Denison Bridge | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Denison Bridge

Item details

Name of item: Denison Bridge
Other name/s: Dennison Bridge
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Transport - Land
Category: Road Bridge
Location: Lat: -33.4173800650 Long: 149.5915206110
Primary address: Macquarie River Great Western Highway, Bathurst, NSW 2795
Local govt. area: Bathurst Regional
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Bathurst
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Macquarie River Great Western HighwayBathurstBathurst Regional  Primary Address
River RoadBathurstBathurst Regional  Alternate Address
Bridge StreetBathurstBathurst Regional  Alternate Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Bathurst Regional CouncilLocal Government 

Statement of significance:

The Denison Bridge, a three-span wrought iron bridge, is an early metal truss bridge built in 1870. Its advanced design was a major engineering achievement at the time and represents the maximum achievable by truss spans. The bridge is associated with three important colonial engineers: William Christopher Bennett (Commissioner and Engineer for Roads), Gustavus Alphonse Morrell (Assistant Engineer and designer) and Peter Nicol Russell (P N Russell & Co). The bridge is a prominent local landmark which has played an important role in the history of Bathurst and the Central West. It was the fifth oldest metal truss bridge in Australia until recently but is still the second oldest in NSW (after Gundagai 1867).
Date significance updated: 11 Sep 03
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Gustavus Alphonse Morrell
Builder/Maker: P. N. Russell & Co
Construction years: 1869-1870
Physical description: This is an early metal truss bridge that carries 6.1 metres of roadway and a footpath. It has nine spans in all, three timber spans of 6.7m then three wrought iron trusses: 34m, 34.5m, 34m and then three again in timber at 6.7m. Total length of the bridge is 474ft (143.5m).

The main spans consist of wrought iron pony trusses of the Pratt type. Support piers consist of timber piles under the approach spans and four pairs of cast iron cylinders 1.83m diameter braced with wrought iron crossed rods. The ten panel Pratt trusses are simply supported and have horizontally positioned I-sections for the upper chords and sloping end diagonals, but flat metal strips for the tension bottom chords and for the tension diagonals. There are metal stringers on metal cross girders, the whole being located at about the mid depth of the main trusses. The piers are twin metal cylinders.

The bridge has four lamp standards, two at each end, and in the centre two signs. On an interpretive sign about the river and people swimming there, and the original makers sign stating : 'DENISON BRIDGE P. N.RUSSELL & Co. BUILDERS - SYDNEY 1870' . Beside the bridge and supported off it, are service pipes.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Fair to good, in need of regular maintenance.
Date condition updated:23 Apr 03
Modifications and dates: 1856: First Denison Bridge (timber, des: William Weaver) opened.

1867: First Denison Bridge washed away in a storm.

1869-70: Second Denison Bridge (des. G.A. Morrell) built. This bridge has had periodic maintenance.

1964-65: six piles were driven under the timber approach spans, 23 stringers were replaced, 6 round timber girders renewed, longitudinal sheeting replaced and deck bitumen sealed, timber decking replaced by high tensile bolts in three top chord joints, expansion bearings were repaired and one girder replaced. The deck was emulsion-sprayed and grit-covered.

1975-76: repairs cost $11,377.

1981: A concrete deck was laid.

Early 1990s: closed to vehicular traffic and adapted for use as a footbridge.
Further information: supported as high significance by Bathurst/Evans focus group 27/3/2002
Current use: footbridge, annual festivities
Former use: Main road bridge


Historical notes: Aboriginal people and colonisation.
Aboriginal occupation of the Blue Mountains area dates back at least 12,000 years and appears to have intensified some 3000-4000 years ago. In pre-colonial times the area now known as Bathurst was inhabited by Aboriginal people of the Wiradjuri linguistic group. The clan associated with Bathurst occupied on a seasonal basis most of the Macquarie River area. They moved regularly in small groups but prefered the open land and used the waterways for a variety of food. There are numerous river flats where debris from recurrent camps accumulated over a long period. European settlement in this region after the first documented white expedition west of the Blue Mountains in 1813 was tentative because of apprehensions about resistance from Aboriginal people. There was some contact, witnessed by sporadic hostility and by the quantity of surviving artefacts manufactured by the Aborigines from European glass. By 1840 there was widespread dislocation of Aboriginal culture, aggravated after 1850 by the goldrush to the region (HO and DUAP, 1996, 88).

