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About this collection

By 1888 it was possible to travel by rail from Adelaide to Sydney and from Newcastle to Brisbane. The railway lines were connected from Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney to Brooklyn on the south side of the Hawkesbury River and from Brisbane, Newcastle to Wondabyne on Mullet Creek (off the Hawkesbury River) to the north. Prior to a railway bridge being built, passengers travelling north or south between Brooklyn and Gosford had to be shipped between the two railway stations by the stern wheel paddle steamer, General Gordon. This was because of the Hawkesbury River. It was decided to complete the line from Adelaide to Brisbane by building a bridge across the river.

 

The originally proposed line crossing the Hawkesbury was from Long Island to Dangar Island and then across the main channel of the river to the northern shore. This proposal involved the construction of two bridges, which together were estimated to cost £700,000: but borings taken in the main channel of the river, between Dangar Island and the northern shore, reached a depth of 250ft (approx. 76m) without finding a satisfactory foundation. Hence this proposal was deemed not practical and it was decided to go with one bridge from Long Island to Mullet Point. Even though this route is a mile and a half (approx 2.4 km) longer, by using a singular bridge the estimated cost was considerably reduced.

 

Tenders were invited to submit their designs and quotes from around the world. The contract was eventually secured in 1886 by the Union Bridge Company of America. The cost to build the structure was quoted at £327,000. Ryland and Morse of Chicago were subcontracted under the Union Bridge Company to assemble and erect the iron work in the bridge. Anderson and Barr of New York were sub-contracted to build the six caissons.

 

The first work undertaken, 1887, was the construction of the pontoon upon which the spans were put together. Construction continued throughout 1888 and the bridge was officially opened on 1st May 1889. The bridge consisted of seven spans sitting on caissons which were sunk into the river.

 

S.V. Ryland, his wife and four children along with E. K. Morse and his wife arrived in Sydney in April 1887 from San Francisco on board the Zealandia.  Ryland and Morse and their American workers set up their headquarters on Dangar Island. The island became the home for the workers and their families during the bridge construction period. They quickly established a small village on the island by constructing offices, houses, a hall, a school, shops and a water bore. Three hundred people now lived on the island.  According to notes in the Ryland and Morse record book, Monday evening socials were held in the hall on the island and Mr and Mrs Ryland would often supply the refreshments and hired professional musicians.

 

The opening of the bridge was a grand occasion with the bridge being declared "the greatest engineering feat undertaken in the southern hemisphere" It was also called a link towards the possible federation of Australia.

 

View items in the First Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge collection.

 
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