26 November, 2016

Which Bridge?

By the end of 1848, the Moorabool River crossing at Bates' Ford - as the area was by then commonly known - had its new bridge. The wool clip could be conveyed to Geelong, travellers could pass in safety and pedestrians could cross the Moorabool without fear of falling through rotten timbers and pitching into the river below; for a while at least.
According to one local source (History of Batesford: 1842-1941, held by the Geelong Historical Records Centre) the new bridge is said to have stood in the same position as the the historic bluestone bridge stands today. That this is likely to be substantially correct is supported by an 1850 reference to the bridge and the public house being "not more than fifty yards apart" (The Argus, 22nd June, 1850). The premises in question would have been the Marrabool Inn which stood where the Batesford Hotel does today and even now the distance between the hotel and the stone bridge is almost exactly 50 yards. Like its predecessor, the 1848 bridge was a timber structure, but other than this, I have managed to find little extra detail.
Batesford Hotel and the 1859 bluestone bridge, looking west. November, 2016
In addition to the new bridge, there were also roadworks. On 26th December, 1848, the Geelong Advertiser reported that  the government had decided to "open and make certain parish roads...viz:--From North Geelong to the bridge over the Moorabool River at Bates's Ford, being part of the Great Western Road."
Prior to this, in 1840 works had been undertaken to realign the eastern approach to the river. Whether this line of road crossed the river at Manifold's Ford or via the original timber bridge is not clear, but the road followed a similar alignment to the modern Midland Hwy across the river flats at Batesford. The route from Geelong at that time was probably more track than road and followed a path which meandered across Bell Post Hill and down into the valley (see map in previous post). The alignment proposed in 1848 followed the modern line across Bell Post Hill, approaching the river via what is now the Old Ballarat Rd at Batesford which is little different to the 1840 or the modern alignment, further confirming perhaps the location of the 1848 bridge on or very near the bluestone bridge.
So for the time being, Bates' Ford had a reliable bridge. Two years prior to the construction of the bridge, the land to the east of the Moorabool had been auctioned by the government. The purchaser of allotment 10, section A, Parish of Moorpanyal, was George Hope. This 468 acre parcel of land stretched from the banks of the river, eastward to today's Geelong-Ballan Rd and included the sites of both Manifold's and Bates' fords, the Marrabool Inn and - from 1848 - the new bridge.
As a local landholder, Hope was no doubt well aware of the importance of the river crossing and, seeing a business opportunity, in 1850 he arranged for the subdivision of this block into town and small farm allotments. After an extensive advertising campaign the "Village of Batesford and Estate of Hopeton" was offered for public auction by T Horsbrugh at 12pm on the 18th July. The auction was well attended and many blocks were purchased. Any unsold land was advertised over the following months as "for sale by private bargain".
The original subdivision of Batesford Township by George
Hope. Image taken from Batesford and its Early Families,
Bettina Blackall, 1991
The following year, on 21st February, a second auction was held, followed by further subdivision and a third auction on 26th August, 1853. By this time of course, the gold rush was in full swing and business was booming. Batesford however, was once again having trouble with its bridge.
In late May, 1852 floods had yet again hit the Moorabool River. This time, the water reached the highest level seen since European settlement. In the newly-established town of Batesford, houses built in the wake of George Hope's auction, were inundated and people forced to take to their roofs to escape the rising floodwaters (The Argus, 25th May, 1852). After the water receded, the bridge which was less than four years old, was found to be in a very bad state. The Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer reported on 25th May, that the bridge was "so shattered and ill conditioned by the late inundation, as to be extremely dangerous."
The response from government was typically slow. It was not until January, 1853 that tenders were called for the erection of a new - timber - bridge. According to the local publication Batesford - an historical background (Jennifer Warner, Geelong Historical Records Centre), the new bridge was a composite through truss structure designed by Charles Rowand. For unexplained reasons however, no tender appears to have been accepted. Instead, construction got underway immediately using day labour.
At this point however, things become a little unclear and there is some doubt as to whether the 1848 bridge was replaced completely or instead, was extensively repaired. If the latter was the case - and I tend to think it was - then the "third" Batesford bridge must have been located on the same site as the 1848 bridge. Regardless, it was not until September (Warner claims) that the works were completed and in the meantime, reports began to appear in the newspapers expressing the concerns and frustrations of the community as they waited for completion of the works:

