No. 876 - New Town - St James' Anglican Church - "The Benefactress of the 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.

St James’ Anglican church is one of a handful of Tasmanian churches that largely owes its existence to the generosity of single benefactor. The church was established in 1916 in response to new housing development around Augusta Road and the opening of a tram service to Lenah Valley. However, the cost of land in the area was prohibitive and the construction of a church was delayed due to financial considerations.

This situation changed with with a generous donation of £1300 from Mrs Catherine Watt, widow of Mr Gilchrist Watt. In 1915 a paddock adjoining Augusta Road was purchased from Mrs H.H. Brent, of Beaulieu at a cost of £500.

Work began on the church in 1916 with the foundation stone ceremonially laid on Saturday 19 February. The church was designed by Rudolph Koch with provision made for further extension of the building. The Hobart Mercury’s report of the event described the planned church as:

“A brick structure in the Gothic style, with white stone facings to the windows, Bellerive greystone foundations, a tiled roof, and a porch. The interior will consist of a chancel and vestry, organ chamber, choir and nave, and will seat about 300 people…..The windows will have leaded lights, and seating and other woodwork will be of Tasmanian hardwood with oak finishes…”.

The church was dedicated to St James the Apostle on Monday 4 September 1916 in a ceremony led by Bishop Stephen and attended by the Governor, Sir William Ellison-Macartney. At the time of the dedication the western end of the church was incomplete. The building was orientated with the chancel on the eastern end so that the incomplete western end was not visible from the main road.

The unexpected death of Mrs Catherine Watts in January 1919 was to have a further dramatic impact on the development of the church. At the annual meeting of the congregation the rector, Rev. C.W. Wilson, reported that:

“The late Mrs Watt had in her will left her late residence, Hilldern, Augusta-road, and all the land attached to the house, together with most of the furniture, for the use of the rector as a rectory for all time. The will laid down that no part of the house or grounds were ever to be sold. The sum of £500 had been left to be set aside so that the interest from it could be used for the payment of rates, taxes and fire insurance on the house, thus enabling the rector to live there free of expense. In addition, the sum of £5000 was left for the completion and extension of St James's Church, to be used as required”.

The Mercury reported:

“Consideration would have to be given to the best means of spending the £5000 left by Mrs Watt. It might be decided to spend £2000 on the completion of the church building, and £2000 on the purchase of two adjoining blocks of land and the erection of a Sunday school and kindergarten-room which could be used for meetings and concerts, and part of which could be fitted up as a gymnasium for boys ….”

In her will, Catherine Watts also established the Gilchrist Watt Scholarship, one of the earliest awards established at the University of Tasmania. The scholarship is still awarded, more than a century after it was established.

The Watt’s bequest enabled the completion of the church and the erection of a parish hall which was completed in 1923. In 1926 a memorial window in memory of the “benefactress of the church” was unveiled by Bishop Snowdon Hall. In 1926 a Private Bill was introduced to Parliament enabling the Church of England overturn the terms of Catherine Watt’s Will and to dispose of her property and home, ‘Hildern’.



   
                                     St James' with the Parish Hall on the right.










                        "Hildern" 29 Augusta Road New Town - source: Google street-view 


Sources:

Daily Post, Friday 14 January 1916, page 4
Daily Post, Monday 21 February 1916, page 4
Mercury, Monday 21 February 1916, page 3
Mercury, Tuesday 5 September 1916, page 3
Mercury, Saturday 1 February 1919, page 6
World, Wednesday 19 March 1919, page 7
World, Thursday 9 November 1922, page 8
Mercury, Monday 14 December 1925, page 3
Mercury, Saturday 2 October 1926, page 3
Mercury, Tuesday12 October 1926, page 2

Henslowe, Dorothea I & Hurburgh, Isa Our heritage of Anglican churches in Tasmania. Mercury-Walch, Moonah, Tas, 1978.

 

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