Tasmania: History and Heritage

The Names of Tasmania

Tasmania's History: Timeline

Churches & Ecclesiastical Architecture

Iconic & Historic Bridges

Tasmania: Historic Churches and Church Architecture

St John's Anglican Church, New Town

Anglicanism has been and still is the largest Christian denomination in Tasmania during two centuries of European settlement. For the first half of the nineteenth century the Church of England was treated by government as the colony's official though not 'established' religion. Robert Knopwood, the first colonial chaplain, carried responsibility for the spiritual oversight of the entire colony until the appointment of a Launceston-based chaplain in 1818.

Colonial Ecclesiastical Architecture: Gothic

St Mary's Catholic Cathedral, Cnr. Patrick and Harrington Streets, Hobart

As in Britain and Europe, so in colonial Australia, Gothic was the style of predominant architecture cstyle chosen for churches. There was the odd exception - with the building of St Mark's Pontville, St Thomas' Anglican Church at Avoca (1842) the Presbyterian Church at Glenorchy and New Town Congregational church, colonial architect James Blackburn was the first to introduce the Romanesque style to Australian church architecture. Otherwise, Gothic ruled.

Colonial Ecclesiastical Architecture: Romanesque

New Town Uniting (Congregational) Church, New Town Road, New Town

Originating in 12th century France that, the Gothic style flourished during the high and late medieval period and lasted well into the 16th century. A series of Gothic revivals began in mid-18th century England, spread through 19th-century Europe and their colonies, and continued, largely for ecclesiastical and university structures, into the 20th century.

The Gothic style - expressed most powerfully in the great churches and cathedrals of the world - evolved from Romanesque architecture and was succeeded by Renaissance architecture. The Gothic style, when applied to an ecclesiastical building, emphasizes verticality and light. This appearance was achieved by the inclusion of certain architectural features, which together provided an engineering solution. The structural parts of the building ceased to be its solid walls, and became a stone skeleton comprising clustered columns, pointed arches and ribbed vaults and flying buttresses.

Most Gothic churches, unless they are smaller chapels, are of the Latin cross (or "cruciform") plan, with a long nave making the body of the church, a transverse arm called the transept and, beyond it, an extension which may be called the choir, chancel or presbytery. In Gothic Architecture the pointed arch is used in every location where a vaulted shape is called for, both structural and decorative. Gothic openings such as doorways, windows, arcades and galleries have pointed arches. Gothic vaulting above spaces both large and small is usually supported by richly moulded ribs.

Having their grounding in the architectural schools of Britain, Australia's colonial architecture followed the style and trands of mother England. The designs of Cathedrals and larger churches were lifted straight out of the copybooks of Gothic church architecture. Smaller regional churches, particularly of the Christian denominations that were restricted in what they could build because of lack of funds, introduced elements of Gothic architecture to what were essentially simple Georgian structures made out of freestone, so as to make them easily identifiable as places of worship.

Declining church attendances and rising costs began to pose acute problems for Australia's Churches in the late 20th century, compounded by the burden of maintaining their many historic buildings. Most were covered by heritage listing status, which required a level of maintenance many congregations could no longer afford, if indeed a congregation still existed to provide maintenance. As a result, many have been sold and are now used for other purposes, from dwellings, to craft shops, travel information centres and meeting halls for various organisations.

Tasmania's Colonial Churches

The churches here are representative of the hundreds of churches across Tasmania that were erected in the 19th century. It is by no means a complete list, neither is a church's exclusion an indication that it is of lesser importance or significance that those listed.

Christ Church Anglican Church, Cnr Wellington and William Streets, Longford

Sited in an attractive and expansive church yard in the centre of the historic town of Longford, Christ Church was constructed between 1839 and 1844 to the design of Robert de Little and consists of a broad buttressed nave with cast iron columns (added in 1878). de Little (1808-76) came to the colony in 1830 and established himself in Launceston as a builder and architect.

