Victoria Pass | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage

Heritage

Victoria Pass

Item details

Name of item: Victoria Pass
Other name/s: Victoria Pass Causeway, Mitchell's Causeway, Victoria Pass Viaduct
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Transport - Land
Category: Road
Primary address: 33 Richards Street, Bourke, NSW 2840
Local govt. area: Bourke

Boundary:

The site curtilage extends 97m east (uphill) of the eastern end of the northern retaining wall and 30m west (downhill) of the western end of the northern retaining wall. It includes: the road from shoulder to shoulder and to the bottom of any support structures; the Causeway retaining walls; secondary retaining walls; and adjacent roadside cuttings and rock engravings within 5m of the edge of the shoulder.
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
33 Richards StreetBourkeBourke  Primary Address
33 Richards StreetBourkeBourke  Primary Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Roads and Maritime ServicesState Government 

Statement of significance:

The Victoria Pass Causeway derives part of its heritage significance as an element of Victoria Pass, but it also has exceptional heritage significance in its own right. It is an outstanding and rare reference site for colonial road engineering standards and practices in response to difficult terrain. As part of Victoria Pass, it has played a central and vital role in facilitating trade and settlement in central and western NSW for the last 175 years. It has the ability to tangibly demonstrate the early era of colonial road building in NSW due to its outstanding degree of integrity (original fabric and form). It remains as originally built with almost no later modification. It remains a physical record of the skills of engineers during this period and is an exemplar of road engineering of its time. It appears to be the only substantial stone causeway structure of its type from the early Colonial period in NSW (and possibly in Australia). It is particularly impressive because it has carried increasing traffic loads over a period of 175 years without modification. It is also tangible evidence of the colonial desire to achieve impressive engineering feats as a demonstration of a progressive and civilised state with a role to play in the British Empire. It retains its striking setting. The conjunction of this natural setting with the impressive curve of the man-made stone walls inspired many nineteenth and twentieth century artists, writers and travellers. It retains these scenic qualities today and is able to evoke the colonial landscape seen by these early travellers along this route and the slower pace of nineteenth century travel.

For these reasons, Victoria Pass Causeway is of STATE heritage significance. This significance is manifested the Causeway's form, fabric and setting and is enhanced by its outstanding degree of integrity.

The significance of individual elements within the curtilage is as follows:

Causeway - retaining walls (Exceptional). These walls are key elements in the Causeway structure and are integral to its historic, aesthetic, technical and rarity values.

Causeway - buttresses (Exceptional). These buttresses are key elements in the Causeway structure and are integral to its historic, aesthetic, technical and rarity values.

Causeway - balustrade (Moderate). The balustrade is a later addition. It demonstrates the only later modification to the structure.

Causeway - fill (High). The fill is an original part of the Causeway structure. Although it is not of particular interest itself, it adds significantly to the structure’s integrity.

Causeway - Other retaining walls
RW1 (High). RW 1 is only considered to be significant in association with the Causeway rather than in its own right. It forms part of the original evidence of construction of the roadway and causeway.
RW2 - (Moderate). Although the bottom part of RW 2 is contemporary with RW 1 and the Causeway, the wall has been compromised by later rebuilding. This has reduced the wall’s level of significance.

Engravings
Inscriptions C and D (Exceptional) are likely to relate to the original construction of the Pass and Causeway by convicts. In particular, Inscription C is likely to be the unofficial work of a convict road gang, is one of the few inscriptions of its type from this period. The only other known, surviving and in situ examples in NSW are associated with the Great North Road.
Inscription B (High) may be an original survey mark, but this is not currently clear.
Inscription A (Moderate) may be associated with later work done to the Pass, or have been carved by a group travelling through this area. Its origin is unknown. It forms part of the collection of historic elements in the Causeway precinct but does not contribute to the exceptional significance of the Causeway.

Carved steps - adjacent to causeway (Moderate). These steps demonstrate the use of the Causeway as a popular stopping point for travellers and tourists.

Road Alignment (Exceptional). Although the road has been widened in places and rerouted in one, it effectively follows the original descent laid out by Mitchell. This alignment resulted in the need for engineering solutions to deal with the difficult and steep terrain. As the most efficient means of making the western descent from the Blue Mountains it has stood the test of time, having been in use for 175 years. It is integral to the historic, associative and technical significance of Victoria Pass.

Road Surfaces (Little). The modern road surfaces have no heritage significance. Bitumen surfaces are a relatively recent addition to the pass. Although necessary for the continuing operation of the Pass as part of the Great Western Highway, they do detract slightly from the Causeway’s aesthetic values.

Cuttings and outcrops - adjacent to causeway (High). These cuttings and outcrops provide the immediate setting for the Causeway and are an integral part of its historic, technical and aesthetic significance.
Date significance updated: 25 Feb 08
Note: There are incomplete details for a number of items listed in NSW. The Heritage Division intends to develop or upgrade statements of significance and other information for these items as resources become available.

