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Richmond Bridge, Bridge St, Richmond, TAS, Australia

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List National Heritage List
Class Historic
Legal Status Listed place (25/11/2005)
Place ID 105724
Place File No 6/01/093/0044
Summary Statement of Significance
Richmond Bridge, completed in 1825, is a rare place as the earliest, Australian large stone arch bridge and it has had few significant changes to it since it was first constructed so it also has high integrity.  Richmond Bridge is seen as being of outstanding heritage value to the nation because of its rarity.
 
The aesthetic significance of Richmond Bridge is appreciated locally, within Tasmania and nationally.  Its picturesque image has been used widely in national and international tourism promotions since the 1920s and has inspired the work of major Australian artists.
 
Official Values
Criterion B Rarity
Richmond Bridge, built by convict labour in 1823 to 1825, is the oldest, surviving, large, stone arch bridge in Australia with a high degree of integrity.
 
Criterion E Aesthetic characteristics
The aesthetic significance of Richmond Bridge is appreciated locally, within Tasmania and nationally.  Its picturesque image has been used widely in national and international tourism promotions since the 1920s and has inspired the work of major Australian artists.
 
Description
The Richmond Bridge is a stone arched road bridge.  The bridge is set in the Coal River Valley and links escarpments on the east and west at the town of Richmond.  The present course of the Coal River at Richmond is delineated by a minor valley of up to 80m wide, narrowly incised into unconsolidated Tertiary sediments, that is, the floor of the greater Coal River Valley.  Richmond Bridge crosses the Coal River at a point where this incision is about 55m wide.
 
The bridge is constructed of local (reportedly derived from the nearby Butcher’s Hill), brown, (Triassic) sandstone in random coursed, rough ashlar work (with some tool marks evident), on smooth-dressed, inclined piers over the river.  The bridge consists of four main semi-circular arches with a smaller arch on each side (six in all), and a stone parapet (terminating in round stone bollards/columns) above a string course.  The arches spring from piers which have sloping fins with angular leading edges aligned with the flow of the river.  These three large, sloping ‘cutwaters’ encase the original vertical cutwaters.
 
It is a working, two lane road bridge with a load limit of 10 tonnes.  The original roadbed is 25 feet wide (7.2m between parapets) and the length is 135 feet (41m).  The six spans are of 4.3, 8.1, 8.3, 8.5, 8.3 and 4.1m.
 
The bridge is founded on the river bed at unknown depth.  The undulating outline, which is characteristic of the bridge today, is due to uneven settlement of the piers and appeared early in its life.
 
The archival evidence suggests that a cross section through the bridge would show longitudinal walls built 600mm apart thereby affording the structure a robust stiffness.  The fill is basalt and sandstone gravel of loose to medium density with sandy clay fines.
 
The immediate visual image is of a wide, Medieval footbridge.
 
History
 
The establishment of the bridge and the township
 
The Coal River district was first explored by Europeans in 1803; in 1819 Macquarie granted Lieutenant-Governor Sorrell land at ‘the crossing point of the Coal River’.  As settlement and cultivation of Richmond developed (from about 1820 it was known as ‘the granary of Australia’ and all available land in the district was being cultivated with wheat commanding high prices), increased road traffic made a bridge over the Coal River a necessity.  The crossing place where the wagons could ford the river, south of where the bridge now stands, was frequently flooded in winter and spring, creating delays or posing a risk of carts and stock being washed away, and the Pittwater estuary was tidal.
 
By 1820 road construction to Richmond had commenced, following a route south, through Cambridge.  The necessity for a bridge was pointed out (it is claimed) by the Royal Commissioner John Thomas Bigge when he visited in 1820 as part of his Commission of Inquiry on the state of Agriculture and Trade.  (So, initially, the bridge was known as Bigge’s Bridge.)  The Coal River was forded at what became Richmond, this being the nearest convenient crossing point from where the river narrowed about a kilometer upstream of the tidal flow.  The relatively low height of the river escarpment at this point provided an ideal approach for a bridge and thus the bridge later provided a focus for town development.
 
Built by convict labour it was probably under the superintendence of Major Bell of the 49th Regiment, who was Acting Engineer and Inspector of Public Works, and William Wilson, who was superintendent of Stonemasons.  David Lambe, Colonial Architect, visited the site before it was completed.  The attribution of the designer is not certain – both Thomas Bell and David Lambe have been attributed with the design but it seems more likely that it was Bell who had six years experience as Acting Colonial Engineer and overseer of several building constructions rather than Lambe who would have had to design the bridge as a twenty year old just arrived from England, site unseen, and at least eight months before his own appointment as Colonial Architect by the Lieutenant-Governor, and indeed the latter’s own appointment.
 
