No. 1396 - Upper Pipers River [Lilydale] - St Margaret's Catholic Church (1874)

Upper Pipers River was the name given to an area which roughly covered what is now Underwood and the southern half of the Lilydale district. In May 1874 a Catholic church dedicated to St Margaret opened at Upper Pipers River. The church was built on a site about a kilometre south of Lilydale. The church was abandoned shortly after it opened. The reason for this is not known.

Reports of the church’s opening appear in only two newspapers; both written by the same author. The church is described in the second half of a lengthy report concerning Bishop Murphy’s attendance at a ceremony at Sacred Heart church at Upper Turners Marsh to “administer the sacrament of confirmation”. After the confirmation service the Bishop’s party continued on to “open a little church at the Upper Piper”. The opening of the new church is described by a writer using the pseudonym “Spectator”:

“I will not detain you with a description of the seven miles of road to be gone over ere this locality could be reached. Suffice to say that it is twice as bad as that to Turner’s Marsh, and that, no matter how sure-footed your nag, you had a not unfounded prospect of a roll in the mud at any moment. The ride had its novel and interesting features not-withstanding. I don’t allude alone to the presence of a goodly number of good humoured equestrians, who gave and took mud without a murmur or complaint, but more especially to the rich, beautiful country through which they rode. There forests of immense gums, and between these tall and graceful ferns in abundance, whilst in some places the road was a narrow track through thickly grown hickory trees, tall and slim as if inviting some hop grower to utilise them”.

“After two hours’ ride the party reached the comfortable and hospitable home of Mr John Campbell, whose welcome and honoured guest the Bishop was to be. As it was late in the evening a good view of the country could not be taken, but the moon’s soft light enabled one to see that it is a sweet and romantic spot. A succession of small hills on one side and the Brown Mountain on the other made it look a truly Highland scene, and I dare say this amongst other reasons made the proprietor choose it as his home”.

“Twenty-one miles of a ride over roads, corduroy bridges, and creeks of the worst description, made the Bishop and his fellow travellers glad to take a good night’s rest in order to prepare for the next day’s proceedings. A beautiful morning greeted them next day, and at an early hour all was astir about the place, whilst the good people from Turner’s Marsh and the Upper Piper itself began to arrive in groups of twos and fours to be present at the opening of the new church”.

“I shall not trouble you with an account of its architectural beauties further that to state that it is of wood, with a neat gothic window over the altar, the gift of Mr John Ellis, and that it looks like those little chapels you meet so frequently in Italy. The site is the generous donation of Mr Campbell, and the building has been created by the skilful hands in the neighbourhood. It is dedicated to St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, who was niece to St. Edward the Confessor and granddaughter to Edmund Ironside, and who married Malcolm III, King of Scotland. We are told by Theodorie that the King “seeing that Christ dwelt in the heart of his queen, always followed her counsels.” The life of St. Margaret is a most interesting and useful one to read, and I trust the little temple to her honour at the Upper Piper will remind the good Christians there to imitate her virtues”.

“But to come to the ceremonies at the opening of it on Tuesday last. Well, as observed, the people of the neighbourhood, and a good few from Turner’s Marsh assembled, and when all was ready the Bishop, attended by Very Rev. Dean O’Connell and Father Feehan, came to it. In roceia, and with mitre on, he went around the walls, sprinkling them with holy water and then the same, with other ceremonies, inside”.

“The people were now admitted and mass read by Rev. J. Feehan, as in the absence of a choir, and also in consequence of Dean O’Connell having a bad cold, there could not be a missa cantata. Towards the end of mass the Dean preached an eloquent sermon on the glory of. Christian temples, no matter how lowly and humble may be their appearance. He spoke of the use which should be made of them, and of the religious feelings their very sight should inspire. ….A collection was then made to supply some necessaries required in the little temple, and this amounted to £13. His Lordship thanked the congregation for their efforts to advance religion in the place by erecting this new church, and he thanked Mr Campbell for having so generously given the site”.

“After a few practical suggestions as to attention to prayer and sacraments, he concluded by giving them his blessing, and mass concluded, the happy proceedings came to a close. On the way back to town a number of horsemen, both from this and Turner's Marsh, again accompanied the Bishop for some miles until he urged them to return home, and bade them farewell, both he and they delighted with the two days’ proceedings…..”.

No further mention of the church appears in Launceston newspapers.

The church was located on John Campbell’s property on what is now the Lilydale Main Road. It would have stood near Campbell Creek and was probably less than a kilometre from St Anne’s Catholic church which was built at Lilydale in 1891. John Campbell was a pioneer of the Lilydale district, having arrived in the colony in 1855. Campbell was deeply involved the areas development and was an original member of the Lilydale Road Trust, with the first meeting held at his homestead.

Also mentioned in the report is the Catholic priest Father John Feehan. Feehan had played a prominent role in Sacred Heart at nearby Upper Turners Marsh (now called Karoola) and would have had a hand in the establishment of St Margaret’s. In September 1874, barely two months after the opening of St Margaret’s, Father Feehan was appointed to St John’s church at Richmond. Feehan’s departure may have had an impact on the viability of the new church.

Another possibility is that the church may have been destroyed in a bushfire but there are no reports of this in the 1870s. If it was destroyed by fire, the remoteness of its location and the absence of regular services may have resulted in the buildings destruction going unreported. Further archival research will be necessary to discover the fate of the ‘Upper Piper’ church.

Father John Feehan (left) and John John Campbell (right) Sources: Planting a Faith and The Tasmanian Cyclopedia


Cornwall Chronicle, Friday 29 May 1874, page 3
Tasmanian, Saturday 30 May 1874, page 7
Cornwall Chronicle, Friday 12 June 1874, page 6
Cornwall Chronicle, Wednesday 30 September 1874, page 2
Weekly Examiner, Saturday 3 October 1874, page 15
Examiner, Friday 8 November 1912, page 6

The Cyclopedia of Tasmania: An Historical and Commercial Review, Volume 2, Hobart, Maitland and Krone, 1900

Southerwood, W. T. Planting a faith : Launceston's Catholic Story in word and picture. W.T. Southerwood, [Hobart], 1968.

Burch, Nigel, The Piper's Call, BookPOD, 2016


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