Prior to European settlement in Australia, the Wiradjuri Aboriginal group lived in the upper Macquarie Valley. Bathurst was proclaimed a town by Lachlan Macquarie on 7 May 1815, named after Lord Bathurst, Principal Secretary of State for the Colonies (Barker 1992:25). Bathurst is Australia's oldest inland township. It was proclaimed a town in 1815 with the discovery of gold.

Governor Macquarie chose the site of the future town of Bathurst on 7 May 1815 during his tour over the Blue Mountains, on the road already completed by convict labour supervised by William Cox. Macquarie marked out the boundaries near the depot established by surveyor George Evans and reserved a site for a government house and domain. Reluctant to open the rich Bathurst Plains to a large settlement, Macquarie authorised few grants there initially, one of the first being 1000 acres to William Lawson, one of the three European explorers who crossed the mountains in 1813. The road-maker William Cox was another early grantee but later had to move his establishment to Kelso on the non-government side of the Macquarie River (GAO, 2005, 8).

A modest release of land in February 1818 occurred when ten men were chosen to take up 50 acre farms and 2 acre town allotments across the river from the government buildings. When corruption by government supervisor Richard Lewis and acting Commandant William Cox caused their dismissal, they were replaced by Lieutenant William Lawson who became Commandant of the settlement in 1818 (ibid, 8).

Macquarie continued to restrict Bathurst settlement and reserved all land on the south side of the Macquarie River for government buildings and stock, a situation that prevailed until 1826. In December 1819 Bathurst had a population of only 120 people in 30 houses, two thirds being in the township of Kelso on the eastern side of the river and the remainder scattered on rural landholdings nearby. The official report in 1820 numbered Bathurst settlers at 114, including only 14 women and 15 children. The government buildings comprised a brick house for the commandant, brick barracks for the military detachment and houses for the stock keeper, and log houses for the 50 convicts who worked the government farm. Never successful, the government farm was closed by Governor Darling in 1828 (ibid, 8).

Governor Darling, arriving in Sydney in 1825, promptly commenced a review of colonial administration and subsequently introduced vigorous reforms. On advice from Viscount Goderich, Darling divided colonial expenditure into two parts: one to cover civil administration, funded by New South Wales; the other for the convict system, funded by Britain (ibid, 10).

By this time, J.McBrien and Robert Hoddle had surveyed the existing grants in the vicinity. Surveyor James Bym Richards began work on the south side of the river in 1826. But the town was apparently designed by Thomas Mitchell in 1830 and did not open until late 1833 after Richards had completed the layout of the streets with their two-road allotments. The first sales were held in 1831 before the survey was complete (ibid, 10).

In 1832 the new Governor, Major General Sir Richard Bourke, visited Bathurst in October. He instructed the Surveyor General Major Thomas L. Mitchell to make arrangements for 'opening the town of Bathurst without delay' and he in turn instructed the Assistant Surveyor at Bathurst J.B. Richards to lay out the blocks and streets. This was done in September 1833. It is believed that Major Mitchell named the streets, with George Street being named after King George III.

Bridging the Macquarie River:
Despite the growing importance of Bathurst as the principal urban centre over the Blue Mountains, the Macquarie River, which flows past the town on the Sydney side, was not bridged until 1856.

After years of local agitation, a long timber bridge with five laminated timber arches was started in 1855 and was opened on 1 January 1856 by the Governor, Sir William Denison. A bullock was roasted on a spit and 3000 people celebrated the new bridge, named after the Governor.

This was the last 'official' bridge designed by the Colonial Architect's Department under its brief direction by architect and engineer, William Weaver (1828-68). It was supervised by his Clerk of Works, WIlliam Downey, during 1855 (Maguire, 1984, 46).

Eleven days later another bridge over the Macquarie River a kilometre downstream was opened by a local entrepreneur, George Ranken (frequently quoted as Rankin): this bridge was known as the Eglinton Bridge or Rankin's Bridge.

The Denison Bridge was washed away by the great flood of 1867 and its debris also destroyed Rankin's Bridge, so after eleven years of having two bridges, Bathurst again found itslelf with only a ford or a ferry to cross the Macquarie. A narrow temporary wooden bridge was put across near the remains of the Denison Bridge later in 1867, but this was closed for safety reasons in June 1868. The government recognised that a permanent replacement was urgently needed. A new site was chosen 100 metres downstream from the first Denison Bridge and a realignment was made to the road approaches.