The building of the bridge meant that heavy traffic was able to proceed without delay between Hobart and the East Coast, and Tasman Peninsula, when the Coal River was in flood, though the two Pittwater ferries still continued to operate for people.
 
The Hobart Town Gazette of 13 December 1823 announced that the first stone had been laid (11 December 1823) in the presence of James Gordon and George Western Gunning and ‘a number of the respectable settlers of the vicinity’.  The construction of the bridge and the establishment of the Richmond township are closely linked events.  Within two months of the bridge work starting, the township of Richmond was named.
 
The bridge was opened, possibly in 1825.  (Various completion dates are cited – September 1824, 1 January 1825, 1 April 1825, and 4 April 1825.)  This early date, according to O’Connor, ensures that it is the oldest, existing, Australian bridge.
 
The bridge served to consolidate Richmond as a focus for commercial and institutional development.  The township developed to the south-west of the new works, being along the road to Kangaroo Point where a ferry/punt connected with Hobart.  The early town layout is shown on two undated plans from the mid-1820’s.  The first buildings constructed in the new town were part of the police and penal systems – a court house, gaol, gaoler’s quarters and residence for the Police Magistrate.  Several private houses soon appeared and within ten years two inns were catering for local trade.
 
The setting
 
The nomination is only for the bridge and not for its setting.  However, it is important to present the history of the immediate context for the bridge to provide information on local environment changes that might affect the bridge itself and to allow for an appreciation of changes to the way the bridge has been viewed over time.
 
In 1825, Henry Melville mentions Richmond Township showing evident signs of improvement.  In 1827, however, the township was still considered an outstation, and received supplies of fresh meat and flour from the Commissariat Office.  George Augustus Robinson visited Richmond in October 1829 and described the town ‘as being pleasantly situated on an eminence, and the buildings mostly constructed of brick or stone, comprising several neat villas, a courthouse (also used as a place of worship), a gaol and a windmill, the place somewhat resembling a country village in England, the serpentine course of the Coal River giving a picturesque effect.’
 
The windmill mentioned by Robinson, was presumably the unfinished structure belonging to James Buscombe, under construction on the western escarpment on the bank of the Coal River.  Buscombe’s allotment, is shown on a plan of c1825, which also shows, between Buscombe and the bridge, the house of Turnbull, overseer of the bridge construction.  In September 1824, Government Miller, John Walker, had gained an allotment and erected a water mill in Mill Field (north of the later Burns/Eldershaw mill) with a dam fifty feet upstream of the bridge.  A slight depression on the eastern bank is said to indicate the old mill race.
 
River Place, the township reserve beside the Coal River and bridge, is an example of early town planning, with lands set aside for public use in 1831.
 
Two early churches provided major landmarks at the extremities of Richmond in the south and north.  The foundation stone for St Lukes Church of England, in the south, was laid in 1834 and the church was consecrated in 1838.  The Catholic church of St John’s, to the north, was opened in 1837, and a spire, chancel and sacristy were added in 1859.  A lower spire with dormers was erected in 1893 to replace the original spire; with the present spire being added, to the general design of the 1859, spire in 1972.
 
The Catholic church utilized the dramatic cliff to the north of the church above the river as a burial ground, while, for its cemetery, the Church of England used ground on a prominence east of the river, downstream from the bridge.
 
In the 1830’s access to the water was an issue as an owner of the land around the western abutment of the bridge, had erected a barrier on the north west side (the side where access was easiest because the descent here was less steep than on the other side) and was imposing a toll for access to the then ‘perennial stream’ for water.  Following complaint against this person’s illegal collection of revenue, a right of way was explicitly delineated here on plans after 1840 to formalise the surveyor general’s advice that seventy feet was available, or publicly –owned here, for the roadway and bridge.
 
Early accounts of the Coal River Valley stress picturesque qualities and draw on painterly and literary allusions (and their vocabulary) to evoke the special qualities of the place.  Even the name Richmond – from the namesake of Yorkshire-born David Lord’s estate Richmond Park – contrasted with Bowen’s naming of the Coal River.  Picturesque English qualities were found at Richmond in the combination of Georgian buildings of warm local stone, the small size of the township, the close proximity of farmhouses, the valley setting, the spare tree cover and the focus of the bridge.
 
