Page 3 – Seddonville State Mine

In the 1890s all coal mines in New Zealand were run by private companies. The largest was the Westport Coal Company, a subsidiary of the Union Steam Ship Company, which was able to use its near-monopoly position to control coal production and keep prices high. The 1896 Brunner mine disaster highlighted the poor safety record of the mining companies. Premier Richard Seddon decided that the best way to challenge the companies was to establish government-owned mines that would provide cheaper coal as well as setting higher safety standards and better working conditions for miners. The State Coal Mines Act 1901 authorised the Minister of Mines to open mines and carry out the business of coal mining.

Establishing a state coal mine

Although Seddon was keen to see rapid action, it was not easy to select the sites of the first state coal mines. The West Coast was the only area where bituminous coal, suitable for steam-raising on ships and railway locomotives, was found. But most of the obvious areas had already been leased by coal companies.

The first state coal mine

The Seddonville and Point Elizabeth State Mines were designated at about the same time. Considerable work was needed at both localities before mining could start, but the Seddonville Mine produced coal in November 1903, beating Point Elizabeth by seven months.

Political issues were also important. The closure of the Mokihinui and Westport-Cardiff mines meant that there was almost no freight on the Seddonville railway line, and local residents petitioned Seddon to open a state mine there. Mines Department officials investigated the thick coal seam in Chasm Creek, and recommended opening the Seddonville State Mine in the hitherto unworked Cave area south of the abandoned Westport-Cardiff mine.

Before the mine could start producing coal, it was necessary to drive a tunnel, put in a rope haulage road and storage bins, and upgrade the railway siding. The first coal was produced in November 1903. It provided fuel for government departments, and the surplus was sold to coal merchants.

The 1906 New Zealand Mining Handbook, an official publication, gave a glowing account of the social benefits of state ownership:

In regard to the facilities for working the Mokihinui Coalfield - the situation of the bins and railway sidings in close proximity to the railway - the arrangements made in Seddonville could scarcely be improved on. Seddonville is an ideal mining camp. There is a considerable area of flat ground having splendid soil suitable for cultivation in any form; plenty of room to lay out a township with large sections where the miners can build comfortable homes and have sufficient ground around their cottages for growing vegetables and fruit ... The climate cannot be surpassed; the land when cleared is exceeding fruitful; the dense fogs and mist met with at Millerton and Denniston are unknown in the Mokihinui Valley. The Government, in opening up the mines in this locality, has conferred a great benefit not only on those who reside in the district, but also on those who wish to make comfortable homes for themselves.

Mining problems

Although the output of the mine increased steadily, problems were soon apparent. Most of the coal was crushed and broken, with a high proportion of fine material that could not be sold. In 1908 a briquette works was started in Westport to use this fine coal, but it proved to be uneconomic.

More significantly, it soon became clear that the coal was not a continuous seam, but a series of 'pods' or 'lenses'. As the known areas of coal were gradually worked out there was a desperate search for new areas so that the mine could continue working. From 1909 to 1911 the area south of the mine was explored by drilling. Although a block of coal was found in the headwaters of Charming Creek, this did not seem large enough to support a mine.

The Seddonville State Mine had its largest annual output (more than 72,000 tonnes) in 1913, when 99 men and boys were employed. At the end of the year the manager reported: 'Having in view the near exhaustion of the mine ... the time is fast approaching when operations will have to be abandoned'. The mine closed in May 1914, and most of the miners left Seddonville.

How to cite this page

'Seddonville State Mine', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 20-Dec-2012