A divisive bridge design

Ernest Stowe’s 1922 harbour bridge vision, connecting into Kent Street (SLNSW).

Walsh Bay’s wharves and warehouses might have been demolished within a decade of their construction—if architect-engineer Ernest Stowe’s 1922 vision for the Sydney Harbour Bridge had been adopted.

His entry to the NSW government’s 1922 harbour bridge design competition proposed three suspension bridges—one taking traffic diagonally across the central city towards Kensington-Randwick, another linking to Sydney’s western suburbs through Balmain and the third connecting north shore traffic through Balls Head and Waverton.

Traffic to and from these three areas of Sydney would be raised and lowered between the different levels of these bridges, through elevator machinery in a giant tower-war memorial to be built on Goat Island.

Stowe’s City–Goat Island bridge would have required almost total demolition of the Sydney Harbour Trust’s ‘wharfage scheme’ at Walsh Bay—which in 1922 was almost entirely built. His bridge concept showed the southern entry/exit ramp to be built diagonally across today’s Pier 8–9. Traffic (both cars and horses-and-carts) would travel through an Arc de Triomphe-inspired giant portal, which would have been built from sandstone blocks formed by levelling Observatory Hill and the high ground of Millers Point. Today’s Pier 6–7 and historic Ferry Lane also would have been demolished to carve a canal through a newly flattened Millers Point, towards the city portal.

(Francis) Ernest Stowe was an architect and engineer who practised at Parramatta. His three-way scheme for the bridge was among more than 70 concepts submitted for the 1922 design competition—which was won by another architect, Norman Selfe. However the state government later adopted the now-familiar tied arch design by engineer John Bradfield. He also sketched a suspension type of bridge between Milsons and Dawes Point—the route eventually constructed.

John Bradfield’s first idea for the Sydney Harbour Bridge (suspension type), 1924.

More details

Rachel Clun, 2018, ‘How the Sydney Harbour Bridge could have looked‘, The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 September.

Peter Michael Cusick, 1984, Francis Ernest Stowe (1867–1936): Architect, Engineer and Inventor, Sydney: University of New South Wales (B.Arch dissertation).

State Librtary of New South Wales, 2018, Bridge Explorer.