No. 269 - St David's at Port Arthur - 'No Better Omen'

St David’s is a unique Tasmanian church in that it is a functioning church within the precinct of a historic tourist site. In was built in 1927 to replace the original convict church that was gutted by fire in 1884.

After the closure of the Port Arthur prison in 1877, the site was renamed Carnarvon, after the 4th Earl of Carnarvon, who had been the British Secretary of State for the Colonies. During the 1880s, land was auctioned and a township developed. Devastating bushfires in 1895 and 1897 destroyed many old buildings and gutted the Penitentiary, Separate Prison and Hospital. After the destruction of the convict church, for a time, residents worshipped in the old Asylum which also served as the town hall. By the 1920’s residents of Port Arthur formed a committee to establish a new Anglican church for the township.

The laying of the foundation stone for the new church took place in May 1927. The heavy rains at the time were seen as a good omen:

“It was raining heavily throughout the service, and there was absolutely no shelter – save their umbrellas – for those who attended. No one, however, seemed to mind that unduly: they had prayed for rain on Sunday, it was explained afterwards, and there could be no happier omen for the success of the church…”

The Hobart Mercury reported on the occasion:

“Port Arthur and the surrounding district has been without a Church of England since some years ago fire reduced the historic structure to a tourist attraction. In any case, the district could not have continued to support such an edifice as the old Port Arthur church must have been. … The church, which is to be a handsome wooden structure on a stone foundation situated on a pretty site practically opposite the ivy-clad ruins of the old church with the beauty of Port Arthur in the near background, is to cost £578”.

The ceremony was conducted by the Venerable Archdeacon Richard and the Mr R W G Shoobridge, treasurer of the Diocese, who laid the foundation stone. Charles Gathercole donated land for the church. The church was completed within 6 months and dedicated by Bishop Snowdon Hay on Sunday 18 December 1927.

In the same year tourism at Carnarvon had grown to the point where the area's name was changed back to Port Arthur. In 1916, a Scenery Preservation Board was established to take the management of Port Arthur out of the hands of the locals. By the 1970s, the National Parks and Wildlife Service took over management of the site. In 1979, funding was received to preserve the site and the civil elements of the Port Arthur, such as the post office and municipal offices, were moved to nearby Nubeena.

Although St David’s now falls within the Port Arthur Historic Site, it still forms part of the local Anglican parish and regular services are still held in the church.

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

The former Asylum and Town Hall.  Photo: Duncan Grant 2012


The Mercury, Thursday 12 May 1927, page 2
The Mercury, Monday 19 December 1927, page 3

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


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