Nov 19, 2020

A brief history of coal mining

A brief history of coal mining

Did you know that Taronga Park Zoo was the site of a proposed coal mine? Or that coal was first mined in Ipswich in 1825. This from Geoscience Australia.

The earliest recognized use of coal is from the Shenyang area of China around 4000 BC where black lignite was carved into ornaments. Coal from the Fushun mine in north-eastern China was used to smelt copper as early as 1000 BC.

Marco Polo, the Italian who travelled to China in the 13th century, described coal as “black stones … which burn like logs”, and said coal was so plentiful, people could take three hot baths a week. 

Coal was used in Britain during the Bronze Age (3000-2000 BC) in funeral pyres (wooden structure used to burn a body).

The Romans were mining coal in England and Wales by the end of the second century AD. Evidence of trade in coal (dated to about AD 200) has been found at the Roman settlement near Chester and in East Anglia.

In Rhineland, deposits of bituminous coal were used by the Romans for the smelting of iron ore. In 1257-59, coal from Newcastle upon Tyne was shipped to London for the smiths and lime-burners who were building Westminster Abbey.

Easily accessible sources of coal had largely become exhausted (or could not meet the growing demand) by the 13th century, when underground extraction by shaft mining was developed. The alternative name was ‘pitcoal’, because it came from mines.

As steam engines took over from water wheels during the Industrial Revolution large-scale mining and use of coal grew. In 1700, five-sixths of the world’s coal was mined in Britain. 

In Australia, black coal was first discovered in Newcastle in 1791 and coal mining and exports commenced in 1799. These early coal mining activities made a significant contribution to the progress of European settlement in Australia.

The spread of settlers to other locations in Australia lead to further discoveries. Mining of black coal occurred near Ipswich Queensland in 1825; at Cape Paterson, Victoria in 1826; and Irwin River, Western Australia in 1846.

Knowledge of the existence of brown coal in Victoria dates back to 1857 and the Yallourn North open-cut began production in 1889.

In 1878, Taronga Zoo was to be the site of an underground coal mine until the mining company was stopped by Parliament. Instead, coal was mined in Balmain until 1931.