The Bleichert Aerial Ropeways of Wentworth Falls and Katoomba.

These Bleichert nameplates were on every bucket.

Between 1880 and 1883 Robert Henry Reynolds, a land developer and general wheeler-dealer from Sydney, purchased under Mining Conditional Purchase (M.C.P.) several lots of land near Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains of NSW, Australia, underneath which he believed was mineable coal, and which he hoped could be subdivided and sold to become building blocks. By 1885 he had secured the land and he and 6 others put together a syndicate to open up the “Lower Coal Seam” between Leura and Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales to be known as the Gladstone Colliery.

Land was obtained under “Mining Conditional Purchase” for £20 an acre, requiring an outlay of £2 an acre as a deposit, the balance being payable in two years, or the land being forfeited if no improvements had been undertaken within this period. With the purchase of the land went a Mining Right to any minerals found therein except gold. Often, as in this case, the purchase money was borrowed against the security of the land, a strange arrangement to our eyes, as the land was subject to forfeit!

Reynolds with his eye on saleable land, bought Por 97, which is 50 acres at the tip of today’s Sublime Point, then two adjacent 80-acre portions, Por 90 in Oct 1880, Por 89 in Feb 1881, and a 40-acre portion 91 in Feb 1881, and a 40-acre Por 88 in April which was later extended southward to include another 12 acres. The most important as far as Gladstone Colliery was concerned was Por 159 and 153 in April 1883, which gave him access for the pendant tramway the design of which was, by this time, well under way. The mine was to extend under Por 88 and 89 heading Northward under Isobel Bowden ridge.

Conveniently, the connecting block of land between Reynold’s land and the railway siding, was owned by Campbell Mitchell, [born 1831 and died in 1883] Por 67 C Mitchell 20.3.0 C786 .1507 (Grant No. 6 in 1878) See Fig B.

An acquaintance of both North and Reynolds, he was the son of Sir Thomas Mitchell, the road constructor of 1832. Some arrangement must have been made before his death for this access, as there is no indication of a lease across his land for the Ropeway. But it is highly likely that Reynolds finished with a route for his ropeway through Pors. 159,153,174,157 and Campbell Mitchell’s Por.67.

Note: Relative monetary values. 

£20 in 1883 equates to the following in 2017: –

Real price using inflation – $2,282

Labour Value using average weekly earnings – $16,920

Economy Share using the proportion of population who had that sort of money $170,660.

Current value of land in that area (2018) for building is $2M an acre.

Reynolds purchases:

Por 90     Oct 14th, 1880   80 acres

Por 89     Feb 17th, 1881    80 acres

Por 97     June 15th, 1881  50 acres

Por 88     April 21st, 1881 40 acres

Por 153    April 5th, 1883  40 acres

Por 159    April 12th, 1883 40 acres

Por 174, 175 (15 acres each) and Por 157 of 20 acres were on the ropeway line but the Lands Dept map is a later date and does not show the original purchaser.

Total land purchased 380 acres, cost £7,600, deposit £760 – Today’s value $6.5M. So, he was investing serious money.

The original investors and office holders in the Gladstone Coal Company Limited (GCCL)were: –

Robert Henry Reynolds – 2.5% -Begg St. Paddington

Ernest Farish Stephen – 16% -Abbotsford, Albermarle St, Newtown. (son of Lieutenant Governor Sir Alfred Stephen C.B, K.C.M.G, M.L.C.)

Matthew Henry Stephen Q.C. (Chairman of Gladstone Coal Company Limited )-5.5% – Barrister 103/110 Elizabeth St, Glenayr, Glenmore Road, Paddington.

Dr Rudolph Schutte, M.D. L.S.A. – 12.5% – 16/10 College St Sydney

Francis E Rogers – 7.5% -Barrister 105 Elizabeth St.

Frank Senior J.P. – 47/51 Phillip St Sydney

J F Holle – Rockley House Elizabeth Bay Road. Tailor 285 George ST.

