- Keith Newman
The tale of two Black Bridges (part one)
Single lane bridge ends isolation So who gives way to who? (1300)
Until the original Black Bridge was completed in 1888, the only access to the coastal regions of Haumoana, Te Awanga and Clifton was by sea or horse and cart across mud flats at low tide from East Clive.
In the early pioneering days, few ever considered the fertile land south of the Tukituki river mouth would ever be anything other than farm land; its “enforced isolation” seemed to make it unsuited for close settlement.
The inland plains were the domain of large sheep stations and cropping paddocks, and the river was a highway in its own right, with people, goods and produce ferried up and down its length between various Maori villages and settler farms.
Making a case to build a bridge, essentially serving the large properties of Craggy Range, Clive Grange and Clifton, was a long drawn out process. When it was finally agreed to, it was narrow, low to the river, dangerous to cross during semi-regular flooding and certainly not suited to the evolving age of the motor vehicle.
“On busy days traffic bottlenecks were unavoidable. It is on record that an argument by two motorists who met head on in the centre of the bridge on one occasion held up traffic for almost two hours,” wrote F.R Hursthouse in the New Zealand Freelance in August 1956.
W. Tucker, deputy chairman of the Napier Harbour Board, witnessing the opening as a young boy. “It was called the Black Bridge because it never had any paint but the tar brush, just as the bridge much further up the river on the way to Waimarama was painted red and was known as the Red Bridge.” There was a passing bay in the middle of the narrow 2000ft (610m) long bridge where fishermen caught herrings. Cars and lorries depended on the bay to navigate their way across but there were endless traffic jams with queues of cars waiting at either end. Even after 1938 when the bay was removed and the bridge converted into a one-way structure with ‘refuges’ for cyclists and pedestrians fights still broke out over who got onto the bridge first. Local kaumatua Darky Unahi recalls as a youngster he and his mates would go down and watch the traffic jams build up in the small passing lane. taking bets on who would get into a fight first as stubborn drivers refused to give way or back up.
“We’d run along top and dive off into deep water to get out of the way if they were having a scrap so we didn’t get a hiding too. They put lights on the bridge later on but that didn’t solve it,” he says.
Stock were driven across daily and the “the bridge was sanded so hooves would not slip”, then lorries began to be used. Horse riders mostly dismounted and walked across while “many an impatient motorist” had to wait their turn, said Hursthouse.
The old wooden bridge had been set on fire five times “through picnics held, or carelessly thrown cigarette butt”. The most serious threat was the 1939 Anzac Day flood which devastated many Hawke’s Bay areas. Origins of the bridge The Tukituki, Grange or Black Bridge, was the fourth large bridge built by the Hawke’s Bay County Council and first proposed in 1877 by Land Wars veteran Colonel George Whitmore, who had led seven military campaigns including those against the Hauhau in Hawke’s Bay, Te Kooti along the East Coast and pursuing Titokowaru in Taranaki.
Whitmore had resigned from the Hawke’s Bay County Council after only months in the job to take on the role of Colonial Secretary. Having sold Rissington station and purchased Clive Grange Estate from Joseph Rhodes in 1873, Whitmore insisted something be done about bridging the Tukituki River but his proposal was deemed too costly. Later councillor F. Sutton put a motion to go ahead and raise a loan with the support J. N. Loughan of Tukituki, T. E. Gordon of Clifton Station and J. Roberts of The Grange, the three main ratepayers who offered to pay all the interest through a targeted rate over 26-years on a £6,000 loan. The Clive Road Board applied for another £3,000.
Again a double lane bridge proved too costly so a single lane version was designed by Mr J. T. Carr.
Bullocks and brute strength In a 1956 Freelance article, Haumoana Progressive Association president, C. J Baker, says the bridge was constructed by Mackenzie Brothers, bridge builders from Palmerston North between 1867-87. Timber was carted form Farndon to East Clive. “Bullocks two by two would drag the heavy bridge timber and swim across the river with a driver named Macdonald on the back ones. Floods came and when the timber (was) washed to the beach the patient bullocks would have to drag it back again.”
The old bridge had 19 spans, each 60 ft (18m) long with four 30ft (9m) long spans at one end. The piles were each in two sets of four with each span supported by eight piles of 12 x 12 (3.6 x 3.6m) totara, one foot square (30cm). Bill Haig and Paddy O’Connell handled the blacksmith work including making the heavy iron bolts.
When a long stretch of protection work was swept away in the October 1887 flood and the council had used up all the money borrowed for construction a dispute arose over who would pay for its completion, the Clive Board or the Hawke’s Bay County Council.
When the designer Mr Carr lengthened the bridge by four spans or 36.5m at the councils expensive Mr Roberts of The Grange offering an incentive of a £2,000 cheque if the bridge was finished in 18 months. When it finally opened on 9 May 1888 “in a burst of handshaking and congratulations”, councillor Sutton declared it one of the most important works undertaken in Hawke’s Bay and only one of two instances of property owners putting their hands in their pockets to pay for a public work.
“Its erection (a quick job by modern standards) was watched with keen interest. Schoolchildren ‘played the wag’ to spend hours at the scene; Sunday afternoon buggy parties drove to the Tuki Tuki by the dozens.….The owner of the Farndon Hotel, Mr J.P. Smith, opened up a drinking booth at the site – and did a roaring trade,” stated an article in the Hawke’s Bay Herald in October 1856.
After the bridge was ‘christened’ by Miss Ellen Mary Tanner (later to be Mrs Frank Gordon of Clifton Estate) the local media reported “a general march…on to the bridge to the refreshment table in the middle”.
Thomas Tanner, a major landholder who often referred to himself as the founder of Hastings, proposed toasts to the contractor, the engineer and others “then all adjourned to the other side for a monster picnic among in the blue gums” on a property then owned by L.J. Ireland. The first man to cross the bridge was a Mr Ellis who drove a buggy and pair of horses across from Grange Station. It was said half the population of Clive were “carried home in wheelbarrows after a most excellent and liberal function”.
Following the celebrations, the old contentions and rivalries resurfaced over the benefit of private property owners when councillor Sutton urged immediate tree planting for the protection of the bridge.
There was a general grumbling that this too would benefit private land owners. It was finally agreed to spend £200 on planting willows at the bridge. Councillor Williams summed up what the rest of the council were apparently feeling: “We have got ourselves a white elephant and now we’ve got to feed it”.
Mr Bennett also complained the coast road would now require another bridge further up the Tukituki. The Red Bridge at the Waimarama crossing completed the circuit in 1904. To be continued…..
Sources: Almost a personality in the district…Bridge standing only ‘by force of habit’, F.R Hursthouse, New Zealand Freelance, August 31, 1956 James Belich. 'Whitmore, George Stoddart', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Oct-2012 Clive, Barnes and MacErlich, Clive, p 46 Old Black Bridge has served the district well, HB Herald, 5-10-1956
Photographs: Hawke’s Bay Digital Archives Trust, Hastings District Council Archives and Hawke’s Bay MTG