No. 548 - Colebrook - St Patrick's Catholic Church - "The mere performance of my simple duty"

Colebrook lies in the Coal River Valley in the southern midlands approximately 50 kilometres north of Hobart. It was previously known as Jerusalem and later as 'Colebrook Dale’. The Colebrook region was first explored by Europeans in the first decade of the 19th century. In 1806, when serious food shortages were experienced in Hobart, expeditions of soldiers were sent into the area to hunt game. During one of these expeditions Private Hugh Germain, a well educated member of the Royal Marines, gave various sites exotic names such Bagdad, Lake Tiberius, Jericho, the Jordan River and the Jerusalem Plains.

Colebrook was developed as a site for a convict probation station in 1834. Remnants of the station may still be seen at Colebrook. The perimeter walls of the probation station were demolished in the 1850’s and some of the rubble was used in the footings of St Patrick’s Catholic Church.

St Patrick’s dominates Colebrook and is regarded as one of the most architecturally significant buildings in Tasmania. It is one of three churches in the State designed by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812–52), England’s greatest early-Victorian architect and a pioneer of the Gothic Revival style. In Britain his work culminated with his collaboration in designing the interior of the Palace of Westminster and the iconic clock tower which houses ‘Big Ben’.

Pugin was a close friend Robert William Willson (1794–1866), first Catholic Bishop of Hobart. St Patrick’s was designed in 1843 but only completed 5 years after Pugin’s death. Historian Brian Andrews explains how Pugin’s designs were faithfully reproduced in Tasmania:

“Pugin provided architectural plans for his buildings. These were often not developed in great detail because, for a majority of his English buildings at least, he could rely on the skills and experience of his favoured builder George Myers to fulfil both the letter and the spirit of his design intentions….Bishop Willson had been given to understand that sophisticated skills to interpret architectural drawings might not be available in Van Diemen’s Land.… Pugin therefore adopted an approach to the realisation of his three small church designs for Willson which would be unique in his entire oeuvre. Instead of handing over the drawings to Willson he gave them to George Myers. From these, Myers’ men constructed accurate detailed scale models which could be taken to pieces to reveal the detail inside, as well as full-size exemplars in English limestone of the more complex stonework like gable crosses. Armed with the models and exemplars for copying, local craftsmen could, it was confidently anticipated, accurately construct Pugin’s churches without his supervision or the skills of an English builder”.

Construction of the church began in 1855 and was supervised by local architect Frederick Thomas. The chief builder, Patrick Lynch, had been a pupil of Pugin and carved the church's beautiful screen and sedilia.

A detailed account of the opening and dedication of St Patrick’s on 21 January 1857 is recorded in a report published in the Tasmanian Daily News. The report is worth reading in its entirety. On the one hand it reveals that the church's construction was made possible by cooperation between the Catholic and Protestant community. On the other hand it is clearly evident that the establishment of a Catholic church at ‘Jerusalem’ was welcomed by the Protestant establishment as a means to ensure that “their Catholic dependents” performed their religious (and secular) duties for the benefit of the colony.  It is perhaps symbolic that the church is built upon the rubble taken from the probation station: 

“On Wednesday, the 21st instant, this beautiful newly erected edifice was finally dedicated to divine service. It is built with freestone, in picked and drafted ashla with tooled dressings; and consists of chancel, nave, north and south aisles, sacristy, and north porch, affording accomodation for over 400 worshippers. In the chancel there are an enriched carved screen, sedilia*, and piscina*, and in the porch there is a proper stone stoup for holy water.

The style of the building is that of the decorated period of christian architecture. The east window is of three lights, with good tracery. The aisle windows are incomplete, as also are the quatrefoil lights to the clerestory. The belfry is pierced with three openings in two heights, surmounted with a gilt cross. Each gable also is furnished with an enriched stone cross. The site is a very favourable one, commanding a view of the entire district of Jerusalem.

