No. 246 - The First Holy Trinity Church at Launceston - "The Tramp of Soldiery"

Launceston's magnificent Holy Trinity Church on Cameron Street replaced a church that built in 1842. This article traces the fascinating history of the original church.

Launceston’s first Anglican church, St John's, opened in December 1825 and was the only ‘Episcopalian’ Church in Launceston for 17 years. As the town began to expand, and the population increased, the need of extra church accommodation was felt. In May 1838, a meeting was called to consider the matter and it was decided to erect a second church. A committee was formed to carry this into effect:

“The committee held their, initial meeting on the 18th May, and one of their first acts was to bring forward a resolution to the effect "that the church wardens and trustees of the Church of St. John's be added to that committee," thus showing that the new church was to be erected in no spirit of opposition to the mother Church of St. John's, which in church building is unfortunately too often the case”.

In June 1839 the site was chosen for the building and approved by the Lieutenant-Governor in August. In January 1840, Reverend W. L. Gibbon was appointed chaplain to the new church and planning for the construction began:

“Very considerable difficulty was experienced in fixing upon a plan, those first submitted being too costly. In February 1841, the plans of a Mr James Blackbourne were accepted; these plans provided for a tower and side galleries, but were afterwards altered, the tower was dispensed with, and the present front adopted, while the side galleries were left for a future occasion. What was eventually decided upon, was a building with ground floor and end gallery to accommodate 500 people, and to cost a little over £3000. The work was tendered for, Mr Joseph Moir, of Hobart, being the successful contractor, who guaranteed to complete the building by the 1st of April, 1843, for the sum of £3750”.

The laying of the foundation stone took place on 22 September 1841 and was recorded in the Launceston Courier:

“The interesting ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the new church was performed on Wednesday last, in the presence of a large number of the inhabitants. A procession was formed at St. John Church, consisting of the committee, the church wardens, singers, clergy, children of the Sunday school, &c, which moved to the site at the corner of Cameron and George-streets, when after the usual proceedings the stone was formally laid by Major St. Maur, commandant. Underneath were deposited an inscription, together with a sovereign, half-a-crown, shilling, sixpence, and four-penny piece, of the reign of Her Majesty's Queen Victoria. An address was delivered by the Rev. W. L. Gibbon, on the ground, and in the evening, the Rev. R. R. Davis, preached at St. John's Church. A collection was made after the service, towards raising a sum necessary to complete the church; the amount collected we understand, was about forty pounds. It was remarked as rather a singular fact that both at the evening service and at the ceremony, by far the greater part of the audience were dissenters”.

Once the foundation stone had been laid the next challenge was that of finances. Money was raised through private subscriptions and £500 was borrowed from the Launceston Church Grammar School committee, who were yet to start building a planned schoolroom. The society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge granted a sum of £100, and Government provided another £700.

The church was opened for its first service on December 26 (Boxing Day), 1842. The Rev. W. L. Gibbon preached in the morning, and the Rev. W. Wilkinson in the evening.

Two decades after its opening it became apparent that Holy Trinity had significant structural problems:

“Either through defective foundations or bad building, ominous cracks appeared in the walls…., causing much anxiety. In 1876 the church was thought to be in a very unsafe condition, in consequence of which a parochial association was formed for the purpose of raising funds for building a new church”.

The earthquake of 1884 may have also contributed to the church’s instability. But in spite of the issue of structural problems, a significant amount was invested in the church over the years. In 1856 £950 was spent on erecting side galleries and in 1883 seating was removed and replaced. In 1888 a chancel was added “at considerable expense”.

In 1887 a new organ costing £500 was installed:

“The first instrument used in the church was a seraphim, lent by Mr Reiby. Mr Hewson used at one time to play and train the choir – “Sweet-voiced little boys”, as a writer of reminiscences a few years back styled them. Mr Hewson is credited with the remark – “Yes, the little lads can sing if they like, but they are sometimes very careless”.

In 1884 a visitor to the church wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph titled: “A Visit to Holy Trinity”, which provides a detailed record of a service:

“On entering the church the first very pretty sight I met was the font on my left, beautifully dressed in leaves, with white dahlias interspersed in the form of a pyramid, crowned at the top with a cross of the same material; the walls of the church being draped with various texts from Scripture. The pillars supporting the gallery were very tastefully arranged, and the number of leaves and flowers woven together must have been very tiresome to the ladies who undertook this graceful work. Taking my seat about the centre of the church I had a fine view of the altar, tastefully arranged. The Easter decorations still remained; but last Sunday was a harvest thanksgiving service, and the only addition was a few extra flowers and a small sheaf of corn in the centre. All round the church were banners, each one carrying some sacred symbol. The organ was especially grand in appearance, the 'hallelujahs' were superb, and I most cordially extend all praise to tho ladies and gentlemen who form the choir for the very able manner in which the music on each occasion was rendered. The services were splendidly intoned by the curate, the Rev. Mr Cole, who is one of the right men in the right place. He has a very clear voice, and can be heard very distinctly all over the building”.

