No. 421 - Saint John the Baptist at Buckland - "Animosity Will in Time Pass Away, Yet the Building will Remain"

Buckland is a small historic village on the Tasman Highway about 70km east of Hobart. It was originally known as Prosser’s Plains, after a convict Thomas Prosser, who escaped in 1808 and evaded authorities by hiding out in the area. In 1846 Governor Franklin renamed the settlement in honour of Dean Buckland, a well-known geologist. The main attraction in the village is the church of St.John the Baptist.

The establishment of the church is closely bound to the architectural ambitions of Reverend Frederick Holdship Cox. Cox was one of six ordained English ministers secured for Van Diemen’s Land by Bishop Francis Nixon. Cox arrived in Hobart in February 1846. He took charge of the Prosser’s Plain district which had neither a church or schoolroom. Cox conducted his services at the local Police Magistrate’s office while the church was being constructed.

Cox was an enthusiastic supporter of the Cambridge Camden society, an ecclesiological society founded in 1839. Cox was familiar with the work of the English revivalist architect, Richard Cromwell Carpenter. For his new church at Buckland, Cox chose to adapt a design which Carpenter had recently prepared for the parish church of St John the Baptist, at Cookham Dean, in Berkshire. On 29 May 1846 Bishop Nixon forwarded the church plans to the Colonial Secretary to secure partial government funding under the Church Act. A building committee was established to raise the rest of the money needed for the ambitious project.

Construction began in 1846 with a traditional foundation-stone laying ceremony taking place in August. The Hobart Courier recorded the event:

“The foundation-stone of this Church was laid on Wednesday last, the 12th instant, by the Venerable Archdeacon Marriott, attended by the Rev. J. P. Gell and the Rev. F. H. Cox. The Archdeacon was received at the site by a considerable number of the inhabitants and neighbours and the children of the parish school. The day was most propitious for the event, but the effect of the late rains upon the roads and rivers prevented many distant well wishers of the work from being present…. The style of the intended building is that of an English village Church of the 14th century, the purest age of Gothic architecture. The site is well chosen, being central with regard to the town of Buckland, and from its elevated position, commanding the neighbourhood round for a considerable distance. The school-house adjoining is rapidly approaching completion, and will combine to form another and most important feature in this newly formed parish”. 

The construction of the church attracted some conflict over its cost. Cox oversaw the finances of the project but was less than prudent in controlling expenditure although he had contributed a considerable amount personally and through his friends and associates in England. The Building Committee took issue with the ‘wastage’ of funds caused by not exclusively using cheaper, although less skilled, local artisans. In early 1849 the matter came to a head and the Building Committee wrote a complaint to Bishop Nixon:

“….this Committee feel much regret at being obliged to animadvert upon the conduct of their Treasurer, the Rev. F. H. Cox, as they are aware that he contributed much time and attention to the erection of the Church, and also that through him many valuable donations were received from friends in England; but at the same time they feel compelled to say, that, in allowing himself to be guided solely by an interested individual, he has involved the Church in much needless and unwarrantable expenditure”.

The reference here to “an interested individual” is a clue to a more complex issue. Leading the revolt against excessive expenses and also suggestions of corruption, was William Villeneuve Smith. For reasons unknown Smith was involved in a longstanding and sometimes violent vendetta against Thomas Cruttenden, a major contributor to the building fund. Cruttenden’s sister had married Reverend Cox in 1847, thereby drawing him into the feud by virtue of his familial connection. When Smith wrote a letter to the Hobart Courier in January 1849, alleging corruption, the local press began to follow the affair. The Colonial Times reported on a Building Committee meeting held in March 1849:

“Mr. W. V. Smith then directed the attention of the meeting to Mr. Cox’s account, showing how extravagant a sum had been paid by Mr. Cox for the rations supplied to the convict workmen, and stated, that though the prices per lb. were not specified, yet it was known to the Committee what they were, and he was prepared to prove that a gentleman then present had offered to supply Mr Cox at a considerably cheaper rate than that at which Mr Thomas Cruttenden was supplying the same provisions at, but was refused by Mr Cox…..”

