No. 973 - Perth - St Andrew's Anglican Church (1836-1878) "Unruly Waters"

Perth is one of Tasmania’s oldest towns being established in 1821 by Governor Lachlan Macquarie, who was so impressed with the area that he selected it as a site for a township. At the tIme Macquarie was staying with the pastoralist David Gibson and named it after Gibson's hometown of Perth in Scotland.

In its 200 year history, Perth had two Anglican churches, both dedicated to St Andrew, but located at different sites, about 200 metres apart. The first church opened in 1836 and was replaced by a larger church built in 1879.

The foundation stone for the first church was laid on Monday 10 November 1834 on a site alongside Perth’s cemetery on Elizabeth Street. The Launceston Advertiser records:

“The foundation stone of the long talked of Perth Church, was laid on Monday …By Rev. R. Davis, who upon this occasion delivered a short but very appropriate address. The site is an extremely picturesque one, on the front of the river, and the elevation, although plain, when finished will contribute in no small degree to the improvement of one of the prettiest townships in the Colony”.

The reported added:

“The only remaining improvement now wanting to make Perth flourish, is a bridge, which in the course of time may or may not be built, as seemeth good in the eyes of our sapient rulers”.

Perth was the first main settlement south of Launceston and also the site of a major crossing point over the South Esk River. By the 1820s the government punt service was capable of transporting people, carriages, wagons and cattle across the river from a landing at the base of Perth’s military barracks. By the 1830s calls for the construction of a bridge grew louder. News of government funding towards the construction of a church was regarded as improper given the necessity of a bridge.

In May 1835 the Cornwall Chronicle complained:

“The Government are about building a Church at Perth. Does it expect it to be attended! If so, we ask it seriously, by what means the inhabitants are to find their way to it, who live on the opposite side of the River, when the weather, or the freshes, prevent the working of the punt? We should have recommended the bridge to have been built, before the Church; — for, as the case in now, the inhabitants on both sides may at times be disappointed. We believe as yet a regular Clergyman is not appointed over the congregation, and it may so happen during one of these windy days (for Sunday is not at all times moderate) that he may not be able to stop the flowing of the unruly waters, or calm the blustering winds, more than his hearers. Thus may those persons who reside on the right side be disappointed of a Preacher, and the Church, under present circumstances, be rendered a useless structure— and this is for want of a Bridge over the South Esk!”.

Even before the foundation stone of the church had been laid in the previous year, the cost of construction of churches at Perth and elsewhere had been severely criticised. A Launceston newspaper, The Independent, was quite vociferous in its criticism set out in a lengthy editorial :

“Church building is all the rage now, and church building we call, in the present state of the Colony, perfectly superfluous. Mr. John Anderson Browne has taken a contract to build a church at Morven [Evandale], and another at Perth. We know nothing of the first-named place, but we understand the district contains some ninety or one hundred individuals. It may be right to build a church for this limited population, but we cannot think it is, while so many works of general utility are absolutely necessary in places where the populations are much more numerous - but of this, presently. The second place fixed upon for the purpose of erecting another church, is Perth".

"The population of this village is very small indeed; ….The population of this district cannot be very numerous, and within some four or five miles, (Norfolk Plains) there is a stately edifice, capable of accommodating half the number of church-going persons in the County of Cornwall. Now, we do not say we disapprove of church building; we think churches are very necessary; but we really cannot discover the utility of building churches, without there are people near them to visit them. It would be unpleasant to the worthy Pastor to have to preach to the bare walls; and it strikes us very forcibly that at Perth and Morven, BOTH the congregations will not be very great. We are sorry that His Excellency has thrown away so much of the public money for the purpose of building these two churches. The people might have gone from Perth to Norfolk Plains church [Longford], as they have hitherto done, for a few years longer; ….It is said that the Minister of Norfolk Plains is to officiate at both these new churches. We do not like that plan. It will not be long after he has commenced the duties of the two, (besides his own church at Norfolk Plains) before he will find the duty too laborious; it will be too tiresome, too fatiguing, and then, as a matter of course, a berth will be open for "two other objects of patronage".

“The people of Van Diemen's Land have blood-suckers enough hanging upon them, without having churches built to require the services of others. ….Instead of laying out these thousands of pounds for churches in the wilds, and scarcely known, much less inhabited districts of the country, would it not be better to expend them, or a portion of them, to bring the Cataract water into the Town of Launceston, and save six thousand people from being obliged to ruin their constitutions, by drinking filthy and foetid trash, unfit for beasts! ….Would it not have been as well to have laid out the money in making a passable road between Launceston and Hobart Town? Would it not have been as well to have expended it in building bridges about the country, where they are absolutely requisite—at Perth for instance? ….We will answer, Yes ! it would have been infinitely better, more creditable to the Government, and much more satisfactory to the people”.

For unknown reasons, some considerable time (almost fourteen months), was to pass between the laying of the foundation stone of the church at Perth and its opening on Sunday 17 January 1836. In this month the purchase of sittings were advertised and a list of subscriptions received was published, which appear to have met the cost of the church’s construction. The church and the adjacent burial ground were consecrated on 12 May 1838 by William Broughton, ‘the Lord Bishop of Australia’.

Almost nothing is know about the church’s appearance other than it was built of stone at a cost of almost £200. In 1837, about a year after the church opened, plans were prepared by convict architect, James Blackburn, for the “alteration of the Perth Chapel”.

It is not know if these plans were effected but they made provision for raising the height of the church’s walls to accomodate the inclusion of a large seating gallery. This may have have been intended as seating for convict labour employed to build Perth’s bridge, whose construction had been approved. If this is the case, the proposed modifications to the church were probably not made as Perth’s probation station (1837-1844) was built with its own convict chapel. The fact that the probation station was on the opposite bank of the South Esk, most likely made the church's planned convict seating gallery unfeasible, given the challenge of a river crossing for church services.

St Andrew’s seems to have suffered some structural problems for in 1851 major repairs of the building were undertaken. After this it was used for another 20 years, during which time it suffered further deterioration. By the 1870s the building was described as having “fallen into decay”. Presumably, the building was demolished soon after the new church opened at the site on the corner of Clarence and Frederick Street in January 1879.

* Click on the images below for their original size.

A detail of James Blackburn's plans for alterations to St Andrew's Church at Perth (1837)

Blackburn's plans for the alterations to St Andrew's Church (1837) - Libraries Tasmania online collection PWD266-1-1612J2K

Notice of the church's opening published in the Launceston Advertiser (1836)

A list f subscribers for the building of St Andrew's published in the Cornwall Chronicle.

A map of Perth c.1836 showing the location of St Andrew's church - Libraries Tasmania AF721-3-4

The site of the church to the right of Perth cemetery.


Independent, Saturday 25 October 1834, page 4
Launceston Advertiser, Thursday 13 November 1834, page 3
Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 9 May 1835, page 4
Launceston Advertiser, Thursday 14 January 1836, page 2
Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 26 March 1836, page 1
The Hobart Town Courier, Friday 4 May 1838, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 19 February 1851, page 2


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