29 August, 2015

Branching out - the Old Five Mile Bridge

In the earliest days of settlement, establishing reliable river crossings was crucial to the growth and prosperity of the new Colony of Victoria. Initially, fords and breakwaters were established and punts or small boats could be used to ferry passengers across larger rivers. Eventually, bridges were built, however they were expensive to construct and maintain and were always at the mercy of the elements. Economic realities then as now, often meant that the longest-lasting or strongest bridge was not necessarily the one built.
 Wood was cheap and readily available and timber bridges were quick to build. The downside however was that they had an effective lifespan of around ten years before substantial ongoing repair and maintenance was required. Stone was another plentiful building material - especially across the basalt plains through which the rivers of the Barwon catchment run - however it was expensive and time consuming to build in stone. As a result, scores of smaller creek and river crossings made do with fords or timber bridges.
One way to minimise costs was to construct bridges from a combination of building materials. Bluestone abutments were commonly used to support a timber deck - as was the case of the Blue Bridge over the Moorabool River on the Yendon-Egerton Road - or they could be added later to reinforce a crumbling embankment. The latter was the case when repairs to the original timber bridge at the Leigh Grand Junction were required.
There were of course, other factors to consider too. During the summer months, timber bridges were at risk from bushfire and constant exposure to water meant rot was a permanent problem. Stone structures were less likely to be affected by fire and were impervious to water, but all bridges were to a greater or lesser extent susceptible to flood damage. Over the years these factors have resulted in a number of bridges across the Barwon catchment which reflect not only the ravages of age and the environment, but also provide a visual time line of changing construction materials and building techniques as progressive repairs were implemented.
The first example which comes to mind is the Old Five Mile Bridge which crosses Sutherland Creek's west branch on the Steiglitz Road from Geelong. Today, the bridge sits disused and all but unnoticed beside the modern, two-laned Ken Middleton Bridge which now carries all traffic. The old bridge however is a time capsule which represents the evolution of bridge maintenance in the Borough of Steiglitz and the shires of Meredith and Bannockburn.
Sign still in place at the bridge
According to the description given by the Victorian Heritage Database, all of the piers, raker piles (angled beams supporting the piers) and some of the timber stringers (beams running the length of the bridge under the deck) are original. The stringers are showing obvious signs of decay. Other beams are newer replacements. To my untrained eye, the crossheads which sit across the top of the piles look newer and clearly the steel girders are also a later addition, as presumably are the crossbeams which they support. Likewise, the deck which is constructed of steel and concrete topped with bitumen would have replaced original timber. The abutments on either bank are reinforced with what appears to be relatively modern concrete slabs, held in place by steel girders driven into the bank and timber posts. Behind the slabs is more timber and concrete.
View underneath the bridge, looking north which shows the timber stringers
showing signs of decay and the original piles along with the newer steel beams
and deck
The problem however, is knowing which repairs occurred when and what is meant by "original". As far as I can tell, there has been a bridge on the site since 1857 when the Victorian Government Gazette gave contract details for a bridge to be built "over Sutherland's Creek on the road to Steiglitz" or 1858 when Roads and Bridges Office in Melbourne called for tenders for "the construction of a bridge over Sutherland's Creek. Approach to Steiglitz gold-field". In view of the latter comment, perhaps the latter date is most likely whilst the earlier date may refer to Hope's Bridge on the same road near Gheringhap.
 It was re-decked in 1871, again required repair in 1873 and then in 1874 was declared unsafe even for ordinary traffic, but little more is mentioned in the newspapers until the spring of 1880 when the Moorabool River and surrounding waterways experienced the largest flood in recorded history to that date.
Several bridges were described as having been washed away, including the Five Mile Bridge. Naturally, it was necessary to rebuild and it was common practice to cut costs by reusing any salvageable material, although whether this occurred here I do not know. With the rebuild underway, it was discovered in March, 1881 that the new structure was being built on soft, loamy, clay soil and in order to secure it, the bridge would have to be partially dismantled and then reconstructed using a significantly greater amount of timber than originally anticipated. The council considered the issue and called for tenders to either repair the existing structure or build a new one. Ultimately it was decided that the better option was to build a new bridge, however rather than replicate the existing 24 ft bridge, it was decided that the new structure would be 12 ft wide. The contract was eventually awarded to E Kennealey whose tender of £114 was accepted. In addition to completing the job, Kennealey also agreed to purchase some of the used timbers from the previous structure, however the following year, with payment still owing, the council abandoned the agreement.