Description

Designer/Maker: Thomas Mitchell (surveyor)
Builder/Maker: Convict Road Gang
Construction years: 1829-1832
Physical description: Victoria Pass Culvert forms part of Victoria Pass. Victoria Pass is a stretch of the Great Western Highway at the far western extent of the Blue Mountains in NSW. It forms the western descent from the Mountains, beginning at Mount York Road in Mount Victoria and finishing where the Berghofer’s Pass walking track meets the Great Western Highway near Hartley. The road required significant engineering support to allow it to take the required route of descent. At the heart of the Pass is its most substantial support structure - an earth, rubble and sandstone causeway, spanning a depression between two large sandstone outcrops. It is here that the tangible, physical evidence of the Pass’s original construction is concentrated. The structure remains in its original form with most of its original fabric intact. The key elements associated with the causeway are: two large sandstone, buttressed retaining walls; earth and rubble fill; roadway; the two large rocky outcrops the causeway spans between; adjacent cuttings; and four historic rock engravings.

The causeway structure is built on a narrow saddle of land that connects two substantial rocky outcrops about halfway down Victoria Pass. It forms a raised, level platform to allow the Victoria Pass to continue its descent towards Little Hartley.

The causeway consists of two large sandstone retaining walls built on either side of a rubble and earth core in a north-east/south-west direction. The roadway runs along the top of the rubble core. The northern wall is approximately 115m long and up to 11m high. It has been buttressed in two locations. The southern wall is 71m long, up to 4m high and is unbuttressed. A balustrade has been added to the northern wall and Armco railing has been added on both sides of the road, at the road edge. A camber exists across the road section and the north side is lower than the south side.
The structure is curved and the road surface falls gently from south to north with the curve. At its eastern end the causeway is bounded by a large rocky outcrop on the south side of the road and a steep fall down to Berghofer’s Pass and the valley below on its north side. The western end of the causeway is visually dominated by a very large and sheer stone cutting on the south side of the road. The land slopes more gradually to Berghofer’s Pass on the north side. The land on either side of the causeway itself slopes sharply to valleys on either side.

Northern Retaining Wall
As noted above, the northern retaining wall is the highest and longest of the two Causeway retaining walls. It is reinforced by two heavy stone buttresses 27m and 53m from its eastern end. It is constructed of dressed sandstone blocks. Using the stonework typology developed by Grace Karskens for the Great North Road and adopted by the RTA in its Stone Retaining Wall: Conservation Guide, the wall can be described as Ashlar Type 3a. This is defined as follows:
The stones are much more roughly dressed, with fairly smooth, often random tooled faces, but not always strictly of the same dimensions. Coursing is fairly regular although frequently not consistently horizontal, while jointing is evident although still slightly open.

The front faces of the stones have been dressed to form a flat surface. Where voids have allowed inspection, it appears the backs of the stones are very irregular and have not been dressed. The coursing is irregular, ranging between 29 and 50cm. Generally the thinner courses are at the top of the wall and the thicker courses towards the bottom. The most common course height is 38 to 42cm. Stone lengths vary from 30 to 66cm. There are a few breaches in the wall that indicate the wall is generally 30 to 60cm thick and that the internal rubble fill is of large, irregular pieces of sandstone. Large voids are visible, indicating that any finer fill material has partially washed away. McBean and Crisp (1990: 3) noted that the wall dimensions are consistent with walls in the Devine’s Hill section of the Great North Road, north of Wiseman’s Ferry.

McBean and Crisp (1990: 2) further note that the batter of the wall varies from 1 in 2.35 in the east bay to 1 in 2.78 and 1 in 3.33 in the west bay. Bedding is generally at right angles to the batter.

The buttresses are of a slightly more regular construction than the wall and could be considered to be Ashlar Type 3b, which is defined as:
The stones are mainly dressed to given dimensions. Coursing is regular and consistently horizontal and the joining tight.

The buttresses are capped with large flat stones and appear to be masonry shells filled with rubble. They project approximately 2.1m from the base of the retaining wall and 1m at the top and are roughly 3.6m wide at the base. The height of the east buttress is 9.1m (25 courses) below the strong course and the west buttress is 10.7m (30 courses) (McBean and Crisp 1990: 3). They are not keyed into the wall. It is possible that they were added as a response to partial collapse of the wall. This may have occurred as early as 1838. This theory may be supported by areas of uneven coursing in the west and middle bays of the wall. The 1990 RTA Conservation Plan for Victoria Pass suggests that this may be evidence of adjacent masonry gangs meeting. It does seem more likely however, that it is evidence of an early collapse and repair episode. It is likely to have been an early collapse, as the construction method for the buttresses is similar contemporary structures on the Great North Road. According to McBean and Crisp (1990: 3) this includes the buttresses on the Devine’s Hill retaining wall, which are not keyed in and are also likely to be filled with rubble. They also note that the batter of the buttresses is generally flatter than the walls themselves, at 1 in 1.67 and 1 in 2 on the east and west buttresses respectively (1990:2).
On first inspection it appears that the wall and buttresses were dry laid. Evidence of mortar is however present in part of the structure and it is likely the remaining mortar has been washed out over time. Apart from the top course and balustrade there is no evidence of repointing. Where later pointing has occurred in these areas, cement has been used. The balustrade or parapet appears to have been added later, at some point between the 1850s and 1880s.

