No. 532 - Burnie - St Mary Star of the Sea - 'Father O' Callaghan's Deal'

Burnie is a port city on the north-west coast of Tasmania. When it was first settled in 1827 by the Van Diemen’s Land Company it was named Emu Bay. In the 1840’s the settlement was renamed Burnie after William Burnie, a director of the Van Diemen's Land Company.

St Mary’s Star of the Sea is the second Catholic church built at Burnie. An earlier church, St Saviour’s, was built in 1855 in the centre of the town on the corner of Cately Street and Wilson Street. [see No. 523]

The events leading up to the construction of a church on a new site, outside the centre of the city, is explained by the Launceston Examiner in a report published in 1890. The sale of the Cately Street site proved to be problematic and necessitated the involvement of the Van Diemen’s Land Company, which originally donated the land:

“Nearly 40 years ago the late Rev. M. Burke, respected and loved by all was the first Roman Catholic priest stationed in this district by the late Right Rev. Bishop Willson. At that time divine service had to be held in a barn at Cooee Creek, situated about a mile from Burnie. After some time a grant of one acre of land in the centre of the township in Catley street was generously given by the V.D.L. Company to the Roman Catholic community, which has proved a noble and generous gift, whereon the late wooden church did service for many years past".

"The Rev. M. O'Callaghan, who has been stationed on the Coast about 17 years, conceived the idea that it would be highly advantageous to sell the old site, and with the proceeds purchase an eligible site whereon to erect a lasting and substantial edifice. The enterprise was highly approved of by the Archbishop of Hobart, nevertheless, the proposal met with serious difficulties all along the line through defective powers regarding the title and power of alienating the land. However, through the generous assistance of the able and respected manager of the V.D.L. Company, Mr J. W. Norton-Smith, these difficulties were in a great measure overcome. About a year since, through the advocacy of the hon. W. Moore and the approval of the present Ministry, power was obtained from Parliament to sell the property. The Commercial Bank, the Bank of Van Diemen's Land, and Mr W. Wheeldon were the purchasers, the latter, however, re-selling his portion to Mr C. H. Hall, whereon has been erected the branch office of this paper. [The Examiner] The proceeds of the sale amounted to the sum of £1900. A new site consisting of two acres of land in Mount-street was purchased by the Rev. M. O'Callaghan from Mr P. W. Kayser, manager of Mount Bischoff, for the sum of £450".

"The new site on which the present building has been erected is considered in every way superior for church purposes to the old one, and the Roman Catholics of the district have two acres instead of one. Messrs Corrie and North, of Launceston, are the architects for the new building, and Mr T. Kenner, our local builder, is the contractor. The original contract for the church was £1665. The levels to the building, however, not being the best, owing to the broken nature of the land, an extra cost for the edifice has been incurred, and the walls to the porch, by order of the Archbishop, have been built with double strength to carry a tower at a future day”. 


The church was opened in January 1891. The Launceston Colonist’s report on the occasion includes interesting detail about the church’s construction:


“The ceremonies in connection with the opening of the new Roman Catholic Church, St. Mary’s Star of the Sea, which took place today under moat favourable circumstances, mast have been gratifying to the Rev. Father O'Callaghan, parish priest, and all concerned …The church, which stand upon two acres of land, situate in Mount-street, is an imposing and substantial structure, and is from a design by Messrs. Corrie and North, of Launceston, the contractor being Mr Thos. Kenner, of Burnie. The style is gothic, the shape being cruciform. It is built of bricks, supplied from the kilns of Mr W. Jones, of Menai, Burnie. The dimensions are 86ft by 25ft. The building contains nave, chancel, and transepts, and is entered by a porch, over which is an elaborately carved white cross, which was procured from New Zealand. Messrs Jorey and Campbell, of Launceston, supplied the moulded bricks and terra cotta work, whilst Ross freestone has been used in the window frames. Inside the roof is lined with pine, the stained and varnished beams (the work of Mr Lane, of Burnie) giving a finished appearance to the structure. The windows are all of stained glass, and the roof is covered with Welsh slate. The original contract was £1665, hut owing to the irregularity of the ground and an alteration in the walls of the porch, which is now intended to carry a tower at some future time, a considerable addition has to be made to this sum. The building is a credit to the denomination, to the town, and also to the architects and contractor”.

“The first ceremony to-day was performed by His Grace the Archbishop of Hobart, who, attended by four visiting priests, marched round outside the building pronouncing the usual formula, and thus blessing the edifice. Mass was then celebrated by Father Noone, assisted by Fathers M. Beechinor, Cunningham, and O’Callaghan…”

Despite the considerable expense of “double strength” foundations to bear the weight of a tower, this aspect of the the original plan for the church was never completed. However, over the years the two acre site saw other development such as the construction of a convent school in 1912 overseen by the Sisters of Mercy as well as a presbytery and a vestry built in 1928.

The Church grounds are filled with memorials to the many people associated with the church, including Father Matthew O’ Callaghan, the first parish priest and the architect of the lucrative deal to transfer Burnie’s Catholic Church to the Mount street site.

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

The Old Convent School - Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Foundation Stone for the Vestry laid in 1927 - 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:

Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 24 December 1890, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Friday 2 January 1891, page 3
Colonist, Saturday 3 January 1891, page 27
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 3 January 1891, page 3
Tasmanian, Saturday 10 January 1891, page 32
Examiner, Monday 13 August 1928 p 11 

Southerwood, W. T Planting a faith in Tasmania. Southerwood, Hobart, 1970.




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