During the early 19th century, the Hawkesbury River was crossed by punt at what is now known as North Richmond. Two of the early operators of the service included Mrs Faithfull and George Matcham Pitt. Cattle travelling from the west, swam across the river but the sheep were put on the punt, which held about 180 sheep. Alfred Smith, another punt operator, recalls taking as many as 5,000 head of sheep, across in one day during the mid-1800s.
|Richmond Bridge 1879|
Courtesy State Library of NSW
In 1857, the Richmond Bridge Company was established and their aim was to replace the punt with a bridge over the Hawkesbury River. A wooden bridge was built in 1860, the first over the Hawkesbury River, at a cost of between £9,000 - £10,000. This bridge had 19 spans and was 537 feet in length. It was a low-level bridge only about 4.4m above the water level. The first toll charges were 1/4d for each sheep, lamb, pig or goat; 6d per horse and 2d per person. No tolls were charged on Sundays or for funeral parties. In 1876 the Government purchased the bridge for £7000 and tolls were no longer collected.
During the 1850-1860s, floodwaters weakened the bridge. In 1867 the deck was covered with 52 feet of water! A new bridge was planned and eventually given approval in the 1902-1903 budget. Tenders called were called in June 1903. The bridge was designed by the Public Works Department under Mr W. J. Hanna the Commissioner and Principal Engineer for Roads & Bridges. The construction was supervised by Mr W. F. Burrows the resident engineer. The contractor for the project was Mr F. J. Carson.
In January 1904, Sir John See, the Premier of NSW turned the first sod and construction commenced shortly after. The new bridge, 214m in length, was built from reinforced concrete with 13 arched spans, each 30 feet long built on the Monier principle of round steel bars forming a grill to strengthen the concrete. The steel bars were produced at Sandford & Company steelworks at Lithgow. The handrails were collapsible for during times of floods. The piers were concrete caissons and were sunk into the bedrock and also secured upstream. This was the first time this method was used in NSW. The caissons were adjusted and then filled with concrete. It was reported that this was only the second bridge in the world to be built as a "low level structure of reinforced concrete on a river subject to flooding" - the other was in Maryborough in Queensland. It was also touted as a "flood free bridge."
|Richmond Bridge opening 1905|
Courtesy Sydney Mail & NSW Advertiser 13 Sep 1905
The new bridge opened with much pomp and ceremony following an official function on 4 September 1905. The newspaper described the official ceremony as "a Colossal function" with a "vast assemblage" of the officials and the community in attendance.
The Hon. Joseph Carruthers, the Premier of NSW, as well as Hon. C. A. Lee the Minister for Works, local politicians, plus other dignitaries were welcomed by the Mayor of Richmond, Mr. T. J. Griffiths, Rev. James Cameron and Mr Potts the Principal of the Hawkesbury Agricultural College. A procession led by De Groen's Vice Regal Band guided the party through Richmond to the site. The Ministerial coach had a mounted escort and a trail of dust enveloped the procession through the town as it was a very dusty, windy day.
|Richmond Bridge opening|
The bridge was decorated with flags and greenery and students from Richmond Public School lined the bridge. At the ribbon ceremony were three children dressed appropriately representing a soldier - Harry Mawbary, a young Australian - Norman Woodhill and Lawrence Cambridge as a sailor. Completed construction costs were between £19,000 and £21,000. The bridge was also designed to attach a railway line.
Following the cutting of the ribbon by the Premier and the speeches, the official party inspected the bridge and then adjourned for lunch. At 2pm the Vice Regal band gave a recital of music in Mr J. Town's paddock and then a sports afternoon was held with races etc. There were about 2000 people in attendance.
The event was reported in many newspapers including the Town & Country & Journal, Sydney Mail, Nepean Times, as well those below.
|Right Windsor & Richmond Gazette 9 Sep 1905 & left Sydney Morning Herald 5 Sep 1905|
During the 1880s the community proposed that the rail service be extended from Richmond to Kurrajong. The railway had reached Richmond in 1864. There was much debate and it wasn't until 1924 the project commenced and the line was officially opened to Kurrajong on the 8 November 1926.
|Car and steam train crossing Richmond Bridge, Hawkesbury River ca 1945 / E. W. Searle|
Courtesy National Library of Australia
There were several stations on the line as well as sidings where passengers could catch the train. The line ran at a loss and following flood damage and landslides the line was officially closed in 1952. In 1988, as part of the Australia’s Bicentenary celebrations, the RTA and the NRMA erected the following plaque on the bridge:
Ups & Downs of an Old Richmondite / Alfred Smith (Nepean Family History Society, 1991) p. 3
Richmond Bridge Company Act 1857
Windsor & Richmond Gazette 9 Sep 1905 p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article85893221
Windsor & Richmond Gazette 12.Mar 1958
Sydney Morning Herald 5 Sep 1905 p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article14728250
"…The Story of the Kurrajong Line" by John Oakes in Australian Railway Historical Society Bulletin July 1997 (Volume 48 No 717)