Day 337/365 of Steel – Ralph Freeman

Ralph Freeman was an English civil engineer. Sir Ralph is best remembered for his design work on the Sydney Harbour Bridge (I will write a post on March 19 on this beautiful bridge) and the Birchenough Bridge (cfr. post 256/365) in Zimbabwe.

In 1901 Freeman joined a London firm of consulting engineers, later known as Freeman, Fox & Partners. His works also include the Victoria Falls Bridge over the Zambezi River, on the border of present-day Zimbabwe and Zambia and five major bridges in southern Africa.

Victoria Falls Bridge (1905)

Victoria Falls Bridge‎, Zambia-Zimbabwe
Fig 1: Victoria Falls Bridge‎, Zambia-Zimbabwe
Photo: Diego Delso,, License CC-BY-SA

The bridge was the brainchild of Cecil Rhodes, part of his grand and unfulfilled Cape to Cairo railway scheme, even though he never visited the falls and died before construction of the bridge began. It was designed by George Andrew Hobson of Sir Douglas Fox & Partners, assisted by the stress calculations of Ralph Freeman.

Victoria Falls Bridge during construction
Fig 2: Victoria Falls Bridge during construction
Photo: National Archives of Zambia

The main central arch is a parabolic curve. The bridge was prefabricated in England by the Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Company, before being shipped to Mozambique, and then transported on the newly constructed railway to the Victoria Falls. It took just 14 months to construct and was completed in 1905. It spans 156.50 m across the Zambezi River, just below the Victoria Falls.

There were many considerations with regard to building a structure of this nature, which would require construction without scaffolding. A single-span steel arch was chosen as it met all the requirements and would not detract from the beauty of the site. The bridge was constructed from both sides of the gorge and then joined in the middle.

About the Author:

Bruno Dursin – Managing Director at Believe in Steel. Bruno has more than 30 years of experience in promoting steel & steel solutions. His clients benefit from his extensive network within the building industry.

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