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Former Victoria Bridge Abutments

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  • 600303
  • 74 Stanley Street, South Brisbane

General

Classification
State Heritage
Register status
Entered
Date entered
21 August 1992
Type
Transport—road: Bridge—road
Themes
5.2 Moving goods, people and information: Using draught animals
5.3 Moving goods, people and information: Using rail
5.5 Moving goods, people and information: Using motor vehicles
8.6 Creating social and cultural institutions: Commemorating significant events
Architect
Brady, Alfred Barton
Builder
Midson, Arthur
Construction period
1896, Former Victoria Bridge Abutment (1896 - 1896)
Historical period
1870s–1890s Late 19th century
Style
Classicism

Location

Addresses
LGA
Brisbane City Council
Coordinates
-27.47342354, 153.02005665

Map

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Significance

Criterion AThe place is important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of Queensland’s history.

The Victoria Bridge Abutments stand as a memorial of the first permanent bridge to be constructed across the Brisbane River which did not succumb to the forces of nature.

The opening of the bridge in 1897 provided a major boost to the continued development of the City of South Brisbane which had first received its development impetus from the introduction of cross-river transport provided by the previous bridges at this location.

Criterion CThe place has potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of Queensland’s history.

The abutments have the potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of late 19th century bridge design and construction, including the role they played in addressing the engineering challenges presented by the site.

Criterion EThe place is important because of its aesthetic significance.

Designed by Government Architect AB Brady, the abutment’s 19th century design characteristics, which include classical stylistic references, monumental form and rusticated stonework, combined with their siting on either side of the river, form an evocative reminder of previous efforts to span the Brisbane River and make an important contribution the urban riverscape of Queensland’s capital city. Visible from a range of vantage points, and contrasting with surrounding modern built forms, the prominent southern abutment is a popular landmark destination for tourists and photographers.

Criterion GThe place has a strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons.

The Victoria Bridge Abutment at South Brisbane has a high social value for the Greek community of Brisbane, containing as it does, the memorial to Hector Vasyli, a young Greek Australian boy who died while demonstrating his loyalty to his adopted homeland. This association is further demonstrated by the role of the Greek community in ensuring that this portion of the bridge was retained to provide a fitting location for the memorial plaque erected in the memory of the Vasyli boy and the continued practice of conducting a memorial service for the boy each Anzac Day.

History

The Victoria Bridge Abutments are remnants of the fourth bridge to cross the Brisbane River at this point. Constructed in 1896 to a design by A B Brady, Government Architect, the bridge was constructed of iron, with stone abutments at each end. The stonework was undertaken by Arthur Midson and the ironwork by Messrs Cormick. The abutments each comprises a large masonry podium, with the southern of the two supporting a section of road and a sawn stone rusticated arch with composite neoclassical ornament. A marble memorial tablet is fixed to the southern side of the arch to commemorate an eleven year old Greek Australian child, Hector Vasyli, who was accidentally killed on the site in 1918 while welcoming returning soldiers, and is of significance for the Greek community.

The 1896 bridge was the fourth structure to cross the Brisbane River at this point. The first, built from timber in 1865, was closed only two years later due to excessive damage caused by marine borers. A permanent structure was commenced in 1864, but was not completed until 1874 when it was opened by the Governor who named it for the ruling British sovereign. Operating as a toll bridge until 1877 it was destroyed in the February 1893 floods. A further temporary bridge was erected by September 1893 but was again destroyed by flooding in 1896. By this time, however the second permanent bridge was nearing completion.

The opening of the Victoria Bridge in 1874 provided an important transport and communications link between the north and south banks of the river and provided further impetus to the development of the south bank. In the 1880s the south bank experienced a development boom. A dry dock was opened in 1881, coal wharves at Woolloongabba and associated rail links were established in c1885, and South Brisbane was established as the passenger terminus for suburban and country train lines built during the 1880s. Industry and commerce was attracted to the area, and Stanley Street developed into a major retail centre and thoroughfare. The spread of housing included the development of large residences located along the ridges with views of the river and industry developed along the southern bank of Milton Reach.

South Brisbane Municipality was established in 1888. The development of the civic centre focussed on the Stanley and Vulture Street intersection and included the Town Hall, Post Office Fire Station and Railway Station. The boom of the 1880s collapsed, following maritime and pastoral strikes and the early 1890s and the collapse of banks in 1893. A series of floods in 1893 resulted in the collapse of the Victoria Bridge which cut vital transport and communications links with the central city. Urban expansion continued following the opening of the new Victoria Bridge in 1897 and was further supported by the introduction of electric trams.

