When an outcrop of coal was discovered at Plunkett Point by surveyors in 1833, immediate plans were made by the government to exploit the area.
A local supply of coal for the colony was not the only benefit envisaged by Lt. Governor Arthur:
“I think it is not possible that better employ will be found for some of the most refractory convicts than employing them in working coal mines.”
Joseph Lacey, a convict with practical mining knowledge, was sent with a small party of convict labourers to commence the work.
The first shipment of coal left the mine on 5 June 1834 aboard the Kangaroo.
The Plunkett Point mine was the first operational mine in Tasmania. Prior to its establishment most of the colony’s coal requirements had been imported from New South Wales, at great expense.
The coal was used in households and government offices for heating. Poor quality was a cause of constant complaint:
The settlement in 1839
When Lempriere (the Commissariat Officer at Port Arthur) reported on the settlement c. 1839 there were 150 prisoners and a detachment of 29 officers stationed at the mines.
Large stone barracks which housed up to 170 prisoners, as well as the chapel, bakehouse and store had been erected.
The Quarters provided for the Officers assigned to guard the convicts.
Today, they form imposing sandstone ruins. On the hillside above were comfortable quarters for the commanding officer, surgeon and other officials. Remains of some of these can also still be seen.
Carts ran along rail and tram roads to the jetties for loading.
The coal mines settlement was a punishment station for Port Arthur where repeated offenders of ‘the worst class’ were sent.
Besides the men who worked underground extracting the coal, other prisoners were employed in building works, timber getting and general station duties.
Four solitary cells were constructed deep in the underground workings to punish those who committed further crimes at the mines.