The Building of the Pass  
 

Mt Victoria Pass. Mt Victoria is 120 kilometers from Sydney and 1043 metres above sea-level. 

The Victoria Pass  is a masterpiece of engineering as it winds down the western slopes of the Blue Mountains crossing a narrow ridge  near Mount York.   It was completed in 1832. Major Mitchell was the surveyor General a the time and was  problems with Cox’s Western Road had to be solved due to the hazardous and steep  descent from Mount York . Coaches and wagons traveling down the western escarpment was difficult and treacherous. In 1830, Governor Darling instructed the new Surveyor-General, Thomas Mitchell, to find an improved line to Bathurst.  He then set about finding a new line of road.  With a team of convicts the road gangs started at the top of the pass and one team worked up from the base of the cliffs.

There were two  stockades for the convicts one on top at Mt Victoria and one a the Base near Rosedale. In 1832 there were still 219 men  working in irons at Mt Victoria.

The building of the pass was a major undertaking for Sydney's chain gang, the colony was nearing being just 50 years old in 1838.

in 1829 Major Mitchell reported  that they had cleared for a road by mistake (Major Mitchells report on roads -1827-1855 Mitchell Library) Work was already in progress on a new descent of the western escarpment.  It had begun under the supervision of Major E. Lockyer. However Surveyor General Major Mitchell did not like  this alternative route, situated between the original Cox’s Road and Lawson’s Long Alley, which had already received official sanction and was well advanced .  This did not deter Mitchell. He moved the work gangs over to Mount Victoria, convinced that his decision was correct and the line marked could not be bettered.

During June 1830 Surveyor General Major Thomas Mitchell marked out his new line of road between One Tree Hill (as Mt Victoria was called then)  and Bathurst, he expressed his satisfaction in writing:

"This is entirely my road, too that although I marked it plainly on my sketch, submitted nearly three years ago and Major Lockyer was ordered to make it, still no one hit upon it."

His newly marked road by- passed the difficult river crossings and steep hills of the Cox's original road.

 On June 23rd Mitchell reported to the Colonial Secretary  McLeay:

 
 

Map of 27th July 1830  showing proposed road by Mitchell and road off to John Grant’s property plus area designed for “village reserve”

   

 

"I have much satisfaction in being able to state that I have also succeeded in finding a very favorable descent from the  Blue Mountains , by a ridge nearly parallel to that of Mount York, but more in a direct line...The part of hill by which this descent may be effected... I have named for the sake of convenience Mount Victoria"

"I have considered it expedient to place the two gangs employed at Mount York, which are very weak, on the new descent by Mount Victoria, and I would recommend the following arrangements...

The two gangs in question were at work on Lockyer's Pass which had already been constructed from the valley floor near Collits Inn to about the mid-way point on the western escarpment of the Mount York Ridge.

McLeay replied by firmly forbidding Mitchell to proceed with work on his new Pass. Mitchell was displeased. On July 27 he wrote to McLeay:

“I defy any man to point out any material improvements in the lines laid down by me ... The Secretary of State has been pleased to place the Road Department under my directions; and although the addition to my duties makes no addition in my salary, I cannot conscientiously sit down in Sydney and pocket that salary without caring whether roads be made right or wrong and I trust that the work I have begun, on no vague report of any illiterate clown, but after a general survey by myself and assistants, may be suffered to proceed I"and instructed his on-site Supervisor Elliot, to "labour with vigorous activity' on the new pass. Mitchell was referring to James Collits who was granted land as a reward for finding an alternate route down from Mt York.

After a further refusal to sanction his work, the dispute laboured on until September, 1830, when Mitchell demanded his case be put in London. Mitchell went to Parramatta and  from an unwilling Governor Darling and a defeated Colonial Secretary won a grudging consent for the work on the new pass to proceed. An interview with the Governor finally resolved matters and Mitchell won the approval for work to continue

Opposition to the new pass came also from Peirce Collits, the host of the Red Garter, formerly called the Golden Fleece at the foot of Mt York  Traffic using Mitchells planned descent would by-pass his inn and his trade would be ruined.

In November 10 1830 Supervisor Elliot  reported to Mitchell that 79 men were employed on the Pass of Victoria in grubbing and rolling off the timber, 39 men in quarrying  rock and six masons were engaged in building the wall.

The convict workers, their military guards and other workers were housed in a stockade located at the western end of todays Mount Victoria township, then called One Tree Hill, near where Mount York intersects Balmoral Road.  The forked stump of a dead tree used as a flogging triangle survived on the site into the late 1920's but has since disappeared.

John Skeen was employed as and overseer of one of the workgangs. Overseer. John Skeen had married Amelia Collits and he was disliked by Mitchell. On Skeene’s resignation, Surveyor General Mitchell, who had a very low opinion of him, wrote to the Colonial Secretary:
The conduct of the Road party No.9 stationed near Mt Victoria and, until lately under Overseer Skeene, has been much complained of; drays have been robbed, and cattle slaughtered in the neighbourhood of this gang ... there is every reason to believe that prisoners in that gang have been concerned in these depredations.
[The behaviour] ...of the gang is mainly attributable to this overseer who holds a ticket of leave, but which I consider it would be justice to deprive him of, although he has left the department, considering all circumstances connected with the conduct of the gang lately under his charge, for he has built a house on the road side, and, so situated, it can scarcely be doubted that he will encourage drinking and disorder amongst the men employed in that neighbourhood.