Southern Retaining Wall
The southern retaining wall is much smaller than the northern wall. At up to only 4 metres high, it is un-buttressed.

Secondary Retaining Walls
There are four small retaining walls uphill from the eastern end of the Causeway. Two are within the nominated curtilage for the Causeway. These secondary structures provide support where the natural ground surface has been built up to provide enough width and a flat surface for the road.

Retaining Wall 1 (RW 1)
This wall is approximately 32m long and sits 65m uphill (east) from the northern retaining wall of the Causeway. It has been constructed between two sections of rock outcrop. It is eleven to twelve courses high and constructed of dressed stone blocks. McBean and Crisp note it is set at a batter of 1 in 2.8 and that the course heights vary between 45 and 69cm. The coursing is slightly irregular and in general the construction is very similar to the main retaining walls of the Causeway. As such it is considered to be part of the original construction of the roadway and Causeway. Similar to the Causeway itself, Retaining Wall 1 has sustained some damage to its string course where some of the blocks have been dislodged or removed. Its eastern end also appears to have been rebuilt from rougher and more irregular blocks of stone at a later date.

Retaining Wall 2 (RW 2)
RW 2 is 13m east of RW 1 and is separated from it by a rocky outcrop. It is a 12 m long masonry wall of rough, sandstone rubble construction. The wall appears to be sound and is not showing signs of cracking or bulging. It does not appear to be contemporary with RW 1 and the causeway.

Cuttings and Natural Rock Outcrops
There are a number of cuttings along the northern and southern edges of the roadway. These occur at intervals along the length of the Pass and were created to form space for the roadway and a level road surface. Some of these, including the visually striking cutting at the south-western end of the Causeway, are in natural bedrock. Others are earthen embankments. Of the rock cut embankments, it appears that all but those at the eastern end of the Causeway have been further cut back over time to allow for road widening or to stabilise the cuttings and prevent rockfalls (pers.comm. B. Maloney, RTA Area Maintenance Manager 22/8/07; RTA: 1996). This means that only those on the eastern end of the causeway date from the original phase of construction. The cuttings are low and appear to be stable.

Some of the horizontal rock surfaces adjacent to the eastern end of the causeway appear to be natural. On these faces there is no obvious evidence of pick marks or other cut marks. It is possible, but unlikely, that all evidence of any original cutting has weathered away. It is more likely that they are largely natural faces. The eastern rock outcrops do however have evidence of modification in the form of rock engravings (discussed below) and some stone steps carved into outcrop on the south side of the road. It is likely the stone steps were designed to provide access for this type of use by visitors. They appear in photographs as early as the 1880s.

Generally the cuttings are immediately adjacent to the road surface and unobstructed by vegetation. The shoulder at the large cutting on the south-western end of the Causeway is however being deliberately revegetated. This large, natural outcrop and the one on the eastern side of the causeway are also vegetated along their ridgelines. The stone faces however, are still dominant features at either end of the Causeway, with the Causeway structure bridging the gap between the two.

Rock Engravings
A number of rock engravings are present within the curtilage of the Causeway. These are directly associated with the construction of the Pass and causeway. Tracings and location plans for three immediately adjacent to the causeway were prepared by Karskens in her 1988 Historical and Archaeological Study of Victoria Pass. Inscription A is on the vertical face of a rock outcrop, 37.6m to the east of the northern retaining wall, on the northern side of the road. It is an engraving of five names in a simple rectangular border with a triangular pediment-like top. The border is flanked by “Octr 18” and “96”. The initials “L.H. R” appear outside the top left hand corner of the engraving. Below the engraving and to the right are the words “bridge” and the top half of the word “men” just above ground level. It is possible that erosion has decreased soil levels in this area since 1988 exposing the top of this additional engraving on the outcrop. It is possible this fourth inscription (D) mirrors inscription C on the other side of the road and only the top is currently showing.

Both inscriptions A and D are fairly shallow and poorly carved. This along with weathering and the growth of mosses on the rock makes parts of the inscriptions quite indistinct and difficult to read, particularly in poor light.

Inscription B is on the horizontal face of a rock outcrop, 31.4m to the east of the northern retaining wall, on the northern side of the road and just below inscription A. It comprises a triangular impression with “P1” and “F/S2” above. They are likely to be surveying marks associated with establishment of the original road alignment and Causeway.

Inscription C is on the horizontal face of the rock outcrop on the south side of the road at the eastern end of the causeway. It reads “bridge men left in the lurch” and has the name “D.Crosier” and the initials “D.S” inscribed at its lower left hand side.