The magnificent five-light east window, with Perpendicular Gothic tracery, depicting Christ and the Four Evangelists, was made by William Wailes, of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1842 and was probably the earliest figural window in the country. The carved altar in arts and crafts idiom was designed by Alexander North. The sandstone exterior is dominated by an imposing west-end tower which was completed as recently as 1960 through the raising of the stonework by around 5 metres.

St George's Anglican Church, Gordon Street, Sorell

There are three National Estate listed churches in Sorell. Built in 1826 and rebuilt in 1883, St George's Anglican Church is of a simple colonial gothic style, characterized by its gabled iron roof, with closed eaves and walls. The walls are made of coarse sandstone and have buttresses at regular intervals. As well as the church, there is an adjacent graveyard, featuring graves dating back to the 1830s, and grounds which now contains the Sorell Visitors Information Centre and a small park. Whilst the church is of a simple design, but up close the workmanship is outstanding.

St Thomas Catholic Church, Gordon Street, Sorell

The Catholic community began to establish itself in Sorell from the late 1840’s and first requested the government for an allotment on which to build a church in 1850. The Hobart Bishop Wilson also requested four lots for a minister’s house, a school and other church purposes as well as a burial ground. Work was begun in 1863 with the foundation stone laid in 1864 and was completed the same year (1864), enabling the church to be opened amid great fanfare by Bishop Wilson in January 1865. The church continues to serve the local Catholic community to this day.

St Andrews Uniting (Presbyterian) Church, Evandale

A much admired example of Greek Revival Architecture, St. Andrews is recognised as the best preserved or restored place of worship in Tasmania. The Governor, Sir John Franklin, laid the foundation stone in 1838, the church was opened two years later. Since its door opened, St Andrew's has served the Presbyterian Congregation of Evandale and its surrounding environs and lately as the Uniting Church of Australia. Its first minister, Rev. Robert Russell, was a young Scot when he arrived in Evandale to commence his parish duties on the 9th April 1838. At that time there was no church building and services were being held in private residences.

St Andrew's Anglican Church, Evandale

St Andrew seems to have been a local favourite as there is not one - but two St Andrew's Churches in Evandale. The St Andrew's Anglican Church that stands today is actually the third Church of England built in the town. The original was constructed with bricks from the abandoned works of the Evandale-Launceston Water Tunnel and opened in 1837. A new, larger, red brick church was completed around 1844, before being demolished in 1871 due to faulty foundations. The present church was built with many of the original bricks and consecrated in 1872.

Nile Chapel, Nile

With the arrival of Scottish settlers around the Evandale region in the mid 19th century, the Reverend Robert Russell from St Andrews Presbyterian Church, instigated the building of a church at village of Nile (known as Lymington prior to 1910). Before 1858, Presbyterian services in Lymington had been held in a shed. The church that was built in 1858 was a 'Chapel of Ease', which was not dedicated to a specific denomination. However, by 1877 it was being used as a Wesleyan Chapel which continued up until the turn of the century. It was also used for general community purposes such as for meetings and for a time was used as a schoolroom. One of the subscribers for the building of the chapel was John Glover as well as the Reverend Russell himself.

Lymington St Peters Church, Nile

The Village of Lymington, later re-named The Nile was established by local landowners James Cox of "Clarendon" and Donald Cameron of "Fordon" to house their Workers. The Church Building (1853) was originally used as a "School on Weekdays and a Chapel on Sundays". The Building was erected by James Cox (1790-1866) and stands on three acres of land also given by him. In 1869 the Local Schools Board visited the school and reported that there were forty four children enrolled but only thirty nine in attendance being eighteen boys and twenty one girls. The Building continued to be used until late in the century at which time the Education Department erected a new school.

Carnarvon All Saints Church ruins, Port Arthur

The ruins of the church and the Commandant's House stand on the highest ground at either end of the Port Arthur penal settlement, as if to express the absolute authority of God and the State, and the belief that religion played a vital role in the process of reform. Lieutenant-Governor Arthur laid the foundation stone of the ‘convict church’ on April 25, 1836. A convict named 'Mason' was credited with having designed the church but research has revealed that is in fact the work of colonial architect, (and convict forger) James Blackburn. The church was constructed using convict labour and built with stonework that had been prepared at the boys’ prison at Point Puer.

