Image for Heritage Value of the Ross Bridge and its Carved Art

Kim Peart’s avatar in the virtual world ~ Van Demonian ~ with a display on the art of the Ross Bridge.

The Ross Bridge was completed in 1836, after years of delay and came to include carvings along all of the six arches by the convict stonemason, Daniel Herbert.

Such carvings were not normally included on the stone bridges of that era and it is quite a mystery as to how they came to be there. By rights, they should not exist. As a consequence of this mystery, the Ross Bridge is unique in the World, as the only bridge to have such carvings. This bridge is the third oldest in Australia, with the oldest being in Richmond to the south. The bridge is on the national heritage registry, but, should it be given World heritage listing as well?

I will be visiting Tasmania on Monday 8 September and staying in Ross for a couple of weeks to investigate a project with the bridge, which may help toward gaining World heritage listing for this colonial icon. This will be the beginning of a study of the art of the Ross Bridge, to seek out the mystery and reveal the secrets hidden in the stone carvings.

This project will include the preparation of an illustrated book, the making of a documentary and the building of a model of the bridge in the virtual world, where folk will be able to examine the bridge and its art in detail. It’s a bit hard to see the carvings at present, but in a virtual world setting, this will be possible and in any detail for students, scholars and visitors seeking to see this unique art out of Van Diemen’s Land.

If anyone would like to participate in this adventure, I am happy to hear from folk while in Ross and also at a meeting at ~

2pm Sunday 21 September
Ross reading Room
Ross Library
next to the Ross Wool Centre
Within sight of the cannon

There is a community market on in the Town Hall in the morning, if a little treasure hunting is called for.

Bring along your stories and insights on the Ross Bridge and the meaning of its mysterious art.

This may prove to be the first of many meetings in Ross to touch stone with the bridge and tease out its mysteries.

My virtual world display on the Ross Bridge is currently set up in InWorldz, in the History room of the Sky Gallery above Copper Hollow, where we can also meet in cyber space, wherever we are in the World.

Enquiries ~ .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


‘The Mysterious Art of the Ross Bridge’

‘Icelanders Celebrate the Bicentenary of Jorgen Jorgenson’s Rule’

‘The Real Jorgen Jorgenson’

• Daniel Herbert

Hamish Maxwell-Stewart
Australian Dictionary of Biography

Daniel Herbert (1802–1868), convict and stonemason, was baptized on 17 February 1802 in the Paul Street Independent Chapel, Taunton, Somerset, England, son of Daniel Herbert, a corporal in the 6th (Inniskillen) Dragoons, and his wife Mary. Daniel later moved with his mother to Leeds, where he worked as a signboard writer and stonemason. Later he lived in his parents’ native town of Manchester. In March 1827, with James Camble and John Lynch, he was charged before the North Eastern circuit assizes with four counts of highway robbery and with putting ‘in bodily fear and danger’. Herbert had already served part of a seven-year sentence for stealing in a dwelling house; he and his co-accused pleaded guilty, and were sentenced to death on 7 April. Reprieved on condition of transportation for life, Herbert was shipped aboard the Asia, arriving in Hobart Town in December 1827.

As a stonemason, he was placed in the Engineer’s Department and for the next seven years was employed on government projects in Hobart, including the new female factory at Cascade. In the late 1820s and early 1830s Herbert made a number of appearances before the magistrates’ bench, charged with being absent from the works and drinking. By 1835 he was employed as overseer of stonemasons on the construction of the new customs house, a service for which he was paid one shilling a day. When Josiah Spode, principal superintendent of convicts, was asked to recommend two stonemasons to be transferred to Ross to oversee the completion of a replacement bridge across the Macquarie River, Herbert was one.

Despite being promised a conditional pardon for successfully completing the task, Herbert asked to be allowed to remain three weeks longer in Hobart to marry Mary Witherington. In the event, they married at Ross on 1 July 1835. The bridge was completed in July 1836. It contained 186 keystones or voussoirs carved by Herbert, or completed under his supervision, in fifty-six weeks between May 1835 and July 1836. Various interpretations of their curious motifs have been put forward, including claims that the many carved heads were portraits of Herbert and his wife, Jorgen Jorgenson, Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur and other colonial officials and local personalities.

Herbert was granted a free pardon in February 1842 and continued to live at Ross, where he worked as an ornamental stonemason. He was credited with carving a number of motifs for other buildings in Tasmania, including St Luke’s Presbyterian Church, Bothwell. Daniel Herbert died of bronchitis on 28 February 1868 at Campbell Town, survived by his wife; they had three children. Reputedly, he designed and carved his own tomb in the old burial ground at Ross. In 2005 his bridge there was still in use.

• The Ross Bridge

Nomination for a
by The Engineering Heritage Tasmania Engineers Australia July 2006


3.1 Origins

The initiative to provide each of the arch stones with a deep relief carving originated with Daniel Herbert. It is most striking that, in amongst all the voluminous correspondence concerning this bridge, between the Lieutenant-Governor, the Colonial Architect/Engineer, the Superintendent of Convicts, the Inspector of Public Works, local settlers and the Superintendent of Ross, there is not any mention of these carvings. Herbert must have gained prior permission from Capt. Turner to sculpt these stones, and this permission must have been granted, at least verbally.

Capt. Turner did not officially inform anyone of his decision. John Lee Archer must have seen this work in progress during one of his site visits, yet his diary appears to be silent on the subject. The same applies to Roderick O’Connor, the Inspector of Works. There are 186 icons, one on each of the voussoirs forming the six arches. Sculpting these stones cannot have been done in secret. One may postulate that Capt. Turner, having given Herbert permission to do this work, led a conspiracy of silence, by explaining to all concerned that the carving of these stones was the convicts’ contribution to the appearance of the bridge and was improving morale, and thus efficiency and standard of workmanship.

An extensive review of stone arch bridges in Italy (Roman arches), and the remainder of continental Europe and UK, especially France in the 17th and 18th century, has failed to identify similar carvings. The only decorations found occasionally were carvings of coats of arms on the key stones of central spans of stone arch bridges. The bridge at Ross must be considered unique in the world in this respect.

• Kim Peart

We plan to attend the celebration of the centenary of powered flight in Tasmania at the Elwick Showground on Saturday 13th ~

Another trip will take us to Penguin, to look into that peddle powered flight that happened there, well before Badgery flew in Hobart ~