convicts assigned to build a coastal road on the East Coast of Tasmania may
have been thought to be mismanaged and idle, yet the Three Arch Bridge at
Swanport has proven remarkably durable.
well-known Spiky Bridge, the Three Arch Bridge at Little Swanport was built by
convict labour from the nearby Rocky Hills Probation Station.
years between 1843 and 1846, when the bridge was being constructed, the Rocky
Hills Probation Station came to be seen as one of the worst of its kind. James
Syme referred to it as a ‘hot bed or idleness and laxity of disposition’, while
Louisa Anne Meredith, of Cambria near Swansea, recorded that ‘it was a common
thing to see them not even pretending to be employed, unless in making arbours
of bowers to sit under in the sun!’
Hill Probation Station was part of a network of convict stations and road gangs
set up across Tasmania from 1839 to 1853. The convicts laboured during the first
year of their sentences on government projects where, supposedly, they received
consistent discipline, reformatory training and moral and religious
instruction. By good behaviour a convict could obtain a ticket-of-leave and then
perhaps a conditional or absolute pardon.
construction of Three Arch Bridge is a good example of convict work projects
making use of easily available resources. While not a fashionable material in
colonial Tasmania, large dolerite stones litter the bed of Old Man Creek for
hundreds of metres upstream of the bridge. A benched track and ford which can
still be found upstream of the bridge would have made it an easy matter to
select and remove stones by horse and crat from the creek bed, and a flat area
alongside the ford possibly represents a work area where stones were broken up
with spall hammers. Likewise, in the absence of a conveniently located
limestone deposit, the shell lime mortar used in the bridge was probably
obtained from the beach nearby.
Arch Bridge near Swanport on the Tasman Highway, is one of the few
convict-built bridges and culverts which remain part of the Tasmanian highway
system, demonstrating the skilful use of locally available materials, even at
the hands of so-called idle men.