Fremantle Traffic Bridge & Ferry Capstan Base


City of Fremantle

Place Number



Queen Victoria St & Beach St Fremantle

Location Details

part of Beach Street Rd Reservation

Local Government




Construction Date

Constructed from 1880, Constructed from 1939

Demolition Year


Statutory Heritage Listings

Type Status Date Documents
Heritage List YES 08 Mar 2007
State Register Registered 30 Mar 2007 HCWebsite.Listing+ListingDocument, HCWebsite.Listing+ListingDocument

Heritage Council Decisions and Deliberations

Type Status Date Documents
(no listings)

Other Heritage Listings and Surveys

Type Status Date Grading/Management
Other Legal Agreement YES 20 Oct 2004
Municipal Inventory Adopted 26 May 2006 Level 1A

Statement of Significance

Fremantle Traffic Bridge and Ferry Capstan Base collectively mark the crossing of the Swan River between Fremantle and North Fremantle and the transition from the Swan River to Fremantle Harbour. Constructed in 1939, the Fremantle Traffic Bridge is located at a site that has been a river crossing point since 1866, when an earlier bridge was built by convict labour. The convict built bridge was replaced in 1898 when Fremantle Harbour was developed as part of the expansion of public works in Western Australia funded by the Gold Boom of the 1890s. The existing (1939) bridge is on the same site as the 1898 bridge and demonstrates the continued use of timber in bridge building in Western Australia into the 1930s, when its qualities were well understood and was low cost compared to other materials. The bridge was designed by engineer E W (Ernie) Godfrey, who was in charge of the Bridge Section of Main Roads from 1928 until his retirement in 1957. Godfrey was responsible for the design of all bridges built in Western Australia, and the construction of major bridges such as this, during this period. The capstan base is a rare surviving example of the technology used to haul river vessels in the nineteenth century. It may be the only extant capstan base in Western Australia and is one of a few in Australia. The light fixtures to the vehicular deck and the 1991/92 safety rails (although designed to be sympathetic to the original bridge design) are of little significance. This statement of significance is based on the Heritage Council of Western Australia’s Register Entry for Fremantle Traffic Bridge and Ferry Capstan Base (2006).