Mitchell planned to use the No.9 Road Party to test the new wooden boxes as a means of accommodation and containment for road parties rather than the slab huts then in use. The Quaker missionary Backhouse described the boxes as being so cramped when fully occupied that not all men could either stand upright or sit down at the same time with their bodies fully stretched. Only 18 inches breadth per person was allocated and 28 men could be locked in one of these from sunset to sunrise.
Backhouse also supports Cook’s view of the overseers, saying that the convicts were likely to be flogged for trifling offences and were subject to capricious conduct by the overseers. In Backhouse’s opinion, death was preferable"

In January 1831 Assistant surveyor John Lambie took over as Supervisor from Elliot.  The pace of work picked up in this year.

On August 5 the Sydney Herald reported:  On Monday morning last 62 men were dispatched to the iron gangs of the interior under strong military escort., and on September 5 that "Major Mitchell is proceeding with expedition in the new road in the Mountains, which cuts off the toilsome road at present in use , by way of Mount York."

In February, 1832 John Lambie reported that 216 convicts in irons, and 60 out of irons, were at work on the Pass, while the stockade housed a Bridge party of 62 convicts in irons and 33 out of irons.

"The Australia" reported on November 16 1832

"Sixty seven of the 4th Regiment will march from Parramatta on Monday next to relieve the detachment of the 17th Regiment stationed at Mount Victoria"

Other appointments of men as Superintendents of iron-gangs and as Constables were notified in contemporary  newspapers.

This large body of men was , by this time, housed in a stockade at the foot of the pass, in the vicinity of todays Little Hartley Farm.

In the years 1832,1833,and 1834 Michael Flannagan, who had received a 50 acre land grant near the base of Mount Victoria, held a license for an inn which he called the Harp of Erin, but there is no license in his name in subsequent years.

Members of the convict workforce regularly required the services of the resident scourger. They absconded from work gangs they held up passing travellers, they went to sleep when supposedly at work, they were insolent to overseers and military guards, they helped themselves to the contents of passing drays - ad their rum casks - they enjoyed an occasional feast from a stolen bullock.

When Surveyor John Nicholson replaced John Lambie in July 1832, he reported to his Department Heads that: " ...the side cutting to finish the descent and render it practicable for traffic can be finished by three weeks from this with the present force.  In other words Nicholson expected that the Pass would be practicable for traffic " by the end of the first week of August 1832.

On Friday 26th October, 1832 a geographical confused reporter wrote in the Australian "  "His Excellency the Governor set out for Sir John Jamieson's hospitable seat at Regent Ville on Friday last, accompanied by Miss Bourke, Mr Richard Bourke, Captain and Mrs Westmacott, Major and Mrs Bouverie, and several others meaning to proceed onwards to Bathurst  beyond the plains to Mount Victoria, so as to be present at the opening of the new road in that direction.  The gay cavalcade was expected to reach Collits Inn on the mountain road on Tuesday night last"

On Tuesday, October 23 1832, Governor Richard Burke performed the official opening ceremony of what Mitchell called "the opening glory of my road" - the Pass of Victoria. He was escorted on a tour of inspection by Surveyor John Nicholson.

The Western Road which continued on to Bathurst was under construction from 1830 to 1835. Unlike the earlier roads which had been little more than cleared bush tracks for most of their length Mitchell's Road was intended as a permanent highway to the western inland. It proved to be just that.

The horse-drawn coach services which came into existance as the road was pushed on to Bathurst took two days from Emu Ford to Bathurst.  Some earlier travellers had spent 18 days to cover  the same journey by bullock dray over the old road.

The Pass of Victoria, with its big side cuttings and its convict Bridge , built from the valley floor with rock quarried from the mountain-side to bridge  a deep narrow gulch between two hills, was built in the days when traffic consisted of the occasional bullock dray, hors e drawn carriage or party of horseman.  Source: S Williams  of  the Mt Victoria Historical Society 1982 undertook considerable research and a booklet was produced in 1982 to commemorate  150 years

177 years has passed and the Convict Bridge and the pass  withstands the continuous daily movements of  thousands of motor cars, tucks and prime-movers.

 

Mt Victoria Pass in 1831

Travel in the early years was closely regulated by the Government. “Gentlemen or other respectable free persons” desiring permission to travel over the Mountains were required to make written application and were issued with a special pass if approved.

The late Rev. James S. Hassall, a son of Rev Thos Hassal and a consequently a grandson of Rev. S. Marsden describes his trip in his book, “In Old Australia”  recorded his recollections on traveling down the  pass in 1851.

