No. 515 - St David's at Cooee - 'Fate Will Find a Way'

Cooee is situated to the west of Burnie in North West Tasmania and is now considered a suburb of this city. Cooee has a population of a little over 500 therefore it is a surprise to find a church of substantial size here and one that dwarfs St George’s Anglican church in the centre of the city of Burnie. St David’s is one of only two Anglican churches in the State which have been entirely paid for by a single donor. The other is St Mary’s at Hagley, a gift of 19th century Tasmanian premier, Sir Richard Dry.

In 1931 the Anglican Church was offered £4000 by Mrs Anna Maria Boston of Cooee to build a church in memory of her daughter Alice. At that time the price of an average house in the area would be in the region of £250. In the midst of the unfolding Great Depression, this was indeed an extraordinary gift.

Mrs Boston was an Irishwoman who had come to Australia at the age of 21 and settled in Victoria. After her marriage she moved to Gormanston where her husband William started a butchery business. On retirement the couple purchased a farm at Cooee and continued their business interests, owning the Princess Theatre at Wynyard. The couple had two daughters, Isabella who died at Gormanston at the age of 15, and Alice who died in April 1930, only weeks after the death of her father William. With no surviving immediate family and stricken by the unexpected loss of her daughter, Anna Boston was determined to leave a substantial memorial to her beloved Alice. The Burnie Advocate explained the circumstances surrounding the gift:

“Mr. A. E. Terry, one of the trustees of St. George's Church of England parish, gave particulars last evening of Mrs. Boston's proposal. He said that Mrs. Boston wished to have a lasting memorial erected in memory of her daughter, ….It was her idea that this should take the form of a church to be built on the site of the present Church of England at Cooee. This church, however, was to embody certain features. Mrs. Boston desired an assurance that never would any Anglo Catholic or High Church ritual be introduced into the building. Two months ago, Mr. Terry said, he put the proposal before the Bishop of Tasmania (Dr. E. Snowdon Hay), and inquired whether it was possible for Mrs. Boston's wishes to be acceded to. When the Bishop visited the North West he called on Mrs. Boston in company with Mr. Terry, and assured her that so long as he was Bishop of Tasmania her wishes would be respected. He could not guarantee that this would for ever be the case, but told her that when his term of office ended it would go forward as an instruction to his successor that the wishes of Mrs. Boston should always be adhered to. And so the plans for the erection of the church are proceeding”.


No expense was spared and five architects were invited to submit designs, with Louis Williams, a respected Melbourne architect being awarded the contract. The memorial stone was unveiled on Sunday 10 January 1932. Construction of the church had already begun and the stone, serving as a foundation stone as well as a commemorative tablet to Alice, was placed at the base of the tower. Reverend Atkinson, the Archdeacon of St George's, led the ceremony. He was perhaps a little covetous of the rising structure, expressing the hope that:

“The Burnie parishioners would soon follow the lead set by Mrs Boston, and replace their present church with one more worthy of a town of Burnie’s size”.

As fate would have it, Mrs Boston did not live to see the church completed. She died unexpectedly on 12 April 1932 at the age of 84. Three weeks later St David’s was opened and consecrated by Bishop Hay. The Advocate reported:


“The church was crowded, dozens having to stand, while as many had to content themselves with standing outside. Simple and yet impressive in its solemnity, the service, which was according to the form prescribed by the Church of England for such occasions was in keeping with the beauty of the church, the lasting and striking monument to the late Mrs. A. M. Boston’s daughter Alice. Those present, as they looked upon the fine appointments and attractive furnishings, could not have helped feeling regret that Mrs. Boston did not live to see the culmination of the work in which she took so much pride. No detail seemed to have been neglected. Even the deep toning of the bell accorded with the simple grandeur of the building. The touch of artistic hands was revealed in the tapestries and the design of the furnishings. Not the least important feature of the occasion was that the church was handed over to the parish entirely free of debt….”.


The Advocate described the church in another report:

“The building comprises an arcaded nave, with the aisle to the north, the arches giving a pleasing architectural note to the interior. A spacious chancel and sanctuary are provided, with the principal lighting from the sides, while in the east wall high up there is a tracerised rose window, scintillating with its glass of jewel-like effect. At the west end of the nave the font is architecturally received in an apsidal baptistery. The interior roof effect to the church presents a dignified appearance, with its heavily-timbered trusses and open timbered work, while the lighting, both artificial and daylight, is so arranged and disposed as to be largely screened from the eyes and softly diffused, whilst the tone of the glass is such as lends to the whole a mellow and restful effect. Vestry accommodation is also provided, as well as protective porches…”.

The history of the church over the next 60 years is unremarkable. It survived its brother church, St George's which was gutted for major renovations in the 1970's but in recent years the hand of fate has once again revealed itself. In 1998 St David's  was extensively damaged by an arsonist's attack. Substantial renovations were undertaken at great expense to bring the church back to its former glory.

Given the tragic circumstances of the church’s origins and its subsequent misfortune, St David's suffered a final and mortal blow when it was disposed-of by the Anglican Church in 2010. 

Mrs Boston would probably be aghast that a church built as a “lasting memorial” to her daughter was sold and later used as a yoga studio and alternative therapies clinic. But it was at least spared the indignity of any Anglo Catholic or High Church ritual. As fate would have it, St David’s is now back on the market in 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

Photo courtesy of https://www.forsalebyowner.com.au/4542243/ (link below)

Photo courtesy of https://www.forsalebyowner.com.au/4542243/

Photo courtesy of https://www.forsalebyowner.com.au/4542243/


Sources:

Advocate, Monday 29 June 1931, page 2
Advocate, Wednesday 6 January 1932, page 9
Advocate, Monday 11 January 1932, page 4 
Advocate, Tuesday 12 April 1932, page 2
Advocate, Saturday 30 April 1932, page 6
Advocate, Monday 2 May 1932, page 4
Advocate, Wednesday 4 May 1932, page 6
Advocate, Monday 9 May 1932, page 2

Burnie: A Thematic History, Burnie City Council 2010 (Burnie City Heritage Survey)

More photos of the church and details of the church which is currently for sale may be found here:



Comments

  1. What a shame that it is no longer a church, and the wishes of Mrs Boston sacrileged

    ReplyDelete

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