No. 149 - Don Presbyterian Church - 'The last Survivor at Hickabod Village'

A Presbyterian church opened at Don in July 1891. It was the third church to open at Don, joining the Anglican and Congregation churches. Now it is the only one of the three churches at Don which remain open. In the 1890’s, Don was in serious decline and it seemed a risky venture to open a new church at that time. In 1893, two years after the church opened, a correspondent for ‘The Tasmanian’ painted a bleak prediction for Don’s future:

“Of all the places along the coast westward, perhaps none has suffered more from a variety of causes than the pretty little Don township, situated about a mile from the 
Head, surrounded by hills, and one of the most naturally picturesque spots in the island. Some few years ago it was the scene of a busy, thriving township; the whirl and buzz of busy life, teams laden with all kinds of products discharging into its warehouses and on its wharves, the never ceasing whirr of the mill — all helped to impress the visitor with the fact that here at least, like Goldsmith's ' Sweet Auburn,' plenty abounded; “the sheltered cot, the cultivated farm, the never-failing brook, the busy mill”. Now it bears evidence of the 'deserted village’…”

The ‘Correspondent’ went on to explain the cause of this dramatic reversal in fortune;

“One of the chief causes of the decay of the Don township is the advancement of its sister, Devonport, consequent on its shipping facilities; but although the business and labour in connection therewith has quitted the place,..."

However, not all was bad:

"...Some of the finest agricultural land to be found on the North-West Coast is well held and tilled, and this year the crops look splendid. Christmas Day was one of the happiest days the farmers could wish for; a thorough old-fashioned Scotch mist distilled, followed by a regular downpour, saturated the ground, and tuber and cereal reaped the benefit of the rain".

But Don's continued decline was inevitable :

“Today I was piloted round the town, and shown some of its departed glories. Cottages and barns falling to decay; some that swell the prize list of the V.D.L. lottery. Should I risk a pound I trust Dame Fortune will spare me winning one of these”.

But one aspect puzzled the 'Correspondent':

“One thing struck me particularly about the place: although most of the population have gone the churches still remain, and the various denominations struggle to the bitter end to keep their church till the last. The Presbyterian Church was beautifully decorated, and the Rev. Mr Anderson, of Sheffield, preached on Sunday evening a seasonal sermon. The Anglican Church was neglected by its pastor both Sunday and Christmas Day, and this is the first time for 20 years (so my informant stated) that service has been dispensed with on that day. The few members felt sadly aggrieved. The Congregational Church has made another start, and with a new minister from Sydney, but it is a certain fact that the Don as a township cannot support even one church; it is only a question of time. One by one they must go to the wall ; the glory has departed, and henceforth the place should be known, as a good old local preacher informed me, as 'Hickabod Village’…”

The ‘Correspondent’ was eventually proved right on two out of three accounts. Progress may have passed Don by but as a consequence it has also preserved it is as a pleasant 'Sleepy Hollow' on the fringe of Devonport. The Presbyterian Church appears very much the same as when it opened in July 1891. A notice for its opening described it as a ‘weatherboard building lined with pine’ and a ‘neat and substantial structure’ erected at a cost of £200 including furnishings.

An account of its opening survives in the short-lived Coastal News and North Western Advertiser of Ulverstone:

“Early in the afternoon visitors from Castra and other parts began to arrive, … Divine service was commenced with a good congregation, the Rev. E.C. Tennent of Hagley preaching… In the course of an admirable discourse, he pointed out that the building of the House of God with lavish wealth was not required of the followers of the meek and lowly Nazarene, but rather the building of a living temple of true worshippers….”

The congregation and their descendants must have taken the words of Reverend Tennent to heart. The Don Presbyterian Church is still a ‘meek’ building and has resisted any temptation to become a temple. It appears to have changed little in appearance since it opened in 1891 and like the village of Don, it has escaped the hand of ‘progress’. But while it might have 'lost its glory' ‘Hickabod Village’ seems to have had the last laugh.

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

The Coastal News and North Western Advertiser Saturday 4 July 1891 


Coastal News and North Western Advertiser Saturday 4 July 1891, page 2
Coastal News and North Western Advertiser Saturday 11 July 1891, page 2
Tasmanian Saturday 30 December 1893, page 21


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