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  • Coal Exports

    Australia’s Coal Export Growth

    By 1848 Australia possessed 223 flourmills, 62 tanneries, 51 breweries, 30 soap and candle works, 27 iron foundries and 86 factories.

    Later, Federation, free trade, and abolition of custom duties between the states, all served to expand the coal trade. It can be argued that the coal trade favoured the growth of shipping, or that shipping was catalyst to the expansion of the coal industry. 

    Newcastle Early Exports 

    Tasmania - In 1849 Tasmania imported 1700 tons of coal from Newcastle. By 1912 that figure reached 155,000 tons. When inter-colonial passenger steamers started to call at Hobart in 1837, they did not have enough coal for the return journey. Sailing ships took Newcastle coal to Tasmania for the steamers use. Seaborne trade between Newcastle and Tasmania continued until after World War II, when other forms of transport took over severing a link dating back to the 1830's.

    Victoria - In 1847, Captain Chennery of the schooner Harlequin pioneered the coal trade to Port Phillip when his vessel left Newcastle in October that year with coal for Melbourne. To meet demand, the AA Company chartered the entire fleet of Newcastle's largest ship owner, Mr George Tully in 1854. The fleet comprised eleven ships. Other companies soon followed the AA Company’s entry into the inter-colonial coal trade. In October 1872 a southerly gale brought 10 sailing ships from Melbourne into Newcastle in one day. Coal export to Victoria had reached 200,000 tons a year, a tonnage that required more than 400 ship-voyages from Newcastle to Port Phillip. The ballast, Melbourne bluestone was used to build an early breakwater at Stockton.

    Queensland - Steam entered the Moreton Bay trade in 1837. Coal was sent up from Newcastle for steamers to use on their return voyage. By 1842 coal had been discovered at Bremer Rivers and the TAMAR bunkered with it before returning to Sydney. When coal was won in sufficient quantities, the Moreton Bay settlement and later all of Queensland relied less and less on Newcastle. 

    South Australia - The schooner RAINBOW sailed from Newcastle in 1848 with 60 tons of coal, one of the earliest coal cargoes to Adelaide. No suitable coal was found in the state in those days and for many years coal was imported from Newcastle. Trade to South Australia received a boost when copper smelting started at Wallaroo in 1861. Ships back loaded at Wallaroo with copper ore for Donaldson's smelting works at Burwood, Newcastle. In 1872 the English and Australian Copper Company started smelting with two furnaces at Port Waratah, Newcastle. 

    New Zealand - Originally trade with New Zealand consisted mainly of cattle and wool. Shipping was dominated by sail with the giant clipper WHITE STAR reported to have carried nearly 9000 sheep in 1860. Other exports included timber, this trade continued until the 1930's.

    In 1878 New Zealand imported 181,824 tons of coal from Newcastle. Some of this coal was loaded John Brown's shoots at Hexham, on the Hunter River. One of the first steam colliers in the coal trade to New Zealand was the EASBY of 1409 tons. She arrived in Newcastle on July 1874, and at the time she was the largest steamer to visit the port. Owing to her draught she could not load a full cargo. Modern vessels of the Union Steamship Company occasionally visit Newcastle to this day.

    North America - Coal exports from Newcastle received a boost in 1849 with the discovery of gold in California. It was cheaper to import Newcastle coal than to ship it from the east coast of the US. By 1868 twenty-nine vessels took 25,028 tons of coal from Newcastle to California.

    In the following year coal was shipped to Acapulco, Mexico. In 1889, 52 ships left Newcastle with 101,845 tons of coal for California. One ship a week!

    In the years that followed the coal trade to Washington and Vancouver rose, from 200,000 tons to one million tons. On one day in 1896, thirty-five sailing ships made their way across the Pacific from Newcastle to San Francisco.

    Central America - In 1850 the ship ARGYLE was chartered by the AA Company to take coal to Panama, to be used by the Panama Steamship Company. In a bid to foster overseas trade the ARGYLE "took precedence over all other vessels” at the AA Company shoots, “and this indulgence will be extended to all other vessels similarly employed".

    Acapulco, Mexico, was another customer. The week ending January 15 1869 recorded 410 tons of Wallsend coal shipped to that now-famous port.

    South America - In 1841 the ship HINDA left Newcastle with a cargo of coal destined to Valparaiso, for use by the Pacific Steam Navigation Company’s steamers. Newcastle coal was also needed for railways, ore smelting, gas making and shipping. Coal export to South America rose until, by l890, Chile alone imported half a million tons of coal from Newcastle.

    If these tonnages look small compared with present day exports, it should be remembered that 20 average size sailing ships were required to lift the same amount of coal as one bulk carrier lifted in the 1970's. Moreover large sailing ships could not take full loads owing to the shallow channel.

    In 1890 coal freight across the Pacific varied between 17/6 and 20/- a ton. Because a coal charter was virtually assured, shipowners accepted a wait at Newcastle, and for this reason they tended to congregate here.  To keep costs down owners often paid off crews at Newcastle. The shipping boom had started. Even Governor Bourke could not have foreseen that 18 years later, on May 31, 1851, the largest ship in the harbour was a mammoth 600 tons, and that in 1861 a giant of more than 2000 tons arrived.

    This is still happening today. It is not uncommon to see as many as 25 ships waiting at anchor outside the harbour, although today's bulk carriers seldom carry less than 100,000 tons.

    In May 1900, 40 ships left Newcastle for overseas 32 destined to the West Coast and Callao, Peru.

    Today Hunter Valley coal is famous for its quality and is exported to Asia, Europe and US.

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