Richmond Main Colliery | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Richmond Main Colliery

Item details

Name of item: Richmond Main Colliery
Other name/s: Richmond Vale Colliery; South Maitland Railway (SMR)
Type of item: Complex / Group
Group/Collection: Mining and Mineral Processing
Category: Other - Mining & Mineral Processing
Location: Lat: -32.8580571191 Long: 151.4790845430
Primary address: South Maitland Coalfields, Kurri Kurri, NSW 2327
Parish: Stanford
County: Northumberland
Local govt. area: Cessnock
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Mindaribba
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT31 DP594396
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
South Maitland CoalfieldsKurri KurriCessnockStanfordNorthumberlandPrimary Address
 CessnockCessnockStanfordNorthumberlandAlternate Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Cessnock City CouncilLocal Government24 Mar 99

Statement of significance:

The cultural significance of the former Richmond Main Colliery in its surviving condition relies more on the complex as an expression of a particular era of region, industrial and social history than on the integrity of the remaining empty structures. That era is the rapid and shortlived heyday of the establishment and development of the South Maitland coalfields in the first half of the twentieth century and of the mining communities and transportation networks that evolved to support that industry. While Richmond Main can claim some degree of cultural significance in its own right, primarily through its links to John Brown and his intentions for it, its real strength lies in its ability to become that expression to present and future generations. (Civic & Civic 1983: 104)
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: John Brown
Builder/Maker: The J & A Brown Company
Construction years: 1908-1913
Physical description: ADMINISTRATION BUILDING - Free standing, two storey building of late Victorian residential design. The building has a simple rectangular plan form with a long central corridor on each floor. External materials consisted of face brick with some detailing in the form of window arches and sills. The main roof is slate and the timber framed verandah is a bull-nosed, corrugated, galvanised iron roof.

PASSENGER RAIL PLATFORM - simple brick retaining wall and earth filled platform.

COOLING TOWER DAM - Set into the ground with a brick perimeter wall and sloped wall concrete lining below ground.


EASTERN COOLING TOWERS - Freestanding steel framed structures with lower members encased in concrete and supported on concrete foundation piers. A concrete lined pool is at the base of the towers. The walls are timber lined with the lower section lining in the form of timber louvres. A series of timber racks and slats are constructed inside the towers for the lower third of the height.

UNDER MANAGERS OFFICE - Small, freestanding single storey structure of rectangular plan and simple pitched roof. External walls are in Richmond Main red face bricks. There are no internal fittings and fixtures remaining from its original use.

MAIN SHAFT BUILDING - A two storey concrete construction with arched openings at ground level and arched windows. Internal and external walls are made of mass concrete with some steel reinforcement. Architectural details include pilasters, gables and arched windows. A metal stairway leads to the first floor which is primarily timber planks on steel. The roof is of light angle steel trusses with timber purlins and corrugated iron sheeting.

SCREENS & BINS AREA - Pillars of reinforced concrete

TURBINE & GENERATOR ROOM - truncated 'T' shaped plan, two storeys with steel trussed roof. This building set the trend for the architectural elements of later buildings with the use of faced brick with expressed plinth and pilasters, arched windows, gable ends with bulls eye windows and general detailing. A gable end porch extension extends to the west with a double stairway. It is tiled with ceramic, imported tiles.

BOILER ROOM - A steel framed, corrugated iron sheeted structure with basement adjacent to, and north east of, the turbine room. The internal spaces are filled with the furnace, boiler equipment and controls, ladders, platforms and walkways.

There is an additional group of buildings to the southeast of the turbine room, previously the location of the southern bank of original boilers. These buildings have spaced columns and a later east wall with loading dock and canopy and workshop accommodation.

LOCO SHED & STORE - The shed is a two single storey Richmond main red face brick buildings with gable end walls joined by an infill section. There are two large arched doors in each gabled wall. The store has a north elevation. Both have steel trussed roofs with slate covering.

