No. 354 - Christ College and its Chapel at Bishopsbourne

One of Tasmania’s oldest educational institutions was founded in rural northern Tasmania in the village of Bishopsbourne. Only fragments of the College and its chapel remain but these are in effect the ‘foundations’ of higher education in the State.

In 1845 the Bishop of Tasmania, Bishop Nixon, purchased 1218 acres of the Vron property at Bishopsbourne, which included a 'mansion', to establish a theological college. The College was opened on 1 October 1846 with the hope that it would develop along the lines of an Oxbridge college and provide the basis for university education in Tasmania. It was also intended to prepare men for the priesthood. The Hutchins School and Launceston Grammar were founded at the same time to act as feeder schools to the College.

However, Christ College never really developed as its founders hoped, and a depression in the colony, the remoteness of the site, and financial problems contributed to its closure in 1856.

Reverend W.H. MacFarlane, the Rector of Longford, writing in 1946, at the centenary of the Christ College’s foundation, provides an interesting overview of the institution:

“Eight miles from Longford just at the back of Bishopsbourne in a picturesque setting of groves of stately oaks, are the remains of the original college buildings. The river just below has altered its course since the college was first built, but old stone steps may be seen leading down to the flats, above which stand part of a two-storeyed brick building, with brick stables and coach house not far away. Foundation's of other buildings, including the chapel, are easily discerned; and slabs of shaped free-stone lying beside broken bricks marked with the broad arrow or characteristic thumbprint are reminders that convict labour took part in their formation. In the distance the Tiers stand out boldly, recalling tales of bushrangers who roamed the mountains and came down periodically to homes such an Enfield close by to enjoy enforced hospitality and obtain such pickings as they might find.

Half-a-mile away, on another rise, surrounded by tombstones, is the over-a-century-old parish church bearing the dedication of "The Holy Nativity," where capped-and-gowned students attended service….

The college was founded on Oct.1, 1846…Bishop Nixon, who had taken a leading part in the movement after his arrival in 1843, was able to announce the opening of Christ's College at Bishopsbourne on premises belonging to the Episcopal See… Buildings were erected and extended. In 1855 it was reported there were 42 students in residence, and additional accommodation was required. But financial difficulties were occurring and in 1857 operations at Bishopsbourne were suspended.

In his "Residence in Tasmania” (published in 1856), Captain H. Butler Stoney, of the 99th Regiment, describes the college as it was in its last years at Bishopsbourne, in what had been "the most thriving part of Tasmania" and includes a sketch of the buildings. He quotes from a report of the annual commemoration of the College. The Divinity Fellow in waiting (Mr Adams) read the lessons; a "great treat" was given on the organ by the Rev W. A. Brooke; the warden delivered his Latin oration; Archdeacon Davies presented the accounts, and Bishop Nixon distributed the prizes. Names which occurred in the list included Pedder, Davies, Arthur, Mason, Dumaresq, Bedford, Gates, Denison, Pitcairn, which will all be recognised as later occupying places in the State's history. The then Governor, Sir John Denison had two sons at the college. After the formalities, the large party of distinguished visitors who had come in a long train of vehicles and on horseback, adjourned to the gardens, and then to the dining hall for a "very elegant and substantial lunch." By five o'clock the "brilliant assemblage which had given so animated an appearance to the college" was all dispersed… The bricks and stone are silent. Nevertheless, they testify to the courageous vision of those who guided Tasmania in its early years in the realm of education”.

While the buildings at Bishopbourne have vanished, Christ College lives on. It reopened in 1879 at Hobart. In 1885 the trustees of the College obtained the use of the Hobart High School on the Domain until the building was acquired by University of Tasmania in 1890. Christ College is now a residential college of the University of Tasmania. The cedar mantelpiece in the College’s computer room is the only reminder of the Bishopsbourne building.

Detail of Christ College and the chapel, Bishopsbourne (1856)  Tasmania. H Butler Stoney. Libraries Tasmania: LPIC147-1-116
Christ College, Bishopsbourne (1856)  Tasmania. H Butler Stoney. Libraries Tasmania: LPIC147-1-116

Lloyd, Henry Grant.  Christ's College, Bishopsbourne, Nov.2, 1849 [picture] / [Henry Grant Lloyd]  1849  <> (out of copyright)

A detail of the painting by Henry Lloyd Grant. The chapel may be seen on the right.

The Examiner, Wednesday 21 October 1946


The Examiner, Wednesday 21 October 1946, page 4
Mercury, Wednesday 16 January 1946, page 7
Mercury, Monday 22 July 1946, page 3
Mercury, Friday 27 September 1946, page 9
Examiner, Monday 24 May 1954, page 5
Mercury, Tuesday 25 May 1954, page 17
The Examiner, December 11 2000


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