No. 1355 - Hobart - Mount Saint Canice and Magdalene Home

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, 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 those that no longer exist

In April 1893 four Sisters of the Good Shepherd Order arrived in Tasmania to take charge of the new Magdalen Home established as “an asylum and home of refuge to win back modern Magdalens who [had] fallen from the paths of rectitude and virtue”. A large bequest from the estate of Father William John Dunne enabled the purchase of 28 acres of land at Sandy Bay. The property was named Mount Saint Canice after the patron saint of Kilkenny, the birthplace of Father Dunne.

The foundation stone of an Italianate style building designed by George Fagg was laid on 14 August 1892. The Home was officially opened on 19 April 1893. The building was extended a number of times over a period of 40 years.

The original building’s first floor contained a dormitory for girls and women, individual rooms for the nuns, and an infirmary. On the ground floor there was a large classroom, a doctor's surgery, a priest's sacristy adjoining a chapel as well as a refectory and kitchen. The first extension was a two storey wing which opened on 10 June 1896. A presbytery was built in 1901 and a new chapel in 1909. In the 1930s the buildings were again extended with two new wings added at a cost £38,000. By this time the Home could accommodate 155 girls and women and 23 sisters.

Throughout the Home's existence the Sisters partially financed its operation through laundry work carried out by the young women. Clients included private individuals, the clergy and institutions such as hospitals, schools, and hotels.

On 5 September 1974, newly installed boilers in the laundry exploded while being tested. Seven people died. According to the Mercury, the explosion “rocked the Sandy Bay area, and rattled roofs thirteen kilometres across the River Derwent”.

As consequence of the disaster Magdalen Home closed in 1974. The Sisters later moved to Claremont where they ran the Blue Line Laundry as a sheltered workshop. In 1991 the Sisters moved to a smaller convent in Austins Ferry because of declining numbers. By 1999 their numbers were so small that the house was sold and all but two moved interstate. The last Sister left Tasmania in 2006.

Between 1981 and 1995 Mount Saint Canice served as the Catholic Church’s administrative headquarters. Mount St Canice is now a retirement complex operated by Southern Cross Care.

                                                            ...  Television clip of the 1974 explosion



Mercury, Monday 15 August 1892, page 3
Mercury, Tuesday 11 April 1893, page 3
Mercury, Monday 30 October 1893, page 3
Mercury, Thursday 11 June 1896, page 3
Examiner, Monday 3 October 1932, page 11

Southerwood, WT, Priceless heritage: the Tasmanian Catholic community, 1772-2010, Stella Maris Books, St Leonard's, Tasmania, 2012.


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