No. 1172 - Launceston - Central Baptist Church - 'Duncan House' (1954-1981) "An Ecclesiastical Feeling"

Duncan House is a striking Art Deco-Gothic style building located on Brisbane street in central Launceston. The building’s bold appearance is far removed from that of a traditional church but it has had a very close association with the Baptist Church and was the location of the ‘Central Baptist Church’ for over 30 years.

Duncan House was built in 1934 and designed by architect Colin Philp. It was built as the Ford showroom and workshop for City Motors. The building was named after James Duncan, a staunch supporter of the Cimitiere Street Baptist Tabernacle.

James Duncan was a native of Dundee (Scotland) whose family migrated to Tasmania in the 1850s. He worked as a “shoeman” and later went on to establish businesses at Zeehan and Queenstown. He was best known as the proprietor of “James Duncan, The Boot Palace”, a business on Brisbane Street selling “high-class fashionable footwear”. For a number of years Mr. Duncan was managing director of McarHugh's pottery on Wellington-street.

When James Duncan died in 1930, he left a significant bequest to the Launceston Baptist Church:

“It was directed, among other things, that the trustees should devote £1,000 to provide an annuity fund from which would be paid retiring allowances to accredited ministers or home missionaries of the Church, £2,000 for the purpose of purchasing sites for church purposes in Launceston or vicinity, “£4,000 to provide an income for a home missionary superintendent, £4,000 for' the purpose pf equipping a now site for the erection of a church in Launceston, and £500 for a hostel for young women and for Women's Christian Temperance Association purposes at Launceston…”.

As a result of this windfall, the Cimitiere Street Tabernacle acquired land on Brisbane Street with the intention of building a new church in a more central location. It was on this land that Duncan House was built.

With the building completion in 1935, the Examiner reported:

“The building was erected by the Baptist Church trustees, as the first phase in the proposed scheme of development of the property. The design was required to have ecclesiastical feeling, and to be suitable for future use for church purposes, and to set the standard of design for other future buildings there”.

In the same year that Duncan House was built, Colin Philps designed another Baptist church in Newstead. The Newstead church has a curious link with Duncan House in that it uses two blocks of crenelated parapet, which were perhaps surplus to the needs of the city building.

In 1949 the Cimitiere Street Tabernacle was put up for sale. Plans were drawn up for a new church to be located on the site of a service station adjoining Duncan House, that was also owned by the Baptist church. Following the sale of the Tabernacle, the Baptists moved into Duncan House having undertaken refurbishments which included a church hall. In October 1954 the Examiner reported:

“The Launceston Central Baptist Church on Sunday opened its new church hall in Duncan House, Brisbane St., as a place of worship. The new hall will be used for services until the new Central Baptist Church is built on the adjoining site. Completion of the hall, which is tastefully furnished and establishment of the Tasmanian Baptist Union office and book room at Duncan House, mark a big step forward in the work of the denomination. The Minister (the Rev. E. E. Watson) who is also secretary of the Tasmanian Union, said at the well attended opening services that while it was fitting that the appointments should be comfortable, the main purpose was lost if the spirit of true worship was absent….”.

The intention of building a church alongside Duncan House was never realised and was abandoned altogether when a new opportunity arose in the late 1970s.

In 1975 Christ Church Congregational Church combined with Chalmer’s Presbyterian and Paterson Street Methodist churches, to become the Pilgrim Uniting Church. In 1981 the Central Baptist Church bought Christ Church and Milton Hall on Frederick Street, forming Christ Church Baptist Church, later known as City Baptist Church. In 2022 the Frederick Street buildings were sold to Rob Sherrard, co-founder of Virgin Australia.


Duncan House (2014) Photograph: John H. (Bonzle)


Duncan House (2022) - Duncan Grant


Newstead Baptist Church - the building features the same blocks of crenelated parapet as used on Duncan House. Photo: Duncan Grant (2018)

The Examiner - 1954

A simple stone marks James Duncan's grave at Carr Villa Cemetery - Photo: Julie Henderson & Lacey Milier (findagrave.com)



Sources:

Examiner, Monday 3 March 1930, page 6
Mercury, Saturday 2 August 1930, page 8
Examiner, Friday 2 August 1935, page 10
Examiner, Saturday 30 July 1949, page 4
Examiner, Tuesday 5 October 1954, page 9
Examiner, Thursday 4 November 1954, page 13
Examiner, June 14, 2022.

https://citybaptistchurch.net/about-us/our-history/

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