Australia's first non-denominational church, it housed up to 1,000 worshippers every Sunday; the convicts sat on the stone-flagged floor of the main body of the building, watched over by armed guards, while the free people sat on raised wooden pews to the left and right, behind a curtain, so they did not have to look upon the convicts.

It was a free church - Anglicans and Catholics worshipped together - until 1843 when the newly appointed chaplain, a Church of Ireland clergyman, vented his hatred of Catholics from the pulpit, which led to Catholics refusing to attend his services and eventually getting their own services in a makeshift chapel on the 2nd floor of the penitentiary building..

It is said that the church was never consecrated so Catholics could also use it, but others believe it was because an inmate, one Joseph Shuttleworth, was murdered with an axe by William Riley, as they were digging the foundations of the church in 1835. The church's wooden spire blew down in 1876 and the building was gutted in a bushfire in 1884. Sections of the church have been rebuilt and stabalised throughout the 20th century.

A 50 ft wooden spire, made of pine and painted to resemble stone with crushed sandstone sprinkled on it, stood above the belfry. The belfry contained a set of 8 bells that had been cast on site at Port Arthur in 1847. The highly skilled artisan who cast the chime of bells has never been identified. He was probably a convict working in the blacksmith’s shop and foundry. Bell casting is a complex process so it is more than likely that he would have worked as a bell founder prior to being transported.


St David's Cathedral, Cnr Macquarie & Murray Streets, Hobart

Built of stone between 1868 and 1936 in Gothic Revival style, St David's is widely regarded as the finest example outside England of the work of the leading Victorian architect, George F. Bodley. It is the second church on the site. The arcaded entry features a large west window with fine tracery in the gable-end balanced by buttressed turrets. Other features include a simple square tower in Oatlands stone, with castellated parapet and quatrefoil tracery to the openings. Consecrated in 1874 St David's is the Bishop of Tasmania's principal place of teaching. The Cathedral has recently undergone restoration work with a new Narthex, lighting scheme and restored stonework and floor.

Scots Church, 25-29 Bathurst Street, Hobart

Formerly St Andrew's Church, Scots Memorial Uniting Church (1834-36) is an early Georgian Gothic stone church, designed by J.E. Addison and built by his firm, Jackson & Addison. It features a central tower-like parapet and four small spires. The parapet crenellations surround the building. The structure was extended three metres in 1860 to accommodate a new organ. Its neighbouring hall is a simple Colonial sandstone chapel of coursed undressed brickwork, built in 1824 and attributed to W. Wilson. It was the original church and as such is the oldest Presbyterian Church in Australia. Its foundation stone was laid by Lt. Gov. Arthur on 2nd March 1824.

St John the Baptist Church, Buckland

Buckland is a quiet rural village noted for the beauty and historic importance of its St John the Baptist Anglican Church. Its importance is partly its age - it was built in 1846 to a design by architect Crawford Cripps Wegman - and its East Window. There has been much speculation about the age of the East Window with some people claiming that it was originally designed for Battle Abbey in England, a church which dates from 1094. The story is that before the famous Battle of Hastings, which was actually fought at Battle in Sussex, William the Conqueror vowed that if he won he would build an abbey to commemorate his victory. Legend has it that he built the Abbey where the English king Harold II had fallen. The church was pulled down during the Reformation and it is possible that the window may have found its way out to Australia.

The problem, however, is that experts believe the window was created sometime in the fourteenth century (some 300 years after the Battle of Hastings). The mystery of the window probably started because it is accepted that the Reverend F. H. Cox, who was Rector of the church from 1846-48, brought it to Australia when he emigrated from Sussex. One account even has Lord Robert Cecil, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, giving the window to Cox before he departed from England. Whatever the story it is still remarkable to see a fourteenth century church window in a church which wasn't built until 1846. The church's graveyard is also of particular interest.

