No. 1302 - Hobart - Mariners' Church (1863-1917)

The Mariners’ Church stood on Franklin Wharf for 55 years before it was dismantled and removed to Sandy Bay in 1917. The building was located on the corner of Morrison Street and Elizabeth Street, a site now occupied by the ‘Marine Board Building’.

The origins of the Mariners’ Church date back to 1835 when a ‘Bethel Union’ was established:

“In the year 1835, a few gentlemen interested in the welfare of seamen belonging to, or visiting the Port of Hobart Town, assembled at Dr. Ross's Library and Reading Room, Collins-street, when an association was formed under the designation of the Bethel Union, for the purpose of visiting the shipping, distributing religious tracts, and preaching to seamen of vessels in the harbour. In this work, ministers and others belonging to the different denominations, took part…”.

Lieutenant-Governor Colonel Arthur granted the use of a building as a Bethel chapel on the New Wharf which had previously been used by convict labourers:

“A prison hulk was stationed in Sullivan's Cove, and the Government men were employed in excavating for the New Wharf, when the Bethel formed part of a group of buildings, containing blacksmiths' shops, tool sheds, and overseers' quarters, enclosed by a wall, and was originally erected as a dining room for the prisoners. It was built of rough stone, and answered the purpose, being sufficiently commodious, 35ft. by 27ft. and 11ft. in height”.

The Bethel Chapel opened in April 1838. The Colonial Times reported:

“We observe that in clearing the New Wharf of the erections made for the use of the prisoner gangs lately employed there, the Government, have left a very conveniently situated building for the purpose of being employed as a BETHEL CHAPEL for seamen, and that it is now employed as such. We feel no small pleasure in conceding our need of praise to his Excellency for this generous act; and we hope, that all those pious individuals who can conveniently attend, will kindly countenance and encourage the sailors in the momentous duty of divine worship”.

For twenty years religious services for seamen were held on Sunday afternoons with officiating ministers drawn from various Protestant churches. In July 1861 a campaign to build a “more commodious” church was launched:

“A meeting held in the Temperance Alliance Rooms on the 22nd of that month, Henry Hopkins Esq., in the chair, it was reported that the government had placed at the disposal of the Bethel Union an eligible site for the erection of such Church, namely, on a vacant piece of ground, used by the Public Works Departments [on] the Franklin Wharf, conditioned on an outlay of at least £1000. It was also intimated that Mr. Hopkins had generously offered to give the sum of £500 on condition that a like sum were subscribed by the citizens, within a year. Resolutions were adopted to set the enterprise a-going and the result was sufficiently encouraging to warrant the Committee to call for plans of the intended structure. Of the four plans supplied namely, those of Mr. Bastow, Mr. Cookney, Mr. Rowntree, and Mr. H. Hunter, the plans of the latter gentleman were accepted. Ten tenders for the erection of the Church were subsequently received by the Committee, of which that of Mr. Robert Priest was accepted, at £1450, being considerably in excess of the original estimate, but the tender being deemed to be suitable, Mr. Hopkins in the same generous spirit which had actuated his previous offer, expressed his willingness to increase his subscription from £500 to £750, subject to the like condition that an equal amount were collected from the inhabitants”.

A report in the Mercury described Henry Hunter’s design as follows:

“The style of the proposed Church is Gothic, with an open roof, a principal entrance and lobby reached by stone steps from the Franklin Wharf and a bell turret over the front gable. The area of the interior will be 52 by 29 with an ample retiring room, or vestry, at the northern end of the building to which there will be access by two doors from the Church, and an outer entrance from Elizabeth street. The windows are to be plain Gothic, except the window of the retiring room, which will have tracery. Instead of the usual pulpit, there will be a raised platform, with a reading desk, adjoining the retiring room, the whole of which will be neatly railed off. The Church will be furnished with moveable benches with backs, capable of accommodating about 200 persons. The Church is to be built of brown stone with white stone facings, on an excellent concrete foundation, and the building will be enclosed with a neat fence”.

The ceremonial laying of the foundation stone by Governor Gore-Brown took place on Tuesday 17 June 1862. The Mercury reported:

“Considerable interest was taken in the event of today, by the Committee, which fairly represents the merchants, ship-owners, captains, and the general public. A temporary platform was placed at the Franklin Wharf end of the site, contiguous to the Corner Stone, with a raised stand for those who were to take part in the proceedings. A few seats were also provided for the ladies. The site was connected with one of the ships at the wharf, the Cantero, by an ample line of many-coloured bunting, surmounted by the Union Jack. Two o'clock being the time appointed for the ceremony, the spectators began to arrive early. A detachment of City Police, under the orders of Mr. Hadley, attended to preserve order, although from the extreme attention of the immense concourse, including hundreds of the working classes, many sailors, and not a few young people, the aid of the police guard could, without inconvenience have been dispensed with. Still on such occasions. it is but the exercise of a wise discretion to have some of the authorities present, in case of need. ….. Precisely at two o'clock His Excellency arrived in his carriage, accompanied by Captain Stewart, the Aide-de-Camp. He was received by the Committee of the Bethel Union, and escorted to the platform. At the same time a salute of seventeen guns was fired from the Isabella Brown, in honour of the occasion…..The stone was then lowered to its place, under the superintendence of Mr. Priest, the contractor, assisted by Capts. Bateman and Fisher. A bottle, hermetically sealed had been previously deposited in the cavity of the foundation, containing several British coins, copies of the Mercury and Advertiser of this day's date, and a Parchment Scroll, on which was engrossed an Account of the Ceremony, with the usual particulars….His Excellency then addressed the spectators…”.

