No. 308 - St Gerard's at Lefroy - 'Do not Rob Yourselves'

The township of Lefroy lies 15 km east of George Town on the north east coast of Tasmania. Lefroy is now a virtual ghost town having at its peak a population of about 4000 which has now declined to 77 (2016 Census).

It was originally called Nine Mile Springs, a reference to the distance to George Town and the existence of springs in the vicinity. The George Town and District Historical Society’s booklet on Lefroy provides the following information:

“The settlement moved to its present site in the mid 1870s following the development of the Native Youth reef. Known by the locals as Excelsior, after the original mine on the site, it was named Lefroy in 1881 after the visit by the Acting Governor, Sir Henry Lefroy. It was a bustling town which is said to have contained 5,000 people in its peak boom period of 1890-95. It was the fourth largest town in Tasmania. It had a race track, rifle club, cricket club and brass band. There were six hotels, three churches, a state and private grammar school, a masonic lodge and mechanics institute. The town had several shops, two butchers and a cordial factory. In 1907 the headquarters of the George Town Municipality was located there, remaining there until the 1930s. Once commercial mining ceased Lefroy slowly declined, its school and last church closing in 1954. Many of the houses were removed to George Town and Beaconsfield”.

There is very little information about the St Gerard’s, Lefroy’s Catholic church. No description of the church or photograph of it seems to have survived. (The image used here is for illustrative purposes).

There is a brief report on the laying of the foundation stone in January 1897 and it is clear from this that Lefroy was already suffering economic hardship:

“The ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the Roman Catholic church was performed this afternoon [Sunday 3 January] by Archbishop Murphy, assisted by Dean Beechinor. The church was dedicated to St. Gerard. Dean Beechinor, in a short address, said that he believed from this day forth the prosperity of Lefroy would improve, and he asked those present not to rob themselves, but to put what they could on the stone. The Archbishop addressed those present… About £20 was collected".

The church was completed and opened in September 1897. The Launceston Examiner provides a report of the proceedings:
“St. Gerald's Church, Lefroy, was formally opened yesterday by the Very Rev. Dean Beechinor, in the unavoidable absence of Bishop Delaney [coadjutor Bishop]. The Very Rev. J. O'Mahony preached an eloquent sermon, and the Church of Apostles choir rendered the choral portion of the service, and sung Farmer's "Mass" and Webber's "Gloria." Miss Grant sang Millard's "Ave Maria." Mrs Erskine Parker presided at the' organ, and Mr A. Roper officiated as accompanist. A large sum was received in donations towards the building fund, which will also benefit materially by a concert given on the previous evening in Stubs's Hall. This was a very enjoyable entertainment, and was much appreciated by the audience…. The National Anthem brought 'the evening to a close”.

In spite of Dean Beechinor’s belief that “the prosperity of Lefroy would improve”, it did not. In 1907 a report on a social event to raise funds for the church noted that “when the present depressed conditions of the place (financially) is considered, the net result…must be very satisfactory to the promoters”. The reality was that the church's days were numbered.

Reports about St Gerard’s disappear from the record by the second decade of the 20th century although there is no official news confirming its closure. Typically buildings in mining towns were relocated once a boom subsided. It is probable that St Gerard’s was removed for use as a church at another location, but I have yet to confirm its fate.

Photograph - Duncan Grant - modified image - no photograph of St Gerard's is available.

Daily Telegraph, Monday 4 January 1897, page 2
The Mercury, Tuesday 5 January 1897, page 3
The Examiner, Monday 6 September 1897, page 5
The Examiner, Saturday 17 February 1906, page 5 (George Town Historical Society)


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