The first grant in the Parish of Kembla was made to George MOLLE in 1817. It was for 300 acres. In 1818 W. F. Weston received a promise of 500 acres. Both these grants were on the northern side of Mullet Creek. In 1843 four grants were obtained by Henry GORDON which had frontages to American Creek. Another grant on American Creek, 24 acres, was issued to Patrick LEHAEY. A settlement developed in this locality and in March 1859 a National School was completed here.
First record of the name Mount Kembla appeared on H.F. WHITE's map of the Illawarra in 1834.
Parish of Kembla County of Camden
In the late 1800's American Creek was the name more generally applied to the Mount Kembla area. American Creek is the name of the creek which flowed through the valley. It is believed that it was called American Creek because in the 1840's three Americans came to the Illawarra and, with American axes, cleared some land on the banks of a beautiful creek flowing through Avondale.
Parish of Kembla County of Camden
"Violet Hill" was a name given to the area of Mount Kembla south of the main road and near the school. The Public School at Mount Kembla was known as Violet Hill from 1859 to 1883.
Early land grantees in the area as shown on Parish maps include: Amelia Cecilia Georgina BEATSON, David JAMES, Edward JEKYLL, William STAFFORD, William VINCENT and John GERARD, Henry GORDON and Patrick LEHAEY. Much of the parish of Kembla was set aside as a Great Reserve, to be later divided between small land owners. (Stone, 2002)
Henry GORDON and Patrick LEHAEY
On 28 March 1843, four grants with frontages to American Creek were made to Henry GORDON. Shortly afterwards a grant of 24 acres was issued to Patrick LEHAEY also on American Creek.
A large area in the parish was unoccupied for some time and was referred to as the 'Great Reserve'. Much of the land on the mountain slopes was disposed of in numerous small portions by auction between 1831 and 1851.(Stone, 2002 ; Lindsay, 1994)
Born in 1811 in England to William STAFFORD and Hannah (Jane) COCKAYNE. STAFFORD arrived in Australia with his family as a free man in 1852. He had served with the British Army in the 50th Regiment in India and was the Governor of Calcutta Gaol.
From the 1850s to 1864 he lived at Mount Kembla, running a farm. STAFFORD had married Elizabeth GOODALL in 1830, and 6 children had been born in India, one dying before the family came to Australia. After settling in the Mount Kembla area Elizabeth had another 2 children. Nearly all the children lived and had their own families at Mount Kembla. Both William and his wife died and are buried in Mount Kembla. One of the grandsons, David Kembla STAFFORD, died in the Mount Kembla Mine disaster of 1902. (Illawarra Family History Group, 1988)
In 1863, Mr John GRAHAM had taken up a grant of 180 acres on the slopes of Mount Kembla, along the banks of American Creek. Mr GRAHAM was also one of the owners of the Company "GRAHAM and MULHOLLAND', Commercial Agents, Sydney, that owned land at American Creek.
John GRAHAM was the son of John and Jane, formerly MCFARLAND. GRAHAM originally of County Tyrone, Ireland, who farmed land at 'Avondale' in the Illawarra. After the discovery of oil producing shale on his property, and the subsequent opening of the Kerosene Works, John GRAHAM became its first manager, and continued in this role until 1874
While living in Mount Kembla, GRAHAM married Jane ARMSTRONG and raised a family. In 1874, GRAHAM sold his share in the company and moved to Sydney. The discovery of the oil producing shale, its subsequent mining and the resultant mining of coal in the area, ensured the development of the area. (Ali, 1980 ; Stone, 2002 ; Illawarra Family History Group, 1988 ; Illawarra Mercury)
JAMES was born on the Berkeley Estate in 1834, and moved to the Mount Kembla area at the age of 9. He lived there for the next 80 years. His parents were William JAMES and Isabella MUNRO. Mr. JAMES had many early memories of the area, which he shared with others. He is reputed to have been the first man to work the shale at Mount Kembla, and referred to it as the 'mother' of coal, not knowing what it was called.
