No. 785 - Rokeby - Congregational Chapel (1866-1967)

Rokeby is an eastern suburb of Greater Hobart on the east bank of the Derwent River. It was a small village until the Housing Department built a large public housing estate in the 1970s. Rokeby is named after "Rokeby House”, built by George Stokell in 1830, in honour of a village in Yorkshire, England.

A forlorn cemetery wedged between commercial premises on South Arm Road is now the only reminder of a small Congregational church that was destroyed in the 1967 bushfires. The cemetery is well maintained and has been restored by a local land and coast care group. About two dozen of the headstones remain intact. No photograph or image of the church, which served the Rokeby community for 100 years, has survived. However, detailed newspaper reports from the time of the church’s opening in 1866 provide a glimpse of an active and closely knit community.

Before the “Mission Chapel” was built, Congregational services were held in a large room of a homestead belonging to Mr Joseph Holmes. Land was donated for the chapel by Thomas Carter and construction began in April 1866. The Hobart Mercury reported:

“The foundations of a new chapel have been dug at Clarence Plains, for an intended new chapel in connection with the Colonial Mission. The contractor is Mr Witt, of Rokeby, the buildings will be of plain proportions, but will be sufficiently large to meet the requirements of the locality, and adjacent ground will be available when it shall be found necessary to enlarge the chapel”.

The church was completed and opened on Friday 9 November 1866:

“Yesterday the formal opening of the recently erected chapel at Rokeby, Clarence Plains, took place as announced. Upwards of a hundred and fifty visitors went from town by the first trip of the Kangaroo, and proceeded to the Plains in such conveyances as were available, the people of Clarence and Bellerive having laid on such accommodation in the shape of carts, vans, drays, &c, as were procurable. Some vehicles were also taken from town. Those who could not find seats walked, and many were met on the road by vehicles, which took return journies”.

“We have already described the new chapel as having been built by subscription, for the congregation formerly worshipping in the large room, Belle Vue, then belonging to the Holmes estate, and supplied - by preachers under the auspices of the Congregational Union and Mission. The original design was by Mr. Bastow, the architect, but some alteration in the plan became necessary so as to reduce the cost. The builder was Mr. Witt, of Clarence Plains, and although for a few weeks the place has been used for divine service without being quite finished, it was decided to have the formal opening yesterday to suit the general convenience".

“The chapel was opened free of debt, but sundry finishing work has to be done, painting, seating, and a platform within, and fencing without. A great deal of energy has been displayed by the promoters of the work, and to Mr. Joseph Holmes, the treasurer, the credit is due of having collected a great part of the funds. Among other liberal donors Mr. Henry Hopkins, J.P., is conspicuous, that gentleman having given £30. In anticipation of a numerous gathering yesterday a large marquee had been constructed on the chapel ground, and great preparations were made by the residents at the Plains to give their friends and visitors a hospitable welcome. And accordingly the joint exertions of the ladies produced one of the most sumptuous spreads we have seen in the rural districts; nothing was wanting in the shape of joints, poultry, hens, pigs, pastry, tea and coffee, to complete the substantial repast, and the opening ceremony will be long remembered, for that among other reasons”.

“The chapel was, of course, not large enough to hold a concourse from all parts of the district as well as town, and when the religious service commenced between eleven and twelve o'clock, a large proportion of the congregation took up a position outside. The service was commenced by the Rev. Mr. Nesbit, who gave out a hymn, read scripture, and offered prayer. As members of the chairs of Brisbane-street and Davey-street churches were present the singing was conducted in au effective style. The Rev. G. Clarke preached an appropriate sermon, taking his stand at the chapel entrance within hearing of the inside and outside parties of the congregation. But as rain came on during the sermon, the outsiders went into the marques, and a second sermon was preached by the Rev. W. C. Robinson. At the conclusion of these services a collection was made, amounting to £12, and in the course of the day about £6 more was promised to the funds for finishing the chapel….”.

The Rokeby Congregational Church was one of several churches destroyed in the February 1967 bushfires. The cemetery was ceded to the Uniting Church in 1977. Hopefully the cemetery will continue to be maintained and be protected from commercial development.  

















Sources:

Mercury, Monday 23 April 1866, page 3
Mercury, Saturday 10 November 1866, page 2
Mercury, Wednesday 22 August 1928, page 4

Sharples, Theo E. and Congregational Union of Tasmania.  Congregationalism in Tasmania, 1830-1977 : a brief history / compiled by Theo E. Sharples  Congregational Union of Tasmania Hobart  1977

https://www.tacplaci.org.au/copy-of-rht-7-site-of-oakleigh-c

http://www.gravesoftas.com.au/municipalities/Clarence/Rokeby%20Congregational.htm

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