State Library of South Australia
Manning Index of South Australian History
  • South Australia
  • Adelaide
  • Port Adelaide
  • Place Names

  • About the Index
  • Searching
  • Text-based menus
    (Use this option if your browser will not open the folders.)

    Adelaide - Bridges

    B4729Bridges of Adelaide

    (Taken from Geoffrey H. Manning's A Colonial Experience)


    Adelaide has been singularly unfortunate with respect to bridges; the Torrens, which might well have merited its present name independently of its gallant godfather, having swept away nearly every work of stone or timber that was thrown across its turbid, headlong stream during the first two decades of European settlement.

    Prior to the erection of the first bridge the river was, at times, impassable and a punt was utilised for the purpose of crossing. A Mr Rogers had charge of it and made a small charge for its use and it was kept busy in the winter months as North Adelaide was then becoming popular. The punt was operated by a rope fastened to a tree on each side of the river and was stationed at the lower end of a large pool near the present day weir. Crossing on a fallen tree was a favourite means of getting across the river, but many drownings resulted from such attempts.

    The first attempt at 'bridging' the stream occurred in 1837 when the Fisher brothers commenced a footbridge near the modern-day Adelaide Oval; it was completed by John B. Hack at the behest of the government. Transit was difficult and many complaints were made.

    A more permanent structure was authorised for construction in 1855 and on 10 February 1856 the first substantial city bridge was ready for traffic. It was constructed of iron and was built where the present City Bridge is now. It was the first on this site, King William Road having been continued in a direct line to North Adelaide, instead of wandering around to the old ford as it did previously. This bridge was brought from England and it lasted for 20 years when the present City Bridge was opened on 25 April 1877.

    Compared with other structures, which had carried traffic between North and South Adelaide, it was a magnificent piece of work. It was 110 feet long and 40 feet wide with two footpaths of seven feet each.

    Over the years bridges were erected at various natural crossing places, but all shared a common fate, their shattered timbers being sooner or later borne away by the mountain torrent, in company with the mighty trunks of venerable forest trees, whose fall testified the stream's rapidity and strength.

    Of the minor bridges I might mention three; first, a rough log bridge at Thebarton, built by a settler named Wilkins. This, although a very inartificial affair resisted several floods, but at length disappeared. A tolerably substantial bridge was erected later a little lower down the stream. It was still standing in 1855 and at that time was the only bridge across the Torrens.

    Secondly, the Frome Bridge, so called in honour of the late Surveyor-General. This was erected over the river at a fordable place nearly opposite Pulteney Street and was, while it lasted, a great convenience to the north-eastern settlers. But it shared the fate of others and left some of its solid superstructure in the bed of the river - a memento of the uselessness of good brickwork founded upon unsubstantial piling.

    Thirdly, a cheaply built bridge at a more easterly ford, above the mouth of the Norwood Creek and near the SA Company's mill. This was constructed of rough timber by Mr Prescott and outlived many of its contemporaries. But the great flood of 1851 raised the water above the level of the roadway and the logs brought down by the stream battered the bridge to pieces. A replacement was designed by George Hamilton, Inspector-in-Chief of Main Roads, and erected by Messrs England and Coulthard under the superintendence of the Central Roads Board. It was made entirely of timber and its total length was 186 feet.

    A History of the Morphett Street Bridges

    In March 1838 tenders were called and, at the spot where the Morphett Street bridge stands today, stakes were driven into the bed of the river; these supported crosspieces on which were laid two planks and on one side, a handrail. This bridge was first lighted on 4 October 1839 and was carried away in the floods of 1842.

    Afterwards a stone bridge was built at considerable expense, having a lofty archway level with the high land on the northern bank in a line with Morphett Street. It progressed with aggravating slowness and when completed proved quite inadequate to resist the pressure which had been so fatal to its predecessor. A breach was made upon it by water and for safety's sake it had to be demolished with gunpowder. Two blasts had to be applied to effect this object and the first did more damage to the windows of Adelaide than to the bridge itself, but the second made a clean sweep of scaffolding and masonry.

    A temporary footbridge was then put up but it did not satisfy the citizens who claimed their right to have a more pretentious erection. Deputation after deputation waited upon the government but received no satisfaction beyond that of being received courteously and assured of a favourable response when there were funds available for the purpose. Thus, for many years the river about that part was passable in dry weather only by the ford.

