No. 825 - New Town Congregational Church

New Town is a northern suburb of Hobart. It is also one of Hobart’s oldest suburbs and consequently the area contains many historic churches. New Town became a municipality in 1907 but was absorbed into greater Hobart in the 1920s when its municipal status was relinquished.

New Town’s former Congregational Church is a lesser known church designed by James Blackburn (1803–1854), civil engineer, surveyor and architect. Blackburn was transported to Van Dieman’s Land for forgery and arrived in Hobart in 1833. He was employed in the Department of Roads and Bridges until pardoned in 1841. Blackburn was one of Tasmania's most original, technically proficient and imaginative architects. Examples of his work include Holy Trinity Hobart, the Congregational Chapels at Bagdad and Cambridge; St Mark's Pontville, St Matthew's Glenorchy, and Sorell Presbyterian Church.

The New Town Congregational Church reflects Blackburn’s hallmark Victorian Romanesque style. The church’s closure and sale in 2004 and its somewhat secluded location, well back from New Town Road, has removed this magnificent architectural jewel from the public eye.

The church’s foundation stone was ceremonially laid on 20 October 1842 by Henry Hopkins, who is credited with establishing Congregationalism in Australia. Hopkin’s is buried in church yard and a memorial plinth can be seen near the street front. The church, though incomplete, was opened for worship on 1 June 1845.

An increase in the size of the congregation necessitated the construction of a gallery in 1858. I have yet to find a photograph of the interior of the church however, following extensive refurbishment of the building’s interior in 1895, a report in the Hobart Mercury provides a detailed description:

“The interior of New Town Congregational Church has just undergone extensive renovation, and it is now as spick and span as new-fashioned pews with a handsome pulpit, choir, and choir-front, (all nicely carved, stained and varnished), new colouring to the walls, fresh stencil work, dado, and stained windows, can make it….The edifice is a good example of the application of the Italian style of architecture to the building of places of worship, and it has now a very comfortable and becoming interior, the same having been remodelled upon a plan skilfully designed by Messrs. Ricards & Salier, architects, Hobart…The old-fashioned and uncomfortable straight backed pews and stone flagged aisles have been done away with. New flooring has been laid and handsome modern church pews of kauri pine are arranged on either side of a spacious centre aisle. At the entrance to the church a roomy lobby has been formed, having richly tinted lead-light panels and swing doors, The platform has been altered to give extra room for the organ and choir. A handsome new pulpit of cedar wood (the gift of a lady and her son)i with canopied back, the whole made in the Italian style in keeping with the rest of the church, has been erected on one side of the choir. The pulpit is beautifully carved (the work of Mr. Michael Keats) and show some fine panel work. A Communion table and three chairs of ecclesiastical design have also been specially made to complete the general good effect. The staining ,varnishing, etc, have been well done by Mr. James Nichols, of Moonah. Two stained window have been presented by a lady. Some handsome gas brackets have been put up,… Even the churchyard has been nicely done up and re-fenced, ….Another feature worth mentioning is that this church will be the first in the,  colony to celebrate Holy Communion with a separate wineglass for the use of each communicant….”.

In 1898 a separate hall was built to accomodate the Sunday School. About this time the burial grounds around the church building were officially closed. In 1918 a pipe organ was installed at a cost of £350, from a bequest made by Miss Emma Mills. This replaced a harmonium which had been purchased in 1852.

In the 1950s New Town Congregationalists and Presbyterians started working towards a single parish and in 1965 the church became the place of worship for the two religious communities. Attempts to include the New Town Methodists in a united parish did not eventuate until the establishment of the Uniting Church in 1977. The establishment of the Uniting Church did not reverse the problem of a dwindling congregation which ultimately led to the church’s closure at the turn of the century. 

Libraries Tasmania:  NS1013-1-75
 
                                                              Libraries Tasmania: NS2495-1-79

                                                          Libraries Tasmania:  NS1013-1-90J2K

Libraries Tasmania. NS165-1-205

                                                         Libraries Tasmania NS1013-1-90J2K

                                                         Libraries Tasmania. AUTAS001612541271

                                               Libraries Tasmania. AUTAS001126183722W800

                 The church interior - 1897 Harvest Festival - photograph supplied by Greg Johnston

             The church interior - 16 March 1919 - Harvest Festival - photograph supplied by Greg Johnston

         The church interior - 16 March 1919 - Harvest Festival - photograph supplied by Greg Johnston

          The church interior - 16 March 1919 - Harvest Festival - photograph supplied by Greg Johnston


                                                      A recent photograph of the church  
                 Photo courtesy of http://www.ourtasmania.com.au/visitorsguide/tas-churches.html

                                                                   photo: D. Grant 2020

                                                                              photo: D. Grant 2020

                                                                         photo: D. Grant 2020

Sources:

Courier, Friday 21 October 1842, page 3
Tasmanian News, Friday 8 November 1895, page 2
Mercury, Saturday 9 November 1895, page 1 

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.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/B/James%20Blackburn.htm

http://www.ourtasmania.com.au/visitorsguide/tas-churches.html








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