The new Denison Bridge was designed by Gustavus Alphonse Morrell, Assistant Engineer to the Department of Roads and foundation member of the Engineering Association of NSW. The bridge contract drawings bear Morrell's signature and that of William Christopher Bennett, Commissioner for Roads.

The bridge was constructed in 1869 to 1870 by the prominent engineering firm, P. N. Russell & Co at a cost of 18,818 pounds through the NSW Public Works Department. Most of the angle irons and bars were specially rolled for the job at P. N. Russell & Co's Pyrmont Rolling Mills and at Bathurst's two iron foundries of that time, including the nearby Denison Foundry. Only heavy iron plates and bars were imported.

Like the first bridge, the new one was opened by the Governor of the time, who was now the Earl of Belmore. Denison had left the colony in 1861 for Madras and then to retirement in England, where he died in 1871. But the new bridge, opened in June 1870, was the replacement of the Denison Bridge of 1856 and the name of Denison was retained.

Although incorporated in the original design, footways were never built as part of the bridge. A steel footbridge was erected in 1950, on the upstream side, by the Department of Main Roads.

In use for over 120 years as a road bridge, its service life was interrupted only for a 9-day repair period in the 1960s. It was superseded by a prestressed concrete bridge upstream and closed to vehicular traffic in the early 1990s and adapted for use as a footbridge.

The supervisor of the original bridge design was engineer, William Christopher Bennett. Bennett came from Ireland where he worked on railway and drainage works, and in South America on canal works. Arriving in Sydney in 1855 he met Sir Thomas Mitchell, Colonial Surveyor, and joined the Department. He worked on sewerage and railway works before being appointed Assistant Engineer of Main Roads.

On 1 January 1859 Bennett became Engineer to the Department of Roads which he helped to form and eventually was appointed Commissioner for Roads on 1st November 1862. In his term of office, roads were extended nearly 6,000 miles (9,600km) 2,000 miles (3,200 km) surfaced, with a total length of bridges of 40 miles (64 km). Bennett's signature appears on the Denison bridge contract drawings as commissioner, dated 20th August, 1868. A steel footbridge was erected in 1950 on the upstream side by the Department of Main Roads.

The bridge designer, Gustavus Alphonse Morrell, arrived in Australia in 1863 and initially worked on defence installations. He was appointed Assistant Engineer on 13 June 1867. After establishing his own business he presided over a Royal Commission into the condition of railway bridges in the colony. He was also a foundation member of the Engineering Association of New South Wales formed on 24 September 1870. Morrell, as Assistant Engineer, also signed the Denison bridge drawings.

The Russell brothers and P. N. Russell and Co: The Russell brothers arrived with their father in 1838 and established a foundry and engineering works on the banks of the tank stream. In 1842 Peter started his own business, the Sydney Foundry and Engineering Works. In 1855 P. N. Russell & Co was formed comprising Peter Russell who served in London as the overseas representative, and John and George Russell and J. W. Dunlop (the works foreman) . The firm flourished, establishing workshops on a large waterfront area at Darling Harbour and by the 1870s employing 850 men. During this period, the firm completed the contracts for the Denison Bridge in 1870 and the Hume Bridge at Yass in 1871. However, industrial trouble beginning in 1873 saw the closure of the company in 1874.

In 1896 P. N. Russell endowed the School of Engineering at Sydney University with $100,000, followed by a second bequest of $100,000 in 1904. John Russell was also a foundation member of the Engineering Association of New South Wales.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Technology-Activities and processes associated with the knowledge or use of mechanical arts and applied sciences Technologies of bridge building-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Transport-Activities associated with the moving of people and goods from one place to another, and systems for the provision of such movements Engineering the public road system-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Transport-Activities associated with the moving of people and goods from one place to another, and systems for the provision of such movements (none)-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Technological innovation and design solutions-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Denison Bridge is of state significance as the fifth oldest metal truss bridge in Australia until recently and the second oldest in NSW (after Gundagai 1867). Further, the bridge is a significant technical accomplishment in the management of compressive and tension forces in metal truss members. Its design and innovative solution to the pressures of compression and tension is of historical significance in demonstrating the development of engineering and truss bridge technology.

