No. 1375 - Swansea - Waterloo Point - Our Lady Star of the Sea (1864)

Swansea is a small town located on the mid east coast about 150 kilometres from Hobart. The area was settled from the 1820s and was developed following the establishment of the Rocky Hills Probation Station 15 kilometres to the south. Between 1835-45 convicts from the Probation Station built roads through the mountains to Avoca and southwards to Hobart. In 1827 a military detachment established barracks at Waterloo Point, from which the early settlement derived its name. The settlement was later renamed Swansea, probably at the instigation of George Meredith, a prominent settler of Welsh descent.

The early presence of the Catholic Church in the district was connected to the probation station at Rocky Hills. In 1855 Bishop Willson applied for a government grant of four acres at the junction of Wellington and Maria Streets. This did not proceed, as did a second request in 1860, for two acres of land, which included the former Commissariat Store at the abandoned military site at Waterloo Point. Willson again made an application in 1864 and was granted land by the Governor-in-Council to establish a church, schoolhouse and burial ground at Waterloo Point:

“On application of the Catholic Bishop, the Governor-in-Council has approved of an allotment in the township of Swansea, being appropriated for the use of the Roman Catholic Church, for Church purposes”.
[The Mercury 23 May 1864]

With the acquisition of the old Commissariat store, the building was converted for use as a church. Following Father John Joseph McKernan’s appointment to the Swansea and Spring Bay missions in early 1864, Our Lady Star of the Sea opened by the end of that year.

The church stood some distance from the main settlement on a barren and windswept site. In 1884 a visitor to Swansea described it as follows:

“At Swansea there is a bleak little promontory of rock and sand reaching half a mile seaward. It is called Waterloo Point, and once a pile of buildings occupied part of it. These were military barracks, officers’ quarters, stores, etc. In 1829, Dr. George Fordyce Storey was surgeon and commissariat officer here, but later the troops were withdrawn, about the time of the cordon to drive in the blacks. Henceforward the buildings, with such additions as were erected in the meantime, became prison police quarters, etc. All have been demolished, and the material removed. The Swansea courthouse, municipal-chamber, etc., and other places, are built of the material. The only structure now on Waterloo Point is a little Roman Catholic chapel, isolated and lonely, even the former road is obliterated by drift sand….”.

There are few references to the chapel over the next 30 years. In January 1887 a correspondent to the Hobart Mercury wrote:

“On New Year’s Day and Sunday the Catholic community enjoyed a musical treat in the church on Waterloo Point, both at mass and vespers. A local choir is, I hear, in the course of formation, and will, doubtless, help to make the church services more attractive…”.

By the 1890s fundraising was undertaken to build a new church in a more accessible location. However the old Commissariat store continued to be used for at least another two decades. In 1908, a report in the Daily Telegraph concerning a fundraising bazaar for a new church, explained that to reach the old church at Waterloo Point, “one has to go through about a quarter of a mile of sea-sand”.

In 1908 the acquisition of a new site within the town provided some impetus to fundraising efforts for a new church. However, another 20 years were to pass before this was realised. The old church at Waterloo Point was abandoned around 1910 although the exact date of its closure is not known. A photograph published in the Weekly Courier in 1922 shows a roofless ‘Star of the Sea’ in an advanced state of ruin.

The history of Swansea’s second Catholic church; Mary, Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, which opened in 1931, will be the subject of a further article on ‘Churches of Tasmania’.

Star of the Sea Catholic Church at Waterloo Point. Photographer: Richard C. Harvey (1923) - Libraries Tasmania digital archive - Item Number NS29/1/172

The ruins of the church photographed in November 1929. Libraries Tasmania digital archive - Item Number NS1298/1/2807

The ruined church in 1922. Weekly Courier. Beattie photo. 


The Mercury, Monday 23 May 1864, page 3
The Mercury, Wednesday 8 October 1884, page 1
The Mercury, Thursday 13 January 1887, page 4
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 23 March 1904, page 3
Mercury, Friday 1 May 1908, page 7
Daily Telegraph, Saturday 9 May 1908, page 3
Daily Post, Thursday 29 July 1909, page 7
The Mercury, Monday 2 August 1909, page 2
Weekly Courier, Thursday 12 October 1922, page 21
The Mercury, Monday 6 July 1931, page 3
The Mercury, Monday 28 September 1931, page 3

Southerwood, W. T Planting a faith in Tasmania : the country parishes. [W. T. Southerwood], [Hobart], 1977.


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