Bags packed, tickets booked, I was off to Tasmania. But what to see? Looking through some brochures, I was drawn to a town rich in heritage, the colonial town of Richmond, a mere 25kms from Hobart, this was definitely going on the itinerary!
Richmond had plenty of things to see, including a historic prison, but the one thing that really caught my eye was its arched bridge sited near the old gaol and aptly named the Richmond Bridge. Built entirely by the hard labour of convicts, it also happens to be Australia’s oldest bridge and is still being used today.
The sandstone used in the construction, was quarried from nearby Butchers Hill and hauled the 1.5 kilometres to site by hand carts. Know as a viaduct bridge, it spans 41 metres across the Coal River and is 7.2 metres wide, incorporating four roman arches. These arches can carry immense loads due to their compression style construction, with the weight being transferred evenly down the arch and eventually out to the abutments (the angled bases).
This national treasure had its first foundation stone laid in 1823 and was finally completed in 1825. Originally named Bigge’s Bridge, after the Royal Commissioner John Thomas Bigge, it eventually adopted its hometown name and in 2005 was recognised for ‘Heritage Listing’.
Legend has it, that this crossing also carries a dark past, for in 1832, a warden of the gaol met with a mysterious end. George Grover was an overzealous gaoler who took to his task of flogging the inmates with a ferocity that made him rather unpopular and after falling asleep in a drunken coma one night, it is believed that he was pushed off the bridge and presumably drowned. The killer was never found but you would assume it was someone who had been on the receiving end of his cat–o-nine tails whip.
Walking under, around and over the span, I was moved by its history and little in awe, considering it was built by the hands of inmates, no doubt under the guidance of some trained bricklayer eyes.
Sitting on the riverbank, old gaol in view, water gently flowing past, makes for a relaxing and thought provoking experience. It reminds you of how inspiring beautiful brickwork was, and still is.
If ever you are in “Tassie”, you may want to consider paying it a visit, it’s definitely worth a look. ABBTF often celebrates the early bricklayers of Australia in these blogs, especially James Bloodsworth. We hope it helps encourage young people to consider bricklaying as a trade choice.
We’ve also featured a range of internationally famous brickwork from the past through Australian author and bricklayer Peter Cartwright’s research. You can search Peter on this website to read his blogs on outstanding past brickwork around the world.
ABBTF WA Admin Assistant