No. 745 - Lottah's Catholic Churches (1885-1891 & 1914-1922)

Lottah is a former mining settlement located in the Blue Tiers about 35 kilometres west of St Helens. There are now few signs of the once thriving town. Tin was discovered in the vicinity of Lottah in about 1875. The Anchor Tin Mine became operational in 1880 and the township of Lottah developed around it. At its peak Lottah had several hundred residents, a school, two hotels, two churches, a number of businesses and a football club.

Two Catholic churches were built at Lottah. The first church was built in 1885 and a second church, built in 1914, was removed to Pyengana in 1922. The original church, which was a converted billiard hall, was destroyed in a fire in 1891.

In May 1885 Lottah’s correspondent for the Hobart Mercury reported the construction of the township’s first church:

“In local news I may mention that Father Mary has purchased a building at the junction for his church, and it is now being altered and enlarged. It is already assuming the appearance of a nice church. This rev. gentleman has worked wonders since his arrival. He can now hold service at every little place in churches belonging to his own flocks”.

Father Martial Mary’s church lasted for a mere six years when it was destroyed in a fire that could have wiped out the entire township. In In December 1891 Launceston’s Daily Telegraph reported:

“A fire broke out in Todd's store, at Lottah, this morning, which extended to the Post and Telegraph offices and Woolley's Junction Hotel, and subsequently to the Roman Catholic Church. The whole of the premises with the outbuildings, including the billiard room, skittle alley, and stabling belonging to the hotel, were completely destroyed. Fortunately no wind was blowing at the time, or pretty nearly the whole of the township would have gone. The following are believed to be insured:— Mr A Woolley, Junction Hotel, £400;… Post-office, occupied by Mrs Todd, £200; …Todd’s general store, £750; the Rev. M. Mary, for the Catholic Church, £100, …Mr. Woolley estimates his loss at fully £1000”.

While Lottah recovered and continued to thrive, two decades were to pass before another church was built. In 1903 a detailed description of Lottah was published in the Hobart Mercury which makes mention of the township's “spiritual neglect:

“This is a township, three miles from Gould's Country, and situated 1,500ft above the sea level. It has a population of about 500 or 600, but if the Anchor tin mine was to cease working, the number of inhabitants would decrease to about 100. The township owes its existence to the mine,…. Lottah township is composed of many cottages, the majority of which are small, and tenanted mostly by miners. Being in such a high elevation, the drainage of the township is good, and, in consequence, fevers and such like are of rare occurrence. The two hotels, the Lottah and Jubilee, are licensed by Messrs. A Woolley and G. Macmichael respectively, whilst the general store of Messrs J C. Macmichael and Co. is the leading establishment in that line. The post office, in charge of Mrs Charlesworth, is close to the Lottah Hotel, whilst on the hill beyond the Jubilee Hotel is the new police station, a rather handsome building. The general place for holding entertainments, etc., is in a building which was used as a tin shed in connection with the Anchor mine. It is close to the mining manager's residence, and 35 chains from the post office. A remarkable fact about Lottah is that it does not possess a church of any denomination, which is rather singular for such an old place. The spiritual welfare of the people, however, is not neglected, as the State School building is used for holding divine service….”.

The Catholic community’s efforts to build a second church began in July 1906. The Mercury reported:

“A meeting of members of the Roman Catholic community has been held and was presided over by the Rev Father Travers who remarked on the prospective development of the locality and the probable large influx of population in the near future. As the members of the congregation have for some time back evinced a strong desire to build a church here together with providing the necessary accommodation for some teaching sisters, Messrs D. Herrick, W. Treehee, A. Dishington, G. McArdell, and Thomas Bakhap were nominated as a committee to discuss the matter and take preliminary steps. Lottah has for many years been singular on account of its being a churchless township, the State school building and the Anchor hall having been utilised by the several religious denominations for church purposes on occasions. The anomaly first referred to will soon be removed, for the Methodist body will shortly erect a church on a very suitable site secured for the purpose…”.

