No. 691 - Lachlan - Molesworth Jeffrey's Churches (and a cemetery)

Lachlan is a small settlement situated on the Lachlan River, approximately 6 kilometres south of New Norfolk. The settlement, which was established in 1839, is named after Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Most histories state that Lachlan had two churches; the first being a school and church built by Molesworth Jeffrey in the 1860’s with a second church was built and consecrated in 1912. In this article I suggest that there was a third and earlier church, a ‘chapel of ease’, possibly built in the late 1840’s or early 1850’s. This article will focus on both churches associated with Molesworth Jeffrey.

Molesworth Jeffery was the son of Bartholomew Jeffery, governor of the Royal Exchange, St Thomas's Hospital and Bartholomew's Hospital. The young Jeffrey served in the army for several years before working in the family business. He arrived in Van Diemen's Land in 1835 and bought properties at Lachlan. Following his marriage he built a home at Lachlan known as ‘Bournbank', taking up residence there in 1845. Jeffery became the first Justice of the Peace for the district. Jeffrey also dabbled in architecture and designed and built a school-house and chapel in the village of Lachlan.

The date of the school-church’s construction is given as 1866 according to most sources. However, it is likely that it replaced an earlier place of worship. In 1856, the death of John Hinds, “one of the earliest colonists of Tasmania” was recorded in several of the colonies newspapers. These reports’ state that Hinds “was buried in St George’s Chaplory [sic] in the village of Lachlan, by the united subscriptions of his neighbours”, and that “the Rev. William Murray, from the town of New Norfolk, kindly officiated at the interment”.

A painting of Jeffrey’s house “Bournbank”, dated 1866, shows a church like building on the property with a cross clearly visible on the roof. This is evidently not the same building shown in the photographs of St George’s church taken in 1892. It is possible that the building in the painting may be the “St George’s ‘Chapelry’ (a term sometimes used for a Chapel of Ease) which is referred to in the 1856 reports’ of John Hind’s funeral.

This ‘chapel’ would have been replaced by the school-house and church designed by Jeffrey in 1866. This seems to be confirmed by a report in the Tasmanian Morning Herald of May 1866 which stated that the “school in this picturesque locality” [of Lachlan] was nearing completion. In 1868 a Board of Education report noted a payment of £12 “for certain repairs to the village school” payable to Mr Molesworth Jeffrey, as a trustee of the school.

The school would have used the church up until 1885 when a State school was built at Lachlan. After this, the building would have been used exclusively as a church; that is, St George’s Church of England.

There are only a handful of references to St George’s in the local press. A report from 1894 published in the Tasmanian News is one which makes more than a passing references about Lachlan church:

“On Sunday last the Rev. Oberlin Harris preached his introductory sermon in our little church, and from his casual remarks I am pleased to hear that he is likely to be very much appreciated. Although the day was wet, a very fair congregation mustered to bid him a welcome”.

The local press gave St George’s cemetery considerably more attention than the church. The cemetery, as previously noted, dates back to at least the 1850’s. One of Molesworth Jeffrey’s sons, Rufus Jeffrey, was buried in the cemetery in 1892. In 1893 a report in the Tasmanian News reported that the Lachlan burial ground was in a sorry state:

“There is a very serious matter being discussed, namely, the terrible state of the Lachlan Village Cemetery, the spectators at a funeral which took place on Wednesday were horrified to witness the fact that it is afloat, and that all the water runs straight into the creek which supplies the township [New Norfolk] and Asylum with water. The authorities should have it closed without delay. What wonder that typhoid has held its own while such a frightful state of affairs it allowed to remain.”

The last burial at Lachlan took place in November 1893:

“Quite an acquisition has been added to the public cemetery by the erection of a tasty and ornamental headstone upon the grave of the late Mr Peacock, who was for some time the much-esteemed teacher of our State School, and it would be quite cheering and gratifying if his widow could only hear the many kindly remarks which are passed, and the hearty good wishes for herself. This is the more notable as it is probably the last stone that will be erected, as I understand that the owner has received notice to close it on account of the proximity to the river which supplies the New Norfolk Waterworks”.