No reference to the inscriptions has been found in historic documents associated with the Pass. Karskens suggests that “bridge men” engravings may have been carved by the workers building the causeway, almost like a form of colonial graffiti (1988: 14-15). Their rough form and shallow depth seems to support this. They certainly do not appear to be official, or carved by a skilled stone mason. She indicates that it was not uncommon for convict construction parties to be stranded in isolated areas without sufficient supplies. She also notes that similar engravings have been found on high cuttings above the large works on the Great North Road.

The names carved in Inscription A and dated 1896 do not appear to relate to a known period of work on the road or Causeway. Karskens suggests they may have been carved by sightseers, stopping to enjoy the views (1988: 15). In this context she says, they conjure an image of a slower, more leisurely mode of travel and sightseeing than is possible in the current busy and dangerous highway environment. While it is entirely possible that a group of travellers carved this engraving, its size indicates that the party would likely have needed overnight accommodation and some tools capable of rendering the names in the rock. It perhaps seems more likely that the engraving was created by a later gang of workers, although no program of works is known from this period, as already noted. The balustrade, which was added by the 1880s would have been in place by this time.

The Road (Surface/Alignment)
The road alignment is the reason the Pass and associated cuttings, retaining walls and causeway were built. It has directed the form and location of these supporting elements. The alignment appears to be the original route for the descent planned by Mitchell. The current road surface is bitumen and in good condition. It has soft shoulders (gravel or dirt) for its entire length. The poor condition of the coping on the southern retaining wall at the Victoria Pass Causeway provides an opportunity to see that earlier bitumen road surface still exist beneath the current surface. This evidence that the road surface has built up over time indicates it is likely that evidence of the original gravel surface will remain as the base layer. The road surface appears to have been built up substantially.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Original condition assessment: 'Given its age and the fact it has not been structurally modified since its construction, the causeway is in good condition. Some repairs and maintenance are required for loose stones and there is some cracking probably caused by compaction of more recent road surfaces. The top courses of the northern wall are bowing, probably caused by water moving through the fill behind the wall.

The historical archaeological potential of the causeway structure is considered to be low.
It is apparent that the causeway in particular exists as it was originally built. While further study of the structure itself may shed further light on unrecorded maintenance or repairs and the form of the fill and natural landform within the retaining walls, this is not considered an archaeological resource.' (Last updated: 25/02/2008.)

2007-08 condition update: 'N/A.' (Last updated: 17/4/09.)
Date condition updated:17 Apr 09
Modifications and dates: Balustrade added - 1850s to 1880s.
Bitumen road surface added - post 1960s
Armco railings added c.1880s.
Further information: Exceptional Integrity - the causeway exists as built. Only the balustrade, road surface and armco railings have been added since.
Current use: Causeway
Former use: Causeway

History

Historical notes: From the time of European settlement at Sydney Cove in 1788, the successive Governors of the nascent colony of NSW continually sought abundant arable and pasture land to feed and clothe the growing population. The extensive mountain range to the west of Sydney offered the promise of, and an obstacle to, arable and pasture land lying beyond the Great Dividing Range.

The line of mountains directly to the west of Sydney was named the Blue Mountains owing to their bluish hue caused by the dominant vegetation growing there: Eucalypt. The Blue Mountains are part of the Great Dividing Range, itself an inland mountain range which extends the length of the eastern seaboard of Australia.

Between 1788 and 1813, a number of expeditions set out from Sydney to cross the seemingly impenetrable Blue Mountains, including those led by Francis Barrallier in c1802 and George Caley in c1804. The first successful crossing by non-Aboriginal people was accomplished by Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson and William Charles Wentworth in 1813, although they never technically crossed the Great Dividing Range proper.
This successful crossing of the Blue Mountains was initiated by Gregory Blaxland. Following two ‘reconnaissance expeditions’ between 1810 and 1813, Blaxland had decided to ‘attack the mountains by the ridge which appeared to run westwards, between the Warragomby and the River Grose’. In other words, the exploration party followed the ridgeline across the top of the mountains.

Blaxland approached follow pastoralists William Lawson and William Charles Wentworth to join his expedition and on 11 May 1813, they and their party of ‘four servants, five dogs and four horses’ set out from Blaxland’s farm at South Creek (near St Marys). Aboriginal people from the Daruk, Gandangara and Wiradjuri language groups lived in the Blue Mountains and would have regularly traversed the mountain range in the pre- and post-contact period; they played an important, but unsung, role in guiding the exploration party across the easiest route. Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth reached Mount Blaxland (to the west of Mount Victoria) within 21 days and returned to the outer fringes of Sydney by June 1813.

As historian John Low notes, the reasons for this crossing were not purely about the spirit of adventure or exploration in the quest for geographical and scientific knowledge. All three men were prominent and wealthy landholders and had vested interests in acquiring and opening up more land for their agricultural and pastoral pursuits.

