Our Evolving Collection: From Pumpherston to the Wolgan Valley

William Findlay

In 2015 we put up a short story about a Pumpherston man called William Findlay.

The story began in June 1907 when William Findlay, a retort bricklayer, left his home in School Row, Pumpherston, to undertake a one year contract for the Commonwealth Oil Corporation to build the Bryson patent ‘Pumpherston’ retort at Newnes in the Wolgan Valley near Sydney. Findlay was paid £300 per annum, with his passage to and from Australia paid.

William Findlay
On the extreme left of this 1908 photograph is Pumpherston man, William Findlay. (R10-00385)

Retoring began at Newnes in 1911, but soon stopped due to financial and technical issues. The latter related to the inability of the retort to cope with the rich Australian shale. The retort was replaced in 1913 and operations began again, under a new company, and continued successfully for many years.

Share certificate
Share certificate relating to shale mining operation at Newnes in Australia (LVSAV2011.101)
Pumpherston Retort at Newnes
A 1908 photograph of the bench of Bryson patent ‘Pumpherston” retorts built at the foot of ‘shale mountain’ at Newnes, in the Wolgan Valley. The shale was hewn from the mountainside and brought out from shafts to be taken directly to the adjacent retorts. (R10-00370)

And there the story ended because we knew nothing more of William Findlay. So, imagine our surprise when his daughter and grandson walked into the Museum with a collection of photographs (originals of the copies we already had) and documents belonging to William.

William had returned home, continued working in the West Lothian shale fields, and lived to be a good old age.

William Findlay
William Findlay, aged 90, at Pumpherston Bowling Club (LVSAV2018.079)

This is just one example of how our collection evolves over time, when local people bring in objects and items that augment what we already have.