By the middle of 1835, the delays incurred in the construction of the bridge were being measured not so much in months but rather in years; Colbeck and Herbert, along with their Superintendent, Captain William Turner, had been brought in by an exasperated Government specifically to get the job finished quickly and well, with no more messing about. It is therefore remarkable to consider that one of these overseers, Herbert, must have devoted a considerable amount of his time not in getting the structure itself built, but in adorning it in a non-functional, purely decorative manner.
Daniel Herbert only spend about a year working at Ross Bridge before it was finally completed. (He arrived at Ross on or about 7 June 1835, and the bridge was completed on 14 July 1836.) During that time he carved or oversaw the carving of 186 arch stones and keystones. This must have been almost a full-time occupation for him, and would have left little or no time to do the job which the exasperated Government had ordered him to do. So how did he get away with it?
I am not aware of any evidence which has been found in any sort of documentation to show that Herbert had been given approval to execute the carvings. The record is completely silent on the matter. And it would have been impossible for Colbeck and Herbert to have made the carvings and then set them into the bridge without the knowledge—and we assume, the approval—of their Superintendent, Captain Turner, whose commission to get the bridge completed and in service was as clear and specific as anyone’s.
The earliest reference to the carvings on Ross Bridge that I have been able to locate is in a private account written by one Hugh Munro Hull during the course of a journey through the Colony. He briefly mentions passing through the township of Ross, and comments on the ‘grotesque’ carvings on the bridge there. This account was written in 1842, *five years* after the bridge was completed.
If there are any earlier mentionings of the carvings that anyone knows about, I would be interested in finding out about them.
The meaning and significance of the carvings on the Ross Bridge are only half of the mystery; another mystery surrounding the carvings is how on earth the convict overseers, James Colbeck and Daniel Herbert, got away with adding them to the bridge at all!