The church was officially opened on Wednesday 3 June 1863 by Reverend Dr. Nicholson of Chalmers Church while first Sunday service was led by Reverend D.C. Prichard.

Several objects associated with the Mariners’ Church are of interest including a clock, a memorial tablet and the church’s organ.

The church’s illuminated clock was donated by Captain John Clinch in 1863 although it is unclear when, if ever, it was illuminated as intended. The Hobart Advertiser pessimistically commented:

“Captain Clinch brought over by the Tasmania a large clock adapted for the new Mariners’ Church, according to a design some time ago agreed to by various subscribers in the city. It was expected that either the Gas Company, or the Marine Board would have undertaken the expense of lighting the clock, but they have, we understand, declined to do so, and we fear, such a desirable thing as an illuminated clock at the Wharf, has but a poor chance of becoming for some time to come un fait accompli”.

Illuminated or not, the clock became a landmark and provided the time for those working on the wharf. However in the church’s later years the clock ceased functioning.

“Some years ago….a thief entered the building and removed the whole of the works, leaving behind only the dial and the hands, and unfortunately, all efforts to discover the identity of the criminal or the whereabouts of the works proved unsuccessful”.

The second item housed in the church was a memorial tablet commemorating the loss of HMS Orpheus in February 1863, when the ship ran aground on the bar at the entrance to Auckland’s Manukau Harbour. Of the 259 naval officers, seamen and Royal Marines aboard, 189 died. In terms of lives lost, it remains New Zealand’s worst maritime disaster. The Orpheus was a frequent visitor to Hobart and the ship’s loss resulted in a public subscription for the erection of a memorial tablet which was installed in the Mariners Church in 1864:

“The memorial tablet commemorative of the heroic manner in which the officers and men of H.M.S. Orpheus met their death when shipwrecked …on the coast of New Zealand in the early part of last year, now lies, as announced in yesterday's Mercury, in the Mariners' Church on the wharf the edifice destined to be its future abiding place. It is a plain but very tastefully designed and most skilfully executed piece of art workmanship of upwards of four feet in height, and rather more than half that width at the base…. the officers and crew of the Orpheus possess that monument of which the Roman poet spoke as more durable than brass, but in the little tablet, which shall we trust for many a generation, remind the worshippers in the Mariners’ Church of the fate of these gallant men….”.

The Orpheus Tablet is now housed in the Hobart Maritime Museum.

The third object of interest is the church organ. Built by Walker, of London it was imported by Dr. Valentine, of Campbell Town, for use in his home ‘The Grange’. Following Dr. Valentine’s death in 1876, the organ was moved to the Mariners’ Church. When the church was dismantled in 1917 the organ was taken to St Luke’s Anglican Church at Latrobe. Then in about 1925 it was acquired St. Andrew's Presbyterian church in Launceston to replace an organ taken from St John’s Anglican church. The organ was completely rebuilt in 1935 and again in 1961 when it was enlarged to its present size.

The fate of the Mariners’ Church was bound up with a downturn in economic activity at Hobart’s wharfs. in 1895 an article in the Tasmanian News painted a stark picture of the church’s decline:

“After having stood for 32 years a most conspicuous feature of the port of Hobart, the Mariners’ Church….is fast drifting to decay…. Towards the beginning of the eighties, owing to the decadence in the shipping trade of the port, the attendance of seamen at the church dwindled away to nothing, and on the 9th of April, 1886, the Ministers’ Association, from the ranks of which body the pulpit was filled, gave the church the cold shoulder and left it to look after itself. This could only produce one result, viz., decay and dilapidation. For a considerable period the interior of the church formed a play ground for wharf rats. The organ got full of dust, the clock stopped, and the sky began to peep through the roof. The fence round the building gradually fell in, and it is said the largest portion of it was used for firewood by the denizens of the wharf slums, who thought little of sacrilege but much of wood as long as it would burn….. In 1887 Mr W. Lake, City Missionary, endeavoured to revive the services with very indifferent success as far as attendance went, and, to use Mr Lake’s own words, the attendance of bona fide sailors at the services might be put down as nil….. The late Mr Facy when spoken to about the condition of the church some years ago said, “What can we do? There are no seamen to attend it, and if there were, there are no clergymen to preach to them. I can see what the end of it will be, the Government will step in and resume the land, and although, I grieve to say it, the church will very likely be turned into a bonding store or a customs receiving shed”.

