No. 592 - Gretna - St Mary the Virgin - "Worthy of Imitation"

Gretna is a small township in the Derwent Valley approximately 60 kilometres from Hobart. The area was originally known as Stony Plains Hut and Macquarie Plains. The name Gretna was adopted in the early 20th century. The origin of this name comes from a local farm called ‘Gretna Green’ and also an Inn established in the 1860’s which bore the same name. Another Inn, the Woolpack Inn, was the scene of a gunfight between the bushranger Martin Cash and members of the local constabulary. Gretna’s only church stood a few hundred metres from the inn and Cash and his gang hid in the bush near the church until nightfall prior to raiding the Inn. For many years St Mary’s was known as “The Woolpack Church”.

St Mary’s the Virgin was built in 1847 and was opened and consecrated by Bishop Nixon on 1 June 1848. At the service, Edward Terry, the owner of Askrigg estate presented the deed of land on which the church was built to Bishop Nixon. Before the church was erected it is believed that Anglican services were performed at Askrigg.

The Hobart Courier published a fairly lengthy but rather technical and ‘dry’ account of the church’s consecration:

“The presence of our Bishop once more amongst us was brought home to our minds by the celebration of this event on Thursday last, the festival of the Ascension. The chapel, with a burial-ground attached, is situated about thirteen miles from New Norfolk, a little off the road leading to Hamilton. It is built of stone, with a wooden belfry over the west gable. The building is plain, but appears substantially put together, indeed the plan is well worthy of imitation for small country churches though we could detect some unhappy mistakes in the execution. Rather a subdued light is admitted through two square, headed windows upon each of the sides, whilst the windows at the east and west are arched. The entrance for the people is at the south-west end, and a smaller door on the north-east, reserved for the priest, enters directly upon the raised part at the east end, which serves as a chancel”.

“The interior is chiefly remarkable for a very light and elegant open roof, the timbers which support the in main rafters being set so as to appear like the three sides of a hexagon. There are open seats of a uniform shape and size down both sides of the nave, with a four foot middle aisle running from the west wall to the chancel steps. The seats for the clergy are upon the south side of the chancel outside the rails which enclose the sacrarium, one of these seats, which is raised a step, being intended for the Bishop when present, the other for two officiating clerics. We were particularly struck with a massive font placed at the west end of the chapel, which, we understand, was presented as a special offering from an individual. The service on Ascension day commenced by the reception of the Bishop at the entrance of the church-yard, where a petition was presented to him, praying him to consecrate the building and the burial ground; after which the solemn service for consecrating churches was begun according to the form used by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The prayers were said by the Rev Mr Tancred, the missionary chaplain appointed to this district, the proper lessons for the occasion being read by the Rev G. Wright. The Bishop preached the sermon, and afterwards, assisted by the Archdeacon, administered the Holy Communion”.

It is not known whether Courier’s mention of “unhappy mistakes” is a reference to design or structural issues but by the time of the Great War, the end wall of the church was in danger of collapse and had to be supported with wooden props. Both end of the church are now supported with bracing which lends the building an unusual appearance.

I could not gain access to the interior of the church nor have seen photographs of it. However, it contains many treasures and a magnificent window on the east end. This was erected in memory of John Walker, of Clarendon, who served as organist for 50 years. The furniture of the church is cedar and it also houses memorial items carved Ellen Nora Payne for the church’s centenary. These are described in a report in the Mercury:

“The parish owed a great debt to the three faithful workers to whom memorials were dedicated. Canon F. H. Lansdell, of Launceston, a former rector, dedicated a new altar to Mrs Amy Clarisse Walker, a devoted parishioner and generous benefactor, who for more than 50 years was church organist. The altar was provided by her family and friends. A reredos in memory of the late Rev F. Thorpe, rector of the parish for 18 years, was provided by his daughter (Mrs R. G. Downie). Communion raiIs provided by his wife and family were in memory of Mr Cecil Francis Parsons, who for many years was a church warden”.

The church is a significant landmark and it is one of the earliest ecclesiastical buildings in Australia to be influenced by English design trends, in which buildings were closely modelled on medieval designs. The extensive churchyard contains the graves of many early pioneering families with important associations for the history of the local community. It is regrettable that this national treasure is to be sold by the Anglican church to compensate victims of sexual abuse as a part of the National redress scheme.

All the photographs in this article are my own unless otherwise indicated.

The Altar and reredos - source:

The altar - source:

Hymn board - source:
The interior of the church - photo supplied by Scott Smith

The historic Stained-Glass Windows - Photographs kindly provided by Scott Smith ©

Side window

Window above the altar

side window

The Northern window

The Woolpack Inn at Gretna (1934)  - University of Melbourne Library (Commercial Travellers Association) -out of copyright

The Gretna Cemetery - A full list of burials in the cemetery can be found on this link HERE

Photograph: Callum Grant


Courier, Wednesday 24 May 1848, page 2
Courier, Wednesday 7 June 1848, page 2
Mercury, Wednesday 1 June 1938, page 7
The Mercury,  Tuesday 8 June 1948,  page 5
Huon and Derwent Times, Thursday 9 June 1938, page 4
Mercury, Monday 31 May 1948, page 6


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