The location of ‘Queen’s Bridge’ in Melbourne occupies the most historically significant site of the city. It represents the location which instilled hope, happiness, sheer excitement and elation – that would soon turn to heartbreak and tragedy – for the founder of Melbourne:
” . . . but pause long enough to reflect that it was probably about the Queen’s Bridge (earlier titled the Falls Bridge) that John Batman, on June 8, 1835, wrote in his diary: “This will be the place for a village.”
Then it was unbroken wilderness; to-day there are nearly a million people in the “village.” And this has all happened within three generations . . . “
“A stately city—mark her lofty towers,
Her league-long streets with myriad lights agleam;
Here wealth and pride exhibit all their powers—
Is this the “village” of John Batman’s dream?
Source: Excerpts – ‘The Open Road in Victoria being The Ways of Many Walkers’ – by Robert Henderson Croll – published 1928
The Site of ‘Queens Bridge’
Today’s ‘Queen’s Bridge’ is sited where once ‘The Falls‘ not only provided a natural weir harnessing fresh water, but also a precarious crossing over the Yarra River in the form of rock ‘stepping stones’. Hence, it could easily be argued that ‘The Falls’ formed the first ‘bridge’ across the Yarra . . .
Then, c 1838, a ferry service was established just above ‘The Falls’ to cross the Yarra River, which would run until 1860, when a wooden footbridge was constructed directly over ‘The Falls’:
” . . . Trans-riverine locomotion by boat was established contemporaneously with the punting. The first Charon that plied close to the “Falls,” was an ancient Irish Celt, known as Paddy Byrne, who lived close by the Southern terminus, with an only daughter named Polly. They were both in their way public favourites, and when the father would be asthmatically or rheumatically disposed, as occasionally happened, Polly officiated as “skipper” with skill and liveliness. This ferry continued until the erection of the recent Falls Bridge, after ” Paddy ” had gone to stretch his bones in the old cemetery, and ” Polly ” somewhere else to the chronicler unknown. The keeper of the second ferry was, in 1839, one John Matthews, by no means so much an identity as either Paddy or Polly Byrne, and during the great Christmas Eve flood of that year, he had a miraculous escape from drowning. His boat and himself were swept from their moorings, and he would certainly have come to grief, but for his gallant rescue by a couple of sailors . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘The Chronicles of Melbourne 1835 to 1851’ Volume II – by Garryowen – published 1888
Extract – Stephens’ Map of Melbourne & Suburbs c 1861
Interestingly, Elizabeth Street was once a tributary that flowed into the Yarra River:
” . . . Turn up Elizabeth Street and mark the busyness of this thoroughfare—which runs all the way to Sydney . . . here was a watercourse a very few years ago. In my own time the digging of the street to lay foundations for the cable trams revealed a stretch of redgum corduroy which our fathers had found it necessary to put down to keep the street from swallowing travellers completely . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘The Open Road in Victoria being The Ways of Many Walkers’ – by Robert Henderson Croll – published 1928
1860 – The ‘Falls Bridge’
The ‘Falls Bridge’ was a wooden structure set on red gum piles and formed the continuation of Market Street, crossing the Yarra River to what became Queens Bridge Street on the southern side of the river:
” . . . The erection of the timber bridge over the Falls of the Yarra was commenced early in 1860, the contractors being Messrs Huckson and Co., for the sum of £3518 5s. It is rather a handsome structure of the kind, and has proved of considerable advantage as a mode of communication between Melbourne and Emerald-hill. The Falls, situated immediately under the bridge, are an artificial erection, dating from the early days of the colony, and intended to check the upward progress of the tide from impregnating the fresh water, which it was desired to preserve pure, as the Yarra was at that time the only source of water supply to Melbourne. A few months ago the department of Public Works proceeded to the removal of the Falls, as an experiment, for the purpose of giving a more rapid flow to storm-water in time of floods. In the course of their operations the workmen discovered that several abutments of the bridge had been cut completely through by some malicious individual, for whose discovery, however, the Government in vain offered a reward of £200. The mischief is to be effectually remedied forthwith . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘Australian News for Home Readers’ (Vic) – Article “The Bridge at the Yarra Falls, Melbourne” – published 25th July 1865
The ‘Falls Bridge’ served the rapidly growing community of Melbourne for just over 20 years:
