No. 1297 - Deloraine - 'Convent of Mercy' (1895)

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

Deloraine is a historic tourist town situated on the Meander River and lies approximately halfway between the cities of Launceston and Devonport. The settlement dates to the 1830s and was named by the surveyor, Thomas Scott. The Church of the Holy Redeemer opened on Tuesday 9 November 1886, replacing a earlier timber church built in the 1850s. By the mid 1890s, plans were made to build a school for the Catholics of Deloraine. Father Walsh initiated steps to bring a religious community of nuns to Deloraine, for which more extensive facilities were required.

In January 1895 the Sisters of Mercy arrived in Deloraine to establish the “Convent of Mercy”. The new convent was housed in the old Criterion Hotel, opposite the church The hotel was renovated and extended to accommodate the Sisters and the convent school. A detailed report published in the Daily Telegraph in 1896 provides us with a valuable insight into the new school and the Sisters of Mercy. Most of this fascinating report is reproduced below:

“When the late Mr Martin Blake, who… built the Criterion Hotel at the intersection of Goderich and Parsonage streets, Deloraine, in the early sixties, I don’t suppose that he ever dreamt that the building would one day be converted into a convent and school, wherein a very large proportion of the rising generation of Deloraine would receive the blessings of a superior education and good moral training. Such, however, is one of the many changes which time has brought about, and what was once the barroom, where demon drink with all its concomitant evils held sway, has, with adjoining compartments, been converted into a spacious and well-ventilated schoolroom in which the hum of children's voices is heard, and the good sisters of the oldest order of nuns in Australasia glide noiselessly about, clothed in that habit which has won respect for its wearers from all classes in all countries and climes, in the fever wards of hospitals, among the dead and dying on the battlefield, in the condemned cell speaking words of consolation and offering hope even to the doomed one; in the slums of great cities among the very lowest dregs of society, where even the police will not venture only in strong numbers, walk the Sisters of Mercy without fear; for everywhere they are known, and they only need be known to be admired and respected…

The door was opened by a Sister, who showed us into a nicely furnished reception room on the left of the main entrance, and then went to announce our arrival to the Rev. Mother, who came and offered us a kindly welcome, so kind Indeed, and with such graceful tact, that we were at once at home, and … did not feel after all so much out of place chatting with the Rev. Mother of a convent. The Rev. Mother told us all about Goulburn, in New South Wales, where she and most of the sisters came from, and where the order to which they belong has the largest number of pupils - nearly 500 – of any private school in Australia. This order may have equals, but certainly has no superiors as trained teachers in every branch of education in this or any of the other colonies. But 'good wine needs no bush,' and the Convent of Mercy schools need no praise from me. After a little while we were shown into the schoolroom, the appearance of the Rev. Mother and her visitors causing some seventy pupils to rise, fold arms, and stand at ease with an alacrity worthy of well-drilled soldiers. Sister Josephine and Teresa, were the teachers on the occasion of our visit; both came forward and shook hands without any formal introduction, and we were at once at home with them. The pupils of the school sang for us and acquitted themselves creditably. The Rev. Mother, who has a sweet voice, led the singers, and I could not help contrasting the whole scene with other scenes I had witnessed in the old Criterion bar in days long gone by. One of the Sisters, as if divining my thoughts, remarked, “I suppose you have seen this place under different circumstances?” “Yes” I replied: “I have seen some of the lights and shades of life here in the days of long ago.”

The infants’ room was next visited, where we found rather a crowded attendance of very juvenile Delorainers under the care of Sister Nellie, receiving rudimentary instructions. In all there are 128 children on the school roll, and the average attendance is seldom below 100. This is very satisfactory considering that the school was opened in February, 1895, with 27 pupils, and the Rev. Mother expresses herself highly pleased with the prospects of the school and the support it is receiving from all denominations, a little over one-third of the children attending being non-Catholics. As the attendance is daily increasing, a new schoolroom will be a necessity in the near future, and the Rev. Mother hopes the day is not far distant when she will be able to make arrangements for the reception of boarders.

We did not see Sister Gonzaga, who was engaged with her music pupils. This we regretted, as this good sister's name is becoming a household word in Deloraine, so great a favourite is she, and in fact all the sisters, with the children attending the school. The alteration, renovation, and marked improvements made in the extensive convent premises speak well for the good taste and business capacity of the Rev. Mother, and, situated as the convent is in the pleasantest and most retired part of the township, no better site could have been chosen for such an establishment.

After receiving a most pressing invitation to again visit the convent, which we promised to do, and an assurance from the Rev. Mother and sisters that they are always delighted to receive visitors of all denominations, we took our departure, pleased with what we had seen and duly impressed with the fact that a convent is a much pleasanter place and the Sisters of Mercy far jollier people than some would have you believe”.

The success of the ‘Convent of Mercy’ necessitated the construction of a larger building. In 1924 a new school building was built next to the church. The school’s foundation stone was ceremonially laid on Sunday 10 August 1924 and the building was officially opened in February of the following year. The Burnie Advocate carried a report on the opening ceremony:

“The new Convent School was formally blessed and declared open on Sunday afternoon, His Grace, the Archbishop (Dr, Barry), assisted by Fathers Monaghan and O'Carroll, performing the ceremony. There was a good attendance, many of other denominations being present. Before calling in His Grace to declare the school open, Father Monaghan reviewed the financial position, which showed that the school (which had been badly needed for a number of years) had been built for £1,310, to which had been add extras, together with fencing and putting the ground in order, etc., which had necessitated the expenditure over another £300….His Grace, Dr. Barry, expressed his pleasure at being able to declare the school open free of debt and complimented the people on the success of their undertaking. Most of those present had a good look through the building, the contractor for which was Mr. H. Jones, of Wynyard”.

The school was further extended in 1939 and drew boarders from across Tasmania. However, after World War Two, enrolments declined and the boarding school closed in 1972 following the ending of secondary education in the previous year. The old convent building was later used by a small Christian School but was partly destroyed in a fire in April 1984. The building was later restored and used as a B&B establishment. Our Lady of Mercy continues to operate as a Catholic primary school.

Undated photograph - Original source not known

The original convent and boarding school - extension made to the Criterion Hotel - now part of Blakes Manor. (undated) Photographer not known.

Our Lady of Mercy Catholic School 


Daily Telegraph, Thursday 14 August 1924, page 2
Advocate, Wednesday 11 February 1925, page 4
Mercury, Friday 13 February 1925, page 10
The Examiner Monday 4 February 1895, page 6
Daily Telegraph Saturday 4 July 1896, page 6
The Examiner Tuesday 12 August 1924, page 6
The Mercury Monday 20 February 1939, page 5
The Advocate Monday 20 February 1939 Page 2
The Advocate Tuesday 23 October 1945, page 2
The Western Tiers Thursday 19 April 1984

Southerwood, W. T. Planting a faith in Tasmania : the country parishes / [by] W. T. Southerwood [W. T. Southerwood] [Hobart] 1977


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