Historic Bridges on the Derwent River

Heritage site of the first bridge across the Derwent 1834


The river and the bridges have been integral to the story of Woodbridge. She has always been part of the commerce of the river, and indeed, that is why she was constructed where she is.


Before the wharves were built in Hobart, ships would sail up the Derwent and safely drop anchor right here, at ‘the top of the tide’. We have both fresh and salt water in front of Woodbridge – you can catch trout at one level, and bream at another, and we have freshwater platypus living in our riverbank, while marine fur seals are also frequently seen.


Another peculiarity is the phenomenon of the river ‘flowing backwards’. As the tide comes in, the river appears to stop flowing to the sea, and start flowing back upstream.


Because Captain Roadnight was responsible for the safe delivery of the stores arriving by ship, he built his residence right where he could watch the ships’ cargoes being unloaded and ferried across to the storehouses on the far side of the river.


Later in 1834, the third owner of Woodbridge, Assistant Surveyor General William Sharland built the first (wooden) bridge across the Derwent here, and henceforth the residence was known as Woodbridge. The building of this bridge opened up the highlands to commercial use and led eventually to the land link with the west coast. The undertaking was a private business enterprise of a small group of entrepreneurs, Sharland himself being one of them, and the Toll House still stands on the opposite side of the river.


Three bridges have been built here since. The remaining bridgeheads of the first three, including rough hewn stones of the original 1834 bridge and the later Victorian dressed-sandstone of the second, can be seen beside Woodbridge at the end of Bridge Street. The fourth, built in 1971 at the far end of the building off Blair Street, was built to withstand the floods that plagued the valley before the weirs were built at Meadowbank.


Log trucks can be seen crossing the bridge from time to time, especially when they are felling in the coupes behind Plenty. The size of these logs still takes my breath away, even though I know that they are now harvesting almost exclusively from farmed timber. Some contact with the timber industry is essential to understanding Tasmania’s history, from the early days of the bullock dray to the modern dual rigs.


The remains of the first 3 bridges remain beside Woodbridge.