What were the historical themes taken into consideration for the project?
The Hampden Bridge interpretation project draws on a number of historical themes – all directly relatable to the bridge. These themes, explored in detail, are:
The Crossing Place
There have been three bridges built at this place, and each has its own unique story and connection to the history of Wagga Wagga. The Wagga Wagga Bridge was built in 1862, and was owned by the Wagga Wagga Bridge Company. It was locally called ‘the Company Bridge’.
The Hampden Bridge was built to replace the ageing Company Bridge. Opened in 1895, it was an innovative structure that made use of technical developments in Australia and also from America. The Wiradjuri Bridge was opened in 1995, and provided a more reliable connection between North Wagga and Wagga’s CBD.
The Bridge Builders
The bridge piers were constructed by sinking the pylons into the river. They were pushed through the river bed until they reached bedrock. The piers were then pumped dry. In order to keep the water out of the pylon, it was filled with compressed air. The pressure of the air in the tube stopped water from entering the pylon through the base. Labourers then entered the pylons to dig through the river bed, until they reached bedrock.
As they were working in a pressurised environment, the labourers were susceptible to Caissons disease, commonly known as ‘the bends’. At pressurised depths, such as working below river level, nitrogen bubbles form in the blood, which can block capillaries. While working, labourers did not have any symptoms. It was only when they returned to the surface and pressure returned to the body suddenly that the workers would fall ill. Impacts ranged from nausea, paralysis, haemorrhaging, and in extreme cases, death. The disease was first noticed during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge in the United States from 1869-1883. By 1893, when work began on the Hampden Bridge, airlocks were used to ‘decompress’ the men as they returned to the surface.
There is one known example of Caisson’s disease which occurred during the construction of the Hampden Bridge. It was reported in both the Wagga Wagga Express and the Wagga Wagga Advertiser.
The following excerpt is from the Wagga Wagga Advertiser, Tuesday 2 October 1894, p.2.
‘Early on Thursday morning a man named James Chapman employed at the new bridge works, after working his regular shift under compressed air in one of the cylinders in the river, was brought ashore in an exhausted condition, with one of his sides completely paralysed. The case, which was an instance of what is known as “caisson” disease, was skilfully treated by Dr Thane, who succeeded in restoring the patient to consciousness.’
A section from the Wagga Wagga Express notes:
‘The man, whose name is James Chapman, had been working for four hours, from 8 o’clock until noon, in the cylinder under compressed air. Immediately the pressure was taken off and he stepped on to the landing stage, he fell down unconscious.’
NSW Transport Network
The late nineteenth century was a period of rapid growth and development. Train lines and stations were built to the farming lands of the Riverina in the 1870s, after the Sydney government realised that Riverina producers were sending their goods by paddle steamer along the river to Melbourne, and therefore paying export taxes to the Victorian government. Roads were built to support local traffic and to connect to the train lines.
Roads led from farms and towns to train stations, and trains travelled to Sydney, where through Sydney Harbour, local producers could export their goods to the world beyond.
The significance assessments that were written for the Bridge prior to its demolition focused on the engineering advances that were made during its design by the PWD Engineer Percy Allen. The conditions that allowed the innovation of the design to be realised were the result of various circumstances coming together. This theme has the potential to not only describe the innovations of Allen’s design, but also describe other important factors that lead to the construction of the Hampden Bridge, and its duplication across NSW.
Interactive and informative signage will form part of the interpretative project.
A glass sign will be installed on a platform above the original bridge abutment A (which is still retained on site) as a key feature of the project.
When standing in front of the sign, the viewer sees a visual ‘sketch’ representation of the former bridge.
The original bridge abutment, built in 1893, will be used as a mural space for two photographs from the FitzGerald Collection. Robert FitzGerald was an engineer with the Department of Public Works at the time, and may have been involved in supervising the construction of the bridge.
These images provide a rare glimpse of men working on the construction site. While photos of engineers and business managers are fairly common, it is special to have a collection of photos from this time that shows the working men building the bridge.
Images for this section will provide an insight into the construction works on the bridge, and also provide an opportunity to interpret the construction methods and working conditions in the late nineteenth century. These images, combined with industrial heritage research and an exploration of contemporary newspapers, provide a fascinating insight into working class life at this time.