No. 134 - Don Congregational Church - "Mud and Bog Holes"

Congregationalists appeared in the Forth region as early as the 1840’s. By the 1850’s communities were established in Don and Leith and a church was opened by Reverend William Law at Milton at the River Don in 1862.

An article in the North West Post titled “The Early Days of the North West Coast” recalls the work of Reverend Walter Mathison. The story verges on hagiography but this should not detract from the work of the early pioneer Congregationalists. The story of Mathison also provides an insight into of rural life in the Don and Forth region in the mid 19th century:

“The Congregation Church at Milton, River Don, was opened on December 28th, 1862, by Rev. W. Law of Launceston…. At this period Messrs Cummings, Raymond & Co. [to become the Don River Trading Company] were doing a very extensive business at the Don. The heads of the firm and a large number of employees were staunch supporters of Mr Mathison’s ministry, so that the Don church soon became larger than the parent one at the Forth, both in number of attendants and communicants. The Sunday schools at both places were in a highly flourishing condition. …The minister’s devotion to his work, and the remarkable success attending his labours, were both of an unusual character. On every night of the week, except Saturday, services were held either in one of the chapels, or at some cottage of some distant farmer, where little knots of worshippers would assemble who could not conveniently reach the more central places of worship. From these far off but pleasant gatherings Mr Mathison would return to his home on foot, through rain and storm, over imperfectly defined paths, with tangled scrub impeding his progress as he journeyed on through the darkness of the night”

The report continued explaining how Mathison travelled the district:

“Mr Mathison had purchased land and built a house on the hill adjoining the Leith township…. Here, in the vicinity of the house, at and around Norfolk Creek, were many settlers belonging to Nonconformist churches, who united with the Independents in building a chapel on the hill for evening services; and there was also a small chapel built on the Beach Road on land now belonging to Mr H. Lillico, so that Mr Mathison had in fact four places of worship, specially built by the people, between the Don and Forth, before ministers of any other denomination had entered the district. These together with the cottage night services, would have been too much for any one individual, but there had been a very remarkable spiritual revival under the ministrations of this godly man…. Mr Mathison’s work continued to increase as the years passed on. He had a faithful old horse, upon which he was wont to take his journeys from Alpine Cottage, on Leith Hill, over the lanes and byways that were in a most deplorable condition with mud and bog-holes”. 

And if this was not bad enough: 

“At night his way home from the Don led through the farms of several settlers, with ten or more heavy, rudely constructed slip-panels crossing the path, several of them through farmyards. These places were an indescribable maze of bog in the winter season. The heavy mud covered rails had not only to be taken down in the dark, but replaced in proper order. Some of them were fastened with wooden pins to keep artful bullocks from removing the rails with their horns in order to gain access to a field of turnips or potatoes, or grain. I quote the following from a printed report published at the time: “He travels about 3,000 miles during the year, preaches 156 sermons on the Sabbath, and conducts about 260 week-day services….For five or six nights every week the minister is away from home until nine, ten, and even eleven at night, travelling oft in the cold winter season under pelting rain along miry roads that are barely passable in the daylight…” 

This story of Reverend Mathison may seem a little over the top to modern readers but I think that it may be fairly close to the truth. These pioneering men and women had a fervour and faith which might seem unnatural from the perspective of our comfortable lives in the 21st century. And with the passing of a generation of such men and women of faith and fervour, churches and communities have gradually withered away.

The Don Congregational Church became a part of the Uniting Church in the 1970's. It subsequently closed and has been sold and converted into a private residence.

The Cemetery at Don 

The cemetery lies across the road from St Olav’s Church which was moved to this location in 1901 (see blog entry for April 15). This cemetery was used by the Congregationalists and by other denominations.

The site of cemetery seems incongruous as it wedged between two commercial premises and has an appearance of 'living' on borrowed time.  When I visited it a few weeks back, it appeared as if the rear portion of the cemetery had been flooded and contaminated with liquid waste. The cemetery contains some headstones of historical significance and it is a pity to see memorials in such circumstances. Photographs of some of these headstones may be found at the bottom of this page and include:

1. Gustav Weindorfer (23 February 1874 – 5 May 1932) who was an Austrian-born amateur botanist, lodge-keeper and promoter of the Cradle Mountains National Park.

2. John Henry, a founder of the River Don Trading company.

3. Private Charles Alfred Kimberley – who died in Belgium – and is listed as missing.

Links to further information about these and other people buried here are provided at the bottom of the page.

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photographs: Duncan Grant 2018

Photographs: Duncan Grant 2018

Real Estate photographs showing the church before it was converted into a residence (Roberts Real Estate)

Photographs of the Don Cemetery

The photographs show some of the issues in the cemetery as well as some significant memorial stones and markers. Click on the images for an enlarged view.

Containers on the Eastern boundary of the cemetery

A factory premises on the Eastern boundary

The rear of the cemetery appears to have been flooded with waste effluent.

A rare wooden grave memorial that has been set alight


Sharples, Theo E. and Congregational Union of Tasmania.  Congregationalism in Tasmania, 1830-1977 : a brief history / compiled by Theo E. Sharples  Congregational Union of Tasmania Hobart  1977
North West Post Thursday 23 May 1907, page 4

Links to information about graves featured:

1. Gustav Weindorfer CLICK HERE
2. John Henry  CLICK HERE
3. Private Charles Alfred Kimberley CLICK HERE
4. Alfred Gravely CLICK HERE
5. Thomas Medwin CLICK HERE

This site provides detailed information of all burials in the North West Tasmanian Coastal Cemeteries:  LINK HERE


  1. I have included your blog/s in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

    Thank you, Chris

  2. Thanks Chris. Much appreciated!


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