WORKSHOPS - These are a long , low single storey building constructed of brick. The roof is pitched with several cross gables indicating staging and gabled end walls. The original centre section has large member timber trusses.

TRANSFORMER BUILDING - It is two storeys with face brick detailing in Richmond main red and a gabled roof. Adjacent to the building is the later external transformer compound.

FAN COMPRESSOR BUILDING - Original portion is on the northern end and is constructed with Richmond main red face brick with typical detailing but not the gabled end walls. The roof is made of timber trusses and slate tiles. The southern, later section is tiled with imported ceramic tiles and has an annex on the southern elevation.

EMERGENCY FAN WINDER - A free standing single volume building constructed of red face bricks with typical detailing, including gabled end walls.

FAN VENTILATION BUILDING & SHAFT - A tall, free standing concrete framed structure with red face brick infill panels and glazed walls on the eastern elevation. The main winding machine floor is at first floor level. The ventilation duct connection to the shaft is located underground in the form of a gentle sweeping curve. The building is built over the ventilation shaft for the mine. The drift entry is open and the walls are brick lined. A steel tube column supports the tunnel roof.

GRAIN SILOS - Of concrete construction
(Civic & Civic 1983: 67-75)
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Condition is fair
Archaeological potential at carriage shed site- low
Modifications and dates: 1908-1913 - initial construction stage - Power House complex and main shaft built.
1914-21 - increase of ancillary buildings on site, including main ventilation machinery over old shaft
1921-25 - expansion of several buildings, including Fan Building. Passenger rail platform constructed.
1926-28 - replacement of boiler installation and the sinking of a third shaft with the attendant pit top structures(Civic & Civic 1982)
1980s - rail line relaid
Current use: Open air museum
Former use: Coal mining


Historical notes: The Richmond Main Colliery was one of the largest and most important shaft mines of the early twentieth century. It is situated in what was formerly known as the Richmond Vale area because of the large estate 'Richmond Vale'. This area has become more widely known as the South Maitland coal field. It straddles the land owned by Charles William Roemer, one of the first german immigrant settlers, and Arthur Mackenzie whose land included that granted to Lieutenant John Palmer, a purser on the 'Sirius', in 1823.

The area was used for farming and grazing until the 1880s and the discovery of rich coal seams by the government geologist Tannat William Edgeworth David. The coal reserves became known as the Greta Measures. Reports on the seam were made public on the eve of a mining boom and entrepreneurs were quick to exploit his work. One of the first was John Scholey who proved the existence of two seams below the Richmond Vale Estate in 1888. He sold the property to a Melbourne syndicate, the Richmond Vale Coal Company, who began to sink the first shaft in 1890 but did not complete the job. This was probably due to the severe economic depression that was developing. The syndicate was unable to sell the property until 1897 when it was bought by John Brown, managing director and part owner of the firm J & A Brown. (Turner 1983: 8-9) Little is known of what took place at the Richmond site between this purchase and 1906. (Brooks 1983: 31) What is known is that despite being equal partners with his two brothers, he had sole control of the firm and more power than any other single person has ever had in the Australian coal industry. This placed him in a unique position to develop the Richmond site.

Construction on the Colliery commenced in 1908. John Brown spent large sums to ensure that his mining plant, colliery railways, steamships and engineering works were substantially built and in the forefront of technological development. He pioneered the mechanisation of coal cutting on the South Maitland field and persevered with the machines in the face of opposition.

In 1913 the first commercial coal production took place. The mine's main shaft was 22 feet in diameter and bricked from top to bottom and has been described as incomparable with any other in the country, even in its final days.(Turner 1983:8-9) The Colliery reached peak annual production in 1928 with 507 000 tons of saleable coal. The 1929 Lockout followed by the Great Depression, the 1949 strike, a recession in the coal industry and the change to mechanisation in the 1950s and 1960s were major setbacks which the colliery, and the South Maitland field generally, would not recover from.

