No. 1161 - Gormanston - St Mary's Catholic Church and Convent School

Gormanston is a former mining town approximately 5 kilometres east of Queenstown. It was once one of the larger mining towns on the West Coast. In recent years Gormanston has slowly declined to the point of virtually becoming a ghost town. At its peak Gormanston had a population of around 2000. Originally called Mount Lyell, it was renamed in honour of Viscount Gormanston, Governor of Tasmania (1893-1900).

The construction of Gormanston’s Catholic Catholic church in 1898 was partly made possible by a bequest made by James Crotty, an Irish prospector and businessman. Crotty arrived in western Tasmania in 1879. In 1884 he paid £20 for a one-third interest in the most promising mine at Mount Lyell, the Iron Blow. Later he invested in the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company which extracted and smelted vast deposits of copper. In 1897 Crotty travelled to Britain to raise capital for the venture on the London stock exchange. However he became seriously ill while in London and died in 1898. He left most of his considerable estate to the Catholic Church, enabling the completion of St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne. St Mary’s church at Gormanstone was also to benefit from Crotty’s estate.

St Mary’s was ceremonially opened on Sunday 29 May 1898. The occasion was recorded by Queenstown newspaper, the ‘Mount Lyell Standard and Strahan Gazette:

“The beautiful church, standing on the heights of Gormanston, was solemnly blessed at 8 o'clock on Sunday morning last by the Rev. Father Gilleran, of St Mary’s Cathedral, Hobart, who immediately afterwards celebrated Mass therein. At 11 o’clock a second Mass was celebrated by the Rev. M O’ Callaghan, pastor of the district. …The donations received amounted to the handsome sum of £200 (including a donation of £150.) This money, in addition to the amount received at the bazaar, enabled the Rev. Father O'Callaghan to announce that the church was opened free of debt. Another announcement made was the receipt of £130 from the executors of the estate of the late Mr. James Crotty, to pay off the debt on the church. He also intimated that a monument was on foot to erect a memorial in the church to the late Mr. Crotty, who had proved such a benefactor to St. Mary’s Church. The Rev. gentleman expressed a hope that this memorial would take the form of a cottage for the accommodation of the nuns who would open a school for the children of the town…..”.

A convent school was established in 1904 by the Sisters of the Order of St Joseph of Cluny, France. The Zeehan and Dundas Herald reported that the church had decided to “purchase the shed building at the now defunct local railway station, and transform it into a Convent school”. However, in 1906 the religious Order withdrew after having “built up a school of goodly dimensions”. They were replaced by the Sisters of the Order of St Joseph who were based in Zeehan. In January, 1907, the ‘Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart’ arrived to teach in the parish schools of Queenstown and Gormanston. Some Presentation Sisters have also taught at Gormanston.

Twenty years were to pass before a dedicated convent-school was built. This was a cast concrete building designed by architect Gordon Douglas and built by Mr. H. Wood at a cost of £1040. On Sunday 3 May 1925 the new school was officially opened. The ceremony was recorded by the Advocate:

“On Sunday, May 3, the blessing and opening of St. Mary's new convent school, Gormanston, took place under the most favourable conditions…. As a result a large number gathered to witness the ceremony, and included many visitors from Queenstown….The new building is of reinforced concrete, and is of very pleasing appearance. There are two main rooms, measuring 30 feet x 21 feet, and 20 ft. x 21 feet, and also a recreation room 30 feet x 10 feet. It is furnished with new desks and boards; is fitted with semi-indirect electric lighting, and is electrically heated throughout”.

“At 3 p.m. the blessing and placing of the commemoration stone and the blessing of the building was performed by His Grace, Archbishop Barry, assisted by Rev. Father Shaw…. Archbishop Barry then addressed the gathering. He congratulated all concerned on the fine school they had erected. It was the first school built in concrete that he had seen. I was rather prejudiced against church buildings in concrete, but this feeling was now completely removed on inspection of this building. It was strong, well finished, neat, and cheap. It was admirably fitted for this exposed position, where, he believed, the winds hold their winter revels. It was pleasant to learn from Father Shaw that the non-Catholics had taken a very friendly interest in the erection of the school, and that they had given generous financial help and actively cooperated in all the functions for raising funds. Hence the school would be opened practically - perhaps absolute free of debt. This was a matter for congratulation in such a small district….”.

In 1953 the Gormanston Convent School closed. The Sister’s of St Joseph’s convent had already closed in 1946 after which the Sisters travelled daily by bus from Queenstown. A well known scholar who attended the convent school was former Senator John Robert Devereux, who was born in Gormanston in 1946.

The date of the closure of St Mary’s Catholic church is not known but it was probably in the mid 1960s. The convent school building may have been used as a place of worship after the school closed. The school has been demolished although its concrete foundations remain. Nothing remains of the original church. The clearest image of the church I have found appears in photograph of Gormanston from the State Library of Victoria which was taken in about 1920 before the convent school was built.


St Mary's Convent School - Planting A Faith in Queenstown


St Mary's Catholic Church may be seen in the centre of the photograph. A detail taken from the photograph referenced below.

Gormanston c.1920 - The town's three churches are visible in the photograph. State Library of Victoria


The opening of St Mary's Convent School in 1925. Father Shaw addressing the crowd. source: Planting a Faith in Queenstown.



The opening of St Mary's Convent School in 1925. Father Shaw is in  the photograph on the right, Archbishop Barry is on the right. Weekly Courier

The opening of St Mary's Convent School in 1925. Weekly Courier





Sources:

Zeehan and Dundas Herald, Thursday 19 May 1898, page 2
Mount Lyell Standard and Strahan Gazette, Wednesday 1 June 1898, page 3
Zeehan and Dundas Herald, Tuesday 30 August 1904, page 4
Zeehan and Dundas Herald, Thursday 27 October 1904, page 4
Zeehan and Dundas Herald, Thursday 9 November 1905, page 4
Advocate, Wednesday 13 May 1925, page 7
Weekly Courier, Thursday 21 May 1925, page 29

Southerwood, W. T.; Planting A Faith in Queenstown; Kingston, Tasmania 1974.



The Sword, Marist College Yearbook 1966

https://www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/C/Crotty.htm

https://biography.senate.gov.au/devereux-john-robert/

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