No. 417 - Forth - All Saints' Anglican Church (1868-1933)

Forth is a small town in north-west Tasmania located on banks of the Forth River. It was previously known as Hamilton-on-Forth. The area was settled in the 1840s after James Fenton, a young man of Irish descent, explored the Forth estuary in search of arable land. He was soon followed by Andrew Risby, accompanied by his wife and young family.

The first Anglican church built at Forth opened on 27 April 1868. It was located on the road to Leith about a kilometre from the town centre. In 1893 the church was moved nearer to Forth and a smaller church was built at Leith to replace the larger church. The “Pioneer Cemetery” located on the boundary of Leith and Forth marks the original location of the church. In 1933, 40 years after its removal, All Saints was destroyed in a fire. It was replaced by a new church that still stands in Forth village.

There are very few details about the construction and opening of the first All Saints' church. The only reference I have found is from a correspondent for the Launceston Examiner who in 1868 wrote:

“On religious subjects I may state that the new place of worship at the Forth, in connection with the Church of England, was opened for divine service on Friday, 27th April. I had not an opportunity of being present, but I am informed there was a good attendance. On the Thursday following a bazaar, in aid of the building fund, was held in a large tent erected for the purpose on the premises of Mr. A. Walker, west bank of the Forth”.

As the population of ‘Hamilton on Forth’, (as it was then called), overtook that of Leith, All Saints' found itself increasingly isolated from the main centre of population. 

In 1892, the Daily Telegraph’s ‘Travelling Correspondent’ visited Hamilton on Forth where he observed the church:

“Where the road takes a bend a neat wooden church stands almost hidden in the scrub; in fact, if one could imagine anything so ridiculous, it looked as if it had been stolen and planted there”.

The correspondent travelled on the mail wagon from Leith railway station accompanied by a young driver, about whom he wrote: 

“Not the most intelligent native I have met with, and it is hard work to squeeze any information out of him as we drive along the road which leads to the township….I ask the boy if he can explain how the church came to be built here, and all he knows is that it is the Anglican Church, and he (the boy) thinks it ought to be on the township”.

The ‘boy’ must have known a little more than the Telegraph’s correspondent surmised, for in the following year All Saints' was moved to Forth. A report in the North West Post in March 1893 reveals that complex negotiations concerning the church’s removal were under way:

“Other friends have come forward in the persons of Messrs J.F. Liddle and R. Hall, who have each given valuable sites for a church building at Hamilton on-Forth and Leith, respectively. It has been practically decided to remove the church which serves Leith and Hamilton at present to Mr Liddle’s site at Hamilton, at a cost of about £40, and erect a small building at Leith in which to hold church services”.

In the following year the deal was accomplished and a new church was built at Leith “to meet the requirements of the worshippers at the small township”.

While the removal of All Saints' was successful, the story did not have a happy ending with its destruction in an accidental fire in 1933.  A report in The Advocate described the unfortunate event:

“All Saints' Church of England was completely destroyed by fire about 4 o’clock on Tuesday afternoon. The origin of the outbreak is a mystery, but it is thought that it commenced in the vestry as the result of a short circuit in the electric wires. Mr Onions, who was working at his home nearby, first noticed smoke coming from under the roof of the building, and gave the alarm. With the assistance of other residents the door of the church was burst open, but all that could be saved were five pews and four kneelers…. It was impossible to save the building owing to a lack of water”.

The Forth community quickly rallied together and a new church was built and reopened by 1936. The history of this church is the subject of a separate article.

To conclude, I have reproduced a fascinating article about the Pioneer Cemetery, published by the Advocate in 1938. It provides fascinating details of many of the early inhabitants of the Forth settlement who now sleep in the old ‘Leith’ cemetery.

“The Old Cemetery of Leith”

“…One was given much information concerning the pioneers of Forth and Leith, which doubtless will interest many readers, particularly the older residents of the districts. The first rector of All Saints' Church was Rev. C. Browne in 1867. He was followed by Rev. R. Haywood, Rev. J. H, Wills, Rev. E. Champion, and Rev. Humphrey Davis, the last named being the last vicar to reside at Forth.

Among the first to be buried in the old Leith Cemetery described above were Mr. and Mrs. Mills, grandparents of Mrs. Herbert Hay, wife of Senator Hays, Mr. Chaffey, J.P., was also an early interment; and Sir Edward Braddon, K.C.M.G., and his wife lived on a now cleared hill, facing the spot where he lies. They delighted in a wonderful garden, and a few of the original trees mark where the home—burning was its fate—once stood.

