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THE LIFE OF THE MOUNT KEMBLA MINE MANAGER JAMES HENRY RONALDSON (1858-1935) AND THE 'SIBERIAN' CONDITIONS OF WAGE SLAVERY HIS MEN WERE FORCED TO WORK UNDER

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THE LIFE OF THE MOUNT KEMBLA MINE MANAGER JAMES HENRY RONALDSON (1858-1935) AND THE 'SIBERIAN' CONDITIONS OF WAGE SLAVERY HIS MEN WERE FORCED TO WORK UNDER
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   1 THE LIFE OF THE MOUNT KEMBLA MINE MANAGER JAMES HENRY RONALDSON (1858-1935) AND THE ÔSIBERIANÕ CONDITIONS OF WAGE SLAVERY HIS MEN WERE FORCED TO WORK UNDER ÒI can understand that kind of thing in Siberia, but I really cannot understand it here.Ó James Curley (Secretary of the Northern MinerÕs Association) 18 June 1896 The two faces of J.H. Ronaldson (what you see is what you get) James Henry RonaldsonÕs father was Thomas Shirreff Ronaldson (1817-1872) and his mother was Janet Carfrae Martine (1819-1893). Their son - the future Mount Kembla mine manager - was born at ÒSouth BeltonÓ, Dunbar (East Lothian). 1  ItÕs about 12 miles from Lennoxlove, the seat of the Duke of Hamilton, the prime peer of Scotland, who once came to visit me in Thirroul in 1990 on his way home from chaperoning the Scottish team to the Commonwealth Games in New Zealand. He and his wife, Jill (Duchess of Hamilton Ð it was her idea to visit Thirroul), took my wife and I to lunch at the North Beach International in Wollongong but I think I would have been happier to have been transported back in time to have afternoon tea with one of the DukeÕs countrymen in the mine managerÕs house at Mount Kembla in 1892. The Mine ManagerÕs House at Mount Kembla (check out those beautiful climbing roses). Mrs Ronaldson 2  and Mrs Pringle on the steps and MR Ronaldson (standing) and Mr. Pringle (reclining) 1   James Henry Ronaldson was baptised on 15 August 1858 at the Dunbar Free Church. The minister of the Quoad Sacra Church at Belhaven, and his entire congregation, adhered to the Free Church in 1843. They continued to occupy the church, under the name of ÒBelhaven Free Church,Ó until it was claimed by the Established Church in 1849. Then they moved to Dunbar, where they built a church in 1850. 2   Mrs. RonaldsonÕs piano and organ playing were occasionally enjoyed at the both the church and the little hall at Mount Kembla (  Illawarra Mercury  5 July 1894 p 3)     2 Mine MangersÕ Afternoon Tea at Mount Kembla c. 1892. James Henry Ronaldson (at left), his wife Janet Brodie Purves (1861-1953 and Henry Arthur Pringle (standing) and his wife Alice Maude MacCabe. 3   The climbing rose on that lovely 1890s Mount Kembla verandah looks incredibly inviting and, perhaps, a touch more charming than the view of the waves I had at North Beach Wollongong one hundred years later. James Henry Ronaldson and Henry Arthur Pringle smelling the roses  The only thing that was not Òall rosesÓ about this photo is that James Henry Ronaldson, although he had a nice house with roses at the door, was a bit of bastard Ð and the company he worked for were even bigger bastards. Even as late as 1915 the housing conditions at Kembla Heights were still very bad and some of the hovels were total absolute shockers. At a Wages Board inquiry held in November 1915 a miner explained that even ten years after the manager, James Henry Ronaldson, had departed the scene the housing at Kembla Heights was still in an appalling state. JAMES RUSSELL, a miner, residing at Thirroul, deposed that he paid 5s rent when he lived at Kembla Heights in one of the company's houses; these houses of the company should be burnt down, that was his opinion. 4   3   For the story of the Pringle/MacCabe courtship see Joseph Davis, ÒThe Australian Coke Making Company at Unanderra (south of "Cobblers Hill" near Figtree NSW & East of Mount Kembla) including a brief history of the sex life and misadventures of its sometime manager Henry Arthur PringleÓ, April 2018, pp. 20-25 also available on line: https://www.academia.edu/36317095/THE_AUSTRALIAN_COKE_MAKING_COMPANY_AT_UNANDERRA_SOUTH_OF_COBBLERS_HILL_NEAR_FIGTREE_NSW_and_EAST_OF_MOUNT_KEMBLA_INCLUDING_A_BRIEF_HISTORY_OF_THE_SEX_LIFE_AND_MISADVENTURES_OF_ITS_SOMETIME_MANAGER_HENRY_ARTHUR_PRINGLE     3 The unmarried minerÕs ÔbatchesÕ (ÒBachelorsÕ cottagesÓ) were nothing short of horrific. At the same Wages Board hearing in 1915 the then mine manager, James Jarvie, tried to put a positive spin on things by claiming Òevery householder employee was charged ninepence a week for their coal and could take as much as they liked to carry; there might be three or four employees in a house but although all could take coal, there was only one charge. Some cottages had ovens and some grates.Ó   Some of the ÔBatchesÕ that housed unmarried miners at Mount Kembla  Mount Kembla resident Noel Murray even possesses a photo of one of the unmarried menÕs batches Ð presumably used by several single men Ð and explains that Òthis batch was still in use in 1946.