On 7 July 1967 the Richmond Collery ceased operation leaving eighty mine workers unemployed. This was a far smaller number than the 1200 who had been employed at the site in the late 1920s. The colliery continued to supply power to the state grid until 1976. Maintenance problems and the salvage value of much of the equipment resulted in the stripping out of the machinery and the demolition of the main head frames. (Brooks 1983:27 & 51)

The Richmond Vale Preservation Co-op Society Ltd was formed in the 1980s. It has been instrumental in returning some of the buildings and structures to their operating function in order to restore and maintain steam rolling stock and carriages and the rail line has been relaid. (Fenwick 1995:1)

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Mining-Activities associated with the identification, extraction, processing and distribution of mineral ores, precious stones and other such inorganic substances. (none)-
5. Working-Working Labour-Activities associated with work practises and organised and unorganised labour (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Richmond Main gains its historical significance from its strong associations with John Brown, its importance as a strong component within the South Maitland collieries and the resulting development of a large regional community in the coalfields area. Much of the surviving fabric pertains to the use of the buildings in the early decades of the twentieth century, maintaining the continuity of these links. While some evidence has been destroyed, sufficient remains to form a valuable interpretive backdrop to the strong documentary evidence of the period. (Civil & Civic 1983: 102)
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Richmond Main can claim some degree of aesthetic value from the scale of the buildings in the complex, the relative unity of materials and the subtle use of continuing architectural themes through various building types. However, with the exception of the scale and the cooling towers, the complex is not a unique example of industrial architecture of the period or region. The intention of John Brown to make Richmond Main his flagship and the showpiece of the industry can be seen to give the complex, a degree of representation for those other collieries, even in its partially ruined state. (Civic & Civic 1983: 102)
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The development of the South Maitland coal fields led to the establishment of an entire community based on the townships of Cessnock and Kurri Kurri. Within the space of a decade the region was transformed from a rural backwater to a vital element in the state's resources of steaming coal. The collieries in the area have thus become an emerging focus of community consciousness as to its source of being. By itself, Richmond Main is perhaps no more important than any other single colliery within this ethos, but the continuation of a representative link back to this era is of considerable importance to those commmunities.(Civic & Civic 1983: 103)
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
Without the usual constraints of existing investment or partially outdated facilities, John Brown was able to create Richmond Main as a corporate showpiece displaying 'state of the art' coal mining technology and electric power generation. Old technology replaced new technology several times, with mechanisation occuring in the 1950s. Despite this, there is still sufficient physical evidence to contribute to the understanding and interpretation of extensive documentary sources. This will enable Richmond Main to become a valuable resource for regional and industrial history. (Civic & Civic 1983: 102)
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0001602 Apr 99 271546
Heritage Act - Permanent Conservation Order - former 0001621 Dec 79 1846401
Regional Environmental PlanHunter REP 03 Nov 89 1079345
Local Environmental Plan  03 Nov 89   
Register of the National Estate 0001602 Aug 81 1846401

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
TourismAttraction Homepage2007Richmond Main Colliery View detail
WrittenCivic & Civic Main Colliery - NSW Feasibility Study. Vol 1. Historic Analysis and Conservation
WrittenCivic & Civic Main Colliery - NSW Feasability Study. Progress Report and Draft Statement of Significance
WrittenGraham Brooks.1983'General Architectural History 1888-1976'. In Civic & Civic Main Colliery NSW Feasibility Study Vol 1 Historic Analysis & Conservation Policy
WrittenJohn Turner1983'The Historical Significance of Richmond Main Colliery' In Civic & Civic Richmond main Colliery NSW Feasibility Study Vol 1 Historic Analysis
WrittenPaul Rheinberger (for Umwelt Pty Ltd)2005Study and Research Design: The Historical and Industrial Archaeology of the South Maitland Railway, at the site of a Proposed Underpass for the F3 Freeway at Loxford near Kurri Kurri, NSW
WrittenPeter fenwick1995Archaeological Assessment Richmond Main Colliery Carriage Shed Site

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5045083
File number: S90/6088 & HC 32184

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