Suspension Bridge

State Highway 7 And Taylorville Road, Taylorville And Brunner

  • Suspension Bridge, Brunner. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Shellie Evans. Taken By: Shellie Evans – flyingkiwigirl. Date: 22/04/2016.
  • Suspension Bridge, Brunner. Image courtesy of www.flickr.com.
    Copyright: Shellie Evans . Taken By: Shellie Evans – flyingkiwigirl. Date: 22/04/2015.
  • Suspension Bridge, Brunner. Bridge anchorage on south side, with tracks.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Robyn Burgess. Date: 1/01/2010.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 7399 Date Entered 16th November 2016

Locationopen/close

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Pt Section 2A Square 119 (NZ Gazette 1924 p.2299), and part of the land described as Crown Land SO 4893 (SO 11209 K31/44), part of the land described as Legal River, part of the land described as Railway Land (PROC 36; NZ Gazette 1896, p.1199), Westland Land District and the Suspension Bridge thereon. Extent does not include the area of land described as Sec 2 SO 449212 on the northern bank of the Grey River, over which the bridge spans, but does not touch. (Refer to extent map tabled at Board meeting on 27 October 2016).

City/District Council

Grey District

Region

West Coast Region

Legal description

Pt Sec 2A Square 119 (NZ Gazette 1924, p.2299); Crown Land SO 4893 (SO 11209 K31/44), Legal River; Railway Land (PROC 36; NZ Gazette 1896, p.1199), Westland Land District

Summaryopen/close

The partly reconstructed Suspension Bridge, spanning both the north and south banks of the Māwheranui/Grey River to connect the industrial heritage sites of Brunner and Tyneside, is the sixth incarnation of a bridge first built in this place in 1876 to service what was once New Zealand’s largest coal mining area. It has significance as a key element in the Brunner Coal Mining Remains Historic Area, both visually and historically as a link in the transport network between the mines, rail and Greymouth port.

For the first 12 years after the opening of the Brunner Mine at ‘Coal Gorge’, coal was barged down river to the port of Greymouth. A railway linking the Coal Gorge with the port was built as part of the 1870s government public works programme and a bridge was built to link the Brunner mine with the railway situated on the southern (Tyneside Mine) side of the river. Designed in 1874, it was the Public Works Department’s first suspension bridge. While still under construction, the bridge collapsed with a resounding crash at 4am on 28 July 1876. A formal enquiry absolved the contractor and the design engineers, the wreckage was salvaged and the rebuilt bridge opened for the first horse-hauled coal trucks on 11 April 1877.

A classic suspension bridge spanning a steep gorge, the Brunner bridge clears 90 metres between towers and the deck height is 12 metres above mean water flow. It is constructed of timber and steel and employs a box girder truss system. While the current bridge contains few components from the original 1876 bridge, it is recognised that the replacement of such a high proportion of fabric is a characteristic of the life of timber bridges in New Zealand. Components surviving from previous iterations of the bridge include the foundations, two steel towers, with timber transoms and some cable clamps.

The bridge allowed significant expansion of the various mines around Brunner, and by the 1880s the area was producing more coal than any other New Zealand mine. Parts of the bridge were renewed and strengthened in the 1920s. In 1962-69 further replacements and alterations were carried out to widen the bridge but these proved a weakness and were replaced in circa 1977 by a steel Bailey portable modular truss system. By this time, all that remained from 1923 was the horizontal timber cross bracing and transoms. In 1996 the bridge had deteriorated to such an extent that it was closed and was under threat of demolition. A major fund raising initiative resulted in the 2003-04 restoration-reconstruction of the bridge. As a result, the bridge is now a vital pedestrian link and key element connecting the industrial mine features on both sides of the river.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Historical:

The Brunner Bridge was designed in 1876 to transport coal and coke across the Grey River. It collapsed just before completion and had to be rebuilt in 1876-77. From the mid 1880s it was widened to include a pedestrian footway. In 1927, four years after taking over the bridge from the Railway Department, the Brunner Borough Council rebuilt and strengthened the structure, which was later further modified. It became a pedestrian-only structure in 1978 when the new Stillwater Bridge opened.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Architectural:

The Brunner bridge was designed and built by the Public Works department as a suspension bridge in 1876. Style indicators are:

- Twin towers at each end with abutments below.

- Timber decking suspended by galvanised wire cables running over the towers.

- Lateral curve of the suspension cables to the centre of the deck span to reduce crosswind swing.

- Braced timber trusses giving added stiffening to the deck span.

