No. 1207 - White Hills - St Paul's Anglican Church (1844-1882) - "Quite a Saturnalia Here"

This ‘blog entry’ is one of a series of articles about places of worship which are barely represented in the historical record. No images of these buildings appear to exist. My hope is that these brief articles may result in further information and images coming to light thus enabling a more complete history to be recorded.

White Hills is a rural area within Greater Launceston which lies about 15 kilometres south-east of the city. The first Anglican church at White Hills was dedicated to St. Paul and was officially opened on Sunday 14 January 1844. It was a brick building with lancet windows and was situated on a hilltop near the present wooden church. It was built at a cost of £900, assisted by a government grant of £410. The diary of Reverend John Mereweather, the first permanent rector, described the church as “pretty enough with its lancet windows”. However Mereweather complained about the building’s dampness, poor construction and the lack of a communion table.

On his arrival in White Hills in 1850 Mereweather wrote:

“I am told that I shall have some trouble with the people, who are very sore, after building a church, at having to remain so long without a minister. I do not at all despair, however, for I find that in nine cases out of ten, quarrels between clergymen and their parishioners arise from want of judgment, tact, and conciliatory manners on the part of the former”.

Reflecting on his first service at White Hills, Mereweather recalled:

“Unfortunately, the first service in the White Hills church was not quite so successful, as some of the congregation behaved as if they had never been in church before in their lives.” He continued…“It was a satisfactory congregation of forty-five and some singers from the neighbourhood volunteered their services as a choir, which I accepted . . . As a rule I dislike these amateur performers who, by their bellowing, destroy all congregational singing. However, they got on more subduedly than I had expected, except that they alleluiaed most uproariously”.

On Christmas Day in 1850 Mereweather held a service at White Hills attended by 30 people. But the clerk, who was the local headmaster, was so drunk he had to be escorted from the church. Four days later Mereweather records that the headmaster was still drunk and that Christmas time is “Quite a saturnalia here. Drunkeness abounds”.

Although built in 1844, the church was not consecrated until 1857. By the late 1870s problems with the building’s foundations made it unsafe for services. 

There is some question as to whether the church was demolished in 1882 or left to fall into ruin. In November 1882, a notice in the Launceston Examiner details the sale of material from the “White Hills Church” consisting of bricks, doors, sashes and cedar fittings. In 1884 a report of Diocesan Synod reveals some confusion over the fate of the church arising from the notice published by the Examiner:

“Rev. Canon Bailey asked Archdeacon Hales whether it is true, as mentioned in a public newspaper, that the materials of White Hills church had been sold, and if so, by whom, by whose authority, by whom was the money received, and how has it been applied? Archdeacon Hales had no information to give”.

However, a report published in the Daily Telegraph in 1887 clearly reveals that a ruined church was still standing:

“In order to make the best of my day's outing, I proceeded south to Corra Linn Bridge, from thence among the deep and grassy ravines of the White Hills. It is said that this locality once boasted of a large population, with numerous farms, hotels, a fine church, stores, etc., which make up a country township. I took my seat near the remains of what was once a beautiful brick church, commanding an extensive view, situated on the summit of one of the highest hills in the neighborhood. The congregation was large and well to do, rich in worldly goods, many of whom have departed long ago. Some have found a resting place near the foundation of the edifice, so near that the foundation began to move. The pinnacles began to slant towards heaven, and fissures in the wall caused a scare in the flock who didn't want to go too soon. The church was condemned and deserted about 20 years ago. The roof is rapidly yielding to the effect of wind and rain, but the walls, excepting the oblique, horizontal, and perpendicular cracks, seem as good as ever. The interior was well finished. The plastering is still perfect, having some evident touches of the fine arts (?) on its surface of the Kelly gang and other celebrities The graveyard is gone to decay, many of the remains of the dead having been removed to other grounds. Briar and other weeds reign supreme, hiding many graves from view….”.

According to another report in the Daily Telegraph in 1899, the diminished ruins were still standing:

“Once upon a time this district rejoiced in the possession of an Anglican church, the remains of which still excite the curiosity of passing strangers. Several residents who have a warm interest in church matters instituted a fund for the purpose of erect a new building on a smaller scale”.

The foundations of the old church were still visible in 1917 when the church grounds were being prepared for the construction of a new church. In April 1917 the Examiner reported:

“A successful working bee was held in the grounds belonging to the Church of England, at White Hills when nearly thirty helpers including a number of boys who worked well, were occupied in clearing away the rubbish from the old foundation upon which stood a well built church many years ago, and also cutting down the young wattles which were growing very thickly over the graveyard”.

The new timber church built in 1917 was dedicated to St. John. This church was previously featured in an article on Churches of Tasmania. [See No. 64]

Launceston Examiner, Saturday 13 January 1844

The Examiner, November 1882

St John's at White Hills, built in 1907. Photo: Marion Sargent (2011) LPIC147/2/81 - Libraries Tasmania


Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 10 January 1844, page 4
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 13 January 1844, page 1
The Courier, Wednesday 1 January 1851, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 12 December 1857, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 29 November 1882, page 4
Daily Telegraph, Saturday 22 November 1884, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Monday 30 May 1887, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 29 August 1899, page 2
Examiner, Wednesday 4 April 1917, page 2

Proverbs, B.C. 1969. A History of the Parish of St. Leonards, B.C. Proverbs, Launceston. 

K.R. von Stieglitz; A Short History of St Leonards, 1948.

Geoffrey Stephens, The Anglican church in Tasmania, 1991

John Davies Mereweather, Diary of a Working Clergyman in Australia and Tasmania : Kept During the Years 1850-1853


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