Shaky Bridge

Kerry Street; Graveyard Gully Road, Alexandra

  • Shaky Bridge. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Shellie Evans – flyingkiwigirl. Taken By: Shellie Evans – flyingkiwigirl. Date: 24/07/2015.
  • Shaky Bridge. August 1993. Image included in Field Record Form Collection.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand . Taken By: Lois Galer.
  • Shaky Bridge. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Taken By: PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite. Date: 20/02/2013.
  • Shaky Bridge. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Shellie Evans – flyingkiwigirl. Taken By: Shellie Evans – flyingkiwigirl. Date: 24/07/2015.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 2082 Date Entered 27th June 2008

Locationopen/close

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Legal Road, Otago Land District and the structure known as the Shaky Bridge (including approaches) thereon, and its fittings and fixtures. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 for further information).

City/District Council

Central Otago District

Region

Otago Region

Legal description

Legal Road

Location description

The Shaky Bridge crosses the Manuherikia River at Alexandra between Kerry Street and Graveyard Gully Road.

Summaryopen/close

Shaky Bridge, completed in 1879, is set in the dramatic rocky landscape to the east of the Central Otago town of Alexandra and stands as a memorial to the pioneers of the gold mining district.

Shaky Bridge was built to provide a link between the growing town and the hinterland to the east of the Manuherikia and Clutha Rivers. Negotiating river crossings was an important concern for both travellers and townspeople. Locals lobbied for a bridge over the Manuherikia and in June 1877 Vincent County Engineer Leslie Duncan Macgeorge surveyed the proposed site and drew up plans for a 'horse bridge'. Locals called for a traffic bridge and in early 1878 tenders were opened. Local contractors Grant and McKellar's tender of £974 10s was accepted. The bridge is recorded as being completed without approaches towards the end of April 1879. In May 1880 the Tuapeka Times reported that the 'bridge over the Manuherikia river is all but completed, and is a handsome structure' and looked forward to a grand opening. For twenty years the suspension bridge was the sole town crossing of the Manuherikia River. The construction of a road rail bridge in 1906 made the existing structure redundant. In 1906 the bridge was sold to local settlers at a nominal sum.

The structure fell into disrepair, earning the name 'Shaky Bridge'. When it seemed likely that Shaky Bridge would either fall down or be demolished, the local community formed the Pioneer Bridge Committee to preserve the bridge as a monument to the early pioneers. In 1952 a plaque describing the bridge as a memorial to the pioneers of the region was fixed to one of the towers. In 2008 Shaky Bridge provides pedestrian access from the residential area of Alexandra to the sparsely inhabited areas on the east of the river.

Shaky Bridge is a single span suspension bridge reaching across the Manuherikia River. A set of stone towers stand on either side of the bridge, with the suspension wires arching between them. The approaches to the bridge are built up in stacked stone. The deck of the bridge has been altered from a traffic bridge to a footbridge. The pedestrian-width deck has wooden rails and chain link fencing for its length. Shaky Bridge's towers are built of local schist, and sit amidst the barren rocky landscape characteristic of the Alexandra area.

Shaky Bridge has Shaky Bridge has aesthetic, historic and technological significance. The modest suspension bridge is set amidst the dramatic landscape of Alexandra. Historically the development of roads and bridges in New Zealand is a major strand of history. Bridges were a vital link to the wider world, particularly when the Alexandra's history is so bound with the powerful rivers running in the gorge below the town. As a suspension bridge, Shaky Bridge illustrates the nineteenth century technologies typical of the period.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Shaky Bridge has historical significance. The development of infrastructure such as roads and bridges in New Zealand is a major strand of history on a both a local and national level. For communities such as Alexandra such bridges were a vital link to the wider world, particularly when the town's history is so bound with the powerful rivers running in the Gorge below the town. Shaky Bridge was part of the first wave of bridge building in that area of Otago and is a reminder of the work of Vincent County Engineer Leslie Duncan Macgeorge who was responsible for a number of bridge designs in Central Otago in the 1870s. The subsequent conversion to a footbridge also illustrates the second wave of history of such structures, when they were either adapted for a modern use, or became obsolete.

