The Spit Punt, life before the Spit Bridge

Have you ever been stuck in peak hour on the Spit Bridge? This photo from the collection of the State Library of New South Wales shows how people crossed the Spit in 1914.

There is a long, often quite sad history from the crossing of Middle Harbour. The earliest evidence I found talks about a man named Barnard Kearns who in 1830 started rowing passengers from Shell Cove to Clontarf.

In the 1850s a man named Peter Ellery was rowing passengers across the Spit. He also started a punt service to ferry both “cattle and men” with the charge being less if horses swam across themselves to which at least one account indicates the horses quite enjoyed the swim.

Unfortunately Mr Ellery’s punt regularly broke down leading the Government to replace the service with their own in 1870. While larger it was also unreliable as well as unsafe. In 1888 the punt capsized throwing 5 men, 8 horses and drays carrying bricks into the water. Sadly all of the horses drowned. By this time residents had begun to call for a bridge to be built, but they would be left waiting for several decades.

In 1889 the steam driven punt shown in the picture commenced service, but it too had problems most often due to boats interfering with the punts large wire cables. One particular incidence occurred in 1910 when a skiff carrying 8 people struck one of the cables and sunk. A rescue was launched but sadly only 7 people were rescued. Clara Chase, a 22 year old woman from Leichhardt tragically drowned.

The first Spit Bridge was built 14 years later in 1924. The current bridge was built in 1958 which while it has its own problems it is a vast improvement on the way people used to cross Middle Harbour.

Note: I try to be as accurate as possible but make no guarantees. Please use this information at your own risk.


Spit Bridge Middle Harbour

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