underground mine roadway some 2.5 kms in length to supply step-down transformers supplying electric power to underground rope haulages and pumps etc.

In 1922 a paper prepared by the retired mines I\inspector Mr W Humble, referred to the company having developed plans in 1914 for the sinking of a shaft, 5 metres in diameter and 230 metres in depth, behind the escarpment to ventilate the mine workings.  Events of the 1914-18 World War hindered the opportunity to carry out the sinking of that shaft and plans were prepared to drive roadways in the Balgownie Seam from the outcrop, to meet the future needs for ventilation, coal haulage, man transport and the planned increased production.  Four inclined parallel roadways were to be driven from the outcrop of the Balgownie seam to hole up into the Bulli Seam workings approximately 2.5 km from the surface. These roadways were to provide intake airways for both the Bulli and Balgownie Seams, with two or possibly three of these roadways, to serve the dual purpose of ventilation airways and haulage roads, for servicing the Bulli Seam workings.  These plans also provided the opportunity to mine coal both the Bulli and Balgownie seams, and blend that coal for the market.

One roadway was planned to be used for the installation of an endless rope coal haulage system, with second roadway used to install a Main and Tail rope haulage to replace the existing man transport system then operating in a return airway in the Bulli Seam.  

In 1924 the Mines Department Annual Report noted that the driving of the two headings in the Balgownie Seam had reached 1,440 metres from the surface, and 960 metres of driveage remained to hole up in to the Bulli Seam.  These driveages were planned to take some twelve months to complete, and in 1925 the Mines Department noted that the 340 metres remaining to hole into the Bulli Seam was now planned to be completed in December 1925.  Copies of Mount Keira Colliery (later Kemira Colliery) mine plans have shown the two roadways driven in the Balgownie Seam holed into the Bulli Seam adjacent to the junction of the No.  2 Left Heading roadways of the Mount Keira Colliery, and the North West Heading roadways of the Mount Pleasant Colliery.  

Whilst the Mount Pleasant Colliery continued to operate, albeit in a rundown condition during the Great Depression the mine closed in 1933, and in 1934 the Mount Pleasant Coal and Iron Company went into liquidation.

On the 10th September 1934 the Mount Pleasant Colliery was purchased from the liquidators by E. Vickery & Sons.  In 1935 the E. Vickery and Sons Ltd. Company took control of the Mount Pleasant Colliery mining properties, adding the area MP15 (Mt Pleasant West) into the Mount Keira Colliery holdings (owned by Vickery), and approving the acquisition of area MP16 (Mt Pleasant North West) by the Corrimal Balgownie Collieries Ltd.  The mine’s name was changed from Mount Pleasant to the Keira-Pleasant Tunnels and the mining plant at Mount Pleasant was transferred to the Mount Keira Colliery.

It is considered by some observers that the change of name of the Mount Pleasant Colliery was a ploy in the Ebenezer Vickery’s long-term strategy to sell both the Mount Keira and the Mount Pleasant Collieries as one package.  No evidence has been found of Vickery and Sons having reopened the Mount Pleasant Colliery in the period 1935 to 1937 and in January 1937 the Broken Hill Proprietary Company subsidiary company Australian Iron and Steel Pty Ltd acquired the leases and assets of the Mount Pleasant Colliery properties from Vickery and Sons Ltd.

In 1938 Australian Iron and Steel Pty Ltd (AI&S) rehabilitated the Mount Pleasant powerhouse to provide a power supply to the Mount Keira Colliery.  The overhead transmission line required to supply the Colliery was provided by branching off the transmission line that had been erected earlier to supply the Mount Pleasant colliery.  A power supply from the powerhouse to Mount Keira Colliery pit top was established in November 1938. An overhead transmission line was then erected from the pit top, over the escarpment to the Mount Keira No. 1 Shaft, to enable the steam engine drive of the mine ventilation fan to be replaced with an electric motor.

