Today in History: Laying of the foundation stone for Princes Bridge

Today in History: Laying of the foundation stone for Princes Bridge

On this day in 1886 (07 September), the foundation stone was laid for Prince's Bridge (now known as Princes Bridge) in Melbourne. The Argus, dated Wednesday, 08 September 1886, Pg 10 - published a detailed account of the event which is definitely well worth reading, so grab a cup of coffee and transport yourself back in time to one of Melbourne's greatest engineering achievements.

The foundation stone of the new Prince’s Bridge was laid yesterday. The weather in the morning was threatening but rain did not fall until after the ceremony, which was performed under pleasant and auspicious circumstances. Admission to the enclosure surrounding the site of the bridge was by ticket. The persons invited were admitted at the gateway on the northern side of the river and crossed by a temporary footbridge to the spot at which the foundation stone was to be laid on the southern side. The massive stone was suspended on a movable crane over the abutment on which it is to rest. Planks were laid down on the excavated area around the stone and on the platform above there were seats for spectators, who assembled early in large numbers. Over the wooden framework of the bridge streamers of flags were hung. The display of bunting was profuse and gave a festive appearance to what is otherwise a somewhat sombre scene. A band, kindly lent for the occasion by Mr R K Montgomerie, of the New Brewery, West Melbourne, was present, and relieved the tedium of waiting by selections of music.

Punctually at 12 o'clock the mayoress of Melbourne (Mrs J C Stewart) arrived and was greeted with cheers by those inside and outside of the enclosure. The mayoress was accompanied by the mayor and the town clerk (Mr Fitzgibbon), and was received at the entrance by the contractor (Mr D Munro). Amongst the other gentlemen present were the Chief Secretary (Mr Deakin), the Commissioner of Customs (Mr Walker), the Commissioner of Public Works (Mr Nimmo), the Minister of Education (Mr Pearson), the Postmaster General (Mr Derham), the Minister of Defence (Mr Lorimer), the President of the Legislative Council (Sir Jas. MacBain), Colonel Sargood, Mr F Ormond, Mr C J Ham, Mr Simon Fraser, M.L.C.'s, Mr T Bent, Mr J B Patterson, Mr G D Carter, Mr E L Zox, and Mr J W Peirce, M.L.A.'s, Mr W H Steel (inspector general of Public Works), Mr C Le Cren (secretary of Public Works), representatives of the contributing municipalities, Messrs. Green, Dobbie and Gall (members of the Adelaide Chamber of Manufactures) and others. Everything being in readiness for the ceremony, Mr D Munro called upon the Chief Secretary to address the assembly.


Mr Deakin said,—"Mr Mayor, Ladies and Gentlemen,—It is rather more than 40 years since the foundation stone of the first Prince’s brudge was laid on the other side of the Yarra, and he would have been a bold man, I fancy, who on that day would have ventured to predict that even within a century that handsome and substantial structure would be removed in order to make way for a still finer and more imposing bridge. Under no ordinary circumstances could such a change in so short a time have been well imagined; but the circumstances of Victoria have not been ordinary. They have been entirely unprecedented, and in a space of less than half a century the Government and the City Council of Melbourne and the councils of its now existing suburbs are called upon to face quite a new order of things. Forty years ago Melbourne had 12,000 inhabitants, and the colony as a whole had only a population of 33,000. Today Melbourne has 365,000 inhabitants, and the colony has a population of more than 1,000,000 within its borders. (Cheers.) Such a change in so short a space of time, I suppose has not been witnessed in any other part of the world".

"Then there was great rejoicing at the commencement of the construction of a bridge which cost £20,000, and which took four years to complete. Today we celebrate the laying of the foundation stone of a bridge which is to cost £150,000, and which, we expect, will be completed in less than two years. Judging by the progress which the contractor has made, I think we are well justified in that expectation. At the same time we cannot afford to despise the day of small things. On the contrary, one of the chief obstacles to the construction of a bridge sufficiently magnificent to meet the demands of modern Melbourne was the fact that the existing structure was a beautiful, and in its way, a splendid structure. There was the greatest regret at even the idea of cancelling such an old landmark—one which had so many associations clustered around it, and which had so well fulfilled its purpose. It was not until we were able to connect this question of the Prince’s Bridge with the larger question of the river improvement and permanent protection from floods that we saw any means whatever of enabling a new bridge to be built. And, consequently, we resorted to that device".