Looking north along the deck of the old bridge. The new Ken Middleton Bridge
can be seen to the left of the picture
It is perhaps also worth noting that the shire engineer in charge of the project would have been Allan Robinson, a gentleman who had held this position since the earliest days of the Meredith Shire in 1864. During the 1880s however he faced allegations of laxity and carelessness in the completion of his duties. Finally at the insistence of the council, he tendered his resignation in September, 1888.
All this reconstruction however was ultimately for naught. In February, 1883 the creek flooded once more and the bridge was destroyed a second time. By September the shire was again calling for tenders for its reconstruction, indicating that a 66 ft wooden bridge over Sutherland's Creek was required. At this time, engineer Robinson had been given a leave of absence pending a council decision on his continued employment and it was left to the acting (and unqualified) engineer Mr J Murphy to deal with the matter. Murphy appealed to the engineer of neighbouring Leigh Shire - none other than CAC Wilson - to draw up plans for the bridge, however Wilson who was on leave at that time, sent one of his sons (possibly Frederick who later served as shire engineer to Meredith) to take the levels. The younger Wilson upon assessing the situation felt that it would be impossible to sink piles deep enough to stabilise the bridge, as the surrounding rock was too hard and too near the surface.
Section of an 1865 geological survey map showing the bridge site. The area is
composed of Post Pliocene clay, gravel and mud (green) and Silurian rock (grey)
with nearby patches of Miocene clay, gravel, shale and sand (brown). Original
image held by the State Library of Victoria
How this issue was resolved, I cannot discover, however it is certain that the bridge was reconstructed. On this occasion, the contract was awarded to F Lee and the works completed presumably without incident. There was a slight mishap however only a few years later in January, 1886 when a carter who was removing a house from Steiglitz township, clipped the handrail of the bridge causing unspecified damage to this and other parts of the bridge.
The bridge was almost destroyed yet again in 1898. This time however, the threat was fire, not flood. Fortunately, the coach service from Geelong to Steiglitz happened to be passing and the driver noticed smoke billowing from under the deck. He quickly raised the alarm at a neighbouring farm and the fire was extinguished before it could take proper hold of the timber decking. It was supposed that a camper had failed to properly put out a campfire underneath the bridge.
The southern end of the bridge showing the concrete abutments and scorched
timbers. The pile on the right has bitumen on its surface which appears to have
melted and dribbled down from above, but when I cannot tell
 There is little further mention of the bridge until 1902 when it was deemed unsafe for loads of over 1 ton. By 1915 things had reached crisis point and in March, it was decided to petition the government for the cost of a new bridge. The engineer at this time was CCP Wilson. I can find no further reference however to any attempt to secure funding for a new structure and in May, 1916 assessment by Bannockburn Shire Engineer ETM Garlick, revealed that four beams on the western (upriver) side of the bridge were completely rotten. Their replacement would provide a patch which would last no more than a year he claimed. Surprisingly then, only a few months later, the bridge was given a reprieve when it was declared that an expenditure of £91 would make it good for a further 12 years.
The bridge as it stands today showing original timbers in along with steel and
concrete additions
At this point, the online trail goes cold. I can find no further mention of what works were carried out on the structure or even whether a new bridge was built as deemed necessary in 1915. It seems likely that however old the original structure (various inquiries have proven fruitless), the steel beams would have been added as part of subsequent repairs as would the steel and concrete in the deck and abutments.
So far, the bridge has defied the odds, surviving fire and flood - most recently being threatened by a grass fire which moved through the area in January, 2014. The bridge continued in service until as recently as 2000/2001 when the Hansard papers for the November, 2000 sitting of the Victorian Legislative Council indicated that funds had been allocated for the construction of a new bridge at the site. An initial payment of $632,000 was estimated with a subsequent payment of $6,000 to follow in the 2000/2001 financial year.