Louis Cohen – 9.5% -auctioneer,93/125 Pitt St., Eurella, Queen St. Woollahra. – he auctioned the land parcels on the opening day. See Fig A.

James Milson – 7% – Willoughby St. St. Ives.

G R Stephens – G R Stevens who were shipping agents.

Alderman Joshua Jeremiah Farr – (Managing Director of GCCL) builder, George St Redfern.

H W Callen – picture frame maker 410/420 George St. Sydney

Adolphus Rogalsky – 4.4% -Glebe Road, Glebe.

Charles Bate – 7.3% -property agent, Old South Head Rd. Woollahra. He put his 500 shares up for sale on 20th May 1885.

E F Ickerson (legal manager)- not listed in Sands although a prominent lawyer. – Solicitor Mutual Fire Chambers 86 Pitt St. On 15th April 1887 he defended Oscar Schulze in his attempt to recover money from GCCL. He was the official liquidator of GCCL in July 1887.

Mr Pile (vice chairman)

Details from Sands Directory

  • J. B. North was listed in 1883 as stock and share broker 105/139 Pitt St.
  • Frederick Hammon, my G. Grandfather was listed in 1883 as watchmaker and jeweller, 130/138 King St.
  • Benjamin Backhouse who bought Por 68, Por 72 and Por 92 and with Campbell Mitchell Por 71, was a well-known architect of 263 George St Sydney. Backhouse was the Chairman of the “City Improvement Board”.

The Maitland Mercury of 16th July 1885 reports that the company was prepared to deliver coal to Redfern Station for 11/3 per ton.

Fig A

This Real Estate brochure has been supplied by Brian Fox. Rosebery and Bate Streets still exist, Alfred St is now West Street. All the blocks in Sec 1 and Sec 2 were never developed, Sec 3 was re-subdivided, as the modern blocks do not match. The site of the steam Sawmill is now a dirt car park for bushwalkers. Note the addition of a railway station to serve the “Township” and a path on the left “Track from the Coal Mine” See Por 67 and 68 in Fig 1 below.

This map raises an interesting question. The ropeway would have passed through lots 11,12,27 and 28, making them a little difficult to sell.

Also access for the ropeway across the Bathurst Road would have to be dealt with via an easement. The terminal of the ropeway had to include bins for storing coal and delivering it to the railway trucks on the siding underneath. This had to be on Railway property, and also dealt with through some lease or easement. I have not been able to find any documentation to support this. On 21st June 1884 the Daily Telegraph reports that Reynolds and Cohen approached the Minister for Works to plead for a siding to serve their ropeway. The minister replied that they should pay for it themselves, but that he would look further into the matter.  The Sydney Morning Herald and the Sydney Mail printed a similar but more detailed report, which illustrated Mr Cohen’s ability to bend the truth to his own advantage when quoting financial figures.  On the 25th June the Newcastle Morning Herald enters the debate as to who should be paying for infrastructure which rewards the investor but not the Government.

Fig B. Map care of Brian Fox.

Fig 1. NSW Lands Registry Services.

Unfortunately, this mine had a very short life and not much is known of its operations, the Government inspectors only reporting six monthly, the first report in June of 1885 saying it was being constructed, the next in November that it had closed, but the first report did mention the Tramway and that it was being installed by one Oscar Schulze C.E. (Consulting Engineer) and Carl Wagermann.

Usually referred to as “Captain Wagermann” he came to Australia as a representative of various firms in Germany for the Melbourne Exhibition of March 1881. He and Schulze became the “patentees” for Bleichert Ropeways in Australia. He appears in Victorian Newspapers as being involved in various mining ventures in Victoria.

Newspaper reports of the Gladstone Mine opening day tell of the special train laid on, the banquet and toasts in a specially erected tent, and the huge expectations of riches to flow both from the coal and the land sales of the surrounding MCP land. Mention was also made of the miles of “rails” lying on the ground ready for installation of the railway to transport the coal.  Not surprisingly the journalist of the day was unfamiliar with Pendant Tramways and had never seen track rope sections before, so he fell back on calling them “rails”.

