No. 195 - St Paul's at East Devonport - "Begging, Bazaars and Tea Meetings"

Before its establishment in 1890, Devonport was preceded by two townships on either side of the Mersey River; Torquay on the east bank and Formby on the western side. Sandbars at the mouth of the river limited growth at these settlements in contrast to Don and Forth to the west where from the 1850’s timber harvesting had brought development. To the east of the Mersey, farmers settled along the coast from North Down to Port Sorrel. In 1851 the discovery of coal at Tarleton initiated a period of growth for Torquay.

As a busy township began to develop, a police office and a courthouse were established. Small sailing vessels crossed the sandbar at high tide to bring in supplies and ship out produce. In contrast, Formby remained relatively undeveloped until the arrival of the railway in 1885. The first churches were therefore established at Torquay, including an Anglican church, which was initially the ‘mother church’ for the region.

The earliest report of an Anglican service at Torquay is recorded in The Colonial Times which mentions Bishop Nixon preaching there in November 1854. In 1863 the Launceston Examiner reported on efforts being made by Anglicans to acquire a permanent place of worship:

“A meeting of the members of the Church of England was recently held at Torquay, for the purpose of receiving a report from the church wardens as to the amount of subscriptions likely to be raised towards the erection of a building suitable for divine service on Sundays, and for a public school during the week; and the report being of a satisfactory nature as far as the canvass had proceeded, the meeting felt justified in appointing a committee to carry out the erection of a suitable building without delay, as the lease of the Music hall, which has up to the present time been used for church and school purposes, expires on the 80th of June next…”.

By the end of 1863 a church school had been built which was used as a  place of worship. The Examiner reported that the governor had visited it in December while touring the region:

“His Excellency the Governor and Mrs. Browne, accompanied by Sir Richard and  Lady Dry, and suite, arrived at Rezin's Hotel, Formby, on Saturday evening. The party attended Divine service at the new Church School on Sunday morning. On Monday, visited the Don Coal Mines; and on Tuesday drove out to Northdown”.

By the 1870’s, the necessity for a larger church had become urgent. In 1876, The Examiner explained how this had developed:

“The continual increase of population on the Coast has caused a necessity for greater church accommodation, and there are now in course of erection within a short distance of each other three buildings for the Church of England congregations, viz., one at the Don, one at Northdown, and one at Torquay. For many years the services at the latter township have been held in the schoolroom, and until within the last two years it afforded sufficient accommodation, but it is now found to be much too small to hold with comfort the large number of persons who have joined the congregation. Consequently it was determined to form a committee to collect money to build a church sufficient for the requirements of the place, and after a great amount of begging, bazaars, tea meetings, readings,.... the committee have managed to collect over £300”.

The stone laying ceremony for St Paul’s took place on 13th December 1876. The Examiner provides some details of the project:

“Mr Gadsby, who has been entrusted with the charge of the building, estimates the cost at about £425. The main building will be 45 feet by 25, affording accommodation for 200 sitting, with chancel 16 feet square, and there is to be a porch and vestry...” .

With construction underway, fundraising continued in earnest with more begging, bazaars, tea meetings and public readings:

“Mr Henry Edgell….was here last week and kindly gave a reading in aid of the church fund. I need not say that those who availed themselves of the opportunity of hearing him were delighted, and his imitation of a brass band has set our youngsters going in imitation of him, especially the ‘kettledrum’ part”.

The church was completed and opened in July 1879. By 1882, it was free of debt and consecrated by Bishop Bromby in that year. The old church school continued to be used as a Sunday school until 1897 when a destructive cyclone hit Devonport causing widespread damage across the town. The old Sunday school building was one of the casualties:

“The old Anglican Church building at East Devonport was not in the best of condition, having been erected about 40 years, and was not a very comfortable structure; still it was found useful for holding Sunday school in and sundry small gatherings, and many were sorry to see its collapse”.

Following the amalgamation of Torquay and Formby to form Devonport in 1890 and the erection of a bridge across the Mersey in 1902, the eastern half of the town was soon overshadowed by the west. An Anglican church was opened in West Devonport in 1888 and this was to become the principal Anglican church of the town.

In January 2001, St Paul’s faced its greatest challenge when it was set alight by an arsonist. Structural damage to the church was limited, although part of the sanctuary walls had to be replaced and a new roof built over the nave. 

