On Monday 31st May, 1813, Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson and William Wentworth looked out from the summit of a high hill, later named Mount Blaxland, over a vast expanse of forest land that spread away to the west. Almost immediately upon their return to Sydney, their success was confirmed by the expedition of George Evans, the surveyor, who assured the authorities that a practicable route over the Blue Mountains had indeed been found. By mid-January the following year (1815), William Cox and his party had completed their rough but serviceable road to the site of Bathurst, and the west lay open to the expansion of European settlement from the confines of the coastal plain.
While government restrictions on travel over and settlement beyond the Blue Mountains were early enforced, a thriving wool industry was soon established on the newly discovered grazing lands in the west. In the 1820s this was to provide the foundation upon which emerged a small but powerful pastoral gentry, who were to influence significantly events in New South Wales for the next two decades.
The Western Road over the Mountains was the life line that sustained the growth of pastoral capitalism during this period. Supplies and stock went west while the wagons, loaded with wool and drawn by teams of oxen, became an increasingly common sight (and sometimes a major hazard to other traffic) negotiating the narrow mountain road and winding their way precariously down the Lapstone Hill to the coast.
As use of the road increased, the difficulties of ascending and descending at both the Lapstone and Mount York ends began to stimulate thinking toward improvements. At Mount York, the precipitous nature of the descent saw the search begin in the early 1820s for an alternative route, culminating eventually in the opening of Victoria Pass in 1832.
At Lapstone, Cox’s Road remained the main access route until 1824, but was particularly hazardous in wet weather suffering badly from washaways and creek flooding. It was replaced in that year by the Lapstone Zig Zag Road, believed to be the work of William Lawson, which was opened a couple of kilometres to the north. Avoiding the flood-prone crossing at Jamison Creek, it rejoined Cox’s Road at Blaxland and remained until the mid-1830s, the principal route up the eastern escarpment. It is still in use today as the Old Bathurst Road.
In 1827 Major (later Sir) Thomas Livingstone Mitchell, veteran of the Peninsular War, restless, irascible, ambitious and talented, arrived in New South Wales to become John Oxley’s Deputy. Following Oxley’s death in 1828, he succeeded to the office of Surveyor-General, an office to which, at the end of 1828, Governor Darling transferred the responsibilities for roads and bridges.
As Surveyor-General, Mitchell was, in the late 1820s and early 1830s, greatly occupied with the surveying and marking out of permanent lines for the colony’s main roads. He believed strongly that the definition and establishment of the lines of direction of roads “should precede, as much as possible, the progress of colonization” (Mitchell 1839, 156). With the most advantageous direction ascertained, “the public means may be applied with certainty to their (the roads) substantial improvement, by removing obstructions and building bridges” (Mitchell 1839, 156). The establishment of towns could then also be planned with confidence in their future.
Towards the middle of 1830, Mitchell, having completed the marking of the lines of the main roads north to the Hunter River and south to Goulburn, turned his concentration back to completing the re-definition of the line west to Bathurst, a task he had recommended in a Report made in November, 1827 (In Mitchell 1855a, 3-10).
By 1830, Lapstone Hill was again causing concern to the authorities. In January 1830, the Colonial Secretary wrote to Mitchell informing him of the Governor’s suggestion “that there are several places, ‘Lapstone Hill1, for example, (which from the steepness of the ascent, suffer extremely in heavy rains) where it would be advantageous to station a few men with an overseer permanently for the purpose of immediately repairing any damage which may be occasioned” (In Mitchell 1855a, 13). Two years later, in May 1832, following representations from the carrier of the Royal Mail to Bathurst, James Watsford, the Surveyor-General was once more informed of the Governor’s desire for a permanent road-gang to be stationed on lapstone Hill (Mitchell 1855a, 31).
As well as this direction, Mitchell had, the previous year (1831) , been ordered by the Governor to lay out plans for a township on Emu Plains. In line with his views on establishing the direction of roads in advance of settlement, he declared that the planning of Emu could not proceed until the line of the Western Road was finally established in relation to its ascent of Lapstone Hill.
From his own examination of the area, he settled on “the gully which descends most directly from the Pilgrim (Inn) towards the proposed site, and I found that it would admit of the most direct and least inclined road that can possibly be made between that point and Emu Plains” (Mitchell 1855a, 33). Having satisfied himself as to what should be the permanent line up the Lapstone escarpment he recommended, in his Report of June 1832, that its construction be undertaken as soon as possible in preference to the Governor’s earlier suggestion of placing a permanent repair gang on the old road.
A Bridge is Needed
Work on the new Pass commenced in August, 1832, when the Assistant Surveyor, John Abbott began the preliminary clearing work along the line Mitchell had marked. While construction proceeded satisfactorily, there was a major problem which had to be solved. About half way up the proposed route, Mitchell had decided to take the road across the creek, a plan that would require the bridging of a 30 foot deep gully with a span of 20 feet.
To Mitchell, this problem was both a practical and an aesthetic one. An admiration for classical times reinforced his belief that the possession of well-designed bridges was one sign of a civilized society. Bridges were “the most indispensible of public works. Such works constitute the capital of a nation – no country is thought anything of that does not possess them”, (Mitchell 1855b, 602).
Here in the Emu Pass at Lapstone, the opportunity presented itself to experiment with a bridge designed to stand the test of time, a bridge that would be the forerunner of others built to improve the system of Great Roads he had recently surveyed.
However, to transform his vision into reality would require the services of someone who possessed both the necessary technical knowledge and the experience. Such a person would not be easy to find in a country where the art of bridge construction was virtually unknown and where flimsy wooden structures, easy victims of flood and fire, predominated. The only bridge of a substantial and permanent nature was the Richmond Bridge built in 1828 in Tasmania.
The right man did however, appear in the person of David Lennox, a recently arrived “mechanic” with considerable bridge-building experience. The combination of the talents of these two men, Lennox and Mitchell, at just this particular time was, in many ways, a remarkable coincidence. Lennox was a master mason of twenty years’ experience who had worked on a number of bridges in Britain, including two of Thomas Telford’s major designs – the Menai Suspension Bridge (opened 1826) and the stone arch Gloucester Bridge (completed 1827). Following his wife’s death in 1828, he decided to come to Australia. Arriving in Sydney in . August 1832, he found work as a day labourer constructing the stone wall outside the Legislative Council Chambers in Macquarie Street.
At this time the work on the Emu Pass was just beginning and, on . making Lennox’s acquaintance, Mitchell lost no time in arranging for him to re-direct his talents to the construction of the required bridge. On Mitchell’s recommendation, Governor Bourke, in October 1832, granted Lennox a provisional appointment which was subsequently confirmed from London, with the official title of “Superintendent of Bridges” being awarded him in June of the following year.
The element of chance in his discovery of Lennox and the speed of the latter’s appointment were alluded to later by Mitchell when, in a lecture to the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts in 1855, he described how David Lennox “left his stone wall and with his shirt sleeves still tucked up – and trowel in hand – undertook to plan stone bridges for this colony” (Mitchell 1855b, 601).
Lennox’s job required him to “furnish the designs, construct the centering, and direct the application of convict labor to stone cutting and setting, and to all the branches of carpentry and masonry necessary for the construction of a bridge”. (Mitchell 1855a, 277).
By November 1832, Abbott had cleared the road almost to the Pilgrim Inn. Much of the stone for the bridge had been quarried and cut, and obtaining lime from Windsor, Lennox began the laying process. The bridge work party was selected from the larger road gang by Lennox himself. Made up of about twenty convicts, an overseer, a constable and an armed sentry, it worked at the site from about 7 o’clock in the morning, returning to the stockade at Emu Plains in the evening after 4.00 p.m.
Lennox’s relationship with his convict workers was, it seems, a good one and, despite the absconding of one convict which for a time held up the sawing of timber for the arch centering, he was very successful in conducting on-the-job training of the men he had picked to carry out the often difficult tasks required in bridge construction. Abbott described him to Mitchell, in a letter dated 10th November, 1832, as “indefatigable in instructing than how to work”. Indeed, so effective was he that Governor Bourke let it be known that he would try to prevent the services of these newly skilled workers from being lost to the Department of Roads and Bridges after the Lapstone job was finished.
Lennox’s confidence in his men was emphasized later, in May 1833, when he was beginning to transfer operations to his next job. At this time he petitioned the Governor to remit the remainder of the iron gang sentences of eight convicts he wished to take with him. Although some of the sentences were, he said, “for heavy crimes, it appears to me to have been more the effect of a bad system at that time in regard to prisoners than any particular depravity of the prisoners themselves”. (Lennox to Bourke, 8th May, 1833.)
The convicts in question were:
Patrick Malowney (or Maloney)
Daniel Williams (an “American black”)
The sentences of Brady, Carsons, Malowney and Nelson were remitted while Randall and Williams were promised remittal of their sentences after a further six months good behaviour.
During March 1833 the approaches to the bridge were dry-packed with square-rubble to raise them to the level of the road while the road approaches themselves were quarried to a satisfactory width. The keystones were also inscribed at this time, with the date on the downstream side and the builder’s name on the upstream side, and set in place.
By May 1833 the work on the bridge had progressed to the point where Lennox could direct his attention to his next assignment – the construction of a substantial bridge over Prospect Creek, on the Great Southern Road near Liverpool. By the end of the month he had moved his headquarters to the new site, leaving the completion of the Qnu Pass bridge under the supervision of his young overseer, George Neilson, to whom he paid periodic inspection visits until the work was finally completed toward the end of June. Lennox reported the bridge finished in early July 1833. The Pass itself, while traversable, was not completely finished until March the following year.
On Sunday 28th July 1833, Governor Bourke and his party rode up the Pass to the Pilgrim Inn and were, according to the Sydney Monitor’s report, suitably impressed with the “rural splendour” of the new bridge, the simple design of which merged harmoniously with the surrounding landscape. Following the U-turn which the road took at the point where it crossed the gully, the single arch bridge traced a gentle curve to form the connection at the bottom of the “U”. Its curving sweep demonstrated Lennox’s command of geometry and earned the bridge the later nickname of “The Horseshoe Bridge”.
“A somewhat experimental work”, as Mitchell (1855a, 277) described it, Lennox Bridge formed part of the main route to the west for almost one hundred years until the Great Western Highway was channelled across the Knapsack Viaduct and along the old Railway route to Blaxland in 1926.
The Bridge has borne traffic of which Lennox and Mitchell could have had no conception and, during the 1950s particularly, it suffered severely from the increasing load of fast modern cars and heavy vehicles. Damage to the stonework eventually rendered it structurally unsound and it was closed first to heavy lorries and then to all vehicular traffic, while negotiations took place with both State and Federal Governments to obtain funds for its restoration.
Finally, in the latter part of the 1970s, serious work began with the assistance of grants from the National Estate and the Heritage Council of New South Wales. The restoration work was designed to recreate the shape and appearance of the original bridge while, at the same time, providing the structural strength necessary to prevent damage by modern traffic. A reinforced concrete road deck, concealed behind the bridge’s existing facade, was laid over the old stone arch. Abutments and approach walls were strengthened, damaged balustrading repaired and paving blocks re-laid along the bridge footpath. The work to aesthetically restore the bridge included the removal, cleaning, grouting, redressing and replacing of the original sandstone blocks as well as the quarrying of new sandstone to replace those blocks damaged beyond repair. The tender for the restoration of the old bridge’s stonework was let to the Sydney firm of Melocoo, whose subsidiary, Loveridge and Hudson, carried out the work. Much of the new sandstone was quarried at Gosford.
The Bridge was officially re-opened to traffic by the Mayor of the Blue Mountains City, Alderman Peter Quirk, at a public ceremony on 14th December, 1982 – almost one hundred and fifty years since Lennox’s convict work gang toiled in the gully on the Emu Pass.
Blue Mountains City Library
John Low & John Merriman
Australian Dictionary of Biography Vol. I, 1788-1850. (1966). Melbourne: Melbourne University Press. Contains entries on Lennox and Mitchell.
HAVARD, Ward L. 1933. Mitchell’s Pass, near Emu Plains. Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, XIX (Part VI): 352-363.
HERMAN, Morton. 1954. The Early Australian Architects and Their Work. Sydney: Angus and Robertson. Chapter XIV is about David Lennox.
Historical Records of Australia, Series I (Vol. XVII): Governors’ Despatches to and from England. (1923). Sydney: The Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament. Contains correspondence relating to Lennox’s appointment.
KULLAS, Henry. 1977. Lennox Bridge – ‘Horseshoe Bridge’. Springwood: The Author. Describes in some detail the method of constructing the stone arch.
LENNOX, David. 1832-53. Various Papers Relating To. Held in the Mitchell•Library, Sydney.
LOW, Jim. 1983. Lennox Bridge – Spanning The Past Into Tomorrow. Mount Riverview: The Author. Contains suggested creative activities for children.
MITCHELL, Thomas Livingstone. 1839. Journal of An Expedition Sent to Explore the Course of the River Darling in 1835. In Three Expeditions Into the Interior of Australia Vol. I. London: T. § W. Boone.
MITCHELL, Thomas Livingstone. 1855a. Report Upon the Progress Made in Roads and in the Construction of Public Works in New South Wales from the Year 1827 to June 1855. Held in the Mitchell Library, Sydney.
MITCHELL, Thomas Livingstone. 1855b. Lecture to the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts. In ‘Papers of Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell Vol. VIII, Miscellaneous’. Held in the Mitchell Library, Sydney.
SELKIRK, Henry, 1920. David Lennox, the bridge builder, and his work. Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, VI (Part V): 200-243.
SMITH, A.I. 1955. David Lennox.Springwood : Macquarie Historical Society. A paper read before the society on 21st October, 1955.
SPEIRS, Hugh. 1981. Landscape Art and The Blue Mountains. Chippendale (N.S.W.): Alternative Publishing Co-operative.