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Lennox, David (1788–1873)

by J. M. Antill

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

David Lennox (1788-1873), by unknown photographer

David Lennox (1788-1873), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 13487

David Lennox (1788-1873), bridge-builder, was born at Ayr, Scotland. His wife having died in 1828, he took passage to Australia in the Florentia, arriving in Sydney in August 1832. He was a master mason and had already occupied responsible positions in Britain for more than twenty years, working on many bridges, including Telford's great suspension bridge over the Menai Straits and the 150-feet (46 m) span stone-arch bridge over the Severn River at Gloucester.

In Sydney he was at first employed on day wages, cutting the coping stone for the hospital wall in Macquarie Street. His workmanship so impressed Surveyor-General (Sir) Thomas Mitchell that he recommended Lennox to Governor (Sir) Richard Bourke as a person experienced in the construction of arches of the greatest magnitude in England, and thus secured his appointment on 1 October 1832 to the roads department at a salary of '£120 per annum but without any forage for a horse'. When Lennox was appointed superintendent of bridges in June 1833 Mitchell set him to work on a series of stone bridges, some of which are still standing.

Lennox's first bridge was on the main western road at Lapstone Hill. It is a graceful single arch of 20-feet (6 m) span and 30 feet (9 m) above water level, with a road width of 30 feet (9 m); it was constructed by a team of convicts using stone quarried near the site. By direction of the governor it was named Lennox Bridge and the keystones bear the name of its builder and the date 1833. It is the oldest bridge still standing on the mainland of Australia, and for ninety-three years it carried all the traffic from Sydney to the west; until 1963 it was still used by vehicles travelling up Mitchell's Pass on the initial climb over the Blue Mountains, although the main road was moved in 1926 to a better gradient by way of Knapsack Gully.

In January 1834 he fixed the site for a bridge over the Medway Rivulet on the main southern road three miles (4.8 m) south of Berrima, now known as Three Legs o' Man Bridge; this was a timber structure supported on three masonry piers twenty feet (6 m) apart. It was completed early in 1835 but was destroyed by flood about 1860 and later replaced. Lennox began the Queen's Wharf at Parramatta in March 1834 and finished it in January 1835; this masonry quay served as the terminal for vessels plying between Sydney and Parramatta. In the latter part of 1834 and throughout 1835 Lennox was engaged on one of his finest works: the Lansdowne Bridge over Prospect Creek on the main southern road near Liverpool, named by the governor in honour of the marquis of Lansdowne.

Lennox's design for the Lansdowne Bridge was for a single 110-feet (34 m) span masonry arch, 30 feet (9 m) wide and standing 30 feet (9 m) above the water. Stone was quarried some seven miles (11 km) away on the right bank of George's River. Work proceeded slowly because of the shortage of lime and of skilled labour, especially for the centring, and because the creek was subjected to heavy floods; but the bridge was opened by the governor with much ceremony on 26 January 1836. Lennox received a special bonus of £200 for this work and his salary was raised from £120 without allowances to £250 plus 2s. 6d. a day allowance. Lansdowne Bridge still carries traffic on the Hume Highway.

Lennox's 50-feet (15 m) masonry-arch bridge over the Wingecarribee River at Berrima was opened in 1836 but destroyed by flood in 1860; Black Bob's Bridge, nine miles (14 km) south of Berrima, was a single 30-feet (9 m) span timber-beam bridge completed early in 1837, and replaced by the public works department in 1896 with a masonry arch; Duck Creek Bridge on the Parramatta Road thirteen miles (21 km) from Sydney, originally designed by Lennox as a timber structure on stone piers, was built about 1837 as a semicircular brick arch of 30-feet (9 m) span; and he produced a design for Bentley's Bridge at Rushcutters Bay, Sydney. At the same time, he constructed a dam across George's River at Liverpool, completed in 1836; and in 1839 erected the town boundary stones of Parramatta. As with all his structures, these works were carried out with convict labour.

The last bridge which he designed and built in New South Wales was over the Parramatta River in Church Street, Parramatta. Originally designed in 1835 as an elliptical arch of 90-feet (27 m) span, it was built, after much controversy, as a simple stone arch spanning 80 feet (24 m) and having a width of 39 feet (12 m). Construction began in November 1836, using the centring from the Lansdowne Bridge, adjusted to the new span, and the work was finished in 1839; it was named Lennox Bridge by the Parramatta council in 1867. The stone came from the Orphan School quarry, and lime was purchased at 1s. a bushel. This bridge remained unaltered until 1902 when a 10-feet (3 m) width of the arch was strengthened internally to carry the Parramatta-Castle Hill tramway. In 1912 the parapet on the western side was removed and a cantilevered footway was added; and in 1934-35 the bridge was again widened on the western side by the construction of a stonefaced reinforced concrete arch alongside the original masonry span, and the eastern stone parapet was replaced with concrete.

Lennox was appointed district surveyor to the Parramatta Council in November 1843, but in October 1844 Governor Sir George Gipps appointed him to the Port Phillip District as superintendent of bridges, and he sailed from Sydney in November. For nine years he had charge of all roads, bridges, wharves and ferries, and acted as advisory engineer to various government departments. In this period he built fifty-three bridges, the most notable being the first Prince's Bridge over the Yarra River in Melbourne, a stone arch of 150-feet (46 m) span, and the largest bridge built by Lennox; it was completed in 1850 and lasted until replaced some thirty-five years later because of the necessity to provide for more traffic.

In November 1853 Lennox retired from the public service of Victoria; his salary had been raised to £300 in 1852 and £600 in 1853, and on his retirement parliament voted him a gratuity of £3000. He remained in Melbourne for nearly two years, returned to New South Wales in June 1855 and finally settled at 4 Campbell Street, Parramatta, in a house of his own design. Essentially a practical man, he amused himself in a small backyard workshop in his old age.

When he had sailed for Australia in 1832 he left behind two young daughters in the care of his sister, who afterwards married James Dalziel. In 1836 the Dalziels, with their own family and Lennox's two daughters, migrated to Australia, arriving in Sydney in the Wave in January 1837. The elder daughter Mary married George Urquhart, but died in 1841. Jane Lennox married Charles William Rowling; a widow when her father retired, she shared his home in Parramatta.

David Lennox died on 12 November 1873 and was buried in old St John's cemetery, Parramatta; by some oversight no inscription was placed upon his gravestone so doubt exists as to the actual spot where his body lies. As a kindly taskmaster he sought mitigation of the sentences of convicts who gave good service and seldom had trouble with any of the hundreds of prisoners employed on his projects. Although retiring by temperament he showed quiet determination when his plans were opposed by others: for example, when Bourke in 1835 advocated a more elaborate design for Lennox Bridge, Parramatta. There is no doubt that, just as his arrival in New South Wales opened a new chapter in the bridge-building history of the colony, so did his departure close it. He was a pioneer of great skill and a master craftsman whose solution to the many technical problems brought him well-deserved and lasting fame.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Herman, The Early Australian Architects and Their Work (Syd, 1954)
  • H. Selkirk, ‘David Lennox, the Bridge Builder, and His Work’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 6, part 5, 1920, pp 201-43
  • W. L. Havard, ‘Mitchell's Pass, near Emu Plains’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 19, part 6, 1934, pp 352-63
  • manuscript catalogue under David Lennox (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

J. M. Antill, 'Lennox, David (1788–1873)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lennox-david-2350/text3071, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 24 August 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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