The line of road traversed and mapped out by Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth was surveyed by Assistant Surveyor George William Evans in November 1813. Evans travelled a further 42 miles west beyond present-day Bathurst to the Macquarie River, returning to Sydney in January 1814. Evans and his party were the first Europeans to cross the Great Dividing Range.
In July 1814, William Cox (1764–1837) was appointed to oversee the construction of a road across the ridges of the Blue Mountains, following the route laid out by Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth in 1813 and surveyed by Evans the following year. Cox was formerly the Chief Magistrate at Windsor, having been appointed to this position by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1810.

Cox was requested to ‘follow Evan’s survey, where possible’ and was given permission deviate from Evan’s line where ‘a better route was available’. Cox’s road was directed to be at least 12 feet wide to allow two carriages to pass each other, although Macquarie requested that ‘where it can with ease and convenience be done, I should prefer the road to be made 16 feet wide’. Construction of the road over the Blue Mountains was carried out by the ready and available supply of convict labour. William Cox’s party consisted of thirty convicts, accompanied by guard of eight. They reportedly took six months to build this road.

The crossing of the Blue Mountains was notable for its precipitous ascent and descent at both its eastern and western ends. When Cox’s convict workers built the first traversable road across the mountains, they had to negotiate an especially difficult descent at its western end.

On witnessing the steep incline from Mount York, almost a sheer drop, Cox noted that: ‘I have therefore made up my mind to make such a road as a cart can come down empty or with a very light load without a possibly of its being about to return with any sort of load whatever, and such a road will also answer to drive stock down to the forest grounds. It is a very great drawback to the new country as no produce can be brought from thence to headquarters except fat bullocks or sheep.’

Cox oversaw the construction of a road from Mount York via Collit’s Inn in order to reach the western pasture lands beyond.

According to historian Sue Rosen it took a party of thirty men around six months to complete it. This road had a grade of one in four, virtually a sheer drop.

Cox’s road across the mountains was trafficable by the end of April 1815. In this month, Governor Macquarie and his wife set out on a 21 day return trip across the Blue Mountains to Bathurst. On reaching the descent from Mount York, Macquarie’s diary entry for 29 April 1815 reads: ‘At 11 O’clock, reached the termination of the Blue Mountains ending in a very abrupt descent almost perpendicular. Here we halted for a little while to view this frightful tremendous Pass, as well as to feast our eyes with the Grand and pleasing Prospect of the fine low Country below us and now in view from this termination of the Blue Mountains.’ Macquarie named the pass down the mountains Cox’s Pass ‘in honor (sic) of that Gentleman and as a just tribute due to his indefatigable zeal and meritorious exertions in Constructing and finally Completing this grand and important Pass.’

Between 1814 and 1829, a number of different routes from Mount York to Lithgow and Bathurst beyond were established, as a means of descending the Blue Mountains. The first was Cox’s Road 1815 from Mount York via Collit’s Inn, and it was followed by the Bell’s Line of Road in 1823, which avoided the western road and instead approached Cox’s River from Richmond via Mount Tomah, and Lawson’s Long Alley (which also descended from Mount York) built in c1823–24.

In 1827 Governor Darling offered a reward to ‘any free person’ to find ‘a better route to Bathurst’ which avoided Mount York and Mount Bathurst. Although other routes were suggested, including one proposed by explorer Hamilton Hume, and another was partially built (Lockyers Road, see below), these were not proceeded with and instead a direct route from Mount Victoria, as suggested by the Surveyor General Major Thomas Mitchell (1792–1855) in 1830, was adopted after much conflict with Governor Ralph Darling.

Thomas Mitchell arrived to NSW in 1827 as assistant to Surveyor-General John Oxley. Following Oxley’s death in 1828, Mitchell was appointed Surveyor-General. The Roads and Bridges Department, previously a stand-alone department, was incorporated within the Surveyor General’s Department by 1829. Mitchell was ‘responsible for the survey of roads and bridges’ in NSW from this time until 1836.

While in charge of roads and bridges, Mitchell oversaw major improvements in the route between Sydney and Parramatta (Parramatta Road), as well as a new major road leading south from Sydney to Liverpool (today’s Liverpool Road which begins at Summer Hill) and then to Goulburn via Berrima (the Hume Highway to Melbourne follows this line of road). He was also responsible for overseeing improvements to the Great Western Road over the Blue Mountains. It was the difficulty in building this road west that would lead to conflict with Governor Ralph Darling.

