THIS week’s image, from a postcard in a private collection, shows Bathurst’s second major bridge, the Dennison Bridge, spanning the then magnificent Macquarie River.
The bridge was constructed during 1869 and 1870. The familiar willow trees line the riverbank and look how wide the water flowed over a century ago. These days the closed off Denison Bridge still claims the prize as the second oldest metal truss bridge that remains in the state of NSW.
The Macquarie River needed a bridge from the first time Governor Lachlan Macquarie visited Bathurst with all his party in 1815, when he proclaimed the town of Bathurst. From this time, lives were lost, and much inconvenience caused, when the level of the river rose.
It was deadly when this normally slow flowing river was in flood.
After the first drowning occurred, during a crossing of the river, several locals put forward suggestions in the 1820s that some type of bridge should be constructed.
It seems that residents generally accepted that there were insufficient government funds, but the matter was mentioned in letters to the various governors.
Whenever any important government official visited Bathurst, their attention was drawn to the fact that a bridge structure was required. Tenders were called in the early 1830s to supply a timber flat bottom boat to transfer residents from one side or another of the Macquarie River.
A punt plied the river for a short time.
The Sydney Gazette informed the colony on April 23, 1835 that a start was to be made on the long-promised bridge over the Macquarie River at Bathurst.
Supposedly the timber, equipment and workmen duly arrived, but the project was halted, the reason being that the bullocks were unable to draw the heavy loads. They simply were not in good enough condition due to the prevailing drought.
The project was left in abeyance until Henry Ginn, an architect, was instructed on October 25, 1844 to travel to Bathurst to find an appropriate location that would be suitable for a bridge. This plan, however, also lapsed.
A meeting took place in August 1850 at Mrs Mary Black’s Commercial Inn, though little was achieved.
Another petition was drafted on June 27, 1852 and dispatched to the NSW Government by local citizens. They made it clear that they required a bridge to be erected over the Macquarie River. This request, too, appears to have fallen on deaf ears as no reply was received.
After many more letters, frustrated Bathurst and Kelso residents took matters into their own hands. If the Colonial Government would not build a suitable bridge, then they would. A public meeting was called in Bathurst in February 1854 to discuss what possibilities could be investigated. Several ideas were discussed before a large crowd, but the most interesting one was that a company should be formed, and they would build their own.
The following month, the prospectus of the Bathurst Suspension Bridge Company had been printed up ready for the public announcement. The proposed capital needed was £10,000.
Whether this announcement encouraged the government in Sydney to respond it is not known, however, on April 1, 1854, an engineer at least arrived from Sydney to investigate where a bridge could be located on the river between Kelso and Bathurst.
By early November, William Downey, a supervisor, and a bridge building team had arrived from Yass upon completion of a bridge over the river there. The workmen sank their first pile in January 1855. Mr Downey kept a keen eye on the construction as it slowly progressed. The bridge design was done by William Weaver, the NSW colonial architect. The cost of the bridge varied a bit from £11,074 ($22,148) to £13,000 ($26,000).