Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Company Coal Miner Refusing to Work

Newcastle 1838

C918-0170 Illustration, Convict miner

Thomas Lane was born in Shropshire c. 1814. He was employed as a steam-engine labourer in Shropshire when he was convicted of office-breaking on 31 December 1832 and sentenced to 14 years transportation.

He was transported on the Aurora convict ship arriving in Sydney in 1833. It is unknown where he was assigned on arrival, however by 1838 he was employed by the A. A. Company to work in their coal mines at Newcastle.

It wasn't unusual for convicts to refuse to perform their allotted work. On farms and estates throughout the Hunter Valley and in government work on the wharves, roads and boats crews, male convicts were often given dangerous, onerous tasks. They often rebelled and refused to work - for which they were usually punished by the lash, treadmill or solitary confinement.

Thomas Lane's case was a little different. In his fear of the underground he offered to do any work given him above-ground so long as he didn't have to go down the pit. His offer was refused and he was punished severely, as below......

1). Bench of Magistrates, Newcastle and Hunter Region, 6th February 1838. Archives Office of New South Wales Reel 2722.....

Police Office
Present - Magistrates James Crummer and Robert Scott.

Thomas Lane, Aurora 1833, assigned to Australian Agricultural Company, charged by William Croasdill with refusing to perform work that was allotted him on Monday 5th February.

Alexander Brown being duly sworn states on Thursday last, I ordered the prisoner to fit a lamp to go down into the Mine several times to which he made no answer. When the men had already gone down to the mine, I again desired the prisoner to fit a lamp to go down. He said he did not mean to go down as long as breath remained in his body. The prisoner did not express any fear at going down. The prisoner states he is willing to perform any work given to him on top. Guilty. Sentenced to receive 50 lashes.

2). Bench of Magistrates, Newcastle and Hunter Region 9th February 1838. Archives Office of New South Wales Reel 2722.....

Thomas Lane, Aurora 1833.

Assigned to Australian Agricultural company, charged with refusing to do his work on Wednesday 7th February 1838.

Mr. Alexander Brown, sworn deposeth on Wednesday morning last the prisoner came to the works. I ordered him to get a lamp. He told me it was no use, he was afraid. I told him not to be afraid, there was no danger. I would take him down along with myself when the men had all gone down. I looked for the prisoner and he was gone. I sent a constable to his hut to see if he was there. The constable came back and reported he was not. I have not seen the prisoner since until this time. The prisoners states he is willing to do anything on top but he was never in a pit in his life and is afraid to go down. Found guilty of refusing to do his work. Sentenced to be worked on the tread mill at the House of correction Sydney for two calendar months.

Thomas Lane was eventually granted a Ticket of Leave for the Newcastle district in July 1842.

Notes and Links

[1]. Francis McNamara (Frank the Poet) was assigned to the Company coal mines at Newcastle around this time. He wrote the poem 'For the Company Under Ground', which voiced his antipathy toward working in the A.A. Company Mines.

[2]. Early Convict Coal Miners

[3] First A. A. Company Mine