The first 20 years of free settlement, Brisbane was dependent on ferries for passenger and goods transport between North Brisbane and the settlements of South Brisbane and Kangaroo Point. Licences to operate a ferry were put up for tender by the Government and were keenly bid upon.
In order to improve communications, the Brisbane Corporation held a contest for a design of the first bridge across the river. A design by Messrs Robinson and I'Anson was chosen and work began to construct a large iron bridge connecting Melbourne Street to Queen Street.
Sir George Bowen, the first Governor of Queensland, laid the foundation stone on 22 August 1864. Ships anchored in the river regaled in coloured flags along with a podium, banners and a massed military band to celebrate the occasion. The laying of the foundation stone meant a new era, when communications between the separate settlements would become cheaper and less tedious and rapid development would follow.
Due to financial constraints in the 1860s, the Brisbane Corporation was unable to pursue Robinson and I'Anson's original proposal for a solid iron bridge. After constructing several steel supporting piers, the Corporation was forced to change the original design and, for the rest of the substructure, wooden piers were used instead of steel ones.
Completed in June 1865, Brisbane's first bridge was operational less than a year after the laying of the foundation stone. This wooden bridge was intended to be a temporary structure until funds were available to build the metal bridge.
One aspect that was unaccounted for was the rapid effect that 'cobra' or marine borers would have on the degradation of the wooden piles. In November 1867, under the burden of an exceptionally high tide exerting pressure against the supports of the bridge a coach from Ipswich caused a loud creaking of timbers. This was followed by a crash and the centre of the bridge collapsed, scattering debris.
The ferry owners were jubilant, their fees could now be doubled to one penny each for foot passengers, threepence each for horses or cattle, one shilling for carts or carriages with two wheels and two shillings for four-wheeled carriages. Residents had to wait six and a half years for a replacement bridge to reopen to be free of the of the ferry owners monopoly.
Six months after the collapse, another portion of the bridge tumbled into the river. The remainder of bridge remained for another year until the entire structure was swept away by a flood.
The resulting shortage of funds caused by a financial crisis at the time caused the Brisbane Corporation to build yet another wooden bridge. Named the 'Victoria Bridge' after the English Monarch at the time, it was opened by the Governor the Marquess of Normanby in 1874.
The new bridge, with lacework parapet and footpath on each side, was a major construction for Queensland. Brisbane residents flocked to view the opening, rejoicing in the fact that a road connection over the river was available again.
5th of February 1893 saw a record 900 mm rainfall in Brisbane during a 24-hour period. At 4 a.m. the following day flooding waters carried entire houses and trees along the North Quay riverfront. A terrible crash was heard as the northern end of the Victoria Bridge gave way, again severing the city's road connections with South Brisbane.
The collapse of the Victoria Bridge, had an effect upon the development of Brisbane suburbs on the southern side such as Coorparoo, Highgate Hill and Yeronga which meant the newer suburbs of Ascot, Hamilton and Clayfield started to prosper from this time.
Although a temporary section was built, the destruction of the bridge affected the retail trading of shops and large stores in South Brisbane. Larger stores such as Allen & Stark moved their premises to the city or to the Fortitude Valley.
Three and a half years after the collapse of the previous Victoria Bridge at Brisbane, a downstream section of a new bridge was completed in 1896 consisting of a single traffic lane and a footpath. The second section of the new Victoria Bridge was completed the following year and opened on 22 June 1897 by Lord Charles Lamington, Governor of Queensland. On completion, the bridge had two traffic lanes with a footpath on each side.
This bridge remained operational until 1969, when a replacement in the form of the present concrete three-span bridge was built. One of the southern entrance arches of the old bridge was remains as a reminder of the service this bridge played in Brisbane's history.