Historic Place Category 2
There is no legal description or Certificate of Title for the Avon River and its banks.
Extent of Registration
Registration includes the bridge and land the bridge sits on.
The original Canterbury Association survey of Christchurch in 1850 provided the nascent town with a regular grid pattern of streets, bisected only by the Avon River and diagonals providing access to the port of Lyttelton and the northern hinterland respectively. The route north, known initially as Whately Road and later as Papanui Road, grew rapidly in importance. In particular it provided a link between the commercial and administrative centre of the young city in and around Market Square, and the burgeoning settlements of Papanui (with its bush), and further afield, Kaiapoi.
An immediate impediment to this vital line of communication was the River Avon, bordering the northern and western edges of Market Square. In 1852 a wooden one-way cart bridge was erected, and became known as the Papanui Bridge. This was reconstructed and widened to 16 ft in 1855-6.
In September 1863 the Provincial Council declared the 1855 bridge unsafe and had it closed - much to the inconvenience of travellers. Sir Charles Fox (in London) was contracted by the Council to prepare a design and specifications, and call for tenders for a permanent replacement. The successful tenderers were iron founders Head Ashby of Stockton. Sir Charles advised a total cost for the ironwork of £605. When ready for shipping, the ironwork was found to be unsatisfactory, and had to be recast. Meanwhile the Provincial Council called for tenders for the erection of the bridge to the design of James Wylde (Assistant Provincial Engineer 1862-4), including stone abutments and inclusive of the cost of the ironwork. The successful tenderer (at £2, 375) was engineer E. G. Wright. Wright began work in January 1864, although the ironwork did not arrive at Lyttelton until July. Then three of the girders were found to have been damaged during the voyage, which necessitated repairs at the foundry of John Anderson. The 27 ft. 6 in. wide bridge finally opened on 26 September 1864, reputedly the first cast iron bridge in New Zealand.
In 1875, the bridge was widened by engineer Samuel A'Court with the addition of wing piers and a wooden outrigger footpath. Trams began running across the bridge in June 1880, and did so until September 1954. Perhaps as a consequence of the unintended weight, the city surveyor reported in 1882 that two of the iron girders were fractured. Repairs were carried out, again by John Anderson. In 1885 the decision was made to widen the bridge once more, this time to 66 feet. The work was undertaken by Walter Bory Scott at a cost of £1, 918. Scott was also engaged in erecting the Worcester St Bridge at this time. To mark Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897, the section of Papanui Rd from Colombo St to Bealey Av. was renamed Victoria St., Market Square became Victoria Square, and the Papanui Bridge became Victoria Bridge.
A century later, in 1988, the bridge closed to traffic when the section of Victoria St. through Victoria Sq. was closed as part of a redevelopment. The following year a section of deck was lifted to expose the girders. This central void was surrounded with a new cast aluminium balustrade in the same pattern as the original. To commemorate the completion of the Victoria Square redevelopment in 1989, the Victoria Bridge was renamed the Hamish Hay Bridge as a tribute to the former mayor.
John Anderson (1820-1897) was born in Scotland, and arrived in Christchurch aboard the Sir George Seymour in 1850. A foundryman, Anderson set up a successful business which, as Anderson and Sons, survived into the 1980s. In 1868 he was second mayor of Christchurch.
Edward George Wright (1831-1902) was born in Woolwich, Kent, the son of a gunner in the Royal Horse Artillery. Training as an engineer, he was engaged in building gasworks in Rome and at the naval dockyards in Woolwich before emigrating to NZ in 1857. Wright worked for the Wellington Provincial Government and in Napier, but moved to Christchurch in 1862 to become a private engineer and contractor, after being passed over for the position of Hawkes Bay Provincial Engineer. In Canterbury he was responsible for many roads and bridges. Wright was also an active public figure - an MP and member of a number of local bodies and other organisations.
Engineer and blacksmith Samuel A'Court (1842-1913) was born in Somerset, and arrived in Christchurch in 1863. As a contractor, A'Court was involved with several bridges on the Avon.
Builder and contractor Walter Bory Scott (1851-1922) was born in Norwich. Emigrating to the USA in 1871, he moved on to Christchurch after a few years. In 1902 he went to Africa, but returned to the city in 1907 to found a motor company.
Historical significance as an indicator of the importance of the Victoria Square/Market Square area in early Christchurch, and as a symbol of permanency and progress - an expression of the confidence of Christchurch's settlers in the prospects of their young town.
The Hamish Hay/Victoria Bridge has technological significance as the first cast iron bridge in New Zealand; aesthetic significance for the graceful form of the bridge arch and the neo-gothic ornamentation of its balustrading, which add to the attractive riverside environs of the Avon as it winds through the central city; architectural significance for the manner in which it established the pattern for the majority of later central city bridges, and tied the bridges into the neo-gothic idiom characteristic of public architecture in Christchurch.
Summary of Assessed Criteria
(a) reflects the economic and social importance of the establishment of a transport network in the fledgling city;
(b) is associated with a number of early engineers in Christchurch, particularly Anderson, whose company was later of national significance;
(e) is held in high esteem by the public of Christchurch, which saw it become central to the redevelopment of Victoria Square in the 1980s;
(g) is of technical value as the first cast iron bridge in New Zealand;
(h) commemorates the significance of Victoria Square in early Christchurch; and (with plaques) the tramway system in the city and Sir Hamish Hay, mayor 1974-89;
(k) established the style for the six historic neo-gothic bridges in the central city, and more broadly contributed to the neo-gothic tone of central Christchurch.
- Original Construction: 1863 (circa) - 1864 (circa)
- Modification: 1875 (circa)
- Modification: 1885 (circa)
- Modification: 1989 (circa)
Cast iron and stone.
- Dictionary of New Zealand Biography,Lawrence, Morag & Peter Lawrence. 'Wright, Edward George 1831 - 1902', updated 22 June 2007
- John A. Ince, 'An Historic Bridge Lives On' Old Ways in a New Land: The First Australasian Conference on Engineering Heritage Christchurch, 1994.,pp 45-49.
- John A. Ince, A City of Bridges. A History of Bridges over the Avon and Heathcote Rivers in Christchurch, Christchurch, 1998,pp 59-67.
- New Zealand Historic Places Trust,NZHPT Field Record Form
- P Wilson, Let's Cross that Bridge: Christchurch Heritage Week Walks 1999.
A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Southern Region Office.
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