As the coal mine was 200 meters below the level of the railway line on the escarpment and distant 2 miles, a Bleichert Pendant Tramway was commissioned to carry the coal from the mine to the railway siding. For the descent from the ridgetop to the mine level, a convenient gully was utilized which kept the gradient of the Tramway to an average 21 Degrees.

As the mine was, and still is, surrounded by rainforest, on a steep talus slope at the foot of 100 metre cliffs, we know very little of the tramway terminus, other than the newspaper reference that the tramway buckets were brought in pairs from the mine on special trolleys, pushed under the transport rail, where the carriers were hooked on, then as the carrier was pushed further along the rail the track sloped down and the bucket and carrier were lifted off the trolley. (Fig 1A). The carrier was then pushed around to where it could be clipped onto the haulage rope and transported to the top of the gorge.

This system did have the advantage of not having to tip the coal, with the provisions of hoppers and chutes which all would have taken up valuable space on the steep talus slope, but had the disadvantage of the lip of the bucket being 3′ 6″ high, so the seam being worked had to be at least 4′ 6″ to allow shoveling of the coal into the buckets by the miners.

An excursion in 2017 found the following:

There are two tunnels, about 30 metres deep, the larger on the left and the smaller ventilation on the right, both tunneling in a Northerly under Elizabeth Bowden Ridge. This direction is not surprising, as the adits are near the Southern Boundary of Por 159 of Reynolds’ land.

Fig 1A. Picture from Bleichert Tramways by William Hewitt.

Fig 2 – Phil Foster. Gladstone Colliery Main adit. The blocks of stone on the floor have fallen from the roof. The coal seam is the whitish layer

Fig 3. – Phil Foster. – The Gladstone ventilation adit.

There is a large leveled area in front of the tunnels which extends about 20M to the West. This is apparently the holding area for empties and bucket trolleys.

The tramway terminus is on the Eastern side of the creek to the East of Elizabeth Bowden Ridge.  There must have been a bridge across the creek to access the terminal area at the same level as the mine adits.

We presume that the buckets on their trolleys were manually pushed across this bridge.

Fig 4 – Phil Foster – Return Pulley
Fig 5 – Phil Foster – The deep groove in the return pulley

This rope sheave (Fig 4 and 5), is lying just below the bottom station of the ropeway and is very likely to be their haulage rope return sheave, as its approximate diameter is 6′ 6″ the gauge of the ropeway. It has an oversized groove, to accommodate the “spiders” which were inserted into the rope lay, for the carrier grips to engage with.

Fig 6 – Phil Foster – A pair of 2′ gauge skip wheels commonly used in the mining industry in the Blue Mountains and elsewhere. These wheels are in the vicinity of the Gladstone Mine.

The aerial tramway had the drive on top of the cliffs, where it also changed direction by 18 Degrees to send the buckets on to the specially built railway siding on the NSWGR. The siding was at the 65 1/2-mile mark from Sydney, which is opposite today’s “West St.”, was installed in 1885, and was 813′ long. The siding was closed in 1887.

The position of the siding shown on a modern Google Map (Fig 7) is shown in Red, based on a Singleton sketch map from “Shale Railways of NSW”.  Blaxland Road is branching off at lower left, and Sinclair Crescent at very bottom right.

The NSWGR empties (8 Ton capacity S Trucks) would have been brought up the single line track from Sydney. Shunting operations then left the empties on the high end of the siding and the train would proceed on its way.

The trucks would be filled by allowing them to run under the hopper, fill, then further into the dead-end siding to await pickup.