Mitchell was a ‘skilled draughtsman and surveyor’ and also ‘an ambitious man who saw in the colony of NSW numerous ways to both create and bestow a legacy of public works and exploration’. Historian Grace Karskens has suggested that ‘his ideas about roads revolved about his love of rectilinearity and symmetry’ and as such, his main concern was with finding the straightest, or most direct, route between two points. In the case of the Great Western Road, this was regardless of the topography of the Blue Mountains: the ravines, rocks, boulders and rivers that lay in its path, and the steep inclines from Mounts Victoria and York to the flat pasture land below.
In October 1827, explorer Hamilton Hume travelled the Bell’s Line of Road and discovered a new line of road from Hartley Vale to Bathurst. Mitchell was dispatched to investigate this discovery but ‘proposed instead a more direct route to Bathurst, avoiding Mount Blaxland and descending Mount York (near Cox’s Pass) by an inferior ridge or colline which falls gradually’. This road was partially built, overseen by Edmund Lockyer, then Surveyor of Roads and Bridges, and required ‘considerable cutting and filling and heavy masonry retaining walls, side drains and culverts’. This road has become known as Lockyers Road.

In early 1830, Mitchell discovered an alternative route which spanned ‘a deep abyss at Mount Victoria which would cut off the displeasingly roundabout route via Mount York’. Mitchell stopped work on Lockyers Road and moved the convict road gangs to the new site in January 1830, without seeking approval from Governor Darling.

Mitchell’s action on this matter raised the ire of Darling, and in July 1830, Darling wrote to Mitchell (via the Colonial Secretary) stating ‘that unless the disadvantages of any existing line of road are of a very serious nature, it is better under present circumstances, to put up with them than commence a new line which cannot be completed but a considerable expense and abandonment of that which has been accomplished at the cost of years of labour.’ Mitchell retaliated by stating that he defied ‘any man ever to point out any material improvement in the lines laid down by me’. After some heated correspondence between the two men, Darling capitulated. With the conflict resolved, work on Mitchell’s new road was in full swing by September 1830 under the superintendence of Assistant Surveyor P. Elliot.

Construction on the Victoria Pass Causeway was begun in January 1830, and although Mitchell’s route was the most direct, it proved the most difficult to negotiate of the five Blue Mountains descents. This was largely due to a deep ravine, or abyss, that lay in its path, which necessitated the construction of a stone causeway to cross it.

Works to build the Mitchell’s new road from Mount Victoria were carried out by both ironed gangs and road parties. Sue Rosen claims that ‘after the discovery of the Mount Victoria descent, Mitchell planned new convict stations for sites where cutting was required or bridges needed construction. These were to be given initial priority in the road building program.’ Stockades and garrisons to accommodate the convict road gangs were established at points along the Western Road, including Mount Victoria (No. 1 Stockade) and the Cox’s River (No. 2 Stockade).

The works to build the Victoria Pass Causeway were labour intensive and took two and a half years to complete. Stone was quarried on-site for the large sandstone blocks that made up the walls of the structure, as well as the retaining walls. Grace Karskens states that the ‘convicts cleared, blasted and excavated the line with simple tools such as cross-cut saws, hoes, spades and hatchets, hand held jumpers (drills), hammers and gunpowder’.
There has been speculation that works to build the road continued until at least 1838, as shown in pencil drawings by Conrad Martens dated to March of this year. More recent scholarship suggests that there was a serious collapse of the structure which necessitated rebuilding, and even replacement of the masonry walls and possibly the addition of the buttresses on the eastern side of the structure. It appears that this major collapse of the ‘sustaining’ wall and parapet of the central part of the Victoria Pass Causeway occurred in 1832, and was repaired by 1839 by way of a lifting machine, as depicted in the drawings by Martens and in the Surveyors correspondence.

Regardless of this collapse (or despite the threat of its collapse), the Victoria Pass Causeway was officially opened in October 1832.

Originally the causeway had a simple parapet. A more decorative parapet was added later, some time between the 1850s and 1880s.

In the early twentieth century, motor cars were introduced on NSW roads, competing with horse-drawn transport. Victoria Pass was too steep for the first generation of motor cars, which had to be hauled up by horse. An alternative route was sought and found by J. W. Berghofer, a local resident and the inaugural president of the Blaxland Shire following the Local Government Act 1906 (DMR p 14).

Berghofer’s Pass, as this road deviation became known, is to the north of the study area. It was completed and ready for use in 1912 after five years of construction. The Berghofer’s Pass deviation was used exclusively between 1912 and 1920, and during this time Victoria Pass was abandoned.
Following improvements motor transport technology, Victoria Pass was reopened in 1920 and the two descents were used concurrently. Berghofer’s Pass was officially closed in 1934 as motor cars became more adept at the crossing, although unofficially it was in use until the early 1950s. Berghofer’s Pass is now a walking track running alongside the Great Western Highway.
Since the closure of Berghofer’s Pass, there have been many proposals to either by-pass or augment the Victoria Pass Causeway.

In 1988, the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) proposed to bypass the Victoria Pass Causeway through the construction of a new 40 metre wide road with a bridge and approaches, to the north of the study area. The RTA commissioned a Conservation Management Plan to assess the impact of these works on both the Victoria Pass and the Berghofers Pass, along with recommendations for where to locate the new road and bridge.
Victoria Pass is not only a major thoroughfare at the endpoint of the Great Western Highway across Blue Mountains. It has been essential for the transportation of goods and people for 175 years, but it has also became a tourist destination in its own right, both because of its status as a convict-built engineering feat and its picturesque qualities.

