Sunday, 29 December 2013

1874 technical details of the Windsor Bridge

The Windsor Bridge over the Hawkesbury River was officially opened on the 20 August 1874. The town celebrated in great style with about 7000 attendees and the day was observed as a general holiday. The Australian Town & Country Journal published the interesting sketch below, as well as an informative article about the construction of the newly opened Windsor Bridge on the 22 August 1874.

The New Bridge over the Hawkesbury at Windsor. Australian Town & Country Journal, 22 August 1874, p. 20. 

 The article, retrieved from Trove, is reprinted in full below:

This want of a bridge over the Hawkesbury River at Windsor has been felt for many years. In 1864, [politician James Augustine Cunneen 1826-1899] presented a petition from the inhabitants of the district for the erection of a bridge at Windsor, but it was not until June, 1871, that the Legislative Assembly voted the necessary funds for the construction of a low level bridge.

There was much diversity of opinion as to the advisability of constructing a low level bridge at the site proposed, as the floods rise there to a height of more than 50 feet above low water. The Commissioner and Engineer for Roads was however, instructed by the Government to prepare designs for a low level bridge, and to invite tenders for its construction. Mr. Andrew Turnbull's tender was accepted in December 1871 and the work began on the 15 January 1872.

According to the original design, the total length of the bridge was to be 406 feet, composed of eight main spans of 44 feet each, and of two approaches 32 feet and 22 feet respectively. The abutments were to be of timber; and the nine intermediate piers of cast iron cylinders and screw piles braced with strong wrought iron beams. The screw piles and cylinders to be sunk to the rock, and lewised thereto by heavy wrought iron bolts, previous to being filled up with cement concrete.

In October 1872, three of the iron piers had been sunk 4 feet into the rock to the depth of 25 feet below river bed; each column was lewised with four inch bolt and filled up with strong cement and concrete, supporting a ring of 9-inch radiating bricks; enclosing a cone of concrete to the top of the pier. From the nature of the strata found in sinking those piers, it became doubtful whether screw piles could be used, as the bed of the river to the rock consisted of drift timber, silt, and boulders deposited by floods.

A test screw-pile, 2 foot 6 inches in diameter, was, however, put down in the middle of the stream; but the rock could not be reached, owing to the difficulty of removing the drift timber. Mr. Bennett, the Commissioner and Engineer for Roads, then decided to give up the screw-piles and to use cylinders for all the piers.

Many freshes and several heavy floods retarded operations; and the sinking of all the piers could not be completed until December, 1873. Although a few feet only of the iron columns appear above water, the cylinders reach to an average depth of 40 feet below summer level. By the use of the sand-pump and air-lochs, boulders, drift-wood, and logs, several feet in thickness, were removed at considerable depths, and each pillar firmly bedded and lewised four feet into the solid rock. The bracing beams were also fixed below water by divers, before the erection of the superstructure.

The extraordinary floods at Windsor which reach to a height of 51 foot above low water, or 36 feet above the decks of the bridge, made it necessary to have the superstructure unusually strong; and much ingenuity is shown in tho design for securely fastening it to the piers. The deck is 21 feet 6 inches wide; and is composed of planks five inches thick, securely fixed to five ironbark girders 17 and 18 inches by 16 inches and 44 feet long, strongly bolted to corbels and capsilla firmly secured to-the iron piers. The whole of the timber is ironbark, which has little buoyancy under water, and the girders are fine specimens of our colonial wood.

All the joints are covered with iron fish-plates, bolted with inch bolts, and it is evident from the massive fastenings throughout, and the great strength of the structure in every detail, that the engineer has taken every precaution to prevent the floods from making a breach in any part of the bridge. The handrail is also ingeniously contrived to protect it from the large quantity of drift timber brought down by the floods. The foot of every rail post swings on a stout bolt secured to the girders, and the top is jointed to a two-inch wrought iron pipe, provided with sockets and collars at every 44 feet; the total length being held in place by two iron couplings in such a manner that one man can lower the whole alongside the girders in ten minutes.

The amount of Messrs. Turnbull and Dixon's contract was £8287; but an additional expenditure of about £2000 was rendered necessary by the substitution of cylinders for screw piles in the piers, and by the addition of two spans to the bridge to prevent future encroachment on the approaches. It was observed that moderate floods bring large deposits of sand and drift; but that heavy floods scour the river bed to a considerable extent.

The total length of the bridge as completed is 480 feet. The abutment on the Windsor side is built of iron backed with masonry in cement; and that on the opposite bank is protected by sheet piling reaching below summer level. A new cutting has also been made on the Wilberforce side for the approach, which is covered with ironstone gravel. The number of cast-iron cylinders used in the piers is 130. They are six feet long, and 3 feet 6 inches in diameter, and their weight exceeds 150 tons. They were cast at the Mort's Dock and Engineering Works at Balmain; and are another instance of the facility afforded for such works by colonial establishments.