22nd January (Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer) "The [Batesford] bridge is very rough, and not too safe; its centre happens to present a cavity, the decent(sic) into, or ascent out of which gives the bullocks and their drays an awkward shaking." 
28th March (Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer) "BATES' FORD BRIDGE--This unique specimen of colonial engineering is shaped exactly like a W, or a man drawn up by a cramp in the stomach. At present it is impassable, for months past it has been only dangerous. A small platform is thrown across the river for the benefit of pedestrians, equestrians, and quadrupeds, which platform half a day's rain would wash away. Via Bates' Ford, communication with the Leigh, Buninyong, Ballarat, &c, is carried on by means of a PLANK. Hear that, ye Board of Commissioners of Roads and Bridges." 
9th May (The Tasmanian Colonist) "the Government at last showed a disposition to repair parts of the roads leading to the Western diggings. They have contented themselves with patching up one bridge, that of Bate's Ford, leaving other parts of the route in a most disgraceful condition." 
14th July, 1853 (Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer) "the broken-backed [bridge] at Batesford" 
3rd August, 1853 (Geelong Advertiser and Inelligencer) "There is one comfort for Geelong--it can scarcely be worse treated. We get little from the Melbourne Government, and are likely to get little more...
...We could wander on the banks of the Barwon, like an unquiet spirit on the shores of the Styx, and mark the ruin and the desolation there, and, turning towards Melbourne, ask, in the name of the 25,000 people why "the bridge is broke and can't be mended?" Of     course La Trobe laughs at it himself, and enjoys the fun of turning Geelong into a "galanti show" for fifteen months. He makes split-stuff of us for laughter, and carries on a wholesale business in the joke line at our expense....
...Across the Moorabool there is a bridge, evidently intended for a steeple chase, or kept in its present state out of compliment to the chamois hunters of Switzerland, having precipitous peaks, and two gorges represented by the letter W--this form being the best adapted for the transit of horses and bullock drays in the Western District.
The impetus acquired in the first descent carries the object to the next apex, where, if it could be made to turn over, we should have a correct idea of a centrifugal railway. This bridge is intended to prevent people crossing, and answers its purpose admirably. Undoubtedly, during the present winter, his Excellency has saved many valuable lives by preventing people adventuring on the Buninyong road, which probably they would have done but for this "chevaux de frise".
People blame the government, in the case of the Barwon bridge, for not repairing what is undone. In the case of the Bar [Point Henry sandbar], the government is blamed for not doing that which for years they had promised, and still promise to do, without doing. With the Bates Ford bridge, the blame is for doing badly at first, and worse afterwards. Nor is this all. The wallet is not yet emptied. There is another grievance, growing with years, heedlessly passed by, and jeeringly encountered.
The Melbourne Government is aware that there are such places as Buninyong and Ballarat, and that the traffic thither is carried on along a line of road beautifully diversified by bog, swamp, and morass, existing in primitive punity impassable to anything except birds, will-o'-th-wisps and Jack-o'-lanthorns(sic), and which has proved fatal, probably, to one mailman and two horses. This is the trunk line to the Western gold fields, and affords a prime subject, illustrative of centralisation, and the transcendent humbug employed to maintain a specious prosperity in one place. Assuming to be a fact, that which was stated in the Council, promulgated from the from the Bench, echoed by the Melbourne papers, and recently used as an argument against the reduction of the license fees, viz., that the proceeds of the gold fields are expended in police, and on roads to and from the gold fields, we maintain, upon this ground alone, that we have been robbed of a hundred thousand pounds during the last eleven months...
The comments from March and May suggest that the it was eventually decided to repair the old bridge, as perhaps does the use of day labour. Indeed an illustration produced by Engineer Rowand (see below), showing both the new and old structures together, may perhaps indicate a composite structure. Of course, if the bridge was being repaired, a separate means of crossing would be required and this was perhaps the purpose of the "plank" which was in use during March when the bridge was said to be impassable, although how long it was used is uncertain.
An illustration from 1853 taken from Batesford - an historical background
(Jennifer Warner, Geelong Historical Records Centre) which purports to show
both the old and "new" bridges and indicates normal river height and that of
the 1852 flood
Clearly, progress was slow, with the bridge still in a state of disrepair by July and seemingly still retaining its distinctive "W" shape as late as the beginning of August.  However, with the works presumably drawing to a close towards the end of that month, tenders were called to metal the Batesford Rd (The Argus, 22nd August, 1853); a road which by then was carrying thousands to and from the goldfields as the last article was keen to convey. Amongst those travelling across the bridge at Batesford, were two well known artists. One was the famous landscape painter Eugene von Guerard, who crossed the bridge on his way to the goldfields on 11th January, 1853. He described crossing the Moorabool by a very unsound wooden bridge". He did not however, stop to make a sketch - at least not one which has survived. The second artist - Henry Winkles - however did stop to draw what he saw.
His sketch was made "circa 1853" at "Bates' ford near Geelong". Winkles was an English artist, engraver and printer, who trained in both England and Germany as a draughtsman before coming to Australia. Shipping records show that he arrived in Melbourne in October, 1852 on board the Mobile from where he travelled to the goldfields to visit his son. During his time there he drew what he saw around him, making many sketches of the everyday life of the diggers. His stay in the Colony of Victoria was relatively brief, lasting a little over a year and by December, 1853 he was back in Melbourne, ready to depart for England on the appropriately-named Great Britain.
Sketch of the Bates' Ford Bridge c1853 by Henry Winkles
Whilst it is possible that he stopped at Batesford to make his sketch at any point during this time, the bridge shown in his illustration appears to be straight, definitely nothing like the warped and misshapen structure described prior to its being rebuilt. It is also worth noting the pile of timber lying near one end of the bridge, implying either construction or demolition of some sort. For this reason, I am inclined to think that Winkles sketched the new - or newly refurbished - bridge, perhaps on his way back to Melbourne to take ship for England.

So, after more than a year of frustration, delay and criticism, I assume from the crashing silence in the newspapers that Batesford finally had a bridge which was - if not state of the art - at least functional once again.

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