The Great Disruption of 1843 was a division within the established Church of Scotland, in which 450 evangelical ministers of the Church broke away, over the issue of the Church's relationship with the State, to form the Free Church of Scotland. It divided Presbyterians into two groups – members of the Free Kirk or of the National or Established Church.
In Tasmania, members of the Free Kirk made an appeal to the Assembly of the Free Church for a permanent minister and the Rev. James Lindsay was appointed on 7th December, 1850 and on January 19th 1859 the foundation stone of Chalmers Church was laid. The Rev. James Lindsay then proceeded to lay the stone, which was a massive block of freestone weighing about a tonne and a half.
Having deposited in a prepared cavity a bottle hermetically sealed, containing (The model Deed of Church The Free Church Protest of 1843, The Testimony of the Free Church Association, Launceston 1848, The Declaration of the Free Church Presbytery of Tasmania 1853, Royal Kalendar 1859, the local newspapers, Current coins and written parchment), the stone was lowered and adjusted into its place, and the customary ceremonial of the mallet was performed. Chalmers was officially opened on January 15th, 1860, by the Rev. William Nicholson of Chalmers Church, Hobart.
The architect was William Henry Clayton. William Henry Clayton was born on 17 November 1823, at Norfolk Plains, Van Diemen’s Land. He was one of 12 children of Henry Clayton and his wife, Mary McLaughlan. William was educated at the local Longford Hall Academy. Henry Clayton, a successful farmer and merchant, wanted his son to have the benefits of higher education, so the Clayton family sailed for England on 28 March 1840 on the Adelaide.
While in England William Clayton was articled to a prominent architect, and in the course of his architectural training he became proficient in surveying and civil engineering. On 7 October 1847, at Clapham, Surrey, William married Emily Samson. Soon after, the couple departed for Tasmania, arriving on 7 March 1848. William and Emily Clayton spent the next 15 years in Tasmania.
William soon achieved recognition as an architect. He designed over 300 buildings, including churches, mansions and commercial buildings. He was also employed by the Survey Department for four years from late 1851 to late 1855. William acquired status in community affairs. He was an alderman in Launceston from 1857 to 1863 and in 1858 was appointed a justice of the peace. Attracted by business opportunities arising from the success of the Otago goldfields, William Clayton emigrated to New Zealand, arriving at Dunedin on the Omeo on 29 April 1863.
By 1864 he had allied himself with William Mason, a well-established New Zealand architect; they practiced under the name of Mason and Clayton. Seven days after an amputation (from an infected ankle), on 23 August 1877, Clayton died. He was buried in Dunedin’s Northern cemetery the following day. He was only 53.
The church was named after Thomas Chalmers, the leader of the Great Disruption. The Scottish church reformer and theologian Thomas Chalmers was a central figure in the 1843 secession of the Free Church from the Presbyterian Establishment.
Thomas Chalmers was born in Fife on March 17, 1780. After Presbyterian ordination in 1803, he was a successful preacher and instructor. In 1823 Chalmers became professor of moral philosophy at St. Andrews. From 1828 to 1843 he was professor of theology at the University of Edinburgh, and during this period he wrote many of his 34 volumes of published works. But more important was his leadership of the reformers in the crisis over patronage in the Scottish Church.
At the annual Presbyterian General Assembly in 1832, with Chalmers as moderator, a proposal to change the patronage system failed. Finally, in May 1843, Chalmers regretfully led the famous secession of 470 ministers, who then began the Free Church of Scotland. As the first moderator, Chalmers raised substantial sums to finance the building of hundreds of new churches. From 1843 to 1847 he also served as principal of the Free Church’s New College. Chalmers died suddenly on May 31, 1847. It is said that half the population of Edinburgh attended his funeral.
Chalmers is a dazzling example of flamboyant Gothic Revival style. The Gothic features of Chalmers include; numerous arched windows, the steeped pitched roof and the magnificent Gothic style iron fence (which provides the boundary on the northern, eastern and partially on the western sides of the property) and are still retained today.
The ornate bell tower encompasses eight facemasks – presumably the face of John Knox, considered to be the greatest Reformer in the history of Scotland and of the Church of Scotland in the 1500s. High up in the dusty belfry you will find the original bell, cast in London by G. Mears Founder London 1859. It is said to weigh over a tonne.
In 1896 the church became part of the United Presbyterian Church, later to become the Uniting Church. The building, including the cast iron railings (designed by Clayton in England), is classified by the National Trust, is on the Register of the National Estate and is included in the Launceston National Estate Conservation Study. The Fincham organ, boxed pews, wooden dado and other church furnishings were removed in 1981.
