No. 1366 - Torquay (East Devonport) - St Mary's Church and School (1863)

Before the official proclamation of the town of Devonport in 1890, two seperate townships developed on either side of the Mersey River; Torquay on the east and Formby on the west. Of the two towns Torquay was initially the most developed. East of Torquay farmers settled along the coast from North Down to Port Sorrel and in 1851 the discovery of coal at Tarleton initiated a period of growth for the town.

Provision was made for an Anglican Church at Torquay in 1853, two years after the township was surveyed. Six acres of land was reserved for a church, rectory, school and burial ground.

The earliest report of an Anglican service at Torquay is recorded in The Colonial Times which mentions Bishop Nixon preaching there in November 1854. In the early 1860s a Music Hall was leased for “church and [Sunday] school purposes”.

Early efforts to build a church were met with delays. In March 1861. The Cornwall Chronicle reported:

“The erection of a Place of Worship for Members of the church of England at the Mersey, has been for a length of time a subject of deep interest, and of frequent discussion with much of the inhabitants of the townships of Formby and Torquay, as belong to that Church, and often as the matter has been urged upon their attention by the Bishop and Archdeacon, and greatly and seriously as the want of such a place of worship has been felt, yet from one untoward circumstance and another, the endeavours to get together those interested to initiate the good work, have not until the last week been successful…. We are now much pleased to announce, that on Thursday last,….a meeting was held at the Mersey Hotel, which had been convened by public notice…..”.

The meeting, chaired by Reverend Edward Adams resolved that “a place of Worship…should be erected at Torquay as soon as practicable” and that subscription lists be opened…. and that the “clearing and fencing of land belonging to the Church of England” be started as well as the “enclosing within a separate fence, the Burial Ground”.

However, progress was slow and appear to have floundered. In May 1863 the Launceston Examiner reported that renewed efforts to build a church were being made by Torquay’s Anglicans:

“A meeting of the members of the Church of England was recently held at Torquay, for the purpose of receiving a report from the church wardens as to the amount of subscriptions likely to be raised towards the erection of a building suitable for divine service on Sundays, and for a public school during the week; and the report being of a satisfactory nature as far as the canvass had proceeded, the meeting felt justified in appointing a committee to carry out the erection of a suitable building without delay, as the lease of the Music hall, which has up to the present time been used for church and school purposes, expires on the 30th of June next…”.

There is no published record of the church's construction or the date that the building was dedicated to St Mary and consecrated. However, the church was in use by December 1863 as was reported in the Launceston Examiner:

“His Excellency the Governor and Mrs. Browne, accompanied by Sir Richard and Lady Dry, and suite, arrived at Rezin's Hotel, Formby, on Saturday evening. The party attended Divine service at the new Church School on Sunday morning. On Monday, visited the Don Coal Mines; and on Tuesday drove out to Northdown”.

St Mary’s Church-School was used as a place of worship for a little over a decade before the building was deemed to be too small to accomodate Torquay’s rapidly growing population. In 1876 the construction of a new church, dedicated to St Paul, was begun. When this building opened for worship in 1879, the St Mary’s was retained for use as a Sunday school.

In 1897 a destructive cyclone hit Devonport causing widespread damage across the town. The old Sunday school building was one of the casualties. The Hobart Mercury reported:

“The old Anglican Church building at East Devonport was not in the best of condition, having been erected about 40 years, and was not a very comfortable structure; still it was found useful for holding Sunday school in and sundry small gatherings, and many were sorry to see its collapse”.

A report in the Daily Telegraph added:

“…. A portion of the northern wall, with the porch, alone [was] left standing. Several chairs and forms were injured, but the library and harmonium escaped intact”.

I have yet to find a photograph of St Mary’s church and I have used a photograph taken after the construction of a new Sunday school hall which was completed in 1902.

A cropped photograph showing the new Sunday school hall which replaced St Mary's. Photo: A.W. Marshall Studios (c.1902) - Libraries Tasmania

St Paul's and the new Sunday school hall which stood in the same position as St Mary's church destroyed in the 1897 cyclone. Photo: A.W. Marshall Studios (c.1902) - Libraries Tasmania


Cornwall Chronicle, Saturday 16 March 1861, page 5
Cornwall Chronicle,Saturday 2 May 1863, page 6
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 23 May 1863, page 4
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 5 December 1863, page 2
Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 18 May 1897, page 3
The Mercury, Saturday 22 May 1897, page 2

Henslowe, Dorothea I & Hurburgh, Isa. 1978, Our heritage of Anglican churches in Tasmania / by Dorothea I. Henslowe ; sketches by Isa Hurburgh. s.n. [S.l.]

Pink, Kerry. And wealth for toil : a history of North-West and Western Tasmania, 1825-1900 / Kerry Pink Advocate Marketing Services Burnie, Tas. 1990


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