Recently, Roy enjoyed a trip to the Hunter Valley area. Roy loves the Hunter Valley with its beautiful scenery, its vineyards and interesting shops, and of course its history. While we were driving though, Roy noticed something about the names of many of the local towns. Roy is used to seeing English names for places and streets, and of course to seeing names with an Aboriginal origin, but he noticed that many towns in the Hunter Valley had a different sort of name. After a little research, Roy discovered that many of the names were Welsh, and that started him wondering why Welsh names were being used.
If you would like to visit the Hunter Valley it is located not far from Newcastle in NSW. It is a huge area, with plenty to see and do, from walking or even horseriding in the bush to visiting vineyards. There are lots of cafes and restaurants to eat at, and also plenty of accommodation if you would like to stay in the area for a few days. Of course, there are also lots of shopping opportunities with garden centres, food shops, artisan and craft stores, antique shops, and a wide range of other businesses.
As you might imagine, Welsh names used in the Hunter Valley indicate that there were Welsh people living in the area. Of course, some came as farmers, or even as convicts, but many came as highly skilled labour to be used in the coal mines. Coal had been used by the Aborigines before the arrival of Europeans, but only what they found lying around. Coal was first discovered by Europeans in the Hunter region in 1791 at the mouth of the Hunter River. The discovery was made by escaped convicts though and they didn’t immediately pass the information on, so it wasn’t until 1797 that coal was ‘rediscovered’. Coal mining soon followed, with convicts being used to mine the coal. The convicts were not very good at coal mining though, and the process of mining was considered too slow using their labour. Other labour forces needed to be considered.
Soon, miners were being found overseas and brought back to Australia. In 1838 alone, the Newcastle coalfields saw 100 Irish and 40 Welsh miners arrive. As time went on, more miners arrived from overseas, many of them from Wales. Welsh miners were highly skilled and suited to the types of mines which were used in Australia. Many mines throughout the British Empire were drift mines and miners simply waited for the coal to come to the surface and then dug it out. In Newcastle and the Hunter Valley though, mining was done underground in pits, tunnels and shafts. Welsh miners were not only used to working underground, they had actually pioneered a lot of the techniques back home in Wales! The conditions were still hard though and the miners were often treated badly. In 1850 the first miners strike took place and the first Miners Trade Union also emerged, helping to make the conditions for miners better. Today, mining is still an important industry in the Hunter Valley and Newcastle, but the early days of mining, and the Welsh heritage of so many of the miners is remembered in names like Aberdare, Aberdeen, Greta, Pelaw, Neath and Swansea.