No. 109 - The Brickhill Memorial Church Campbell Town - A Secret Stain

The Brickhill Memorial Church in Campbell Town’s High Street replaced the old Wesleyan Chapel in King Street. It opened in 1880 and became known as the "Brickhill” Church in acknowledgement of its patron Joseph Brickhill, a prominent businessman and Methodist in Campbell Town.

Brickhill’s death in 1865 had arisen out of tragic circumstances. He kept a large Airedale hound in his store as a deterrent to would-be burglars. One night the dog attacked him and he never fully recovered from an abscess that developed from the mauling.

Brickhill’s bequest was significant and it is indicative of his deep faith as well as the fortune he had amassed from his business in Campbell Town. His estate helped establish new churches in Launceston (Paterson Street), Westbury and New Town. Five hundred pounds was given to form a theological fund and £1,400 was put aside for a new Church in Campbell Town’s High Street. The new building was to be built of bluestone with freestone front and dressings and covered with a roof of shingles. Delays caused by lack of money held up work on the new Church until the original plan was altered with the omission of the tower and spire, the vestry and one porch. The foundation stone was laid on the 30th July 1879 and it opened in May of the following year. A marble tablet was placed in the church in memory of Joseph Brickhill and in recognition of his generous gift.

While Brickhill is remembered as a devout Methodist, successful businessman and generous benefactor, few were aware of his convict past.

Research by numismatist William Mira*, has revealed that Brickhill’s hid a shameful secret.

Joseph Brickhill was born in London in1800. At the age of nineteen, along with two friends, he was charged with stealing a watch, a key and some ribbon and was sentenced at the Old Bailey in September 1819 to transportation for seven years (see trial record below).  Brickhill landed at Hobart aboard the Dromedary in January 1820 along with 369 other convicts . After the conclusion of his sentence he became associated with William Bedford whose property he managed while Bedford returned to England to study theology. On his return to Tasmania Bedford was ordained into the Anglican Ministry and was ‘called’ to Campbell Town in 1833 where he held services in the old Post Office. Brickhill accompanied Bedford to Campbell Town where he bought land and eventually set himself up as a general merchant.

In 1847, Brickhill married Grace Coombe in the Wesleyan Chapel. But in 1856, the 32 year old Grace died of a stroke. Brickhill married a widow, Mary Ann Brown in 1860. By this time Brickhill’s business success saw a rise in his social and economic status. As a garrison town, and the colony's fourth largest settlement he profited from the opportunities presented. In 1859 he built a shop in High Street in the middle of the town’s commercial centre. It was described as one of the largest commercial establishments in the colony, covering 3500 feet and comprising of shops, warehouses, show-rooms and dwellings.

Joseph Brickhill’s violent death in 1865 must have been a shock to the Methodist community in Campbell Town. Perhaps they would have been shocked too by his ‘convict stain’. William Mira notes that it is puzzling that there was no elaborate obituary published for a man of his wealth and achievement. Indeed the only record published was a simple funeral notice:

“On the 28th February, at his residence, Campbell Town, Joseph Brickhill, Esq., aged 65, greatly esteemed and respected. The funeral will take place at 3 o'clock, on Thursday, the 2nd March. Friends are invited to attend”.

Brickell had ensure that his past remained a mystery. What is clear however, is that the troubled young man that arrived in Tasmania in 1820 ‘came good’. Perhaps it was due to the influence of his friend the Reverend Bedford that he became a devout Christian. Or perhaps his faith naturally developed alongside his social standing. This we will never know. The Brickhill Church is however a memorial to a man who turned adversity into opportunity and returned part of his fortune to the Colony’s Methodist community as a sign of his faith and perhaps for repentance for an sinful old life and a thanksgiving for a new beginning.

The Brickhill Memorial church closed in 1964 and was later sold. It is now a private residence.


* The late Bill Mira was a leading numismatist. He research on the life of Joseph Brickhill is thorough and detailed. It is well worth a read. The link is at the bottom of the page.


Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Detail of Joseph Brickhill's Memorial Stone  - Campbell Town Uniting Church Cemetery - Photo: Duncan Grant 2018
A token issued by Joseph Brickhill for his store in Campbell Town.  This rare item is valued by numismatists and was the reason for the research undertaken by William Mira. Photo source: Museums Victoria 



Source: Old Bailey Online


Sources:

Mercury Wednesday 1 March 1865

Examiner Saturday 29 May 1880

W J Mira, Joseph Brickhill Revisited; Journal of the Numismatic Association of Australia, Volume 16, 2005.

https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/articles/2162

McNeice, R., Coins and Tokens of Tasmania, 1803-1910, pp. 71-72.

https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t18190707-90&div=t18190707-90&terms=Brickhill#highlight

https://convictrecords.com.au/convicts/brickhill/joseph/78615

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