No. 254 - St Bernard and St Malachy at Branxholm - "Quite a model in its way"

In the 1850’s, explorer and surveyor James Scott applied for 5000 acres along the Ringarooma River and named his selection Branxholm, after a hamlet in Roxburghshire, Scotland. With the discovery of tin in the area, Branxholm prospered although it remained a relatively small centre.

By the 1880’s a small settlement was flourishing and religious communities were established. In 1881 the Branxholm correspondent for The Tasmanian wrote:

“Some short time ago it was something extraordinary to see a Catholic priest here, but now, I am delighted to say, we frequently have the pleasure of a visit from the Rev. father Mary, of George’s Bay, in whose district our village is”.

Within a few years a Catholic church was established. Mr A J Joyce, the owner of the Branxholm Hotel, donated land for the church. Bishop Murphy attended the ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone in February 1884. The scene was described in the Daily Telegraph and is revealing of the social hierarchy which existed at Branxholm:

“On Sunday last an imposing ceremony took place at Branxholm in connection with the laying of the foundation stone of the Catholic Church. Interest in the proceedings was greatly enhanced by the fact that the Lord Bishop conducted the service, and gave the paternal blessing. …. The procession left Davern’s Hotel, headed by children carrying bannerettes, followed by the middle classes, the elite of Branxholme, and the dignitaries bringing up the rear. Following en masse were the disinterested spectators.

On arriving at the spot selected, Mr A.J. Joyce [the owner of Davern’s Hotel] read the address of welcome to the Bishop, and eulogised the indefatigable energy displayed by the Rev. Martial Marie in working for the cause of the church…”

A report from June 1885 reveals that the church was still under construction when the Examiner’s correspondent passed through the town:

“Upon arriving in the on the township a few days ago, I was agreeably surprised to observe the progress being made in the locality. The first thing is the new bridge over the Ringarooma, …. After crossing the bridge is to be seen in the course of erection, and drawing towards completion, a new building which the traveller, judging from the style of architecture, will at once see is intended for a church. It belongs to the Roman Catholic body, … The design is one chosen by the Rev. Father Mary, missionaire apostolique, and saying this is tantamount to observing that the church is quite a model in its way, as the reverend gentleman is well known to possess considerable taste in this respect. Mr. Peppiatt, of Ringarooma, is the contractor for the work, and Mr Peter Smith is the builder engaged in the erection. It is expected his Lordship the Bishop of Hobart will come to Branxholm early in the spring to formally open the new building”.

A visitor to Branxholm in late 1885 noted that the church had been completed but it was to be over a year before the building was dedicated. This delay might have been necessary to accommodate the Bishop’s travelling to this remote region as the dedication coincided with the laying of the foundation stone of a new Catholic church at nearby Derby. The dedication took place on 28 February 1887 and was reported by the Daily Telegraph:

“It was your correspondent’s privilege on that day to…be present at the opening of the new Roman Catholic Church… The road was rendered quite lively by the number of horsemen and vehicles, all journeying towards the same rendezvous, vehicles varying in their kind from well-appointed carriages drawn by a pair of spanking greys, and containing His Lordship the Bishop of Hobart, and the clergy who were to conduct the ceremonies, down to the humble chaise-cart and heavy cart horse of the pioneer settler of our forest land.

Upon commencing the decent of the hill leading into the township the new church which is a prominent feature of the township, built in the Gothic style, and containing belfry and vestry, at once meets the gaze, standing on the opposite hill on the eastern side of the village. At 11 a.m. His Lordship the Bishop… proceeded to bless and open the church. The building was well filled, and the internal fittings are very handsome and complete, so much so that the Bishop declared them to be of the very best country churches in the diocese”.

Little is know about the subsequent history of the church. With the demise of mining in the area the population declined and shrinking congregations meant that the wooden church was difficult to maintain and repair. At some point the church lost its steeple and the building was known to sway in the wind. Its deteriorating condition resulted in it being demolished in 1983. Catholic Mass continued to be held for a while in Branxholm’s Anglican church but this has also closed in recent years.

Saint Malachy and St Bernard

Saint Malachy (1094 – 1148) was an Irish saint and Archbishop of Armagh, to whom were attributed several miracles and an alleged vision of 112 Popes later attributed to the apocryphal Saint Malachy was the first native born Irish saint to be canonised.

Bernard of Clairvaux, (1090 – 1153) was a French abbot and a major leader in the reform of Benedictine monasticism that caused the formation of the Cistercian order.

The church around the turn of the 19th century. source - from Bygone Branxholm (original source not indicated)


The Tasmanian, Saturday 12 March 1881
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 21 February 1884, page 3
The Tasmanian, Saturday 8 March 1884, page 10
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 6 June 1885, page 1
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 3 March 1887, page 3

Fairburn, Margaret E and McKay, John T. (Father) The flickering flame : Catholicism in north-east Tasmania, 1877-2011. Father John McKay, Tasmania, 2011.

Bolch, Cathie, Muggeridge, Jennifer, Withers, Carole and Branxholm Centenary Committee Bygone Branxholm, 1883-1983. [Branxholm Centenary Committee], Branxholm, Tas, 1983.


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