No. 892 - Waratah - St James' Anglican Church - "People will forget their purses now and again"

Waratah is a former mining town located approximately 80 kilometres south of Burnie. For a brief time Waratah was the site of the largest tin mine in the world. The town had its beginnings in 1871 when James "Philosopher" Smith discovered tin at Mount Bischoff. The population of Waratah reached 2500 at its peak but is now under 300. 

Anglican services at Waratah began in the early 1870s with Reverend Richard Smith of Table Cape (Wynyard) making the treacherous journey to the mining camp on two or three occasions, holding services in a tent. In September 1877 Reverend R. Hayward of Emu Bay chaired a meeting where a decision was made to build a church. The foundation stone for the building was laid ceremonially laid on Monday 8 April 1878 by the Bishop of Tasmania, Charles Bromby:  

“The residents of Bischoff have first been gratified by receiving a visit from His Lordship the Bishop of Tasmania, who, accompanied by the Rev. R. Hayward and Mr. Willis, of Table Cape, left Emu  Bay on Friday by special truck, ….and arrived at Waratah on Saturday afternoon…. His Lordship and the other gentleman were the guests of Mr. Kayser [the mine manger] during their stay at Waratah. Mr. Kayser escorted the party to the mines, etc., explaining to them the progress that has been made in their development. On Sunday morning at divine service His Lordship preached to a large and attentive congregation, and also at evening service. On Monday he laid the foundation block of the proposed new English Church, which is to be dedicated to St. James”.

About 18 months were to pass before any significant progress was made with the building which was constructed by Mr J. Gaffney.

The church was opened on Sunday 17 October 1880. The Launceston Examiner’s correspondent reported:

“The ceremony of opening St. James's Church on last Sunday was most admirably and impressively conducted throughout. The day was like every day of nineteen out of twenty at Bischoff - raining in torrents. But this did not prevent a crowded congregation from being present at the morning service at 11 a.m. Divine service commenced with a processional hymn, "Onward, Christian Soldiers,"' after which the Rev. J. Harris Wills, Vicar of Forth and Leven, read the service in his more than usually fluent style, the rev. gentleman being evidently joyfully affected on the occasion….There was an evening service at 6.30 o'clock, which opened a with a processional hymn, "The church our foundation," the rest of the service being similar to that of the morning, except of course celebrating the Holy Communion….The collections on Sunday in aid of the building fund amounted to £13. On Monday evening another service was held in the new church, which was again crowded. The Rev. J. Harris Wills preached an appropriate sermon, which was listened to by all with marked attention, …At this service two pounds only were collected. People will forget their purses now and again….”.

An additional report in the Mercury provides a few details about the building:

“The church is a handsome little edifice, of an oblong form, constructed in the English style of architecture. The site is on the northern side of the company’s tramway, and opposite to the post and telegraph office.  The building committee require about £100 yet to pay off the debt and complete it; a very considerable sum to raise in our small community, ….”.

Another 10 years were to pass until the debt was paid off and the church was at last consecrated on Sunday 9 November 1890.  The year before it was consecrated, the church made history in being the first church in Tasmania, and possibly Australia, to be illuminated by electric lights.  Mr Kayser, the mine manager, was instrumental in providing electricity. In April 1889, The Colonist reported: “The manager of the Mount Bischoff Company has had a line laid from the dynamo that produces the light which illuminates the machinery sheds”. The event was no doubt a spectacle with the Tasmanian reporting that the “church was crowded to excess”.

In 1891 the church acquired a Sunday school building and parish rooms which were officially opened on Sunday 18 October. The Launceston Examiner reported:

“As regards the building itself, the erection is mainly due to the untiring efforts of the late incumbent, the Rev. S. H. Hughes, of Devonport, and his co-helpers, and will be of the greatest benefit to the children of the district. The building, which is situated on the opposite side of the road to the Mechanics' Institute, cost about £130, and is highly suitable for what it was intended, and it is very pleasing to be able to state that the building is clear of debt…”.

The gradual decline of mining activity at Waratah was mirrored by church closures in the town.  By the 21st century St James’ had fallen into a state of disrepair.  In 2013 the church was deconsecrated but its closure brought about a second life, with the building’s restoration and reinvention in 2016 as a history centre and community art gallery. The church is once again, as it was when it opened over 140 years ago, at the heart of the Waratah community. 

                           St James' Church, Waratah - photo supplied by Anne Dunham

                   St James' Church and Sunday school - photo supplied by Anne Dunham

                                     St James' Church, Waratah - photo supplied by Anne Dunham

                                St James' Church, Waratah - photo supplied by Anne Dunham

                              St James' Church, Waratah - photo supplied by Anne Dunham

                                 St James' Church, Waratah - photo: Libraries Tasmania

               St James' Church - now a history centre and community art gallery 
                                                  photo supplied by Anne Dunham


Weekly Examiner, Saturday 13 April 1878, page 4
Mercury, Tuesday 16 April 1878, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Friday 16 July 1880, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Monday 25 October 1880, page 3
Mercury, Friday 29 October 1880, page 3
The Colonist, Saturday 20 April 1889, page 25
The Tasmanian, Saturday 27 April 1889, page 19
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 15 November 1890, page 7
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 24 October 1891, page 1

ABC News online, Posted Sat 16 Jan 2016 at 11:34am, updated Sat 16 Jan 2016 at 11:49am, Historic gothic Tasmanian church given new lease on life after 135 years in Waratah, By Sallese Gibson.


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