In 1895 the church had a brief but controversial revival when Reverend Archibald Turnbull held services which attracted large congregations who were attracted to his populist and anti-establishment sermons:

“Some time ago the Rev. A. Turnbull obtained permission from Archdeacon Whitington to hold services in the Mariners’ Church on the Old Wharf. In consequence of the rev. gentleman resorting to unorthodox language regarding the Bishop of Tasmania, he has been called upon to vacate possession of the church, which he declines to do. A petition in his favour has been numerously signed by persons alleged to attend the church, but who, it is stated, in reality did not go nearer than the outside of the sacred edifice. Further proceedings for ejectment are being instituted, and the case is likely to be one of some interest”.

Turnbull however abandoned the church due to concerns about the safety of the congregation:

“The Mariners’ Church, which has stood so long without repairs, is in such a bad condition that the Rev A. Turnbull has been warned that it is unsafe to continue holding services there. The belfry has fallen inward and thrown the bell out of position, and may come down at any turn, and otherwise the church is not fit for services. Last Sunday evening the rain came through the roof in many parts. Mr Turnbull has secured the Masonic hill for future services…”.

In 1906 the church was patched up for use by the Christian Brethren following the sale of a building that they had been using as a gospel hall:

“For some time past services of an evangelical character have been held by a body of Christ was known as the "Brethren" in a ' Gospel-hall at the corner of Bathurst and Harrington streets. This has recently been sold, and the "Brethren" had to find some other building. The old Mariners' Church, although in a sad state of disrepair, seemed admirably suited for the purpose, so the trustees were approached; the building was leased, about £30 was spent in renovating the interior, and a public subscription was got up for erecting a fence round the building, and for other necessary repairs….The building was re-opened last (Sunday) evening, when the first of what promises to be a regular series of services for mariners and others was held. The singing of a hymn outside the church - “Shelter in the time of storm” with a catching refrain soon attracted attention, and then Mr. Duthoit opened the service….”.

The Christian Brethren leased the church for about a decade before it was once again vacated. Ultimately the location of the Mariners’ Church worked against its revival and the trustees decided to sell the building. As the church was built on government land, in 1915 a special Act of Parliament was required to enable its sale to the Hobart Marine Board. The Marine Board intended to erect a new building on the site but this was delayed due to economic constraints caused by the Great War. This delay was fortuitous as an opportunity arose to sell the church to St George’s Anglican parish in 1917, which proposed to dismantle the building and reconstruct it on a site at Sandy Bay. In 1918 the building was reopened as St Peter’s (now Wellspring Anglican Church). The story of the the church at Sandy Bay will be the focus of an upcoming article on ‘Churches of Tasmania’.

Mariners' Church (undated) Album of photographs, Libraries Tasmania. Item Number PH6/1/14

Mariners' Church (undated) Album of photographs, Libraries Tasmania. Item Number PH6/1/67

Hobart wharves with the Mariners' Church in the centre. (undated) Photographer WJ Little, Libraries Tasmania. Item Number NS526/1/49

The Memorial Tablet for the Orpheus is now housed in the Hobart Maritime Museum.

A cropped photo of "New Wharf" c.1875 showing what appears to be the old Bethel Chapel in the foreground. The building's location matches that shown on a map of the wharf in 1850. The chapel was directly in line with Kelly Street. The original photograph can be view here:

The reconstructed Mariners' Church at Sandy Bay

The site of the Mariners' Church on the corner of Elizabeth street and Morrison Street (google street view)


The Hobart Town Courier, Friday 7 August 1835, page 2
The Hobart Town Courier, Friday 23 October 1835, page 2
The Tasmanian, Friday 23 October 1835, page 3
Colonial Times, Tuesday 24 July 1838, page 7
The Courier, Saturday 8 March 1845, page 1
Mercury, Wednesday 18 June 1862, page 2
Advertiser, Thursday 5 March 1863, page 3
Advertiser, Monday 1 June 1863, page 1
Advertiser, Thursday 4 June 1863, page 3
Mercury, Saturday 4 June 1864, page 2
Mercury, Saturday 7 September 1878, page 1
Tasmanian Democrat, Friday 5 April 1895, page 2
Tasmanian News, Monday 20 May 1895, page 2
Tasmanian News, Tuesday 28 May 1895, page 3
The Mercury, Friday 20 September 1895, page 2
Mercury, Monday 2 April 1906, page 5
Critic, Saturday 20 January 1912, page 2
Mercury, Thursday 24 May 1917, page 3
Mercury, Wednesday 11 July 1917, page 2
Mercury. wednesday 25 July 1917, page 4
Mercury, Monday 17 September 1917, page 7
Mercury, Tuesday 15 January 1918, page 4
Mercury, Monday 4 February 1918, page 6
Mercury, Wednesday 17 July 1918, page 3
Mercury, Monday 30 September 1935, page 5


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