No. 832 - Sorell - St George's Anglican Church

Sorell is one of Tasmania's oldest towns with the Pittwater district being settled in 1808. Sorell was formally established as a township in 1821 and was thereafter named after William Sorell, who served as Lieutenant-Governor from 1816 to 1824.

St George’s is the second Anglican Church built at Sorell, replacing an earlier church built on the same site between 1825 to 1827. The history of the first church which was plagued by significant structural problems, has been recounted in a previous article in ‘Churches of Tasmania’ [see No. 806]

In this article the story of the establishment of the second church is told through two lengthy reports taken from the Hobart Mercury. A good portion of both of these reports have been reproduced here as they provide a rich and interesting insight into life and attitudes of the time:

“Yesterday will be a day memorable in the annals of the usually quiet and old-fashioned township of Sorell, it being the occasion of laying the corner stone of a new Anglican Church. A large number of persons crossed the river by the ferry steamer for the purpose of being present at the ceremony, including Bishop Sandford, a number of the clergy, and many former residents of the district, one gentleman coming all the way from Peppermint Bay to visit the old place on so interesting an occasion. Upon arriving at Bellerive, about 50 persons were found waiting to be conveyed to Sorell, for whose accommodation a single four-horse coach, capable of carrying at the most liberal estimate 15 persons, was provided. The Bishop and Canon Dailey secured box seats, and the interior of the vehicle was occupied by ladies, leaving the remainder of the party to await further developments. The Rev. Mr. Woollnough, the Bishop’s organising secretary, was perhaps, the only one who was not in the least disturbed by the arrangements. He had decided beforehand to do the journey on Shanks’ pony, and an extensive experience with that useful creature enabled him to regard the 13 miles' tramp with comparative indifference. Attired, therefore, in a walking blouse, with a knapsack on his back, and a stout umbrella, and accompanied by Canon Mason, he cheerfully set forth, and the two pedestrians completed the journey in very fair time. We are afraid, however, that the Canon did not derive the same unmixed enjoyment from his walk as did his companion, and that he will have cause to remember for the next few days his trip to Sorell. The remainder of the travellers were shortly afterwards provided for, and all reached their destination safely. The morning was a delightful one, and the scenery of land and sea which is met with upon the road presented, many points of interest to those who saw the district for the first time”. 

“The new church which is now being built is erected on the site of the old one, which was probably one of the very oldest places of worship existing in the colony. It was erected in 1826, and would therefore now be about 57 years of age - a large substantial structure of freestone, and the picture of an old-fashioned English country church. A gallery ran round the interior, there were the old high pews, the organ loft, the large vestry, and the belfry; and under the lofty pulpit successive generations of Sorellites had listened to the ministrations of the Rev. Garrard, James Norman, Poole, and Brammall. The old building has witnessed many changes in the surroundings of the place, and in the God's acre of the church many of the oldest inhabitants lie at rest. One tomb that is particularly pointed out to the visitor stands in the shadow of the church, and is that of James Gordon, of Forcett, one of the earliest settlers in the colony, and who, as a magistrate performed responsible official duties during the bush-ranging days. He was connected with many of the old families, and died in 1842, at the age of 63 years. The churchyard was at one time prettily adorned with flowers, but now it stands in almost its native barrenness. The structure has for many years shown signs of decadence, and about four or five years ago services in it were discontinued, and have since been conducted in the Presbyterian Church. The building has now been pulled down, and the materials will be utilised in the new structure, which will not be so commodious as its predecessor, but will be amply sufficient for all requirements. The architecture is rather of a substantial than an imposing, or ornamental character. The foundation is of concrete, 5ft. wide and 4ft. deep, and about 5ft. of the structure is already erected. Messrs. W. C. Grubb Brothers are the contractors, and Mr. R. Robinson, inspector of works, and the reputation which the contracting firm have gained should give assurance of the satisfactory completion of the work. The amount of the contract is £920, and the building is to be completed by the 1st of March next”

“A large concourse of people assembled to witness the ceremony, including the visitors from town and elsewhere, and residents of the district from within a radius of 20 miles. gentlemen… The service commenced with the singing of the Old Hundredth, “All people that on earth do dwell," accompanied by an organ which had been placed on the ground. Prayers suitable for the occasion were offered by the Bishop, ….A bottle containing a document briefly detailing the day's proceedings, together with a copy of that morning's Mercury, the Church News, and a few coins of the realm, was placed in a cavity prepared for it, and the stone was then adjusted, and lowered into position….The proceedings then closed with the benediction, and the congregation were invited to place their contributions to the building fund upon the corner stone. A liberal response was made, and over £40 was collected. In the evening a tea meeting was hold in the Mechanics' Institute. A large number sat down to the tables, which were provided in a very creditable manner by the ladies of the congregation….”.

Construction was completed in less than six months and the church was consecrated in mid June 1884:

“The ceremony in connection with the formal consecration of this church was performed by Bishop Sandford on Wednesday morning, June 11. The want of proper accommodation for the Episcopalians of the district has been felt for a considerable time past. It is rarely in these colonies that any of the church buildings are found too large for ordinary purposes of worship, but for many years very considerable inconvenience had been felt by the residents of Sorell and the adjacent country, in consequence of the inordinate size of the edifice in which they were accustomed to meet for Divine service. Exertions were therefore made by the incumbent (Rev. C. J. Brammall), assisted by his congregation, to replace the old structure by a building more adapted to the wants of the locality…. The church itself is a plain unassuming structure, standing at the corner of Gordon and Fitzroy-streets, on the exact spot upon which stood the old State building which was erected in 1826. The area of the church property is about 4 acres 3 roods, and the dimensions of the new building are 38ft., by a depth of 64ft., and a height of about 18ft. The seating accommodation in the old church has been retained for its substitute, with the exception of two seats in the front, which have been reserved for the choir, and there will now be holding capacity for about 200 persons. At the back are the two vestries, but there is no ornamental porch in front. The foundation-stone was laid in August last, but the edifice was practically completed about two months ago….”

“The consecration ceremony was performed just before noon on Wednesday morning. The visiting clergy had left the city by an early coach, and owing in a great measure to the exceedingly unpropitious state of the weather, there was not by any means such a large attendance as might have been expected. The entry was made in the usual manner, the ordinary petition was read by Archdeacon Davenport, the Bishop replied, ….After this the prayers were said, the customary blessings performed, and Canon Bailey read the consecration….”.

“A tea meeting was subsequently held in the Institute Hall, at which about 100 persons sat down. At its conclusion, the incumbent of the church gave a history of the efforts made in connection with the erection of the building, and mentioned that the collections during the day amounted to £18 3s. 6d., ….They were anxious to pay off the debt of £300 by the end of July. They had to thank the Presbyterians of Tasmania for kindly allowing them the use of their church during the time that the new building was in course of erection, and also for allowing them to erect an altar within it….”.

The new church has faired much better than its predecessor and remains largely unaltered since it was consecrated over 130 years ago. Amongst the images below are archival photographs of the church and the former Sunday school as well as a selection of a few historic headstones found in the extensive cemetery.

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

                                                      The former Sunday school building
                                                             Source: Libraries Tasmania - NS479-1-54

                                                          Source: Libraries Tasmania - NS1553-1-373

                                                     Source: Libraries Tasmania - PH30-1-5637


Mercury, Wednesday 24 October 1883, page 3
Mercury, Thursday 12 June 1884, page 3


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