17 June, 2016

Four bridges and a ford: Monier mischief

The best-known bridge at Fyansford is without doubt, the Monier bridge. Built in 1899 and opened to traffic on 16th February the following year, the saga of the bridge's construction is described in detail in many places including this webpage so I will settle for a general description here.
The story of the bridge began in 1897 when it was finally decided to replace the original timber bridge built at Fyansford in 1854. The old structure was rotten and in imminent danger of collapse. The first problem was funding. Who would pay for the new bridge? A meeting in September, 1897 discussed the topic and it was pointed out that the bridge at Fyansford not only crossed the Moorabool River, but also crossed the shire boundary between Bannockburn and Corio Shires. Should the shires pay for the new bridge?
Corio Shire were quick to point out that Bannockburn Shire residents derived significantly more benefit from the bridge than its own constituents did as the former often travelled to Geelong. Both shires however were of the same opinion that in fact the majority of traffic across the bridge was not from either shire, but rather from shires further afield who brought produce to Geelong or travelled there to do business. On the that basis, they felt Geelong also derived a significant benefit from the bridge. This was a national road which should receive government funding - oh, and while they were pressing for national road status, they should also request that the steep road out of the valley be cut down too.
Having considered these issues the shires estimated that it would cost around £5,000 to replace the existing bridge and approached the government to contribute half this sum. The government made £1,500 available.
And so a committee composed of councillors and the engineers from both shires was assembled to look into the issue. In March, 1898, Councilor Stewart of the Bannockburn Shire tabled the idea that a revolutionary new system of bridge-making patented by the Engineering company of Monash and Anderson could be employed to replace the Fyansford Bridge. It would be cheaper than a standard stone and iron bridge and once completed, the bridge would require virtually no maintenance and, being new technology, the committee felt the government may be more inclined to increase its financial contribution.
Eventually, by November, 1898 tenders were called for either a steel bridge or a concrete bridge and it was voted that the committee should approach the government to rethink its decision on funding the project. If this was unsuccessful, Corio Shire felt they should instead opt for building a cheap timber bridge or revert to using the ford. The rate payers of that shire after all, would not be significantly inconvenienced by such an arrangement.
It was estimated by the shire engineers prior to tender, that a steel bridge would cost £6,430, however, the quotes received ranged from around £8,500 to almost £11,000. By contrast they estimated that a concrete bridge built using the Monier system would cost in the order of £4,500. The engineering firm of Monash and Anderson who held the patent for this technology in Victoria submitted a tender of just over £5,000 or, including a temporary bridge to be used for the duration of the works, just over £5,300.
In the meantime, the government didn't budge on the issue of funding and instead, recommended that they take their request to the Geelong Town Council. And so discussions continued. In January, 1899 it became clear that the majority of Bannockburn councillors favoured the Monier bridge, however many of the councillors from Corio Shire unsurprisingly, supported the construction of a cheap timber bridge. Whilst various shires and the Geelong Town Council may have been prepared to provide monetary support for the bridge, it soon became clear that it was beyond their legal capacity to contribute financially to projects beyond the borders of their own municipalities. Bannockburn and Corio would have to bear the cost alone.
Finally, after months of wrangling, several changes to the bridge specifications and a number of different proposals - even including a composite steel, timber and concrete bridge - put forward by Monash and Anderson, it was agreed by both councils to accept the original concrete design and at the end of March, 1899 a contract  for £4,506 was agreed upon.
A young John Monash in 1896, not long prior to building
the Fyansford Monier bridge. Image held by Monash

In order for construction of the Monier bridge to be completed however, it was necessary to demolish the old timber bridge, so in preparation for this, tenders were called in December, 1898 for the construction of a temporary bridge for around £200.
By early May, 1899 work on the temporary structure was complete and the bridge - located downstream of the site on which the Monier bridge was being built - was ready for public use. Despite its rather flimsy appearance, it was claimed to be of a more sturdy construction than the old bridge which in any case, had been demolished by the end of that month. Despite this, a notice posted by the Corio Shire engineer AL Campbell in the Geelong Advertiser warned that those crossing the bridge with loads greater than two tons did so at their own risk.
Looking north towards the nearly complete Monier bridge with the smaller
temporary bridge in the foreground. Image held by the University of Melbourne

By early May, with the temporary bridge open to traffic and the piers for the new bridge already completed, difficulties between the shires and Monash and Anderson began to arise as payments were delayed or smaller than expected. Supervising engineer Campbell was also deemed slow to approve the ongoing construction. Work did however continue, with the abutments almost complete by the end of June, this despite flooding on the Leigh and Upper Barwon which it was feared would damage both the temporary bridge and the partially-constructed Monier bridge. Only a couple of weeks later, on  August the temporary bridge was out of order when flood waters over topped it.
The Monier bridge under construction. Image held by the University of Melbourne