The committee considered requesting that the Bishop require Reverend Cox to repay a sum to the Church funds “equal to the excess paid by Mr Cox to Mr Thomas Cruttenden for provisions”. Instead the committee took a slightly softer line:

“Sir - I am directed by the Church Building Committee to inform you that having this day held a meeting for the purpose of auditing your account of the disbursement of the Church funds, they request you to furnish Him [the Bishop] with further explanations as to the Church expenditure, more particularly with regard to the quantities of all provisions supplied to the workmen specifying the price per lb. for each article also the quantity and price per hundred feet of sawn timber supplied to the Church, and the respective quantities of surplus materials, bedding and tools, stating how the same have been disposed of, left after the completion of the building”.

The issue of Cox’s handling of money was sidelined when the feud between Smith and Cruttenden once again turned violent. In March 1849 Smith physically assaulted Cruttenden, an act for which he was later fined £100. Smith had wrestled Cruttenden to ground attempted to gouge his eyes out and stuff his mouth with sand before Reverend Dobson, who was passing by, intervened by pulling Smith’s hair in order to get him off the hapless Cruttenden. In the subsequent trial, Smith was represented by his brother, Francis Smith, (a later premier of Tasmania) who was solicitor-general at the time.

The feud between Smith and Cruttenden ultimately has little to do with the church itself but it nevertheless represents an example of the sometimes fractious nature of church finances, particularly when contracts, land and significant amount of money were involved. In an editorial, The Courier reflected on the sordid matter:

“The Rev. Mr. Cox succeeded, by devoting much of his own time and attention, in building a very handsome church in this district. The Committee appointed to carry out this building delegated their trust to him in the fullest confidence in his ability, zeal, and the architectural taste for which he is distinguished. The trust was faithfully executed, but since the period of his undertaking this office, discord unhappily sprung up between members the committee; hence Mr. Cox, who is related to a gentleman at variance with other members, has been assailed. Had the completion of the church depended upon the committee, we think it not improbable that one party would have pulled down what the other built…. Mr. Cox can afford to pass over all these attacks in silence: they are appreciated and understood by the community. His single-mindedness and the zeal with which he prosecuted the building of the church - his sacrifice of time and money - all are forgotten in the pursuit of petty animosity. But the animosity will in time pass away, yet the building will remain”.

And what a building it is that has remained. The church was completed in1849 and its consecration took place in January of the of the following year. The Hobart Courier’s description of the ceremony and the description of the the church and its furnishings have been reproduced here as a rich record of a building that has changed little in 170 years:

“The Church at Prosser's Plains was consecrated on the 15th instant. The singular beauty of the fabric has been heard of in many quarters, and was doubtless a contributing cause to the gathering of a considerable congregation, who came to witness and give thanks for its dedication. The Bishop and attendant Clergy, in their vestments, were met at the church door by several of the inhabitants of the place, whose petition for consecration having been read by Thomas Crittenden, Esq , the Bishop entered the church, followed by the clergy and by the congregation which had assembled outside. …”

“The church consists of a nave and chancel, with a north porch, mid vestry on the south of the chancel. The length of the interior from east to west is 64 feet, (nave 44 foot, chancel 20 feet;) the width 23½ feet; the height, from the floor to the roof-ridge about 38 feet. The church is entered by a massive door, with iron bundle, and hinges of scroll-work, after an ancient pattern, ably executed by a country blacksmith. Immediately within the church', on the right hand, is the font, the gift of the Archdeacon of Hobart Town: it is octagonal, the bowl springing by a well wrought moulding from the carved shaft, which again dies gracefully into the base; the whole being raised on an octagonal plinth, round which are placed kneeling-stools for sponsors; it is lined with lead, and provided with a water-drain. The pulpit stands in the south-east corner of  the nave: this also is octagonal; the two front panels being carved with tracery in the head, and filled in with velvet embroidered in gold thread with the Scriptures, “I have a message from God unto thee” and " He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Under the chancel-arch, on the south side, is the Prayer-desk; and beside it a desk for the Holy Bible, facing the congregation. There are pews of the colonial lightwood on either side of the central alley of the nave: these are uniform, with low backs, and all provided with kneeling-stools; their simplicity and real comfort presenting a remarkable contrast to the enclosures which more or less binder the worship of so many of our congregations”.