AESTHETIC SIGNIFICANCE OR VALUE:

Shaky Bridge has aesthetic significance. As a small scale bridge set amidst the dramatic landscape of Alexandra the bridge makes a significant aesthetic contribution to Alexandra's townscape.

TECHNOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OR VALUE:

Shaky Bridge has technological significance. It illustrates the nineteenth century technologies in its suspension structure designed by Leslie Duncan Macgeorge. The stone towers and approaches are typical of the technology dating from that period, and are also represented in nearby structures, including the Category I piers and towers at Alexandra, and the Category I Daniel O'Connell bridge at Ophir.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

The history of Shaky Bridge reflects the development of the physical infrastructure of inland Otago. The bridging of the rivers was a particular issue that many small riverside towns. For Alexandra, bounded on two sides by the Clutha and the Manuherikia Rivers it was a particularly significant issue. The bridge illustrates the importance of the county engineer's role in facilitating communications through the bridge-building programme. Shaky Bridge also illustrates the effect of the development of the wider rail transport network which made some routes and structures redundant.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

Shaky Bridge is associated with Vincent County Engineer Leslie Duncan Macgeorge. Macgeorge is representative of the nineteenth century surveyor come engineer who was a pivotal figure in the development of the provinces. His work is significant in Central Otago.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:

Shaky Bridge is valued by the Alexandra community: When Shaky Bridge was threatened with demolition the local people banded together to form the Pioneer Bridge Committee which raised funds for the retention and restoration of the bridge. Today it is promoted as a tourist attraction.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

Shaky Bridge shows technical accomplishment in its original design.

The Bridge is a significant surviving example of a nineteenth century suspension bridge.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place:

Shaky Bridge was retained and restored as a memorial to the pioneer settlers of Central Otago. A plaque describing the bridge as a memorial to these pioneers has been fixed to one of the towers.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:

Shaky Bridge forms part of the cultural and historic landscape of Alexandra and Central Otago. Other historic bridges in the area designed by MacGeorge such as the Daniel O'Connell suspension bridge at Ophir, the Earnscleugh Bridge at Clyde, and the former suspension bridge at Alexandra, of which only the piers and towers remain, are built with similar schist piers and towers.

SUMMARY OF SIGNIFICANCE OR VALUES:

This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, e, g, h, and k.

CONCLUSION:

It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.

Linksopen/close

Construction Professionalsopen/close

Grant & McKellar

William Grant (d.1884) and Duncan MacKellar (d.1890) were building contractors working in Cromwell in the 1870s and 1880s. The two men were previously timber merchants together in the 1860s.

Duncan MacKellar (variant spelling McKellar) followed gold to Cromwell in 1862. He followed various occupations including dredging, timber rafting, carpentry, bridge building, and journalism and was head master of Cromwell School. He also represented the Kawarau electorate in the Provincial Council, and was at one time Secretary for Goldfields.

William Grant was active as a builder in Cromwell in the 1860s, winning the contract for the Bank of New South Wales there in 1867. Grant died at age 49 in January 1884.

Source: Registration Report for St John's Presbyterian Church (Former), Register No. 2131, Dec 2012.

Macgeorge, Leslie Duncan

Leslie Duncan Macgeorge (1854-1939) was born in Adelaide and trained as a surveyor. He came to New Zealand in the 1870s. In 1876 he transferred to Central Otago. He held the position of County Engineer until 1902, after which he entered private practice in Dunedin and Timaru. He retired to Melbourne, and died there in 1939.

Source: Registration Review Report for Alexandra Bridge (Former), Alexandra, Sept 2013.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Shaky Bridge crosses the Manuherikia River at Alexandra. It was completed in 1879 and provided a link between the growing town and the hinterland to the east of the Manuherikia and Clutha Rivers.