Since its completion in the 1830s, the Victoria Pass Causeway has captivated the popular imagination of both local residents and visitors to the Blue Mountains. Victoria Pass Causeway was undoubtedly one of the most significant engineering feats of the first half of the nineteenth century, and is a testament to the engineering skills of the Assistant Surveyors who oversaw its construction and the strength of the convicts whose sweat, blood and tears saw the project through to completion in 1838.

Although the Victoria Pass Causeway was labour-intensive to build, and would have originally been somewhat of a scar on the landscape, it soon became a picturesque pit stop on the Great Western Road due to the views of the Bathurst Plans to the of north and the Grose Valley to the south. The line of road from Mount Victoria to Little Hartley, along with the sandstone causeway that lies at its mid-point, has been well traversed by visitors to the Blue Mountains since the mid-nineteenth century. By the close of the century, Victoria Pass Causeway had become a scenic diversion on the road to Jenolan Caves and other tourist destinations in the mountains region.
The slower pace of travelling over the road in the nineteenth century, which was primarily horse transport, meant that road travellers had the time to take in the beauty of the place. The picturesque qualities of the massive buttressed sandstone walls of the structure have been extensively documented by visual artists since it was completed.

The Victoria Pass Causeway also holds a grisly place in the local history. In 1891, it was immortalised in a poem by Henry Lawson as the scene of the murder of Caroline Collits, nee James on New Years Eve 1841 by her lover James Walsh. Lawson’s poem told the story Caroline’s ghost, which was said to haunt the bridge:

We talked about the ‘Girl in black’
Who haunts the Second Bridge.
We reached the fence that guards the cliff
And passed the corner post,
And Johnny like a senseless fool
Kept harping on the ghost.
‘She’ll cross the moonlit road in haste
And vanish down the track;
Her long black hair hangs to her waist
And she is dressed in black;
Her face is white, a dull dead white
Her eyes are opened wide
She never looks to left or right,
Or turns to either side.’

Today, Victoria Pass and the Causeway are heavily traversed by road traffic (including heavy vehicles). From the 1980s onwards, engineering and road works have been under way to widen the Great Western Highway across the Blue Mountains to up to four lanes. Although works have been completed to widen the Victoria Pass in the vicinity of the causeway through widening the cuttings, the road continues to narrow at two lanes over the Victoria Pass Causeway.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Convict-Activities relating to incarceration, transport, reform, accommodation and working during the convict period in NSW (1788-1850) - does not include activities associated with the conviction of persons in NSW that are unrelated to the imperial 'convict system': use the theme of Law & Order for such activities (none)-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Utilities-Activities associated with the provision of services, especially on a communal basis (none)-
5. Working-Working Labour-Activities associated with work practises and organised and unorganised labour (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Victoria Pass Causeway derives part of its historic significance from being a key component of Victoria Pass and thus shares the aspects of significance outlined below. Its construction allowed the Pass to take a direct line of descent, ensuring its continuing longevity as the most practical route to central and western NSW from Sydney. As such it is now the oldest of a small number of colonial masonry road works in NSW that are still in use.
More than any other part of the Pass, the Causeway has the ability to tangibly evoke the early era of colonial road building in NSW. This is due to its high degree of integrity (original form and fabric), remaining as originally built (prior to 1838) with almost no later modification. Its setting also remains largely unchanged.
It is tangible evidence of the colonial desire to achieve impressive engineering feats as a demonstration of a progressive and civilised state with a role to play in the British Empire. It, along with parts of the Great North Road and other sections of Blue Mountains roads from this period tangibly demonstrate the work of convict road work gangs, particularly those assigned to difficult and isolated locations.

For these reasons Victoria Pass Causeway has STATE heritage significance under this criterion. This significance is manifested in the Causeway’s form, fabric and setting and is enhanced by its outstanding degree of integrity. It is also manifested in Causeway’s longevity of use and the associated rock engravings and original cuttings adjacent to it.

Victoria Pass
Victoria Pass is the last of five early colonial mountain passes providing a means of descent from the Blue Mountains to the west. As such it is representative of the important achievements in crossing the Mountains and the resulting opening of the western plains to colonial settlement. Its construction demonstrates the need in this early phase of settlement to provide a safer and more direct descent for the increasing traffic of goods and people.