The Mystery of the Window

Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd, Hadspen

An Anglican church was planned for Hadspen in the late 1850s. Thomas Reibey had WG & E Habershon of London draw up plans in 1857. The building's design was based on St Mary's parish church, Lutterworth, England. It was designed in an early English style with blue ironstone walls, and freestone dressing and reliefs. The nave was 11.4 m long, the chancel 17 x 15 feet and the entrance was through a 12 m tower with a 7 metre spire. The foundation stone of "The new Episcopalian Church" or "The Reibey Church" was laid on 23 December 1868. Construction, estimated to cost 1000 pounds, began with locally sourced stonework by Robert Sleightholm, whom Reibey met on a ship from England.

Reibey was funding all of the construction costs. When the structure was mostly complete a scandal erupted around him. He was alleged to have indecently dealt with a married woman. Her husband raised the issue with the bishop, then in 1870 with no action by the Church again with the Church of England Synod in England. Reibey subsequently took libel action but his complaint was dismissed and the Jury largely held that the allegations against him were true. Apart from these allegations, Reibey's wife's health had been declining, his property had been declining in value, and he wrote that he had been considering relinquishing the Archdeaconship for a while. After only a few years the lack of funds provided left only one person working on the site. All work ceased in 1870, by which time the walls were unfinished and the building still lacked a roof. Though the church was incomplete both Reibey and his wife Catherine were buried in a graveyard at the building's rear.

The church remained incomplete for over ninety years. By 1957 Anglican services were being held in St Stephens, a wooden church next to the apparent ruin. Around this time some in the church showed interest in completion of the old structure, partly due to the approaching centenary of construction beginning. In April of that year a gathering of people from the Parish of Carrick was held in the unfinished building, and a prayer held to bless its completion. The gathering, and associated committee, were led and chaired by W R Barrett, assistant bishop of Tasmania.

The original architects' plans had been preserved—though they were close to disintegration—and were largely followed in the subsequent construction work. A Launceston builder was contracted for the work, though much, including flooring, was performed by volunteers. Work was completed at an approximate cost of 8000 pounds, and the church was finally completed on 20 May 1961, with the first service held the following day. Some furnishings in the church came from Entally's Chapel including the altar and coverings, a wooden cross, symbolic paintings and a bell now hung in the church's porch.

The bell, formerly in St Stephens in Smithton, carries the inscription "Kains 1817" and probably comes from the whaler "Kains" which was wrecked in 1835. A stained glass window at the rear of the church originated in Entally's chapel, and spent time installed in another nearby Church. It shows the crucifixion of Jesus and the Good Shepherd. The Church is a Gothic Revival design and somewhat scaled down from the original plans, the nave was built 10 feet (3.0 m) shorter, with some changed elements such as the entrance being built in stone on the west side rather than wood on the south. The church was consecrated in February 1973. The break in construction is marked by the different shade of stone used to finish it.

St Luke's Anglican Church, Campbell Town

St Luke's was completed in 1839 to the design of John Lee Archer, the colonial architect under Governor Arthur. The last public ceremony performed by Governor Arthur was the laying of the foundation stone for a church at Campbell Town and Ross on 20 October 1836. Constructed of brick, it incorporates a large tower at the west end with prominent octagonal pinnacles and a spacious aisled interior. The stained glass windows include a very rare example of the work of Arial Rosenkranz (1870-1964). The organ was built by Walker of London in 1862 and purchased by private subscriptions of the members of the congregation of St. Luke's. The scale is unique in Tasmania and rare even in England, extending from FFF to G, five octaves and two semitones.

St Andrews Uniting (Presbyterian) Church, 55 High Street, Campbell Town

St Andrew's Church was built in 1847 as a Presbyterian Church and is of note for its tower and needle spire. Carvings include Bishop's crest. An early Victorian Gothic Revival sandstone church with iron gabled roof and square tower with castellated parapet, clock mouldings and needle spire, it sits on 1.5 acres of land. The church is considered one of the best churches built in Australia of the period.

