Early map of Brisbane Town by Henry Wade (1843-01-01/1843-12-31) by Surveyor-General's Office, New South WalesQueensland State Archives
Following the opening of the region to free settlers in the 1840s, Brisbane town was dependent on ferries to transport goods and passengers between its central business district north of the river, and the emerging areas of South Brisbane and Kangaroo Point.
Joining the two sides of Brisbane
In 1861, the council and the legislative assembly agreed to build a bridge. The council borrowed £70,000 from the Bank of Queensland to commence the project. The Corporation of Brisbane held a competition for the bridge’s design, which was won by Messrs Robinson and l’Anson.
Building of the first permanent Victoria Bridge connecting the city to South Brisbane, Queensland (1861-01-01/1865-12-31) by Premier and Chief Secretary's DepartmentQueensland State Archives
Despite the intention of Robinson and l’Anson to build an iron bridge, funding issues forced the Corporation of Brisbane to use wooden piers instead of steel for the substructure.
Construction on the provisional timber bridge across the river began in 1864. Sir George Bowen, Queensland’s first Governor, laid the bridge’s foundation stone on 22 August that year and construction was completed only 10 months later, in 1865.
The first permanent Victoria bridge built over the Brisbane river, Queensland (1865-01-01/1865-12-31) by Agriculture and Stock Department, Chief Office (Publicity)Queensland State Archives
But the decision to use wooden piers instead of steel proved disastrous. Extensive damage from Teredo marine woodworms and an extremely high tide in November 1867 caused the centre of the bridge to collapse.
Six months later, another portion of the bridge collapsed and finally in 1869 the rest of the rotted structure broke apart and was lost in a flood.
The first Victoria Bridge built with cast iron cyclinders (1874-01-01/1893-12-31) by Chief Secretary's DepartmentQueensland State Archives
A permanent wooden bridge on cast-iron cylinders was built and opened in 1874 and named after Queen Victoria. This bridge had new features of lacework parapets and footpaths for pedestrians. It operated as a toll bridge for its first three years.
A horse drawn tram at the end of the Victoria bridge with crowds watching the flooded Brisbane river (1890-01-01/1893-12-31) by Premier and Chief Secretary's DepartmentQueensland State Archives
This bridge lasted nearly two decades, until 6 February 1893 when a record 900-millimetre rainfall burst the river’s banks and flooded Brisbane. The north end of Victoria Bridge was severed by the river's current and washed away.
The southern suburbs of Highgate Hill and Coorparoo were left without a direct link to Brisbane's business district. The transport and trade routes that had just begun to prosper were ruined.
The Victoria Bridge from the Treasury Building looking towards Mt Coot-tha, Brisbane (1897-01-01/1897-12-31) by Lands Department, Survey of Lands Branch, Photographic BranchQueensland State Archives
In 1896, construction began on another Victoria Bridge, which was opened on 22 June 1897 by Governor Lord Charles Lamington.
Victoria Bridge bustling with trams, cars and bikes Brisbane, Queensland (1940-01-01/1940-12-31) by Main Roads CommissionQueensland State Archives
Designed by Alfred Barton Brady, this version of the bridge was built from steel and wrought iron, with stone abutments designed to withstand Brisbane’s extreme weather events.
The Victoria Bridge, Brisbane, illuminated at night during the Royal Visit (1954-01-01/1954-12-31) by Lands Department, Survey Office, Cartographic Branch, Photographic SectionQueensland State Archives
This two-lane traffic bridge, with footpaths on either side, became a Brisbane icon throughout its 72-year lifespan.
View of the dismantling of the Victoria bridge from the Treasury building, Brisbane, Queensland (1969-01-01/1969-12-31) by Lands Department, Survey Office, Cartographic Branch, Photographic SectionQueensland State Archives
Growing traffic demands between the CBD and South Brisbane meant that a wider bridge was necessary. The current $3.2 million Victoria Bridge was built in 1969.
The dismantling of the Victoria bridge with the new bridge sitting along side, Brisbane, Queensland (1969-01-01/1969-12-31) by Lands Department, Survey Office, Cartographic Branch, Photographic SectionQueensland State Archives
However, if you visit the site in South Brisbane today, you can still see one of the stone sections of the southern abutment from the 1897 bridge.
The past remembered
This piece bears a section of the original tram track and serves as a memorial to Hector Vasyli, an 11-year-old boy killed on the bridge while welcoming home returned soldiers in 1918. This remnant preserves the memory of the former bridge for many generations to come.