Historical Significance or Value
Roxburgh Bridge Piers and Towers have 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 Roxburgh, such bridges were a vital link to the wider world, particularly when the town's history is so bound with the powerful Clutha River running alongside the town. The 1875 Roxburgh Bridge was part of the first wave of bridge building in that area of Otago. The subsequent construction of the 1887 bridge, only the towers of which remain, continue to illustrate the significance of such structures.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE OR VALUE:
The Roxburgh Bridge Piers (1875) and the Roxburgh Suspension Bridge Towers have archaeological significance. As remnant structures they provide insight into the history and technologies associated with early bridge building in Otago.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:
The history of the Roxburgh Bridge reflects the development of the physical in-frastructure of inland Otago. The bridging of the Clutha River was a particular issue faced by many small towns along the river, such as Cromwell, Clyde, Alexandra, Roxburgh and Balclutha. The power of the river in flood is evidenced by the destruction of the early superstructure of the bridges along the river. The bridges illustrate the importance of the county engineer's role in facilitating communications through the bridge-building programme. The succession of Roxburgh Bridge Piers also illustrates the history of bridge building on the Clutha, and also the changing engineering technologies.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:
The Roxburgh Bridge Pier remnants are associated with the devastating 1878 floods which were responsible for a wave of destruction throughout Central Otago. The remnants of the 1875 bridge which was largely destroyed in the floods provide a poignant reminder of human vulnerability in the face of water and weather, particular in an area such as Central Otago which is noted for extreme conditions.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:
The Roxburgh Bridge Piers and the Towers are held in high esteem by the community. This was demonstrated when the bridge by the retention of the 1887 as a memorial to the earlier history of bridge building at Roxburgh when the new bridge was constructed. Today they remain a valued feature in the landscape.
SUMMARY OF SIGNIFICANCE OR VALUES:
This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, e.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.
The Roxburgh Bridge pier and the Roxburgh Suspension Bridge tower are what survive of the first two bridges constructed to span the powerful Clutha (Molyneux) River at the small Central Otago town of Roxburgh. The first bridge was constructed in 1875 and destroyed by flooding in 1878; the replacement bridge was completed in 1887 and was demolished and replaced with the current bridge in the 1970s.
Means to cross the Clutha River were an early necessity in the settlement of Central Otago, where the powerful river played a significant role in everyday life. Punts and cable chairs were first used for river crossings. At Roxburgh a punt was located close to the centre of town.
As early as 1869 there were calls for a bridge at Roxburgh, but it was not until September 1874 that the Secretary of Works called for tenders for the construction of a 'Timber Bridge over the River Clutha at Roxburgh.' The Bridge was designed by Otago Provincial Engineer David Simpson, and erected by Messrs Hayes and McDonald, at a cost of £5000.
David Simpson (?1841-1888) was born in England and arrived in Otago about 1863. He was appointed District Engineer under the Provincial Government. He resigned that position to take charge of the engineering and survey of the Port Chalmers railway line, and later went into partnership with R. Hay as engineers and surveyors. After the dissolution of the partnership he was appointed by the General Government as engineer in connection with the water supply to the Mount Ida goldfield (where he was responsible for cutting one of the longest races in the country), and was later harbour engineer for the Provincial Government. Following this appointment he shifted to Sydney, where he died suddenly in January 1888.
The first Roxburgh Bridge was a very early New Zealand example of a laminated arch span construction. The total length of the span was 174 ft. (159m) with an 18 ft. (16m) rise from the centre of the crown of the arch. The piers were 40 ft (12m) high, and 27 ft (8m) square at their base. The stone was quarried nearby and run on a tramway to the pier and cemented together. The arch was built of 13 Oregon planks banded with iron straps, while the superstructure was of black pine.
The foundation stone was laid on the 29 January 1875 in the presence of a large gathering of the local community. The stone was laid by Roxburgh Mayor John Beighton. A copy of the last Tuapeka Times and a 'memorandum' identifying the designer and contractors was put in a bottle, and placed in a cavity made for the purpose under the stone. Refreshments and games followed.
The Roxburgh Bridge had a short life of only three years before severe spring flooding swept it away along with others on the Clutha River. At 5pm on the evening of the 29 September 1878 the Roxburgh Bridge gave way to the pressure from the raging Clutha heavy with debris, and 'broke in the centre, going away like a large ship.' Historian Robert Gilkison described the Clutha 'rolling its way to the ocean, its angry surface strewed with dead horses and cattle, houses, bridges, furniture, timber, and farm stacks.' After the lowlands were submerged, the 'great destruction' of the recently completed bridges began. The new suspension bridge at Clyde, well upstream of Roxburgh, at first resisted the torrent, but as the trees and debris accumulated against it the wire ropes gave way and the structure was swept downstream, leaving the stone piers still standing. Again, as Gilkison described it: 'On 29 September, at half-past eleven in the morning, the wreck was seen passing Alexandra, and later on, the remains of the Clyde and Roxburgh bridges, lovingly linked together, passed Balclutha on their way to the sea.' Other bridges at Bannockburn, the Lower Shotover and Rocky Point also succumbed. Part of the wreckage of the Roxburgh Bridge was found at McCunn's Beach on the Clutha and was salvaged by the Tuapeka County Council.