A landmark in the town, the cburch contains an organ and desk that belonged to Bishop Nixon, first Anglican Bishop of Tasmania. The manual organ was built by J.C. Bishop of London in 1843. With an 18 note straight pedal board, the organ has five combination pedals and a hold down swell pedal. The manual can be pushed in like a drawer when not in use. The organ can be handblown but also had provision for the organist to pump the bellows. This foot pump was removed in 1952 when an electric blower was installed.

St Luke's Uniting Church, Bothwell

St Luke’s is one of the oldest churches in Australia and is the oldest surviving original and intact church in Tasmania. Building began in 1830 and was almost completed by the end of the year. Unusually, the church was shared Presbyterians and Anglicans with the majority of subscribers being Presbyterian. The relationship between the two congregations was sometimes fractious and complicated but it was used by both groups until 1891, after which the Presbyterians gained sole use of the church when the Anglicans built St Michael's and All Angels'. The church is one of numerous Tasmanian churches of a similar design by noted Tasmanian architect, John Lee Archer.

It has what appears to be carvings of a Celtic god and godess beside the front doors. They have been attributed to the convict sculptor, Daniel Herbert, who was also responsible for the excellent work on the bridge at Ross. No attempt hs been made to remove them even though their identity is now known. In an ironic twist, Governor Arthur is said to have ordered Archer to change the rounded windows because they were 'unchristian'.

St Luke's Church, Richmond

St Luke's Anglican Church, Richmond

The Geogrian town of Richmond has two iconic churches - St Lukes Anglican and St John's Catholic Churches. St Luke's is an excellent Georgian stone church designed by one of Tasmnania's most talented colonial architects, John Lee Archer, and erected in 1834-36. The foundation stone laid by Governor Arthur. The clock was installed in 1922 although made in England in 1828 (it had first been installed in the tower of St David's, Hobart). James Thompson, the convict who did the original timber work inside the church, was granted his freedom for his trouble.

St John's Church, Richmond

High on a rise on the other side of the Coal River is St John's Church (1836). It features a bell tower with buttressed sides. There is also a school house associated with the church built in a Gothic Picturesque style with stucco walls and gable roofs.

Brickendon Chapel, Brickendon Far, Longford

Part of the world heritage-listed Brickendon Farm village, Brickendon Chapel is an enchanting Victorian Picturesque Rustic Gothic building featuring steep pitched shingle roof, original stained glass windows and the mellow timbers of its huon pine pews. Built around 1856, it has a high pitched shingled gabled roof, belltower and gabled foyer. The chapel is highly decorative with many neo-gothic features including brick buttresses and decorative fascias and stained glass windows.

The Farm Village, of which the chapel is an integral part, was the hub of Brickendon, a 465 hectare grant taken up by William Archer in 1824 on land opposite his brother at Woolmers, where he developed a new and innovative farming enterprise. William developed Brickendon into a mixed farming enterprise with cropping being a major focus, using a convict workforce of up to 50 people who lived in the tiny village he created. By the 1840's Brickendon was highly regarded as one of the best farms in the colony.

St John's Anglican Church, St John Street, Launceston

A remarkable eclectic structure of unfinished design, the building is a successful combination of Georgian "gothik" (naive adaption), Byzantine and Gothic Revival, and an art nouveau adaptation of late Gothic Revival design styles. A large cruciform design parish church of brick, sandstone and concrete,it was built in three main stages. The oldest section (1825) by David Lambe is a naive adaption of Georgian "gothick". The later structure (1901-11 and 1938) chancel transepts and crossing, is a unique mixture of Byzantine and Gothic elements. The nave (1938) is neo-Gothic with art nouveau decoration.