Ó A Neil Murray photo of a minerÕs ÒbatchÓ still standing in 1946  Me good mate ÔKembla LodgeÕ, a Mount Kembla resident and expert on mining history at Mount Kembla and throughout Illawarra, has even told me that some slab huts used by miners like this one, seen still standing in 1981, were Òstill lived in until recent timesÓ. 4   South Coast Times 12 November 1915   p 4     4 Slab minerÕs cottage at Harry Graham Drive Kembla Heights still standing in 1981.  Bad living conditions were matched by bad working conditions. James Curley, the Secretary of the Northern MinerÕs Association even singled out a notorious notice pinned up at the mine portal at Mount Kembla by the manager, James Henry Ronaldson. This, said Mr. Curley, was posted up on one of the mines in the Illawarra district, on the 15th day of June 1895. Mount Kembla Colliery. Fourteen days from this date miners and other workmen employed at this colliery will be required to work on Pay Saturdays for such number of hours us the exigencies of trade demand, and to start work at any time up to 9 a.m., as on other days when required, and employment will be subject to acquiescence in this rule. J. H. Ronaldson, Manager. 5   James Curley then explained the following about how the management at Mount Kembla was trying to destroy any concept of simply working an 8-hour day at their mine. This only applies to Pay Saturday in regard to that particular colliery. We have not worked under the exacting conditions that are here set forth, but it came to a question of this, that we were driven actually to the verge of a strike, and it was only by the calmest and the greatest amount of consideration that a strike could actually be prevented. We say here that one is necessary to prevent such conditions of slavery as are within the conditions of that notice. It only applies to Pay Saturday. Up to that date we had not been working on Pay Saturdays at all, and for some reason or other they wanted us to work on these Saturdays, and put up a notice that that limitation to Saturday was actually from 1 o'clock in the morning until 12 o'clock on the Saturday night. We, of course, were very nearly driven to a strike, but ultimately we compromised by incessant representations. We wrote those who intended to enforce the conditions and we interviewed them by deputations, until at last we arrived at an agreement that allows our men to come out of the pit at 1 o'clock on Pay Saturday. And what time do the men work from? Ñ Any hours between 6 in the morning and 1 o'clock. But you see the struggle we have to battle against; that is continually being fought in order to prevent the most serious conditions that may be imposed on men. I can understand that kind of thing in Siberia, but I really cannot understand it here. President [of the Royal Commission]: What time does the first shift go in? Ñ At 6 o'clock in the morning, and they leave the face at 2 o'clock in the afternoonÑ eight hours. The second Shift goes in at 9 o'clock and leaves the face at 5 o'clock in the after noon Ñ eight hours'. 5    Illawarra Mercury  18 June 1896 p 2     5 When you were asked to work longer, until that time had you only been working the eight hours? Ñ Yes. And they tried to put on some more hours? Ñ They are continually trying. And you have resisted? Ñ Yes. And successfully? Ñ Yes, so far, at that particular colliery. 6   MEANWHILE WAY BACK IN SCOTLAND The Ronaldson family had moved from the large estate at ÒSouth BeltonÓ near Dunbar in East Lothian where James Henry RonaldsonÕs was born in 1858 sometime before the year 1871. ÒEstate of South BeltonÓ (1804) by John Langlands. Ink and colour wash (54 x 51 cm). This rough coloured estate plan shows the separate farms on the estate. Tables list the fields in each farm. From the   Papers of the Hay Family of Belton near Dunbar, East Lothian held by The National Records of Scotland. Whether or not the Ronaldson family owned the whole Estate is unclear. Whatever the case, by the time James Ronaldson had turned 12 the family had moved to number 7 Mansionhouse Road in Edinburgh. 7 Mansionhouse Road Edinburgh (October 2012) J. H. Ronaldson went on to study geology and mining engineering at the University of Edinburgh (1875-1877) and in early 1881 he was at the University of Liege in Belgium where he studied metallurgy, industrial chemistry, and a special course in the physical and analytical laboratory. At the time of the 1881 census James was recorded as a ÒVisitorÓ in the Lantrissant District of Wales (some 10 miles from Cardiff) staying at the home of the colliery manager, Mr. Robert R. Hood (aged 24). James was then said to be aged 22. Robert Hood was the son of Mr. Archibald Hood to 6    Illawarra Mercury  18 Jun 1896 p 2  
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