The significance of the Victoria Bridge to the commercial development of the south side of the river is best demonstrated in two anecdotes relating to human nature. At the opening of the bridge in 1897 both North and South Brisbane demanded that they have a ceremony to celebrate this significant event. The ceremony therefore required a formal opening on the north side, following which the party of dignitaries proceeded to cross the bridge to the southern bank. Here another ceremony was held and the procession then crossed the river once more to be met with refreshments on the north bank. The second story relates to a Commemoration Day prank perpetrated by students in the early 1930s. Early one morning they installed a sign at each end of the bridge indicating that the bridge was closed to traffic. Police arriving on the scene took the signs at face value and proceeded to prevent vehicular traffic from using the bridge for most of the day. It was not until someone thought to check with the appropriate authorities that it was discovered that the signs were placed in position as a joke. As a consequence of this prank commerce on either side of the river as considerably disrupted and the university students were severely reprimanded for their actions.

The design of the bridge caused much comment, due to the impressive stone arches flanking the approaches and the manner in which the engineers had addressed the various problems presented by the site. The river banks were at two different levels, presenting a design challenge which was competently met by Brady. The gentle slope of the decking from the higher north bank down to the southern abutment was imperceptible to the eye. The cylindrical iron pillars which supported the span across the river were slightly tapered above normal water level.

The bridge provided a divided carriageway for traffic, with two lanes operating in each direction. The central dividing structure echoed the form of the sides of the bridge, consisting of a series of metal lattice framed hog-backs. Each end of the central divider was marked with a rusticated stone pilaster topped with an ornate gas light. The sides of the bridge were also enclosed in lattice trussing. A swinging span was designed to permit the passage of tallmasted ships, however even at that stage such vessels were becoming increasingly scarce and much of the up-river traffic was the lower motorised vessels. Following the introduction of tram services to South Brisbane, this 'swinging girder' was closed permanently to permit the laying of tracks. Each end of the bridge was provided with stone pillars at the river bank and, at the point of entry, rusticated stone arches spanned the pedestrian walkways. Pedestrian footways were provided either side of the main decking. Until the 1930s the Victoria Bridge remained the only permanent crossing point between the north and south banks of the River within Brisbane. By 1926 the bottleneck caused by the increased volume of traffic attempting to use the only river crossing in the city led to the establishment of a commission to explore alternative sites for bridges. After consideration of a number of factors such as flooding, navigation and level of demand, the Grey Street (William Jolley) Bridge (No. 601694) was constructed, followed by the Walter Taylor Bridge which functioned as a toll bridge from its opening in 1936. The Storey Bridge was not opened until 1940 due to pressures against the construction of a down-river bridge which had the potential to limit shipping to the city wharves.

In 1918, during the celebrations marking the end of the Great War and the return of the soldiers from the front, an incident occurred that touched the heart of the public and led to the provision of a memorial tablet on the southern end of the bridge. An 11 year old child, Hector Vasyli, of Greek ancestry, was struck by one of the vehicles in the parade and killed. A marble tablet was erected to his memory and a memorial service has been held at the site on Anzac Day ever since.

In 1969 when the bridge was being demolished, to be replaced by the present structure, the memorial tablet was removed for safekeeping until a suitable location was found for it. Discussion with the Greek Community and Brisbane City Council led to the decision to retain that portion of the southern abutment which had originally held the memorial tablet and so it was returned to its original location on April 24, 1970. During storage the bronze relief head of the boy which decorated the tablet was lost. The Greek Consul, Mr Alex Freeleagus located the boys' sister in Sydney and she provided a photograph of the boy from which a replacement likeness was cast.

Construction of the new bridge resulted in the part demolition of the northern abutment, with the arch and upper courses of the Brisbane Tuff stonework removed. More recent works associated with the upgrade of the North Quay Ferry Terminal included the removal of a curved stone retaining wall (c1920s) that formed a large planter box adjacent to the abutment, and cleaning of the newly exposed stonework. A cantilevered viewing platform was constructed above the abutment, along with an adjacent public lift, stairs and ramps to provide access from Queens Wharf Road to the walkway and ferry terminal below.

The more intact southern bridge abutment retained its arch but was left as a ruin for some time following the demolition of the bridge, photographs taken in 1971 show that it was still in a ruined state at that time. Restoration work is reported as having been undertaken as a part of the revivification of the south bank area in preparation for the 1988 Exposition which was held at South Bank Park. At that time two bronze plaques were attached to the side of the abutment recording the history of the bridge. Conservation works were undertaken in 2003-4, including cleaning, patching and repointing of the stonework. In 2015 a new walkway, featuring interpretive signage panels, was built between the abutment and the modern bridge.

Description

The Victoria Bridge Abutments stand on both sides of the Brisbane River, downstream of the existing Victoria Bridge, and are aligned approximately southwest to northeast. The abutments are approximately mirror in plan, parallel to the river with a large curved recess in the downstream corner. However, the southern abutment comprises a free-standing podium, while the slightly elevated northern abutment is embedded in the river bank.   

Southern Abutment

The walls of the large southern abutment are faced with rock-faced ashlar Brisbane Tuff (commonly referred to as porphyry). The southwest side is faced with polygonal masonry, indicating that it is newer stonework. The podium is capped with the downstream pedestrian footway arch, together with a section of roadway which retains the tracks of the tramway.