” . . . For many years it was an enormously active business thoroughfare, and the traffice became so heavy that there were continual blocks at the southern approach by the tortuous and often boggy road to Emerald Hill. When the question of putting a bridge over the river at the falls was put forward, a board was appointed by the Government to inquire into the project. The members were Capt. Pauley, Minister of Public Works ; Mr. Riley, surveyor to the city of Melbourne ; Mr. John Nimmo, surveyor to the town of Emerald Hill ; Mr. Derbyshire, Mr. T. Higinbotham and Mr. C. Hodgkrinson, representing the old Roads and Bridges department, by which the work was done. The Surveyor-General, Capt. Clarke, now Sir Andrew Clarke, was also a member. The site proposed was strongly condemned by Mr. Riley and Mr. Higinbotham, on the ground that no bridge could be permanently established on such a place. Mr. Kimmo then brought forward a long report on the subject, and it was decided that the bridge should be built on that site. The work was pushed by Mr. Kimmo ; a sum of money was granted by the Government, and the bridge was built. That bridge did long and useful service, but it has had to go. Once it was threatened with downfall by the act of some scoundrel who sawed through several of the piles, but the circumstance was noticed and the timbers were strengthened. Now that the Falls have been removed the reason of the name has gone for ever, and a new name of ” the Queen’s-bridge,” with far less apparent connection, is to be bestowed on the new structure . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘Age’ (Melbourne, Vic) – Article “The Falls-Bridge – The Old and the New” – published 15th April 1890
1883 – Demolishing the Old ‘Falls Bridge’
Interestingly, the following article shows no remorse for the history of the ‘Falls Bridge’, nor the significance of ‘The Falls’ themselves → just the promotion of “progress”:
” . . . For nearly as many years as Melbourne has been inhabited, the public who desired to cross the river from Melbourne to the Emerald-hill side have been compelled to use either the ramshackle old structure known as the Falls-bridge, or else take the ferry. This bridge was erected to long since that the officers of the department are unable to say when the first pile was driven without a reference to some old time official records that have almost dropped out of recollection. The bridge has been reported on from time to time as being unsafe, and many proposals have been put forward for the erection of a new one. At last it has been decided to removed the old falls as a means towards the prevention of floods, in conjunction with the works proposed by the Harbor Trust, and to erect a new bridge over the river at a line in direct continuation from Queen-street. The first step necessary was of course the demolition of the old bridge and the erection of a temporary structure somewhere near. A contract for the work was let to Mr. T. D. McLarty, the sum being £3385, and he immediately proceeded with it. In a very short time the work of demolition was completed, and our sketch gives an illustration of a portion of the operations.
Using every despatch, the old structure was speedily removed and the new one erected. The latter takes a short turn near the middle of the river, which may be regarded as something unusual in bridge building, but the turn was necessitated by the proximity of the railway bridge, and it was then found to be suitable to the requirements of the public. The City Council have since raised an objection to the removal of the falls, as they contend the tide would affect the river for a considerable distance upward and lead to its pollution. This objection is not likely to have any weight, as the improvement of the river must come about, and it would be impossible to do anything if the falls are allowed to remain where they are . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘Illustrated Australian News’ (Melbourne, Vic) – Article “Demolishing the Old Falls Bridge” – published 11th July 1883
1889 – ‘Queen’s Bridge’
With ‘The Falls’ blasted away during May 1883, the ‘Falls Bridge’ removed in the July of 1883, the way was clear to construct the new steel structure that we see today.
The bridge was designed by Mr. Frederick M Hynes, the appointed Chief Design Engineer for the ‘Harbour Jetties & Coast Works Department’ at the time. The contractor commissioned to build the bridge was Mr. David Munro who had also constructed the ‘Princes Bridge’ in 1888, and, the ‘Sandridge Railway Bridge’ in the same year.
The identifying feature of ‘Queens Bridge’ is the long, single, relatively flat arch constructed of wrought iron girders which span the entire length of bridge. The span is supported by decorative pylons spaced along the arch, all of which are iron cylinders filled with concrete – elegant arched bracings connecting the pairs. The cast iron balustrading is complimented with elegant decoration as well as corbels lining the underside of the protruding panel above the girders.
‘Queens Bridge’ established a main transport communication link over the Yarra River. Though the bridge was built in a time when the motor car and huge trucks were not even a figment of anyone’s imagination, this iron bridge stands proudly and endures the copious and continuous traffic of the present day.
Yet another testament to the foresight and innovation of our pioneers.
Interestingly though, ‘The Falls’ were blasted to free the flow of water and extend the navigable distance of the ‘Yarra’, however, the low arch of ‘Queens Bridge’ presents an obstacle, only facilitating the passage of boats of minimal height . . .
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- Sealed Road