Tamaki River Bridge (1865), Panmure

Engineering Work (eg road, bridge, sawmill, dam)


A very early example of a swing span bridge was the bridge across the Tamaki River at Panmure, which connected the important outpost of Howick to Panmure and Auckland. Fencible settlements had been established by the New Zealand Government in 1847 at Howick, Panmure, Otahuhu and Onehunga, as defensive outposts to protect Auckland from a possible Maori attack from the south. The ‘Fencibles’ were retired soldiers from Britain and Ireland who were given land and a cottage in return for being available to defend Auckland. The bridge was built in 1864-65 and had a 12.2 metre (m) swing span.

In 1857 local residents had petitioned the Auckland Provincial Council for a bridge. The bridge was designed by Mr W R Collett under direction of William Weaver, engineer in chief to the Auckland Provincial Government from 1864 to 1868. Work began in October 1864 to construct the Tamaki River Bridge, 576 feet (ft) long and 21 ft wide. The wrought iron swing span and associated ironwork was fabricated by P N Russell & Co in Sydney before being shipped to Auckland. The abutments were made from bluestone blocks, weighing 1.5 to 2 tons each, which were brought from Melbourne. The bridge had 18 fixed spans and the opening span that provided 40 ft of clear waterway opening for ships to pass.

There was considerable difficulty in obtaining totara timber piles of up to the necessary 65 feet in length. These in turn had to be sheathed in Muntz metal (brass, 60 per cent (%) copper and 40% zinc) to prevent the attack of teredo worms. Foundations for the bridge at the eastern abutment under the swinging span were also difficult, requiring excavation to 14 ft below the bed of the river using a cofferdam (a temporary watertight enclosure used for construction below water level). The ground conditions were particularly difficult, changing from silt to hard blue clay and rock within a short depth. The total cost of the bridge was £15,189 14s 7d (about $1,530,000 in 2010 money) plus £1,835 5s 5d ($185,000) for the approach roads, toll house, and mooring dolphins.

The bridge was opened by Mr Robert Graham, Superintendent of the Auckland Province, on 20th October 1865 with long-winded speeches and toasts followed by dancing on the kauri deck of the bridge. After the official opening there were delays, while the approach roads were finished and the swing bridge loaded with ballast. Traffic was finally admitted in the first week in March 1866.

The swinging span was mounted on a circular rail turned by a hand operated winch. There were many complaints about the time taken to open the swinging section and sometimes boats were held up for days when difficulties with the swinging section were experienced, angering many farmers along the river who relied on ships to take their wheat and chaff to markets.

Like the Auckland Harbour Bridge, initially tolls were charged for crossing the bridge, but later phased out. Today part of the swinging steelwork, the circular rail and hand winch on top of the massive bluestone pier remain under a ships’ chandlery store built over the old swing span. Although the chandlery store and jetty are privately owned, the public are permitted to visit the remains of this historic bridge under the store.

This first bridge lasted 51 years until 1916 when it was replaced by a higher level ferro-concrete bridge, which deteriorated and was demolished after the present bridge was opened in December 1959. This latter bridge is a three-lane reinforced high-level bridge, with the centre lane being used for traffic flow westwards in the morning and eastwards in the afternoon. It was designed by AO Barrowclough of Andrew Murray Partners for the Manukau County Council. While still in use, it is dwarfed by the soaring upstream Pakuranga Highway Bridge, known locally as the Waipuna Bridge. This bridge was designed by Gavin Cormack of Beca Carter Hollings and Ferner, built by Etude et Enterprises and opened on 10th May 1974.

Journals of the Auckland Provincial Council 1865, 1866
La Roche, Alan, The History of Howick and Pakuranga, Howick and Districts Historical Society Auckland ,1991
Illustrated London News, 12 October 1867
La Roche, Alan and John La Roche, The 1865 Tamaki River Bridge, Panmure, Auckland: Alan and John La Roche, 2015. See attached pdf below.
Baker, R A, From Bush to Borough An illustrated history of the Mount Wellington area, Tamaki City Council, 1987
Ringer, B., Manukau’s Journey an on-line history of the Manukau region, Manukau City Council, 2004


La Roche, The 1865 Tamaki River Bridge, Panmure (4 MB).pdf


The steel swing span and the eastern abutment of the original 1865 bridge remain and can be viewed under Panmure Bridge Marine ship chandlery store at 2 Pakuranga Road, at the eastern end of the Panmure Bridge.


Access Info
Although the chandlery store and jetty are privately owned, the public are permitted to visit the remains of this historic bridge under the store.

Nature of Engineering
Infrastructure (incl. Road, water, ports)


Original bridge soon after completion in 1865. Photograph provided by A. La Roche from Steve Udy collection

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The Scow Pukapuka passing through the swing span, circa 1912 (detail). Photograph courtesy of Howick Historical Society

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Turning mechanism after restoration, 2013. Photograph courtesy of John La Roche

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Former swing span of bridge now incorporated into Panmure Bridge Marine building, 2013. Photograph courtesy of John La Roche

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Lat: -36.9088 Long: 174.8593