Looking south over the new bridge, named for former Bannockburn Shire
engineer, the late Ken Middleton
Today the Five Mile Bridge stands almost unnoticed along side the newer, two-lane Ken Middleton Bridge which carries all traffic across the creek.

20 August, 2015

...Like son

My previous post highlighted the achievements of Leigh Shire engineer, Charles Anthony Corbett Wilson, however he was not the only engineer in his large family. One of his younger sons - Frederick - was appointed Meredith Shire engineer in 1893, but it was his eldest son Charles Corbett Powell Wilson who arguably went on to have the biggest impact on the infrastructure of the district.
CCP Wilson, was born in Geelong around 1857 and learnt his trade working with his father. Between them, father and son were responsible for the design and construction of dozens of bridges, roads, public buildings and civic facilities across the Western Districts of Victoria in the 19th and early 20th centuries, many of them involving the Barwon River and its tributaries.
Charles Corbett Powell Wilson, shire engineer to Leigh,
Meredith and Buninyong Shires
By the time he arrived in the Barwon catchment region, CCP Wilson already had significant experience in civil engineering, having served as engineer to the Portland Shire from 1889 until 1908. Upon leaving Portland, Wilson was appointed as engineer to the Shires of Buninyong and Meredith and then, two years later upon the retirement of his father in 1910, he also took up the position of Leigh Shire engineer.
Whilst much of the work undertaken by Wilson involved the maintenance of existing roads and bridges, like his father, he too was responsible for the design of a significant number of bridges and other civil structures, a number of which are still standing to this day. Building on the pioneering work of his father, he was a huge supporter of the use of reinforced concrete as a cheap, durable and low-maintenance building product and there are several bridges still standing today as testament to the validity of his thinking.
One of his earliest and most significant projects was of course, the Leigh Grand Junction Bridge about which I have written in detail in previous posts and which dates to 1910. Located at the boundary of the three shires he served, it is a fitting testament to his many contributions.
Leigh Grand Junction Bridge, August, 2015
At about the same time, Wilson was also responsible for the design of at least two other bridges in the region which were substantially similar in design and appearance. The first was what is now known as Cooper's Bridge over the Moorabool River on the Meredith-Steiglitz Road. By July, 1911 the Meredith Shire Council was calling for quotes to rebuild the timber bridge which stood at that time. Wilson's bridge was the fourth to stand on the site. Whilst attending the official celebrations held after the opening of his new bridge in May, 1913 the engineer noted that there had been a bridge on the site for 35 years and that it was his father who had been responsible for building the initial structure, including the bluestone abutments upon which the new bridge stood. (This latter, despite a recommendation by Wilson that a new location for the bridge should be chosen to allow for a less torturous alignment, a point echoed by the Minister For Public Works in his speech at the opening event.)
Wilson then went on to note that 17 years earlier, his brother had drawn up plans to have the second bridge replaced with a steel structure, however this was deemed too expensive by council who decreed that a timber structure should be built instead - a decision which undoubtedly resulted in the construction of the bridge which still stands today.
Cooper's Bridge aka the Moorabool Bridge, August, 2015
The bridge designed by Wilson was built from steel-reinforced concrete, using the original bluestone abutments from the first bridge. It was supported between the abutments by two concrete piers which were 39 ft deep, 16 ft wide and 1 ft thick. The piers were reinforced with 1 inch mild steel (a strong, flexible steel often used for bridge construction) whilst the 9 in concrete beams they supported were reinforced with recycled steel cable from the Melbourne tramways - a measure of economy which Wilson also used to good effect on the Leigh Grand Junction Bridge. This structure was over-topped by a 6 in concrete deck. The guard rails were constructed from water pipe and panels of cyclone fencing.
Whilst the guard rails have today been replaced with modern edging, the rest of the structure appears to remain much as described in 1913. In total, the new bridge cost a grand sum of  £763, of which £68 was the cost involved in removing the previous structure. The original bridge had cost the shire £700.
