No. 1402 - Black River - [All Saints'] Anglican Church (1856)

Black River is a location on the Bass Highway approximately 10 kilometres south east of Stanley. In the 1850s a settlement was established about a kilometre inland from the river’s mouth. Timber was processed at Black River and exported to the mainland. At its peak the settlement had a hotel, school, post office and two churches. All that remains are two headstones in a field which mark the location of the the old Anglican church.

The history of Black River’s Anglican church is complex but may be summarised as follows:

(1) The first church at Black River opened in 1856. This was about the same time as the opening of St Peter’s church on Fords Road at neighbouring Forest. [see No. 789]
(2) In 1870 a second Anglican church was built at Black River. It is not clear if this building was ever dedicated. A Methodist church opened at Black River in 1871.
(3) In 1918 the church was moved to a more convenient location near to the coast. The church was dedicated and consecrated as All Saints’ in the same year.
(4) In 1935 the church was moved to South Forest. [see No. 1379]
(5) In 1967 the church was moved to Mawbanna where it still stands.

The first Anglican church built at Black River opened on Christmas Day in 1856. The church’s opening is mentioned in a report published in the Cornwall Chronicle but no description or details about the building are given. It was a basic timber building which probably did not much resemble a church.

In March 1870 Governor Charles Du Cane visited Circular Head and at this time he made a small financial contribution towards the construction of a new church at Black River. The Launceston Examiner reported:

“A few days ago his Excellency the Governor remitted to Rev. H. E. Drew, of Circular Head, the sum of £2 as a donation towards the erection of a new chapel near the Black River. The want of this edifice has been much felt for two or three years, the present structure being far too small and too old to be worth enlarging or repairing”.

A further report in the Examiner noted that:

“It is gratifying to observe that there are persons residing at a distance who take an interest in our struggling coast communities. A short time back we intimated that a contribution from his Excellency the Governor had been forwarded to Circular Head in aid of the new church which it is proposed to build at Black River. We have now to announce that the sum of two guineas has been received from Messrs. L. Stevenson and Co. of Melbourne, through Mr. John Edwards, towards the same object”.

By mid 1870 construction of the church had been completed and it was officially opened on Sunday 26 June. The Launceston Examiner reported:

“A very neat little wooden church has recently been erected at the Black River, about nine miles from Stanley. This building replaces a dilapidated room formerly used for Church of England service, and has been very tastefully fitted up under the active supervision of the Rev. H. E. Drew. On Sunday last, 26th instant, it was opened, and divine service celebrated in the morning and afternoon. A considerable number of people from the township of Stanley attended the morning service, and the little church was filled with a crowded congregation. The Rev. Mr. Drew preached an impressive sermon…A collection was made in aid of the church fund, which was liberally responded to, and the sacrament of the Lord's Supper was administered to several communicants. I understand that the total cost of the building of this edifice has been only about £40, and it struck all visitors as a matter of surprise that such a highly creditable building could have been erected for such a sum. Several improvements in the way of seating, &c., have yet to be provided, and I believe the inhabitants of the neighbourhood have made arrangements to assist in the performance of this work, and thereby obviate the necessity of any further expenditure of funds. It is a source of sincere gratification to all well wishers of the Church of England to see the facilities for public worship extended in this district, add it gives me great pleasure to be able to record the satisfactory completion of a work the necessity of which has long been felt by an important section of our coreligionists”.

There is no record of the church being dedicated or consecrated. However it is possible that it was consecrated in 1873 when Bishop Bromby visited Black River. The Hobart Mercury reported that the Bishop had “inspected the public schools at South Road and Black River, as well as the chapel at the latter place”.

There are only a few references to the church in the remainder of the 19th century. One of these appears in a report by a visitor to Circular Head in 1891:

“We come back, take a private road over the farms, and are astonished to find great stretches of land again, between the South-road and the Black River road. We see the absolutely stump-less paddocks of Mr. Edwin Medwin, and the grounds that would do credit to an English park, which surround his beautifully situated house. Then we notice a really well built, roomy public hall, with a picturesque avenue beside it; we cross over to the township reserve, note the roomy Wesleyan Church, with its yard where — “Each in his narrow cell for ever laid, the rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.” We see the English Church, where worship every Sunday the men of the present, close beside the mouldering remains of the men of the past. Several houses with orchards meet our view, also a late public house, whose dilapidated state is (thank Heaven) one amongst many proofs that the district is not decaying…”.

After the turn of the century there were plans to move the church to a more central location. In April 1908 the Circular Head Chronicle reported:

“The attendance at the divine services of the Church of England is steadily increasing, and it is hoped that ere long the old church will be removed from the present inconvenient site and placed near the post office, a piece of land being kindly donated for the purpose. In future the Sunday school which now numbers 22 or 23 children will be conducted at the State school”.

Church services were also held the Black River State school although the old English cemetery continued to be used. In May 1911 the Circular Head Chronicle reported:

“There was an excellent attendance at Divine service at the State School last Sunday afternoon, when the rector, Rev. G. W. Ratten, delivered a splendid sermon. Every family was represented. Miss Anderson presided at the organ…”.

The report continued:

“Mrs Dobson was buried in the Church of England burial ground last Wednesday, the body being placed alongside her husband’s… We were pleased to note that a working bee has done good work in clearing up a portion of the burial ground, and we trust that the remainder will be shortly completed…”.