Technological:

The various changes in the bridge's construction reflect an interesting and valuable record of the history of materials in bridge design.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Cultural:

The Brunner Bridge was an important part of the lives of the miners, coke and brickmakers who lived in its proximity.

Social:

For 122 years pedestrians, horse-drawn coal wagons and motor traffic have used the bridge as a link between the communities of Taylorville and Brunnerton on the north bank and Tyneside, Dobson and Stillwater on the south bank.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

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

Last century roads and bridges played an important part in the history of New Zealand's development. The country's rugged terrain and its numerous rivers made the provision of bridges essential for if extractive industries such as mining and forestry were to prosper. Earlier coal had been carried across the Grey River in barges, but the completion of this bridge enabled the railway line to transport coal quickly and efficiently down to the Greymouth wharf, where it was loaded into steamers. Greymouth was a smaller export port than Westport, but the Grey Valley was nevertheless an important coal producer and the mines served by this bridge were well-known to coal consumers.

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

Events:

The principal incident in the history of the bridge was its collapse early one morning in July 1876 just two days before it was due to be handed over. The materials were salvaged from the river and were incorporated in a slightly modified structure. The Grey River Argus, in a colourful piece dated 22 June 1923, described the subsequent commission of inquiry as 'the finest example of "whitewashing" ever set forth in New Zealand.' The bridge would also have been used during rescue operations for the aftermath of the Brunner mine disaster on 26 March 1896 - an event covered by Brian Wood in his 1996 book Disaster at Brunner.

Persons:

Although the bridge is not known to have been intimately associated with persons of importance to New Zealand history, it was of importance to the social history of these small communities. Indeed, it continues to offer pedestrians access to an important historic site.

Ideas:

Not applicable.

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

The Brunner Bridge is a key element in the Brunner Industrial Site historic area. As a link in the transport network between mine and wharf, it would also have associations with surviving rail and wharf heritage.

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

DATE: 1876

ARCHITECT: Public Works department. The responsibility for the design and calculations as to the strength of the bridge at the time of its construction rested primarily with the Engineer-in-Chief, Mr Carruthers, and the District Engineer, C.Y. O'Connor.

STYLE CODE: Victorian Suspension Bridge

DESIGN: The Brunner bridge was designed and built as a wire cable suspension bridge in 1876. It is one of several suspension bridges all built more or less as contemporaries within a twenty year time frame, and located in central Otago, Southland, and ( in the case of the Brunner bridge) on the West Coast the main inspiration for these bridges came from the American engineering tradition which had to deal with similar problems to New Zealand in terms of coping with difficult terrain and geography, particularly in the American West where a predominance of steep gorges, mountains, wide rivers and valleys resembles much of the New Zealand landscape. In this environment, which is quite different from England, suspension and timber truss bridges were the only practical solution for opening up the land.

The Brunner bridge is actually a contemporary of the Brooklyn Bridge, New York City (c.1876-1883), which is arguably the pioneer suspension bridge type which American and New Zealand bridges were modelled after. The Brunner bridge is also a contemporary of the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, Central Otago (Cat I, 1878-1880; the Daniel O'Connor Suspension Bridge between Alexandra and Ophir (Cat.I, 1880); the Alexandra Suspension Bridge Piers (Cat.I, 1880); and the Clifden Suspension Bridge, Southland (Cat.I, 1898-1899).

The engineering and architectural quality of the Brunner bridge may be adjudged by the 91 metre (300') span, suspended by galvanised wire cables running over steel towers at each end. This is the same span as the Kawarau Gorge Suspension bridge. originally the towers of the Brunner bridge were made of timber standing on rock filled timber abutments, and it was not until 1969 that these timber towers were

replaced with the present steel ones.

The technique of using wire cables rather than bar iron construction had only been in use for a relatively short time in France and America before being used in New Zealand. It was not part of the British tradition of bridge building - which preferred girder construction - and its appearance on a bridge across the Grey River was therefore an inspired and daring innovation which proved (as it did in the case of the

other bridges mentioned above) to be both aesthetically pleasing in design ,and extremely durable in construction once initial problems with the anchor plates had been ironed out. To illustrate this, the cables of the Brunner Bridge have a lateral curve to the centre of the deck span designed to reduce the swing caused by crosswinds. The strength of this construction is reinforced by a braced timber truss design which gives added stiffening to the deck span.

The bridge therefore appears to be light and graceful by virtue of its method of cable suspension and this, combined with the steel towers and timber trusses, give the bridge and affinity with its former industrial surroundings, as well as a strong visual structural link across the Grey River.

