Museum of Brisbane

Sunday Stories | The Victoria Bridge

As with any city built on the banks of its river, Brisbane has seen an increasing demand for river crossings throughout its history. Connecting the northern and southern banks, Brisbane’s river crossings reflect the city’s growth and expansion, whether larger and more prosperous, or greener and more sustainable.

Brisbane’s first cross-river bridge was the Victoria Bridge, which has existed in various iterations since 1866. The bridge connects South Brisbane to the Brisbane CBD at North Quay.

Unfortunately, the infamous flood of 1893 washed away half of the bridge, leaving floating debris and little remnants of the structure. The devastating flood, remembered as the Great Flood of 1893 or the Black February Flood, was sadly not the last to undo any efforts to bridge Brisbane’s banks. The temporary structure that was erected in the wake of the 1893 flood was swept away by another flood in 1896, only three years later.

In 1897 a second, stronger Victoria Bridge was officially opened by Governor Lord Lamington. At this time, the Victoria Bridge was the only structure to bridge the river (other than the Albert Bridge, which was for rail only) and was often packed with all kinds of transport, from horses and pedestrians to cars and trams. Increasing traffic congestion on the bridge prompted the Greater Brisbane Council to appoint a Cross River Commission in 1925 that explored potential sites along the river for the construction of new crossings.

Construction for the Victoria Bridge as we know it today began in 1969, responding to reports that increased traffic on the bridge was causing stress and initial signs of buckling. The steel and wrought iron structure was replaced with a sleek, modern design that incorporated physical tributes to the structures of the past that stood before it.

These include a section of the southern abutment of the previous Victoria Bridge, comprised of a stone archway and memorial to Hector Vasyli, a young boy killed during a parade for returning soldiers on the bridge in 1918. The current Victoria Bridge is the only iteration of the structure that was not built as a result of the floods.

Like the rest of Brisbane’s bridges, the Victoria Bridge began as a civic milestone that reflected a growing city. Today, it is one of many pathways that allow people from all areas of Brisbane to connect with one another. The historical significance of river crossings like the Victoria Bridge have ensured they were captured by artists and photographers throughout their existence, either on their own or in the background of other significant events and celebrations.

See if you can spot the Victoria Bridge in our collection of Alfred Elliott’s glass plate negatives in The View From Here or from the exhibition of renowned 20th century artist Lloyd Rees’ earliest recorded sketches. 

Image 1: detail of Alfred Henry Elliott (1870 – 1954), New Victoria Bridge 1908, photographic print, City of Brisbane Collection, Museum of Brisbane.