In 2018 it faces a new threat; that of closure under the national redress scheme. The fate of Devonport’s oldest church will be known by the end of the year. 

Update: 10 July 2019

St Paul's was saved from closure but faced a new challenge after it caught alight for a second time on Tuesday 9 July 2019.  The cause of the fire is yet to be determined.

St Paul’s Cemetery (Now Pioneer Park)

In 1880 a correspondent using the pseudonym ‘Faultfinder’ wrote to The Examiner complaining of the condition of the Torquay cemetery:

“There is at Torquay a cemetery which is a disgrace to a community that dates its existence so far back as Torquay does. The land reserved for that purpose being still in its natural state, viz., covered with scrub, etc., with no fence to show that it is occupied. I hope that some one more will take the matter up, and something will be done towards clearing and fencing it in, as I have been informed that subscriptions for that purpose have been promised….”

It is not clear if ‘Faultfinder’ was referring to St Paul’s cemetery or the Wesleyan burial ground at nearby Wright Street but the issue of the condition of St Paul’s cemetery was a recurring issue. As early as 1859 it had been an issue:

"[The cemetery] at Torquay is unfenced, and the tombs with their respective fencings stand isolated in the bush. It is painfully ludicrous to see an old bullock push his head over the narrow rails of the grave fence —where there is one —and almost touch the headstone with his nose, as it reminds one strongly of a very near-sighted old gentleman who is very anxious to read the chiselled letters on the stone, but who unfortunately has left his spectacles at home".

A committee for the creation of a public general cemetery on the outskirts of East Devonport was established in 1880 but the cemetery was never established. After much debate, in 1923 St Paul’s cemetery was closed for burials by the Devonport Council. There was resistance to this from Anglicans as the new general cemetery at West Devonport was considered to be too distant and inconvenient. After its closure for burials, St Paul’s cemetery became derelict and it was ploughed over in the 1960's. An explanation for this is given on the Devonport City Council’s website: 

“In 1965 these sites were considered to be an eyesore and due to vandalism and neglect many headstones were damaged and smashed, so the sites were bulldozed and converted to parkland. The remaining headstones which were salvaged are currently located at the corner of Church and Drew Streets…. The earliest remaining headstone is dated 1857 and is that of Mr Isaac Stevens, who built Torquay's first jetty, hotel and many cottages…. The headstones which escaped the bulldozer's blade were re-erected with no regard for previous family grouping.... They have become a cultural feature in one corner of the open park but remain the property of the Church to which they belong”.

The number of surviving headstones at Pioneer Park may represent only a fraction of those buried at the site. A memorial board recording the names of the buried has been placed inside St Paul’s Church. A satellite photograph from Google Earth reveals the outline of the burial plots on the western side of the park.

A connection to St Paul’s Cathedral London

“Last Sunday, at St. Paul's Church of England, East Devonport, the first stained glass window was dedicated. Depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary, it was given b" Mr. E.  Wood in memory of his wife and daughter. The window was dedicated by the Arch-deacon of Darwin (Ven. W.Walters) in the presence of a large congregation. Before the dedication, the rector Rev. H. A. Jerrim incorporated in the north wall a piece of marble given to St. Paul's by the Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral, London. The marble was part of the reredos of the cathedral, which was damaged during; the blitz”.

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

A rather weathered foundation stone: Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018
St Paul's after the arson attack - source :
Fire crew at the scene of the second fire at the church - Source: ABC News: Henry Zwartz

The 2019 fire - link to news (The Advocate):  

 St Paul's Pioneer Pioneer Park 'Cemetery'

Rows of darker grass show positions of graves.

Colonial Times Thursday 9 November 1854  Page 2
The Examiner Tuesday 5 April 1859  Page 2 
The Examiner Saturday 23 May 1863  Page 4
Examiner Saturday 5 December 1863  Page 2
Cornwall Chronicle Monday 18 December 1876, page 3
The Weekly Examiner Saturday 23 December 1876, page 5
The Tasmanian Saturday 23 December 1876, page 5
The Examiner Friday 30 April 1880, page 3
The Mercury Monday 25 October 1880  Page 3 
Devon Herald Wednesday 15 March 1882, page 2
The Advocate Tuesday 11 July 1922, page 2
The Advocate Saturday 12 December 1936, page 6
The Advocate Saturday 8 November 1952  Page 16

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


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