    The site is one of the most romantic in the city and, in the 1860s, was the cause of a battle royal between the City Surveyor and the head of the Railway Department. The Port Adelaide line was the first railway constructed and a crossing was needed at Morphett Street to enable people to travel to North Adelaide. This was made and in 1861 the government, for some reason, closed the crossing and erected a small bridge across the railway about 60 to 80 yards to the westward over which traffic was taken.

    This bridge was declared to be the cause of great inconvenience to the travelling public and in 1864 the city corporation demanded that the government throw open the Morphett Street crossing. No reply was given to this request. Then came a dispute that set all Adelaide agog.

    On the morning of Saturday, 24 October 1864, Mr Schroeder, City Surveyor, called together about 30 men and proceeded to 'march' on the fortifications of the railway at the break of dawn. The unsuspected attack was successful for they made a furious assault on the fence, which was soon broken down. The railway trenches, too, were filled up and in less than half an hour drays were passing and repassing.

    The news spread rapidly and a number of people assembled on the spot. Mr C. S. Hare, manager of the railways, received the news in a warlike mood. Men were rushed to the scene of the 'invasion' and wheels were laid on the line so as to effectually obstruct traffic. Later in the day detachments of police, under Inspectors Hamilton and Peterswald, occupied the ground to prevent any serious disturbances.

    His Worship, the Mayor, also took a hand and proceeded to the place in the morning and claimed, formally, the right to pass over the crossing. Mr Hare, however, held his ground and permission was refused. Still unsatisfied, the Mayor, who had been refused an interview with Mr Hare, bided his time and in the afternoon a passage was cleared again by his authority. The wheels were removed from the rails and soon vehicles, horsemen and pedestrians were crossing.

    Towards evening there was renewed activity on the part of the railways' manager. Engines were brought in and left on the rails thus preventing any type of crossing. After this further trouble was expected and it came on the following Monday when Mr Hare was fined two pounds by a police magistrate for having obstructed the road. The Crown Solicitor appeared for Mr Hare and strongly censured the corporation. He concluded by saying that the magistrate had no jurisdiction in the matter, but the court ruled otherwise.

    The whole dispute aroused keen discussion and the opinion was expressed that the bridge lower down than the crossing (almost opposite the Black Swan Hotel) was useless; it was built after the style of bridges depicted on 'willow pattern' crockery, according to one report. Just prior to this fracas parliament had negatived a proposal to borrow £9,000 to build a new bridge.

    The dispute between the government and the corporation, which was described as 'unseemly', died when a level crossing furnished with proper turnstiles and gates was placed where the Morphett Street Bridge now stands. Trouble threatened again the next year when Mr H.R. Fuller, MHA, applied to the corporation to take steps to remove portion of an engine shed on the railway which projected over a part of the disputed right-of-way. He threatened to resort to law, but the threat was never carried out.

    In the House of Assembly on 2 June 1865, H.R. Fuller was successful in obtaining a modest grant of £2,500 for the construction of a bridge, but city authorities decreed that the sum fell far short of the required amount and on 15 November of that year Mr Fuller appealed to the House for an additional grant of £3,500, promising that it was to be expended on a stone structure; the proposition was defeated.

    What could not be obtained upon an open vote of the House was afterwards secured through other influences, for on the Estimates of 1866-67 appeared an amount of £3,500 to the credit of a Morphett Street bridge. Thus, the corporation succeeded in abstracting from the Treasury a sum of £6,000 towards carrying out this highly important work.

    In May 1867 the first meeting of a Bridge Committee was held and on 21 June plans were submitted for inspection and, the choice having fallen upon a chain bridge, it was decided to invite tenders for the erection of the piers, but it was not until December 1868 that one was accepted. In respect of the iron work it was resolved to send home to England for the girders and other appurtenances for an iron-girder bridge.

    In July 1869 the bridge was shipped by the South Australian and in October it was landed at Port Adelaide. In March 1870 tenders were received for the approaches and these, having run the gauntlet of opposition from two or three vigorous economists in the Legislative Council, were dealt with in the usual way. The contract was given to Messrs Rogers and Fuller and on 21 June 1870, the day set apart by official proclamation of the Queen's Accession, some six or seven thousand people assembled to 'witness the restoration of the Victoria Bridge at Morphett Street.'