Physical Description

Fremantle Traffic Bridge is located across the Swan River between Fremantle and North Fremantle and marks the transition of the Swan River (to the east) in to Fremantle Harbour (to the west). The bridge carries traffic on Queen Victoria Street across the river in both the north and south directions. At the southern end, Beach Street runs along the embankment and under the bridge. The Ferry Capstan Base is located on the western side of this southern embankment. The northern embankment to the bridge is retained by a limestone wall to the east and bartered to the west, and runs directly into the river. An access stair with timber treads and galvanized metal handrails is located on the eastern side of the northern embankment. The southern embankment, accessed at its base from Beach Street, and from the top (on the eastern side) by concrete steps with galvanized metal handrails. Fremantle Traffic Bridge (1939) is 222.9 metres in length and 14.23 metres wide. It has a predominantly timber superstructure with a flat bituminised concrete deck carrying four lanes of traffic and a concrete pedestrian deck. The vehicular deck is approximately 12 metres wide and is marked with painted lines for the two lanes of traffic in each direction. Metal safety rails are located to either side of the vehicular deck. Standard Main Roads lights are located at fixed intervals to the eastern side. The concrete pedestrian deck, which is approximately 2 metres wide, is located to the western side of the bridge. It has a timber, steel and wire mesh handrail, which is distinguished by the white painted handrail posts, which have curved heads, and the circular steel rails. The north and south abutments to the bridge are painted reinforced concrete. The abutments, which have bartered wings are tapered back to the top of the embankments. The bridge is defined by four pillars, which mark the entry points to the bridge, rising from the abutments. These painted, square concrete pillars have moulded string courses and are adorned with distinctive lanterns, capped by hooded bronze spheres. The circular timber piles which form the superstructure of the bridge have concrete bases. Each of the concrete bases has been fitted with a pair of galvanized metal straps around the circumference. The timber piles, which are predominately jarrah, have been inscribed with roman numerals. While varying in size they are approximately 450mm in diameter. They are set in rows, called piers. There are a set of thirteen piers of seven timber piles each supporting the northern end of the bridge and a set of eleven piers of seven timber piles each supporting the southern end of the bridge. These sets of piers are half-capped and cross-braced, above the high water line, with sawn timber. Ten rows of circular timber stringers, reinforced by timber corbels, are carried by the timber piles. A section of stringers to the southern end of the bridge has been replaced with steel I beams. Timber joists and bearers support the concrete deck, which has a concrete kerb. Timber access planks with galvanized metal handrails provide access at water level to the piers from either end. These access planks are well utilised by local residents for recreational fishing. The central section of the bridge has two navigation spans approximately 16 metres wide with a central span of approximately 12.5 metres wide. This central section of the bridge comprises four double pile piers with nine pairs of timber piles each. These piers support a system of five riveted steel girders across each of the navigation spans. Steel bearers are fixed to the girders across the width of the bridge and are sway braced to both sides of the bridge. Concrete fenders have been constructed to the double pile piers to prevent river vessels from striking the timber piles. The Ferry Capstan Base is located to south western embankment of the bridge, towards the base of the embankment on Beach Street. The embankment comprises a grassed area to Beach Street and shrubs to the upper section adjoining Queen Victoria Street. A concrete path winds up the embankment to the south of the capstan base. The capstan base is almost completely hidden from view by vegetation, which has grown on and around it. It comprises a circular limestone base approximately 6 to 8 metres in diameter, which sits proud of the embankment at its north western side. The base is supported by dressed limestone blocks, approximately 400mm high ranging in size from 400mm to 700mm in length, arranged in a circular pattern. The base has a cementitious screed applied across its surface. A slight indent is visible in the centre of the base. The Fremantle Traffic Bridge (1939) is in a good condition and shows evidence of ongoing maintenance and repairs. The Ferry Capstan Base is in a poor condition and has been only intermittently maintained. The growth of vegetation and the cementitious screed are contributing to deterioration of the fabric. The physical evidence was prepared by Palassis Architects for the Heritage Council of Western Australia’s Register of Heritage Places Assessment Documentation for Fremantle Traffic Bridge and Ferry Capstan Base (2006). It has been slightly edited here.