Not too far away and also dating to a similar era is the bridge at Sharp's Crossing on the Moorabool River near Sheoaks. The first bridge on the site was built in 1882 after a successful campaign by locals  who complained that the existing ford (possibly pre-dating the 1870s) became impassable each time the river flooded. Once completed, it was noted that the new bridge was not of the highest quality, but would do the job - and this was true as far as it went. Like most wooden bridges however, it had an effective working life of around ten years before it required on-going repair, and council reports show that from 1893 onward, Sharp's Crossing required re-decking, repairing or the installation of new planks on an almost annual basis.
By 1904 it was reported that the centre bearers of the western span of the bridge were completely rotten and it was recommended that this part of the bridge be removed and replaced with an embankment. There is no suggestion that this plan was adopted and the repairs continued until the end of 1914 when construction finally began on a new concrete bridge, designed by CCP Wilson. The project was completed by February the following year, however with increasing wartime austerity, it was deemed that the money required for a grand opening would be better spent on other road works and so the bridge was opened quietly, without the pomp and ceremony which accompanied the opening of the Grand Junction and Moorabool bridges. It was remarked none-the-less, that the bridge was the most handsome, strong and best-looking bridge on river.
Sharp's Crossing Bridge over the Moorabool River, November, 2011 with the
trademark pipe and wire handrails of a CCP Wilson design, still intact
And so it continued year after year. The newspapers of the day - which dutifully reported all council proceedings - are filled with the reports and recommendations of Engineer Wilson. In addition to major projects, there were culverts, drains, small bridges, roads and an array of civic projects and the shire engineer was expected to design them, supervise construction and maintain them all.
He is indicated as having "erected a new concrete bridge over the Moorabool River below Egerton" early in 1914, however I suspect his contribution was to re-deck the existing Blue Bridge (now heritage listed) which was originally constructed in 1870 with a timber deck atop a bluestone pier and abutments. Wilson's changes typically introduced a concrete deck, reinforced and braced with steel rails.
Section of the Blue Bridge on the Yendon-Egerton Road
Some of the smaller projects undertaken by CCP Wilson included bridges across Lal Lal Creek, the Yarrowee River on Whitehorse Road at Buninyong and another small bridge near Clarendon, to name just a few. This latter bridge which still stands on Hopgoods Road was - as far as I can tell - built in mid-1914.
Small concrete bridge on Hopgood's Road, Clarendon
It is an interesting illustration of the techniques used by Wilson in his work with pre-stressed concrete. Today, part of the bridge corner post has fallen away, revealing the steel within the structure. The cable steel he sourced secondhand from the Melbourne tramways and the gravel for the concrete came from local deposits often on the Leigh river. Everything was constructed onsite.
Detail showing both cable steel and bars of mild steel used in the construction
Another surviving example of a bridge designed by Wilson and which is still in use today, is a somewhat larger bridge on the Scotchman's Lead Road south of Ballarat, known as Franklin's Bridge. Completed in early 1914, it is over 100 ft in length and 16 ft wide and at the time of its opening, the Ballarat Star newspaper proudly declared that it was the finest bridge in the shire. The deck is supported by two concrete piers between concrete abutments and in typical CCP Wilson style, in its original form included pipe and cyclone wire hand rails. Today these have been replaced by a more modern metal equivalent. The bridge was completed using "day labour" and cost around £800.
Franklin's Bridge on the Scotchman's Lead-Napoleon's Road
In addition to these road projects, Wilson also designed numerous other public facilities, some of which still stand today. He was for instance, responsible for the installation of concrete swings, fences and a significant concrete swimming pool along with other features, in the Buninyong Botanic Gardens. The pool is now empty but is still standing and has been converted into an attractive sunken garden which blends nicely with its surroundings.
Sunken gardens in the old concrete swimming pool at the Buninyong
Botanic Gardens
Inside the garden
A view of the gardens from above
Following World War 1 Wilson was particularly keen to support ex-servicemen and to commemorate their sacrifice. Buninyong's World War 1 memorial was his design as were the soldiers' memorial halls at Dereel and Shelford, built in 1920. He also designed an extension to the Buninyong town hall, dating to around the 1920s.
And so it continued with CCP Wilson serving as shire engineer of Meredith until the merger of that shire with neighbouring Bannockburn Shire in 1915, after which he continued to hold joint positions with Leigh and Buninyong until the time of his death on the 8th January, 1938 at the age of 80. Despite ill health for some time prior, he had continued to perform his role as engineer to both shires as well as holding the role of shire secretary to the Buninyong Shire from the mid 1920s.