Collection is a little more complicated, as an “up” engine (bound for Sydney), would have to stop West of the siding, lock off its train, then proceed into the siding and draw the trucks up until the front truck was clear of the up points. Then, lock off the trucks, uncouple, back onto the mainline, change points, forward to past the Up points, change points, back into the siding and couple to the trucks, then draw them out of the siding onto the main line, stop change points, then back up to couple to the rest of the train, then proceed up to Sydney. (Even though “up” is downhill that’s railway talk)

In a long article in SMH 13th July 1885 many details of the ropeway installation are listed. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13592813

This article mentions a “Rools” tubular boiler. A typo, as it should be “Root” boiler manufactured by Patent Boiler Company of Birmingham, in the UK. See below. This ties in with the mention of a “self-feeding Grate” which is mentioned in this advertisement. (Fig 7)

Root Boilers were manufactured by the Patent Boiler Company Heneage St Birmingham UK and were a water tube boiler.

Fig 7 – Newspaper Archive. UK.

Fig 8 – Shale Railways

Fig 8A – Google Earth

Fig 8B – The Bleichert System of Wire Rope Tramways by William Hewitt M.E. 1903 – Library of University of California.

Fig 9 – SixMaps – The route of the Gladstone Pendant Tramway 2,000 metres long.

Fig 10 – Peter von Bleichert – This is a Bleichert drawing of a similar installation at Chilecito in Chile. A boiler in the bottom RH room supplies steam to the twin cylinder steam engine n the centre room. The drive is transferred via a flat belt to the overhead shaft which turns the drive sheave via a bevel gear on its topmost face.

Fig 11 – Phil Hammon – Svalbard Norway.

Here is a similar discarded bevel gear – Fig 11 on the island of Svalbard where Bleichert supplied many ropeways, the first in 1907. 

The drive sheave (which has not survived) has 6 grooves and the two counter sheaves have two grooves each (Fig 24). In the drawing above, the track ropes are terminated at the drive, but at Gladstone they were carried through, and fitted with substantial buttresses to take the lateral forces produced by bending the drive 18 degrees.

Unfortunately, the footings for the winder are buried under the earthworks for a golfing tee. The Leura Golf Course was extended to 18 holes in 1925 through this area. Only two concrete foundations were visible in 2005. One was of a unique design, (Fig 12) being a four feet square column about 3′ high with a 2’3″ hole in the top 6″ deep closing down to a 2′ diam. hole filled with debris, which we assume was the flue for the steel tubed and guyed boiler chimney. Further works by the Fairmont Resort in 2015 resulted in the removal of this artifact.

Fig 12 – Phil Hammon – Leura Golf Course – Chimney base.

Nearby is a flat half buried concrete footing, possibly a boiler foundation.

We have had a ground penetrating radar scan done of the area (Fig 13) with zero result. Disappointing, but there has been a lot of earthmoving activity in the area since the golf club was extended to 18 holes in 1925, and the Fairmont Resort built nearby in 1988.

Fig 13:

The GPR survey did not yield any results, too much disturbance, tree roots and fill.

Water Supplies

At the bottom of the slope to the East is a dam, (Fig 13C) currently supplying water for the Leura Golf Club, but it doesn’t show on the 1943 or 1970 aerial photos of the area, so it was not built to supply the Bleichert Boiler.  Where did they get their water from? An 80 HP twin cylinder steam engine would use 2,600 Gallons working over an eight-hour day.

There is a possible dam showing in the 1943 SixMaps picture at Lat. 33:43:19.12S Long 150:21:12.1E. The telling fact is the walking track visible in the 1943 photo Fig 13B (Blue Arrow) curving around to exactly where the dam is today (Red Arrow) and continuing away to the East, angling towards the SE corner of DP751646. Apparently, the Leura Golf Course Dam was built on or near to the site of the Schulze Dam for the Gladstone Coal Mine. By the time this 1943 (Fig 15) photo was taken the Schulze Dam had been abandoned for 59 years and may be the grey blob just below the red arrow tip. On the 1969 Topographic map of Katoomba a “tank” is marked on the site of the Gladstone engine. It could mean the concrete chimney footing (Fig 12) as an abandoned GI tank is not likely to have lasted 85 years.

Fig 14: – SixMaps – Leura Golf Course and Dam.

Fig 15: Leura Golf course in the process of being extended in 1943. – SixMaps.

Fig 16: Modern spillway on Leura Golf Course dam.

