“The Dalmayne Fiasco”
Part One: The Mine
By Jim Haas
The Dalmayne coal beds were found in 1861. They are situated eleven kilometres south of St Marys and are an extension of the Fingal Valley coal fields. In 1901 two short exploration tunnels were driven and it was discovered, after tests on Tasmanian Railway’s stream trains, that the coal was of a much higher quality than what was being mined in the Mt Nicholas Range at that time.
However, because of the isolation of the coal seam no more was done until 1914 when a Victorian company, after a feasibility study where they claimed the seam had accessible reserves of some 28 million tonnes, made an application to the Tasmanian Government to mine coal at Dalmayne and export it to Victoria from the existing wharf on the Southern side of Seymour Point.
In the mean time an English company tendered to build a five kilometre self acting aerial ropeway from the mine to Picaninny Point. It was to be constructed with 42 pylons using local iron bark and blue gum and capable of carrying 50 tonnes an hour. Also in the tender was a 1,000 tonne hopper and a new wharf at the end of Picaninny Point, which would be in a direct line with the mine.
Despite warnings from locals and outside engineers that Picaninny was too open to the sea, the mine management accepted the English company’s tender and went ahead with construction. But due to hold ups in construction and machinery for the aerial ropeway not arriving from England on time, it was 1917 before the entire infrastructure was completed and the mine was ready for production. By this time a thirteen foot seam of high quality coal had been opened up giving the mine an expected yearly output of 120,000 tonnes.
Finally in early August 1917 the first of the coal was carried by the sophisticated aerial ropeway to the hopper at Picaninny. Then on the 17th of that month Sir Elliot Lewis, Tasmanian Minister for Mines at that time, travelled to St Marys by night train. Sir Elliot and his official party arrived in town for breakfast, after which they travelled to the Dalmayne mine site by motor car and officially opened the mine. After the opening the party had lunch on the beach at Picaninny and arrived back at St Marys in time for dinner which was attended by several hundred people and hosted by Dalmayne Collieries.
But someone had made a terrible blunder; the water at the end of the wharf was too shallow for the larger ships needed to carry the coal to the Mainland. In desperation the company looked at the Hobart market and a smaller ship called the “Wiena” was called in. But halfway through loading a storm came up from the south, buffered her against the wharf and bounced her onto the sea floor. She was forced to leave with extensive damage to her bottom that was causing water to leak into the engine room.
The “Wiena” did manage to load 30 tonnes of coal, but by the time she reached Maria Island her engines had failed and she was under sail. Another storm hit and forced her onto a reef where she was completely wrecked.
Dalmayne Collieries immediately went about extending the wharf, but it was August 1918 before the “S.S Hillmeads” was able to birth and load 200 tonnes of coal and head off to begin supplying the Victorian railways.
The Company was delighted, after four years of planning and construction they were finally on their way; at last the future looked rosy. But alas, their celebrations were short lived, only a few days after the departure of “S.S. Hillmeads” a south easterly storm of “unabated ferocity” blew up lasting for several days and completely wrecked their new wharf.
Dalmayne Collieries capital was exhausted. In four years they had only produced 1,530 tonnes, of which less than half had been sold. Consequently, in September 1918 the mine was shut down until more suitable transport options could be found and 100 men lost their jobs.
Part Two “The Dalmayne fiasco” :
The Coles Bay Railway
By Jim Haas
Following the destruction of the Picaninny wharf and the closure of the Dalmayne mine in 1918, Dalmayne Collieries continued to search for markets. Finally, in 1920 they were able to get the South Australian Government interested in importing coal for their rail system and domestic use. A proposed contract of 150,000 tonnes per annum was discussed pending the company finding suitable wharf facilities.
Two proposals were put forward: one was to build a giant break-water at Picaninny; the other was to build an island wharf some two hundred metres off shore. Both proposals were rejected because Dalmayne Collieries were out of funds and the South Australian Government, or anyone else, would not back either proposal because of the uncertainty of their success.
They would, on the other hand, providing the Tasmanian Government gave funding, give support towards a railway to Coles Bay, 61 kilometres to the south. Here, they believed, a safe wharf could be built capable of birthing steamers of 3,000 tonnes, or larger.
In December 1922 the Tasmanian Parliament passed what they called the East Coast Development Act, part of which was to give funding to the Dalmayne Collieries to build a 3ft 6 inch gauge railway from Picaninny point to Coles Bay, construct a wharf and Hopper at Coles Bay as well as provide 780 acres of land near the wharf for a town site.
In November 1923 Dalmayne Collieries formed a new company, which they also called East Coast Development and appointed a former Public Works engineer, E. J. Bingham, to supervise their operations. Early in 1924 he organized the purchase of twelve hundred pounds worth of hand tools and wheel barrows from the Public Works Department and work on the Coles Bay railway began with some one hundred men being employed.
By June 1926 the wharf and hopper had been completed at Coles Bay, a 35 metre bridge at Salt Water Creek had been built as well as 27 kilometres of formation and culverts reaching as far west as the Apsley River.
But the coffers were running low. Investors, including the Tasmanian Government, were not prepared to give any more money to the project. The cost had escalated to almost double of the initial budget, consequently, Dalmayne Collieries tried desperately over the next few months to raise funds, even going as far as the United States and London, but it was all to no avail. In March 1927, after the engineer resigned because he was not being paid, the Coles Bay Railway was aborted without one piece of ballast, sleeper, or rail being laid.
Dalmayne Collieries along with their subsidiary was in serious financial trouble and to top it all off the 1929 floods washed most of the railway formation away. The Dalmayne mine and aerial rope-way, however, was maintained until a bush fire in the early 1930s wiped out many of the rope-way towers and it was subsequently dismantled. Some of the metal went for scrape during World War Two, Cornwall Coal Company salvaged what was left and the steel rope was used for safety ropes on St Marys and Elephant Passes. All that remains today are a few small remnants at the mine site, along the rope-way track and among the rocks at Picaninny Point.
Not one tonne of coal was produced at Dalmayne mine from 1918 to 1939 when the Chapman Brothers of St Marys, with a crew of six men, reopened the mine and carted the coal out to the railway at St Marys via Dalmayne Road. They used a 5 tonne truck and the coal was purchased by Tasmanian Railways for their steam trains. However, due to a series of faults in the main seam coupled with high transport costs the Dalmayne mine closed for good in 1953.
Mines Department drilling over many years has revealed reserves of some 160 million tonnes in the Dalmayne-Seymour area, but whether this coal will ever be mined, or whether future mining operations would be as ill-fated as their predecessors, one can only assume.