Today, despite nearly 80 years having passed since the death of this revolutionary engineer, his legacy remains in the form of the many structures he designed all those decades ago which continue to stand - perhaps much longer than CCP himself could ever have imagined.

07 August, 2015

Like Father...

Charles Anthony Corbett (CAC) Wilson (1827-1923) was an English migrant and chartered engineer whose father was a London solicitor. He migrated from London to Australia in 1851 and joined the gold rush at Golden Point near Ballarat, but soon found that this was not a particularly productive pursuit and headed to Geelong where he found work surveying the Geelong-Melbourne railway line.
Between 1854 and 1860 he worked as an assistant engineer with the Central Roads Board, surveying the Geelong-Ballarat Road and contributing to a number of bridge designs in the region, including the iron Barwon Bridge which opened in 1859.
Barwon Bridge c1861, Image held by the State Library of Victoria
In 1857 he married Maria Connor Powell. The couple and their large family of 15 children lived in Teesdale. In 1863 CAC Wilson took up the positions of engineer and secretary for the Shelford District Road Board which the following year became the Leigh Shire.
One of his early projects for the shire would have included a bridge over the Warrambine Creek (a tributary of the Barwon River) on the Lower Western Road (Hamilton Highway) at Laing's Hotel past Inverleigh. The bridge was to be 30ft in length and have three spans. It was to take the place of an earlier ford and perhaps was seen as an urgent improvement after an accident only a few months before in October, 1863 when a mail coach attempted to cross the flooded Warrambine Creek was washed away, losing the luggage and most of the mail it was carrying and presumably the horses which could not be cut from their traces in time. The driver and a passenger however, made it to safety.
Another early design produced by Wilson was the plan for the construction of a new bridge over the Native Hut Creek at his home town of Teesdale. From the 1860s, Wilson had been making periodic reports requesting various repair measures for the bridge until in 1877 he finally indicated to the council that it was in need of replacement.
Accordingly, he drew up the plans and in February 1879 the contract was put out to tender. The bridge was to include a single masonry pier with masonry abutments on each bank, supporting a timber deck topped by road metal. Little more than a month later, work was under way.
Engineer's drawings of the Teesdale Bridge by CAC Wilson, Image held by the
State Library of Victoria
By the turn of the century however, the decking timbers in the new bridge were deteriorating and in 1901 Wilson, as shire engineer, was calling for funds to have the timber supports replaced by steel girders. I suspect these measures were implemented as the bridge today fits this description.

The Teesdale Bridge in 2013
Wilson was not only an accomplished engineer, but also a revolutionary one. Many of his bridge designs were influenced by his relationship with the Department of Engineering at Melbourne University who at that time were conducting research into the construction and design of wrought-iron bridges. This relationship is reflected in bridges such as the Barwon Bridge mentioned earlier and the wrought-iron girder bridge over the Leigh River at Shelford, built between 1873 and 1874 which I showed in a previous post.
Shelford Bridge designed by CAC Wilson
Not surprisingly, another of Wilson's projects was to design the new shire hall which was opened in 1872 on the Rokewook-Shelford Road - a relatively isolated location, yet one which was central to the major towns of the shire.
Leigh Shire Hall, built 1872
Closer to home again, Wilson was also the engineer responsible for the construction of the Black Gully dam, built between the towns of Inverleigh and Teesdale in 1874 as a potential water supply for both towns. Today, this site can be found near the north east boundary of the Inverleigh Flora and Fauna Reserve where the remains of the dam can still be seen.
A rainy day at Black Gully Dam. This photo was taken from atop the remains
of the earthen wall commissioned by Wilson. Note the stones at bottom
right of the picture
Plans to use this water supply however were short-lived. In 1880 when severe flooding damaged the dam wall, the cost of repair was deemed prohibitive and it was decided to find another water supply. Fortuitously, a couple of years earlier in 1878, a second site closer to Teesdale had been gazetted following some testing by Wilson in the form of sinking wells. This lagoon, which provided Teesdale's water until 1974, became known as Chinaman's Lagoon.
