No. 939 - Glenorchy - St John the Baptist Catholic Church (1859-1963)

The city of Glenorchy is located approximately 7 kilometres north of Hobart's CBD. Glenorchy means ‘glen of tumbling waters’ and it is believed that Governor Lachlan Macquarie named the area after his wife’s birthplace; Glen Orchy, Argyllshire.The district was originally named 'King Georges Plains and the first centres of settlement were previously known as 'Kensington (Village)' and ‘O'Briens Bridge’.

Before the 1840s, the district’s small Catholic community travelled to St Joseph’s church in Hobart to attend Mass. With the arrival of Bishop Willson in 1844, Mass was celebrated at the Glenorchy Probation Station. The early settlement was focused around O’Brien’s Bridge, and it was here, on the corner of Grove Road and Main Road, that the first Catholic church was built.

The foundation stone for the church, was ceremonially laid on Tuesday 25 May 1858. The event was recorded in the Hobart Town Daily Mercury:

“A most interesting ceremony took place at O'Brien's Bridge yesterday. It was known that the foundation stone of a new Catholic Church, to be dedicated to St. John the Baptist, was to be laid, and large numbers of people assembled from Richmond, Bridgewater, Hobart Town, and the surrounding country to witness and to take part in the events of the day”.

“The Right Reverend; Dr. Willson, Bishop of Hobart Town, was present and took part in the ceremony,…the usual psalms appropriate to the occasion were chanted, whilst the Clergy passed in procession round the interior of the foundations of the building. Prior to placing the bottle, which contained a suitable inscription, coins, &c into the aperture destined to receive it, …All present expressed the pleasure they had felt in being present. Towards the close of the proceedings subscriptions to the amount of fifty pounds were deposited upon the stone by the visitors towards the building of the edifice”.

The church was officially opened by Bishop Willson in March 1859. The small sandstone Gothic Revival style church, designed by Henry Hunter, strongly reflects the influence of English architect and designer, Augustus Pugin.

The opening, reported by the Hobart Town Daily Mercury, reveals great community interest in the new church:

“Yesterday being Shrove Tuesday, was not inaptly selected as the day for solemnizing the opening of the Catholic Church of St. John the Baptist at O’Brien's Bridge, and a goodly concourse assembled together to be present at the ceremony, the sacred building being well filled with Catholics and members of other religious denominations who took an interest in the erection of the Church. Cooley's omnibuses having been put into active requisition….”.

The church was to become the centre of Catholic worship at Glenorchy for over a century. With a rapid growth of population after World War Two, Glenorchy became a separate parish and ‘St John’s’ had to accomodate five Masses each Sunday. On several occasions worship had to be held outside to accomodate parishioners.

It was these circumstances that led to the construction of a new church on a site on Bowden Street, alongside the Holy Name School, now Guilford Young College’s Glenorchy Campus.

The old church was used for religious instruction for State school children until it was sold and demolished in 1963. Stone salvaged from the demolished church was intended to be used to build memorial gates at the Bowden Street site but this has not eventuated.

St John the Baptist (undated) source:  "From Tiny Potatoes"

St John the Baptist - Catholic Church of Tasmania

The interior of St John's shortly before it was demolished. Image supplied by Peter L. Judge.

 St John's can be seen on the far left of this early photograph of Glenorchy - source:  Libraries Tasmania


Hobart Town Daily Mercury, Wednesday 26 May 1858, page 3
Hobart Town Daily Mercury, Wednesday 9 March 1859, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 12 April 1859, page 3

Southerwood, W. T Planting a faith : Hobart's Catholic story in word and picture. The Author?, Hobart?, 1971.

Verrier, Cecily; From Tiny Potatoes: A Great Parish Grew, (booklet) EMS & ENS Printing, Hobart, 1999.


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