In 1981 Chalmers was deconsecrated and bought by Trinity Projects, who planned to convert the building into four town houses. In 1986, it was bought by Launceston Players. By 1990 the building had been purchased privately by Ken and Juliet Partridge and then in 2011 it was purchased privately by Graeme and Jodie Walker. By 2014 renovations had been completed and Walker Designs had relocated to the site where they still conduct their business today.
Chalmers Church is a fascinating looking structure. The church's unique state of deterioration, a result of oil- based paint being mistakenly applied to the limestone and brick facade in 1976 trapping moisture beneath the paint so that it blistered and started to peel away, has made it one of Launceston's most recognizable sights and it would be interesting to see the building repainted and returned to its former glory.
This small little church, which sits opposite the Pilot Station at Low Head, is the oldest church building in the George Town municipality. In the 1860’s & 70’s, Low Head was a separate and thriving community. Its pilots and boat crews, the staff of the Bass Strait cable terminal and lightkeepers, together with their families warranted the establishment of a church of their own.
In 1877, Christ Church was built on land that had been generously donated by Mr James Long, who at the time owned and farmed most of the land at Low Head. It was subscribed to by many people for use as a non-denominational church. It was used regularly by the George Town Anglican rector, and occasionally by visiting clergy of other denominations, especially the Rev Charles price of Launceston. In 1884, despite Charles Price’s objections, the building was consecrated for the exclusive use of the Anglican Church.
The first wedding in Christ Church was in 1879 and was between Robert Darby of the cable company and Miss Huxtable, daughter of the local school teacher, Mr W.A.Huxtable. Christ Church still receives a small amount annually from a bequest made by Mr Huxtable all those years ago.
The Stained glass windows, plaques and candlesticks in the church are dedicated to the memory of those who have had a long association with the church. Considering its age, the Christ Church building is in particularly good order. Members of the Gunn family have maintained and painted the building at their own expense for many years. The church continues to serve the local community and is an active part of the Riverlinks Anglican parish.
Main Text & Information Source –
"Treasures of George Town" - George Town & District Historical Society 2003
All Posts this month will feature some of Tasmania's most beautiful and interesting Historic Church's
The island of Tasmania is studded with attractive little churches which stand as a witness to the keen desire of the early pioneers to perpetuate the Faith of their Fathers in their new homeland. One such church is the Church of St Matthias, Windermere, which owes its foundation to Dr. Mattheus Gaunt, who arrived in Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen’s Land) by the ship ‘Eliza’, from London on May 2nd 1831. He was accompanied by his wife and five sons.
Dr. Gaunt received a grant of 2,560 acres on the east bank of the River Tamar, and this property he named ‘Windermere’. The property was later extended by a further grant of 1,280 acres. Dr. Gaunt fulfilled a promise made to his wife before they left England to provide a church if there was none where they settled, when he gave the site and set about the erection of a church at Windermere. True to his promise, Gaunt set aside a portion of his land and engaged his new friend and neighbor, Robert De Little, an architect, to design St Matthias’ Church and supervise construction. The builder was Henry Howard.
Aided by a local subscription of £60 and a grant of £40 from the Society for Promotion of Christian Knowledge (England) and settlers on both sides of the river who were also eager to contribute in order to have a church of their own, Gaunt financed the building of the church which was begun in 1842 and completed in 1843. The local newspaper reports that one boat from Launceston laden with bricks for the church was sunk in deep water just before reaching Windermere. It is possible that convict labour was used in the erection.
In November 1843, the Archdeacon of Launceston, the Rev. Dr. D.W.H Browne, conducted the service at which the church was opened for public worship. Occasional services were then held in the Church, when the Rev. T.H. Forster officiated. On April 18th, 1845, the first Bishop of Tasmania, The Rt. Rev. Francis Russell Nixon, consecrated the new Church and its cemetery, the first Church in the North which he consecrated. The Rev. A Davenport was appointed Chaplain at Windermere in the same year, after which services were held regularly. Mr Davenport became Cannon of S David’s Cathedral in 1872, when the Cathedral Chapter was first formed, and the Archdeacon of Hobart in 1880.
