June 14, 2020

History on the Hume: Lennox's Masterpiece at Landsdowne

Driving north along the dual carriageway section of the Hume Highway at Carramar past what was once the last Sizzler restaurant in Australia, you could be forgiven for failing to notice the significance of the bridge you just crossed.

Painting by Conrad Martens created around the time of the bridge's opening.  (SLNSW)

Until the mid-1950s, the two-lane sandstone arch bridge at Carramar was the sole thoroughfare on the Hume Highway between Sydney and Liverpool.

Two hundred years ago, there had previously been a bridge, Bowlers Bridge, crossing Prospect Creek, but it was poorly constructed and was swept away by the first decent flood. In 1832, Surveyor-General Major Thomas Mitchell was faced with an unworkable road network in the burgeoning colony and began a concentrated review of the roads and bridges around Sydney. For much of this work, he chose a skilled artisan who impressed him while working on a relatively simple wall in front of the government building in Macquarie Street.

The Scottish-born master stonemason and engineer, David Lennox, was commissioned for the sum of 1000 pounds to build a single-span 33.5-metre stone arch bridge (total length 58m) which was erected by convict labour over a period of two years between 1834-36. The required stone was quarried 11 kilometres downstream on the right bank of the Georges River near the current M5 motorway crossing and delivered to the bridge site by punt.

Stone laid at the opening in 1836. (Roderick Eime)

The foundation stone was laid by the Governor, Major General Richard Bourke, on 1 January 1834 and the Landsdowne Bridge was opened on 26 January 1836. A particularly fine structure also known as Lennox Bridge, it remains the most intact example of all the Scotsman’s bridges and was heritage-listed in 2000. It has the largest span of any surviving masonry bridge in the country and was Lennox’s second such project, many say his masterpiece, the first being at Glenbrook in the Blue Mountains in 1833.

Lennox went on to build another bridge that bears his name in Parramatta, completed in 1839 and, thanks to a public outcry, was narrowly saved from demolition in the 1990s.

Drone view of both Lennox Bridge and the 1957 concrete arch duplication (Lachlan Hyde) 

In 1957, a relatively austere two-lane concrete arch bridge was erected to duplicate the crossing of Prospect Creek and it now carries the Hume’s southbound traffic stream numbering around 30,000 vehicles per day. Built by the Department of Main Roads (DMR) by contract by Messrs. Hornibrook, McKenzie Clark Pty. Ltd, it cost approximately £50,000 at the time ($1.6m today).

When I visited in June 2020, major conservation work was well-progressed.

Restoration work on the Landsdowne Bridge is expected to continue through 2020 (Roderick Eime)

“The bridge hasn’t needed a complete maintenance upgrade since 1966 but it’s now time to ensure we protect its structural integrity, heritage values and character into the future. Work includes replacing sandstone blocks, cleaning the stone and repairing the drainage system to help reduce the pace of corrosion,” said Transport for NSW Sydney Maintenance Director, David Fishburn.

The multi-million dollar restoration work is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2020.

MORE: History on the Hume series

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