Image: Lennox Bridge, Parramatta, view of west side of bridge from street level position on north bank of river, 1928 [LSP00808]
David Lennox arrived in Sydney in 1832. He was experienced in bridge building under the famous engineer Thomas Telford having worked on a stone bridge across the Severn in Gloucester and the Menai suspension bridge in north-west Wales. After the death of his wife, he sought employment in the colony arriving as an unassisted migrant in 1832. His talents were soon recognised and he was appointed as Superintendent of Bridges; became the first skilled bridge builder on the mainland. Any doubts about his ability were dispelled after his design and construction of a horseshoe shaped bridge at Lapstone (1833) and the 110 feet clear span bridge at Lansdowne over Prospect Creek (1834-1836).
Lennox prepared preliminary designs for the bridge at Parramatta for Surveyor General Thomas Mitchell to whom he was responsible. Ambrose Hallan, the recently appointed Colonial Architect, countered with a proposal for a prefabricated iron bridge be imported from England. Fortunately for Parramatta, Governor Bourke, finding Hallan’s lack of ability as an architect intolerable, interceded and requested a plan for ‘an ornate bridge’.
Mitchell’s assistant, Captain Perry, entered the fray with a plan shortening the arch from 90 feet [27.432 metres] to 60 feet [18.288 metres]. Lennox dismissed this plan claiming correctly that such a narrow spanned arch would restrict flood waters. Midst the inter-departmental controversy that existed apart from the bridge plans, Lennox simply went ahead, and adapted the timber centering used on the Lansdowne project, declaring that as he had done so, he did not intend to alter his design.
All opposition collapsed and in May 1836 when Bourke, whose patience had been taxed over the whole proceedings, approved the Lennox plans and the bridge work was commenced on 22 October 1836. In July, Lennox applied for stonemasons and later arranged for the supply of lime and cartage of quarried stone. The governor laid the foundation stone on 23 November, 1836. Progress was slow because of labour problems but by September 1838 one side was open to limited traffic and it was completed in the following year at a final cost of £1,797.
The structure may be described as a sandstone bridge with a single semi elliptical arch of 90 feet [27.432 metres] in length and 30 feet [9.144 metres] wide. Even though the approaches show all the softly graded curves of his earlier bridges, Morton Herman described the main arch perhaps as ‘coarse and heavy’. If not as elegant as some of his other designs, it was nonetheless a valuable and worthy addition to the Georgian architecture of the town. The bridge remained nameless until 1867 when a motion before the Parramatta District Council proposed that it be named after the current governor, Sir William Denison (1855-1861) but it lapsed. Alderman Birmingham then proposed the name Lennox Bridge and the motion was passed.
John McClymont , Parramatta Historian, October 1994, from original work donated to the Parramatta heritage Centre 2014
John McClymont’s article written in 1994 also pointed out how the structure of the bridge had been altered over the years. The original gaol bridge had been built slightly to the north of the current Lennox Bridge but as early as 1802 a stone bridge at the current location on Church Street had replaced it. By the early 1830s it was in an ‘insecure state’, and around 1833 Lennox started planning to replace it with what is now known as the ‘Lennox Bridge’.
In 1897 the Cumberland Argus recorded the reminiscences of long term resident Mr John Taylor who described the bridge around the late 1830s as being
… a low level wooden bridge, the approach to which ran down through the properties now occupied by Mrs. Houison (on the south side) and Mr L. A. Simpson (on the north side).
In 1885-86 the Department of Public Works removed the wall on the upstream side of the bridge to widen it, and put up a replacement concrete railing at the same time.
In 1912 it was widened for a tramway [to Castle Hill] and in 1930 the Sydney Morning Herald reported there was a proposal to demolish the bridge. Instead the Public Works Department widened the bridge on the western side between 1934 and 1935, removing the original curve and creating the strait line you can see in the image above.
This 1930 article also mentions how the passage of time had worn away the words “Lennox Bridge” on the inside of the parapet wall on the downstream side of the bridge.
In 2014 work on the construction of two new river foreshore access tunnels uncovered some of the early sandstone pier and timber girders of the old gaol bridge. In a Sydney Morning Herald article on the discovery the archaeologist on this project, Anne Bickford, said Lennox had decided to leave parts of the gaol bridge within his bridge rather than go to the trouble of removing them.
By April 2018, interpretive installations celebrating the history of Parramatta were unveiled in the two portals.
The video below traces the development of the Restoration and Portals Project undertaken by Parramatta Council.
H. Selkirk, ‘David Lennox, the bridge builder and his work’ in JRAHS, Vol 6, p. 203-4;
M. Herman, Early Australian Architects, pp. 116-17, 158-61; J.Jervis, Cradle City , p. 116.
Sir Thomas Mitchell papers, 5 May 1833, pp. 186-87, ML A292. Perhaps this proposal was
made because of the success of the first Iron Bridge in England.
H. Selkirk, ‘David Lennox’, JRAHS, p. 211.
J. Jervis, Cradle City, p. 117.
M. Herman, Early Australian Architects, p. 165.
Parramatta Advertiser, weekly issues between Jan and Jun 1990.
Sydney Morning Herald, May 31 1930.
The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate (Parramatta, NSW : 1888 – 1950), Saturday 19 June 1897
Submission to save Lennox Bridge by the Parramatta & District Historical Society (1990)
Terry Kass et al, Parramatta, A Past Revealed, Parramatta City Council, 1996
Photo from Local Studies and Family History Library, Parramatta Heritage and Visitor Information Centre.
Lennox Bridge, Vertical File, Local Studies and Family History Library, Parramatta Heritage and Visitor Information Centre