No. 1349 - Kingston - St Clement's (1842-1893) "A Terror to the Churchwardens"

Kingston is a large town located approximately 12 kilometres south of Hobart. The area was first settled in 1804 and was known as Brown’s River, after Scottish botanist Robert Brown, who had visited the area. The settlement later became known as Kingston and this name was eventually officially adopted in 1882.

The story of Kingston’s first Anglican church is typical of many of Tasmania’s early stone churches. Poor construction methods and inadequate foundations were the cause of a significant number of stone churches being torn down and replaced.

The history of St Clement’s church dates back to February 1839 when the ‘Tasmanian and Australian Advertiser’ reported that a new church was “about to be erected at Brown’s River, under the auspices of the Archdeacon Hutchins”. However, two years were to pass before tenders for the construction of a church were advertised in Hobart’s newspapers.

The church was designed by James Blackburn although no architectural drawings or description of the building appear to have survived. A brief reference to its official opening, on Sunday 24 April 1842, appears in the Cornwall Chronicle:

“Brown’s River - The church at this place was opened to the public on Sunday last; it was very much crowded, and the Rev. Mr. Freeman, who has been inducted to the parish of Kingboro’, delivered a very impressive and appropriate address on this occasion”.

A rather more substantial reference to the new church took the form of a poem written penned by “J.R.” that was published in the Hobart Advertiser:


A temple, to Jehovah's raised,
A neat and gothic pile,
Where late the eye of forests gazed,
In nature's lonely style.

Its humble bell will soon invite
Both young and old to meet,
To hear the word of God aright.
And consolation sweet.

May no rude voice be be heard to dare
Its sacred walls with scorn;
But be the seat of thanks and prayer
At every sabbath's dawn.

Each youthful pair may now proclaim
Their wish to be as one;
The anxious Mother here may name
A daughter or a son.

Now all that's left of those we love.
May decently lie here;
And if, fond thought, the heart should, move,
The soul may add a tear.

Oh may the King of Kings inspire
The high and lowly born,
To light within a holy fire,
A refuge from the storm.

J. R. March 14, 1842.

Problems with the building must have become evident soon after the church opened. In January 1850, a correspondent using the pseudonym “Probono Publico”, wrote to the editor of The Britannia and Trade’s Advocate complaining about the condition of the church. The writer made reference to the “J.R’s” poem written 8 years earlier:

“Sir, — The remarks made in a contemporary journal (the Advertiser) relative to the present state of premature decay which the Brown’s River Church is falling into, brings to my recollection an introduction to a few humble verses which were published in that journal upon the opening of the church in question. The words were taken from the 36th chap. of Isaiah, 1st verse, but on visiting the church lately I was constrained to think that a more appropriate verse might be found at the 9th chap., of Isaiah, 10th verse. [The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycamores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars].

His Lordship the Bishop of Tasmania has been applied to for assistance, but without effect. The parishioners want no expensive embellishment. They ask for no chapter of Exodus set forth from the walls in letters of gold, but they do think that the altar should not be as it is, over run with ferns which have found their way through the walls; and if his lordship would condescend to visit their humble place of worship and judge for himself…”.

It is not known if Bishop Nixon responded to Probono Publico’s request to visit St Clement’s however by 1855 the issue of the church’s condition was addressed. In November the Tasmanian Daily News reported:

“We are glad to hear at last that something is likely to be done as respects church accomodation for this much neglected district. A meeting was held on Wednesday afternoon at Mr. Fisher’s Assembly rooms, the Bishop of Tasmania in the chair, when it was resolved that the existing church should be repaired according to certain plans and specifications, and the amount needed (somewhere between £300 or £400) to be raised by subscription, the Bishop generously giving £10 to the object.”

In May 1856 tenders were invited for the church’s repair. During this time worship was conducted in the ‘Chaplain’s House’. The renovated building was reopened on Sunday 21 December 1856 and at the same time the church and burial ground were consecrated by Bishop Nixon.

The church’s problems were far from over. In 1888 St Clement’s was once again closed for restoration. By the early 1890s the issue came to a head and a decision was made to replace the church with a new building. There was some debate as to whether a new church should be built of timber or stone. In 1893, Edward Innes, who had supplied the stone for the original church, probably summed up the mood of the parishioners when he wrote:

“The foundation of the present structure is believed to have been the source of all the trouble there has been with it, and it is quite probable it may be difficult and very expensive to get a secure foundation for a new heavy building on the site of the old church, whilst the stability of the foundation would not be of the same consequence were the building to be of wood; and, again, a wooden building would be easier and less expensively enlarged as population increases, it might, too, be planned to provide for enlargement. The Kingston church has within my recollection, been for years a terror to churchwardens, and it behoves builders of a new church on the old spot to be careful what they are about. The church, in the course of a few years, showed signs of inclining towards the "eastern position," and since then has cost, from time to time, nobody knows what for further repairs to the structure. Quite enough, I believe, to have built and kept in repair a good wooden church….”.

A new wooden church was built in 1894. This consecrated in the following year. The new church will be the topic of a further article. The only image I have found of Blackburn’s church is in a photograph dated about 1890, a detail of which is reproduced in this article.

St Clement's at Kingston c.1890 - see further details in the photograph below

St Clement's opposite the Kingston Hotel c.1890. A detail taken from a general photograph of the town. Libraries Tasmania digital collection of photos from the State Archive. Item No. PH6/1/79.  A copy of the original high definition photograph may be viewed HERE

The Courier, Friday 12 February 1841

The Hobart Town Advertiser, Friday 16 May 1856

The Courier, Thursday 18 December 1856


The Austral-Asiatic Review, Tasmanian and Australian Advertiser, Tuesday 26 February 1839, page 7
The Courier, Friday 12 February 1841, page 2
The Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 30 April 1842, page 2
Hobart Town Advertiser, Friday 15 April 1842, page 4
The Britannica and Trades' Advocate, Thursday 31 January 1850, page 2
The Tasmanian Daily News, saturday 17 November 1855, page 5
The Hobarton Mercury, Friday 25 April 1856, page 2
The Hobart Town Advertiser, Friday 16 May 1856, page 1
The Courier, Thursday 18 December 1856, page 3
The Mercury, Monday 2 April 1888, page 3
The Mercury, Saturday 7 July 1888, page 2
Mercury, Thursday 14 December 1893, page 3
Mercury, Thursday 5 July 1894, page 2

Henslowe, Dorothea I. and Hurburgh, Isa. Our heritage of Anglican churches in Tasmania / by Dorothea I. Henslowe ; sketches by Isa Hurburgh,1978


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