"When I had the honour, in 1883, to be Minister of Public Works, I introduced a bill into the Legislative Assembly to authorise the construction of a temporary bridge in place of the old bridge because it was felt that as long as the old bridge stood before the eyes and in the hearts of the people of Melbourne there would be no chance of getting a new bridge. We obtained the necessary permission to have the old bridge removed, and the Public Works department determined then to put up such a structure as would not satisfy the people for any long period of time. That innocent piece of strategy has justified itself, and that structure is now to be superseded by one worthy of our metropolis. The cost and the importance of this work has been greatly increased by the fact that it is part of our great scheme of river improvements. There are many here who can remember the time when from where we stand to the Immigrants' Home behind us was one rolling river of turpid water, carrying haystacks, and occasionally cottages, down to the sea, and those who witnessed the flood of 1878 do not wish to see the same thing again (Laughter.) Since then the work of river improvement has been carried on with such rapidity that 7,000 tons of solid rock forming a wall across the river have been removed from the spot on which we stand, and 43,000 tons removed from the site of the other wall lower down, so that altogether 50,000 tons of solid rock have been taken out of the river. In addition to that the superficial area of the water way, which under the old bridge was 300 square feet, will be increased under the new bridge to 4,000 square feet. According to the testimony of Sir John Coode the work done in connexion with this bridge, the widening of the river to 300ft., the removal of the rocks, and the making of the new cut, will give us the only possible preventive of future floods".

"In that way, therefore, as in other ways, the ceremony of today marks an important advance, and we may congratulate ourselves upon it. Not long ago we celebrated the iron wedding that it was hoped would knit Victoria and New South Wales more closely together. Now the mayoress is about to lay the foundation stone of a bridge in which, by the marriage of stone and iron, we shall have the north and south banks of the river wedded together for all time to come. We shall have the divisions of north and south Melbourne very largely removed, and the spot where we stand may at no distant date be almost the centre of a great and prosperous city. It is looking forward to greater Melbourne, of which we may regard this as the first important work, that I have now the pleasure and privilege of addressing these few words to you to introduce the ceremony which the lady mayoress will at once perform". (Cheers.)

Mr D Munro then read the following address to the mayoress :— "To Mrs Amelia Henderson Stewart, wife of James Cooper Stewart, Esquire, the Right Worshipful the Mayor of the City of Melbourne. Dear Madam,—I have pleasure in asking you to perform the gratifying and auspicious ceremony of laying the foundation stone of this the new Prince’s Bridge. The reasons which have led to its erection in lieu of the handsome stone structure which has been removed to give it place, namely, the insufficiency of the latter to the requirements of the increased and constantly increasing population and business of this the capital of Victoria, its suburbs and the country southward of the Yarra, and the determination to obviate recurrence of injury from floods and to increase the usefulness and sightliness of the river by widening its waterway, and by deepening and removing obstructions from its bed, are unmistakable proofs of local energy and progress. Whilst the enterprising spirit of the Government and Parliament of the colony, the mayor, aldermen and councillors of the city of Melbourne, and the mayors and presidents and councillors of the other contributing cities, boroughs and shires in planning and providing funds for a structure of such noble dimensions is evidence of present prosperity, and unlimited faith and confidence in the future of our country. Personally, whilst conscious as none other can be of the weight of the obligation so incurred, I am proud that it has fallen to me to contract and become responsible, for the carrying out of this important national work; and in asking you to perform the interesting task of laying the foundation stone, I feel sure that to none can the occasion be of greater pride than to you who were born in this city and it is pleasing to remember on a day of which this is the anniversary, and of which I take opportunity to wish you many happy returns. I beg your acceptance of this trowel for use in and as a memento of this ceremony”.


The trowel presented to the mayoress was made by Mr H Newman of Melbourne. It is a very fine example of colonial art. The blade is of silver and bears the arms of the colony and of the city of Melbourne together with a well executed view of the new bridge. The handle is of blackwood, mounted with gold and upon it are two gold shields bearing the monograms of the mayoress and the contractor, very prettily worked in enamel of different colours.

