No. 440 - St Matthew's Presbyterian Church at Tunbridge: 'MacLanachan's Gift'

Tunbridge is a small town on the Midlands Highway approximately 100 kilometres north of Hobart. It was named by former convict Thomas Fleming, who arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1817 at the age of 19. After getting his freedom in 1825, he built an inn and founded Tunbridge, which he named after his home in England. Tunbridge once had three places of worship: a Methodist, Anglican and Presbyterian church, of which the latter no longer exists.

The first Presbyterian place of worship at Tunbridge was the Red Chapel, locally known as the Wilderness church, which was built by James MacLanachan on his estate Ballochmyle outside Tunbridge. Nothing now remains of the brick church that was once an important centre of worship for Midland residents. Services were conducted by Dr Turnbull, of Campbell Town whose charge included Cleveland, Lincoln (Kirklands) and Ballockmyle.

Upon James MacLanchan’s death in 1884 his estate provided for the building of a new Presbyterian church closer to Tunbridge on condition that services were conducted by the minister in charge of the district at least once a month. The new church opened in 1886, a little over a year after MacLanchan’s death. The Daily Telegraph carried a brief report of the opening service on Sunday 11 April:

“On Sunday last a new Presbyterian Church was opened at Tunbridge. The Rev. John Lyle, of Launceston, preached on the occasion. There was a good attendance of worshippers, some of those present having come a considerable distance. Every seat in the church was occupied. The church is a pretty little structure, and was built by Mr James Gray, of Campbell Town, from designs furnished by Mr H. Conway, of Launceston. It is of wood, resting on a foundation of stone, and has seats for about 100 persons. The site is the gift of W. Jones, Esq., of Ballochmyle, and is in the centre of the town, near to the Telegraph Office. The late Hon. J. Maclanachan bequeathed the sum of £100 towards the erection of the church, and £400 towards the endowment of it….”

An interesting feature of the new church were its pulpit and pews which came from the old Eskvale Presbyterian Church which was demolished in 1884 to make way for a new church at Epping. These were relocated to the ‘Red Chapel’ before they were again moved to St Matthew’s when it opened in 1886.

The date of the closure of the church is not known. It celebrated its golden jubilee in 1935 and was still functioning in the early 1960’s. The building was later moved to Taranna on the Tasman Peninsula (see photo below).

To conclude, I have attached a report from the Mercury in 1888 concerning the church’s annual Sunday school picnic. It preserves a delightful image of an era long gone:

“An interesting event took place in our otherwise quiet little township on New Year's Day, when the first Sunday school anniversary service was held in St. Matthew's Presbyterian Church. The Rev. Charles Cameron preached an appropriate sermon to a large and attentive audience. The children, with their teachers, were seated in the front pews, while the hymns, which were specially chosen, were led by Miss McEwen, the organist. At the close of the service the minister descended from the pulpit, and, after a few words of encouragement, distributed about 40 volumes in prizes to the scholars".

"On Thursday, January 5, the children with their teachers, parents, and friends, to the number of about 150, held their first picnic on Millbrook, near the Blackman River, kindly granted by Mr. Pillinger. Here a plentiful supply of the good things of this life, in the shape of cakes sufficient to tempt the most fastidious as well as "plain things for plain people" were provided; not to speak of the cups of tea and coffee, which are so refreshing in the bush. One monarch of the forest afforded two great limbs, from whence were suspended two splendid swings, which were centres of attraction to the children. Even some who are far past childhood were seen refreshing their memories by ascending into mid-air to the great delight of the youngsters".

"While cricket occupied the undivided attention of the young men the children were having various games, romps and races to their heart's content. In order to relieve the high pressure rate of pleasure the minister was seen with a large basket of lollies and nuts, and instantly the children were on all fours enjoying the roaring fun of a scramble. After a second tea the whole party assembled under the awning kindly lent by Mr. Kermode, when a short address was given by the Rev. C. Cameron. Mr. Sutton moved that three cheers be given to the ladies, Mrs. and Miss McEwen, Miss Burbury, Mrs. Kermode, Mrs. Turnbull, Mr Siggins, Mr. Sutton, Mrs. Stormont, Mrs. Jones, and others who had so liberally provided for the day's enjoyment, which were heartily given. Mr.Cameron having received a like compliment, responded on their behalf, and thanked all who had contributed to make their first anniversary such a complete success".

"The party returned to the township by the evening, having been favoured with fine weather. It is needless to add the little township was quite gay until 8 p.m., when the visitors returned home, borne by train, others driving and riding. Special mention may be made of one who took a great interest in the picnic. When starting for home, intending to go north, found himself at 10 p.m. wandering back in the the direction of the picnic ground, seeking for stray cups of tea and coffee. One could hear as he retraced his steps homeward once more, a faint voice utter: ‘I’ll go no more a roving, so late into the night’.”

The Mercury October 1934

The Mercury November 1935

Launceston Examiner 1885

James Maclanachan (1799-1884), by J. W. Beattie

Ballochmyle in 2017 - Source:

The former Tunbridge Presbyterian Church now at Taranna on the Taman Peninsula - Photo: Google Street View


Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 2 December 1885, page 1

Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 13 April 1886, page 2
Launceston examiner, Tuesday 13 April 1882, page 2
The Mercury, Wednesday 14 April 1886, page 2 
Mercury, Thursday 12 January 1888, page 4
Mercury, Saturday 19 January 1889, page 2
Mercury, Saturday 27 October 1934, page 7
Mercury, Monday 28 October 1935, page 10
Mercury, Tuesday 5 November 1935, page 5
Mercury, Monday 11 November 1935, page 3


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