Tension Pit

Five hundred meters down line at Lat 33:43:6.94S  Long 150:21:14.55E is a concrete tension pit, 24 ft. long 6 ft. wide and 12 ft. deep. (Fig 17).

Fig 17: – Phil Hammon – Tension Pit

There are substantial foundation bolts on the Northern side, (Fig 19) indicating to me that this was the anchor point for the track ropes extending past the winder and down into the valley. The track ropes from the rail siding end were tensioned here and fixed at the siding end. When the ropeway was moved to Katoomba a Tension Pit of similar size was built there to contain 4 weight boxes so why this pit is 24ft long when it only had to accommodate two weight boxes instead of four, I don’t know. The weight boxes were approx. 5’ square. They may have contained these 56-pound weights, cast iron filled with lead (Fig 18).

We found this one at the Northern Terminal of the Ruin Castle Ropeway, where it had been used to weigh the incoming buckets.

Fig 18: Tension Pit weight. – Phil Hammon.

Fig 19: – Hold down bolts for the track rope anchor timbers at the tension pit.

Tension pit equipment:

         In the pit were two hanging cradles designed to hold the 40 cast iron weights, 1/2 cwt. each, (56 pounds or 25 kg) we are still doing the reverse engineering on the Jamison installation to calculate how much mass was needed to tension the track ropes. The mine end of the Gladstone installation would not have needed much mass, but the tension station between the drive and the unload station would need much more.

Nearby is a tree stump, (Fig 20) cut at an angle with a saw, in quite good condition. It is very possible that this is an original stump from 1883, its survival being due to the smooth upper surface shedding water, photos taken 5/12/11. Checked with Bushfire Brigade, they have no record of fires going through the area.

Fig 20: Surviving stump. – Phil Hammon.

Where the NSWGR railway siding was, for many years, a large lump of concrete lay beside the highway, from the siding terminus, but disappeared when widening works were undertaken on the road.

A few hundred metres to the West of the unload terminal in 1885 was a level crossing. The Western Road deviation constructed by Thomas Mitchell from Wentworth Falls to this level crossing circa 1832 on the Southern side of the railway line, passed under the tramway ropes beside the hoppers, yet in the contemporary correspondence of the time there has not survived any account of this unfamiliar sight!

A small 100 metre section of this road remains, at the rear of Kedumba Park as it turns to cross the railway line at the level crossing.

The Gladstone Colliery closed after shipping only 745 tons of coal up to the railway siding with the Pendant Tramway, the work of about 5 days. The figure of 745 tons comes from NSWGR records of shipments out of the Gladstone Siding.

The return sheave from the siding end of the ropeway is now outside the Glen Shale Mine in the Megalong Valley 5 miles away. (Fig 34)

We do know that John Britty North was operating the Katoomba Coal and Shale Company in 1888 and had been looking for a way of developing his Oil Shale deposits 2 miles from his coal mine across a 600-foot-deep forested Jamison valley. His exploratory mine at the Ruined Castle was reported closed in the Evening News of 3rd Sept 1885 as he waited. He did have a report from consultants suggesting that Aerial Tramways were a feasible solution to this problem, and as some of his MCP land was bought in partnership with Robert Henry Reynolds in the late 1870’s, he was well aware of the existence of the Gladstone Ropeway, and of its availability, and he was a guest at the Mine Opening! At he auction sale on 22nd April 1887, under the verandah of the Supreme Court in King St Sydney, North bought the Ropeway with all its engine, boiler and plant.

Where the siding was, for many years a large lump of concrete lay beside the highway, from the siding terminus, but disappeared when widening works were undertaken on the road.

A few hundred metres to the West of the unload terminal in 1885 was a level crossing. The Western Road deviation constructed by Thomas Mitchell from Wentworth Falls to this level crossing circa 1832 on the Southern side of the railway line, passed under the tramway ropes beside the hoppers, yet in the contemporary correspondence of the time there has not survived any account of this unfamiliar sight!

A small 100 metre section of this road remains, at the rear of Kedumba Park as it turns to cross the railway line at the level crossing.

