No. 1157 - Railton - St John's Anglican Church (1888-1953) "Wretchedly Small"

Railton is a country town approximately 20 kilometres south of Devonport. The settlement was first known as Redwater Creek. The name Railton was in use from the 1860s when a tramline was built through the area. When the railway arrived in the 1870s it was to have a significant impact on the town which gained a new hotel and a public hall as well as several churches.

The Anglican presence at Railton can be dated to 1885. A newspaper report in that year reveals that the first religious services were:

“…Conducted by the respected minister of the district, the Rev. William Hogg. The room used was at one of the local stores; but this being somewhat inconvenient, the public school was applied for, and granted free of charge. Thus for two months the school building has been used; but the attendance has dwindled down to almost nil, in respect to adult worshippers”.

The construction of a church was undertaken in 1887 but there appears to have been a considerable delay in its completion. It was intended that the church be consecrated in June 1888 but this was postponed due to the building being in an unfinished state. The Daily Telegraph reported:

“Dr. Sandford, Bishop of Tasmania, passed through Railton one day last week, on his way to Mount Bischoff. It had been his intention to consecrate the building, which, at a cost of £40, had been erected for church purposes. As the said building is yet a long way from being finished, this idea had to be given up, for the time being at least…”.

The Telegraph’s correspondent went on to complain:

“I feel disposed to think that His Lordship will be consistently surprised when he does come, as the building is no great ornament, and wretchedly small, for the purpose for which it is intended…”.

The Bishop’s appearance at Railton in July seems to have had the effect of expediting the building’s completion. Daily Telegraph reported:

“Since the Bishop’s visit, the builder has made all haste with the work, so that in the course of a few days the edifice will doubtless be handed over to the trustees”.

The Telegraph’s optimism was misplaced because in late July another complaint about the lack of progress is revealed in a letter published in the Devon Herald under the pseudonym ‘CHURCHMAN’ of Railton:

“…I should like to know why services for a long time have been discontinued…and [that a] report circulated during last week that the new church would be open on Sunday morning, July 20th, ….for on reaching the so-called church I was disgusted to find no clergyman there, and the structure minus the windows, unfinished both inside and out, no seats, in fact in a state of muddle”.

There is no newspaper record of an opening ceremony but the church was completed before the close of 1888 for a report of the Diocesan Synod in November records that a “chapel at Railton had been completed”.

In 1898 there was another letter of complaint about the church written to the Formby Post, this time under the pseudonym of “ONE WHO WAS THERE”:

“It is with regret I have to complain of the conduct of a certain member of the Railton Anglican Church, in allowing his dog to remain in church during divine service, as on more than one occasion the dog has barked and snapped at people when going to their seats. I think, out of common decency, people should leave their dogs at home when going to church, as it is not only a disgrace to the owner but an annoyance to the congregation, and an insult to the clergyman”.

While the church may have been “wretchedly small” it did serve the Railton Anglican community for over 60 years. Active planning for a new church began in 1946. In 1953 the construction of the present cement brick church began. [See No. 120 for further details]

St John's at Railton - Undated. Photographer not known. Presented by Joy Davenport to commemorate the centenary of the church. Photo posted by Deb Andrei - Sheffield Tasmania, History, Photos, Memories (Facebook Group)


Devon Herald Friday 14 October 1887, page 3
Devon Herald Friday 19 February 1886, page 
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 28 June 1888, page 1
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 5 July 1888, page 3
The Mercury, Wednesday 28 November 1888, page 3
North west Post Tuesday 12 July 1898, page 3
Devon Herald Tuesday 31 July 1888, page 3
The Advocate Friday 20 March 1953, page 8



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