No. 1245 - Launceston - 'Presentation Convent School' (1873)

This article is one of a series about buildings associated with Tasmania’s historical churches.These buildings include Sunday schools, parish halls, convents, schools and residences of the clergy. Ancillary buildings are often overlooked and rarely feature in published histories. My aim is to create a simple record of these buildings, including of those that no longer exist.

The old Sacred Heart Convent school is located within the precinct of Launceston’s Church of the Apostles. It is one of eleven schools established by the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, better known as the Presentation Sisters. The Order arrived in Launceston in 1873 while the plans for the establishment of a convent began in the previous year. In March 1872 the Launceston Examiner reported:

“A meeting of the Catholic clergy and laity was held the other evening for the purpose of considering the advisability of building a conventual establishment in Launceston, when, after some explanation and discussion, it was unanimously decided to do so. Plans of a handsome edifice to be erected on land adjoining the Church of the Apostles, prepared by H. Hunter, Esq., architect, Hobart Town, were laid upon the table, and approved of. The estimated cost is £1000. Although the meeting was comparatively a small one, the very handsome sum of £250 was subscribed on the spot, and we understand that several gentlemen who contributed liberally have since intimated their intention to double the amounts of their subscriptions should it be necessary. The objects contemplated by the establishment of the convent are, we believe, chiefly of an educational character”.

The convent was built on a site between the church and St Joseph’s schoolroom where St Ailbe’s Hall now stands . The convent housed the Sisters and also included two classrooms; one for children of the poor and the other for those who could afford to pay fees. The building was designed by Henry Hunter and the supervising architect was Harry Conway. The Hobart Mercury’s report on the official opening of the convent on Sunday 2 February 1873 contains considerable detail about the building:

“The formal inauguration of the now Presentation Convent at Launceston was celebrated at the Church of the Apostles on Sunday last….The want of an institution where the young of the Roman Catholic body, those of poor parents in particular, might receive the benefits of education, had long been felt by that body of Christians,…last year a proposition was set on foot to secure the erection of the building now known as the Presentation Convent….The objects of the promoters were the provision of a combined secular, moral, and religious instruction for the children of the poorer classes, while at the same time those willing and able to pay could send their children to receive instruction. The conduct of the institution was arranged to be under the control and ministration of the Presentation nuns, and the building generally to be used forconventual purposes”.

“The erection of the building was commenced in May last, the architect being Mr. Henry Hunter, of Hobart Town, and the contractor Mr. E. Ford, of Launceston, the contract being taken for £1,600. Mr. Conway, of Launceston, superintended the erection of the building…The building is of the plain Gothic order of architecture, and although unpretending in design, presents a neat and handsome appearance. The frontage is to Margaret-street, between the church and school, and is seventy feet in length by a depth of 46 feet, and stands back from the road about 150 feet. On the ground floor there is a handsome entrance hall separated by a baize covered door from the inner hall. To the left of the entrance from Margaret-street is the reception room, 12 feet by 14 feet. The other rooms on the ground floor embrace a class room 32 feet by 15 feet, community room 19 feet by 16 feet, refectory 18 feet by 14 feet 6 inches. There is also a kitchen, with scullery, store-room, and larder. The kitchen is fitted with a most complete cooking apparatus, manufactured by Mr. William Peters, of Launceston….”

“Leaving the ground floor by ascending a Gothic staircase, lighted by large windows, the first floor is reached. At the top of the stair is a large bathroom, which is supplied with both hot and cold water. The cold water proceeds from a large cistern constructed on the roof of the building, and the hot water is conveyed by pipes from the kitchen below. On the first floor, opening from a spacious corridor, are the dormitories or cells of the Sisters, and also the rooms of the Lady Superioress. There is also a second class-room on the first floor of similar dimensions to that below, with the exception that it is not so lofty. One of those class-rooms will be used for the children of parents who can afford to pay for their instruction, and the other for the children of poorer parents. The whole of the rooms are admirably ventilated and lighted, and the view from the front of the building is very pleasing. …The building is surrounded with extensive grounds, both back and front, and will be enclosed with a suitable close fence. In front there is ample space for a lawn and flower garden, and at the rear a large area, which will afford an agreeable exercise ground….”.

“The Lady Superioress and one of the Sisters arrived by last Thursday's coach from Hobart Town, and four other Sisters arrived on Saturday evening. The attendance at the inaugural services on Sunday was very large, and a deep interest in the proceedings, and the progress of the good work was manifest on the part of all present”.

“The service commenced by the celebration of the Feast of Purification, High Mass…in which the Bishop, and Fathers Beechinor, Butler, Feehan, O'Connor, and Forrest took part, the nuns being present in a screened off space to the right of the altar. …. In the afternoon, at four o'clock, the ceremony of blessing the convent, and its formal opening took place. A procession was formed at the church, and proceeded to the convent….”.

In 1878 a large weatherboard building with four classrooms divided by separating folding walls was constructed at the rear of the Presentation Convent. Thereafter the convent was used as a Noviciate for young women preparing to become sisters.

In 1900 a new convent was built off Bourke Street, behind the Church of the Apostles. This building will be the topic of a separate article on ‘Churches of Tasmania’.

The classrooms built behind the convent in 1878:

Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 14 May 1872

Sources and further information:

Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 26 March 1872, page 4
Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 14 May 1872, page 1
Launceston Examiner, Tuesday 28 January 1873, page 2
Mercury, Tuesday 4 February 1873, page 3

Southerwood, W. T.  Planting a Faith : Launceston's Catholic story in word and picture / W.T. Southerwood  W.T. Southerwood [Hobart  1968] (A History Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School and The Church of Apostles - Cynthia Brock, 2012)


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