No. 148 - The Church of the Ascension at Lilydale - "Not the Most Artistic Edifice"

At the consecration of the Church of the Ascension at Lilydale in January 1901, Bishop Montgomery rather unkindly referred to it as “not the most artistic edifice in our midst”. While it may be a somewhat plain building, it is nicely proportioned and unpretentious. 

Anglican services at Lilydale had been held in the Presbyterian chapel from about 1893. By the turn of the century, Anglicans were ready to build a church of their own. The foundation stone for Church of the Ascension was laid in June 1900. The Daily Telegraph of Launceston reported on the event:

“Thursday…was a red letter day for the church people in Lilydale, when Canon Beresford…drove out to assist in the laying of the foundation stone of the new Anglican church, to be called the Church of the Ascension… Suitable addresses were delivered and a hearty vote of thanks given to Mrs Harrison [who laid the stone]. The church is placed on a prominent site near the railway station. The first portion only is included in the present contract. The committee are fortunate in securing the services of the eminent architect Mr Alexander North…”

Although “very generous donations” had been given towards the project, it is clear that money was tight as the modest church was completed in stages; the chancel being added in 1903 and the altar rails and font in 1904. The minister was also made to work hard. In 1904 the Daily Telegraph commented:

“Two years ago, the Anglican Church was practically non- existent. Now, with a centre in Lilydale, there are missions in all surrounding districts, making it almost impossible for one clergyman to attend to them without superhuman effort”.

This ordinary little church, has had an ordinary life and did not feature significantly in Launceston’s press. However, there are a couple stories worth sharing; the first relates to the armistice of 1918 and the second to a curious talk in 1905 by the new Anglican Bishop, Edward Mercer.

Ringing in Peace

"The first intimation Lilydale residents had of Germany capitulating was at 8.30 on Tuesday morning, the Anglican Church bell pealing out the tidings that hostilities had ceased, and the whistle at Mr J.B. White’s sawmill blowing at intervals. Shops were closed, and all tools thrown down and the crowd wended its way to the railway station, there to learn that owing to other celebrations the train would be delayed for an hour. By 10.30 she steamed into the station to the accompaniment of cheers. ‘The Daily Telegraph’ was eagerly sought for, and the excitement of the crowd knew no bounds when it read “Victory for the Allies”…the crowd marched to the council chambers, and, under the shade of the honour flag, brief addresses were given…The youngsters were treated to lollies and fireworks… At the conclusion of the outside demonstration, services were held in the Anglican Church… and in the Methodist Church…” (Daily Telegraph Thursday 14 November 1918)

Can Animals Talk?

“Dr. Mercer, Bishop of Tasmania, visited Lilydale on Monday and administered confirmation… In the evening the Bishop gave a lecture in the Military Hall, the subject being “Can animals talk.” He dealt with the subject from a psychological standpoint, and lucidly proved the power of animals to communicate their emotions to man and to one another. He took as an example a dog, and explained the various ways a dog had of showing his different instincts and emotions not only by barking, snarling howling, etc., but by movements of the tail, eyes, body, etc. …. The lecturer concluded at about 10 o’clock one of the most interesting lectures held in Lilydale. He did not deal with the subject in an academic style, but in a natural way in which he could be understood by the very young….” (Daily Telegraph Thursday 30 November 1905)

Mercer was appointed as the fifth Anglican bishop of Tasmania in 1902 much to the fury of upper class Tasmanians, after it became evident that he was an outspoken social reformer. He visited the Church of the Assumption frequently during his episcopate and his style contrasted sharply with Montgomery who was conservative and stuffy as is evinced in his remark that he found the church lacking as a ‘artistic edifice’.

Whether one regards the Church of the Ascension as an Alexander North masterpiece or a banal country church, it has not survived the inevitable church closures and now stands empty and appears badly neglected. It is now for up for sale. Bishop's Montgomery and Mercer, I am certain, would not approve.

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

An undated postcard of the church.

Photo: Harrison RE Agents (

Photo: Harrison RE Agents (


Daily Telegraph Tuesday 5 June 1900, page 4
The Mercury Saturday 26 January 1901, page 5
The Daily Telegraph Friday 15 August 1902, page 4
Daily Telegraph Friday 3 June 1904, page 4
Daily Telegraph Thursday 30 November 1905, page 6
The Mercury Monday 8 January 1934, page 3
Daily Telegraph Thursday 14 November 1918, page 4

Henslowe, Dorothea,  Our heritage of Anglican churches in Tasmania. Mercury-Walch, Moonah, Tas, 1978.


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