No. 675 - Cressy - St Wilfrid's Theological College at Richmond Hill

Cressy is a small country town located approximately 15 kilometres south of Longford. The town’s name is taken from the Cressy Company, a company formed in England in the 1820s to establish large agricultural enterprises in the north of colony.

Cressy would seem to be an unlikely location for a theological College. Indeed, three years after St Wilfrid’s College opened in 1904, an attempt was made to move it to a larger centre. The college was established from a substantial bequest made to the Anglican Church by James Denton Toosey in order to prepare and train young men for the priesthood.

In June 1908 Hobart’s Daily Post reported:

“On very good authority it is stated that the Bishop of Tasmania has offered the Rev. Canon Finnis, at present rector of Deloraine, the wardenship of St. Wilfred’s Theological College….but it is open secret that steps are being taken to form a petition to the Supreme Court to have the terms of the Toosey bequest so altered as to allow the college to be moved to one of the larger centres of population…”.

While these ‘steps’ to move the college did not materialise, low enrolments of students and poor funding eventually contributed to St Wilfrid’s closure in 1929.

James Toosey arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1826 and worked for the Cressy Company before moving to New South Wales. He later returned to Tasmania as temporary manager of the Company’s Cressy Estate from 1833-36. In the 1850’s Toosey purchased a part of the Company’s land holdings, including Richmond Hill. Toosey was a devout Anglican and donated two acres for a new church and cemetery at Cressy. When Christ College at nearby Bishopsbourne closed in 1856, Toosey was appointed as a trustee on the basis of his business acumen and was successful in freeing the college from its substantial debt. When Toosey died in 1883 he left £400 to enlarge and improve Cressy’s Holy Trinity Church and bequeathed his Richmond Hill estate for the establishment of a theological college and chapel.

Twenty years were to pass before the college was established at Richmond Hill. In May 1904 the Launceston Examiner published a report which details the progress of the newly establish St. Wilfrid’s College:

"The foremost place in our record of new developments belongs to the college at Richmond Hill, inaugurated under the direction of the Rev. R. C. N. Kelly. The munificence of the late Mr. J. D. Toosey in bequeathing his valuable estate to the church deserves most grateful recognition…. Mr. Kelly writes as follows:- 'We have started with three men; are working on lines which will serve to put the students into the way of a scholarly habit of study…. and shall prepare the subjects set for 1905 in due course. These subjects will also serve for ordination examinations here.… Every student has Greek and Latin daily, ….All the students undertake, on joining, to make themselves useful in practical ways, and certain duties of this nature are assigned to them in rotation, as, for example, cutting wood. Arrangements can be made with the warden for services to be taken by students in surrounding parishes on payment of a small fee. Matins and evensong are said daily. These services are open to all. There being no room available for chapel, the hall is used. As yet there is no chapel furniture, except one rough desk made by the students. The Rev. C. G. Wilkinson, of the Launceston Grammar School, has very kindly given the college the use of an American organ for services. There are a few books in the library, but a great opportunity is open for benefactions in this direction….”.

St Wilfrid’s College only functioned for a little over 20 years, struggling to attract students in significant numbers and secure adequate funding. A chapel was never built and the hall had to suffice for religious services. It was inevitable that the college’s location at Cressy would present it with an unsurmountable challenge, much like its predecessor, Christ College at Bishopsbourne. [see No. 354]

James Toosey’s ambition of reviving a theological college in the north ultimately proved to be a failed experiment and St Wilfrid’s closed in 1929.

However, the story of St Wilfrid’s does not end in 1929. As a consequence of Toosey’s shrewdness as a trustee in managing Christ College’s Bishopsbourne assets, Christ College was reestablishment in Hobart in 1879. When St Wilfrid’s closed in 1929, this coincided with the opening of new premises for Christ College at Park Street in Hobart. The last warden of St Wilfrid's College, William Barrett, was appointed as the first warden of the ‘new’ Christ College. St Wilfrid College’s library was acquired by Christ College and named the St Wilfrid’s Library and lecture room.

In 1933 Christ College was formally affiliated with the University of Tasmania as its first residential college. For a time St Wilfrid’s lived on in the name of the Christ College library but this last connection was lost when the college moved to the University of Tasmania’s Sandy Bay campus in 1971.

St Wilfrid's College at Richmond Hill - courtesy of the National trust Tasmania

Richmond Hill - source Libraries Tasmania


Sources:

Launceston Examiner, Thursday 6 December 1883, page 3
Examiner, Tuesday 31 May 1904, page 6
Daily Post, Friday 5 June 1908, page 6
Examiner, Thursday 29 August 1929, page 13

http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/toosey-james-denton-2739

https://www.utas.edu.au/accommodation/current/christ/history.htm


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