No. 787 - Rokeby - St Matthew's Anglican Church - 'A Monument to Bobby Knopwood'

Rokeby is an eastern suburb of Greater Hobart on the east bank of the Derwent River. It remained a small village until the State Government’s Housing Department built a large public housing estate in the 1970s. Rokeby is named after "Rokeby House”, built by George Stokell in 1830, which in turn remembers the village of Rokeby in Yorkshire.In 1821 the first Anglican service at Rokeby (then Clarence Plains) was conducted by Reverend Robert Knopwood, the first chaplain of Van Diemen’s Land. Following a public meeting in January 1828, tenders were called for the construction of a church. The Colonial architect, John Lee-Archer, oversaw the tenders but for reasons not known, the project did not proceed. (see plans of the 1828 church below).

When Knopwood’s retired to the district in 1829, he continued to hold services in the local schoolhouse, until his death in September 1838. Perhaps Knopwood’s death was the catalyst for the planned church to be resurrected. In June 1839, the Archdeacon for Van Diemen’s Land, William Hutchins, wrote to the government requesting the construction of a church. This was immediately approved by Governor Sir John Franklin.

Plans were prepared by convict architect, James Blackburn. The foundation stone was laid on June 30, 1840, by the first Archdeacon of Tasmania, William Hutchins. Due to the church being unfurnished it was only officially opened and dedicated by the first Bishop of Tasmania, Francis Russell Nixon, on September 24, 1843. Nixon consecrated the church and cemetery on 26 July 1855.

The stone for the church, which is of Gothic perpendicular design, was quarried near Holmes' farm. The interior roof was donated by the Stanfield family, whose members were among the first pioneers of the district. It is thought the church bell is the same one used to call worshippers to the services in the old schoolhouse before the church was built. The first church organ brought to Tasmania and installed in St. David’s, Hobart, in 1825, was donated to St Matthew’s in 1858. The pulpit also came from St, David’s. Some of the carved chairs in the chancel were made from the timbers of H.M.S. Anson, which was a former ship of Admiral Nelson's fleet used as a prison hulk on the Derwent River.

A feature of the church is its historic cemetery in which lies a stone memorial in honour of the founder of the Church of England in Tasmania and the first rector of Clarence Plains, Reverend Robert Knopwood. The monument was erected by the daughter of an orphan girl, Betsy Mack Morrisby, whom Knopwood reared from infancy. The cemetery predates the church, being marked out on November 26, 1826, and, on the following day, the first marriage in the district was performed by Knopwood between Thomas Free and Mary Ann Waterson. The first burial took place the same year.

In 1967 St Matthew’s narrowly escaped destruction in the devastating bushfires which swept through Rokeby. However, the church was damaged by arsonist in 1996. St Matthew’s is at present unused for worship as the building is structurally unsound and restoration work is beyond the means of the parish.

* All colour photographs used in this article are my own.

                                                Undated photograph - Libraries Tasmania

                   The interior of the church - Tasmania's oldest organ - source: Libraries Tasmania

                  The interior of the church - the pulpit from St David's - Source: Libraries Tasmania
                       A plan for the church from 1828 which was never built. Source: Libraries Tasmania
                                                                   Source: Libraries Tasmania  
                                   Knopwood's Memorial - Source: Libraries Tasmania

                                         Knopwood's death mask - Source: Libraries Tasmania

             The old parsonage (built in 1886) partly ruined. Undated.  Source: Photo by W. Williams

A few of the many historical headstones and monuments in the cemetery 

               A monument to Robert Knopwood - erected by he daughter of Betsy Mack Morrisby


Mercury, Tuesday 22 September 1953, page 14
Mercury, Saturday 25 September 1943, page 15
Mercury, Monday 28 September 1953, page 6
Mercury, Monday 19 July 1886, page 3
Mercury, 18 October 1996, page 3

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