Stories of convict life in the early days of Australian settlement often dwell on the harshness and cruelty of punishments meted out at places like Port Arthur or the Coal Mines. But for convicts who were well-behaved or had tradesmen’s skills their situation could be improved with the opportunity to work on construction projects in the colonies. Convict-made buildings, bridges and roads are commonplace in Tasmania, but some stand out as being a little more unusual than others. Spiky Bridge, south of Swansea, was built by convicts in 1843.
The road along the stretch of coastline from Little Swan Port to Swansea was well-known in the early days of settlement for being rough, and crossing this steep, rocky gully was treacherous at the best of times. Edward Shaw, a local farmer, had been campaigning for some time for a bridge to be built over the gully with no success. So after a night of card playing he offered Major de Gillern, the Superintendent of nearby Rocky Hills Probation Station a ride home. They crossed the gully at full speed and this most uncomfortable journey impressed upon the Major the need for road works. Not long after, Spiky Bridge was built!
The bridge is a dry wall construction – there is no mortar holding the stones together. There is no record of the reason for the upright stones that give the bridge its name. The most popular story tells that cattle often fell over the sides of the bridge into the gully and the ornamented sides were added to stop this from happening.
Or could it have been a convict with a sense of humour who placed the stones this way?