On this day, 18 September 1797, Lieutenant John Shortland discovered coal in the Newcastle region of New South Wales. Shortland was en route to Port Stephens in pursuit of runaway convicts when he collected coal samples and charted the harbour. He immediately named the river after his governor, John Hunter. The Hunter River was often referred to as Coal River in the earliest documents of the settlement at Newcastle. Newcastle coal was Australia’s first export, mined by convicts sent to Newcastle as a secondary punishment.
Image: The Coal River or Port of Newcastle New South Wales, c. 1807. Watercolour drawing. Attributed to John Lewin. SAFE / PXD 942 /2.