During the middle of August, the southern side of the bridge was cast with the northern side complete by October at which point shire engineer Campbell took over responsibility for the works. By December, the bridge was essentially complete, with only finishing touches remaining to be completed along with the testing required before payment to Monash and Anderson could be finalised.
Testing was conducted on 16th February, 1900. The completed, three-span bridge was 260 ft in length with the central span measuring 107 ft 6 in, standing 35 ft above water level. The east and west spans measured 67 ft 6 in each. At that time, the central span was the longest Monier span in the country. The bridge was first tested with 14 laden drays - the equivalent of 44 tons. No deflection was detected in the central arch. Next, a 16 ton steamroller was driven across the bridge with a deflection of one tenth of an inch recorded.
The Monier bridge soon after completion. Image held by the State Library of Victoria
The following day, the bridge was officially opened to traffic. There does not seem to have been a formal opening ceremony - as there was for the first bridge - a circumstance which may have arisen due to what became a protracted legal battle over costs for the bridge. The whole affair, which dragged out over many months, began with Monash and Anderson - after consultation with engineer Campbell - claiming a cost for the bridge of £6,142 and expressed a willingness to waive a claim for extra costs. The shires ordered Campbell to reassess the expenditure and then offered £4,500 plus an additional  £750 to cover extras. Monash and Anderson replied by taking the shires to court.
When the case opened in June, the shires through their lawyers disputed the terms of the original contract, claiming a "bulk sum" contract rather than one based on a "schedule of rates". If correct, then the amount of the contract was a fixed sum (in contrast to a schedule of rates), with any extra expense to be borne by the contractors. Extra costs could only be claimed if approved in writing by the shire president. Throughout the course of construction, verbal agreements for extra expenses had been made by Campbell with the assumed knowledge of the committee, however there was no written authorisation from the either shire president. The shires also made a raft of claims denying any wrong-doing on their own part and claiming Campbell's measurements were wrong and that Monash and Anderson had not made any of the additions claimed.
Looking east across the Fyansford Monier bridge, June, 2016

Eventually, the judge decided in favour of the contractors to the tune of £1902,10,0 plus costs, claiming they had acted in good faith and that the shire's actions throughout the course of construction constituted an implicit acceptance of the expenses accruing. Justice Williams also noted that the shires had probably not considered avoiding payment of the extra money until it was suggested by their legal representatives. He also reluctantly indicated that the shires would have grounds for appeal.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place. Corio Shire
Engineer AL Campbell oversaw the work of Monash
and Anderson on behalf of the shires and was required
to give evidence regarding both in court.
Image held by the State Library of Victoria

This of course was precisely what they did. Before the High Court, presided over by Justices Holroyd, a'Beckett and Hodges, the shires returned to court in February, 1902 with the judgement handed down in September that year. Inevitably perhaps and with reluctance, the judges found in favour of the shires. Justice a'Beckett...
...regretted that he had to concur in a judgement which enabled the defendant shires to escape from payment for work, of which they obtained the benefit, and done with the approval of persons believed by the plaintiffs [Monash and Anderson] to effectually represent them. The unfortunate confusion in the documents by which the rights of the contractors were to be regulated was mainly due to the defendants' [shires'] agents. As the result of the confusion, the plaintiffs had failed to secure themselves against the defence set up by the defendants in refusing to pay for anything to which a claim could not be made out under the documents.
In other words, they had no choice but to abide by the terms of the original contract.
Plaque on the Monier bridge commemorating those involved in its construction

Whilst Monash and Anderson gave serious consideration to an appeal, there was every chance they would lose and if successful, their costs would consume any payment awarded and so eventually, in April, 1903 a settlement was finally reached. Monash and Anderson agreed to accept a sum of £450. Their total losses on the bridge at Fyansford totalled more than £3,000.
Next, in April, 1906 - perhaps to the consternation of the shires who had opted for technology largely untried in Australia - it was found that the new bridge was in need of repair at an estimated cost of £200. Routine checks had discovered that the spandrel walls were bulging and that horizontal cracks had appeared at the crown of the western arch on the south side of the bridge whilst there was also a crack in the central span on the north side. The problem was rectified by the addition of steel tie rods inserted in mortar to hold outer spans. It was also recommended that the parapet be removed and replaced with iron fencing. This clearly was not done.
The Monier bridge in 1906 with the Balmoral and Fyansford Hotels to either
side and the Fyansford Cement Works at the rear. Image held by the State
Library of Victoria
It was estimated that the shires would recoup the outlay required to build the bridge after 40 years. In the end, despite its difficult beginnings, the Monier bridge at Fyansford served the people of Geelong, Fyansford and the Western District for 70 years, before it was finally replaced. Those councillors of the Bannockburn and Corio Shires who supported what at the time was a revolutionary project, ensured that the shires more than got their money's worth. Today, the bridge is open for pedestrian access, beside the modern bridge which replaced it.
The Monier bridge, 2015 viewed from upriver

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