The Gladstone Colliery closed after shipping only 745 tons of coal up to the railway siding with the Pendant Tramway, the work of about 5 days. The figure of 745 tons comes from NSWGR records of shipments out of the Gladstone Siding.

The return sheave from the siding end of the ropeway is now outside the Glen Shale Mine in the Megalong Valley 5 miles away. (Fig 34)

We do know that John Britty North was operating the Katoomba Coal and Shale Company in 1888 and had been looking for a way of developing his Oil Shale deposits 2 miles from his coal mine across a 600-foot-deep forested Jamison valley. His exploratory mine at the Ruined Castle was reported closed in the Evening News of 3rd Sept 1885 as he waited. He did have a report from consultants suggesting that Aerial Tramways were a feasible solution to this problem, and as some of his MCP land was bought in partnership with Robert Henry Reynolds in the late 1870’s, he was well aware of the existence of the Gladstone Ropeway, and of its availability, and he was a guest at the Mine Opening! At he auction sale on 22nd April 1887, under the verandah of the Supreme Court in King St Sydney, North bought the Ropeway with all its engine, boiler and plant.

This where the stories of the two ropeways cross. Gladstone closed and North bought all the plant and equipment from Oscar Schulze, who had finished up owning it after court action. See below:

Oscar Schulze, meanwhile, was in the midst of trying to recover £3,400 from the owners of the Gladstone Colliery through the courts for the Bleichert Ropeway that he had installed. He had been paid £4,150 for the plant and materials but had not been paid the balance because of the work had not “being completed” to the satisfaction of the defendant. Schulze lost the case and was denied any further funds. I’m sure he was more than happy to have North make an offer for the hardware, and for him to retrieve, re-engineer and reinstall the Ropeway.

It seems that Schulze had borrowed money from the mining supply company, Rabone Feez to pay Adolf Bleichert for the ropeway, so the purchase price supplied by North went to Rabone Feez and Schulze was happy to have a job.

SMH 15th April 1887

Top of Form

REYNOLDS AND OTHERS AGAINST SCHULZE OSCAR

ON FRIDAY, the twenty-second day of April 1887

at noon, unless the Writ of Fieri Facias herein be previously

satisfied, the Sheriff will cause to be sold by public auction

under the verandah of the Supreme Court, King Street Sydney

the Pendent Railway connecting the Gladstone Coal-mining

Company’s Mine with the Great Western Railway near Went-

worth Falls, together with engine, boiler, and plant in connection

with the said Pendant Railway.  

Terms, cash.

CHARLES COWPER

E.F. Ickerson, Defendant’s Attorney, Sydney  

In 1888 Schulze was still involved in the erection of the Hawkesbury River rail bridge (Figs 21 & 22), for The Union Bridge Company of Pennsylvania. This bridge was opened for rail traffic on 1st May 1889.

For the full story on the bridge see Bill Pippen’s marvellous book “The Hawkesbury River Railway Bridges” published by Australian Railway Historical Society. (HRRB)

Oscar Schulze C.E.

Oscar arrived in Sydney on 1st Sept. 1879 aged 31 from the USA. He was immediately involved in the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition, (1-8-79 to 30-9-79) as a representative of several German firms. It was noted “he speaks good English and is very courteous”. In Melbourne in April the following year, he was joined by Captain Wagemann, of Melbourne, as agents for many machinery firms, this time including Adolf Bleichert of Leipzig. An operating ropeway was erected out the back of the German Court viz. “ One of the latest novelties is an aerial line of railway, erected in the open air, by the Lake, at the back of the German court, central annexe.” By this time Wagemann and Schulze were “patentees” for the aerial ropeway. This “sample” ropeway was soon reused to transport soil across the Yarra River to create approaches for a bridge. Some of this equipment was then reused at Wentworth Falls and Katoomba resulting in premature failures.

Oscar was an accomplished pianist and performed at social functions on Dangar Island during the Hawkesbury River Bridge erection.” – HRRB