No. 662 - Wynyard - St Brigid's (1876-1912) - "One of Mr Hunter's most economical"

Wynyard is a large town on the northwest coast approximately 20 kilometres west of Burnie. The area around Wynyard was originally named Table Cape by the explorers Bass and Flinders. However this was changed to Wynyard in the 1850s, renamed after Edward Buckley Wynyard, a Lieutenant-General in the New South Wales Corps. Until the 20th century Wynyard remained a small town with a population of less than 500.

Wynyard’s Romanesque style Catholic church is one of the most striking churches on the north west coast. This church, which opened in 1912, replaced an older church, Wynyard’s first Catholic church. The history of this simple building which served as a church for almost 40 years is the subject of this article.

The opening of Wynyard’s first Catholic church in 1876 was the culmination of a long struggle that dated back to the early 1850’s. In 1853 Bishop Willson applied to the government for a grant of land for a church, presbytery and a school. However, the three acres given was “too far from the township…and frequently under water”. In 1864 the original grant was exchanged for an equal area of more suitable land. However, another decade was to pass before work began on building a church. This had come about as a result of the persistent efforts of two priests; Father Holohan and Father O’Callaghan.

In April 1876 the Wynyard correspondent for the Launceston Examiner described how this had come about:

“A Catholic Church in Wynyard is at last a reality, and not before it was very much needed. It is now some twenty years or more since the erection of such a church in this district was first talked about, but until a short time back that is all that was done in the matter. The fact that there were not more than ten or fifteen Catholic heads of families in the district made such an undertaking, even in much more prosperous times than when the right move was made by the right man, appear a work of too much magnitude. About two years ago, however, our late Catholic pastor, Father Holohan, relying on the generosity of his little flock, and the liberality of his Protestant friends - in neither of whom was he disappointed - resolved to have a church, however humble. Plans and specifications were obtained from Mr Hunter, of Hobart Town, and when Father O'Callaghan arrived in the district, he expressed in very emphatic language his approval of the views of the churchwardens whom Father Holohan, when leaving the district, had left to manage the affairs of the church; his pleasure at how matters were progressing; and as soon as circumstances would permit, signed a contract with Mr J. A. White, who agreed to erect the exterior of the church, including nave, 45ft. by 18ft., sacristy 12ft. by 10ft., and porch 8ft. by 6ft.; erect platform 18ft. by 6ft., and lay a hardwood floor temporarily, plane side of boards downwards, for £120. Of this sum Mr White has already received £100. The church of course is a wooden building, but erected on a stone foundation, which also was part of Mr White’s contract…. Father O'Callaghan intends, I understand, to have it lined during the winter, and next summer to invite the Bishop to dedicate it for worship. The church fronts on Golden-street, the principal street in Wynyard, and stands on a nice site, granted some time back for the purpose by the Government, and in the centre of what must in the course of time become a thickly populated neighbourhood. As to the design, I think it must be one of Mr Hunter's most economical, for it combines cheapness, neatness, and space in an extraordinary manner. I am sorry to say, however, that by some persons the workmanship is not considered in some respects up to the mark”.

As was planned, the church was ready for the Bishop by early summer and in November 1876 the building was officially opened and dedicated. The Tasmanian reported:

“Our little township seemed unusually alive on Sunday, 26 November, owing to the opening of the new Roman Catholic Church… The day was delightfully fine, and from an early hour in the morning pedestrians and equestrians might be seen coming from all directions, making the largest concourse, of people ever seen at a gathering onTable Cape, all of whom spoke in the highest terms of praise of the new edifice. The worthy and respected pastor, Rev. M. .O’ Callaghan, deserves the greatest of credit for the untiring energy and perseverance with which he has worked to have this edifice built . At about 10.45 a.m., the church being crowded, to excess, the Rev. M. O'Callaghan came out on the altar and said the ritual of the Roman Catholic Church, proclaimed that during the time of blessing and dedicating the church it was customary for all to withdraw, and accordingly an exit was made by the assembled multitude. His, Lordship Bishop Murphy, assisted by the Rev. M. O’Callaghan, then performed the ceremony of dedicating the, church,- blessing it inside and out, dedicating it to St. Bridget [sic]… the only church in the colony dedicated to her….”

Henry Hunter’s ‘economical’ little church served the Catholics of Wynyard for the next 36 years until it was replaced by the imposing new brick church. The old building stayed on the site for another 10 years. During this period it was known as St Peter’s Hall. Then, in August 1922, St. Peter’s was offered for sale by tender and was purchased by the Preolenna Hall Committee. Shortly after the sale it was removed to Preolenna and reassembled for use as a public hall. The old church continued to be used as a hall for many years and was for a time used for services of the Baptist and Methodist churches. 

In 1970 a new public hall was built at Preolenna. Coincidently, this hall was recently at the centre of a dispute arising from the Waratah Wynyard Council’s intention to sell the property. The fate of Wynyard’s old church hall is not known but presumably it was demolished or removed (see photograph below).

A postcard of original St Brigid's -(undated) - Source: Wynyard Tasmania Oldies - Facebook Group - Adrian Price. Original source not known.

The 'new' St Brigid's - source: The Tasmanian Mail (1912) - This will be the subject of an upcoming article.

The removal of the church to Preolenna - Daily Telegraph 1922

A property at Preolenna described as a church built in 1922.  This could be the old Wynyard church/Preolenna hall but I am seeking confirmation of this.


Launceston Examiner, Saturday 8 April 1876, page 3
Cornwall Chronicle, Monday 4 December 1876, page 3
Tribune, Wednesday 6 December 1876, page 3
Tasmanian, Saturday 9 December 1876, page 4
Advocate, Friday 4 August 1922, page 4
Daily Telegraph, Monday 7 August 1922, page 5

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


  1. The last photo above is of the Gospel Hall at Preolenna not the old Preolenna Hall.

  2. Thank you for that clarification, I took a guess with this one. The Gospel Hall was built in 1924, so there is clearly no connection with the old public hall. There was also a Baptist church at Preolenna and I think it might be connected to the old hall.


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