The ‘picturesque effect’ described by Robinson in 1829 was clearly demonstrated in the sketches and watercolours of Thomas Chapman.  They were executed in c1840 and form the earliest known images of the Richmond Bridge.
 
The bridge was naturally a focus for the noted ornamental and picturesque quality of Richmond, its vernacular character drawing on centuries of precedents in England and Europe, sharply contrasting with the crisp urbanity of the Ross Bridge or the machine-age precision of the Red (brick) Bridge at Campbell Town.
 
In August 1832, Quaker visitor James Backhouse recorded in his diary that Richmond consisted of the Court House, a gaol, a windmill and about thirty dwelling houses, three of which were inns.  In February 1834, he again visited the Richmond, and commented that the township had nearly doubled in size.  Also in 1834, the Van Diemen’s Land Annual described the bridge as ‘considered to be the best and most substantial in the colony’.
 
By 1835, Richmond had the largest district population in Van Diemen’s Land and Richmond was the third largest town in Van Diemen’s Land.
 
In 1837, the renowned and long serving colonial chaplain Robert Knopwood wrote the following in his diary: ‘This morn I rode to Richmond for the first time since the Township was begun…  It is much admired by every one, all the houses built with white stone and some very good houses…  A most beautiful bridge of 6 or 7 arches…the greatest ornament that can be to the Town of Richmond…’
 
A slowing of growth and increased tourism and heritage interest
 
The main East Coast road went via Richmond until after the Pittwater causeway was completed in 1872.  In 1872, the Sorrell Causeway opened providing a more direct link between Hobart and Port Arthur.  Traffic no longer had to pass through Richmond and it was left entirely as a rural community.  The concurrent opening of the mainline railway through Brighton, Tea Tree, Campania and Colebrook was a second blow to Richmond.  Suburban development continued slowly, the township was declared a municipality in 1861 (and the 1825 court house was used for municipal purposes), and the Burns’ mill on the south-east side of the bridge was erected c1864, and an extension to the township was gazetted in 1878.  The change of emphasis is highlighted by the population figures.  In its heyday in 1862, the municipality had 1,608 residents, but almost one hundred years later in 1957, the population was 1,680.
 
In 1923 a stone was set in the west end, north parapet, of the bridge to commemorate the centenary of its foundation.  By this time, postcard views featuring the bridge were being published, attesting to a growing interest in the bridge by tourists.  The bridge was featured in c1927 publication promoting Tasmania, and also in a 1934 glossy, Australian travel magazine in the bridge’s first colour photograph.  There followed paintings (such as by John Eldershaw, c1930), sketches (eg Morton Herman, 1954) and photographs (eg Max Dupain, 1965; Michael Sharland, 1952) in exhibition and books.
 
In 1960 the National Trust of Australia (Tasmania) was formed and the Richmond Bridge was an early classification on their Register of significant heritage.
 
In the 1960s and 1970s Richmond witnessed a revival motivated by an interest in folk heritage, historic buildings and arts and crafts, combining to utilize the town’s building stock.  In all of this, the Richmond Bridge remained an icon in the township, readily identifiable from postcards and souvenirs.
 
Also in the 1960s and 1970s many key national and Tasmanian architectural heritage publications stressed the significance of Richmond, especially its bridge.  The bridge was even featured on an Australian five cent stamp in 1976 and on another stamp in 2004.
 
In 1978 Richmond Bridge was entered into the Register of the National Estate.
 
Richmond Bridge is a very popular subject for amateur and professional photographers alike; it features on many postcards and its inclusion in composite views depicting Tasmania is almost mandatory.  Its image has been used to promote tourism nationally and internationally.
 
The bridge is surrounded on three sides of the river by walking tracks and park lands which attracts thousands of visitors each week.  It is a popular destination to appreciate the bridge from the river banks or to walk beneath the smaller arch on the township side to appreciate its craftsmanship.
 
Vegetation
 
From the earliest known depictions (1840s) of the Richmond landscape, the surrounding hills have a light tree cover but the Coal River Valley is bare.  Around the 1840s Blue Gums, Eucalyptus globulus, were planted around St John’s Church (with a row to the east and others to the west) and in St Like’s Cemetery.
 
