No. 1293 - Sandy Bay - St Stephen's (Part 1) "The Red Chapel" (1856-1895)

Sandy Bay is a southern suburb of Hobart. It is believed that it was named by Reverend Robert Knopwood while he was out on the Derwent on a whaling boat. The northern half of Sandy Bay was known as Queenborough between the years 1859 and 1878. St Stephen’s is located in Lower Sandy Bay.

The history of St Stephen’s can be divided into three distinct periods:

(1)  The construction of the first church at Sandy Bay began in 1847. This building was never completed after it lost its roof in a gale in 1850.
(2)  A second church was built and opened in 1856. This church was shared by the Anglicans and Wesleyan Methodists until the 1880s. This building was locally known as "the Red Chapel".
(3)  In 1896 the church was effectively rebuilt. From this time onwards it was only used by the Anglicans.

This article’s focus is on the first two periods while a follow-up article will feature the present church.

The history of Sandy Bay’s first church starts with Captain Charles Friend, who resided at the property Ellington. In1843 Captain Friend arranged for “divine service” to be held at the house of Mr Cresswell, a local school teacher. Later, an old stone building adjoining Ellington was used for a Sunday school and for public worship. When this became too small for the growing congregation, a subscription list was opened to raise funds to build a church.

On 24 August 1847 the foundation stone for an Anglican church was ceremonially laid by the Venerable Archdeacon Marriott.

“The foundation stone of this Church was laid by the Venerable the Archdeacon, assisted by the Rev. Mr. Fry, the Rev. Mr. Burrowes, of Pontville, and the Rev. Mr. Tancred. The ceremony was began by the assembled company singing the Old Hundredth Psalm, after which the usual service was read in a most impressive manner by the Archdeacon. The stone was then placed in the corner prepared for it. The Archdeacon delivered an exhortation beseeching those who were present to assist the good work they had begun to the utmost of their power….He trusted that the building would be finished before the return of the Bishop, that he might see they had not been idle during his absence…..There were a great number of people present from town, who went in carriages and cabs, and others who had walked. The day beautifully fine. The Church, if we may judge from its present appearance, will be a neat little edifice, and will prove a great convenience to the inhabitants of the district, who have been so long deprived of a place of worship…The ground measuring about a quarter of an acre, was given by Mr. Moodie [sic], a settler in the district….”.

Progress with the church’s construction did not progress well due to the lack of adequate funds. Disaster struck in January 1850 when the roof of the partly completed building was blown off in a gale. The Colonial Times’ reported:

“This unfinished edifice has been more considerably dilapidated, by the roof being entirely destroyed by the boisterous gales last week”.

Construction of the church did not proceed and the building fell into further ruin.

In 1853 the movement to build a church was revived. In June The Hobart Town Advertiser reported:

“It is proposed to erect a plain, substantial building…. to be used as a chapel and [Sunday] school-room. The sum of £30 has already been subscribed towards effecting this highly desirable object.  A subscription list, headed by the Rev. Dr. Fry, is lying at Mr. F. Lipscombe’s, New Wharf".

The proposed building however soon ran into trouble over the issue of ownership of the land on which it was to be built when it transpired that the land had previously been granted to the Wesleyan Methodists by Mr Moody:

“The person who gave them the allotment of ground forgot that, some years before, he had given a portion of the ground to the Wesleyan community; and the Wesleyans themselves forgot the exact limitation; and it was not until the building was commenced that they found out, it was being built on their ground”.

By mid 1855 the dispute was finally resolved with the Wesleyan being compensated for the land:

A meeting took place….at the schoolroom, Sandy Bay, to promote the erection of a new place of worship for the Church of England, on a piece of ground formerly owned by the Wesleyans, but sold by them for the purposes of an episcopal church….An explanation of the circumstances under which the ground was disposed of by the Wesleyans was given by John Adams Esq., an active member of the Wesleyan body….Resolutions were moved, seconded and passed, for fencing in the land, and taking steps for the collection of funds”.