Alexandra is located at the confluence of the Clutha and Manuherikia Rivers. From the early 1860s the town was the centre of gold mining which continued with the dredging boom into the twentieth century. In February 1866 the town and adjacent lands were withdrawn from the goldfields (meaning that they were no longer covered by the special laws and regulations of a goldfield) and in 1867 the town was proclaimed a municipality. Alexandra was the commercial centre for some of Central Otago's large pastoral runs, such as Moutere and Galloway stations.

As Alexandra sits alongside two rivers, negotiating river crossings was an important concern for both travellers and townspeople. The first river crossings were made on foot or by horse, but people felt they were risking their lives, and establishing safe crossing was an early local concern. A crossing at the Manuherikia was proclaimed a punt site in May 1863. There was much local outrage because the tender for all the nine sites in Otago was granted to Henry Hill, giving him a virtual monopoly and putting other ferrymen out of business. Locals continued to use other ferrymen even though they were forbidden to cross within three miles of a proclaimed punt site.

Lobbying for a bridge over the Manuherikia at Alexandra began in the mid 1870s. In November 1876 the Tuapeka Times reported that a meeting had been held 'some time ago' to canvas support for a bridge. The Manuherikia River in flood cut all communication to the east of both the Manuherikia and the Clutha Rivers. Locals argued that a new bridge would provide a connection with the downstream settlements at Teviot over the Knobby Range. The cost of the proposed bridge was 'trifling' as the river was in a narrow gorge and would only require a small span. A committee was formed to gather information about potential costs, and to petition the Government, although they recognised that it was the County Council which would construct the bridge.

The Vincent County Engineer Leslie Duncan Macgeorge (variously spelt McGeorge, 1854-1939) drew up plans for the 'horse bridge' and surveyed the proposed site in June 1877. Geoffrey Thornton points out that the schist masonry towers of the Shaky Bridge were once a vernacular feature of Central Otago. The engineer, Macgeorge, Vincent County engineer at the time, was well known for his design of such suspension bridges. Similar schist piers also designed by Macgeorge are still in use on the Earnscleugh Bridge at Clyde (built 1874, Category II historic place, no. 2370). The small, elegant Daniel O'Connell Bridge at Ophir was also designed by MacGeorge (built 1880, Category I historic place, no. 338). Perhaps the most spectacular of Macgeorge's designs was the old Alexandra Bridge over the Clutha, also a suspension bridge (built 1882, Category I historic place no. 349).

By late 1877 members of the Alexandra community began to lobby for a 'traffic bridge'. Another committee was formed to investigate further, and a contractor (said at this time to be a Mr J. Drummy) provided an estimate of an extra £300 on top of the original tender price. In September 1877 supporters of the traffic bridge met to gauge public interest and in the following month a deputation went to the Council with the message that £135 had been subscribed with the view of getting a traffic bridge, and calling on the Council to meet that amount. James Colman, secretary of the Manuherikia Bridge Committee, wrote to the Vincent County Council in 1877 urging that a pack horse bridge be constructed over the Manuherikia at Alexandra. The Council agreed, and the Alexandra Borough Council promised a contribution of two thirds of the cost, provided this was not above £250.

The call for a bridge was not without controversy. In a letter to the Tuapeka Times a local queried the Council about the proposed bridge saying that the County Engineer had advised the Council that 'it was of no use erecting this bridge as it would not carry its own weight.' The writer considered the Council's acceptance of the tender of under £1000 was unreasonable, and reported that at the next Council meeting, a request was made for two extra wire ropes to strengthen the structure, but the engineer could not guarantee the structure even with the extra ropes, and the request was declined.

The tenders for a traffic bridge over the Manuherikia River were opened around January 1878. The amount of the tender was so much in excess of the sum voted that the Council postponed any decision, and it looked as though the locals would have to be content with a pack horse bridge as first proposed.

