No. 173 - Christchurch at Cullenswood - 'A Drop in the Bucket'

Cullenswood is located about two kilometres west of St Mary’s in the Fingal Valley. All that remains of the former village is its church and rectory.

Christchurch at Cullenswood is the legacy of Robert Vincent Legge. Legge arrived in Van Diemans Land in 1827 and shortly after took up a 1200 acre land grant on the Break O’ Day Plains. He named his estate Cullenswood, after his family home in Ireland.

Robert Legge was a devout Anglican and in gratitude for his good fortune he built a church at Cullenswood in 1847. Legge also built a rectory and secured its first priest, his nephew, Dr Samuel Parsons.

Robert Legge was held in high esteem by local parishioners who in January 1852 wrote a letter of address in gratitude for his gift of the church:

“We the undersigned parishioners of Cullenswood, highly appreciating the very noble and Christian feeling evinced by you in raising, at your sole cost and expense, a handsome Church, endowing the same with a liberal stipend furnishing it with every requisite for the due performance of Divine Worship and celebration of the Sacraments, and finally assigning all over, together with the enclosed churchyard, to Trustees, for our benefit while it may please God to spare us, and for our children after us, to desire to convey our very high estimate of your generosity….”


Legge replied to the parishioners in a letter that gently reprimanded them for their obsequiousness.

“Dear friends… Allow me to say that, as far as I am individually concerned, the address is quite uncalled for, on the principle that he who does his duty is not entitled to any merit for the performance of that duty. What I have done is not a ‘drop in the bucket’ in return for what God has done, both temporally and spiritually, for me”.

As he continued in his reply it is evident that Legge was a deeply devout and humble man who sought no praise but whose generosity was a simple reflection of his absolute faith and gratitude. He saw God’s hand in assisting him impose civilisation and order on the Tasmanian wilderness:

“The site on which the Church has been erected was, when I settled here twenty-four years ago, a wilderness, and the country around was impassable to a vehicle; but now the heart is gladdened on the Lord’s Day by observing the arrival…of pedestrians wending their way to the House of God. And how has this change been effected? Why, by the almighty allowing most of my undertakings to succeed, …surely, therefore, I owe Him what I have done, and far more…”

Legge did much more than share his wealth as a sign of his faith. He was also:

“A loyal churchman, a lay reader, and a Sunday school teacher…. His wife was a fitting helpmate. They were both consistent Christians, carrying out their principles in their daily life. Family prayers, morning and evening, was the rule, in which servants took part: Sunday dinner consisted of soup and cold meat, so that all could go to church. Only necessary work was done…. Cullenswood House was noted for its hospitality. Many a traveller, especially clergy, who needed a rest were welcomed, and often a cheque given to cover expenses. A visitors’ book was never kept. Had it been, there would have been some interesting names in it, including Sir John and Lady Franklin and Bishop Nixon”.

The connection between the Anglican hierarchy and the Legge’s was reinforced in 1874 with the marriage of Robert Legge’s daughter Elizabeth, to William Bromby, the youngest son of the Bishop of Tasmania. The ceremony was performed by Bishop Bromby at Christchurch Cullenswood. The scene was outlined in the Weekly Examiner:

“The bride was attired in a rich white corded silk, trimmed with white satin, her veil being of Honiton lace, surmounted by a wreath of orange blossoms and myrtle; while her bridesmaids wore white grenadine, girt with sashes of rose colour, and wreaths of the same hue.”

The respect that the tenants of Cullenswood had for the Legge’s was also evident:

“Owing to a recent bereavement in the bride’s family, the ceremony which was to have been of a private character, but notwithstanding this desire, the church was tastefully decorated at the eleventh hour by the parishioners, and a handsome arch of ferns and evergreens erected over the entrance to the churchyard; while the crowded state of the building, visitors having come from as far distance as Falmouth and Fingal, seemed to testify to the regard with which the bride and her father were held in the neighbourhood”.

The Legge family continued play a direct role in the affairs of the church. William Legge, the first born son, was educated in Britain and went on to pursue a military career, attaining the rank of lieutenant-colonel. In 1890 he returned to Cullenswood where he ran the estate. Like his father he was a devout Christian and sponsored the restoration of the church in 1904. He served as a lay reader, Sunday school teacher and was secretary and warden of the parish, taking a keen interest in the maintenance of he church and cemetery. One matter that concerned him was the issue of Christchurch’s cemetery which had become seriously overcrowded. In 1906, in his capacity as church warden and secretary of the parish, he instructed that:

“Owing to this churchyard being so full that old graves are frequently broken into when digging new ones, no further interments will be permitted to take place in it, except in the case of those who have relations interred therein, and who own ground there”.

A striking feature of the church even today is the crowdedness of the cemetery with headstones clustered alongside the walls of the church.

The interior of the church is similarly packed with memorials to the Legge dynasty. A beautiful memorial pulpit to Colonel William Legge was dedicated in 1921. Five of the church’s leadlight windows commemorate members of the Legge family. At the rear of the church is a plaque which celebrates the foundation of the Mother’s Union of Australia at Cullenswood in 1892. This was the first to be established in Australia by Mrs L’Oste, the wife of the Rector.

Christchurch is a sublime and atmospheric church and its interior transports one back in time. Although privately owned, it is generously left open for visitors which enabled me to photograph the interior. It is in need of restoration and the owners deserve every support to preserve this magnificent church which is a valuable part of Tasmania’s cultural and religious heritage.



Links of Interest:

Mothers' Union of Australia

William Vincent Legge

The Birds of Ceylon

Cullenswood


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

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

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018
Cullenswood House - Source: LINC  NS3195/1/1820

                                Christchurch Cemetery















Sources

Cornwall Chronicle Saturday 20 March 1852,
Launceston Examiner Thursday 17 July 1862, page 7
Weekly Examiner Saturday 6 June 1874, page 18
Examiner Saturday 25 July 1908, page 8
Mercury Thursday 12 May 1921, page 8
Mercury (Friday 12 August 1927, page 5
Examiner  Saturday 7 February 1948, page 5

http://www.fingalvalleyhistory.com/Cullenswood.htm
http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/legge-william-vincent-4009

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