No. 1069 - Northdown - St Thomas' Anglican Church (1845-1878)

Northdown is a fertile agricultural district approximately 15 kilometres east of Devonport. In 1826 the area was settled by Captain Bartholomew Thomas who established the Northdown estate. Captain Thomas met a violent death in 1831 when he and his overseer, Mr Parker, were speared to death by a group of men from the ‘Big River tribe’.

In 1845, St Thomas’, the first Anglican church in the district, was built about three kilometres from the present church on a site close to the sea. Only the old church’s cemetery remains. St Thomas was one of the first churches to open on the North West coast at a time when Northdown was the only settled area between Stanley and the Asbestos ranges. The parish covered a vast area between the Rubicon and Blythe rivers.

Bishop Francis Nixon opened and consecrated the church on Wednesday 30 April 1845. The Bishop’s visit to Northdown was not without incident. The Hobart Courier reported:

“On Wednesday the new church at Port Sorell was opened for Divine Service; above one hundred persons attended, but, from the scattered nature of the community, it will be necessary to erect another similar building about seven miles distant from Northdown, at a place called the New Ground. On Thursday the Bishop left for Deloraine, accompanied as before by the Rural Dean, C. Meredith, Esq., J. P., and other inhabitants of Port Sorell. His Lordship had a narrow escape of meeting the bushrangers, as the man sent as a guide was stopped by two armed men, who stripped and otherwise ill treated him”.

There is no description or illustration of the church which was most likely a simple timber structure. The church was also used as a school room. In 1846 St Thomas was gifted silver communion vessels by Miss K.M. Partridge of Norwich (England). This gift was publicly acknowledged in an advertisement placed in the Launceston Advertiser. Miss Partridge’s connection to Northdown is not known.

By the 1870s St Thomas’ was considered to be no longer adequate due to its location and the building’s poor state of repair. In 1877 the Launceston Examiner reported:

“Strenuous efforts are being made to erect a new Episcopalian Church at Northdown. The old one, nearly as old as Northdown settlement, built on Mr Thomas’s estate, is very much dilapidated, and the new one is to occupy a more central position near the Public School”.

The new church of St James’ opened in 1878.

In 1954 the old church’s sesquicentenary was commemorated at an outdoor service held on the site of St Thomas’. The event was recorded by the Burnie Advocate:

“Over 300 people yesterday attended the open-air sesquicentenary commemoration service of the foundation of the first Anglican church in the county of Devon at Northdown. The Bishop of Tasmania (the Rt. Rev. G. F. Cranswick) was preacher….Bishop Cranswick thanked Archdeacon Walters for organising the commemoration…He stated that he stood on the site of the old church in the pulpit used by Bishop Nixon 109 years ago. He recalled the living faith of the pioneers….. Archdeacon Walters, of Latrobe, the Rev. H. A. Jerrim and Canon M’Cabe, of Devonport, assisted with the service which took place on the property of Mr. H. R. Thomas, between the present Northdown church…. and the sea. The day was delightful for the outing, and the large congregation reclined on the grass as the Bishop spoke over a public-address system. No signs of the old church remain, but there are trees which were planted in the grounds and a number of headstones in the old churchyard”.

In 1954 the old church’s sesquicentenary was commemorated at an outdoor service held on the site of St Thomas’. source:  Geoffrey Stephens, The Anglican Church in Tasmania : a Diocesan history to mark the sesquicentenary, 1992.

St Thomas' was built on land on the Northdown estate established Captain B. Thomas.

The cemetery at the site of St Thomas' church. Photo: Bernadette Dewhurst-Phillips

Launceston Advertiser, Thursday 13 August 1846


Courier, Saturday 22 March 1845, page 2
Courier, Thursday 8 May 1845, page 2
Launceston Advertiser, Thursday 13 August 1846, page 2
Weekly Courier, Saturday 27 December 1902
Examiner, Saturday 6 March 1954, page 13
Advocate, Monday 15 March 1954, page 4

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

Stephens, Geoffrey & Anglican Church of Australia. Diocese of Tasmania, (issuing body.) The Anglican Church in Tasmania : a Diocesan history to mark the sesquicentenary, 1992. Trustees of the Diocese, Hobart, 1991.


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