History of Brisbane's Victoria Bridge
The Victoria Bridge, the Brisbane River’s first road crossing has had a long and interesting history. Since 1865 there have been several versions of the bridge built to connect Brisbane's CBD to South Brisbane. This post will briefly examine the history of each one of those bridges.
The Brisbane Bridge (1865 - 1868)
For the first 20 years of Brisbane as a free settlement, ferries transported passengers and goods across the Brisbane River, connecting the settlements of North Brisbane and South Brisbane. To help connect the rapidly growing city with the southern suburbs the Brisbane City Council decided in 1861 to announce they intended to build a bridge connecting Queen Street with Melbourne Street. The council held a contest for the design of the bridge and chose to construct a large iron lattice-girder bridge by designers Messrs Robinson and I'Anson. Sir George Bowen, the first Governor of Queensland, laid the foundation stone on 22 August 1864.
Arguments about who would pay for the construction of the bridge and incur the debt began between the newly formed Queensland Government and Brisbane City Council, with the responsibility falling to the council to fund the full cost of the bridge. With a limited budget the council couldn't afford the cost of the steel required to build Robinson and I'Anson's design and instead chose to build a temporary wooden bridge until funds were available to build the steel bridge. In June 1865, less than a year after the laying of the foundation stone, the bridge was completed and named the Brisbane Bridge. However, one issue the bridge's builders were unaware of was the destructive effect marine borers would have on the wooden piles. On 16 November 1867 the bridge collapsed, caused by a combination of a high tide placing pressure on the weaken wooden piles and a large coach crossing the bridge. The issues associated with the bridge's funding, building and collapse were detailed in a newspaper article The History of the Bridge and the Condition of its Affairs from the Brisbane Courier, 30 April 1868.
The residents of Brisbane had no choice but to use ferries to cross the river, while jubilant ferry companies doubled their prices and again held a monopoly over the lucrative river crossing. Residents would have to wait another six and half years before a replacement bridge was built.
The First Victoria Bridge (1874 - 1893)
In 1871, English company Peto, Brassey and Co agreed to build a new bridge upgrading the previous wooden design to include concrete pylons, lacework parapet and a footpath on each side for pedestrians. The bridge was completed in 1874, opened on 15 June by Governor George Phipps, 2nd Marquess of Normanby and named 'Victoria Bridge' after Queen Victoria, the monarch at the time. To view a panorama photograph of the first Victoria Bridge from the John Oxley Library, read our blog - An interesting early image of Brisbane's Victoria Bridge.
On 5 February 1893, Brisbane recoded a significant rain event with 900mm falling within a day. At 4am the following day, floodwaters carried a house, livestock, trees and debris down the Brisbane river from North Quay crashing into the city end of the Victoria Bridge causing a section to collapse. You can read more about this event in our blog - Destruction of the Victoria Bridge : 1893 Brisbane Flood or in this newspaper article, Disasterous Floods, Destruction of the Victoria Bridge from the Brisbane Courier, 7 February 1893.
Ferries again were used to transport people and goods across the busy river. The collapse of the bridge effected the economic development of South Brisbane, larger stores such as Allen & Stark moved their premises to the northside of the city and southern suburbs declined while newer suburbs like Ascot, Hamilton and Clayfield prospered.
The Second Victoria Bridge (1896 - 1969)
Three and half years after the collapse of the first Victoria Bridge the council built the second Victoria Bridge. This bridge was designed by Alfred Barton Brady and constructed of steel, wrought iron, stone and cement. It was built in two halves, with the first half opening in 1896 and consisting of a single lane of traffic and a walkway for pedestrians. The second half was built over the following year and joined to the first half. The completed bridge opened on 22 June 1897 by Lord Charles Lamington, Governor of Queensland. The completed bridge now had two traffic lanes with a footpath on each side.
This city of Brisbane rapidly grew in the early twentieth century and by 1943 the bridge started to show signs of bucking from the weight of traffic and trams. The number of trams crossing the bridge was reduced and the footpath closed. The second Victoria Bridge stayed in service for 73 years until 1969 when it was replaced with the current, third Victoria Bridge, built to meet growing traffic demands. There was a short period of time when both bridges stood next to each other when the third bridge opened and the second bridge was being demolished, see photograph below. One of the stone entrance arches from the second Victoria Bridge still stands today on the South Brisbane side of the river. The entrance arch is heritage listed and serves a memorial to 11 year old Hector Vasyli who in 1918, during the celebrations marking the end of the First World War was struck and killed by one of the vehicles in the parade.
The third Victoria Bridge (1969 - present)
In the 1950s, due to the heavy traffic demands, the Brisbane City Council decided again to build a new Victoria Bridge, the third and current version, opened on 14 April 1969. The bridge is a three span, concrete, haunched girder bridge and at the time the design was considered modern, sleek and elegant. A newspaper article, Monster structure will replace Victoria Bridge, from the Brisbane Telegraph, 6 July 1953 details the need to replace the second Victoria Bridge and claims the new bridge will be 'a monster structure, which will have six traffic lanes - two each way for vehicles and one each way for trams'.
Since its opening in 1969, the third Victoria Bridge has survived two major flooding events, the 1974 and 2011 floods and served as a centre point for many protests on social and environmental issues such as Indigenous rights, marriage equality, stopping the Adani coal mine, climate change and recently the Black Lives Matters rally.
Now in 2021, the Victoria Bridge again can't meet Brisbane's traffic demands and on 24 January the bridge will permanently close to general car traffic. The bridge will be refigured to have 3 lanes for the new Brisbane Metro bus system, a two way bikeway for cyclist and walkways for pedestrians.