No. 1332 - St Helens - St Paul's Anglican Church (1886)

St Helens is the largest town on Tasmania’s east coast. It was established as a fishing village and whaling station in the 1830s. When tin was discovered in the hinterland in the 1870s, St Helens was developed as a port for the mines. It was named by Captain Furneaux after a town of the same name on the Isle of Wight, England. In the 19th century the St Helens district was also known as Georges Bay.

This article’s focus is on the second Anglican church built at St Helens. This replaced a weatherboard church was built on Tully Street in 1870. [see No. 1312] With the discovery of tin in the Ruby Valley in about 1874, the settlement at St. Helens grew rapidly and by the early 1880s the small weatherboard church was considered too small for the congregation. While the church’s site on Tully Street was considered convenient for “the people living along the banks of the George’s River”, it was regarded as too far the centre of the town. Consequently a decision was made to abandon the Tully Street site in favour of a smaller block of land on Cecilia Street.

The new church was designed by Henry Hunter. The building’s foundation stone was ceremonially laid on Sunday 24 May 1884 and was described in a report published in the Hobart Mercury:

“The Bishop of Tasmania, the Right Rev. Dr. Sandford, performed this afternoon, the ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the new Anglican Church, to be erected, at St. Helen's, The site chosen is a piece of land fronting on Cecilia street, adjoining Kennedy's store. About 200 people had assembled by 3 o'clock, when the Bishop arrived, accompanied by the Rev. J. W. H. L'Oste, the pastor of the district, and the Rev. Mr. Garrard, of Macquarie Plains. They were met by the churchwardens and conducted to the enclosure Mr. J. C. Macmichael, on behalf of the members of the church and residents of St. Helens presented the Bishop with an address of welcome, in which cordial greetings we offered him, and pleasure expressed at the visits he was making throughout the colony. It contained a request that he lay the foundation stone of the new church, which they were in position to begin to erect…..The service of laying the foundation stone of a new church was then proceeded with, the Bishop and the Rev. Messrs. L'Oste and a Garrard taking part. Special hymns were sung by the church choir, under the leadership of Miss Dobson, who also presided at the organ, which had been brought to the ground from the church. The corner stone having been duly laid, the Bishop again addressed the people, congratulating them on the beginning of the erection of the new church. He said he had heard of there being some difference about the choice of a site, but he thought that a better one than that now fixed upon could not be obtained, for it was situated in a very central place in the township, and would, no doubt, induce more people to attend. Although the other church was not adapted to the requirements of the district, yet a devout and earnest congregation gathered in it, and it would no doubt be increased when the new edifice was ready for Divine worship…..”.

Almost 18 months were to pass before the church was completed. The reason for the delay was probably due to lack of funds which would explain why the church did not have a vestry that was part of Henry Hunter’s design. This did prevent local wags from holding back their criticism. In April 1885 a correspondent to the Mercury wrote:

“The foundation stone laid by Bishop Sandford some time ago, is going to decay through stress of wind and weather. The energetic hon. secretary of the building fund might well employ some of his spare time in erecting a shed over the same”.

By the end of the year progress had been made but not enough to satisfy another unkind commentator:

“I see the new English Church has the roof on, and it enables one to discover now what an ugly building it will be. I cannot say much for the architecture, but I can say I have seen far better looking barns”.

By early February 1886 the church was a completed although compromised version of Hunter’s design. The Mercury carried a very brief report describing the dedication service held on Wednesday 10 February:

“On Tuesday last….the Warrentinna arrived, bringing the Bishop of Tasmania, and on Wednesday, at 3 p.m., he dedicated the new church for Divine worship. The attendance was very good. His Lordship gave an excellent discourse that the dullest intellect could understand…”.

In 1929 St Paul’s was extended with the addition of a new sacristy and sanctuary. These were consecrated by Bishop Hay on Sunday 22 September 1929.

St Paul’s is now almost 140 years old and has endured the “stress of wind and weather” commendably . It is a fine example of a brick Victorian Rustic Gothic church building and is one of the last church’s designed by Hunter before his departure from Tasmania in 1888.























Sources:

Launceston Examiner, Friday 25 January 1884, page 3
Mercury, Wednesday 28 May 1884, page 3
Mercury, Saturday 3 January 1885, page 3
Mercury, Wednesday 8 April 1885, page 3
Mercury, Saturday 5 December 1885, page 1
The Tasmanian, Saturday 20 February 1886, page 13
Examiner, Wednesday 25 September 1929, page 7
Mercury, Wednesday 30 May 1934, page 3
Mercury, Monday 10 February 1936, page 2

Burns, Peter. and Burns, Kathleen. and St. Paul's Anglican Church (St. Helens, Tas.). Centenary Year Committee. St. Paul's Anglican Church : the first 100 years P. and K. Burns] [St. Helens, Tas 1983

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