A very unusual Romanesque church built in 1839-41 to a design of convict architect James Blackburn from very finely tooled local white freestone. Few travelers driving through Pontville could fail to notice the striking exterior of St Mark’s Church, standing on the top of the hill on the north side of Pontville.
Convict Architect James Blackburn had been transported from England in 1833 for forgery. Because of his academic qualifications, he was attached to the public Works department and within a few years he had proved his worth by designing plans for a number of churches and public buildings in Hobart and nearby districts.
The design of the church is said to resemble in many respects a church near Lake Maggiore in Switzerland but in Tasmania, at any rate, it is a unique design. The church was constructed by Joseph Moir for a cost of approx $2600 which was raised by public subscription. The beautiful white stone used in the building was found locally and is known as Brighton stone.
As far as it is known the foundation stone, which unfortunately can no longer be seen, was laid by the then Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania, Sir John Franklin in 1839 but delays resulting from its convict labourers being diverted to other projects, such as the Pontville Bridge and the Watch House meant that the building was not completed until February 1841. It was dedicated on the 21st February that same year by Archdeacon Williams Hutchins.
Because of difficulty over title deeds, the church was used regularly for services for more than forty years before it was finally officially consecrated. This ceremony took place on the 12th March 1884 and included the consecrated of the adjoining cemetery and was conducted by the Bishop of Tasmania, the Rev Dr Sandford.
The first Rector of St Mark’s was the Rev John Burrowes who was in place in 1840 and served the district for the following 37 years before he passed away aged 83 in 1878. He is buried in the St Mark’s cemetery with his wife, son & daughter. He remains the longest serving Rector of St Mark’s.
The organ at St Mark’s was brought from England in 1888 and replaced an earlier instrument which had been originally installed in the 1850’s. It was built by the firm of Bevington and has five ranks of pipes which provide an exceptionally sweet tone for an organ of its size. The first major overhaul and reconditioning took place in 1959. Up to that time the organ had never even been tuned.
The interior of the church includes elaborately carved furniture and fittings by noted Hobart woodcarver, the late Ernest Osbourne. The unique ornamental fence which once surrounded the churchyard was removed in 1971, because of deterioration, the present chain and steel post fence was erected from funds received from an appeal held for the fence.
February 21st 2016 saw the church celebrating the 175th Anniversary of the opening of St Mark’s exactly 175 years to the day that it originally opened in 1841.
# I would like to thank Rod Curtain who very kindly opened the church for me to photograph the interior.