Completed in 1870, it replaces an earlier bridge that was opened in 1856 and destroyed in 1867. The present bridge is a metal truss bridge and is currently the fourth oldest existing Australian metal trusses, following Hawthorn (1861), Gundagai Road Bridge (1867) and Redesdale (1868).

It is the oldest Pratt type truss bridge in NSW and the oldest of four colonial bridges in Bathurst. Its fabrication and erection are important as it used substantial amounts of materials and skills already available in the colony with subsequent economic benefits to the government. It is significant for being in almost continual use throughout its 120 year history as a road bridge which contributed significantly to the social stability and growth of Bathurst, making possible the continuous flow of people and goods between Sydney and the western districts of New South Wales.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The Denison Bridge is of state significance for its associations with three important colonial engineers: the government engineers W. C. Bennett and G. A Morell; and P N Russell, who formed P. N. Russell and Co and was a major benefactor of the University of Sydney.

The Denison Bridge is also significant for its association, through its name, with Sir William Denison, Governor of New South Wales 1855-1861.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Denison Bridge is of state significance for its technical sophistication and innovation. The structure incorporates an innovative and practical solution to the problem of lateral buckling of the compression top chords of each truss, which was years ahead of the theoretical solution and is of historical significance in demonstrating the development of engineering and truss bridge technology. This solution allowed the length of the bridge to approach the structural limit of truss bridge technology. The clean, open arrangement of members and joints made for easy maintenance which contributed greatly to its long service life.

Spanning the Macquarie River and Morse and Berry Parks, the Denison Bridge is locally significant as a prominent engineering landmark and enjoys a picturesque setting.
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The Denison Bridge has local significance as a engineering landmark. This significance is demonstrated by its inclusion in the Bathurst Heritage Study, the Register of the National Trust, an Historic Engineering Marker plaque from Engineers Australia (formerly IE Aust) in 1994 and the Register of the National Estate.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The Denison Bridge is of state significance as an engineering achievement. Through the distribution of its ironwork the fabric displays the types of forces, compression and tension generated in the members of trusses.

It is unlikely to display any archaeological significance in relation to previous occupation due to the riverine environment and unlikely to display any archaeological potential in relation to the earlier bridge.
SHR Criteria f)
The Denison Bridge is rare. It is of state significance as the fifth oldest early metal truss bridge in colonial Australia, and second oldest in NSW after Gundagai (built 1867).
SHR Criteria g)
The Denison Bridge is one of a number of early metal truss bridges in colonial Australia and is representative of its type. It is, however, the second oldest in New South Wales (after Gundagai) and is technologically innovative. This bridge was the first American type Pratt truss in NSW.
Integrity/Intactness: Fair - Good
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.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0166501 Aug 03 1217597
Heritage study A 261 L   
National Trust of Australia register  87018 May 87   

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Tourism 2007Denison Bridge View detail
TourismAttraction Homepage2007Denison Bridge View detail
WrittenBarbara Hickson2002Denison Bridge SHI form and ICMS Strategy
WrittenBathurst City Council1989Heritage Trail
TourismBathurst Regional Council2006Denison Bridge Visitor Information View detail
WrittenDamaris Bairstow1989Bathurst Archaeological Inventory
Writtenentry on Bennett, William C1972Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol III
Writtenentry on Morrell, Gustavus A1988Proc. Engineering Association of NSW, Vol IV
Writtenentry on Russell, Peter Nicol1972Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol III
WrittenGovernment Architect's Office2005Bathurst Hospital Conservation Management Plan
WrittenIII. Sydney News, 10 October, p.2091872New iron bridge over Macquarie River
WrittenInst, Engrs, Australia, Syd. Div.1994Nomination Report for plaquing Denison Bridge
WrittenIrwin Johnston & Partners1994Conservation Guidelines for Denison Bridge
WrittenJacinta Carroll2003Lamps set for heritage listing (West. Advocate 29/3/03)
WrittenMaguire, Roslyn1984'Introducting Mr William Weaver, architect and engineer'
WrittenSydney Mail, June 18, p.101870Denison Bridge Completion
WrittenTheo Barker1992A History of Bathurst, Vol 1

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: Heritage Office
Database number: 5051846

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