THIS week's image is an etching of Bathurst City Council's Gasworks in February 1958, showing the new retort house. The retort allowed the gas to be separated from the coal, allowing the process to produce coke and coal tar. Both could be sold, with much of the coal tar used by council on local roads. The gasholders and retort houses are evident.
Before the introduction of town gas, residents of Bathurst depended on candles or oil, often whale oil, to obtain light within their dark home or at night.
In 1846, Abraham Pineo Gesner invented a substitute for whale oil to be used for lighting. The new fluid was distilled from coal oils, though initially it was very smoky, discolouring curtains and wallpaper and smelling like a sewer, one lady stated.
In late 1861, Mr U. Evenis had his Bathurst Soap and Candle Works in William Street and had just installed some improvements at his premises that allowed him to more effectively extract the oil from the tallow.
He was purchasing tallow in any quantity or quality for cash or exchange. His tallow candles were gaining sales in the Western District.
The candles "currently made will be found superior to any offered to the public and guaranteed to remain firm throughout summer".
In Bathurst, a private gas plant was constructed down near the Macquarie River and Vale Creek, not far from the Denison Bridge and showgrounds.
John Newlands Wark owned the coal-fired gasworks fronting Durham Street.
Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1817, he was a gas engineer who initially sailed to New Zealand to build a gasworks in Auckland in 1863.
After being approached by the Sydney Gasworks, he decided to accept the position of engineer in 1869. He remained there until he resigned in 1872 to manage his private venture known as the Bathurst Gas Company.
His son, John Wark, had actually built the Bathurst Gasworks for his father during 1871. Their first customers were supplied with gas on May 4, 1872.
Mr Wark was publicly orientated predominantly with the Bathurst Hospital and the School of Arts.
By the mid-1880s, the Bathurst Council was receiving several complaints, not only from residents but from the councillors themselves. It seems the complaints related to the price charged as well as gas quality.
The councillors then decided to build their own gas plant.
Work soon began in 1888 on laying gas pipes around town, on the opposite side of the road to Wark's gas pipes.
Businesses changed over and many others had the gas put on for the first time. Council's streetlamps also had gas pipes laid to them.
The new gasworks was in Russell Street, with customers travelling over the railway line. Years later, the underpass was built.
From this time for many years, the two gasworks competed side by side.
Most of Bathurst's hotels changed to gas for their kitchens, heating and lighting. Any special oil lamps they owned were often converted over to gas and the larger stores, such as Webb and Company, installed masses of new gas lamps.
Just before World War One, and after around 25 years of rivalry, Mr Wark jnr decided to retire and chose to sell.
The council decided to purchase the opposition, mainly to prevent an outside buyer, though, truth be known, both gasworks were hardly viable. The selling price of £12,000 was agreed upon and council got the works and the land.
Much later, the site was leased after an approach by Australian Gas Light Company in 1979, which undertook to maintain the gas supply for the city.
This continued until 1987, when natural gas arrived in Bathurst, which saw the decommissioning of the old gas producing system in our city.
Mr Wark died in Bathurst on January 9, 1884, leaving a family of five boys and three girls. His gasworks was held in trust for the family and was managed by one of the sons.
Alan McRae is with the Bathurst District Historical Society.
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