No. 579 - Catamaran - Congregational Mission Hall - Australia's Southernmost Church

Catamaran was a small settlement in Recherche Bay near the mouth of the Catamaran River in Tasmania's far southeast. It was once a whaling station and by the latter half of the 19th century it had a thriving timber and sawmilling industry. The discovery of coal at the turn of the 20th century saw intermittent mining activity until the 1930’s. At its peak Catamaran had a population of around 150 which supported the establishment of a State school, a post office and a church. Little now remains of the town.

Being an isolated settlement few newspaper's reported about life at Catamaran. However, in July 1889 the Dover correspondent for the Hobart Mercury had an opportunity to put Catamaran on the map. This lengthy report about the opening of Catamaran's Congregational Mission Hall also provides a rare glimpse of this bush settlement:

“For many years this district has been visited and services held by the Congregational Minister in charge of what is called the South Huon district. The meetings have been held in the mill owners and other houses every four weeks. The old order of things is, however, about passing away. On the banks of the Catamaran; which empties itself into the centre of Recherche-Bay, quite a township has grown up. On the left of the Catamaran is the sawmill of that name, owned by Messrs. McDougall Bros. One of the most effective mills in the whole Huon district is this - worked with all the steady push and go characteristic of the sons of the “Land o’ Cakes” [Scotland]".

"On the opposite side, crossed by a temporary bridge (shortly to be replaced by a more permanent structure) is what may be called the township….Centrally, placed, and abutting on the future main road southward, has been erected a Mission Hall in every way suited to the requirements of place and people. The land on which it stands together with all the hardwood used in its construction, is the gift of the McDougall Bros, while the cost of building, the pine, with which it is lined, the doors, windows, etc., have been borne by local subscription, augmented by a grant from the Congregational Union".

"The opening service, conducted by the pastor, assisted by Mr. Maddison, of New Norfolk, took place on Sunday July 27, when the hall was filled with an attentive and sympathetic congregation. Before the worshippers dispersed they became witnesses to the nuptial vows of two of the young people. To Mr. Mark Clark and Miss Ethel Oldham, both of Leprena, Recherche, belong the honour of being the first couple married in the building. The good old custom of presenting to such a bible, is to be observed".

"On Wednesday, 24th July, the opening of the hall was further celebrated by public tea and entertainment, the first ever held in the district. Some fifty or more met to partake of the good cheer provided, and their every want was tended to by Mrs, Wm. McDougall and the Misses Filt, Smith, Argent, and Finn, to whom, at the close, a hearty vote of thanks was accorded. Then followed an entertainment, which was much enjoyed. During the progress of this meeting Mr. Watkins, the minister, tendered his sincere thanks to all who had joined in the building effort; the donors of the land and timber, the subscribers, the entertainer and Mrs. Cuthbert for loan of organ. And so ends, what it is to be hoped, is but the beginning of good times at Catamaran”.

Little is known about the history of the church…. three months after opening the mission hall was temporally used as a school room until a State school could be built. In 1937 the last published report of its use was of a memorial service held in memory of J. Hardy, who was accidentally killed in the Catamaran Coal Mine. The first marriage at the church in 1889 well may have been its last as I have not found any other marriage notices. By the 1950’s Catamaran had all but ceased to exist and the mission hall was closed and dismantled, thus bring to an end the brief life of Australia’s southernmost church. The settlement has been reclaimed by the bush taking with it the hopes for ‘the good times at Catamaran’.


The Catamaran family homestead of William Charles McDougall, owner of the sawmill. (c.1890) McDougall's house was used for Congregational Church services before the Mission Hall was built in 1889. source: Australian War Memorial - Accession Number P01900.002

The first marriage at the Mission hall took place on the day it opened - The Mercury July 1889

Log hauler and wooden rail tramway at Catamaran - The Tasmanian Mail 28 January 1905

Catamaran coal mine, train and coal trucks - source: Libraries Tasmania PH30/1/6961

The location of Catamaran in Southern Tasmania

Sources:

The Mercury, Tuesday 30 July 1889, page 3
The Mercury, Saturday 26 October 1889, page 3 
The Mercury, Wednesday 17 March 1937, page 11

Links of Interest:

William McDougall's obituary which provides information about the McDougall family - HERE


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