Construction History.

It should be noted that the Brunner bridge to-day has very little of the original bridge remaining in its construction. this stands in contrast with its contemporary, the Kawarau Bridge, which has retained substantial parts of its original structure. The changes that have taken place to the Brunner Bridge are as follows:

1876: Built with timber towers supported on timber abutments filled with

stone. Timber stiffening truss 10 feet high. Two trusses 30 feet in

height. 8 foot wide wooden roadway with a railway in the middle. Five

inch thick cast iron anchor plates.

1876: Collapse of the bridge.

1876-77: Replacement of the 5 inch cast iron anchor plates with box girders or beams 5ft 8in by 18in square, built of half-inch boiler plate well

riveted together.

1885: Construction of a footway across the upper chord of the truss.

1921: Footway widened from 2'6" to 4'0".

1921-23: A wire cable broke.

1923: Ownership of the bridge passed over to the Brunner Borough Council by the NZ Railway Corporation.

1927: Bridge considerably rebuilt. Truss span replaced. New cables fitted. Towers strengthened.

1969: Timber trusses and towers replaced with steel.

1978: Closure of the bridge to all traffic other than pedestrian.

1978-97: Some "modifications" ( not specified) including the incorporation of some bailey Bridge parts.

Dimensions as built.

Span: 91.44 metres (300 feet).

Stiffening Truss: 10 feet high.

Trusses: 30 feet high.

Roadway: 8 feet wide.

Footway: 4 feet wide (final width).

(m) Such additional criteria not inconsistent with those in paragraphs (a) to (k):

There are 91 bridges registered by the trust. Of these four are steel cable/truss span suspension bridges of the same type of design as the Brunner Bridge, while a fifth was the Alexandra bridge of which only the stone towers, or piers, now remain after the demolition of the bridge in 1958-9. The additional example in this group not mentioned above is the Arapuni Power Station Suspension Bridge built in 1925-6 (Cat.II).

There is therefore a relative degree of rarity attached to these suspension bridges, particularly for those built in the nineteenth century where construction began in the 1870s. There are only two of these latter bridges, viz., the Kawarau Bridge and the Brunner Bridge.

Comparatively speaking, the Brunner Bridge does not compare with the Category I quality of its two closest contemporaries, the Kawarau bridge and the Daniel O'Connell bridge. Both of these latter bridges have retained their original towers which are of local schist stone. The Kawarau bridge still has its original timber stiffening truss. The Daniel O'Connell bridge has had its timber stiffening truss replaced with a steel one, but in 1905 which makes this alteration 64 years older than the same modification from timber to steel carried out to the Brunner Bridge. In summary, the Brunner bridge is in the same category as the proverbial Washington's axe; the design has remained the same although not all the materials are original. From an engineering point of view however, the design nevertheless remains as having considerable technical interest because it is still a very good example of nineteenth century bridge building engineering of which few examples are left to-day.

Linksopen/close

Construction Professionalsopen/close

John Carruthers

Engineer-in-Chief, Public Works Department

E. B. Garven

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Montgomery Watson Harza

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Works Infrastructure Limited

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

Architect:

Public Works department. The responsibility for the design and calculations as to the dtrength of the bridge at the time of its construction rested primarily with the Engineer-in-Chief, Mr Carruthers, and the District Engineer, C.Y. O'Connor

Style Code:

Victorian Suspension Bridge

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1876 -
Construction and collapse of bridge

Original Construction
1877 -
Second Construction of bridge

Refurbishment/renovation
-
Refurbishment including replacement in steel of the timber support towers, and widening by splaying the side trusses with arched steel spacers

Modification
-
Replacement of timber side trusses and steel bracing with steel Bailey truss bridge

Reconstruction
-
Partial reconstruction partial restoration of earlier elements.

Completion Date

27th May 1997

Report Written By

W.Nelson and G.McLean

Information Sources

Department of Conservation

Department of Conservation

Perfect, Colin and Paul Mahoney, Brunner Suspension Bridge, 1876, brochure prepared by the Department of Conservation for the Brunner Industrial Site Coordinating Committee, 2 June 2004. URL http://www.doc.govt.nz/documents/conservation/historic/by-region/brunner-bridge-fact-sheet.pdf (accessed 13 May 2016)

Wood, 2004

Wood, Brian, The Heritage and Environment of Coal Gorge and the Brunner Suspension Bridge, Greymouth, 2004.

Other Information

A copy of the original report is available from the NZHPT Southern region 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.