Social life in those days was quite gay at Forth, I was told. Money was fairly plentiful among the settlers from overseas and they combined in a select little circle of the times. The annual Forth ball, which took place in the old Town Hall, long since burned to the ground and replaced by another, was the event of the season. It was a private affair, dancers from near and far considering it a great honour to be bidden. Travelling, of course, was done with horses, and guests journeyed from as far away as Deloraine. It was a leisurely outing. One day was usually allowed for the trip; the next for preparing for the ball at night; the third for recovering from such festivity; and the fourth for making the trip home !

Sir Edward Braddon, a brother of the once famous novelist (Miss Braddon), came to Tasmania from India, where he was in the Police Force. He entered politics, and was a member for West Devon for many years. He was Treasurer, Premier, and Agent-General for Tasmania, and Senior Member of the First Federal Parliament. Sir Edward Braddon was a clever comedian, and his wife (who now lives in England) a brilliant pianist. They would often walk together from Leith to Ulverstone to take part in a concert, walking home after the programme was over.

At Forth there stands an interesting two-storied old stone house, which attracts the attention of passers-by. It was built for Dr. J. H. Dundas, who came from India with his wife, daughter, and two stepchildren, accompanied by their dusky ayah, who was regarded as quite a curiosity by the villagers. Miss Dundas, now Mrs. Scott, of South Australia, was leader of the church choir, and was interested in theatrical work in aid of charity. Her mother for many years played the church organ. Dr. Dundas (who was buried in Leith Cemetery in 1890) was the only medical man for some miles, and was a familiar figure driving around the countryside in his chaise cart. If the ayah accompanied the family on their drives, she sat in a crouching attitude in the front of the vehicle, wrapped in the folds of her sari.

Colonel J. R. Fulton ("Park House,” the home of the Fulton family, still stands among the trees at Leith), of the 46th Regiment and Madras Infantry, served during the Indian Mutiny, and for some years later in India and Burma. In 1870 he retired with his wife and family of seven sons and five daughters, to Leith. The family took an active part in church work, playing the organ and teaching in the Sunday School. Four daughters—Lily (Mrs. Graeme Fulton), Charlotte (Mrs. Langhorne), Emily (Mrs. G. R. Champion), and Caroline (Mrs. E. C. Spilsbury) were married in the Forth church when in its old position in the cemetery. One son, James Fulton, was also wedded there. In the cemetery lie Colonel and Mrs.Fulton, two sons, and three daughters. Graeme A. Fulton, nephew of Colonel Fulton and son of General Fulton, also lies there. He was for many years council clerk at Devonport, I was informed.

Rev. Elias Champion, M.A., arrived from India in 1882, with his second son (Mr. G. R. Champion). He had been a C.M.S. missionary in India for 20 years, Mrs. Champion, with the rest of the family, five sons and three daughters, arrived later. Mrs. Champion died in 1886. In the short time she resided among them, she endeared herself to the parishioners. The stone under which she lies in the old cemetery was erected by her many admirers, as a memorial to her work. Mr. Champion was in charge of Forth and Leven Parish until 1887, when he was transferred to St. John's Church, Launceston. He retired in 1890 owing to ill-health, and lived with his son (Mr. Alfred Champion) at Kindred until his death in 1898. His eldest son, Rev. Arthur Champion, M.A., was headmaster of Launceston Grammar School, and later of King's School, Sydney. He is now Rector of Cherington, Gloucestershire, England, and is in his 80th year. Another son, Mr. E. C. Champion, of Ulverstone, was manager of the Commercial Bank of Tasmania (now the E.S. & A. Bank) in that town for some years. The youngest son, Mr. F. C. Champion, served in the Great War, and the youngest daughter was engaged as a nurse and masseuse in English hospitals during the war. The eldest daughter married James, second son of Colonel and Mrs. Fulton, of Leith.

Mr. Wilfrid Giblin, a member of an old Tasmanian family, and assistant surveyor to Mr. R. Hall, was drowned in his early twenties while swimming in the Forth River;

Mr. Fred Cowle belonged to a well-known North-West Coast family. He was engaged in farming at Kindred, and his sister, Miss Kate Cowle, was married to Mr. G. Weindorfer, late owner of "Waldheim," Cradle Mountain.
Captain Sage was attached to the Indian Army. He spent much time in training the youths of the district in the Volunteer Militia. He was a social light, being the only settler with a tennis court. He was a church warden, and on Sundays drove in his waggonette to the church service, collecting members of the congregation en route.

Mr. John Roper, an Englishman, farmed Captain Sage's land after his death. He lived there with his mother and a brother. The latter took Holy Orders after coming to Leith, and now resides in England.