“The windows of the nave are glazed with ground glass. The chancel, which is raised two steps above the nave, is paved with encaustic tiles, from a celebrated Staffordshire manufactory. The Lord's Table stands on another step, and is covered with an exceedingly rich velvet cloth, embroidered in needlework, with the sacred monogram and other appropriate ornaments. The Communion vessels are of silver, the workmanship of Mr. Butterfield, an eminent church-architect. The Altar books are remarkable for their costliness and exquisite binding. But the most striking objects in the interior of this Church are the windows of the chancel - a large eastern window of three lights, and a smaller one of two lights in the northern side. These are filled with stained glass, the work of Mr. O'Connor, a London artist. The east window represents in the head our Blessed Saviour upon the Cross, with His Mother and the-Beloved Disciple on either side; and in the three lights St. John the Baptist (in whose name the Church is dedicated) in the principal scenes of his ministry ; viz., Preaching in the Wilderness, Baptising our Lord, and Suffering Death in the Prison. The north window exhibits the symbols appropriated in Christian art to the four Evangelists…. When it is added, that the roofs of both nave and chancel are of very high pitch, and open to the ridge, of native wood stained a dark colour, and the rafters, collars, and braces being thickly set, and producing a good perspective effect, the reader will have no difficulty in comprehending the details of this very interesting village church”.

“Of its external features it will suffice to mention the excellent masonry of the walls, which, with their massive staged buttresses, present an appearance of great solidity; the windows with I heir foliated tracery of the 14th century; the ornamental gable-crosses at the east of chancel and nave; and the simple bell-gable at the west - that frequent characteristic of an English village church. The aesthetic effect of the whole was felt by many to be in harmony with the Psalm, "Quam Dilecta," used at the consecration; and the words "O! how amiable are Thy dwellings, Thou Lord of Hosts!" found a response in many hearts”.

“It will be matter of interest to many to know that the whole cost of the building, exclusive of the ornamental features of the interior, which have been described, was about nine hundred pounds ; half of which sum was contributed from public funds, agreeably to the Church Act of the colony, and the remainder chiefly by residents in the neighbourhood. The stained glass, encaustic tiles, altar cloth, linen, and service books, alms-chest, &c., all of which deserve a more minute description than the scanty notice which has been attempted, were the joint contribution of the late chaplain and architect of the church, various members of his family in England, and by some of his personal friends. The communion-plate was sent out as an offering from his former parishioners in Sussex. Is it too much to hope that the consecration of this simple and unpretending, but very beautiful church is the beginning of a new era in the ecclesiastical architecture of the colony; and that the unhappy mistakes that have been made in the structure and arrangement of most of our Tasmanian churches will be of less frequent occurrence than heretofore?”.


Reverend Frederick Holdship Cox went on to minister in Hobart. He played a pivotal role in building another church, similarly dedicated to St John the Baptist. Cox returned to England for a year but returned to Tasmania as the incumbent minister of St David’s Cathedral in January 1868 and became inaugural dean in 1872. Cox must be credited for transforming church architecture in the fledgling colony of Tasmania.  St John the Baptist at Buckland is indeed a worthy memorial to the man.

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

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

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

Photograph - Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph - Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph - Duncan Grant 2019


A few of the headstones in the Churchyard:

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

Photograph - Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph - Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph - Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph - Duncan Grant 2019


Sources:

Courier, Wednesday 19 August 1846, page 3 
Colonial Times, Tuesday 3 October 1848, page 3
Courier, Wednesday 31 January 1849, page 2
Colonial Times, Friday 16 March 1849, page 4
Courier, Wednesday 21 March 1849, page 2
Courier, Wednesday 23 January 1850, page 2
Mercury, Monday 27 October 1930, page 3
Mercury, Wednesday 20 March 1946, page 4



Rev. L.B Browning, Centenary of Buckland Parish, 1946


Nicholas Dean Brodie, Relics of the Tasmanian Gothic: Medieval Artefacts in Medievalist Australia, in Limina: A Journal of Historical and Cultural Studies Volumes Volume 19.2, Special Edition (2014)

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-06/historic-tasmanian-church-saved-by-local-community-as-others-st/6527064

https://stainedglassaustralia.wordpress.com/2012/07/07/23-01-1850-st-john-the-baptist-buckland-tasmania/

http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cox-frederick-holdship-1930

http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/ahdb/search.pl?mode=place_detail;place_id=11910

https://dottietales.wordpress.com/2016/02/11/st-john-the-baptist-buckland-disagreement/



Comments

  1. What is to happen with the graves. I have my two parents buried in that churchyard.Surely, the beautiful church will it's history is worth saving.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Colleen, the graves are protected by the Cemeteries Act.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thankyou for all these beautiful photos of the church,lots of my family history there too.

    ReplyDelete

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