No. 651 - Hamilton - St Stephen's Catholic Church

Hamilton is historic town on the Lyell Highway located approximately 70 kilometres from Hobart. The town was named by Governor Arthur, either after Hamilton on the Lower Clyde in Scotland or in honour of his friend William Henry Hamilton. From the time of the town’s settlement in the 1820’s only two churches have been established; St Peter’s Anglican church and St Stephen’s Catholic church. The latter has closed in recent years.

In fact, two Catholic churches were built at Hamilton, the first opened in 1856 and the second in 1958. 
Hamilton’s Catholic population was once sizeable as attested by the large Catholic cemetery which contains almost 200 headstones.

There is little freely available information about the establishment of either of the two Catholic churches. There is no newspaper record of the opening of the first church. In January 1857 The Courier reported that a Roman Catholic Chapel had been erected in Hamilton in the previous year. However in March 1857 the Hobart Town Mercury reported that “the Roman Catholic Chapel …remains unfinished for want of funds”. The church was probably being used at this time although the date of its final completion is not known.

In ‘Planting a Faith in Tasmania’, W.T. Southerwood wrote:

“The first Catholic Church request for land at Hamilton was made on December 18, 1854. Father Hall informed the Colonial Secretary that it was proposed to erect a temporary church immediately, if the Government would allot the four acres he wanted in the township. On January 10, the Surveyor General announced the Governor General’s approval of a site for a Roman Catholic Church, a minister’s house, school, and burial ground”.

There is no record of a ‘minister’s house’ or school being built but a substantial burial ground was established on the steep hillside behind the church.

There are few references to the church in Hobart's newspapers in the 19th century. In 1880 the Mercury’s Hamilton correspondent noted that a bell had been erected in the Catholic Chapel and that it was “pleasant to hear it chime on an occasional Sunday”.  The same bell rung the news of the armistice in November 1918:


"The news of the armistice having been signed was received at Hamilton soon after 9 o' clock on Monday night, and the cause of unusual and great rejoicing. The bells of the Anglican and Catholic churches, as well as the State school, were pealed merrily for some hours, and until past midnight residents paraded the streets, congratulating each other and singing patriotic songs".

The small stone church suffered from structural problems and there are several reports of repairs being undertaken. 


In the 1940s news about the church is dominated by fundraising for the 'building fund' with with an annual fair held in St Peter's Anglican church hall.  Considerable sums were being raised with the object of building a new church. In 1953 the annual fair raised a record amount of £350, eclipsing previous records of £270 raised in 1951 and £221 in 1948.

In 1958 a modern church of functional design was built on a site close to the original church.  The date of the demolition of the century old stone 'chapel' is not known.  The stone from the demolished church was salvaged and incorporated into a house built at Tinderbox in 1979.

Little information is available concerning the new church which was also known as St Stephen’s. The church closed in 2008, exactly 50 years after it opened. It was sold in 2011 and was converted into a house.

Additional information and sources about the church and building are most welcome as all articles are updated. I can be contacted through this page or my Facebook page "Churches of Tasmania" which is linked here: <Churches of Tasmania>.


The original Catholic church at Hamilton.  Source: Libraries Tasmania PH30-1-746

The church in 2011 before its sale - source: Courtesy of PRD Real Estate 

The church in 2011 before its sale - source: Courtesy of PRD Real Estate 

The church in 2011 before its sale - source: Courtesy of PRD Real Estate 

St Stephen's in 2007.  Source: Libraries Tasmania NS2937-1-263

Sources:

The Courier, Saturday 24 January 1857, page 2
The Hobart Town Mercury, Wednesday 4 March 1857 page 3
The Mercury, Tuesday 3 February 1880, page 3
The Mercury, Thursday 14 November 1918, page 6
The Mercury, Tuesday 9 November 1948, page 5
The Mercury, Wednesday 7 November 1951, page 7
The Mercury, Wednesday 5 November 1952, page 21

Southerwood, W. T.  Planting a faith in Tasmania : the country parishes / [by] W. T. Southerwood  [W. T. Southerwood] [Hobart]  1977

Link to information about the St Stephen's Catholic Cemetery:




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