No. 474 - Holy Cross Church at Sheffield

Sheffield is a country town in northern Tasmania approximately 25 kilometres south of Devonport. The area was explored by the surveyor Nathaniel Kentish in 1842 who was trying to find a route from Deloraine through to the north west coast. The area was subsequently opened up to settlement and by 1862 plots of land had been sold and the settlement of Sheffield had been named. According to J. R. Skemps’ ‘A History of the North West Coast’, in 1861 the first licence for a public house, the Sheffield Inn, was taken out by James Poulett, a native of Sheffield in England, and this probably gave the town its name.

The Catholic Church was the last of the major denominations to become established at Sheffield. At the turn of the 20th century Catholic’s met in Sheffield’s Roland Hall. As early as 1904 there were plans to build a church in the town. However, apart from fundraising, little progress was made. In 1921, under the leadership of Father T. J. O’Donnell of Latrobe, construction of a church began.

In November 1921, the Hobart Mercury reported on the foundation stone-laying ceremony which saw Catholics converge on Sheffield from across the region:
“The necessity for a church for Divine worship has long been felt in Sheffield by Roman Catholics, with the result that today the foundation stone for a magnificent new building was laid by Archbishop Barry. Early in the New Year the Rev T. J. O'Donnell took charge of the Latrobe district church, and through his initiation and energy over £1,000 was collected for the purpose of erecting the new building”.

"The laying of the foundation-stone was an epoch making event in the history of the Sheffield district, and was marked by an elaborate ceremony. A special train was run from Devonport, and over 500 passengers arrived in Sheffield in time for the 11 o’clock Mass, which was held in tho Town-hall. The building was taxed to its utmost capacity, when the Archbishop delivered a sermon,…. After Mass the hall was laid out with tables for dinner, and about 400 availed themselves of the opportunity for securing light lunch".

"After lunch, the Rev. T. J. O’Donnell proposed the toast of "The Pope,” "The King," "Supreme Authorities,” and "The State," also the toast of the Archbishop. Hon. J. A. Lyons, M.H.A. , supported the toast. The Archbishop, in a short address, stated that today's celebration was a great surprise to him, for on his last visit to Sheffield a short while ago he said that they should build a church for themselves, and hoped that he would have the opportunity of laying the foundation-stone…. At 2.45 p.m. a procession of about 300 people lined up outside the Town hall, and marched to the site of the new church, and the Archbishop performed the ceremony of laying the foundation-stone. The building is to be of brick, and the cost is expected to be £1,500. Donations on the stone amounted in cash and promises to £230".

In November 1922, almost a year after the laying of the foundation stone, the Church of the Holy Cross was opened by Bishop Barry. The Advocate carried a lengthy report about the anticipated opening in which the new building is described in considerable detail. The decade long fundraising for the church resulted in a building in which little expense was spared and it was clearly an object of pride for Sheffield’s Catholic community. The Advocate reported:

“The new Catholic church at Sheffield, which has been named the Church of The Holy Cross, will be solemnly blessed and opened on Sunday at 11 a.m. by His Grace Archbishop W. Barry… The foundation stone of the church was laid on November 13 last year. The building is situated in a very central position in High street and is a conspicuous object in the town. The architect was Mr. S. Priest, of Devonport, and the building reflects much credit on him for his fine work. It is Romanesque in design, and is complete in every detail. It is constructed of bricks which were procured at Wynyard. The cement facings look very well. The entrance is by a very handsome porch with three wide steps. The Sacristy is at the rear, and is reached by another flight of steps. The foundations are of reinforced concrete. The roof is covered with Wunderlich tiles".

"The interior of the edifice is very pleasing. It is 67ft. long and 29ft. wide. The walls are finished in plaster, and the ceiling is of Wunderlich stamped steel, with a series of beautiful ventilators. The windows are, with the exception of the main window, without wooden frames, having been let into the concrete. Each window has a representation of the Passion of Christ. In the main front window there is a representation of the Holy Face and the Mother of Sorrows. The windows were executed by Montgomery, of Melbourne, and are in every way a credit to the artist". 

"Joinery was done by J. and T. Gunn, Ltd. The sanctuary is covered with red carpets and runners. The high altar and side altars are of blackwood, and look excellent. The altar rail and handsome gate are also of blackwood. The seats in three rows are of the same material, and are very well made. The Confessional is a massive and handsome piece of work. The Baptismal Font is of neat design, done in blackwood. All this furniture, including the altars, was made by the Latrobe Timber Company, and it would be hard to find better workmanship anywhere in Australia. A set of very fine Stations of The Cross has been erected. Over the high altar there is a fine arch, and the entrance to the Sacristy is under this. The Sacristy is 11 by 13, and is completely furnished with vestment presses, water font, and all necessaries. The altar furnishing were supplied by Pellegrini and Co., of Melbourne. The massive brass candlesticks are beautiful. The Monstrance is of artistic design. The Statues of The Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Conception and St. Joseph are very good. Silver, brass and glass vases, together with all other requisites, are of the best. Credence table and sanctuary chair and priedieu are of neat appearance. A new organ from Findlays' has been installed”.
“The grounds have been enclosed with a good fence, that portion of it in front of the church being a neat picket fence with double gates. A hedge has been planted right round the grounds. The grounds have been laid out, with metalled and gravelled paths. A useful stable and store house are in the rear”.

“On the whole, it may be said that the new church, which is the best building in the town of Sheffield, is one of the finest ecclesiastical buildings on the North-West Coast, and one of which the Catholic community have every reason to be proud. It was constructed by day labour under the supervision of Father O'Donnell, who built several of the finest churches on the Coast, including those at Wynyard, Forest and Montagu. The best material and workmanship have been put into the building. Mr. W. H. Morris, the well-known ex-contractor of Sheffield, who supervised the erection of the Town Hall, was clerk of works, and to him much of the credit for the fine work is due. The highest wages ever paid in Sheffield were paid on this building, and the very best material used. Yet it is claimed that a considerable saving was made”.

“The opening ceremony on Sunday will be a great event in the history of the church. Many leading citizens) will he present, and the special train from Devonport and all stations will bring a full load of visitors. A sumptuous dinner will be held in the Town Hail, at which it is expected several short addresses will be delivered. Given fine weather the ceremonies ought to be of a record nature. The erection of such a church is a great testimony to the present prosperity of the Sheffield district, and a pronounced act of faith in the future.”

Apart from a few minor addition, the Church of the Holy Cross remains substantially the same building described by the Advocate in 1922. The church still serves Sheffield’s Catholic community and the striking Romanesque style building is soon to celebrate its centenary.

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

Advocate, Friday 3 November 1922


North Western Advocate and Emu Bay Times, Wednesday 6 July 1904, page 2
Daily Telegraph, Friday 30 September 1921, page 8
World, Monday 14 November 1921, page 7
Mercury, Tuesday 15 November 1921, page 6
Advocate , Thursday 12 January 1922, page 5
Advocate, Friday 3 November 1922, page 3
World, Monday 6 November 1922, page 2
Advocate, Wednesday 9 November 1922, page 3


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