Sunday, 2 August 2015

St John the Baptist Church, West Hobart

In 1844 the parish of St John the Baptist was formed. The year after, a parish hall was erected on the southern side of Goulburn Street. This served as a church, a Sunday school, and a day school. By 1850 the Reverend FH Fox of the Parish of St John the Baptist in the still youthful town of Hobart, Van Diemens Land, opened a public subscription to build a fitting church to serve the needs of the parish, which since 1844 had been making do with services in the schoolhouse on the corner of Goulburn and Crane Streets.

Two years later the drive had amassed $2,000, sufficient for Cox, who had already designed St Johns at Buckland, to give drawings to the architect, George Edmund Street, to make into final plans. Cox’s choice of architect was grandiose. A distinguished London architect, Street was enamored with Gothic design, and was already known for the nave of Bristol Cathedral, the choir of the cathedral of Christ Church in Dublin and, above, all, the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

Street had equally grandiose plans for St John the Baptist, but owing to something politicans today would appreciate — insufficient funds — the proposed 130-foot steeple had to be modified. However, as the Reverend Cox reminded his flock, the church was to be built ‘for bringing souls to Heaven’ rather than ‘satisfying architectural fancy’. As time went on some repairs were needed, but this gave the chance to lengthen the chancel for a superb pipe organ to be installed. And fancy or otherwise, the result was the magnificent sandstone building you see today.

The church was completed in 1856 and consecrated that same year. Other buildings were added to the parish as it grew, such as a rectory and organ in 1864, a scout room in 1870, a new church organ in 1880, major additions and alterations to the church in 1902, and a kindergarten in the same year.

The church itself has long been a landmark of West Hobart, with many considering it the ‘gateway’ to the suburb. It was closed in 1997 when the parish of West Hobart was joined with the parish of St Peter’s Sandy Bay to form the Bay West parish, and in September 1998, the church was deconsecrated and the building sold.

Since then it’s been known as Pendragon Hall, a colonial accommodation bed & breakfast venue.  St John the Baptist Church, where many members of the local community were baptized or married, has been an integral part of the West Hobart community for 146 years and the church building remains a prominent part of the West Hobart streetscape.

Main Text & Information Sources – 
West Hobart Heritage Review – Hobart City Council 2000

Historical Photos 

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Law Courts, Port Arthur

This was the site of the first bakehouse and sailmakers quarters in 1834. Those buildings were replaced by the sandstone building in 1848 and were further extended in 1854.

The Law Courts introduced convicts to Port Arthur’s regime of ‘ceaseless vigilance’, discipline and punishment designed ‘for grinding rogues into honest men’ When convicts arrived at the Port Arthur settlement, they were lined up in front of this building and a clerk read them the rules of settlement. Then the commandant spoke to the assembled men and told them how hard their lives were to be for the first few months. If they offended, the building served as the settlement law courts where offences were heard and punishments ordered.

In later years, Commandant Boyd established a library and reading room in the building and socials were held for the entertainment of officials and their families. After the closure of the penal settlement, the building became the Police Station. It narrowly escaped the 1895 bushfires but was gutted by the 1897 bushfires.

It remained in a ruined state until 1919 when a timber second story was added and the building became the Hotel Arthur which was able to accommodate up to 60 guests. Unfortunately the building was again mysteriously burned down in 1921 and has remained a ruin ever since.                                                        

Main Text & Information Source – 
Interpretive Sign at the site
Port Arthur Visitors Guide Brochure

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Macquarie Street State School

The Macquarie Street State School was built in 1895, replacing a building of the same name. It served as one of the principal Hobart schools until it was finally replaced by the South Hobart Primary School in 1964. The building is substantially the same as when built. The building is solid sandstone, with a corrugated steel roof. The timber windows appear to be the same as when they were built. The roof was probably originally slate or shingle.

The original building had four classrooms. One of these was divided in two c1937. At the same time an extra window was placed in one of the classrooms created by the subdivision. A teachers' office was added c1938. Originally intended to be constructed in sandstone, this was eventually constructed of bricks rendered in cement, to look like sandstone blocks. At about this time the ceilings were lowered to make heating easier. The original pipe lined ceilings which followed the roofline still exist above the lowered ceilings. In the late 1940s or early 1950s a weatherboard library was added to the back, along the Paget Street boundary. At some time basic plumbing has been added, as has electricity. In 1964 a ramp was added to the side door (Macquarie Street frontage.)

In 1930 the current South Hobart PS infant block was built in Anglesea St , meaning students were separated into the ‘‘top school’’ and ‘‘bottom school’’. This delightful tale comes from the first move to the Anglesea site where the first building was for infant classes. It was recounted in an overall history of the school’s changes by an ex-pupil, Ray Jeffrey, in an article in the Saturday Evening Mercury in February, 1964: “In the move, the chairs, tables and small equipment were transported by the children, themselves. For all of one day they resembled a nest of ants at work up and down the street. The first party of about 20 infants on the move mistook directions, and presented themselves, complete with their loads, at the front door of a newly-completed home near the school.” No doubt there was one startled home-owner! (The significance of the 1964 newspaper report is that that was the year when the consolidation of the school on the one site was completed.)

