In 1900 a newly elected New South Wales government, with Lyne as Premier and O’Sullivan as Minister for Public Works, organised a world-wide competition for a bridge over Sydney Harbour. The 24 entries were put on public display after the competition closed on 1 September that year. The board of judges found all the tenders unsatisfactory, but were required to award the prizes.
The first prize of £1,500 went to a bridge designed by the British firm Sir William Arroll and Co., which had built the Forth Bridge in Scotland. The second prize of £500 was for a suspension bridge tendered by the Sydney firm J. Stewart and designed by Franz Bohny of the German MAN Company and Sydney engineer Norman Selfe.
The board then tried to negotiate with the lowest tenderer, the American Bridge Company, but other tenderers then claimed a right to submit revised designs and prices. In the end the government intervened to appoint a new board, which was to start afresh with a new specification and another round of tendering. The bridge was to be almost as large as the one eventually completed in 1932, with a 60 foot wide roadway capable of accommodating tram tracks, two railway tracks and two footways. Tenders were called in May 1901.
After two extensions of time, tenders closed in June 1902. This time the lowest tender was for the arch bridge shown in the picture, submitted by the only Australian tenderer J. Stewart and designed by Bohny and Selfe. The judges rejected it on the grounds that ‘The appearance of the bridge is not agreeable, and it would be considered an eyesore if erected, the height of the top of the arch being 420 feet.’ (The height of the present Sydney Harbour Bridge arch is 445 feet.)
The judges then asked three of the tenderers to submit new tenders to a revised specification, and finally unanimously declared the winner to be a cantilever bridge by J. Stewart, designed by Bohny and Selfe. The judges advised the government to start the project immediately with construction to be completed in five and a half years.
The government was defeated before it could implement this recommendation, and the new government, more oriented to country interests and short of money, decided not to proceed. Twenty years later, J. J. C. Bradfield called tenders for a bridge over the harbour on behalf of the New South Wales government. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was completed and opened in 1932.