The 21st of January, 1857, will be a day long to be remembered by the Catholics of Jerusalem and its vicinity, and by all who had the happiness of sharing in the holy gladness which every faithful christian present upon the occasion must have felt. Every circumstance connected with that day, recalls to mind the days of faith and christian love, the exquisitely wrought Gothic temple, the crowds of faithful worshippers assembled from far and near — the mitred bishop with his devoted clergy — the newly erected altar, with the mystic sacrifice of the New Law — the holy incense, the emblem of prayer and devotion, for the first time ascending from the hallowed ground, — all proclaimed that the Spouse of Christ is ever beautiful and attractive, that her beauty, though over ancient, is always new, and that her strength is ever fresh and vigorous.

The new church is dedicated to the tutelage of St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, and, whilst it is a noble expression of the holy faith of which he was the herald in that distant and beloved land, we may well hope that his fostering care and tutelar spirit will ever guard and watch over its holy sanctuary. By the indefatiguable and heroic zeal of the good pastor, the Rev. W. J. Dunne, aided by the generous contributions of Christian piety, the good work has been successfully completed. St. Patrick's Church has had many a kind and charitable friend, but there is one whose munificent charity merits the deepest and most heartfelt remembrance — Mr. Michael McGuire, of Jerusalem.

The weather was fortunately most auspicious. At an early hour of the morning the township of Jerusalem was enlivened by a large assemblage of the people of Richmond, Oatlands, Brighton, and Green Ponds. Previously to the celebration of the divine mysteries, the church was blessed by the Rev. W. J. Dunne, assisted by three of the clergy; and then, for the first time, the church-bell, the symbol of Christian joy, pealed forth its sweet and solemn accents, which were joyously re-echoed from the neighbouring hills.

The Mass was sung by the Rev.. M. O'Callaghan, assisted by the Rev. M. J. Dunne. After the gospel his Lordship, the Right Rev. Dr. Willson, preached an eloquent sermon on the Christian priesthood, and the mystic sacrifice of the Mass, which, as foretold by the Prophet Malachy, should be offered "from the rising to the setting of the sun.” The Rev. G. Hunter presided over the choir. In the sanctuary we noticed the Rev. Messrs. Keoghan, Ryan, Hogan, Fitzgerald, and Lucas….

After divine worship a large number of the visitors with the Bishop and clergy, were sumptuously, entertained at a plentiful dejeuner, provided by the Catholics of Jerusalem. Ample justice having been done to the good things, prepared with exquisite taste by Mr. Lamb, of the Jerusalem Inn, Charles Eardley Wilmot, Esq., proposed the following toast, which was listened to with the deepest attention:

My lord, ladies, and gentlemen, I rise to propose a toast—the toast of the day—and I feel assured that when I say that toast is connected with the proceedings which have this day brought us together, your sympathies will leap forward and meet me more than half way. (Applause.) It is now upwards of two years since many of us met together in this place to be present at the laying of the first stone of St. Patrick's Church, Jerusalem. Few, if any of us, dared on that occasion even to hope, that by this time we should be able to meet again to celebrate the completion and consecration of so beautiful, so magnificent a structure. The generosity which has enabled such an edifice to be erected, cannot be too highly praised, and that praise is earned by Catholics and Protestants alike. For many who are unfortunately separated from us, have come forward with the noblest liberality. I congratulate Catholics and Protestants on the completion of this sacred building—a building raised for the holy worship of God. I congratulate Protestants as well as Catholics, for this church will, in some measure, be a source of comfort to them. Their Catholic dependants will be able to perform their religious duties; and I need scarcely remind Protestant employers that servants who perform their duty towards God, are more likely to — aye, it is not too much to say, that they surely will perform their duties better to their earthly masters.(Applause.) I congratulate Catholics of all classes, that in this far-away-land, in this quiet, somewhat out-of the-way country district, so beautiful a church is completed where they may worship God. I congratulate them, high and low, rich and poor, that within the walls of that temple which has this day been blessed by God’s ministers, the silk and the serge, the fustian and broadcloth will kneel side by side on terms of perfect equality to praise and honor that God to whose service this church has been erected. You will therefore join most heartily with me in wishing success to this new church at Jerusalem. (Applause.) But I should feel that this toast were indeed imperfectly rendered were I to neglect to couple with it the name of that person to whom, under God, you are indebted that this noble structure has this day been brought to a completion. I refer to our friend and pastor, the Rev. Mr. Dunne. (Applause.) It is owing, under God's blessing, to Mr. Dunne's untiring zeal, to his never flagging energy— energy which has surmounted obstacles which many would have deemed unconquerable— that we this day have had the glorious privilege of assisting at the religious ceremonies which are how concluded. Mr. Dunne is the person to whom, humanly speaking, you owe your beautiful church. It is his labor and his perseverance which, under God, has given it to you. Join, then, with me in drinking, as the toast — the only toast which can on this occasion be proposed — prosperity to St. Patrick's Church, Jerusalem, and with that, drink the health of the Rev. Mr. Dunne. (Loud applause.)