Captain Edward Beecraft, one of the oldest Forth settlers, was in the merchant service, and owned the ship Fraser. He was a church warden. Mrs. Emily Beecraft, a daughter of Mr. Samuel Thomas, of Northdown, one of a well-known pioneer family, had five children. The eldest daughter married Rev. Martin, a rector of Forth of Leven. Miss Dora Beecraft is matron of Merton College. Miss Lilian Beecraft lives in Sydney, where two of her brothers, Messrs. S. and R. Beecraft, are engineers.

Mrs. Elliott was associated with her sister Mrs. Thompson, in a private school. Her daughter, Miss Hettie Elliott, has a school in Hobart. Mr. Bentinek was a brother of Mrs. Elliott.

General Heathcote, C.B., was an Imperial officer. He came to Tasmania with the object of taking up land at Castra, and was accompanied by his wife, sister-in-law, and five children. He died soon after. His eldest son, Mr. Frank Heathcote, was manager of the Tasmania mine. Mr. Harry Heathcote, the second son, fought in the South African War, and died in Africa. The three daughters returned to England with their mother and aunt.

Mr. Leisk, accompanied by his wife and sister-in-law, came from Scotland and had a store at Forth. He did not live long, and his wife and her sister returned to Scotland.

Mr. Alfred Miles Walker, with his brother, was in business at Forth. His three little children, who are buried in the old cemetery, all died of diphtheria within a few days of each other. This was before the time of antitoxin. Three daughters became nurses. Sister Jean Miles Walker, A.N.A., was one of the five matrons who accompanied the first unit of soldiers which left Australia during the Great War, and was awarded the R.R.C. She died at Sutton Veny; and opposite the renowned "Five Sisters" window, in York Minster, which was restored by the women of the Empire, Sister Jean Miles Walker's name heads the list of the A.I.F. nurses who gave their lives in the Great War.

Mr. Richard Hall, District Surveyor of Devon for 40 years, was a church warden for many years, and a keen churchman. He gave voluntary professional services to all denominations, and presented the land for the present Leith Church.

Mrs. Elizabeth Galliers Hall wife of the above, was born at Mowbray, her home being on the site now occupied by the Church of England Grammar School, Stephenson's Bend, in theTamar River, was named after her father. The eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Hall, Mr. Arthur Hall, was made District Surveyor after his father's death. Three daughters became nurses. Sister Alice Hall being awarded the R.R.C. in the Great War.

Mr. Cook (next of kin, Captain W. Cook), who used to trade along the Coast and to Launceston in his ship, The Secret, married Miss Alice Cape, a member of an old Launceston pioneering family. Mr. and Mrs. Cook came from Germany, the voyage occupying six months. Mrs. Herring, who became Mr. Cook's second wife, was also from Germany. Mr. Julius Herring, her son, with his wife and family, still live at Leith.

Further interments in the old Leith Cemetery have been those of Mrs. Roy Delphin, who was a Miss Rooke; Mr. Mason, husband of Mrs. Mason, of Leith; Mr. and Mrs. Blair, and the Misses Blair; Miss Kitty Elliott, daughter of Mrs. Elliott, the school teacher mentioned above; Mr. Albert Pearce, farmer and his wife: Mr. William Flint and his wife, Eliza Flint; and Mrs. C. Riggs, one of an old and respected Forth family of keen church workers.

The reason why so many military and civil officers from India settled around Leith and Forth and became the "forefathers of the hamlet is explained by Mr. Fenton in his "History of Tasmania," as follows: “Lieut.-Colonel Crawford was the promoted of the Indian scheme for military and civil officers to retire upon their pensions in Tasmania, and Castra was selected by him. Many officers from India came to Tasmania, but very few to Castra.” Other districts were chosen in preference, one of the first settlers to arrive describing the Castra of those days as "a veritable jungle"..."

All Saint's at Forth 

The Coastal News and North West Advertiser 1893

The old 'Leith' or Pioneer Cemetery at Forth


The Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 11 April 1868, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 11 April 1868, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Thursday 23 April 1868, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 28 June 1892, page 3
North West Post, Saturday 29 July 1893, page 2
The Coastal News and North West Advertiser, Friday 27 October 1893, page 2
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 21 February 1894, page 3
North West Post, Saturday 10 March 1894, page 2
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 10 May 1894, page 1
North West Post, Tuesday 4 July 1899, page 4
The Weekly Courier, Saturday 20 February 1904, page 23
Advocate, Friday 11 May 1934, page 2
Advocate, Saturday 2 July 1938, page 5

Roake, Albert H; Sixty Years of Progress (1868-1928), Parish of Forth and Leven, souvenir booklet.


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