Indigenous reeds, Common Rush, Phragnites australis, and Native Rush, Juncus sp., can be seen in an 1870-84 photograph of the bridge along with woody plants, either Boxthorn or the indigenous Woolly Tea Tree, Leptospermum lanigerum.
 
Major early trees are seen in an 1890s photograph.  Along the river bank, hanging over the river are large White Gum, Eucalyptus viminalis, and also low scale woody shrubs of possibly Boxthorn or Woolly Tea Tree.  The grassy slopes appear to be exotic pasture and around the windmill another photograph of the same date reveals Boxthorn.
 
A bridge photograph of c1905 shows indigenous Water Ribbon, Triglochin procera, in the water and Native Rush on the bank with possibly native grasses, Poa sp. also Themeda damthomia.
 
A c1920s bridge photograph shows the river bank still with regrowth of Woolly Tea Tree and White Gum.
 
Willows had extended along the river bank by the late 1920s or early 1930s and one remaining White Gum was on the east bank upstream from the bridge.  After 1920 the initial planting of Cupressus macrocarpa along Wellington Street and returning along the river can be seen to enclose Burns Mill, now owned by Eldershaw, from the river escarpment.  Also seen are Pinus sp. at the northwest corner of this mill property and two poplars.  A 1940’s photograph shows large Lombardy poplars, Populus nigra, near the south-east abutment of the bridge and widespread Native Rush in a healthy state, apparently due to changed conditions after the weir was constructed.
 
The current vegetation includes Common Rush, which is now extensive along the banks, in particular a healthy section below the former Eldershaw mill.  Native Rush. is extensive on the western bank downstream, in great numbers near the weir and both sides upstream.  (The area below Santa Fe and Yew Tree Cottage is particularly dense.)  Water Ribbon is particularly healthy up and downstream near the bridge. Lombardy poplar against the northern abutment of the bridge date from the 1950s as do poplar seedlings along the mill race, downstream of the bridge.  Various specimens of Pinus radiata are found upstream, on the west bank, and one large specimen on Buscombe’s mill site.  A small orchard is found on the western escarpment, just downstream from the bridge.  This is apparently located on River Place, and a row of almond trees mark the boundary of a long-established path along River Place.
 
Repairs and changes to the bridge and its setting
 
Almost immediately after the bridge was opened, the settling of the foundations began to give trouble that was to plague the engineers for some time.  It was reported in September 1826 that the piers had developed cracks and it was suggested that it was to be pulled down and rebuilt elsewhere.  This damage may have been caused by water from a mill dam fifty feet upstream undermining the piers – all but one had settled.
 
The Colonial Architect, John Lee Archer, reported in 1828, that one of the piers was in a bad state, and he rebuilt two of them the following year.
 
The bridge was constructed as a symmetrical structure.  However, the approach road level on the town side was (and still is) about one metre higher than on the away side.  As a consequence the parapet wall, designed to prevent falling into the river was having little effect on the town side.  In 1835 corrections were carried out by raising the parapet wall and extending the terminating columns at the end of the bridge.
 
In October 1844 heavy rains and floods severely damaged the bridge.  The bridge was ‘in part destroyed, leaving just room, however, for a gig to pass.’  The bridge had been repaired, as well as considerably improved (with a stone parapet on one side and a ‘stout’ fence on the other), by January 1845.  The bridge also had substantial repairs in 1883.
 
The Engineer of Roads reported to Parliament (in 1888), that only from 1885, had there been annual provision for the repairs and maintenance for such main and large bridges: ‘For the repairs of stone bridge over Coal River at Richmond, Prosser’s River Bridge, Orford, and the Main Road Bridge at Brighton, special provision was made barely in time to save these structures from total ruin.’
 
Part of the 1884 work was undermined by flood waters in 1924 and the eastern abutment was seen to be at risk.  Repairs were funded in 1928 and included a masonry reinforcement of one of the piers which has been interpreted as the stepped foundation masonry on the pier base between the first and second arches on the western end.
 
Another change to the bridge and its setting occurred with the construction, in c1939-40, of a downstream weir, originally called Gatty Weir, raising the water level.  This was motivated by both town water and recreation needs.  Weir construction raised the water level so that the access road under the main west arch and spillways under the main arches were permanently inundated.  Erosion of the river bank has also meant that the classic views of St John’s framed by the bridge arch is no longer possible from the bank.  The weir also provided access across the river but was not used for irrigation.
 