The Rev. Mr. Dunne rose and said — My Lord, ladies, and gentlemen, your kindness and partiality have placed me in a very embarrassing position; for I scarcely know how to return you sufficient thanks for the honor you have done me in proposing my health, and for the plaudits with which you have greeted my humble name. It is most certain, however, that I am grateful, deeply, sincerely grateful to you, not only for your present outburst of applause, but for the constant and unvariable courtesy and kind feeling which you have shown me during my now long residence amongst you. As you may well imagine, I participate, to a considerable extent, in the joy and gratification which you have all experienced to-day at the opening of St. Patrick's Church; but I must say, in truth, that my joy is not unmixed with painfulness that I have not merited all the praise in the erection of this church which your kind partiality has be stowed upon me. The sum of what I have done is only this. In making my stated visits to Jerusalem. I found a church was required for the spiritual accommodation of a large congregation of Catholics. I wished a church to be built, and it is built by the prompt exertions and munificent generosity of the people.(Cheers.) All I can claim credit for, then, is my wishes and desires. The real merit and credit of the work is due to those who, efficiently and nobly, carried my wishes out to a practical issue.(Cheers.) Moreover, it behoves every man, during the short time allotted to him in this world, to be daily em-ployed in doing something which may prove beneficial to his fellow-men, in addition to the duties which he owes his eternal Creator; and it is the special duty of a clergyman ever to do his utmost to erect churches and establish schools for the worship of God and the education of youth. (Cheers.) Whatever I have done, therefore, towards the erection of that beautiful little church which now adorns and gives a Christian aspect to the adjacent hill, was the mere performance of my simple duty. I intended it as the small contribution of good which I felt I was bound to make to the people amongst whom I live, and as my share of the improvement of this new land of my adoption. (Cheers.) During the progress of the work of erecting this church, I have been cheered and surprised by the substantial aid I received from various quarters, and persons of different denominations. From Victoria, from New South Wales, from almost all the districts of Tasmania, from rich and poor, from those who conscientiously differ from me in religion as well as from those of my own communion, contributions were placed in my hands, and removed all the difficulties which I anticipated would arise in bringing the edifice to completion. To the contributors who are not members of my church, my thanks are preeminently due; and I am glad to have an opportunity of proclaiming that my gratitude to them shall be as lasting as my life, and of expressing, in the presence of many of them, my sincere hope that the church to which they have so liberally and charitably contributed may be a constant and prolific source of peace, temperance, good will, neighbourly feeling, sacred harmony, and greater civilization among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. (Cheers.) To my own dear people of Richmond, to the Catholics of the colony in general, to the Catholic congregation of Jerusalem my sincerest thanks are also due. From the humble subscriber of one penny to Mr. Michael McGuire, the noble contributor of £350, I owe them all a debt of everlasting gratitude. At all times did they cheerfully answer my call upon them for aid, leaving even the harvest while uncut, and employing themselves and their horses in the work of the church; and thus rendering a task easy and agreeable for me, which under other circumstances, as our worthy Police Magistrate has stated, would have been surrounded with insurmountable difficulties and disappointments. The work is now done. A church dedication to the Patron Saint of "my own my native land," and not surpassed in solidity of structure and architectural beauty by any church in the colony is now completed. May God grant that a good, a pious, and a religious congregation may over assemble there. To use the words of the hon. the Attorney General, from whom I received a letter last evening, and who would have been here today had his engagements permitted him : — " I hope the new church of St. Patrick will be productive of an increase of piety, and a corresponding increase of morality amongst the people of Jerusalem." (Cheers.) My Lord, ladles, and gentlemen, I thank you again for your kindness, as well as for the attention with which you have heard my expressions of thanks, I fondly hope we may have the extreme pleasure of all meeting again on such an interesting occasion. At any rate, the encouragement and support I have received in the construction of St. Patrick's church, will stimulate me to attempt works of similar utility, and to strike deeper into the soil of my adoption the roots of religion and education which are the only true and solid foundations of its happiness and prosperity (loud cheering).