In 1918 the old church was finally removed to its new site. A report written by the rector, Reverend Surridge, gives an account of the building’s removal:

“This old historic building, which dates back into the fifties [sic], and which has been a derelict for the past ten years, hidden by scrub and overgrown blackberry bushes, away back in the bush, has been moved and re-erected on a splendid site (given by Mr. Luke Medwin) next to the Black River post office. The original church, which appears never to have been consecrated, dedicated, or conveyed to the Diocesan trustees, stood next to the classic public house “ The Pig and Whistle.” In those ancient days, probably both were well attended”.

“The settlers at Black River were few, but they possessed an affection for the Church of their Mother Country, and a quaint little building without pretentious to architecture was erected by the people for the worship of God. In it marriages were solemnised, the other sacraments administered, and the dead are sleeping around its ancient foundations”.

“For the last ten years the building has been unused, and has become more or less a ruin. It is almost a miracle it was not burnt in the many bushfires that have not infrequently raged around it. Had it not been for kind friends who live close by, it would have been demolished long ago. Expert opinion pronounced most of the timber sound, and a meeting of Black River people was called by the rector [Rev. F. H. Surridge] in May last to consider the desirability and practicability of moving the old church and again using it for Divine worship. It was unanimously agreed to carry out the scheme. A working committee was formed, a sum of money promised, and now, after a month from the commencement of the work, the church has been re-erected as a living witness to God”.

“Everyone who has seen the new church pronounces it both useful and picturesque. The old features of the nave have been retained, but a new chancel has been added and the porch restored. The church with its red roof, stone-colour exterior, and white facings, standing amidst its green surroundings and overlooking the waters of the Black River, forms a pretty picture which will be seen by all who pass along the highway. Those who have assisted in this work will be proud of their endeavours…..The opening service will be announced in a few days. The service of dedication will be performed by the Bishop when he visits the parish on November 20”.

“The church will be dedicated to All Saints’. Several gifts have been made to the new church, namely, altar, altar furniture, altar frontal, matting for nave, cruets, prayer desk. The following are required before the opening: — Lectern, Bible, hangings for back of altar, carpet for sanctuary, carpet for communicants’ step, altar linen, large lamps, credence table for sanctuary. Will some kind friends supply our needs? The work of re-building has been carried out under the supervision of Mr. Stuart Anderson, the Rector, and Mr. Wood, of Smithton….”.

The church was duly dedicated in 1918 November, an event recorded by the Circular Head Chronicle:

“On Thursday afternoon the Bishop dedicated the restored church at Black River to the memory of All Saints. The little building was beautifully decorated. A large congregation assembled for the service, in spite of it being held at 2.30 p.m. on a week-day. The Bishop, accompanied by the rector and the Rev. M. J. May, proceeded to the west door of the church, where Mr S. J. Anderson requested the Bishop to dedicate. His Lordship having consented, the service commenced with hymn 242 " We love the place, O God, wherein Thine Honour dwells" — pauses being made between the verses to dedicate the nave, the chancel, the altar, the font, and the pulpit”.

“The Bishop then gave an address, and expressed his pleasure that the old church had been rebuilt for the worship of Almighty God, emphasising the blessing of a living church, and pointing out what the world would be without it. The choir under the organist (Mrs. M. Cranswick), sang the service with much spirit. Afternoon tea was provided by the ladies of Black River, in a room very kindly lent by Mrs. Davison…..”.

A report in 1919 lists the donors of the church’s furnishings and this provides us with a snapshot of the congregation. Items gifted include: the lectern (Mr and Mrs Spicer); altar (Mr and Mrs D. Edwards); altar frontal (Mr and Mrs Surridge); font (Mrs Wells); cross (the Churchwardens of Forest); cruet (Miss Poke); hymnbook for organ (Miss F. E. Anderson); hymn books (Mrs D. O’ Halloran); glass (Mrs Cranswick); organ stool (Miss Anderson of Hobart); collection plate ( Mr. F. Emmett); mat for sanctuary (Mr. F. Horton); needlework (Miss Ida Poke and Miss Bruce); and 1700 shingles (Mr J. Ainslie).

In 1919 the church was used as a temporary school during the influenza pandemic while the Black River State school was used as a hospital.

Given the support of the community for the removal and refurbishing of the church it is somewhat surprising that within the space of 15 years services had ended. In 1935 the church was move to South Forest and rededicated to St Stephen. In 1967 it was moved for a third time to Mawbanna, where it reverted back to its original name of All Saints’.

* No image of the 1870 church has been found.

Circular Head Chronicle, Wednesday 22 May 1918

The map shows the original location of the church at the horseshoe bend on the western bank of the Black River (circled) and the direction of its removal to a site on the Main Road in 1918.

The Black River district in North West Tasmania (

All Saints' Church at Mawbanna. The original 1870 building had significant alterterations in 1918 and in 1935 bu much of the original timber remains. Photograph: Karina Barker


Cornwall Chronicle, Wednesday 22 April 1857, page 5
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 23 April 1870, page 5
Launceston Examiner, Saturday 2 July 1870, page 3
The Mercury, Wednesday 5 March 1873, page 3
Wellington Times and Agricultural and Mining Gazette, Wednesday 8 April 1891, page 3
Circular Head Chronicle, Wednesday 8 April 1908, page 2
Circular Head Chronicle, Wednesday 17 May 1911, page 2
Circular Head Chronicle, Wednesday 22 May 1918, page 5
Circular Head Chronicle, Wednesday 18 September 1918, page 2
Circular Head Chronicle, Wednesday 27 November 1918, page 2
Circular Head Chronicle, Wednesday 12 March 1919, page 2
Circular Head Chronicle, Wednesday 17 September 1919, page 2
Circular Head Chronicle, Wednesday 25 November 1925, page 6


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