The first Church on this site was begun in 1829. The district, which comprised the plain to the north and east of the Western Tiers, watered by the South Esk and its tributaries, was named "Norfolk Plains," because its first settlers were a number of farmers compulsorily removed from Norfolk Island when the settlement there, founded by Captain King to supply Sydney with food, was abandoned by order of the Government in England. Some of the inhabitants were transferred to the Tamar in 1808, and granted land in this district.
Not till 1813 and onwards, when the Archer family came from England and were granted large areas of land and introduced merino sheep, did the district begin to prosper. In 1824, Lieutenant Governor George Arthur became Governor of Van Diemen’s Land and he despaired that the ‘whole population of the interior was in utter darkness – destitute of religious instruction’ and he listed Norfolk Plains among the regions requiring to ‘hear the Word of the Lord’.
In 1826 Governor Arthur appointed Mr. W. P. Weston as a catechist and to conduct regular services. The first known visit of a clergyman was that of the Rev. James Norman of St, John's Launceston on 12th Sept. 1827 but in 1828 the Rev. R. R. Claiborne started the "Norfolk Plains Grammar School," and was available for services. It was now decided to build a Church, as a clergyman was expected to arrive for the district from England in 1830.
The Government gave the site, the area of which was later fixed at 8.5 acres, and also provided the bricks and other materials for the building itself, while the inhabitants supplied the fittings, which cost £ 190, including an early form of harmonium, called a Seraphine. This was placed at the back of a gallery behind curtains, in front of which sat the convicts employed in the district, their shackles clanging as they entered and departed. The Church, which was named St Augustine’s, is said to have had a seating capacity of 400; but this seems to have been impossible, even when taking into account the large gallery.
The Rev. R. R. Davies arrived in 1830 to take charge of an enormous parish extending from Ross to the Bass Strait. The Church was not finished till nine months after his arrival, in April 1831. Unfortunately for all its grandeur, St Augustine’s had been hastily constructed and after just seven years, was falling to pieces. The foundations were unsound and its walls, deteriorated beyond repair, were being propped up with stays. The only feasible solution was to rebuild.
Tenders were therefore called for the erection of a new Church and it was Robert De Little, architect of St Augustine’s who won the tender to construct the new church. The corner-stone of which was laid by the Lieut Governor, Sir John Franklin, in March 1839. By the end of 1843 the new Church, which is the present one, was nearing completion. Plans for the tower were settled in the following February, and tenders for the tracery of the window were called in July, and the Church was opened for worship on Sunday 6th October, 1844, by Bishop Nixon, the first Bishop of Tasmania, who had arrived in Tasmania in June, 1 1843.
Christ Church was built of Hadspen freestone, with a shingled roof, and its walls were crested with parapets and battlements. At its ‘completion’ in 1844, the building comprised only the nave and a squat, temporary wooden tower. The Church was however, by no means completed, for the roof was supported by upright iron girders, intended eventually to be used in the erection of galleries. These fortunately were never built. For a short time, the first temporary chapel, St Augustine’s and Christ Church could all be seen in the grounds at the same time. St Augustine’s was pulled down as soon as the new church was in use, and the bricks were used for the building of the Sunday School which seems to have been finished by December, 1845.
For 36 years Christ Church remained in its incomplete state but in January, 1878, during the incumbency of the Rev. Arthur Wayn, it was decided to get rid of the ugly roof· supports, and to make the Church interior worthy of its outward appearance rather than demolish the increasingly sorry building. The girders were replaced by iron columns, painted to look like grey granite, Above them are five fine arches, the eastern bay being larger than the others, forming a kind of transept.
In this reconstruction the shingles were removed from the roof and replaced by slates of large size. When the original Church was built a wooden Cross was placed on the eastern gable, but there was such an uproar among the people that it was taken down again before the opening ceremony was attempted. Now, however, a stone Cross of good design was fixed without apparently any demur. The east window was also sent to Melbourne for repairs. The Church was reopened by Archdeacon Hales in December 1880. The balance of debt having been paid during the next year, Bishop Bromby consecrated the Church on 27th January, 1882.
