No. 952 - Gormanston - St Cuthbert's Anglican Church (1902-1930)

Gormanston is a former mining town located off the Lyell Highway, approximately 5 kilometres east of Queenstown. Once one of the larger mining towns on the west coast, Gormanston has slowly declined to the point of becoming a ghost town. The settlement was originally called Mount Lyell but was later renamed in honour of Viscount Gormanston who was Governor of Tasmania (1893-1900). At its peak Gormanston and neighbouring North Mount Lyell had a population of around 2000. The decline of mining activity has resulted in a steady and dramatic fall in the town’s population which was reduced to only 17 at the time of the last census.

Three churches established a Gormanston (Catholic, Anglican and Methodist) as well as a Presbyterian church at nearby Linda.

Regular Anglican services at Gormanston began in November 1898, supported by St Martin’s church at Queenstown, which had opened earlier that year. The Mount Lyell Standard and Strahan Gazette reported:

“The Rev. Mr Edwardes, of St Martin’s, preached his first sermon to a Gormanston congregation on Sunday last. Considering the weather conditions, there was a good attendance in the schoolroom, where the service was conducted, and the Rev. gentleman delivered an earnest and impressive sermon…..Mr Edwardes expressed the hope that before long the Anglicans in Gormanston would be able to meet in a church of their own”.

In fact four years were to pass before progress towards this end was made. In February 1902 construction began on a Mission Hall which was completed in time to open at Easter.

The Mount Lyell Standard and Strahan Gazette’s report on the official opening provides a description of the building:

“The new Mission Hall for the Church of England has been completed. It is a substantial wood structure 30ft long by 20ft wide and 12ft high to the wall plate with a coved ceiling. Attached to the building are two living rooms for the resident clergyman. It is built upon a block of land facing Henry street right in the centre of the town, and is in every respect well suited for the purpose for which it has been erected. The plans were prepared by Mr H. E. Gooding and the contract has been faithfully carried out by Mr J. Wilson. The opening services were held on Sunday, and commenced with a celebration of Holy Communion at 8 o'clock in the morning. There was a good attendance, and the rector the Rev W. J. Wellesley Smith was the celebrant, assisted by the Rev A. Ashcroft. At 11 o’clock matins were said followed by another celebration of Holy Communion and sermon by the rector. A children's service was held at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, when a large number of little ones attended. They were addressed by the Rev A. W, Ashcroft, who announced that a Sunday school would be started on Sunday next….”.

On Sunday 22 November 1903, the Mission Hall was dedicated to St Cuthbert by Bishop Edward Mercer. Bishop Mercer had arrived in Tasmania in the previous year and was to become immensely popular with ordinary people but less so with the conservative establishment. He was derided as 'the Socialist Bishop' and bitterly attacked by conservatives. Mercer encouraged the newly formed Labor Party and trade unions in eloquent speeches and lent support for the establishment of missions in the remote Bass Strait islands and West Coast mining camps.

Bishop Mercer’s visit to Queenstown and Gormanston was celebrated by the Zeehan and Dundas Herald:

“Democratic Bishop Mercer has arrived on Lyell, and called upon friendly visits to many, as a result of which he has established himself a great favourite. The only pity is that he must soon away from the West Coast, and we shall all of us feel the loss of his genial presence, and cheery words of encouragement. Dr. Mercer is physically a short person of good girt and immense grit, which is something in these mean times. Of high vital temperament, he goes through the world as a pleasure, and with the set determination to do good. He believes in human happiness in this vale of tears, and is wise enough to perceive that until men are happy they cannot be good. Consequently his philosophy leads him to conclude that whatever conduces to happiness is good, while the reverse is ruinous to a high standard of morality. A straight-out declaration of principle is a joy to Dr. Mercer, and he takes kindly to a fight, provided the cause be just, the battle be waged fairly, and its object for the common weal. He is an admirable hater of shams, and isnever afraid to say so. Also lashes at said shams— on occasions— and with dire result to hypocrites. Sincere, good natured, gentle, laughable, and loveable is the Bishop, and he is hereby wished length of days in order that the fine influences of his admirable character may be spread plentifully abroad and bring sunshine and hope to many a heart”.

Two years after the church’s dedication, the building received some finishing touches:

“Considerable improvements have been recently made to the interior of St. Cuthbert'a Church of England, Gormanston. A cheque for £20 has just reached the trustees from the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (England), in response to an appeal made when the Church was originally built. The sum named has been accordingly utilised in completing the interior by painting the walls in suitable tints. This work has been placed in the capable bands of Mr L. Jesty, and completed last Saturday. It reflects much credit upon his taste and skill. The walls are coloured a broken sienna, with subdued terra cotta base and chocolate stripe, while the celling has been nicely varnished, the whole presenting an attractive appearance. The church is now fully lit by acetylene gas, and possesses a fine American organ”.

In March 1909, disaster struck when a severe storm badly damaged the church:

“Early this morning a gale of hurricane force raged over the district, and removed all loose objects, such as palings and sheets of iron. At Gormanston, St Cuthbert’s Anglican church was struck by one particularly vicious squall, and one end of the building was wrenched off its foundation blocks, and was carried a distance of about seven feet. It now rests on the ground, with a very decided cant”.

The church was repaired but it could not weather the impact of a shrinking congregation brought about by a downturn in mining activity. The last service at St Cuthbert’s was held in 1929. In May 1930 the Advocate reported:

“Two local church buildings, St. Cuthbert’s (Anglican) and Methodist, were disposed of by public auction. The building material will be used for other building purposes by the purchasers”.

While St Cuthbert’s existed for less than 30 years, its story forms part of a rich history of mining communities which have vanished. I have not managed to find a detailed photograph of the church but it does appear in several photographs of Gormanston, some of which accompany this article.
A detail taken from an undated photograph of Gormanston. The town's three churches appear in the photograph: the Methodist church is in the right foreground, the Anglican church in the centre-left and the Catholic church sit above the central town. Source: Libraries Tasmania

 
Another detail of an early photograph of Gormanston.  The Methodist church, which opened in 1901 can be seen but the Anglican church is yet to be built - dating the photograph to late 1901/early 1902.    Source: State Library of Victoria



Sources:

Mount Lyell Standard and Strahan Gazette, Wednesday 16 November 1908, page 2
Mount Lyell Standard and Strahan Gazette, Tuesday 18 February 1902, page 2
Mount Lyell Standard and Strahan Gazette, Wednesday 26 March 1902, page 2
Mount Lyell Standard and Strahan Gazette, Wednesday 9 April 1902, page 2
Examiner, Friday 20 November 1903, page 5
Zeehan and Dundas Herald, Tuesday 24 November 1903, page 4
Zeehan and Dundas Herald, Monday 25 December 1905, page 4
The Mercury, Tuesday 30 March 1909, page 5
Advocate, Saturday 24 May 1930, page 10






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