No. 1034 - Longley - St Luke's Anglican Church (1893-1897) 'Baptism by Fire'

Longley is a rural settlement approximately 20 kilometres south of Hobart. The area was originally named Leslie, a name that has been preserved by Leslie Hill, on the eastern side of Longley.

Three Anglican churches were built at Longley, all of which were destroyed by bushfires. The first church was built in 1892 and consecrated and dedicated to St. Luke in February of the following year. This building was lost in the ‘great bushfires’ that swept across southern Tasmania in the summer of 1897/8. A second church was built and rededicated in 1898. This building was similarly destroyed in a bushfire in 1931. The third church, built in 1932, was lost in the 1967 bushfires. This building was not replaced.

The focus of this article is on Longley’s first Anglican church which only stood for a little over four years. The church was a small weatherboard structure build by ‘Mr Stuart’. The church’s foundation stone was ceremonially laid by Bishop Montgomery on Tuesday 15 March 1892. The Mercury’s Longley correspondent reported:

“The foundation-stone of Longley Church was duly and solemnly laid on Tuesday 15th inst., in the presence of a large gathering of people, some of whom were from long distances. The unfortunate weather prevented many from coming. Bishop Montgomery arrived at Mr. Cherry's hotel at 2 o'clock punctually, and took advantage of the opportunity to say many kind and encouraging words to the Church Building Committee and others who were present. There is no doubt-but that a visit from our Bishop has a most stimulating effect upon church workers. Through the energy of the Church Committee the ground had been cleared and a tent erected, and the Ladies’ Committee, led by Mr. Herbert Coombes, provided an excellent tea. At 3 o'clock a procession was formed at Mr. Cherry’s house, the ladies of the choir leading….”.

“The foundation stone having been duly laid by the Bishop, an offertory was taken and nearly £17 placed on the stone. …At the conclusion of the service the Bishop spoke a few earnest words which went home to tho hearts of the hearers. The Longley people are much to be congratulated on the success of their efforts for the Church….”.

No image of this building is available but a report in the Mercury published when the church opened reveals that it was weatherboard building with a bell tower, probably a bell cote, given the modest dimensions of the building. The Mercury reported the opening as follows:

“On Wednesday, 22nd inst., the new church of St, Luke at Longley was consecrated by the Bishop of Tasmania in the presence of a great number of people, who taxed the seating capabilities of the new church to the utmost. Chairs were obtained, but many had to stand during the service. The day was beautifully fine, and people came from Victoria (Huon), North West Bay, Tinderbox, Kingston, Hobart, and the Fern Tree and other places. Punctually at 2:30 the solemn Consecration Service began. The Rev. J. W. H. Geiss acted as Bishop's chaplain. The Bishop gave an earnest and impressive address, and the whole service was deeply devotional and instructive”.

“Both the exterior and the interior of the church were much admired, and reflect great credit upon the builder, Mr, Huxley. The texts, made by Mrs. Knight, of Kingston, came in for much praise, and we are greatly indebted to the Rev. J. W. H. Geiss and Mrs. Geise for a handsome carpet for the chancel. Too much praise cannot be given to the Church Committee, consisting of Messrs. Herbert Combes, D, Ludby, W. Vince, R. Rollins, and R. Worsley, for their unfailing energy and devotion to the work, and they are to be congratulated upon the success which has attended their efforts”.

“An organ (but alas, an old one has been placed in the church, and was played by Mrs. de Co√ętlogon, the congregation joining most heartily in the hymns. Mrs. de Co√ętlogon hopes to form a choir, and perhaps new organ will soon be forthcoming….It may be added that we have a bell tower with, a nothing inside it, so that but great want is a bell…”.

The church got neither a new organ or a bell as it was destroyed in the bushfires that swept through Southern Tasmania in sweltering temperatures well in excess of 40 degrees. The following report from the Mercury, which mentions the destruction of St Luke’s, is reproduced here in full. It is a horrific and confronting account of Longley’s destruction in the summer of 1897:

“All that was seen in the neighbourhood of Fern Tree was bad enough, but it was upon nearing the North West Bay River that the desolation and ruin at Longley began to be seen. Viewed from the rising ground there was nothing but blackness where on the morning of Friday there were pretty little cottages, fruitful orchards, and beautiful bush scenery. The telegraph posts were lying on the side of the road burnt off, the wires all bent, and the insulators strewn about, as they were all the way to the end of Lower Longley, a distance of some seven or eight miles. Upon reaching the North-west Bay Rivulet Mr. Gellibrand's two cottages were seen to be razed to the ground. The bridge, under which so many of the terror-stricken people were fortunate enough to save their lives, having been crossed a big gum tree, burnt down in the fearful blast, lay across the road still smouldering, and stopped all further progress with vehicles. The Huon coach with mails and passengers could go no further, neither could the brake load of people who also came down to see the place”.

“The ruins of the Longley Hotel and stables, Jones' (the groom's) cottage, opposite, and the stables and the police office, and the Roman Catholic church, were inspected. All were reduced to ashes. The carcasses of three horses lay on their sides where the stables were, the poor animals having been roasted alive. One horse had the harness on at the time. It belonged to Mr. Gilbert, of Port Cygnet, who was driving back to the Huon with a party of four visitors from Melbourne, when the fire coming from the direction of Lower Longley forced them to beat a retreat to the hotel. The horse was stabled whilst the visitors went to get refreshments, leaving the buggy standing in front of the premises on the road side. Whilst they were at the hotel the awful flare commenced, and they, as well as the landlord (Mr. Digges) and his family, had to fly to the bridge, leaving all behind”.

