Home' Hunter Its People : Hunter-Glory Days June 2012 Contents TER
COAL’S “BARON” BROWN BORN: DECEMBER, 1850
No one would have had any idea what it would mean for the Australian coal industry when an elderly
Scottish couple, Alexander and Mary Brown, both 60, arrived in Australia in 1842 with their seven children
to settle in Stockton.
By 1844 the family had moved from the seaside suburb and established a crude mine at Four Mile Creek
near Maitland – the start of what is today recognised as one of the Hunter Valley’s leading coal producers,
Coal & Allied.
Although they got off to a good start, the government took the Browns to court over breeching an AAA
monopoly on coal mining, and by 1847 they were ordered to cease mining. Following extensive court cases
and the government’s desire to extend mining, the legislation was changed in 1850 due to their persistence
and determination, and Browns became “the heroes of Four Mile Creek”.
The family developed and acquired mines closer to Newcastle, including a valuable lease around Minmi,
and it is fair to say they spearheaded the industrial and transport revolution in Australia. They were at the
forefront of industrial steam and rail technology, and made the Minmi mines the most modern in the colony.
In 1874, in one of the most understated events in Australian history, Alexander and Mary’s grandson,
John “Baron” Brown, secured agreements with London shipping companies to establish a regular and
extensive trade agreement between Newcastle and London, with Newcastle selected as the major supply
point for the Paciﬁc shipping routes of British steamships. The agreements made Newcastle the heavy
industry, fuel, engineering and resource processing engine room of the Australian economy.
The Browns continued to open up the coalﬁelds, and in 1912 were the ﬁrst to introduce breathing
apparatus into Australian mines, along with introducing electricity into mines and surrounding
Diversiﬁcation was clearly a focus for “Baron” Brown, and besides ploughing money back into the latest
mining plant, rolling stock, a shipping point and engineering works, his company controlled two-thirds of the
towing in Sydney Harbour, undertook ocean salvage off Sydney and Newcastle, controlled the Newcastle
pilot system until the government took it over, and had a ﬂeet of tugs operating in Sydney and Newcastle.
Brown died childless at his unpretentious home in Wolfe St, Newcastle, on March 5, 1930, and was buried
in the family vault in the Presbyterian cemetery, East Maitland.
Today Coal & Allied is managed by Rio Tinto Coal Australia and is a key part of the Rio Tinto Group which
has a presence in more than 40 countries around the world.
Coal & Allied manages three Hunter open-cut mines – Mount Thorley, Warkworth, Hunter Valley
Operations and Bengalla – and in 2011 produced more than 21 million tonnes of thermal coal and more than
4.3 million tonnes of coking coal.
In 2011 its Hunter operations employed more than 2500 people and 1000 contractors, and spent more
than $1.7 billion with more than 1300 businesses across NSW. Its community development funds have
invested more than $11 million in 100 NSW community projects and partnerships, of which $3.6 million
was directed towards education. It contributes to such things as Singleton High School, the Healthy Dads
Healthy Kids program, Hunter Medical Research Institute, Cancer Council NSW and Aboriginal heritage
In a remarkable set of achievements, the Hunter is not only home to such a success story as Coal &
Allied, but also business giants Arnott’s Biscuits, Brambles Industries, Toll Group and Soul Pattinson.
William Arnott was born in Scotland and sailed to Australia in 1847 where he became a baker at Maitland
before trying his luck – unsucessfully – as a gold miner. He returned to Maitland and baking in 1853 but
continued ﬂooding of his bakery forced a move to Newcastle, where he established himself in Hunter St by
September, 1865, and began building his business.
Success came quickly, as did expansion, and from 1882 his biscuits were being sent to Sydney by ship.
He eventually opened a Sydney factory in 1894, between the Sydney and Newcastle factories employing
almost 800 people.
Arnott died in 1901 but the company he founded today employs more than 2800 Australians as well as
thousands of people overseas, and exports Australian-made biscuits to more than 40 countries.
Brambles Industries, which operates in more than 54 countries, is named after Walter Bramble, who
grew up in Hinton after arriving as a child with his English family.
At 15, he and his brothers became Hunter river traders and at 18 he became a “cut-up-and-deliver”
butcher, transporting meat to customers by boat or horse and cart. After moving to Newcastle around 1877
he expanded the transport part of his business, and from that seed Brambles Industries has grown.
Brambles moved its head ofﬁce from Newcastle to Sydney in 1959, and it now employs more than 17,000
people in 54 countries with sales revenue of $US4.7 billion in the year ended June, 2011.
The Toll group of companies sprang from Albert Toll hauling coal around Newcastle with a horse and cart
in 1888. Toll was born in England and came to Newcastle in 1886, going on to be mayor of Wickham four
times and owning the land where Valentine now stands. He died in 1960 at the age of 95, with the company
he began becoming Australia’s largest transport and logistics provider with 1200 ofﬁces in 55 countries,
45,000 employees and annual revenue of $8.2 billion.
Caleb Soul was a druggist and chemist born in London in 1817 who came to NSW about 1863 and
managed a store at Morpeth with his son Washington.
He helped establish the ﬁrst building society in Australia before moving to Sydney, where he opened a
pharmacy that amalgamated with Pattinson and Co to become Soul Pattinson.
All in all, not bad for a few country boys.
52. Birthplace of giant
The 1880s building in Hunter St that was the ﬁrst
Newcastle shop of Walter Bramble, top, “Baron” Brown, Minmi
Colliery and Arnott factory around 1870/1880.
“Brown died childless
at his unpretentious
home in Wolfe St,
March 5, 1930”
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