At the churches jubilee celebrations in 1892 it was noted that in its 50 years, 2917 people had been baptised, 715 marriages had been celebrated and 2329 funerals had taken place. Changes were also noted:

“The times are indeed different now to those which constituted the early years of the church. The tramp of soldiery, for instance, is not heard marching from the barracks to service along what is now Cameron-street as was an invariable weekly occurrence when Holy Trinity was young.”

Times were indeed changing and within five years after its jubilee it became apparent that the issue of Holy Trinity’s structural problems could no longer be ignored. In 1895 Launceston’s city surveyor issued a damming report:

“The city surveyor reported: On July 31, in 1895, I reported that the walls of Holy Trinity Church, corner of Cameron and George streets, were generally in a bad state, and that, while I did not think there was any immediate danger of the building collapsing, certain precautionary measures should be adopted. Nothing has been done to render the building more secure, though about three weeks since (I am informed) some of the larger cracks were stopped up, as pieces of plaster were continually falling, and bricks threatening to fall. This new plastering already shows cracks, continuous movement is going on, the south wall has moved outwards since my last elimination, the chancel arch has spread, and in almost every case the damage visible in July, 1896, is now accentuated. I feel it to be my duty therefore, under clause 57, 58, and 69 of the Building Act to certify to the Council that I consider the building unsafe, and a certificate to that effect accompanies this report. Further, in view of the celebration of a wedding which takes place to-morrow, I wish most forcibly to point out that the galleries should not be occupied. Stringent instructions should be given on this point.

The Mayor informed the Council that it was very necessary what the city surveyor recommended should be carried out at once, and then be thought that was all that was required. If the church authorities did not accede to the instructions the Council would have to prevent service being held, and close the building, because if anything occurred after this warning the Council would be blamed, as their officer had reported that the building was unsafe”.

Despite the city council’s intervention, the old church continued to be maintained but by February 1898, it is clear that its time was up. The annual meeting of the congregation and parishioners reported that:

“The sum of £34 10s incurred in repairs to the church was the result of a thorough examination of the whole building by well known architects, builders, and experts, and who have stated that although the walls are now perfectly safe, and would stand for many years, the roof is defective, and will only last good for two or three years without substantial attention in the way of re-roofing. In order to affect that, considerable alteration would have to be made, which would incur much expense; and they therefore advise that, considering the faulty construction of the church, it would be a waste of money to use it for that purpose. It has therefore become absolutely necessary to make a move in the construction of a new church. This has already been begun, … the plans, as drawn by Mr North, represent a very handsome building, which, when completed, will be an ornament to the town”.

The last service in the old Holy Trinity took place on 30 November 1902, a few weeks short of the 60th anniversary of its opening.

“Probably the last Sunday service to be held in the old church of Holy Trinity were conducted yesterday. Signs of the approaching desertion were everywhere visible. The corner for many years occupied by the pipe organ was vacant, and a small cabinet organ had been pressed into service. The church was entirely seated with cane chairs, the pews having been removed to the new structure. At the morning service Rev. Barry made reference to the transference, and reminded his congregation that under their system of free seats the unwritten law generally observed in the old church, that accustomed occupiers should be left in undisturbed possession, would for obvious reasons be difficult of compliance in the new. However, this would soon pass away as the regular attendants settled into their places”.

The new Holy Trinity Church, although unfinished, was consecrated on 4 December 1902, a few days after the last service in the old church. The only tangible reminder of the old building is the large garden space at the west entrance of the new church.

The original Holy Trinity Church. Date unknown. Source LINC Tasmania LPIC22-1-33

The interior of the original Holy Trinity Church. date unknown. Source LINC LPIC147-2-00200

Holy Trinity Church in 2018 - Photograph Duncan Grant

Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Launceston – Alexander North's initial design which were never fulfilled.
[The Building, Engineering & Mining Journal, 15 January 1897]


Launceston Courier Monday 27 September 1841,  Page 2
The Examiner, Wednesday 21 December 1842, page 3
Daily Telegraph Wednesday 23 April 1884,  Page 3
The Examiner Monday 20 February 1893, page 8
Daily Telegraph Tuesday 9 February 1897, page 3
The Examiner Wednesday 17 February 1897, page 5
The Examiner Monday 3 May 1897, page 7
The Examiner Tuesday 1 February 1898, page 5
The Examiner Saturday 5 February 1898, page 11
The Examiner Monday 1 December 1902, page 7
The Daily TelegraphFriday 5 November 1902, page 3


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