No. 518 - Penguin - St Stephen's - 'A Story in Two Halves'

Penguin is a coastal town situated approximately 30 kilometres west of Devonport. It was one of the last coastal towns to be settled in the 1860’s. The Victorian gold rush created a renewed demand for timber and consequently wood cutters and splitters settled in the area. The town was named by the botanist Ronald Campbell Gunn after the penguin rookeries that were once common along this part of the coast.

St Stephen’s was the third Anglican church built in the old Forth and Leven parish which was created in 1868. The church that now stands at Penguin is substantially different from the original which was cut in half and incorporated into a new building. The first church was built in 1874 on land donated by Alexander Clerke. The Cornwall Chronicle’s report on the opening of St Stephen’s on 7 May provides interesting details about the appearance of the earlier building:

“The opening ceremony at this newly erected edifice took place on Thursday, 7th inst., in the presence of a congregation which represented many parts of the district besides the immediate neighbourhood. The building, which is a very pretty little structure, is of limited dimensions, but still sufficiently large to accommodate all who are likely to perform their devotions there for some time to come. The contractor, Mr M. Dooley, has executed his work in a manner highly creditable to himself and worthy of the purpose to which the building is applied, neatness of the first order and elaborate and artistic finish being everywhere discernible. The site is the gift of Alexander Clerke, Esq. and is in a very convenient position near the bridge. Unlike many persons similarly situated, the members of the Building Committee are able to make the very extraordinary announcement that not only is the structure perfectly and absolutely free from debt, but that they have a balance in hand with which to make further improvements. This is a fact in which they have every reason to pride themselves, as in a majority of cases these newly erected buildings are in debt to the extent of one-half their cost, and their promoters are compelled to make ad misericordiam appeals to the public for assistance. Not so, however in this case, though expense has not been spared. The windows, gothic-arched, are of stained glass borders, pretty though unpretentious, except the one at the eastern end over the altar, which is a beautiful and highly finished specimen of the diaphanic art, presented by the Rev. C. B. Brome as a memorial window. In this the panes are entirely of stained glass, except a few in the centre which are frosted and on which elegant and artistically wrought figures appear. In the upper part of this window a large topaz-coloured cross appears to stand out in relief; the lower part contains the inscription “C.A.B., 1871.” The interior of the building was prepared in harmony with the neat and simple beauty of design which characterises the whole building, the only embellishments not of a permanent character being a few vases of flowers on the ledges of the windows, and a few scriptural mottoes which adorned the walls. Some of the latter were a gift of a lady in the Longford district and are of gracefully formed white letters on a ground coloured in a peculiar manner by Judson's dyes, surrounded by elegant wreaths of fern fronds, oak leaves, &c, also appearing in white, the whole, with its variety of beautiful tints, forming a picture in the highest degree pleasing. The Rev. C. B. Brome read the service, the Rev. E. P. Adams, who was the only other church dignitary present, leading the responses and the choir….”

The dimensions of the original church are given as “25ft. by 15ft” and it can be seen in two photographs at the bottom of this page.

The small and modest church may well have opened debt free but the building committee could not have anticipated the rapid development of ‘The Penguin’ into a small town over the next two decades. By the 1890’s the small church was no longer adequate but an ingenious solution to this problem was found. In October 1895 the foundation stone of the ‘new’ church was laid. The North West Post’s report of the ceremony explains how the church was to be taken apart and reconstituted in a grander form:

“The ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the new Anglican Church at the Penguin took place on Tuesday, in the presence of a large assembly. For some time past the old building, known as St Stephens, has been found to be too small to accommodate the rapidly increasing congregation, and perhaps this should not be wondered at, considering it was one of the smallest churches in the diocese. The old structure, which is in a splendid state of preservation, has been cut into two portions, the larger of which is to be the chancel of the new building while the remainder will form part of a commodious vestry. The new structure when completed will be an ornament to the pretty little village in which it stands, and will be a credit to the local churchfolk. All the material is on the spot, and the contractors hope to have the building completed by the end of November”.