The foundations of St. John’s Launceston as a parish date from the arrival of the Revd. John Youl in 1819, in Port Dalrymple. Divine Service (as Sunday services were called) were held under the trees or in a blacksmith’s shop; when wet. Youl called his congregation together by striking an iron barrel with a mallet, walking through the settlement in his “canonical dress”. When it first opened its doors in 1825, the parish church existed under the Diocese of Madras, Calcutta in India.

St Andrews Presbyterian Church. 36 St John Street, Launceston

A fine propertioned stuccoed brick church with well crafted Gothic details and tower on its eastern side supporting a delicate Freestone octagonal spire. The walls are buttressed with angled buttresses on corners. All buttresses topped with pinnacles. Built in 1867, the church is one of the few remaining works of a distinguished Tasmanian architect Henry Clayton.

St James Anglican Church, 15 Smith Street, Waratah

Waratah's 19th century prosperity from it being home to the richest tin mine in the world (Mt Bischoff) is perfectly expressed in the small community's church which was built in 1880. In 1889 the Mt Bischoff mine was being lit by electricity. The mine manager, H.W.F. Kayser had the electric light connected to the church. Thus St James became the first church in Tasmania to use an electric light, it being lit by hydro electric power. A simple, weatherboard Victorian Carpenter Gothic ecclesiastical buildin, it features steeply pitched gable roofs and decorative barge boards. The doors and window all have lancet arched tops and there is a small steel structure holding bell.

St Andrew's Anglican Church, Lonsdale Promenade, Westbury

The town of Westbury was envisaged as a major town in North West Tasmania by the early colonial government, as evidenced by the large number of streets surveyed (only a few were developed), and its two large churches - the bluestone Holy Trinity Catholic Church, designed by Henry Hunter, Tasmania's most prolific Victorian architect, and St. Andrews Anglican Church, opposite the village green.

The latter's foundation stone was laid by Lieutenant Governor George Arthur in 1836. The nave was opened in 1842, the church was consecrated in 1851, the tower was added in 1859 and the chancel was completed in 1890. The church is noted for its fine carvings particularly 'The seven sisters' chancel screen. They were all completed by Mrs Ellen Nora Payne who was born and grew up in the village.

St Joseph's Catholic Church, Fingal

St Joseph's Catholic Church, Gray Street, Fingal

Three churches in Fingal dominate the freestone buildings of the township. They are St Josephs (Catholic), St Peters (Anglican) and the original Presbyterian church (now the Uniting Church). They were built in 1880, 1867 and 1881 respectively, and contain some of the State's finest examples of traditional window leadlighting. St Peter's is the town's oldest church.

St Peters Anglican Church, Fingal

St Josephs (1880) is situated on a ridge to the south overlooking the whole town. Stylistic very similar to St Peters Anglican Church nearby, on which it was presumably based, its is a fine Gothic Revival church, with gabled roof and buttresses under the gable ends. Its random rubble sandstone walls have quoins on the corners and around openings.

St Andrew's Uniting Church, Fingal

St Andrew's, formerly Presbyterian Church, is a very well preserved example of Victorian Carpenter Gothic Architecture. This church is an exact replica of the first church built in Derby but is in a far better condition. Captain Samuel Tulloch of Launceston, a great benefactor to Tasmanian Presbyteriansim, was invited to perform the stone laying ceremony on 24th March 1881. Tulloch was a Shetland Islander who had made his fortune as a shipmaster, ship owner and merchant and was a one-time representative in the Tasmanian House of Assembly. The church was completed by July 1881 and opened for service on Sunday the 10th of that month.

St Mark's Anglican Church, 7 East Westbury place, Deloraine

This church is a fine Gothic Revival brick church designed by W.A. Clayton. The church with its tall spire and hilltop location, dominates the settlement of Deloraine in the best English tradition. The main portion of the church was dedicated in March 1859 and consecrated in March 1860 while the chancel and sanctuary were added in 1878. Its three level octagonal tower with gable top to each face is surmounted by a spire. The church features a rose window to the transept, fine north and south windows with tracery and label moulds and blanked arches to the west facade.

Churches of Tasmania