Dr. Gaunt built a cottage for the chaplain and Mr. Davenport was the first to take up his residence there. In later years the centre of the parish was transferred to the west bank of the Tamar, and the cottage reverted to Dr. Gaunt who renamed it ‘The Grange’ The Minute Book of the Churchwardens shows that, at the first official meeting of the parishioners held early in 1846, Dr. Gaunt was appointed the Chaplain’s Church warden, while Captain Neilley and Mr. William Brown were elected People’s Churchwardens. Dr. Gaunt, of whom mention was made earlier, was a staunch opponent of the transportation of convicts to Tasmania, and he was able to give the Lieutenant- Governor many examples of the evils ensuing on that evil practice. On his death at the age of 74, he was buried in Windermere Churchyard in the north-east corner close to the road. Of his home little trace remains today apart from the foundations and the avenue of trees leading up to them.
The first Bible and Prayer Book used in the new Church were given by Mr. J Toosey in 1845, while in the same year the Neilley family donated the Communion plate which is still in use. Some altar linen still preserved in the Church bears the same date, 1845. Pew rents were, of course, the order of the day, and in 1846 it is recorded that Dr. Gaunt rented five seats, Captain Neilley five and Mr William Brown three. The fee was half-a-crown a sitting. In 1851, Mr Brown expressed the desire to retire from the Office of Churchwarden, and was succeeded by Mr. William Rosevear, the first representative of a family which has had close connections with Windermere Church for four generations. Three of his descendants, Mr. T Rosevear, Mr. F Rosevear and Mr. V. Rosevear have been Church wardens in their time. A son of Mr. William Rosevear, William Henry was the bridegroom at the first wedding ever held in the Windermere Church. On August 11th 1845, he married Sarah Plummer. The officiating minister was Rev. T.H. Forster. Thus two pioneer families of the Tamar were united.
With the transfer of the centre of the parish to West Tamar, the services at S. Mathias’ Church became less regular and the condition of the building was allowed to deteriorate. However, owing mainly to the efforts of Mr. David Medwin of Woodlawn, help was sought from the congregation on both sides of the River and sufficient money was raised to replace the leaking shingle roof with an iron one, to renovate the interior walls which has suffered through rain coming in, and to repair the many broken window panes.
After this work had been completed in 1920, regular services were once more held in the Church. But again in 1937, the question of repairs to the Church was raised at the Annual General Meeting of Parishioners. It was decided to make an appeal to the public to preserve this historic church. The Launceston ‘Examiner’ agreed to publicize the appeal and acknowledge donations. A well-known Launceston architect, Mr Frank Heyward, the leader of a group of people who were very interested in the preservation of historic buildings, supported the appeal and gave freely of his advice. The response was such that the tender of W. Purse and Sons for £457/7/0 was accepted and the work duly carried out.
On November 7th 1943, the centenary of Windermere Church was celebrated with a service of thanksgiving at which the Occasional Preacher was the Vicar-General of the Diocese, the Ven. H.B.Atkinson, who also dedicated a new organ donated by the congregation to mark the centenary.
Today motor transport makes it easy to pay a visit to the Church, but in the days past it was otherwise. Just before time for church service, the congregation would arrive by horseback, and carriage and also by boat, for many parishioners lived on the opposite bank of the river. Others came by boat from up or down the River. In the minutes of the Annual Meeting held in 1921, a vote of thanks is recorded as passed unanimously to Mr. E. Young of Hillwood for ‘his great help with his motor boat and his skill and care in bringing worshippers to Church’. The Neilleys and the Rosevears were also among those who came by boat.
The latter family, during all their long connection with Windermere church not only came themselves, by boat, but made themselves responsible for bringing other members of the congregation, Mr. E.Young and Mr. F. Rosevear used to call at Gravelly Beach, Blackwall, and Hillwood as well as Rosvears landing to collect the worshippers.
The first pews were backless forms, later improved with a back for comfort. The cedar pulpit was installed in 1842, at the time of construction. The lectern may have come to the church in the same year. The reed organ was built by the Estey Organ Company of America and was donated to the church by the congregation in 1943 to mark the centenary of St Matthias.
Since 1846, the burial ground has been the final resting place of many riverside people. The first recorded burial was Ann Hill, aged 29. By 1960 it had been decided to close the burial ground except where a reservation was in place. The burial ground is truly a family place. Included in the burials at St Matthias are Dr Gaunt and his daughter, members of the Coulson, Medwin, Atkinson, Hill & Rosevear families.
This beautiful bluestone Gothic church with its romantic history is a favorite for weddings and is very popular with photographers. The church is one of Australia’s oldest in continuous use. The building is still in its original state with no alterations or additions. This is an extremely rare quality in this day and age. The sub floor remains undisturbed and has a great deal of archeological potential. It is truly a beautiful colonial church and its tranquil surroundings provide a place of beauty and peace.