No. 983 - Hollow Tree - Montacute - St James' Chapel

Montacute is an historic property in the Clyde Valley situated 14 kilometres south of Bothwell, on the Hollow Tree Road. This road was once the coach link between Hamilton and Bothwell. Montacute was was purchased by Captain William Langdon and added to his original land grant of 1823. In 1857 Langdon built a family chapel at Montacute.

William Langdon was born in 1790 at Montacute vicarage, Somerset, England; the fifth son of Rev. William Langdon. He joined the Royal Navy at the age of 13 at the time of the Napoleonic wars. Following the Peace of Paris, Langdon retired from the navy and bought a merchant vessel, The Lusitania, and sailed to Sydney and Hobart Town, where he landed in 1821. Over the next few years Langdon acquired several more merchant ships.

In 1823 Langdon received a grant of 1500 acres on the Clyde River to which he added another property which he named Montacute. In September 1834 Langdon settled in Van Diemen's Land with his wife and a daughter. Langdon is responsible for introducing blackbirds, thrushes, goldfinches, pheasants and partridges to the colony.

In 1838 he returned to England, possibly due to his wife Anne’s poor health. In 1844 Ann Langdon died and in 1846 Langdon returned to Tasmania with his second wife. In 1853 he was made an honorary naval commander and was appointed to the Tasmanian Legislative Council. Langdon was staunch supporter of the Church of England and in 1860 he was largely response for introducing the practise of opening parliament with prayer. With the arrival of responsible government he was elected to the Legislative Council in 1859.

As a man of some influence it is not surprising that the opening and consecration of St James’ Chapel in November 1857 was prominently reported. The ceremony was led by Tasmania’s first Bishop, Francis Nixon. The occasion was described at length by the Courier and most of this report is reproduced here:

“On Wednesday, Nov. 11, a very interesting event in the history of the Church of Tasmania took place at Montacute It was the day fixed for the consecration of St. James’ Church, lately built by the Hon. Capt. Langdon. This edifice has been completed within the last two years, entirely at Capt. Langdon’s expense”.

“The church is in the Gothic style, beautiful in its simplicity, as churches should be. The old church porch and the fine old arched doorway have their proper places. The windows are all of the lancet kind. On the roof, at the east end, there is a stone cross - the token of which we are not to be ashamed - and on the opposite end is a raised niche for the bell. The whole building is of light but durable sandstone, well wrought. There is everything in this little church to remind the devout of the 'House of Prayer,' where our forefathers worshipped in England”.

“The inside is even more striking than the outside. No pains or expense have been spared. From end to end, from floor to roof, all is complete. Every thing has been done which the servant of God should do to build a temple meet for the worship of Him who dwelleth in the heavens. The pulpit, the reading desk, the scats, are all of dark wood, well wrought and varnished. The roof is open and lofty. The rafters are of dark varnished wood like the seats. The church is beautifully adapted for the voice. The lowest tones are perfectly audible in the furthest corner”.

The communion plate was a present from the generous Mrs. Seal, of New Town. All other things connected with the church and its fittings were the gift of Capt. Langdon, Besides this, Capt. Langdon has endowed the church with £50 per annum. The site of the church is on a rising ground, not very far from Montacute House. The ascent has been made easy by a carriage drive and bridge. Some high rocks rise perpendicularly above the hill on which the church stands and these, bold and protecting, throw an air of peace and stillness around, a very pleasant atmosphere for a church”.

“At 11 a.m. the Bishop and Archdeacon arrived at the churchyard, and were met there by the Revs. Hesketh, Wright, Ball, Murray, Garrard and Adams, and the Hon. Donor. Mr. Hesketh, incumbent of Bothwell and the new church, officiated as registrar. After the usual formalities the Bishop and clergy proceeded to the church. The doors were thrown open, and soon the seats, the aisles were filled, and many had to content themselves by standing near the door, while others were forced, for want of room, to remain outside. It must have been vary gratifying, not only to the bishop, but also to Capt. Langdon, to have seen so many of his friends, neighbours, and constituents gathered together, so goodly a crowd, for so excellent and good a purpose”.

“The Bishop read the consecration service, and the Rev. E. P. Adams the service for the day. The singing was very respectable for a village church….After service the assembly adjourned to the house, where tables were spread, and hospitality was the order of the day. - And indeed it is to be hoped that all partook of the abundance provided, for divers of them came from far. The eating being over, His Lordship, in spite of a very severe attack of influenza, addressed those who were gathered together from the verandah in the open air. The Bishop's speech was an admirable one, ….While thanking Captain Langdon for his work and labour of love, and reminding him that the expenses and trouble that he had undergone would never make him one penny the poorer, His Lordship considered it the duty of all who were raising a tenantry around them and leading out emigrants to their farms to provide for their spiritual no less than their temporal welfare…..The Bishop preached at Bothwell on Sunday in the morning, and in the new Church at Montacute in the afternoon”.

St James’ is still used for services from time to time and forms part of the Southern Midlands parish. When the Montacute property was acquired by the Hallet family around the turn the 20th century, they took on the role of custodians of the church and funded its renovation in the year of its centenary. The family continues with this role and maintenance and restoration of the church is ongoing. I have not visited the church and have used photographs from the Tasmanian State Archives for this article. No photograph’s of the church’s interior are available.
St James' c.1983 - State Library of Tasmania LPIC33/1/69

State Library Tasmania - photograph: Sir Ralph Whishaw (1966)

State Library of Tasmania - NS3195/1/4666

State Library of Tasmania - NS3195/2/1323

State Library of Tasmania - NS3195/1/529

Montacute House (1967) - State Library of Tasmania -  NS3195/1/3785


Courier, Wednesday 18 November 1857, page 2
Mercury, Monday 26 May 1879, page 3

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


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