No. 574 - Ouse - St John the Baptist

Ouse is a country town on the Lyell Highway approximately 90 kilometres west of Hobart. It is situated on the banks of the River Ouse, after which the town is named. In its early years the settlement was known as Ouse Bridge but by the 1860s it had been reduced to The Ouse or Ouse.

There are two churches at Ouse; the Catholic ‘Church of the Immaculate Conception’ (1875) and an older Anglican church, ‘St John the Baptist’ (1843). Surprisingly little is known about this church’s early years and there is no public record of its opening or consecration.

In 1840 land for the church was granted by Scottish born Walter Angus Bethune of ‘Dunrobin’. Unlike most Anglican churches built after the Church Act of 1837, no financial assistance was received from government sources and construction was funded and undertaken by local parishioners.

St John the Baptist’s foundation stone was laid in 1842 and the church opened for services in 1843. The church and its cemetery was only consecrated 24 years after it was built. Following the transfer of title deeds to the Anglican authorities on 30 August 1866, a request for consecration was made. The church and burial ground were consecrated by Bishop Bromby on Thursday 9 May 1867.

The church has a cruciform plan which is unusual for a small country church and the building has many interesting features. The oldest and most historical stained glass window is the three light liturgical east window behind the altar erected to the memory of Thomas Lloyd Gellibrand. The church’s porch was constructed at a later date and it is possibly the work of Hobart architect Alan Cameron Walker.

In 1982 a restoration programme was initiated as the building’s structure had deteriorated. Sandstone was quarried from a nearby hill and blocks were cut and matched to the existing stones. A new internal wall was constructed stained glass windows were also restored.

In 2017 St John the Baptist was listed to be sold in order to meet the Anglican Church’s commitment to the National Redress Scheme. Fortunately, community pressure resulted in the church being removed from the list.

While there is little information about the church’s history, there are two interesting incidents relating to burials. The first incident involves Reverend E J Pogson, who was the church’s first minister. His refusal to allow a burial in the church’s cemetery gave rise to a public outcry in1845. From the Launceston Examiner:

“We thought this question had been settled long since in England, and that no clergyman in the island would be willing to display ignorance and bigotry by reviving it. It appears that a Rev. Mr. Pogson recently refused to perform service over the remains of a child baptised by a Wesleyan. Mr. Stock, the parent, applied to the clerk of the Ouse Bridge church to have his child interred, but the reverend incumbent said he should neither perform the service himself, nor allow another person to do so in that churchyard. Now, as a public servant, liberally remunerated by the state, Mr. Pogson is bound to perform such duties whenever applied to, nor can conscientious objections be recognised till he declines to receive the wages of what he doubtless considers to be unrighteousness. Neither are the public to be insulted by being told that churchyards belong to priests, and not to the community. It has been determined by the judges in England, that sprinkling water on the face of a child by a midwife is baptism: thus anybody, it seems, can officiate. The Wesleyans visited the Ouse at a time long prior to the advent of a clergyman, and until they collected the scattered settlers together, and administered baptism to their children of all ages, no religions forms were observed. Those who wish to see real religion prosper, are pained to perceive the consequences of injudicious conduct. An unmerited slight cast upon Wesleyan baptism has excited the displeasure of the people of the Ouse district, and many have solicited the Wesleyan ministers to re-baptise those children who have been subjected to episcopal affusion. Upon representing the Ouse affair in the proper quarter, we presume the Rev. Mr. Pogson was rebuked, for his superiors promised such conduct should not be repeated”.

The second incidents occurred in 1954 and on this occasion it seems as if the Anglican priest was completely by-passed in the matter of a burial. From the Advocate:

Mystery grave at Ouse:

HOBART - Mystery surrounds what is thought might be an unauthorised grave in a churchyard at Ouse, in the Derwent Valley. The State Chief of the C.I.B. (Supt. G. D. Mackey) said last night that police In the Derwent Valley had been concerned for some time about what appeared to be an unauthorised grave In tho cemetery of St. John the Baptist church at Ouse. It appeared that at the end of February last year the sexton of the church noticed a grave in a secluded corner of the cemetery. At that time an Inspection revealed that it was decorated with withered flowers and neatly surrounded with white washed bricks. The grave appeared to have been there for some weeks. Inquiries had been made by the wardens of the church, but they had not been able to find out who was responsible for the work. Recently Det. Sen. Const. W. Thomas, New Norfolk, and the police officer from Ouse had made Inquiries without result.

Following the report in the press, the mystery was soon solved:

"The mystery of the Ouse cemetery grave has been solved. Detectives said yesterday that a Hobart woman made the grave, on the spot where she believed her mother had been buried 25 years ago. The woman had stated, they said, that the cemetery had not been visited by any member of the family for 15 years until she and her husband went there last February. Finding a heap of rubble and rubbish on the spot where she believed her mother had been buried a quarter of a century before, she and her husband cleaned and tidied up the area, and placed a border of bricks around it. There had been much speculation over recent weeks as to how the grave came to be in St. John's Church of England cemetery Ouse, and what it contained. After a burial in the cemetery last week the existence of the grave was officially recognised for the first time, when police began investigating its origin".

All photographs below are my own - taken in 2019.

A few of the historic headstones in the cemetery surrounding the church.


Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 12 March 1845, page 2
Mercury, Thursday 1 July 1943, page 5
Advocate, Wednesday 13 January 1954, page 1
The Mercury, Thursday 14 January 1954,  page 2 

Holiday, Audrey & John Trigg Holliway, 1988,  From Black Snake to Bronte : heritage buildings of the Derwent Valley in Tasmania; sketches and commentaries (1807-1914) / drawings by Audrey Holiday; text by John Trigg  Holliway, Taroona, Tas - "St John the Baptist Anglican Church & Churchyard"

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

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