Friday, September 7, 2012

Panmure's first bridge

Hatton, W S fl 1850-1870 :Panmure Bridge Auckland 1859. Reference Number: B-078-018. A large steel-framed bridge over a river, with a hill opposite with several houses. Alexander Turnbull Library.

It would appear that the image above was incorrectly dated at some point in its existence -- for it shows a bridge which existed not in 1859, but from 1865. Perhaps it was supposed to be "1869".

The bridge shown is the first Tamaki River bridge at Panmure, linking that district with Pakuranga and the rest of greater Howick. John La Roche in his article on the bridge in Evolving Auckland (2011) writes about some of the bridge's history, where local residents petitioned the Auckland Provincial Council in February 1857 for a bridge to get across to the other side, without having to rely totally on boats and boatmen, or crossing at Otahuhu. As with most things in colonial Auckland, the process was long and drawn-out. The locals were still campaigning in November that year.

Southern Cross 27 November 1857

In March 1858, when a Provincial Council member moved to have £4000 put on the estimates for erecting the bridge, his fellow councillors turned that down on the grounds that there was no firm price available as to the cost. Instead, they voted for a budget for costs for pinpointing where the bridge might be located. October 1858, and the Council were still waiting for a survey of the Tamaki River, in order to sort out the location question.

Then, in 1861, it looked like some progress had been made.

Southern Cross 16 July 1861

Or ... perhaps not.

Panmure Bridge. The council went into committee on Message No. 60, referring to the erection of a bridge over the Tamaki at Panmure, and after a prolonged debate, it was resolved to request his honor to offer a prize of £50 for the best plan and estimate for a bridge at the point named, which would not interfere with the navigation.
Southern Cross 18 February 1862

The issue was the length of the Tamaki River, and what it would take for settlers to have both a bridge by which they could cross the waters, yet not be impeded if they wanted to travel by boat up or down them. Most of the time, where bridges were constructed on the waterways, that was where access by boat started and stopped -- but in the case of the proposed Panmure Bridge, the needs of the people upstream at least at Otahuhu had to be taken into account.

So, the Council tried again.

Southern Cross 28 February 1862

A little over a year later, the Council appointed a committee "to consider and report the best means of erecting a bridge over the Tamaki river, at Panmure." (Southern Cross, 18 March 1863)  The following month, the committee reported back that they felt a suspension bridge was best to allow navigation of the river to continue, and that a budget of £15,000 be raised for the purpose. However, it was found shortly after that, through technicalities, the budgetted cost couldn't be included in an Empowering Act at the time, and so there were no funds. The Government could pay for a punt, but not a bridge.

A public meeting was organised in June 1863, to urge the Government to pass a special Act to enable funding for the bridge. The bill was submitted to Parliament in October, and Parliament appointed a committee to look into the matter, which still tried to sort out what kind of bridge should be built, and whether it should be an expensive iron suspension bridge, or something far cheaper.

By January 1864, estimates received by the Provincial Council from its London agents went as high as £40,000 to £50,000, which probably made some in the council chamber pale. Later that month, the council's own Bridge Bill Committee recommended "in favour of the Bill, and of the erection of a wooden pile bridge, with an opening in the centre, swinging on a turntable, for the convenience of vessels." (Southern Cross, 20 January 1864)

The Tamaki Bridge Act was passed in March 1864, and planning once more proceeded. Tenders were advertised in April. An advertisement for masons to dress the stone used on the bridge's abutments was placed in the newspapers in August by the contractors, McNeil & Wilson of Invercargill. The latter's successful tender was for £11,548 12s 6d. A cardboard model of the bridge was forwarded to the NZ Industrial Exhibition of 1865 by William Weaver, the province's engineer-in-chief. Piles for the bridge, the longest required for any work in the province to that date, were conveyed from Whangarei. Stone was brought in on the barque Ellen Simpson (NZ Herald 18 March 1865) and the brig Sarah Gladstone (NZ Herald 21 April 1865).

The new bridge included what was described as a "swivel opening" at the Panmure end, 40 feet wide, controlled by "iron machinery" some 50 tons in weight, manufactured by Messrs Russell of Sydney, supported on masonry. While the overall engineer was William Weaver for the Provincial Council, the NZ Herald reported that the resident engineer was a Mr Baird. At the inauguration of the new bridge, the laying of the last corner stone on 20 October 1865, "A dance was extemporised upon the new bridge, in which, his Honor the Superintendent and the Engineer-in-Chief joined, the latter leading the light infantry brilliantly. There were no lads of the village so far as we could see, but the lasses seemed to enjoy themselves upon the new timbers immensely." (NZH 21 October 1865). The dance, it was reported a little later, was to the music of "the good old English dance of Sir Roger de Coverley". [There's an example of the music on You Tube.]

The cornerstone itself weighed a ton and a half, and after the Provincial Superintendent Robert Graham laid the cement bed with a ceremonial silver trowel, the stone was lowered carefully by means of a "powerful travelling crane." Once in place, Graham "finally adjusted the stone by striking it three times with a mallet, made of beautifully polished kauri, turned and fitted with a rimu handle."

John La Roche writes that there were some delays until traffic was finally admitted across the bridge from March 1865. Tolls were charged, from tuppence for someone walking across it, to 2 shillings for a carriage or public conveyance.

The swinging part of the bridge was a mechanism mounted on a circular rail, turned by a hand-operated winch. Delays opening that gap to allow boats carrying farmers' crops to market caused complaints, but the bridge remained in use for 51 years, until replaced in 1916 by a higher-level ferro-concrete bridge.

Auckland Weekly News, 28 September 1911, ref AWNS-19110928-14-6, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library.

The turning mechanism on that first bridge remains to this day. These images come from Bill and Barbara Ellis (many thanks).

Troublesome during its working life or not, this seems like incredible engineering for a small colony as we were then, in the middle of the 19th century.

At the moment, it is proposed to undertake conservation work for this reminder of the Provincial Council era of engineering and construction works in the Auckland region, so hopefully future generations will be able to look at part of the past, while the present roars on at speed close by.

1 comment:

  1. Many thanks for the detailed post. I've gone past this bridge hundreds of times, so it's good to know a bit more about it.