Seven years later the Sunday School was enlarged, in 1893 a new organ was purchased for £346 to replace that which in 1856 had cost £232. The Church Tower was never completed until 1960. At various times attempts were made to raise enough money to complete the tower in stone and at the outbreak of World War II a start was about to be made, but shortage of labour prevented it going ahead. However, in 1960 work was begun, the foundations were strengthened, the wooden top removed and the stone work raised 15 feet.
At the same time the historic clock was completely overhauled and the faces repainted and finally placed in their permanent home. During the early years of the Van Dieman’s Land colony, there was a big need for accurate and loud public clocks. Few people had watches and it was important that they should be on time for court appearances, business and church. King George IV donated six clocks, each with a great bell. When they arrived aboard the convict ship York in 1829, three were installed in Hobart, one at St Luke’s Richmond, one at St Johns Launceston and one here at Christchurch Longford. This is a turret clock, made by Thwaites and Reed of Clerkenwell, London in 1823 and costing 200 pounds and for many years it was located in a temporary wooden structure, until the tower was completed in stone in 1960.
The clock mechanism was powered by the gravitational effect of a heavy weight suspended on a cable. This needed to be wound to the top twice weekly. There are two drums that take the cables, the smaller for the clock mechanism and the larger to power the bell chime. The escape movement, which regulated the clock, was controlled by the pendulum, which has been detached and now sits alongside the cabinet. The rate of chime was regulated by the fan-like governor at the back of the mechanism and the position of the hands could be adjusted by the small dial and lever on the front.
For 180 years parishioners have climbed the tower twice a week to wind the heavy mechanism. In 2010 it was decided that this was an unacceptable risk and effort, so the mechanism was finally replaced with an electronic unit behind each clock face. The time is corrected every 12 hours by satellite connection. The bell chime is now operated by an electrically operated hammer, striking the original bell. This is synchronised to the clock mechanism. The clock and chimes are now accurate to the second. The electronic clock mechanism was manufactured in France by Bodet and installed by Tim Tracey of Tower Clock Services, Wyong, NSW.
A grant from the Tasmanian Community Fund provided half of the total cost of $21,000 In its day, the old mechanism was considered to be cutting edge technology. It is only right that it should be replaced by today’s equivalent. In 2012, the original historic clock movement was taken apart, again by Tim Tracey, and lowered piece by piece from the tower. It was reassembled, after thorough cleaning, in the cabinet constructed for the purpose by members of the Longford Men’s Shed, where it can be admired as an engineering masterpiece of its time.
In 1989, restoration work was carried out as part of Christ Church’s sesquicentenary celebrations. The heavy roof slates were replaced with corrugated iron for more secure weather proofing, the stonework was repointed, the adjoining graveyard cleared and graves restored. Many ancient gravestones, in danger of total decay were preserved in three wall of a Garden of Remembrance.
The extremely rare Seraphine made by Gunther & Horwood, Camden Town, London, dated in the early 1820’s is a rare example of this early free-reed instrument. It was imported from England and placed in the gallery of the previous church. It’s player receiving £20 per annum. Unfortunately it was not in good repair and remained in that deteriorated state for many years. It is in a polished mahogany case, and has one keyboard, but no stops.
This quaint instrument forms a very interesting link with the early history of the church in this part of Tasmania. Originally the Seraphine was placed in the back of a gallery behind curtains, in front of which sat the convicts employed in the district. In 2011 a group of parishioners of Christ Church, Longford sought public support through the local Newspaper ‘The Country Courier’ to restore this museum piece to its former glory and for it to remain in the Church for many years to come.
Donations of cash from the general public were received for which parishioners are truly grateful enabling the restoration by Australian Pipe Organs, Victoria, to be completed in 2012.
The site of Christ Church has functioned not only as a spiritual centre but also as a visual, social and cultural focus of the Longford community. It is one of Australia’s oldest church and burial grounds, where prominent and obscure individuals, and sadly, nameless convicts lie silent in the graveyard but stories remain to tell of their contributions to this beautiful church and how they etched their colonial marks upon the productive river plains of the Norfolk Plains district.