The Coal Mines is an outstanding example of the 19th-century European global strategy of using the forced labour of convicts. The Coal Mines illustrates the importance of labour and production, classification, punishment and surveillance in the penal system and the role of the convict in the establishment of colonial economies.
The regime at the Coal Mines represents the most severe tier on Governor Arthur’s progressive scale of convict punishment and reform. The historical record and the presence of outstanding extant examples of solitary cells at the Coal Mines Historic Site are important in expressing 19th-century intolerance with the practice of homosexuality in Britain and Australia.
The Coal Mines Historic Site is a very early industrialised mine site in Australia; it is certainly the oldest in Tasmania. The Coal Mines is an important step in the progress of Australia’s mining industry.
The Coal Mines Historic Site has extensive research potential because of the high degree of integrity of the Site and its cultural landscape setting. The industrial character and integrity of the Coal Mines Historic Site make it an unparalleled resource for archaeological research into early Australian mining practice.
The Coal Mines Historic Site has potential for scientific research and education concerning the habitat ecology of the endangered or threatened Forty-Spotted Pardalote (Pardalotus quadragintus) and Hairstreak Butterfly (Pseudalmenus chlorinda myrsilus).
The Coal Mines Historic Site has a sense of serenity, remoteness, mystery and discovery that makes the site special to visitors. The Site’s forest and water-bounded landscape formed the bars of the prison and are still dominant features in the landscape.
Since the early 20th-century it has been valued for its romantic qualities as ‘picturesque’ ruins set in a marine landscape and surrounded by native bush. It has also been valued for the Gothic atmosphere of confinement and suffering evoked by the cells in particular.
The Site has been the subject of art work by notable professional and amateur artists, including Owen Stanley, Francis Simpkinson de Wesselow, Conrad Martens, and Bishop Francis Nixon.
The convict-period remains of the Coal Mines Historic Site demonstrate different technical aspects in the extraction and transportation of coal in the early 19th-century, from relatively simple manual techniques to which are added the more mechanised systems of the steam age.
The industrial landscape—created using a unique blend of punishment labour and technical innovation—illustrates the application of British models of mining adapted to suit the available labour source, local environment and colonial economy. The spatial layout of its elements in the landscape of the Coal Mines Historic Site demonstrates convict settlement-design practices. The presence of examples of fine architectural detailing on some structures illustrates the presence of skilled stonemasons. The alternating underground vaulted brick separate cells of 1845–46 are the only surviving example of this type of prison accommodation, which was introduced into Van Diemen’s Land during 1844–46 and never used elsewhere in the colonies.3
The Coal Mines Historic Site is important to the community’s sense of place and of its own history. Visitors from other places also find their way there in small numbers and express their enthusiasm for the unmediated and ‘romantic’ experience that it offers.
Special Association Values
The Coal Mines Historic Site has outstanding heritage value to the nation because of the place’s special association with convicts and their administrators in the period 1833 to 1848. Other significant figures include naturalist John Lhotsky and Jane, Lady Franklin.
There is one recorded Aboriginal site at the Coal Mines Historic Site. The landscape and traditional resources, which around this site appear little changed, were important to Aboriginal people in the past and provide a connection of importance to Aboriginal people today.
The Coal Mines were the first mechanised mines in Tasmania and one of the first in Australia; the beds and footings of the winding and pumping machinery represent the earliest pit-top workings in Australia. The dual role of secondary punishment station and an ambitious industrial venture at the Coal Mines is rare in Australian convict history.
The Coal Mines Historic Site is one of the last refuges of two threatened or endangered species—the rare Forty Spotted Pardalote (Pardalotus quadragintus) and the vulnerable Hairstreak Butterfly (Pseudalmenus chlorinda myrsilus).
The form and location of elements at the Coal Mines Historic Site display deliberate design and arrangement, reflecting the order and hierarchy of a penal settlement.
The built environment at the Site displays a large, surviving concentration and wide range of 19th-century design, engineering and construction techniques, materials and built forms.
The Site represents important aspects of Australia’s convict industry, including principles of labour organisation and punishment, introduction and adaptation of technology, and the role of convict labour in building colonial economies.