The historic property, which dates back to 1895, was a school until 1964 and for the following 40 years predominantly served as an adult education facility owned by the Tasmanian Government. It was placed on the open market but was unable to find a suitable buyer.

Local residents and local MPs began lobbying for the site to be used as a community hub and by March 2015, the Tasmanian Government announced confirmation of state and federal government funding for the transformation of the former Macquarie Street Primary School building into a community, arts and cultural hub.

The $2.3 million innovative arts and cultural centre will provide an affordable space for artists, groups and organizations and serve as a place for locals to meet, make new connections and undertake activities. A brilliant way to preserve a beautiful heritage building and an integral piece of the local community.

Main Text & Information Sources –  
Australian Heritage Database

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Supreme Court, Oatlands

The Oatlands Supreme Court House is one of the oldest Supreme Court houses in Australia and one of the oldest sandstone buildings in Oatlands. The earliest part of the court house was built in the winter of 1829 on a shoestring budget. Police Magistrate Thomas Anstey had been lobbying for years to get a courthouse and police office constructed, but with no results until, by lucky chance, a convict stonemason from Campbell Town was sentenced to the Oatlands chain gang for misconduct. Campbell Town’s loss became Oatland’s gain. As soon as he arrived in Oatlands, stonemason John Mackintosh was nabbed for public works and set to work building the new “Chapel & Justice Room” on the scenic shoreline of Lake Frederick. With the assistance of George Wood, a transported highwayman whose greatest coup had been robbing the Brighton Mail Coach, the pair managed to erect a substantial stone building.

All this was accomplished while they were wearing the mandatory chain gang leg irons and the hated yellow slops marked with the broad arrow. Other members of the chain gang quarried the stone, carted the lime and provided the timbers. Thus, a convicted thief, a highway robber and a selection of transported criminals built one of Tasmania’s most important court houses.

By 1834, the court house was completely inadequate to meet the needs of the district. To fix this problem, the Chief Police Magistrate sent a rough pencil sketch of proposed additions to Colonial architect John Lee Archer, the designer of Parliament House and St Johns Park. But Archer was not a man to do things by halves. Any other architect would have thrown together a few extra rooms and been satisfied with the results, but not Archer. Instead he set about giving the Court House a comprehensive makeover that would transform it from an ordinary regional court house into something quite extraordinary.

Archer’s first move was to build the new front rooms, not in simple freestone, but in beautifully executed ashlar stonework with decorative quoins. Not satisfied with this, he added a perfectly proportioned classical doorcase, decorative plaster cornices and mouldings and a raised circular platform for the judge’s bench. But by far the most exciting Archer inspiration was the decision to cut into the existing roof structure and insert a complex, precision built ceiling made from laminated timber beams. The final flourish in what was fast becoming a high status building was the addition of an expertly carved stone mantelpiece, quite possibly by the convict stonemason, Daniel Herbert, who at this time was engaged on his lasting masterpiece, the Ross Bridge.

The charm of Archer’s grand vision may have been lost on some of the courthouse’s paying customers. After all, this was a place where your fate would be decided, especially if you were a convict. A great deal of the day to day business of the court house revolved around convict discipline. For example, in 1837, assigned servant Mary Burns was sentenced to “Six Weeks At The Washtubs at the Female Factory” for being “drunk, insolent and generally useless”. However, worse punishments were also common such as the sentence of 16 lashes given to Abraham Heywood for beating up another servant. In most cases, prisoners convicted of theft would be sentenced to hard labour in chains at Port Arthur.

In 1841 the Oatlands Court was upgraded to a Supreme Court and the buildings were upgraded accordingly. A Judge’s room and jury room were added. Two holding cells were built at the rear. The commencement of the Supreme Court sittings consolidated Oatlands claim as the interior capital, as the only other sittings were at Hobart & Launceston. With the arrival of the Supreme Court, the Court House entered on a grander but grimmer phase in its history, as death sentences could now be imposed here. And for 18 unfortunate men, that sentence was carried out, often in front of a large crowd, outside the gates of the Oatlands gaol.

In 1848, plans were drawn up for a new and much grander Supreme Court House, to be attached to the gaol. The old courthouse was to be demolished. For reasons unknown, this plan was abandoned and the 1829 building was used for another 35 years. Even after its use as a court house came to an end the building continued to be used for public affairs. It was transferred to the Oatlands Municipality in 1862 and became the Town Hall and Council Chambers while court sittings continued. In 1885 the current Town Hall was built with a new court room and in 1891 the dilapidated Court House was sold to the Oatlands Mechanics Institute, which held lectures and ran a library.

In a strange twist of fate, the Supreme Court, where so many life & death decisions had been made, became a family home in 1909. Now after decades of private ownership, the building is now owned by the Southern Midlands Council and is undergoing restoration as a heritage centre and exhibition space, celebrating the rich history of the region. A building of this age shows the passage of time, with every mark on the walls and floor telling a story about its history.

Main Text & Information Source
“Supreme Court, Oatlands – A Court House Built By Criminals” – Interpretive brochure by Southern Midlands Council