Historic Place Category 1
The Edith Cavell Bridge is located on the road which runs between Queenstown and Arrowtown.
Bridge adjoining Crown Land being the banks of the Shotover River.
The Edith Cavell Bridge, across the upper Shotover River, is a fine example of an early reinforced concrete arch bridge. It was designed to replace an earlier wooden trestle bridge (built in 1875), which in turn had replaced a basic wooden bridge (circa. 1862). A bridge over the Shotover River at this point was necessary to allow the goldminers, who flooded the area after gold was first discovered in 1862, to mine both sides of the river and also to provide access into Skippers Canyon. While bridges are always an important part of a transport network, they were particularly so in and around the Queenstown - Central Otago area, given the nature of the local rivers, swift running and freezing cold. The 1875 bridge remained in situ as support for the concrete boxing while the Edith Cavell Bridge was being constructed. The stone abutments at either end were retained from the 1875 wooden bridge.
Construction began on the Edith Cavell Bridge in 1917. By mid-way through 1918 the Public Works Department reported that 'the main-arch ribs have been completed, and the walings, studs and bracing are well in hand' and it was formally opened in February 1919.
The Edith Cavell Bridge is made from two separate concrete parabolic arches and was only the second reinforced concrete arch bridge to be constructed in New Zealand. (The first being Grafton Bridge (1910) in Auckland, also registered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust/Pouhere Taonga.) Although much smaller than the Grafton Bridge, the two share some features. It is thought that the designer of the Edith Cavell Bridge, Frederick William Furkert (1876-1949), was inspired by both Grafton Bridge and his recent travels overseas. Furkert, who, at the time, was the Public Works Department's Inspecting Engineer and went on to become Engineer-in-Chief (and thus permanent head of the department), is described by expert on engineering heritage Geoffrey Thornton as a 'brilliant all-round engineer' and the Edith Cavell Bridge is a significant example of his work. As with the Grafton Bridge the deck of the Edith Cavell Bridge is supported on vertical struts which rise from the arches. The deck is 27.4 metres above the river and is single-lane. The structure of the bridge is unusual in the way in which the vertical struts are tied horizontally (unlike Grafton) and are braced transversely at either end by diagonal members.
It is said that the bridge became known as the Edith Cavell Bridge because of the efforts of a local goldminer, Jack Clark. Clark lived in a sod hut near the bridge and was an admirer of Edith Cavell, the British nurse shot by the Germans in World War I for assisting British soldiers in Belgium. He painted a sign, 'To Cavell Bridge', in red letters on a nearby rock face and asked the local council that the bridge be named after her. When his request was denied he painted the name on the side of the bridge and although the lettering eventually faded, the name 'Edith Cavell' passed into common usage, thus establishing an unofficial World War I memorial.
The Edith Cavell Bridge is technologically significant as the second reinforced concrete two-pin parabolic arch bridge to be built in New Zealand and the first in the South Island. Elegant and light in appearance, it is unusual in design and was conceived by one of the Public Works Department's noted engineers. Its name stands as both a memorial to Edith Cavell, and to the determination of Jack Clark to honour her sacrifice. The bridge is now commonly associated with the district's adventure tourism industry as jetboats, which carry visitors along the Shotover, leave from just upstream of the bridge.
- Original Construction: 1917 (circa) - 1919 (circa)
- Geoffrey Thornton, Cast in Concrete: Concrete Construction in New Zealand 1850-1939, Auckland, 1996
- Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives,1917 D1; 1918 D1; 1919 D1.
- Dictionary of New Zealand Biography,Rob Aspden, 'Furkert, Frederick William 1876-1949', vol. 4 (1921-1940), Auckland, 1998, pp.187-188
- Chris MacLean and Jock Phillips, The Sorrow and the Pride: New Zealand War Memorials, Wellington, 1990
- Geoffrey Thornton, Bridging the Gap, Early Bridges in New Zealand 1830-1939, Auckland, 2001
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