“Not a thing in the hotel was rescued. Whilst fleeing to the rivulet they could hear the poor animals crying out in their distress. At many other places scenes of a similar nature were presented. Miss Matthews was being injured by the frantic animals, and Mr. Matthews, sen, and wife had to escape for their lives with the daughter suffering from broken ribs. An improvised stretcher was used to take her along. She was subsequently conveyed to the Hobart Hospital where she died on Saturday. Jones, the groom, who had set out towards the Huon with the coach, was forced back, and barely had time to see his son alive. Mr. Digges rescued an enfeebled old man, named Pitham from his hut with great difficulty, Mrs. Pitham, being more active, managing to fly unaided. At first Mr. Digges thought the fire would leap over his premises, and it actually did lay hold of Jones' cottage before the hotel began to catch, but quickly both places were demolished. The Roman Catholic church, police office, Anglican church, post office, and Matthews' were almost simultaneously ablaze”.

“Mrs. Tabor, a widow, was with difficulty rescued from her burning house by her sons and taken to the bridge. Father Holehan had to quit his pretty little place on the rise, for the same rude refuge, and where the dead body of Mr Jones' boy was also soon laid, the landlord of the hotel helping Jones in getting his children to the bridge. The homes of both the Matthews', senior and junior, were quickly destroyed, the animals in the paddocks raving about and making a hideous noise at they perished”.

“Mr. T. Armstrong managed to save his house and immediate surroundings by early setting the bush near at hand ablaze, for it ran out to meet the great fire. Mr Armstrong was afterwards able to render valuable assistance, helping to save the life of Mr. Matthews, sen., and others, not escaping scatheless himself, as he got his hands burnt, Mr. Coombs, sen., an old man, was only just helped away in time from the post office, Mr. T. H. Matthews, with his wife and child, rushed to the bridge to save their lives without having time to put on a single extra garment, for they, like others on such a sweltering hot day, were lightly clothed”.

“The sad fate of their fruit picker Rates has already been alluded too. Mr Herbert Coombes helped to get his sister, the postmistress away, leaving the post office and all its contents burning. The building contained a safe, but so fierce was the fire that, with the exception of a policy of insurance and a few much crumpled up bank notes, its contents were destroyed. Jones, the groom, had about £17 in gold in the house, but up to Saturday afternoon a sovereign and a half-melted half-sovereign was all that could be found of the money. Mr. Coombe is reported to have got into a hollow tree with his wife and six children, and by using wet blankets managed to escape”.

“The black bridge below the site of the hotel was still burning on Saturday, and in the afternoon it went down with a crash. The coach driver, McDonald, was met walking up from Lower Longley carrying a saddle. It appeared that he attempted to get through on the previous night on horseback when he got stopped by falling trees. He unsaddled the horse and turned it into the bush, while he sought refuge where he could. Considerable anxiety was felt about him till he put in an appearance on Saturday morning. He stated that there were numerous burning trees down across the road all the way to Lower Longley. Beyond there the road to the Huon was clear”.

“The Rev. Father Holehan, the Catholic clergyman stationed at Longley, lost by the fire his house, church, and nearly his own life. He can scarcely be said to have saved the clothes in which he stood, for he had to fly from his house without his hat, and arrived in Hobart at 9 o'clock on Friday night bareheaded. When he saw that his church was in danger he rushed to it to save at least the sacred vessels but on opening the door he found that the interior was on fire, although up to that time there was no sign of fire on the outside, He did not succeed in saving the sacred vessels, but got himself severely burned and had to retire. Father Holehan's sister, who lived with him, escaped with him to Hobart. The reverend gentleman reached town in a deplorable state of mind and body. Since Friday night he has been staying at St. Joseph's Presbytery, Barrack-square, where many sympathising friends have called upon him….”.

While the short-lived church barely rates a footnote in history, the story of its destruction, like that of the two churches which replaced it, is a reminder of the destructive forces of nature that periodically impact on Tasmania. The history of the churches that replaced St Luke’s will feature in futures articles on Churches of Tasmania. 

Ruins at Longley - most likely those of the Longley Hotel (1898) Source: Libraries Tasmania - E.R. Pretyman Collection Item No. NS1013/1/347

The Longley Bridge under which local residents sheltered from the fire. Source: Libraries Tasmania - E.R. Pretyman Collection Item No. NS1013/1/2031

A public notice appearing in the Mercury - 9 March 1892

A photo of the second church built at Longley which opened in 1898. Source: The Mercury


Mercury, Wednesday 9 March 1892, page 3
Mercury, Friday 18 March 1892, page 2
Mercury, Saturday 25 February 1893, page 1
Daily Telegraph, Friday 31 December 1897, page 3
Mercury, Monday 3 January 1898, page 3
Mercury, Saturday 10 October 1931, page 3
Mercury, Friday 31 December 1937, page 3

Henslowe, Dorothea I. and Hurburgh, Isa. Our heritage of Anglican churches in Tasmania / by Dorothea I. Henslowe ; sketches by Isa Hurburgh [S.l 1978


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