The rehabilitation of the Mount Pleasant Powerhouse and power supply to the Mount Keira Colliery was an interim measure, to enable mechanised mining plant to be installed and operated at the mine whilst a high capacity 33 kV overhead power line supply system was erected from the AI&S Port Kembla steelworks to the mine.  Prior to the powerhouse supply being connected, the mine had no electric power of any consequence, on the surface or in the underground workings.  

As an aside, it is interesting to note that the overhead power line erected to supply the Mount Keira No.  1 Shaft was also used to provide power to the Mt Keira Scouts Camp and the Mt Keira Summit Park Lookout, and remained in service until the early 1990s.

On 3rd March 1940 the 33kV overhead power line supply from the AI&S Port Kembla Steelworks was completed and supplied power to the Mount Keira, Mount Pleasant and Bulli collieries.  This system was part of a scheme adopted by AIS to provide a Company owned and maintained power supply to the Wongawilli, Mt Keira and Bulli Collieries. The availability of this power supply to the Mount Keira colliery,  enabled the Mount Pleasant powerhouse plant to be dismantled and removed.

In 1941 AI&S carried out prospecting of the outcropping (No.  3) Wongawilli Seam at several locations on the escarpment, with a view to opening a mine and delivering the coal mined to the Port Kembla Steelworks.  A prospecting tunnel was driven on the No. 2 Tunnel site at Mount Pleasant along with others in the pit top area of the Mount Keira Colliery.

In 1946 a mine was developed in the Wongawilli Seam adjacent at the existing Mt Keira pit top.  This mining operation encountered difficult roof support problems and water entering the workings and was abandoned in 1950. The surface and underground plant from the mine was transferred to Mount Pleasant and installed to support the mining of the Wongawilli seam at the Mount Pleasant No2 Colliery.  Modifications at the latter mine site included the installation of a mine ventilation fan, the removal of the earlier narrow-gauge railway from this site to the Incline haulage and screening plant at the No 1 mine site. A roadway was laid on the site to provide access to the Mount Ousley road by motor vehicles, and rail track was laid to link the underground rail track system to the 300 ton capacity road truck loading coal bin, the latter having been dismantled at the abandoned Mount Keira Wongawilli seam mine and erected on this mine site.  Battery locomotives were used to haul five ton capacity drop bottom wagons between the coal face and the surface coal bin, there to be unloaded with the coal then loaded into road trucks for transport to the Port Kembla Steelworks.  The original Mount Pleasant tramway incline and rail line from the No1 mine surface to the Belmore Basin was removed.

In August and October 1937, the 5 North East workings of the Mount Keira Colliery were connected to the Mt Pleasant workings by the roadways driven from the surface in the Balgownie Seam, and referred to earlier in these notes.  These roadways provided a means of increased mine ventilation and access from the surface at the No2 mine to deliver the mechanised mining equipment underground to the Mount Keira Colliery mine workings. The delivery of these relatively large items of mining plant was not at that time possible, via the Mount Keira mine surface, because of the limited dimensions of both the Portal entry and underground mine roadways.

In the 1951/55 period, it was reported that the AIS Collieries had reopened Portions 52 and 55 of the abandoned Lang’s Tunnel, and earlier Illawarra Coal Company colliery workings, to extract slack coal from the Bulli Seam and the Balgownie Seams, for use as a boiler fuel at the Port Kembla Steelworks.

The operations at the Mount Pleasant Colliery ceased in September 1955 when the mining of the Wongawilli seam ceased.  The mine fan installed at the colliery was removed and installed on the No.  2 Calyx shaft at Kemira Colliery (formerly named the Mount Keira Colliery) and the remaining mining equipment was transferred to Kemira and the BHP collieries in Newcastle.

Mt Pleasant Steam Locomotives and Sheds at North Wollongong circa 1884
from Gifford Eardley “Transporting the Black Diamond”1965, p.  24
Plan of land areas – Mt Pleasant and Neighbouring Collieries.
from Gifford Eardley “Transporting the Black Diamond”1965

RAC 18022019