CANOES had been the original means of crossing the Hawkesbury River at this point, by both the indigenous peoples and early settlers, and then rowing boats and punts.
John Howe’s Hawkesbury ferry began operating in 1814 and continued for 60 years.
Getting consent for a major bridge took time: in 1864, a public meeting was held to begin agitation to end the inconveniences and delays from the punt being swamped by cattle or broken down, sometimes for as long as three or four weeks at a time.
It could not run in floods and sometimes became grounded on a sandbank, stuck until high tide.
At the School of Arts in Windsor on Monday, May 23, 1864 a large crowd gathered to instigate a petition, composed ‘principally of the residents of Wilberforce’.
Using the precedent of the government having built a bridge in the Hunter Valley over the Paterson River, it was decided to ask for a bridge to be built in Windsor rather than, in the then depressed state of the district, try to form a private company to build it as the Richmond community had done with success by 1860.
IT was unanimously decided to petition the Governor.
The time had arrived, the meeting decided, for an immediate application to the Legislative Assembly, to petition the Governor.
The motion was moved by James Ascough and seconded by Edward Robinson.
Robert Wick moved, seconded by William Hopkins, that a petition, which was already prepared on behalf of the residents of ‘Windsor, Wilberforce, Portland Head and the surrounding neighbourhood’ describing how ‘the traffic of cattle, goods, and farm produce, across the river at Windsor, on the way to market is very considerable...’ be sent to the Governor.
Both motions were carried unanimously.
Not to be outdone, Richard Ridge moved a third motion, seconded by R. Dunston, that was also passed: that Messrs W. Walker, J. Ascough, H. Day, R. Ridge, W. McQuade, E. Robinson, John Dunston, GS Hall jr, S. Edgerton, R. Stewart, S.R. Dunston, R. Dick, W. Hopkins, S. Tuckerman and F. McDonald, with W. Dean as Secretary, obtain the signatures.
Two floods in the district in April and May 1870, the first a major flood, hurried the petitions along, but it was not until June 1871 the government voted funds, and in December that year accepted Andrew Turnbull’s tender.
The work began on 15 January 1872.
There was so great an amount of drift timber, rocks and boulders deposited by floodwaters over the bedrock of the river, that in the middle of the stream, the rock could not be reached by normal screw piles.
It was then the decision was taken to use cylinders for all the piers.
Freshes and floods extended the time it took to install the piles, and it was December 1873 before this had been carried out, with some of the columns reaching an average depth of 12 metres below the summer level of the river. Each pillar was ‘firmly bedded and lewised four feet into the solid rock’ according toThe Australian Town and Country Journal report of August 1874, told how ‘Bracing beams were also fixed below water by divers, before the erection of the superstructure.’
The cast-iron cylinders had been made at Morts Dock and Engineering Works at Balmain, and Turnbull and Dixon the contractors were responsible for the feat of completing the original structure without any accidents.
Floods had made it necessary to have the superstructure ‘unusually strong’ and ingenuity of design was credited for its being securely fastened to the piers on all 10 spans.
‘Massive fastenings’ made it reportable that ‘the engineer has taken every precaution to prevent the floods from making a breach in any part of the bridge’.
And so today, with only some modifications to this original structure, we can celebrate 140 years of ongoing service.
The formal bridge opening on Thursday, August 20, 1874, was indeed a memorable day for Windsor and surrounds.
Festivities the like of which had never before been seen served the 6000 or 7000 who came to celebrate.
The Sydney train brought visitors along with the Minister for Works who conducted the official opening, and their eyes beheld a parade from Macquarie Street to Dight Street, thence along George Street and across the bridge and back, organised to consist of over 600 people: all the district clergy led the way, followed by town and district businesses representatives, members of the Fire Brigade, members of the Legislature, the Minister for Lands, the Commissioner of the Railways, Mayor McQuade, and the Aldermen, the Lodges and a strong contingent of 570 school children, all to the playing of Volunteer Bands.
Flags were the order of the day.
All groups in the parade carried their banners, and flags decorated the houses in the vicinity of the celebrations and on the bridge, along with floral arches.
After the parade, there were events that would long stay in the memory.
The children had a party in a nearby paddock with ‘cakes, buns and sweets’ and amusements including a Punch and Judy show.
The multitude assembled on the hill of Thompson Square and was treated to the time-honoured tradition of a bullock roast — which, as pleased visitors commented, showed that ‘the inhabitants appear to understand how to roast a bullock to advantage’.
The official gentlemen visitors, 100 in number and including representatives of all the early pioneer families, had their own luncheon seated in the School of Arts adjacent, with more speeches.
Swinging into the night, a public ball was held in the decorated ‘old barrack-room’ (the site of the old police station near North Street).
CELEBRATE THE OPENING AGAIN ON SUNDAY
HISTORIC Windsor will return to the 1800s with the help of locals, to commemorate the opening of Windsor Bridge in 1874.
To mark the 140-year milestone, the Community Action for Windsor Bridgegroup will host a parade across the bridge on Sunday, August 24, from 1pm, in a partial re-enactment of the original.
It will start at Thompson Square.
‘‘The parade will include local businesses, dance students, vintage cars, bikes and tractors,’’ group chairman Dail Miller said.
‘‘There will also be a troop of Lighthorsemen and NSW Marines led by a piper and marching bands, all accompanied by members of the public in period costume with flags and bunting
‘‘There will even be a long boat on the river with mast and sail from the Replica Bounty to witness the occasion.’’
A ceremonial ribbon will be cut by the ‘‘mayor of the time Mr McQuade’’.
And like the original, luminaries will then adjourn to Thompson Square to indulge in ‘‘the roasting of a fine bullock’’.
‘‘The event will not only celebrate the significance of the role that the current bridge has played in the development of the Hawkesbury, but will also demonstrate the great affection in which the bridge is held by the local community,’’ group member and long-time local resident, Harry Terry said.