Wednesday, 11 December 2013

St Mary the Virgin Church, Gretna

In June 1846, Bishop Nixon suggested to the government that the recently arrived missionary chaplain, the Reverend William Tancred, be appointed as minister to the district of Macquarie Plains. On 5 December 1846, two acres of land were donated to the church by Edward Terry of 'Askrigg'.

Within eighteen months, Tancred had supervised the construction of the church at Gretna. The church of St Mary the Virgin was consecrated by Bishop Nixon on Ascension Day, 1 June 1848, (the same day that the Buckland church was licensed). The Church is built of stone with cedar furnishing and was financed by donations from the congregation. It represents an early expression of the Victorian Gothic style of building, not only for churches but also for residential buildings.

The church was popularly known as the 'Woolpack church', the name being derived from the former Woolpack Inn, located nearby. Reminiscent of a small medieval chapel in the early English style, the church of St Mary the Virgin at Gretna is a simple rectangular stone building (17 x 7 metres), with a timber vestry added at a later date. The design was probably adapted by the first incumbent, the Reverend William Tancred, from an English model.

The church is a prominent Gretna landmark in a stark hillside setting. It was one of the earliest ecclesiastical buildings in Australia to be influenced by English design trends, in which buildings were closely modeled on medieval designs. The church is surrounded by an extensive churchyard which contains the graves of many early pioneering families and thus has important associations for the history of the local community, and is held in high esteem

By 1918 one of the end walls had started to collapse and the church was extensively repaired. Additional repairs were undertaken in the 1930s, when the present roofing was added. The building exhibits evidence of structural failure. The walls and roof are tied and braced by several means, in an effort to stabilize the structure. It would seem that the church is still actively used and is part of the Hamilton parish and provides a valuable resource for research into the development of the Victorian Gothic style of building and how it was translated into colonial Australia.

This church and accompanying graveyard in the south central region of Tasmania is rather typical of several other churches in the area. All are quite old and all are beginning to crumble and much in need of repair or restoration. Typically none have a large enough congregation to attract funds. That said, the architecture and construction, particularly the internal fitout and stained glass windows are worth seeing.

Main Information Source: Australian Heritage Database