No. 402 - St Brigid's at Tunnack - "The Worst He Ever Saw"

Tunnack is small town about 20 km south of Oatlands that was settled by Irish migrants in the mid-19th century. Tunnack is well off the beaten track and generally it is not visited by either tourists or Tasmanians. It would seem that this was true more than a century ago according to a description of the settlement in 1883 by a somewhat bigoted correspondent for Launceston’s Daily Telegraph:

“Some of your readers do not know perhaps where Tunnack is, and even though many may have often heard the name, they may be disposed to consider it an unimportant locality….About 15 miles from Oatlands this populous locality consists of a number of scattered farms, varying from 20 to 300 acres or so. It is something like Turner’s' Marsh, and just as the people of Launceston get their best potatoes from this, so do those of Oatlands obtain their most flowery “murphies” from Tunnack. Like, too, at Turner's Marsh, a large proportion of the Tunnackites hail from the land of the shamrock, and to see them grubbing the immense gum and stringy-bark trees is a “caution”. They can work”.

St Bridget’s Catholic church opened in 1894 but it was preceded by an earlier chapel of the same name. The date which this was established is not known but there is a reference to a marriage taking place at “St. Bridget’s Chapel, Tunnack” in June 1875. A more substantial report of this chapel is found in an 1877 report when Bishop Murray and Father Feehan visited Tunnack’s Catholic community:


“On Wednesday last the Bishop of Hobart Town paid his first visit to this place. His Lordship was accompanied by Dr. Murray, Bishop of Maitland, New South Wales, and the Rev. J. Feehan, the pastor of the district. On the arrival of their Lordships here they were met by a large number of the inhabitants, who assembled to receive the Bishop on this occasion. The day was very fine, with a gentle west wind blowing; and notwithstanding that the road from here to Oatlands is anything but good to ride or drive over, the party arrived in good spirits, not much the worse after a journey of 15 miles, performed before noon. After a short stay at Mr. O'Connor's, the Bishop of Hobart Town, accompanied by Father Feehan and others, drove to tho Catholic Church, where a concourse of people were assembled to greet his Lordship on his arrival".

"The approach to the chapel for several yards was strewn with flowers and evergreens, as a mark of respect to his Lordship on his first visit, this being the act of the good ladies of Tunnack, for which, indeed, they deserve thanks. After prayers being said by his Lordship and those assembled, he delivered a short but eloquent discourse on sin, its origin, and consequences. After entering fully into the subject, he next alluded to the little church, and in his remarks said it was the worst he ever saw. It is by far too small for the congregation which has considerably increased for the last few years, and in appearance it is anything but a house suitable for the worship of God. On His Lordship quitting the little church he was greeted with three hearty cheers from all assembled. The whole party then drove back to Mr. O’Connor's, who has given a site for a new church, and their Lordships selected the spot upon which the Tunnack Roman Catholic Church is to stand; and although there is no visible rock, I am quite satisfied it will stand upon the same rock upon which Christ built His Church, and that the "gates of hell shall not prevail against her.” …It is to be hoped that his Lordship's next visit is not far distant, when the ceremony of laying the foundation stone will take place…”


More than 15 years were to pass before the foundation stone of a new church was laid. In these years, St Bridget’s chapel and its school continued to thrive. A report from 1887 provides us with a glimpse into Catholic education at Tunnack:

“Wednesday last was a gala day in the annals of the above school, as the good children on that day were awarded the well-merited prizes, and enjoyed also a juvenile feast kindly provided for them by their parents and teacher, Miss Lucas. On Tuesday Father Feehan drove out and examined the school, assisted by Mr O'Conor of Tunnack. The answering was really good in the various classes, and the reading and spelling exceptionally so. Even big words - familiarly termed "jaw breakers” — were tackled by the leading classes with the greatest ease; whilst the readiness in answering meanings of same proved that the youngsters made good use of their dictionaries.

In arithmetic and writing the children showed great proficiency. Of course all have not the same talents bestowed on them by Providence; but the race is not always "to the swift” and plodding, per­severing children often distance the more talented who are neglectful. In any school, if the parents but send their little ones regularly, and see that they can well the home lessons, the children are sure to succeed. If the parents neglect doing so, they must blame themselves if their neighbours' youngsters outstrip them. As a rule, however, the children attend St Bridget’s school fairly regularly, and having a good teacher the result is a success. Music is as yet in its infancy here, but in it, too, there is great promise of success”.


In July 1894 the Hobart Mercury provides a brief report on the opening of the new St Bridget’s church:

“The new Catholic Church of St. Bridget’s, at Tunnack, was opened to-day, and despite the bad weather a crowded congregation was present. Bishop Delany delivered an eloquent sermon, and the results of the collection were about £105. The congregation presented an address of welcome to Bishop Delany, and throughout the proceedings were most satisfactory. Large contingents came from Oatlands, Parattah, and Jerusalem, although the weather was wretched until about 9 o’clock”.

It is remarkable that 125 years later St Bridget’s continues to serve the Catholics of Tunnack and it is now the only church open in the district. While the building represents more than 150 years of Catholic worship at Tunnack, it also represents the story of the first Irish settlers who not only demonstrated that “they can work” but that they could thrive and survive by planting the seeds of faith and love of learning in their children.


Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019
St Bridget's in 1904. Source: The Weekly Courier

Some of the older headstones in St Bridget's Cemetery

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Sources:

Mercury, Wednesday 9 June 1875, page 1 (marriage notice)
Mercury, Monday 3 December 1877, page 2
Daily Telegraph, Friday 28 December 1883, page 3
Tasmanian News, Friday 21 January 1887, page 4

Daily Telegraph, Launceston, Thursday 11 January 1894
Mercury, Monday 9 July 1894, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Monday 3 September 1894, page 4
The Weekly Courier, Saturday 30 April 1904, page 24

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