What is significant? The Hawthorn Bridge is a large bluestone and wrought-iron bridge, opened in 1861 to connect Richmond and Hawthorn across the Yarra River via Bridge Road. The metal bridge replaced an earlier timber bridge which in turn replaced the use of a punt that operated at the crossing from the 1830s. Hawthorn Bridge has a substantial riveted, wrought-iron, lattice-truss superstructure with triple-arched perforated bluestone piers and abutments. It is 98m long, with a central span of 45.7 m and roadway 14.3 metres wide and, along with the slightly smaller Hunter River Bridge at Muswellbrook, NSW, is the oldest surviving metal truss bridge in Australia. Like most pre-1880 metal road bridges in Victoria, Hawthorn Bridge is composed of imported wrought iron. Wrought iron intended for the Hawthorn Bridge was lost when the ship ‘Herald of the Morning’ caught fire and was scuttled in Hobson’s Bay requiring further iron to be ordered from Britain. Wrought iron from the ‘Herald of the Morning’ was later salvaged and used in the Mia Mia Bridge at Redesdale (H1419).
In 1890 the double-arched bluestone piers (completed in 1858) were widened to triple arches and a further lattice truss girder added to accommodate horse-drawn trams. In 1916 the Hawthorn Tramways Trust erected three decorative steel gantries over the roadway to carry overhead wires for the newly electrified trams connecting Hawthorn and Camberwell to the city. The gantries along with those on the Victoria Street Bridge, which they closely resemble, were manufactured by H Wallace and Son Engineers. From 1929-1931 the bridge underwent substantial repairs involving the first use of on-site arc welding for bridge repair. With the exception of short periods during which it was closed for repair, Hawthorn Bridge has been in continuous usage since 1861 and, apart from the reinforced concrete roadway the bridge, is substantially intact to its 1890s form.
How is it significant?
The Hawthorn Bridge is of historic, architectural, scientific (technical) and aesthetic significance to the State of Victoria.
Why is it significant?
The Hawthorn Bridge is of historical significance as the earliest surviving major metal bridge in Victoria, the oldest surviving truss bridge in Australia and the oldest surviving bridge spanning the Yarra River. It was only the third non-timber bridge to be erected over the Yarra (following the first Princes Bridge, and the Chapel-Church Street Bridge) and formed an important early link to Melbourne’s eastern suburbs and beyond to the rich agricultural land of the Yarra Valley. Its construction cemented the eastern suburbs, and especially Hawthorn, Kew and Camberwell as the preferred abode of Melbourne’s middle class in the late 19th century, and so influenced the social and geographic growth of Melbourne.
Hawthorn Bridge is of architectural and scientific (technological) significance as the outstanding metal road bridge in Victoria, a rare example of mid-nineteenth century British Colonial engineering. The bridge is significant for its association with the development of engineering design in Victoria, being the first metal truss or lattice girder bridge. The designer is unknown but the design was probably influenced by the Board of Land and Works Engineer in Chief, Thomas Higginbotham.The late 19th century was a period of experimentation in metal bridge building in part due to the use of wrought iron prior to developments in furnaces that made production of steel economically viable. As a consequence bridges all early lattice truss and girder bridges are unique in their construction. These include Glenmona Bridge (H1846) (1871), McMillan’s Bridge (H1847) (1889), Cressy Bridge (1880), and the fore mentioned Mia Mia Bridge (H1419) (1868).
Hawthorn Bridge is also of scientific (technological) significance as the test site, in 1930, for the pioneering of electric welding as a method for reinforcing bridges. The then recent developments in arc welding technology had made it portable and allowed its on-site use to repair the Hawthorn Bridge.
Hawthorn Bridge is of aesthetic significance for the unique architectural qualities of the finely executed monumental design, the tall, triple-arched perforated bluestone piers and stone abutments towering over the Yarra. Overhead, the decorative steel gantries reflect ornamental design of early 20th century street furniture, now relatively rare. The setting against steep banks with lush exotic and native vegetation contributes to the appreciation of the bridge as part of the Yarra river landscape.