A few kilometres further north, at the border of the Leigh and Meredith Shires was another small bridge which also came in for attention from CAC Wilson during his tenure as shire engineer. This was Taylor's Bridge at Bamganie, so called because it abutted the 1880 land selection of Mr Edwin Taylor. The bridge on Henderson's Road crosses Wilson's Creek just south of its confluence with Woodbourne Creek. Today it is a simple, concrete structure with a graveled surface, barely noticeable as you navigate the twists and turns of the road at this point.
Taylor's Bridge, Bamganie 2013
In February, 1883 however, it was a timber structure which was unable to stand up to the heavy floods which swept down the creeks to the Leigh River below. The bridge was destroyed and assessment by Wilson and his counterpart from the Meredith Shire determined that a replacement was needed. Contracts were called by Leigh Shire and the following year - after some delays - the bridge was rebuilt in similar form to the original and with a timber and stone culvert reinforcing the road near the western end of the bridge. This bridge served the shires for more than twenty years until in 1905 it was declared dangerous and the Meredith Shire resolved to have Wilson effect the necessary repairs. It was not until August the following year however, that Wilson declared the bridge closed for this purpose.
In the late 1880s Wilson designed McMillan's Bridge, a replacement for an earlier timber truss bridge over the Mt Misery Creek (at the time called the Little Woady Yalloak River) on the Rokewood-Skipton Road which had served since 1856. The new bridge was an iron and masonry structure like a number of those described above, employing a pair of 99ft lattice girders in a single span, but reusing the sandstone abutments from the previous structure. The deck was of hardwood topped with road metal. The bridge still stands today on the Rokewood-Skipton Road which at that time, bore the name of the Upper Western Road and ran from the Ballarat-Geelong Road through the towns of Leigh Road (Bannockburn), Teesdale, Shelford and Rokewood, crossing the Leigh Shire to the north of The Lower Western Road which also traversed the shire. Both roads were in large part the responsibility of the Leigh Shire and engineer Wilson.
In addition to these better-known structures, Wilson was also responsible for the maintenance and reconstruction of any number of smaller, lesser-known bridges and crossings such as the stone causeway which crossed the Cressy-Shelford Road in the 19th century, and a tiny bridge in Teesdale which crossed Native Hut Creek on Tolson Street. Wall's Bridge still stands there today and is clearly not new. A review of historical newspapers indicates that a timber bridge existed on the site at least as early as the 1870s, however like all such structures it needed regular maintenance and repair. By 1908 it was in need of replacement. Council voted that is should be replaced with an iron girder structure and in March the following year, tenders were called. In a matter of weeks however, it was decided that none of the tenders were acceptable and Wilson and another councilor were to discuss cheaper alternatives instead. All was quiet on the matter until August, 1910 when Wilson provided the council with three estimates for bridges constructed from timber, stone and iron, or concrete.
Finally, in March 1911, the council decided upon a timber and concrete bridge and the contract was awarded to John Pryor who had started work by July. Looking at the bridge today, it consists of two timber piers topped by iron girders, overlaid with timber and a - very - thin coating of bitumen. At each end is a small concrete abutment.
Bitumen and timber decking on Wall's Bridge, Teesdale
I am no expert, but would guess that the piers and abutments date back to the final years of CAC Wilson's tenure as shire engineer. Whilst the timber decking also looks to be of some age, I can only assume that if the bridge was built to the original specifications, then the iron girders must have been added as part of more recent repairs, with the timber either reused or replaced as necessary.
Wall's Bridge, Teesdale
And so it went on, year after year, decade after decade, bridges, roads, dams, buildings; CAC Wilson designed them all. In total, he was responsible for the construction of at least 108 bridges throughout the district, built first in timber then in metal and concrete as he strove to find practical application for the theory developed by Melbourne University and provide cheaper, more durable alternatives for shire infrastructure.
He finally retired as the engineer of the Leigh Shire in 1910 when he was replaced in this role by his eldest son Charles Corbett Powell Wilson. His tenure as shire secretary however, continued for several more years, ending with his retirement in 1917 - a total of 54 years service to the shire.
Wilson died in Geelong on 7th October, 1923, survived by ten of his children and is buried in the Portarlington Cemetery.