Repairs have also occurred in 1973, 1979, 1980, 1987, and 1988.  The bridge stonework was cleaned and a fungicide applied in 1981.
 
Cars have caused collision damage to the parapet walls on a number of occasions and the 1988 repair related to such damage.
 
However, the only major changes to the bridge since original construction have been raising the western parapet (1835) and the addition of cutwaters (1884), the latter, especially, was dramatic in changing the appearance of the bridge.
 
The bridge continues to be a focus for tourists.  Attempts have been made to enhance and protect the bridge, including by public acquisition of land on the west bank of the river (in 1925, allowing the formalisation of a public walkway downstream of the bridge permitting unambiguous public access to the river, and 1973), enhanced access up and downstream to the river banks, the construction of a stone viewing platform and staircase to the south west of the bridge (1989), and speed and load restrictions on the bridge.
 
The Richmond Bridge has been in continuous use for vehicular and pedestrian traffic since 1825 from the 1990s there been community campaigns proposing the construction of a northern bypass road motivated by concerns both over the damaging effects of continued vehicular collisions with the bridge and the strain to the structure caused by heavy vehicles.
 
Condition and Integrity
In April 1997 it was reported that, generally the stonework was found to be in sound condition and not in need of repair or replacement.  Although, the pointing was in poor condition in certain large areas and would require redoing within the next ten years.
 
A structural analysis was done at this time showing that to prevent damage to the structure the load limit of 25 tonnes should be reduced to 15 tonnes.
 
Also the deck should be waterproofed and roadway grades modified to improve watershedding.
 
Following hydraulic analysis, the bridge was judged to be stable in various adverse flooding conditions such as floods with a 90 year return and greater than 1000 year return period flood events.
 
The removal willows and other dense growth from the river banks would reduce hydraulic pressure on the bridge structure.
 
The current water height related to the construction of the c1939-40 downstream weir is a relatively recent physical and visual alteration to the fabric of the place.
 
It was also noted that the river bank is eroded and fragile.
 
There is (in 2005) continuing local concern for the probability of vehicles colliding with, and heavy vehicles damaging, the bridge and so there have been proposals for the construction of a northern bypass.
Location
Bridge over Coal River, Bridge Street, Richmond.
Bibliography
Books
 
Alexander, Dr Alison, 2003 The Eastern Shore: a history of Clarence, Clarence City Council
 
Jones, Elizabeth, 1973 Richmond – Tasmania, a crossing place, Richmond Preservation and Development Trust
 
O’Connor, Colin, 1985 Spanning two centuries. Historic bridges of Australia. University of Queensland Press, St Lucia
 
O’Connor, Colin, 1986 Selection of bridges for the Australian Register of the Register of the National Estate. Research Report No CE69. University of Queensland, Department of Civil Engineering, St Lucia.
 
Robertson, E Graeme, 1970 Early Buildings of South Tasmania, Volume II Georgian House, Melbourne
 
Woodberry, Joan (text) & Alty, John (drawings), 1977 Historical Richmond Sketchbook, Rigby, Adelaide
 
Brochures/flyers
 
Lets Talk About Clarence, [197-?] Richmond and Coal Valley Promotions Group Inc.
 
The Convict Trail, Richmond and Coal River Valley
 
Heritage Studies/Reports
 
Clarence City Council 2001 Richmond Cultural Resource Management Plan Volume I, II & III, prepared for Clarence City Council and the Australian Heritage Commission
 
Lee, Robert 2003 Australia’s transport and communications 1788-1970. (2 vols) Prepared for the Australian Heritage Commission
 
Nigel Lewis Richard Aitken P/L, Corney, Graeme, & Nichols, Graeme, 1997 Richmond Bridge, Tasmania, Conservation Plan. Prepared for Tasmanian Department of Transport
 
O’Connor’ Colin, 1983 Register of Australian historic bridges. Institution of Engineers, Australia, and the Australian Heritage Commission.
 
O’Connor’ Colin, 1985A The selection of bridges for inclusion in the Register of the National Estate. Report prepared for the Australian Heritage Commission.
 
Pearson, Michael and Marshall, Duncan December 1995 (with additions May 1996) Study of World Heritage Values. Convict places. A report prepared for the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories.
 
Other
 
Green, Alex, October 2004 ‘[Note on historic repairs to] Richmond Bridge’
 

Report Produced  Thu Jul 24 21:04:37 2014