It therefore derives some of its significance as part of the Great Western Road, which was one of three early colonial roads out of Sydney, and the repeated attempts to ease transport through difficult terrain.
It does not have the same association with the feats of early exploration as the first line of road west over the Blue Mountains (Cox’s Road) or the earliest routes north (Great North Road) and south (Main Southern Road). Victoria Pass has however been the main line of descent from the Blue Mountains to the western plains since it opened in 1832, with the exception of a brief period between 1912 and 1920 when it was temporarily superseded by Berghofer’s Pass. It has therefore played a central and vital role in facilitating trade and settlement in central and western NSW for the last 175 years
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The Victoria Pass Causeway is associated with Surveyor-General Thomas Mitchell and his body of work between 1828 and 1836, a period when major and ambitious improvements to NSW’s roads took place. Mitchell is a significant figure in the history of public works in NSW and made a substantial contribution to progress of the colony, particularly by facilitating the development of transport infrastructure necessary for colonial expansion. Victoria Pass more than his other works, demonstrates his ambition and his determination to provide direct and efficient routes of travel.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Although in itself the Victoria Pass Causeway is not an innovative or unusual type of structure, it tangibly and clearly demonstrates the standards and practice of engineering in the colony during the “Great Roads” period of the 1830s. It remains a physical record of the skills of engineers of this period, particularly in challenging conditions.

It is a particularly good example because of its high degree of integrity, having had very few modifications since its construction and remaining in good condition. In this sense it is an exemplar of road engineering of its time. The Causeway is also an outstanding engineering achievement given that it was built by hand 175 years ago, largely by unskilled labour, and to date has been able to bear current, heavy traffic loads without any structural modification.

Victoria Pass Causeway has STATE heritage significance as an exemplar of colonial road engineering. This significance is manifested in the Causeway’s form, fabric, age and setting and is enhanced by its outstanding degree of integrity.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The social significance of the Victoria Pass Causeway have not been formally assessed through discussions with particular communities or cultural groups. It is likely, given the length of time the Pass has been in use that it is held in special esteem by both the local Blue Mountains community and the large community of travellers who have used the Pass to move between Sydney and inland NSW during this time. It certainly appears to have been held in special esteem for its scenic qualities during the nineteenth century and there is no reason to suspect that some of this special regard has not continued to the present day.

The Victoria Pass Causeway has special significance to the Institute of Engineers, which has plaqued it as a National Engineering Landmark. It is also likely to have special significance to the Institute of Surveyors and Local History Societies.

Victoria Pass Causeway in particular retains its striking setting, which has captured the popular imagination of visitors and locals. In particular, the conjunction of spectacular views of valleys and ridges with the great curve of the stone walls inspired many nineteenth and early twentieth century writers, painters, sketchers and photographers who considered the site both sublime in the romantic sense and a subject for reflection on the interaction of man and nature. Although the current road conditions make it difficult to stop and appreciate the scenic qualities of the Causeway and its setting, it still displays the same qualities that appealed to those nineteenth century artists and travellers. Unlike many other parts of the Great Western Highway, the Causeway precinct’s unchanged form and setting also still evoke the colonial landscape seen by early travellers along this route. It also evokes the slower pace of nineteenth century travel.

Victoria Pass Causeway has STATE heritage significance for its aesthetic values. This significance is manifested in the Causeway’s form, fabric and setting and is enhanced by its outstanding degree of integrity.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
Victoria Pass Causeway is unlikely to yield new or substantial information about road construction in the colonial era. Its general method of construction is not unclear or unusual.

Victoria Pass Causeway does however have STATE heritage significance under this criterion as an outstanding reference site for colonial road engineering standards and practices in response to difficult terrain. It contains information about road engineering in the 1830s that is not available from written records. This significance is manifested in the Causeway’s form, fabric and setting and is enhanced by its outstanding degree of integrity.
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
The Victoria Pass Causeway is a rare example of a colonial road engineering work. There are very few works of this kind, magnitude and intactness remaining from this period in NSW. The only comparable example in NSW is the Devines Hill section of the Great North Road, with its buttressed retaining walls. Both Victoria Pass and the Devine’s Hill section of road were constructed between 1829 and 1832, under Mitchell’s stewardship.

The Victoria Pass Causeway seems to be the only causeway of its type and magnitude from the early colonial period in NSW (and possibly Australia), having been built in direct response to the specific site conditions.
Some of the rock engravings at Victoria Pass are also considered rare. Particularly Inscription C and D, which, if they are the unofficial work of a convict road gang, are two of the few inscriptions of this type from this period. The only other known, surviving and in situ examples in NSW are associated with the Great North Road.

Victoria Pass Causeway has STATE heritage significance under this criterion. This significance is manifested in the Causeway’s form, fabric and setting and is enhanced by its outstanding degree of integrity. It is also manifested in the associated rock engravings and original cuttings adjacent to the Causeway.
SHR Criteria g)
[Representativeness]
Victoria Pass Causeway does not have heritage significance under this criterion.
Integrity/Intactness: Exceptional Integrity - the causeway exists as built. Only the balustrade, road surface and armco railings have been added since.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register     

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenAllen Caitlin, NSW Government Architect's Office2007Victoria Pass Conservation Management Plan (DRAFT)
WrittenWendy Thorpe, Archaeologist  

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: State Government
Database number: 4301023


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