In addition to the payment of £50 to the Wesleyans, an agreement was reached enabling joint use of the church by the Anglicans and Wesleyans. The Courier February 1856:

“Those who have so liberally contributed to the fund proposed to be raised for the purpose of building a Church, and for the erection of a Sunday School-house in connection with the Church, have the high gratification to know that the land upon which "Saint Stephen's" and the School-house are to be erected is now transferred to appointed Trustees. The legal difficulties in the transfer of the site having at length been overcome, all interested in the extension of Christian tuition, principle, and worship will be grateful to learn that there is every promise that a House of Worship, with a building to be devoted to the education of children, will soon be erected at Sandy Bay. The Trustees in whom the land is vested are the Rev. Dr. Fry, Mr. F. Lipscombe, Mr. D. Dunkley, and Mr. J. Moodie [sic]. It should be stated that the temporary room in which the St. Stephen's Sunday School assembles is regularly attended by about sixty children, the parents of whom rank from the merchant to the peasant”.

By May 1856 construction of the church was well underway:

“This Church is progressing towards completion…The building is of good substantial brick-work, the height of walls is nearly completed, the brick portion of the porch is up, and with a little further aid, about £50 being required, it will be made a very neat little church…”.

The church was opened for services in August 1856. The agreement reached was that the Anglicans were to use the church on Sunday afternoons and Thursday evenings while the Wesleyans congregation met on Sunday evenings and every alternate Friday evening.

The agreement with the Methodists appears to have ended by the mid 1880s. At the time of the church’s 80th anniversary celebration in in 1927, an old parishioner, Mr H.S. Kirby recalled:

“As far back as 1885, when I first attended morning service at this church, several times the service was conducted by Methodist preachers, and in the evening by Anglicans, and it was known as a Union Church….The morning, service at St. Stephen's was taken by local preachers, who generally walked, on to preach at Kingston in the afternoon, having their lunch by tho road-side, and walking back to Hobart tired but happy men….There must have been something in the grant which allowed this union…The late John Maddison, architect, Methodist local preacher, got the shock of his life one Sunday morning. When he presented himself at the door of St. Stephen's to take morning, service he was met by a well known resident, a lawyer, who took interest in the little sanctuary, who told Mr. Maddison be regretted very much that he (Maddison) could not take the service, that Methodists having forfeited their rights to do so by failing to supply the pulpit for so many successive Sundays. Evidently there was something in the deed to this effect. That was the exit of Methodism from St. Stephen’s….”.

The accuracy of Kirby’s story cannot be verified but is was true that both the Wesleyans and Anglicans used the church sporadically. However a Sunday school was regularly conducted for many years by Mr Charles Orr Abbott. It was not until 1884 that a regular Anglican service was commenced by Canon Banks Smith. It would seem that shortly after this the church was used exclusively by the Anglicans. 

Within a decade of the Anglicans taking control the old chapel was replaced by a new church in 1895. The history of the new church will be focus of a second article on ‘Churches of Tasmania”.

The Red Chapel and a Sunday school class.  Libraries Tasmania - Photographs and Glass Plate Negatives collected by E R Pretyman - item NS1013/1/1923

Libraries Tasmania - Photographs and Glass Plate Negatives collected by E R Pretyman - item -NS1013/1/993

The interior of the Red Chapel Libraries Tasmania - Photographs and Glass Plate Negatives collected by E R Pretyman - Item Number  NS1013/1/1925

Detail taken from a photograph - glass lantern slide - Hobart - Sandy Bay - St Stephen's Church, looking from water to road - photo by Nat Oldham. Libraries Tasmania Item no.  PH40/1/1857

A painting of the Red Chapel. (undated) Artist not named. Libraries Tasmania

Public notice regarding the laying of the foundation stone of the first church in 1847. The building was never completed. Hobart Town Advertiser, Friday 27 August 1847


Hobart Town Advertiser, Friday 20 August 1847, page 3
Hobart Town Advertiser, Friday 27 August 1847, page 3 (advertisement)
The Courier, Saturday 28 August 1847, page 3
Colonial Times, Friday 11 January 1850, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 12 January 1850, page 6
Hobart Town Advertiser, Monday 27 January 1853, page 2
Courier, Thursday 23 August 1855, page 2
Colonial Times, Friday 24 August 1855, page 3
Courier, Friday 15 February 1856, page 3
Colonial Times, Saturday 16 February 1856, page 2
Courier, Saturday 26 April 1856, page 3
Courier, Monday 5 May 1856, page 3
Courier, Friday 15 August 1856, page 2
Colonial Times, Saturday 13 September 1856, page 2
Hobart Town Daily Mercury, Saturday 29 May 1858, page 2
The Mercury, Friday 3 January 1862, page 3
Mercury, Wednesday 24 August 1927, page 3
Mercury, Thursday 25 August 1927, page 4
Mercury, Saturday 23 August 1947, page 5


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