Many of the fig trees in the surrounding area are said to have been sold by Robert JAMES to local business men eg., the fig tree at Mt. Keira hotel, and one still standing at Beaton Park. Mr. JAMES remembers driving cattle through the Bong Bong Pass, and bullocks to Wollongong with loads of potatoes and pumpkins, to be loaded onto boats over a temporary jetty made of planks of wood. The JAMES family bull was harnessed with a horse's collar turned upside down, which were then put in the shafts of a dray. The bull pulled a load of over 2 tons along very rough unpaved mountain roads. Later, James bull and dray was replaced by a mountain pony and sulky, to transport produce from the farm to Wollongong.
Ben RIXON was a well known tracker and bushman who lived at Mount Kembla. He had the reputation of being the best white tracker in Australia. In the days before much land clearing and built roads, many men got lost in the thick and inhospitable bushland. Rixon was so good at tracking and finding lost men and cattle that his services were in constant demand. His most famous rescues was of Charles QUIN, whom he tracked for over a week before finding him, by then near death.
On 31st August 1857, Mr. RIXON was presented with 100 Sovereigns at a public meeting held in Wollongong. Part of the presentation included a Certificate which stated "…he is universally held by the inhabitants of the Illawarra and neighbouring districts… for saving Charles QUIN .. after a protracted period of nine days in the wilds of the Illawarra Mountain Ranges." (Illawarra Historical Society Bulletin, October, 1982; Old Pioneers Reminiscences, 1988)
The Pioneer Kerosene Mine
As early as 1849, oil-bearing shale from the slopes of Mount Kembla was tested by the Reverend W.B. CLARKE. "Under the escarpment at the head of the Cordeaux River, and a little to the west of it and below Mount Kembla in the beds intersected by America Creek, a series of Shales exist with coal, a portion of which are found to produce oil."
Subsequently, the first kerosene mine in Australia was sited on a small plateau beside the American Creek. This is the present day site of the Nebo Colliery, but at the time the land was owned by Mr. John GRAHAM.
In 1865, R.J. WANTS and Saul SAMUEL had taken a sample and showed a small vial of oil to Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. GRAHAM had the oil tested by a government analyst and this showed that every 1 ton of shale would yield 50 gallons of mercantile kerosene. When shale was found outcropping at several sites along the creek, men were employed to open up the deposit. An oil refining plant was constructed at a cost of 4,000 pounds, and the first load of mercantile oil was carted to Wollongong in December of that year.
W.J. HAMMILL, an American Oil Refiner was engaged to supply plans and estimates for a retorting plant, later constructed by Longmore Co. in 1865, costing 4,000 pounds. The foundry works were supplied by P.N. RUSSEL and Co. and Mr. HAMMILL was in charge of the retorting operations. In July, 1865 the first buildings needed for production were built.
The first load of marketable oil was transported to Wollongong and sold by a Mr. HERD, a local businessman. The kerosene produced won prizes at the Melbourne Inter-Colonial Exhibition in 1866/67 and the International Exhibition in Paris, in 1868. By 1870, there were 23 retorts and 30 men employed and the proprietors were John, EDWARD and Neville GRAHAM. This company was known as "Graham's Pioneer Kerosene Oil Works'. By 1870, private houses, business premises and public building were using the local oil.
The GRAHAM family sold the business to the Mount Kembla Coal and Kerosene Co. in 1874, for $20,000, and the new company spent a large amount of money altering and modernising the plant. J.M. FELL became the new manager early in 1877. By 1876, the mine was idle and worked only intermittently after that, finally closing down in 1880. (Clarke, 1866; Stone, 2002 ; Illustrated Sydney News, Jan 18, 1873; Jervis, 1942; Fleming, 1967)
The Picture below is Robert JAMES's receipt dated April 27 1888 from John RYAN and Charles CUMMINGS for building his cottage. The cost 26 pounds 10 shillings.