The inhabitants of the district may well be pleased at the completion of this fine bridge; and it will be satisfactory for them to know that it has been ascertained by the officers of the Department of Roads and Bridges, in reference to the traffic and the disastrous floods of the Hawkesbury River, that, while the deck of the Windsor bridge is free from flood, the Richmond bridge is covered with three feet eight inches of water, and that the Windsor bridge is crossable twenty-two hours after the stoppage of the traffic at the Richmond bridge.

Great credit is due to the contractors, Messrs, Turnbull and Dixon, for their energy and perseverance in carrying out, without any accident, such an important and difficult work, to the satisfaction of the Commissioner and Engineer for Roads.

More about the official opening of the bridge will follow.

Friday, 27 December 2013

A tragic trip

In days gone by, many inhabitants lived closed to the Hawkesbury River and its tributaries as it was quick to travel from one location to another by boat. By road the route between Lower Portland and Windsor is about 40 kms and by car would take about 50 minutes today. Over one hundred years ago the route by road, travelling by horse and cart could take about three to four hours, by boat the journey was considerably quicker.

Several generations of the Wall family resided at Lower Portland during the 19th century. Patriarch of the family was Thomas Wall (1794-1880) a convict who had arrived in 1815 and his wife Ann Huxley (1805-1869) whose parents were also convicts. Following their marriage at Windsor’s St. Matthews Church of England in 1822, Thomas and Ann raised a large family. Their son Richard was born in 1824 and he married Elizabeth Harriet Jones in Sydney in 1853. Their children included, Sidney born 1854, Thomas John 1856, Frederick 1858, George 1860, Martha Ann 1863, Rosanna Caroline 1865, Rachel Jane 1867, Drusilla Elizabeth 1870, Emeline Alice 1873 and Jessie Mary born 1876. Richard Wall was recorded as a farmer but was originally a cordwainer by trade. A cordwainer was a shoemaker who made luxurious footwear.

In 1881, the Wall family consisted of Richard and his wife Elizabeth along with an assortment of their unmarried children residing with them at Lower Portland. On 20 January 1881, a hot and humid summer’s day, Richard set out on a routine outing. He was visiting his older brother Thomas, who lived in Windsor and was accompanied by daughters; Martha 18 and Rachel aged 13. 

They left the house of Thomas Wall about 3.30pm in the afternoon to return home but later that evening the alarm was raised when they did not arrive at their destination. Apparently they got caught in a squall near Pitt Reach on the Hawkesbury River which upset the boat.  Following the hot day a southerly buster hit Sydney around 6pm with a small shower of rain and gusty winds. According to the Sydney Morning Herald report the boat was located upside down and empty with the occupants missing, sometime after the warning was raised. Thomas Wall was alerted of the tragedy and he travelled to Mrs Burdekin’s farm at about 11pm the same evening, to see what had taken place.  

As it was too dark, the search reconvened the following morning at 7am with Mr Woodbury, Mr J. Kirwan and William Pendergast lending a hand. Senior Constable Roberts also contributed to the search. He proceeded to a place called Foul Weather Reach and commenced dragging the river for the bodies and found two women’s hats on the beach, and opposite to them some parcels, and about 11 o’clock he found the eldest girl Martha Wall. William Grono then located the bodies of Richard Wall and his youngest daughter, they were clasped together when found.

An Inquest was held in Pitt Town at the Maid of Australia Hotel the following day.  Dr Thomas Fiaschi gave evidence at the inquest stating in his opinion the deaths resulted from suffocation by drowning. The jury returned a verdict to the effect that the deceased met their deaths by being accidentally drowned, through the upsetting of a boat, on the evening of the 20 January 1881, according to The Australian, Windsor, Richmond, & Hawkesbury Advertiser. The district coroner for Windsor, James Bligh Johnston, Esq JP returned a result, death by accidental drowning.

The funeral, a most sad occasion, was held at St Thomas Church of England at Sackville on 22 January and the service was conducted by Rev. W. Wood. The three members of the Wall family were buried together at Sackville Reach Cemetery

The simple sandstone headstone recording the three names, is a reminder of this unfortunate
19thcentury tragedy. Photo: Jonathan Auld 2003.

The Hawkesbury community rallied around the Wall family and the community donated cash and goods to the worthy cause. John Gough and Thomas Boston were the official collectors and a list of donors appeared in the The Australian several weeks later.

Sunday, 15 December 2013


Picnics date to medieval times when the wealthy feasted outdoors. We know that whilst we are celebrating the Australian summer and relishing the outdoors, on the other side of the world it is the dead of Winter. Picnics were one way of enjoying recreation time under the warm Australian sun. A picnic is the pleasurable activity of eating outdoors with a group of family or friends. The picnic was often informal and in an attractive location, inevitably a popular past time in the Australian landscape and climate.
Jennings family enjoying a picnic by the Hawkesbury River at Windsor – early 1920s.
Courtesy Nichols Family Archives.