The stone-laying ceremony was led by Canon Beresford and Reverend Wilfred Earle, who was the driving forced behind the project, having “worked like a Trojan”. Mrs Thomas Clerke, widow of Alexander Clerke, was to assist in the stone-laying ceremony but due to the “boisterous weather” had to return home. The foundation stone is still visible today although damaged so that the date is incomplete.

The building was completed by the end of 1895 and was officially opened on 19 January of the following year with two services led once again by Canon Beresford and Reverend Earle.

The pretty little church has changed little since it reopened 124 years ago and the sections of the original church, now approaching 150 years old can be clearly seen in the photographs below. Alexander Clerke’s grave and headstone is also located in the grounds of the church. An abbreviated and generous obituary to Alexander Clerke was published in the Cornwall Chronicle and is reproduced directly below.

Alexander Clerke - Obituary - Cornwall Chronicle 1877

“Mr Clerke's native place was the south of Ireland. In early life he crossed the Atlantic, and as a mere boy was engaged in the river boats on the St. Lawrence, where he probably acquired the taste for nautical pursuits which he indulged in as a pastime a few years ago, when he occasionally took personal command of his sailing yacht between Launceston and the coast. He was one of the early colonists of Tasmania, and though he arrived here rather behind the golden days when the choice of pastoral lands of the Midland districts were granted to their fortunate proprietors, yet he soon amassed considerable wealth. He arrived in the colony about the year 1831, with his wife who still survives, and his brother, Doctor Jonathan Clerke…..Mr Clerke first settled on an inferior section of land near Hadspen. He drove his own team from Hobart Town over what was then a wild bush road, dangerous for travellers, who were in constant peril from natives and bushrangers. It was on this journey he lost a portion of his right hand by the explosion of a flash of gunpowder, when he was lighting a fire at his encampment, near where the town of Perth now stands. He did not remain long at Hadspen, but removed first to Westbury, then to Ravensworth, and in about 1844 he purchased Mountford,where he resided for nearly thirty years, and subsequently retired in his residence in West Devon, where he died. Mr Clerke was the first purchaser of land in the district of West Devon. In 1839, in company with Mr K. C. Shaw, of Glamorgan, and Mr James Fenton of the Forth, he visited the coast in a whaleboat, and landed at the Don and Forth, both of which rivers were at that time almost unknown, not a vestige of settlement being visible in any part of the district. Mr Clerke was created a magistrate of the territory by Sir John Franklin on the 19th October, 1837…..His political life and parliamentary career are fresh in the memories of most of our readers. At different periods he represented Launceston, Longford, and Westbury in the House of Assembly, and Meander in the Legislative Council. On the retirement of Sir James Wilson's Ministry in 1872. Mr Clerke was entrusted by Governor DuCane with the formation of a Cabinet, and he named that of which Mr Innes was Premier. Soon after this he retired from political life. Mr Clerke was a man of sound, practical common sense. At a glance he could see the end from the beginning. Both in his private business and political principles he had very clear and correct perceptions of what was right. He was always punctual in his engagements and expected others to be the same, and while he had no sympathy with the idle and the extravagant, he was kind and considerate to the poor….”


Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Undated photograph of the  original church: Source Libraries Tasmania (PH30-1-7967P2)

The original church - undated photo - Source: Libraries Tasmania (PH30-1-7967P1)

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:

The Tasmanian, Saturday 27 September 1873, page 13
Cornwall Chronicle, Wednesday 13 May 1874, page 3
Tasmanian, Saturday 16 May 1874, page 5
The Cornwall Chronicle, Friday 23 March 1877 page 2
North West Post, Thursday 24 October 1895, page 2
The Mercury, Wednesday 22 January 1896, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Friday 24 January 1896, page 3
Mercury, Monday 7 May 1934, page 3
Advocate, Saturday 16 June 1945, page 2

Henslowe, Dorothea I and Hurburgh, Isa Our heritage of Anglican churches in Tasmania. Mercury-Walch, Moonah, Tas, 1978.




Comments

  1. I was wondering if you have any information on a Presbyterian church at West Pine. It was on land donated by John Robson "Otterburn " West Pine. It is no longer there. Love reading your blog.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I do Leanne and will put up an article in the next couple of months.

    ReplyDelete

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