The date of construction and particulars of use for the Ferry Capstan Base are unknown. Ferry services were established at strategic points along the Swan River from the earliest years of the Swan River Colony. Early maps of Fremantle do not show the capstan and no documentary evidence has been located [ref 2006 HCWA documentation] that provides insight into the workings of the structure. It is generally believed that the ferry capstan was connected to a ferry boat by a moving rope cable. The wood and iron capstan rotated around a vertical axle in the centre, supposedly moved by 10 convicts (according to some accounts; by animals according to others). It is also generally held that the capstan and hauling mechanism was used to tow boats onto the river bank for repairs and maintenance. Designs for a traffic bridge across the Swan River at North Fremantle were prepared under the direction of James Manning and Captain Grain of the Royal Engineers in 1863. Located adjacent to and upstream from the Queen Victoria Avenue Jetty, convict labour was used for the construction. The bridge sloped upwards (the hump) to allow for ships to pass underneath and due to the design and amount of timber used, it was commonly referred to as the ‘Bridge of Styx’. The bridge was officially opened on 21 November 1866 and regulations were introduced to control traffic over the bridge. Only milch cows and oxen were to be driven over the bridge during the hours of 8am and 10pm – other stock had to be driven during the night. The bridge was found to be unsafe in the early 1890s, and in 1898, a second was built alongside the 1866 bridge as a low level road bridge. The old bridge was closed to all but pedestrian traffic. The new bridge was intended as a temporary structure but no further action was taken until 1908 when the Fremantle and North Fremantle councils wanted to extend the tramway system to North Fremantle. After investigation, it was decided to ‘renovate’ the old bridge, which was cut down to remove the hump and widened to allow for both cars and trams. The low level bridge closed in June 1909 and was later demolished, although the northern approaches were used by fishermen until the 1920s. Until the 1920s, trains had provided the most popular form of public transport, but from then on, parlour coaches, buses and taxis run by private firms became increasingly common along the Perth to Fremantle road. By the mid-1930s, the bridge was in poor condition and Ernie W Godfrey, Main Roads Bridge Engineer, designed a replacement bridge. Estimated to cost £78,000, the bridge was designed as a temporary structure (though with a lifespan of 40 years), as it was thought that it would be demolished should the Port of Fremantle expand. Work on the new structure commenced in May 1937. The jarrah supporting piers were up to 65 feet long and were encased in concrete sleeves to protect them against marine borers. The bridge was 720 feet long with a 40 foot roadway between the curbs and a 6 foot footpath. There were three navigation openings in the middle of the bridge, and essential services such as water and gas mains and electricity cables were installed under the roadway. The majority of the bridge above the waterline was constructed of timber: wandoo stringers and jarrah bearers under a deck of jarrah. Ornamental concrete pylons topped by cast bronze lanterns were placed on the approaches to the bridge. Safety precautions for pedestrians consisted of a mesh and timber post fence topped with wrought iron handrails. Officially called the Fremantle-North Fremantle Traffic Bridge, the new bridge was opened by Premier J C Willcock on 15 December 1939 (although it was not completed until early the following year). The ceremony was held on the north side of the river. Being war time, the Government delayed the plan to demolish the old 1866 bridge in case the new bridge was damaged in an enemy attack. In 1992, the Fremantle Gazette reported that $1.3 million had been spent on major repairs to the bridge, including safety railing, replacement of piles and timber supports. The original bridge was demolished in 1947 and the southern approach in 1951. Jarrah posts cut off below the water are all that remain of the 1866 bridge. These are located on the northern bank, to the east of the existing bridge. For a more detailed account, see the documentary evidence prepared by Wayne Moredount in the Heritage Council of Western Australia’s Register Entry for the Fremantle Traffic Bridge and Ferry Capstan Base (2006).


Fremantle Traffic Bridge has a moderate to high level of authenticity. Some timber elements in the superstructure have been replaced with timber and steel components; concrete bases have been installed to timber piles; concrete fenders fitted to navigation piers and the deck has been overlaid with bituminised concrete. The handrails and light fittings on the deck have been replaced. The Ferry Capstan Base has a moderate level of authenticity despite the loss of associated parts.


Fremantle Traffic Bridge is in a fair condition. It shows evidence of ongoing maintenance and repairs. The Ferry Capstan Base is in poor condition, having been only intermittently maintained. The screed cement applied to the top of the capstan and overgrowing vegetation are contributing to the deterioration of the fabric.


Name Type Year From Year To
E W (Ernie) Godfrey, Main Roads Engineer Architect - -

Other Keywords

Adopted on MHI as HCWA decision.

State Heritage Office library entries

Library Id Title Medium Year Of Publication
7418 Fremantle Traffic Bridge No. 916 : bridge reconstruction option : concept report. Report 2004
3174 Western Roads : history of timber bridges in Western Australia. Report 1979
7467 Fremantle : beyond the Round House. Book 2005
7759 Guide to heritage bridge management. Book 2001

Place Type

Historic site


Epoch General Specific
Present Use Transport\Communications Water: Other
Original Use Transport\Communications Road: Bridge
Original Use Transport\Communications Water: Other

Architectural Styles

Other Style

Construction Materials

Type General Specific
Other METAL Steel
Wall BRICK Rendered Brick
Other TIMBER Other Timber
Other STONE Limestone
Other CONCRETE Other Concrete

Historic Themes

General Specific
DEMOGRAPHIC SETTLEMENT & MOBILITY Land allocation & subdivision
DEMOGRAPHIC SETTLEMENT & MOBILITY Technology & technological change
TRANSPORT & COMMUNICATIONS River & sea transport

Creation Date

31 Jul 1998

Publish place record online (inHerit):


Last Update

21 Mar 2019


This information is provided voluntarily as a public service. The information provided is made available in good faith and is derived from sources believed to be reliable and accurate. However, the information is provided solely on the basis that readers will be responsible for making their own assessment of the matters discussed herein and are advised to verify all relevant representations, statements and information.