The Provincial Engineer considered the construction of replacement bridges in early 1879, but the Roxburgh Bridge was at first considered a lower priority because it was not on a main route. After he examined the bridge sites at Roxburgh, however, he recommended that the site of the old bridge be adopted, but that the new structure be a suspension bridge with a level ten feet (3m) above that of the old bridge. He estimated the cost of replacement to be £2,700. The Provincial Council agreed, and the Provincial Engineer was instructed to prepare 'detailed plans and specifications for the construction of a traffic bridge across the Clutha at Roxburgh' to be funded through a loan from the Colonial Government.
The Tuapeka County Council called for tenders for the 'Construction of Traffic Suspension Bridge over the Clutha at Roxburgh' in the Tuapeka Times on 24 April 1880. Local politics, however, delayed the decision on rebuilding the bridge. While the Tuapeka County Council received £8,000 to repair the damage done by the floods, there was considerable call on those funds, and there was much debate about prioritising the replacement of the bridges destroyed by the flooding. With both the Beaumont and Roxburgh Bridges destroyed, the decision was a difficult one. The need for Government funding was apparent, and in August 1882 local Member of Parliament Vincent Pyke urged the Government to grant a loan to the Tuapeka County Council to erect the Beaumont, Millers Flat, and Roxburgh bridges. In October 1884 the Minister of Public Works put £3,500 towards the construction of the Roxburgh Bridge.
A Ministerial visit followed. In February 1885 the Minister of Public Works Mr Richardson and his staff visited the area, inspecting the Beaumont Bridge which was being erected, and then onto Roxburgh to carry out an inspection of the flood damage there. The Minister was pleased at the progress to date and indicated that the government would push on with the construction of the Roxburgh Bridge without delay.
On 6 January 1886 the Public Works Department called for tenders for the contract to construct the superstructure of the Roxburgh Bridge, with plans and specifications available from district engineer E.R. Ussher. E.R. Ussher was district engineer from c.1872 until his retirement in 1908.
The new Roxburgh Suspension Bridge, constructed by Mr J. McCormick, at a cost of around £9000, was opened on 1 May 1887 by Tuapeka County Council Mayor Mr C. Cooper, with the ceremony attended by 1000 people. Speeches, refreshments and an evening dance followed. The Roxburgh Suspension Bridge was described as a 'fine structure, stretching across the river in a single span of 270 feet [82m].' The Roxburgh Suspension Bridge was supported by 28 cables, to which the superstructure was attached.
By 1901 there were concerns about the condition of the Roxburgh Suspension Bridge. The Tuapeka County Council were criticised for their lack of maintenance. The camber of the bridge was out of alignment as the ropes were bearing the weight of the structure unevenly. A local contractor considered that this deflection problem could only be solved by investigating all the rope anchorages, truss rods and hanging rods.
Despite these concerns, the bridge remained in use until March 1974, when a replacement steel arch bridge was built alongside it. The towers on the Roxburgh side of the river (true right bank) were left standing as a monument to early bridge building efforts, and a plaque commemorating the two previous structures was fixed to the piers. In the late 1970s one of the now redundant cable housing structures was demolished to make way for a new residence.
In 2008 the remaining pier of the 1875 Roxburgh Bridge and the tower of the Roxburgh Suspension Bridge stand as memorials to early endeavours to overcome the natural barrier the mighty Clutha River posed. The crumbled pier and the tower of the replacement Roxburgh Suspension Bridge stand as landmarks of the devastating 1878 floods.
The remains of the Roxburgh Bridge and the Roxburgh Suspension Bridge are located to the east of the small Central Otago town of Roxburgh, and once provided a link between that town and East Roxburgh and the other settlements on the east bank of the powerful Clutha River.
The first Roxburgh Bridge was completed in 1875, and with the exception of the piers, was destroyed in the devastating floods of 1878. Only the parts of the piers remain from this bridge. These piers and abutments were 12.2 metres square at the base. The stone pier on the west bank remains.
The Roxburgh Suspension Bridge (completed 1887) was built just downstream of the site of the 1875 bridge, but at a higher level. A set of piers and towers remain of the 1887 bridge. The stone towers of the second bridge are 7.9 metres high. Only the towers on the west bank remain standing. There are some concrete remains on the east bank, probably the cable housing structure and are included in the registration.
Foundation stone laid for first Roxburgh Bridge (January)
First Roxburgh Bridge destroyed by flood (September)
Roxburgh Suspension Bridge opened (May)
Demolished - Other
Roxburgh Suspension Bridge demolished, with one set of towers and piers left as memorial
1875 Roxburgh Bridge Piers - stone
1887 Roxburgh Suspension Bridge Piers and Towers - stone
8th May 2008
Report Written By
Heather Bauchop/Angela Middleton
R. Gilkison, Early Days in Central Otago Whitcoulls, Christchurch, 1978
Geoffrey Thornton, Bridging the Gap, Early Bridges in New Zealand 1830-1939, Auckland, 2001
A. H. H. Webster, Teviot Tapestry. A History of the Roxburgh-Millers Flat District. Whitcombe & Tombs / Otago Centennial Historical Publications, Otago, 1948
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.