The Mayor (Mr J C Stewart) in acknowledging the gift on behalf of the mayoress, said,— "Mr. Munro I thank you very sincerely for the high compliment you have paid to her and to me as the mayor of Melbourne, in inviting her to perform the interesting and pleasant ceremonial duty of laying the foundation stone of the new Prince’s Bridge; for your expressions of personal respect and good wishes as to her birthday, with which your invitation is accompanied, and for the handsome present you have made to her, which will be treasured as an heirloom by us. It is gratifying to her to know that, apart from the personal considerations which have influenced you, your selection meets with the concurrence and approval of the Government and the municipal bodies interested in the work, and I need scarcely add that in the circumstances it affords her the greatest pleasure to comply with your request. I may be pardoned for expressing my individual opinion that the duty could scarcely have been more appropriately entrusted to anyone else. She was born in this city almost in view of this present site and here her life has been spent, while the bridge, when completed, will be wholly within Melbourne. It seems to me, therefore, to be only in harmony with the policy, according to which the laws of this colony are made and administered, and which aims at securing the pride of place to our native products, that the honours of the occasion should be conferred on the first native born mayoress of Melbourne”. (Laughter and cheers.)

"As you have aptly said, the occasion is one of honest pride and congratulation, indicative of the rapid growth, present prosperity and just confidence in the future of Victoria, and of this the metropolis and its suburbs. For the first 10 years in the history of the colony, viz., from 1835 to 1845, the provision for crossing the river was by punt only. The first bridge, which was of wood and placed a little higher up the river than the site of this bridge, was, like the punts, private property. It was commenced on the 9th June,1845, and with its approaches cost to the company for which it was built £400, but to the unfortunate contractor, Mr Alexander Sutherland, £500. Tolls were charged for its use until the opening of the Prince’s Bridge which was built as a free bridge at the public cost, by the Government of New South Wales, of which this colony, then the district of Port Phillip, formed part. The estimate and vote for the work was £10,000, but the actual cost approached nearer to £15,000. The choice of its design was chiefly that of the Superintendent of the District, afterwards the first governor of this colony, Charles Joseph Latrobe, Esq. It was a single arch of stone, 150ft. in span, less by 50ft. than the Grosvenor-bridge at Chester, of which it was nearly a facsimile, but still one of the largest stone arches then existing, and of very light, graceful and artistic appearance. Its materials were local basalt and granite. The superintendent of the work was Mr David Lennox, and the builder was Mr Patrick Reed, who, like Mr Sutherland complained that the price received did not repay him his expenditure. The foundation stone was laid and the bridge, in honour of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, was named “Prince's Bridge” by Mr Latrobe on 20th March, 1846, and was opened by that gentleman on 15th November, 1850, amidst the enthusiastic rejoicings of the inhabitants at the news received two days previously of the passing of the act of the Imperial Parliament, authorising the separation of the district from New South Wales, and its erection into the colony of Victoria".

"You have tersely referred to the causes which led to the removal of that bridge and it may not be inopportune, as marking the progress of our community, to record that the city of Melbourne, which then included the present cities of South Melbourne and Fitzroy, the boroughs of Port Melbourne and Hotham, and parts of the city of Collingwood and of the boroughs of St. Kilda and Brunswick, had a population of little more than 12,000, whilst now the same area contains some 170,000 souls. The rapid increase of population which followed upon the gold discoveries of 1851, and afterwards with extensive city and suburban settlement as well south as north of the Yarra, produced traffic for which the bridge with a roadway insufficient for three vehicles abreast soon became inadequate, serious accidents resulted, and necessitated the passing of a regulation that vehicles should cross it at only walking speed, whilst great loss and inconvenience were caused by the floods of 1863 and 1864, the former of which far exceeded in volume the capacity of the arch. Various suggestions were made for overcoming these disadvantages, but they were all ultimately rejected in favour of the plan devised and carried out by the Government department of Public Works, whereby the breadth of the river here is increased to correspond with the breadth given it by the improvements of the Melbourne Harbour Trust Commissioners below the Queen's Wharf basin, whilst, by removing the "Falls," the reef upon which the first Prince’s Bridge had its foundation, and other rock obstructions, the river bed is deepened to 15ft. 6in. below low water sea level".