While the Methodists successfully opened a church in October 1906 [see No. 299], it was not until 1910 that further progress was made with the Catholic church. This is described in a report published in the Mercury which also reviewed 25 years of Catholic presence at Lottah:

“At a meeting of the Roman Catholic Church committee held in the Jubilee Hotel, Lottah, the following were present;-The Rev. Father Travers, Messrs C. Beven A. Dislington, jun., H. Gough, M. Davern, M. Garney, and T. Bakhap. Mr. Beven was elected chairman, Mr. Garney secretary, and Father Travers treasurer. The chair- man announced that a piece of land had been purchased on which to build a church; that a start would be made to erect stables for the priest's buggy team forthwith, and that a working bee would be initiated next Saturday to clear the land for the church, etc. The co-operation of the ladies of the community would be sought at an early date to devise means to augment the church fund by the opening of a bazaar about Easter time. The treasurer announced that a fairly substantial sum had been banked to the credit of the church building fund already. Lottah once possessed a Roman Catholic Church, but it was destroyed in a fire which burnt the principal buildings in the township, and until recently the Roman Catholic community being a small one, no steps have been taken to replace the old-time structure, which, by the way, had once been a billiard room. For some years past the Roman Catholic and Anglican Church services have been held in the State-school, the Methodist body being the only one owning a church building in Lottah. Father Travers is nothing if not energetic, and has succeeded in rousing the dormant activities of his flock. The first priest to take the parish was Father Mary, a typical child of Gaul. When last heard from he was in North of Italy, and still lovingly reminiscent of the stirring times of the early tin discoveries. Following him there came Father Van Du Heyden, a Dutchman. A genial Irishman, Father Walsh ; and last, but not least, an Englishman, Father Travers. These gentlemen never failed to take a lively interest in the development of the material, as well as the moral resources of the district and its people…”.

Progress in building the new church was extremely slow. In July 1912 Launceston’s Examiner reported that clearing of the ground for the church had begun. Eighteen months later another report mentions that “Mr C. Lynch is making good progress with the new Catholic church” and then in March 1914 that “the new Catholic chapel is almost complete”.

Unfortunately no report exists describing the church's official opening and although the date of this event is not recorded it is likely to have occurred by mid 1914.

The remainder of the church’s history is an anticlimax following the 25 year saga it took to rebuild. By the end of the Great War, tin mining in north east Tasmania was in serious decline as a consequence of falling prices and yields. In 1920 the Daily Telegraph described Lottah’s decline:

“Several more houses here have recently been sold, and will shortly be removed. Two churches, one hotel, and the well-established Post Office, however, still remain intact. They will doubtless, weather the depression until such time as there is a turn in the tide of local affairs”.

However, there was to be no turn in the tide. In September 1922 the Daily Telegraph reported:

“The Catholic Church at Lottah is shortly to be removed out here, and a suitable site has been approved in the vicinity of the local cheese factory”.

However, its removal was delayed by 6 months when it was “pulled down by Messrs. C. and G. Briggs of St Helen’s” in March 1923. The building was cut in two then transported by bullock team a distance of about 18 kilometres to a site near Pyengana’s butter factory.

The land the for the church at Pyengana was donated by the Haley family. The block was a very generous 38 acres of heavily wooded land which it was envisaged would provide income for the costs of maintaining the church.

There is no surviving record of the church’s reopening but it was dedicated to St Augustine in the second half of 1923. The church was closed and sold in 1995 and subsequently converted into a house in 2010. Some of its contents, most notably the church organ and one of the pews were donated to the St Helen’s History Room.

The second Lottah Catholic church - The photo of the church was taken after it was removed to Pyengana to become St Augustine's Catholic Church - Photograph reproduced with permission of Trevor Haagsma - from "The Haley family collection"

A view of Lottah township c.1900. Source: Libraries Tasmania  LPIC147-4-286

The Anchor Tin Mine at Lottah. c1900 - source: Libraries Tasmania PH30-1-1891

A map of Lottah c.1883.  The Billard Room purchased by Father Mary is marked on the map near the junction of Main and Smith Street. A detail of the same map is reproduced below. Source: Libraries Tasmania AF721-1-402
A detail of the map of Lottah showing the site of the Billiard Room which was converted into a church.  Father Martial Mary is indicated as the purchaser of the land.

Father Martial Mary - source: Planting A Faith

The old Lottah Catholic church at Pyengana.  The photograph was taken in 2010 before the church was restored and converted into a house. Photography supplied by Trevor Haagsma.


Sources:

Mercury, Friday 15 May 1885, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 2 December 1891, page 3
Mercury, Thursday 5 July 1906, page 2
Mercury, Friday 28 January 1910, page 7
Daily Telegraph, Monday 13 May 1912, page 8
Examiner, Thursday 4 July 1912, page 6
North-Eastern Advertiser, Friday 9 January 1914, page 3
North-Eastern Advertiser, Tuesday 10 March 1914, page 2
Daily Telegraph: Wednesday 20 September 1922, page 2
North East Advertiser, Friday 30 March 1923, page 2

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

Fairburn, Margaret E and McKay, John T. (Father) The flickering flame : Catholicism in north-east Tasmania, 1877-2011. Father John McKay], [Tasmania, 2011.


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