    It was no great height above the waterway and, therefore, did not have an imposing effect, whilst the absence of the arch peculiar to girder bridges tended to rob it of any special claim to elegance. The carriageway and footpaths were ample and the hand-railing and lamps were very tasteful. The panel bearing the Corporation's Arms also contained the name of the former Mayor, Mr Fuller, and the name of the Town Clerk. The intrusive goods shed, which had been so obnoxious in the eyes of the corporation, and which was productive of much ill-will had its proportions curtailed and was a trespasser no longer.

    In the 1880s the need for an overway bridge was fully realised and preparations were made for its erection. Sir W.C.F. Robinson, KCMG, laid the foundation stone and the contractors for the work were Messrs Baillie, Davies and Wishart. It was opened by the Mayor of Adelaide, Mr W. Bundey, on 27 October 1884. The length of its approaches is 1,148 feet and the original cost was £39,000.

    General Notes

    "Before the Days of Bridges" is in the Register,
    27 December 1906, page 6d.

    "First South Australian Bridges" is in the Register,
    5 October 1922, page 3e,
    "Dangers of Early Bridges" in The Mail,
    17 March 1928, page 2e,
    "Early Adelaide Bridges",
    a pioneer's memories, is in the Register,
    3, 6, 9, 13 and 17 October 1917, pages 9f, 9g, 7g, 10e and 9g,
    9 September 1930, page 12f.

    "The City Bridge - Old Memories" is in the Register,
    25 April 1924, page 7f; also see
    2 December 1924, page 13g.

    A sketch of the SA Company Bridge and mill is in the Pictorial Australian in September 1892, page 140.

    The opening of the City Bridge is reported in the Southern Australian,
    20 June 1843, page 2c; also see
    27 August 1844, page 3a,
    27 September 1844, page 3a,
    1 October 1844, page 2d,
    8 April 1845, page 1b.

    "The Old Torrens Bridge" is in the Register,
    3 May 1843, page 2f; also see
    28 September 1844, pages 2e-3c-d,
    2 October 1844, page 3a,
    4, 11 and 14 December 1844, pages 2f, 3a and 3b,
    11 January 1845, page 2d,
    5 February 1845, pages 2c-3b,
    11 July 1846, page 3e,
    5 and 12 August 1846, pages 3b and 4a,
    28 July 1847, page 3e,
    4 August 1847, page 2e-3e,
    6 October 1847, page 4a;
    25 September 1847, page 6c.

    The opening of Wilkins Bridge, "a rustic bridge thrown over the Torrens between Thebarton and Bowden by the aid of voluntary contribution in money, labour and material..." is reported in the Observer,
    21 December 1844, page 4c; also see
    23 May 1846, page 5c,
    4 July 1846, page 9c.

    An informative letter on the proposed "new city bridge" is in the Observer,
    1 February 1845, page 7a.

    Information on bridges following a flooding of the Adelaide area is in the SA Gazette & Mining Journal,
    24 July 1847, page 2a.

    A letter from E.C. Frome in respect of Adelaide's bridges is in the South Australian,
    6 October 1848, page 2e.

    A petition in respect of a new bridge over the River Torrens is discussed in the Adelaide Times
    on 4 October 1849, page 2g.

    "The Disaster of the Bridges" is in the Register,
    20 August 1851, page 2c; also see
    25 and 26 August 1851, pages 2e and 2d,
    1 September 1851, page 3d,
    13 and 19 May 1853, pages 3b and 3d,
    26 September 1853, page 3f,
    4 March 1854, page 3b,
    27 February 1855, page 3e,
    3 March 1855, page 2e.
    Also see Register,
    7 February 1855, page 3e,
    3 March 1855, page 3d.

    Information on a new Company's Bridge is in the Observer,
    26 March 1853, page 7a; also see
    24 February 1855, page 5h,
    12 May 1855, page 3g.

    "The Bridge on East Terrace" "at the end of Rundle Street" is in the Observer,
    24 February 1855, page 5g.

    Comprehensive information on the bridges of Adelaide is in the Observer,
    3 March 1855, page 3d under "Public Works".

    Information on the City Bridge is in the Observer,
    28 April 1855, page 4c.

    "The Adelaide Footbridge Over the Torrens" is in the Register,
    24 July 1856, page 3d,
    25 and 28 August 1856, pages 3e and 3d.