“When I was eight years old (this would be in 1831)  My father took me with him on a trip to Bathurst. We rode from Parramatta and shortly started over the Blue Mountains.  The first days stage was one of 28 miles to the Pilrim Inn on top of Lapstone Hill.  The New Pass was in course of construction over Mt Victoria and my father decided to try it instead of going the old road by Mount York.  When we arrived at the Pass it was seen that we would have to take the horses along the top of a wall (recently erected of large blocks of  cut stone) not more than  four feet wide.  It was a great risk to take as the declivity on both sides was perpendicular and of great depth.  We did not, however care for a day’s journey back, in order to go by the other road, so my father led his horse over, as did the members of the party theirs.  Mrs Samuel Hassal, my uncles widow, was one of our party.  For fear I might slip over, I was told to keep my seat on my pony.  It was not pleasant to see the treetops immediately below me as I rode, and to know that a false step would result in our going over the precipice. Fortunately we all got over safely.  At night we arrived at a station on Cox’s River.  The dwelling was of slabs and occupied by a little Irishman, known by the name of ‘Terrible Billy” who gave us shelter for the night and made us comfortable as circumstances allowed. ...

The Bathurst-road was simply a dray-track, very rough and in places hilly.  At the foot of the long hills a great number of trees lay scattered, which had been brought down behind drays to steady them.  At this time (1831) brakes were not in use: probably they were unknown.”

 

 

The  'Convicts Bridge',  is still used by all traffic travelling across the Blue Mountains.

Mitchell's Bridge was opened in 1832 as part of Victoria Pass, on the western escarpment. Hand-built by convict labour, it remains in use on the Great Western Highway to this day.

Cox's precipitous route down Mt York had been superseded by "Lawson's Long Alley" around 1823. Lieutenant William Lawson's route was marginally less steep, and the descent was shorter. Whilst the best route would have been north along Darling Causeway to a descent near Lithgow, the country did not offer the water and feed needed by horses.

Between 1912 and 1920, Berghoffer's Pass offered an alternative route, more suited to the limited pulling power of cars. It suffered from sharp curves and was abandoned as cars became more powerful. It is now a walking track.

The bridge is named after Major Thomas Mitchell, the Surveyor General

Mitchell's Bridge   Blue Mountains City Library.

 

Mount Victoria is located on an escarpment plateau extension of Mount York, the site of a camp on the original Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson 1813 crossing of the Blue Mountains. The area was originally marked as One Tree Hill on an early map dating from 1834 by the Surveyor General, Sir Thomas Mitchell.  One Tree Hill is near Mt Piddington Rd where it heads off to the left from the Great Western Highway.  Near the point where Mt Piddington Rd intersects with Apex Ave is One Tree Hill, which is the highest point in the entire Blue Mountains.

After the road across the Blue Mountains was constructed a toll bar was opened approximately 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) east from the present township in 1849 and the area was also known as Broughton's Waterhole Toll Bar. The horse drawn coaches were charged at the toll according to how well sprung they were, ones without springs were not charged as it was believed they would help crush the road surface. Lighter coaches with springs were charged one shilling and six pence.

.After the railway station, marking the termination of the Main Western railway line, was opened in 1869, the town also became known as Mount Victoria. The town's name was officially changed after the first Post Office was built in 1876

 

 

Convicts working to the plans of Thomas Livingstone Mitchell, Surveyor General built Mitchells Causeway at Victoria Pass in 1831 located 2 kilometers west of Mt.Victoria.

After the extension of the railway over the Blue Mountains in the 1860s the mountain roads were used less and less and many parts fell into decay.

The introduction and spread of the motorcar in Australia after 1905 brought roads back into importance, while at the same time, the Blue Mountains had become a favoured holiday location for people from the city. During the early stages of their use, the motorcars of the period were not powerful enough to scale the incline at Victoria Pass. A local Councillor J.W.Berghofer, the first president of Blaxland Shire, lobbied for the construction of an easier alternative (Karskens, 1988:9).

An extensive deviation was subsequently constructed below the old viaduct on the slopes facing north. This deviation, which became known as Berghofer's Pass, was constructed between 1907 and 1912. The pass featured rubble retaining walls, stone and pipe culverts and substantial cuttings. Berghofer?s Pass curved sharply along the mountain?s edge crossing the old road to Mt York near the junction with Lawson's Long Alley.

By 1920, motor vehicles had become powerful enough to negotiate the old viaduct. It is probable that the retaining wall at Mt.Victoria was also built at or around this time. For a time both roads were used, however in 1933-34 the then Department of Main Roads improved Victoria Pass by widening it and reconstructing the gravel pavement. The deep loop at the base of the pass (still in use) was also constructed to replace the somewhat irregular alignment of Berghofer's Pass. Victoria Pass was later surfaced with bitumen (Karskens, 1988:9).

 
 
 

24. [Etching by John Carmichael of a drawing by Mitchell of New Line cleared of trees, Mount Victoria, 31st July 1830]


25. [Lithograph of] New line cleared of trees, [Mount Victoria], 31st July 1830