By December 1893 the cemetery had closed. The Tasmanian News Lachlan correspondent reported:

“Since my last, I regret to state that death has once again been busy in our midst, carrying off the youngest child of Mr Wallace Townsend. The funeral cortege left here for New Norfolk about 11 a.m. on Thursday. Since the cemetery has been closed numerous rumours have been current that Mr Jeffery is likely to open another. If the rumour proves true, it will certainly be a great boon, for at the present time the dead have to be taken a long distance, which, of course, is a very objectionable point, not to think of how many prefer their friends to be interred near at hand, in order that due regard and respect may be devoted to the last resting place of those near and dear”.

Over the years some of the graves were exhumed and the remains reburied at New Norfolk. In August 1918 the Hobart Mercury reported on the last removal of two bodies for reburial in the New Norfolk cemetery.

Molesworth’s Jeffrey’s old church suffered a similarly inglorious end as the cemetery. It was replaced by a new church built on a more central site in 1912. Thereafter it seems to have been used as a dwelling and gradually fell into a state of ruin. In 1930 its end came by fire on New Year's Eve. The Mercury reported:

“An old and dilapidated church at Lachlan, near New Norfolk, on a portion of Mr. T. Gaul's property, was destroyed by a fire In the early hours of yesterday morning. The church, which was originally built by the late Mr. Molesworth Jeffery, for the people of the Lachlan district, was known as St George's Church of England, and was regarded in the early days as one of the finest appointed churches for its size in Tasmania. Over 20 years ago when the late Archdeacon Richard was rector of the New Norfolk parish, a new church was erected in a more central position, and St. George's was closed. From time to time people have lived in the old building until recently, when it became unfit for habitation. Some months ago several tons of lead were removed from the church tower, and unsuccessful Police Court proceedings were taken against several men. At the time the police failed to establish the ownership of the church and the block of land on which it stood. It is known, however, that the church and land were never actually sold with the property surrounding it, and while it is certain that it still belongs to the Jeffery estate, it is stated that it would probably cost more to establish ownership than the property is worth. The building was probably worth £60 and the cause of the outbreak is not known”.

The history of Molesworth Jeffrey’s churches at at Lachlan is intriguing. The question which remains to be settled is, where two or three places of worship established at Lachlan? In the next article on Churches of Tasmania I will cover the history of Lachlan’s second (or possibly third) church, the last of the St George’s, built in 1912.

St George's at Lachlan (1892) Source UTAS  “Courtesy of UTAS Library Special & Rare Collections and The Royal Society of Tasmania” 

St George's at Lachlan (1892) Source UTAS  “Courtesy of UTAS Library Special & Rare Collections and The Royal Society of Tasmania” 
A photograph of the interior of the church (c.1890) Source: Libraries Tasmania [AUTAS001126252840W800]

Jeffery, Molesworth 1866 , Water colour view of Bournbank Homestead, Lachlan, Tasmania. “Courtesy of UTAS Library Special & Rare Collections and The Royal Society of Tasmania” 

A detail of the 1866 Water colour painting. The building clearly has a cross on the roof and has windows typical of a church and school.   “Courtesy of UTAS Library Special & Rare Collections and The Royal Society of Tasmania” 


The Hobarton Mercury, Wednesday 16 April 1856, page 2
Colonial Times, Tuesday 29 April 1856, page 2 
The Courier, Wednesday 30 April 1856, page 2 
The Tasmanian Daily News, Wednesday 30 April 1856, page 2
Tasmanian Morning Herald, Wednesday 23 May 1866, page 2
The Tasmanian Times, Wednesday 8 April 1868, page 2
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 1 September 1892, page 4
Tasmanian News, Saturday 15 July 1893, page 2
Tasmanian News, Monday 13 November 1893, page 3
Tasmanian News, Tuesday 5 November 1893, page 3
Tasmanian News, Thursday 15 February 1894, page 3
The Mercury, Wednesday 28 March 1900, page 4
The Mercury, Monday 19 August 1918, page 4
Mercury, Thursday 1 January 1931, page 5
Mercury, Saturday 18 September 1937, page 9


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