    Information on a proposed Morphett Street bridge is in the Register,
    5 and 24 July 1856, pages 3e and 3d; also see
    16 January 1860, page 3f,
    28 January 1860, page 4d,
    18 August 1860, page 3g (supp.),
    2 and 9 March 1867, pages 2e (supp.) and 3g,
    4 March 1867, page 3f,
    25 April 1867, page 2g,
    21 and 27 May 1867, pages 2g and 2g,
    5 June 1867, page 2e,
    8 July 1867, page 2e.
    "The Morphett Street Crossing" appears on
    23 July 1868, page 2f;
    30 October 1869, page 7f.

    The opening of Morphett Street bridge is described in the Register,
    21 June 1870, page 5b; also see
    22 June 1870, page 5d;
    this report has a history of the earlier structure; also see
    The Mail,
    28 January 1928, page 3a,
    23 February 1929, page 71a.
    A sketch is in the Illustrated Adelaide Post,
    9 August 1870, page 1.

    Information on the railway bridge over the River Torrens is in the Observer,
    22 December 1855, page 3g.

    "The New City Bridge" is in the Register,
    21 August 1856, page 3g.

    Information on the Frome bridge is in the Register,
    12 October 1867, page 3g,
    27 November 1867, page 2g,
    19 August 1871, page 5a.
    A proposed new bridge at the site of the existing Frome Bridge is discussed in the Observer,
    2 August 1873, page 9g,
    14 February 1874, page 3g,
    17 June 1879, page 5d.

    "The City Bridge - Old Memories" is in the Register,
    25 April 1924, page 7f; also see
    2 and 6 May 1924, pages 13f and 8d,
    2 December 1924, page 13g.
    The jubilee of the "Adelaide Bridge" is reported on
    18 February 1927, page 10c; also see
    8, 9 and 11 March 1927, pages 9f, 8f and 8c. .
    A sketch is in Frearson's Weekly,
    4 September 1880, page 304.

    "The Torrens and the Bridges" is in the Express,
    19 August 1870, page 2b.
    A sketch of the opening of the Victoria Bridge is in the Illustrated Adelaide Post,
    9 August 1870, page 1.

    A poem on the city bridge is in the Observer,
    16 December 1876, page 14b.

    Details of a "new city bridge" appear in the Register on
    27 January 1877, page 6a and
    25 and 26 April 1877, pages 4b and 6g - the latter has a history of earlier bridges.

    Information on the Albert Bridge is in the Express,
    21 and 24 August 1878, pages 2g and 3c,
    24 August 1878, page 3d (supp.),
    1 February 1879, page 10g,
    10 May 1879, page 7c.

    Information on a proposed overway bridge is in the Register,
    26 January 1883, page 6b,
    29 October 1883, page 7a; also see
    23 September 1884, page 5h,
    28 October 1884, pages 4e-6h.

    The laying of the foundation stone of the Albert Bridge across the River Torrens is reported in the Register,
    21 August 1878 (supp.), page 4a; also see
    23 and 24 August 1878, pages 6c and 6f and
    29 January 1879, page 6g
    8 May 1879 (supp.), page 1a.

    A new Company's bridge at Hackney is reported in the Observer,
    10 January 1885, page 38d.

    "The City Bridge - Widening Necessary" is in the Advertiser,
    4 July 1913, page 9b.
    A new bridge is reported upon on
    12 October 1925, page 9c.

    "The City Bridge - A Choked Overway" is in The Mail,
    19 February 1921, page 2f.

    A new railway bridge over the River Torrens is reported upon in the Register,
    9 September 1925, page 20d.

    The opening of Bakewell Bridge is reported in The News,
    22 December 1925, page 1b; also see
    26 December 1925, page 38.

    A jubilee of the city bridge is reported in the Observer,
    26 February 1927, page 40a.(46a?)

    The design of a new city bridge and allied matters appear in the Advertiser,
    8 March 1927, page 14a and
    16, 17 and 18 November 1927, pages 13, 8d and 10g,
    16 February 1929, page 9a; also see
    12 April 1929, page 13e,
    7 May 1929, page 18e.

    Photographs of bridges over the River Torrens are in the Observer,
    16 June 1928, page 35.

    Information on the old and new city bridges is in the Observer,
    23 February 1929, page 48a.

    The opening of a new bridge across the River Torrens is reported in the Advertiser,
    6 March 1931, page 19g.
    A photograph is in the Chronicle,
    10 April 1930, page 56.