The highly delighted assembly then separated and carried with them to their homes the recollections of a day which will not soon be forgotten. All praise is due to Mr, Thomas, architect, and also to Mr. Patrick Lynch, builder, who has so successfully carried out his instructions. The collection, received on the occasion amounted to the munificent sum of £187 10s. 6½d”.

The humble words of Father William Dunn bely the fact that he was the driving force in establishing several worthy places of worship for his Catholic flock. Apart from St Patrick’s, his legacy includes churches at Sorell and Brighton as well as significant additions to St John the Evangelist at Richmond. Following his death in Victoria in 1883, his remains were returned to Tasmania and were buried in the cemetery above St Patrick’s church.

In September 1895 the church suffered serious structural damage from a storm which swept through the Coal River Valley. The Mercury reported:

“A terrible storm passed over this part at about 11.15 am today doing much damage to property. The greatest damage was to St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church, the storm having blown the turret over which fell on the chancel, completely wrecking that part and shaking the whole of the building to the foundation, as cracks are to be seen all over the building, which is a fine stone structure, having been built at great expense about 40 years ago. The whole of the fixings and images were completely destroyed in the chancel, some of which cost much money”.

While the building was repaired the bellcote was not replaced until 2007. At present St Patrick’s is undergoing restoration by the Pugin Foundation, a non-profit organisation which assists with the conservation of Pugin’s Australian buildings and objects.

The recent establishment of a Benedictine Priory near Colebrook will undoubtedly revitalise St Patrick’s. In September 2019 The Catholic Weekly reported:

“On 22 February, St Patrick’s Church at Colebrook was the site of an event that must surely change the face of the Tasmanian Church. The Benedictine Priory of Notre Dame was formally established at a solemn Foundation Mass presided over by Archbishop Julian Porteous and celebrated by the new Prior, Fr Pius Mary Noonan OSB, a monk originally from the Abbey of St Joseph at Flavigny-sur-Ozerain in eastern France…..There is no certainty that the monks will service St Patrick’s in the long term, for they recently purchased a large property, Jerusalem Estate, to be their enduring home and the site of the permanent monastery they intend to build. However the church is located two or three kilometres north of the Estate and may well become permanently associated with it in the future. For the time being, the monks live in the hamlet of Rhyndaston, about seven-or-so kilometres north of Colebrook”.

More than a century and a half has passed since St Patrick’s was consecrated and the building has now been returned close to its original form. Given its heritage status and revival of Catholic activity in the valley, St Patrick’s future seems to be assured.


*sedilia - A group of stone seats for clergy in the south chancel wall of a church, usually three in number and often canopied and decorated.
*piscina - A stone basin used for washing holy vessels used during Mass or Communion services. 

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

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2019

Catholic Weekly June 3, 2019

The Cemetery - A selection of older and historically significant headstones:

(all photographs - Duncan Grant 2019)


The Courier, Monday 18 December 1854, page 3
Tasmanian Daily News, Saturday 24 January 1857, page 2
Hobarton Mercury, Monday 26 January 1857, page 3
Mercury, Monday 9 September 1895, page 2
Mercury, Saturday 10 April 1897, page 4
Mercury, Friday 22 January 1937, page 3

Pugin Foundation: A Guide to Saint Patrick’s, Colebrook
Architect: Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, Brian Andrews, 2013.  Link HERE

Pugin Foundation: St Patrick’s Church, Colebrook, Tasmania, Brian Andrews. Link HERE  June 3, 2019

Information about St Patrick's cemetery on this link HERE


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