Grant and McKellar's tender of £974 10s for the traffic bridge was accepted, and the Council agreed to contribute £250. Concerts were held to raise money towards the council contribution. Construction was begun in June 1878 but there were delays. The Tuapeka Times hoped that by spring 'persons will be able to cross the river without risking their lives' and described several near fatal attempts to cross the river. The locals despaired, the paper reporting that having seen the contractors with materials on site, 'faint hopes are beginning to be felt that the present generation may yet see that structure completed.' In April 1879 the bridge was still under construction. The bridge was described as a 'light airy structure' which was a 'credit to the Engineer'. The transport infrastructure was becoming established, with several bridges over the Manuherikia, one under construction over the Clutha at Alexandra and the potential for a completed network when the Strath Taieri Railway made its way to Alexandra.

The bridge over the Manuherikia River at Alexandra is recorded as being completed without approaches in the Dunstan Times towards the end of April 1879. The approaches were not completed though, so the bridge was not open for traffic. The approach to the bridge on the south end was still around eight feet from the ground. In June 1879 the Council agreed to spend £150 on the approaches to the bridge and that the work be tendered for. In May 1880 the Tuapeka Times reported that the 'bridge over the Manuherikia river is all but completed, and is a handsome structure.' The paper also reported that an opening ceremony would be held funded by public subscription, and was likely to be a grand affair.

By the early 1900s the railway had almost reached Alexandra and the issuing of tenders for the construction of a joint road rail bridge over the Manuherikia River was imminent, and the bridge was completed by the end of 1906. The road rail bridge was located about 500m upriver from the old traffic bridge. This effectively made the structure redundant. The bridge was sold to Cameron and Moorhouse, local settlers across the river, for the nominal sum of £1.

Over time, the bridge fell into disrepair, earning the name 'Shaky Bridge'. When it seemed likely that Shaky Bridge (or Shakey Bridge as it was also written) would either fall down or be demolished, the local community formed the Pioneer Bridge Committee to preserve the stone piers as a monument to the early pioneers, and convert the bridge for use as a foot bridge. Local historian C.W. Moore states that £440 was raised by public subscription, with the Vincent County Council and Alexandra Borough Council each contributing £230, making the reconstruction of the bridge more expensive than its original costs. On completion of the restoration project in 1952 a plaque describing the bridge as a memorial to the pioneers of the region was fixed to one of the towers. Shaky Bridge has at several times over the intervening years almost been submerged in the flooding of the Manuherikia. Local sources indicate this level of flooding in both 1995 and 1999.

In 2001 a cottage on the true left of the Manuherikia River was converted into a café, named after the bridge which provides the link with Alexandra. In 2008 Shakey Bridge continues to provide pedestrian access over the Manuherikia River and is promoted as an attraction to tourists visiting the region.

Physical Description

Shaky Bridge is located on the eastern edge of the Central Otago town of Alexandra, and crosses the Manuherikia River. Shaky Bridge sits amidst the rocky outcrops and dramatic landscape characteristic of this part of Central Otago. It provides pedestrian access from the residential area of Alexandra to the sparsely inhabited areas on the east of the river.

Shaky Bridge is a suspension bridge with a single span reaching across the Manuherikia River. There are a set of stone towers on either side of the bridge, with the suspension wires arching between them. The approaches to the bridge are built up in stacked stone.

The deck of the bridge has been altered from an early traffic bridge to a footbridge. The pedestrian-width deck has wooden rails and chain link fencing for its length.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1878 -
Construction of bridge begun

Original Construction
1879 - 1880
Completion of bridge

Modification
1952 -
Bridge restored and converted to a footbridge

Construction Details

Suspension bridge with stone towers and eucalyptus decking.

Completion Date

7th May 2008

Report Written By

Angela Middleton/Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

Gilkison, 1978

R. Gilkison, Early Days in Central Otago Whitcoulls, Christchurch, 1978

Moore, 1953

C Moore, 'The Dunstan A History of the Alexandra-Clyde Districts', Otago Centennial Historical Publications, Dunedin, 1953

Thornton, 2001

Geoffrey Thornton, Bridging the Gap, Early Bridges in New Zealand 1830-1939, Auckland, 2001

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Otago/Southland Area Office

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.