No. 1010 - New Norfolk - High Street Catholic Chapel (1850 - 1887)

New Norfolk is a historic town on the banks of the Derwent River, approximately 40 kilometres west of Hobart. It grew dramatically when settlers from Norfolk Island moved into the district after 1807. When Governor Lachlan Macquarie visited the township he named it Elizabeth Town after his wife. However, it was later decided to adopt the name New Norfolk, acknowledging the district’s many Norfolk Islanders.

The first Catholic Mass to be held in the township was held by Father Philip Connolly in 1821. In about 1850, New Norfolk’s police court house, located on High Street, was purchased by the Catholic Church for the sum of £450. The building was converted for use as a presbytery and the courtroom itself became the chapel.

The earliest reference to the building’s use as Catholic chapel dates to January 1850 when the Colonial Times reported that the chapel was the venue for a subscription ball:

“On Friday evening….the delightful town of New Norfolk was enlivened by the merry pipe and tabor. The Roman Catholic chapel was made the Hall of the festivity, which was very tastefully decorated…”.

A further early reference to the chapel was also recorded by the Colonial Times in 1855 when its local correspondent for New Norfolk reported that: “A fine-toned seraphin has been recently erected in the Roman Catholic Chapel, at this place.”

An online search of the Tasmanian Archives throws up a plan by the Office of Public Works, dated 1844, which appears to be that of New Norfolk’s police court. The ground plan and front elevation of the building provides an image of the building although the degree to which this was altered by the time it was purchased by the Catholic church is not known.

The court house was used as a chapel for approximately 35 years up until the completion of St Peter’s Catholic Church in 1887.

The old court house was retained by the Church until its sale in 1913. In October 1913 the Mercury reported:

“An old landmark came under auctioneer’s hammer here to-day, when the property situated on the corner of High and Bathurst streets, and belonging to the Roman Catholic Church, was sold by Messrs. A. G. Webb and Co. to Mr. P. Doyle, the well-known and popular proprietor of the New Norfolk Hotel. The land, which is well situated, and fronts on to the square, covers an area of 264 ft. by 94 ft., and realised the satisfactory figure of £310, the amount being actually the highest price yet paid for land on the town. The buildings on the property date back to the very old days of New Norfolk, having been originally erected as a courthouse,… and are now fast falling to decay. Over 50 years ago the authorities of the Catholic Church purchased the properly, ….the courthouse serving as a chapel, and the buildings attached were used as a residence for the parish priest and, in fact, served as such up till about three years ago….”.

In 1915 the building was significantly renovated and rebuilt as a guesthouse known as Rockhampton House. Until recently the building was used as an inn and cafe. Although the original building has virtually disappeared following numerous extensions and renovations, I believe that part of the courthouse remains intact and its outline can be observed in the centre of the building. (see photograph below).

Front elevation of the New Norfolk Court House (1844) Office of Public Works - Libraries Tasmania online collection - item number PWD266-1-1411

New Norfolk Court House (1844) Office of Public Works - Libraries Tasmania online collection - item number PWD266-1-1411

New Norfolk Court House (1844) Office of Public Works - Libraries Tasmania online collection - item number PWD266-1-1411

A google street-view image of the building at the corner of High and Bathurst Streets. I believe that the section outlined is the remnants of the original court house.


Colonial Times, Friday 25 January 1850, page 2
Colonial Times, Monday 7 May 1855, page 2
Tasmanian News, Thursday 10 November 1887, page 2
Mercury, Saturday 18 October 1913, page 10
Mercury, Saturday 22 May 1915, page 4

Southerwood, W. T Planting a faith in Tasmania : the country parishes. [W. T. Southerwood], [Hobart], 1977.


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