No. 1171 - Launceston - Catholic Apostolic Church (1898)

The Catholic Apostolic Church is a proto-pentecostal denomination founded in 1832 by the followers of Edward Irving. Irving was a Church of Scotland pastor and an exponent of the imminent ‘Second Coming’ of Christ and of the gift of speaking in tongues. As a revival movement with a strong millennialist focus, the church experienced strong growth in the late 19th century. When the last of the church’s original ‘apostles’ died in 1903, it became apparent that the Second Coming was not imminent, and the denomination underwent a rapid decline.

The Catholic Apostolic Church had only one church in Tasmania. The short-lived Launceston congregation was active for about 20 years.

The Launceston church’s origins date to 1888 following a visit by “an evangelist”, Mr Miller, who held a series of lectures in the Mechanics Institute. A local church was established in 1890 which met in the “Catholic Apostolic church-room” in the Quadrant, premises previously occupied by the Young Men’s Christian Association. By 1898 the denomination had grown to the extent that it was able to build a church at a site on Margaret Street.

The new church was officially opened on Sunday 4 September 1898. The building which had a Gothic facade was capable of seating 80 worshippers. The Launceston Examiner reported:

“The Catholic Apostolic Church which has been erected in Margaret-street was opened yesterday. According to the liturgy of the church three services were held at 11 a.m., 5 p.m. , and 7 p.m. respectively. At the last-named over 150 were present, the building being comfortably filled. An evangelist delivered a stirring address on the “The Fourfold Ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, prefigured in the Garden of Eden." The discourse was listened to with much interest. The church is very neatly furnished, the chancel presenting an imposing appearance. With the exception of the seats, which are of kauri, all the woodwork is Tasmanian blackwood. The three walls and buttress are of brick, but the back is of wood, the building being constructed in this way so that it can easily be enlarged if necessary”.

Not long after the church’s opening its congregation began to decline when it became apparent that millennialist predictions would not be realised. A report on a service held at the church in April 1904 noted that it was attended by “less than 20 worshippers”. A correspondent to the Examiner wrote:

“Those who delight in elaborate ritual and "high" church ceremonial may find them, to their hearts' content at the Catholic Apostolic Church, in Margaret Street. A neat stone building [sic], with well-kept and pleasing interior, is the ecclesiastical home of a small number of the adherents of this body. There are three “clergy"- gentlemen who during the week follow other avocations -, who give their services gratuitously. Not that they are to be placed in the same category as, for example, the "lay preachers" of the Methodist and other denominations….”.

One of the three “clergy” was William Wright Thornthwaite, an acclaimed Launceston musician. Thornthwaite had been organist at St. John's Church of England and later organist at the Paterson Street Methodist Church. He was also ‘City Organist’ and conducted the Launceston Philharmonic Society. Thornthwaite was also largely responsible for the formation of the Launceston branch of the Trinity College of Music, one of the first branches established in Australia. Thornthwaite’s departure from Launceston in 1908, to take up a position in Melbourne as “Chief minister of the Catholic Apostolic Church”, was a significant contributor to the closure of the Launceston church whose congregation had dwindled considerably by this time.

The date of the last service and of the church’s closure is not known. The Margaret Street building was purchased by the Church of Christ in February 1913, which it used for more than 80 years. The building is now used by the Bible Salvation Assembly.

The Catholic Apostolic Church. c1910 The photo shows the building prior to the extensions made after it was acquired by the Church of Christ in 1913. (Examiner 2014 - photographer not known)

Public notice of the church's opening - The Federalist

The building in 2018 (photo D.Grant)

Cyclopedia of Tasmania -1900


Daily Telegraph, 30 August 1888, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 17 May 1890, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 5 December 1891, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 17 August 1898, page 4
The Federalist, Saturday 3 September 1898, page 5
Launceston Examiner, Monday 5 September 1898, page 4
Examiner, Tuesday 12 April 1904, page 7
Daily Post, Monday 23 November 1908, page 5
Examiner, Monday 8 January 1940, page 6
The Examiner 8 March 2014
Cyclopedia of Tasmania, 1900, Volume 2, page 110


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