The prize for the design of the new bridge was given to Messrs. Jenkins and Grainger, of this city, engineers and architects. That design, subsequently modified, spans the waterway of 300ft. by three openings with piers of stone and arches of iron with a roadway arch on the south side. The bridge is reached by the alignment of Swanston Street from Flinders Street, with a rising gradient not exceeding 1 in 40, thence it and its southern approach continue on a level to the hill at the entrance to the Government Domain. The contract price is £136,998 9s. 9d., towards which the city of Melbourne contributes to the Government one third of the amount; the cities of South Melbourne and Prahran and the borough of St. Kilda £10,000 each; the shire of Malvern, £2,500; the borough of Brighton and the shire of Caulfield, £2,000 each; and the shire of Moorabbin, £1,000. The work is supervised under the inspector-general of Public Works, Mr W Henry Steel, by Mr William Finlay, and the time for its completion is two years from 16th November, 1885. I fervently hope that under the Divine Providence, the work may, in your enterprising and able hands, be completed without loss of life or property, and I do not doubt but that the association of your name with this great national and local undertaking will recall memories only as pleasing as that of the ceremony in which we are now engaged". (Cheers.)


The Mayor then placed in a cavity in the stone a bottle containing a parchment recording the event, copies of the local newspapers and several coins of the realm. The town clerk read the inscription on the parchment, which was as follows :— The foundation stone of this bridge over the Yarra Yarra River at Melbourne, built (instead of a former structure of stone but of smaller dimensions) at the joint expense of the Government of Victoria, the corporation of the City of Melbourne and the corporations of the cities of South Melbourne and Prahran, the boroughs of St. Kilda and Brighton, the shires of Caulfield, Malvern and Moorabbin was laid, and the said bridge was named like the former after his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales “Prince’s Bridge” by Mrs Amelia Henderson Stewart, the wife of the Right Worshipful the Mayor of Melbourne, on the anniversary of her birthday, the seventh of September, A. D. 1886. In the fiftieth year of the reign of her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria. In the third year of the Governorship of His Excellency Sir Henry Brougham Loch, Knight. In the Premiership of the Honourable Duncan Gillies, M.L.A. The Honourable John Nimmo, M.L.A., Commissioner of Public Works. James Cooper Stewart, Esquire, mayor of the city of Melbourne. Robert Wright, Esquire, mayor of the city of South Melbourne. R A Forbes, Esquire, mayor of the city of Prahran. Frederick Wimpole, Esquire, mayor of the borough of St. Kilda. J F Hamilton, Esquire, mayor of the borough of Brighton. Richard Dawson, Esquire, president of the shire of Caulfield. R G Benson, Esquire, president of the shire of Malvern. David Abbott, Esquire, president of the shire of Moorabbin. William Henry Steel, Esquire, inspector-general of Public Works. Designed by J H Grainger, Esquire, architect. The contractor (under contract entered into during the Commissionership of the Honourable Alfred Deakin, M.L.A., now the Chief Secretary of Victoria) David Munro, Esquire.


The mayoress then gracefully laid the stone, assisted by Mr W H Steel (the inspector-general of Public Works), Councillor Wright (mayor of South Melbourne) and Councillor Forbes (mayor of Prahran). The ceremony having been successfully completed, the mayoress declared the stone well and duly laid, and named the structure “Prince's Bridge”. The band played the National Anthem, and, at the instance of the Commissioner of Public Works, cheers were given for the Queen, the Prince and Princess of Wales, the Governor, the mayoress and the contractor. Mr Munro called for cheers for Mr Nimmo, which were heartily given and the proceedings closed.


Discussion (2 comments)

Peter Maltezos's picture

An interesting fact:

In 1885 before completing his engineering degree, Sir John Monash found employment on the new Princes Bridge and over the next two years assisted the contractor David Munro.

The first single span Princes Bridge in 1867.

Today in History: Laying of the foundation stone for Princes Bridge

I collect, therefore I am.

32 Blocks's picture

Thanks for that info Peter, the more research I do for my book the more apparent it becomes how the who's who of that era were involved in so many projects - where they found the time is anyone's guess but not having television probably helped :)

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