The Church of Scotland submitted a petition to the government in August 1839 requesting the erection of a church at O’Brien’s Bridge (today’s Glenorchy) and agreeing to pay a proportion of the cost. O’Brien’s Bridge was still a ‘retired and secluded locality’ at that time and the Hobart Town Courier and Van Diemen’s Land Gazette asserted that there were ‘no more than about five Presbyterians in the whole district’.
The government agreed to the scheme and the new church was designed by James Blackburn, the great colonial architect who had arrived in the colony as a convict after he had been convicted for forgery and transported in 1833. The Colonial Times reported that the church would seat two hundred people and predicted the building would be ‘an ornament to the settlement.’ Tenders were called in November 1839 for the construction of a ‘Scotch Church’ and Messrs Kirk and Fisher were appointed to begin construction on land that was donated by George Hull at a cost of one thousand five hundred pounds
The foundation stone was laid by His Excellency, Sir John Franklin, the Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, on 20th December 1839, and he named the new church St Matthew’s. It was an impressive early Romanesque Revival sandstone church and features of the building include a square corner tower with smaller, octagonal towers to other corners and a row of blind Norman arches in relief..
St Matthew’s was formally opened for public worship in November 1841 when there was a collection in aid of funds as the building had cost ₤1,500 and there was still a considerable debt. The Courier took the opportunity to comment on the church’s architecture:
‘The church is of dressed freestone, in the Norman style of architecture, with a square tower, which is placed at one of the angles of the body - not in the centre of the front as is customary. It does not appear to us that there is anything incongruous in this, however much it may be opposed to custom - on the contrary, as it is beyond doubt that perfect uniformity of figure in small buildings tends to produce an air of formality, we think the architect commendable for having disregarded established prejudices. On the whole we admire the building,’
The first minister for St. Matthew’s was the Rev. Charles Simson who arrived in 1841 and remained as minister until 1870 Between the years 1842 until 1872 there were approximately 160 burials in this churchyard and after that most people were buried at Cornelian Bay
It is interesting to note that the cemetery attached to the church was at the front of the building and this land was later acquired by the Glenorchy City Council for road widening. In return the Church was given a small block of land at the rear of the Church (now used for car parking) with a house that had been occupied by the Barrow family.
It was at this time the headstones were removed and placed around the Church. The building still stands on a prominent corner location and is essential to the main road townscape of Glenorchy.