Picnics were recorded in the Sydney newspapers in the early 1800s, and were originally referred to as a-gypsying.  In 1830, it is mentioned some inhabitants “went a-gipsying, or as it is called in this country, to a pic-nic, on the north and south road running between Argyle and Richmond.”[1]  The following is a piece from the the Hawkesbury Chronicle 24 December 1887 defining picnics in the 1880s.

“While our Kinfolk in the old land are gathered around blazing fires, secure from the sleet and snow and bitter cold of the season thereaway, we rejoice in a bright sun and clear blue vault overhead. Naturally, the picnic suggests itself to merrymakers rather than indoor festivities, and without question it is the best way to pass the Christmas holidays. But in picnicing people are apt to overdo the thing. They make a labor of a pleasure. Instead of proceeding easily and even lazily, they fuss and bother so much that they are pretty well tired out before they start. This accounts for the many sour faces one often sees among "merrymakers" returning from a picnic outing.

A picnic should not be a matter involving hard work. You should go about it quietly, making your preparations without any flurry or excitement and proceeding to the site selected coolly and easily. Never get hot or flushed over such a matter, or your pleasure is done before you commence. Don't take a cart-load of provisions with yon. A few cold chickens, a tongue, or a little ham, some cheese, and crackers, plenty of salad, and sandwiches are the best. Cool drinks are a primary necessity, and if you can manage it have some iced creams. But don't take pies and pudding, and such like. Somebody is bound to sit on them, or the ants take possession, or a centipede will be found coiled around the upper crust. It is a mistake to suppose that picnicing means an extraordinary opportunity forever-eating. A picnic means enjoyment of fresh air, the contemplation of nature, flirtation, popping the question, dancing, and a heap of matters of an aesthetic or romantic order. Elderly folk ought not to go picnicing, and it is just because they do that the tradition exists that the picnic means a big feast.

Keep cool above all things; don't camp on a bull-ant's nest; look out for snakes and such like; be sure that you don't sit down on damp grass; don't cat over much, and be as sentimental as you please. Byron and Tennyson ought to be around at every intelligent picnic. Have some music, but bar the terrible concertina. That dreadful instrument has long been given over to the spirits and the Salvation Army. Have a few good microscopes with you. They afford an excellent excuse for wandering far afield in search of natural curiosities. These expeditions, it is needless to say, should be conducted by pairs - one gentleman and one lady. Any more damp the scientific enthusiasm which should animate the explorers. Spend your picnic [so] that you are able to return home as bright, as cheerful, as unfired, and happier still than when you set forth. A picnic conducted on the lines set forth should naturally affect the marriage statistics and contribute to the happiness of many, and the general prosperity of the community at large.”

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Hawkesbury memories of Christmas long ago

The following Christmas story was published in the Windsor & Richmond Gazette 24 December 1926, and was compiled by local historian, William Freame who often wrote historical articles on the local area.

‘Tchk, tchk! Gid-up!’ ‘
Hold fast, there!’ 
and down the range we go;
Five hundred miles of scattered camps will watch for Cobb and Co.

"The old mail coach, despite its limitations, was inseparably associated with Christmas holidays - when we were boys…the great lumbering, leather springed coach with three great lamps in front, drawn by four horses fresh from the last change, whose hoofs beat out merry music as we go over the bridge, under which "leaps the wild torrent from chasm to chasm."  Those were the days, the good old days, "when the world was wide" and life was full of adventure. We turn the corner and glimpse the river, like a silver ribbon winding through the valley. Bump! Bump! Over a log; we hang for a minute over the valley, and reach the top and pull up at the Selector's Arms with its menu of lamb, sheep, ram or mutton.

Image: Christmas Eve on the wallaby track.
Pub. Melbourne: David Syme & Co., 1880

We are crossing the flat now…a tiny wreath of smoke loses itself in the timber, a bark hut looms in the clearing and two of its children bestraddle the slip rails, a bundle of newspapers cleave the air, "A Merry Christmas - A Merry Christmas" and their tiny voices are swallowed in the silence of the bush. We glimpse the township, we lose it as the road dips down through a gully, then winds again, over another bridge that spans a lazy creek, and up the street where stands in all the glory of its tin-roof  The Travellers Rest [North Richmond] with  its generous supply of "am and heggs".

We wander o'er the old mail routes and live again the days that are gone; phantom horses and drivers haunt deserted Macquarie Arms [Windsor] and  "Royal Hotel" [Richmond] hide their weather-worn signboards in grey old barns; Diggers Rests delicensed these 30 years or more, have reached decrepit old age, and in their second childhood, dispense hop beer and brandy snaps and in an old slab shed remains all that is left for Cobb and Co. Dusty and rusty, its leather blinds all tattered, but what memories it evokes! Memories of other days and other ways, of friends and scenes long since passed away. They come back again…and once more we are on the road again…

Hark; the bells on distant cattle
Waft across the range,
Through the golden tufted wattle
Music low, and strange

We touch the old coach again. Goodness! How all comes back again. Yes! It's Christmas times again, see the children? There they are, out on the slip rails, they are greeting the aeroplane."