The rusticated, sawn stone arch employs Classical stylistic references.The pylons supporting the arch are tapered towards the base of the arch from which they continue as attached pilasters with parallel sides. The arch springs from a cornice at the top of the tapered portion of the supporting pylons. Above the arch a cornice defines the base of a Doric frieze which continues around the tops of the attached pilasters. The entablature is topped with another cornice. Either side of the arch a granite tablet is applied which supports ornate metal brackets which held gas lamps to illuminate the entry to the bridge. A similar tablet is located on the sides of the structure at the same level. The three lowest courses have been treated with a rock-faced surface. The outer pylon of the arch is continued to the base of the abutment as a low profile pilaster with a rock-faced surface. At the centre of the arch, galvanised piping projects and a section hangs parallel with the face of the structure.

Upriver (northwest) from the arch a section of roadway remains, bearing sections of tramline. Between the two sets of tracks the remains of a low concrete platform with a rounded end has been left in situ. The surface to the landward side of this platform retains painted chevron markings. On the downriver side (southeast) a low stone wall curves out, terminating in a low pilaster which defines the former entry point for the bridge. The area is paved in concrete. Metal brackets are attached to the stonework of the pylons, the centre of the arch and on the top of the outer pilaster; fittings for a gas illumination. Curved stone kerbing defines the footpath from the road way.

A marble tablet is applied to the landward side of the up-river pylon below the lowest cornice, commemorating Hector Vasyli. The tablet is in the form of an aedicule in the Corinthian style. The inscription on the entablature reads:

ΑΠΑΣΑ  ΔΕ  ΧΘΩΝ  ΑΝΔΡΙ  ΓΕΝΝΑΙΩ  ΠΑΤΡΙΣ

TRANSLATION

EVERY LAND IS HIS NATIVE LAND TO A BRAVE MAN

The Corinthian columns frame a tondo beneath which the inscription continues. The tondo contains a bronze relief portrait of the boy facing outward. Below this lies the body of the inscription. The inscription reads:

NEAR THIS SPOT AS THE RESULT OF A LAMENTABLE ACCIDENT, WHILST WELCOMING RETURNED SOLDIERS, HECTOR VASYLI WAS KILLED 9TH JUNE 1918 AGED 11 YEARS.

DURING HIS BRIEF SOJOURN ON EARTH, HE DEVOTED MUCH OF HIS TIME TO PATRIOTIC WORK FOR AUSTRALIAN SOLDIERS DURING THE GREAT EUROPEAN WAR. IN HIS VEINS RAN THE HEROIC BLOOD OF GREECE, AND IN THE BREAST OF A CHILD HE CARRIED THE HEART OF A MAN.

THIS TABLET WAS ERECTED BY THE RETURNED SAILORS, AND SOLDIERS IMPERIAL LEAGUE, HELLENIC (GREEK) ASSOCIATION AND CITIZENS OF BRISBANE.

The stylobate is supported on two brackets of marble.

Below the tablet two rows of metal hooks are attached to the stonework. These may be intended for the support of commemorative wreaths relating to the Anzac Day memorial services. Off centre from the entrance to the arch, a metal bollard remains in situ.

Additional stabilising footings and retaining works have been constructed to maintain the abutment in its present location. All the stonework below the road level is done in rock-cut masonry. Other additions include a metal safety railing around the perimeter which matches the railing of the neighbouring bridge, and a modern walkway with interpretive signage panels linking the podium with the current Victoria Bridge. Two bronze plaques have been applied to the stonework on the north-western side of the podium. The inscriptions show a number of inaccuracies, however are transcribed below:

Plaque one - ground level

"This plaque marks the site of the southern approach to the second Victoria Bridge, completed in 1897 at a cost of £125,000 to replace the bridge destroyed by floods in 1896. When the bridge was demolished in 1969, following the completion of the present bridge, this section was retained as a memorial to the endeavour of successive generations of Brisbane's citizens to provide swift means of cross-river transport."

Plaque two - first landing

"This stonework is all that remains of the first permanent bridge to span the Brisbane River. A temporary wooden structure was erected in 1865 as staging for the permanent bridge, but was closed to traffic from Nov 1897 as a result of flood damage. On the 15th June 1874 the new bridge was opened and named Victoria Bridge. The northern section of the Victoria Bridge collapsed on 6 February 1893 under pressure from debris during the disastrous flood of that year."

Northern Abutment

The northern abutment is situated immediately adjacent to the current bridge, with the southwest and southeast sides of the ashlar rock-faced Brisbane Tuff structure visible. There is a smooth sloped sill at the junction between the base and the wall above. The arch and upper courses have been removed, and the fill on top is landscaped and features two (post-1970s) hoop pines (Araucaria cunninghamii).

A modern viewing platform is cantilevered over the abutment, and an adjacent public lift, stairs and ramps provide access from Queens Wharf Road to a walkway and ferry terminal below.

Image gallery

Location

Location of Former Victoria Bridge Abutments within Queensland
Licence
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last updated
20 January 2016
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