No. 1434 - Southport - St John the Baptist Catholic Church (1876-1950)

Southport is Australia's southernmost permanent township. It was settled in 1837 and for a short time it became the largest town south of Hobart. It was the site of a convict station, a whaling station and a substantial timber harvesting industry. It is now little more than a quiet seaside settlement with most of the original buildings destroyed in bushfires. Southport had two churches as well as a chapel serving the convict probation station.

Records of the establishment and opening of a Catholic church at Southport are poor. What is known is that the ‘Church of St John the Baptist’ was officially opened and blessed on Wednesday 23 February 1876 by Bishop Murphy who was accompanied by the Bishop of Maitland, Dr. Murray. The church was constructed by Father S. Murphy and was a simple wooden building.

The Church of St John the Baptist was destroyed in a bushfire in December 1950. The Mercury reported:

“At Southport on the Kingfisher Bay Rd., an 80-year-old Roman Catholic Church was gutted. