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Watson's Gap Viaduct

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 5 months ago

Watson's Gap Viaduct ( State Library of South Australia, Researcher Tonia Eldridge 17/9/07)


I am responding to you request for information about the viaduct at Urimbirra Creek.  After checking a couple of maps in our collections, I found that there was a creek flowing into Encounter Bay through Watson’s Gap.  The creek wasn’t clearly named, but if you follow its path the eventual source is in the Urimbirra Fauna Park, a nature reserve.  Not knowing the area well, I’ve assumed that this bridge at Watson’s Gap is the one in question – if not, you’ll need to set me on the right path.


One vital piece of information discovered is that, according to our resources, the viaduct was not constructed until some time later than you suggest.  Having consulted Malcolm H Thompson’s Rails and the river: a history of the southern railway system and the River Murray shipping 1854-1885, I can confirm that the date the viaduct was built was 1863.  The following excerpt explains in some detail:


From, Rails and river: a history of the Southern railway system and the River Murray shipping 1854-1885/ by Malcolm H. Thompson.


From Chapter 4, Port Elliot to Victor Harbor Extension, p39-41.


Estimates of expenditure were prepared in 1861 for the extension of the tramway from Port Elliott to Port Victor.  The Victor Harbor Works and Tramway Act No. 23 of 1862 provided authority for the completion of certain works at Victor Harbor and for the extension thereto of the Goolwa to Port Elliot Tramway.  In summary, the legislation authorised the South Australian Government to issue Bonds for the sum of 14,000 pounds at an interest rate of 6% per annum, and monies raised would be paid to the Commissioner of Railways; the Commissioner of Railways to prepare plans of the works recommended for the completion of the jetty at Victor Harbor and for the section of the tramway to be worked by horsepower and to make and maintain the said line of tramway.  In introducing the legislation it was stated that the works would provide a safer place of shipment at Victor Harbor, as Port Elliot was a harbour not at all suitable for a place of shipment.  In the debate that followed, both in the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council, there was opposition to the proposed works.  From the debates it would seem that more emphases was placed on the development of railways northward from Adelaide.  However the legislation passed both Houses of Parliament and received Vice-Regal Assent on 21st October 1862. 


The legislation enabled tenders to be called for the earthworks; construction of bridges over Watson’s Gap and the Hindmarsh River, pierhead jetty at Victor Harbor; ballasting and laying of the permanent way.  The extension to Victor Harbor deviated from the original route north of the cutting to run in a westerly direction into the township of Port Elliot and then along the coast.  The extension was 4 miles 30 chains in length; formation width was 18 feet; rail used weighed 35 pound per yard laid on sleepers 8 foot long, laid out at 3 foot centres. 


There were two significant structures required, viz: -


  1. Watson’s Gap

Mr R. Redman signed the contract for the construction on 4th February 1863.  The structure had a span of 290 feet supported by 8 main and 4 abutment piers, trussed in main bays and braced in abutments.  Its height above water level was 27 feet.  In the construction 45,000 lineal feet of hardwood was used.  Iron shod piles were driven to a depth of between 15 feet and 17 feet.


  1. Alexandra Bridge

The contractor for this structure was Mr Gouge.  It was a road and rail bridge over the Hindmarsh River.  I had a span of 190 feet with a width of 30 feet and was 13 feet above water level.  It had 4 spans and was constructed of timber.


The Victor Harbor extension was opened for goods traffic on 1st April 1864, however it was officially opened by Mr Samuel Dodson, Chairman of the District Council of Encounter Bay, on 4th August 1864.  Special tram services were provided for Goolwa and Port Elliot passengers as part of the celebrations.  The cost of the extension was 14,444 pounds (Parliamentary Paper No. 12/1865-66).



Then, from the Internet, the Steamranger’s website confirms the date of construction:


Lineside guide – Port Elliot to Victor Harbor


“Leaving Port Elliot”

Quite a grade leaving the platform and a challenge for our loco crew! Then over the crest of the sandhills and onto the cliff tops with Victor Harbor in the distance.  At Watson’s Gap the train crosses over an arched bridge constructed in 1906 to replace the original timber bridge constructed in 1863.  The timber piers of the old bridge can be seen on the seaward side of the railway.



The Australian Railway Historical Society’s publication, The Victor Harbor Railway Line: pictorial review (1984), reinforces the same basic story:


Port Elliott did not turn out to be a safe harbour, and after a number of shipwrecks the Government examined a proposal to extend the tramway to Victor Harbor.  In 1862 the extension was authorised, and a private contractor built the line.  A bridge at Watson’s Gap was required, while at the Hindmarsh River near Victor Harbor the existing road bridge, built in 1863, was used for rail traffic as well as road vehicles.  The new extension branched off the Port Elliott line before the town, passed through the middle of the township and ran in a south-westerly direction to the sea coast, which it then followed around to Victor Harbor.


South Australia’s own Department of Environment and Heritage has an information sheet on its website pertaining to the Watson’s Gap Railway Bridge (near Port Elliot) – SAHR 11183, confirmed as State Heritage Place 20 November 1986 (http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/heritage/pdfs/showcasing/watsons_gap_bridge.pdf).   Naturally, the listed structure is the concrete, single-arch bridge that came second, but the information on page two confirms “The Watson’s Gap Bridge was reported as completed in the Annual report of the Railway Commissioner for the year 1906-07.  It replaced an earlier (1863) timber bridge, and the timber piers of this old structure can still be seen on the seaward side of the railway.”


Finally, it is possible to view an image of the original timber bridge via our South Australiana website (http://www.catalog.slsa.sa.gov.au:1084/screens/opacmenu.html) .   Choose the search by Number of photograph or artwork and input the number B 5870 (don’t forget to put a space between the B and the 5).  Click on view image and you’ll see a ca. 1904 picture of the wooden bridge.  This is the only image of the bridge in our collection.


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