Highlands History | Lake Alexandra | August 21

Well-known former local resident John McColgan passed away recently, aged 88 years. 

During the 1990s he collected stories of Southern Highlands’ history, published two books and contributed articles to this newspaper, many with a quirky Irish humour. 

A repeat of his article on Lake Alexandra follows here:

Situated only a few blocks away from the main street, Lake Alexandra is one of the most picturesque sites in Mittagong. The preserve is an oasis of beauty and serenity favoured by locals, visitors and waterfowl.

SCENIC WALK: A pleasant spot of leisure at Mittagong’s Lake Alexandra, c1920. On the photo it is spelt as ‘Alexandria’. Photo: BDH&FHS.

SCENIC WALK: A pleasant spot of leisure at Mittagong’s Lake Alexandra, c1920. On the photo it is spelt as ‘Alexandria’. Photo: BDH&FHS.

Hundreds of wild ducks, waterhen, and other water-dwelling birds live in or around the lake, and because visitors feed them, they become very tame. Part of the charm for visitors having a picnic beside the lake is to have wild ducks leave the water and gather nearby for hand-feeding.

This is not a natural lake, but an artificial one, created by events in Mittagong during 1875. It is situated within the area of the 1865 subdivision of 145 acres to establish a village called New Sheffield. The Fitzroy Iron Works Company controlled the land as part of its 900-acre mining lease, and did this subdivision.

At the time, the name given to the area of this subdivision was New Sheffield Village. The word “Mittagong” was only used in reference to the Lower Mittagong settlement on the old Argyle Road below the Mittagong Range.

Lake Alexandra did not exist in 1865, and the area now covered by the waters of the lake was duly subdivided for sale as residential blocks.

English royalty influenced names used for various places in the New Sheffield subdivision. Alexandra Square and the nearby Mount Alexandra were named after the Princess of Wales, Princess Alexandra, wife of the Prince of Wales, Prince Albert, who were very popular at the time. Albert later adopted the name of King Edward V11 during his reign (1900-1910) and his wife became Queen Alexandra.

In 1873 the iron works, which had been idle, was taken over by a company formed by English capitalists called Fitzroy Bessemer Steel Hematite Iron and Steel (Limited).

During 1875 the manager of the Iron Works, David Smith, built a coal-skip line over Mount Alexandra in order to transport coal and coke to the Iron Works. This was to replace an existing line previously used as a skip line track around the end of the mountain for horse-drawn trucks to transport the coal.

The construction of the line over the mountain involved building an embankment across the gully for the line, which created a lake, providing a plentiful and regular water supply needed by the iron works for steam boilers and for cooling hot air jets (tuyeres) used with the new “hot-blast system”. 

AT LEISURE: Enjoying the scenic beauty of Lake Alexandra, c1902.

AT LEISURE: Enjoying the scenic beauty of Lake Alexandra, c1902.

Water built up behind the embankment to form a lake, which was called Lake Alexandra. This reserve of water is reported to have been used for steam engines, one of which was sited on the apex of Mount Alexandra to winch coal skips up the side of the mountain, and for other steam boilers used at the iron works itself. 

The December 1884 Mittagong Land Company subdivision map clearly shows a line marked ‘pipe’ running from the deep northwest corner of the lake over the rise to the iron works. 

Following the closing of the iron works smelting operation in March 1877, the scenic area of the lake became a favourite spot for swimming, boating, and public recreation, but suffered a number of drowning tragedies because the water at the wall was very deep (approx. 9-10 metres) and at the time many people were unable to swim.

Because of all this social activity at the lake, it was decided by the council to install a large pipe to carry waste water from the town itself past the lake to minimise pollution of the water. The pipe could be seen from the bridge over the outlet channel at the top end of the lake and where it emerges into the creek under the lower pedestrian pathway bridge.

Ever since its inception, Lake Alexandra has not only been a prized beauty spot, but a focal point for Mittagong residents. The flat grassed area is used by numerous people for barbecues and picnics, or just quiet walks among the attractive surrounds. Both children and adults love the area.

McColgan would be pleased that in recent years, the council has improved the lake’s water quality and renovated the surrounds. 

  • Berrima District Historical & Family History Society – compiled by PD Morton. Part 2 of a 4-part series. To be continued.
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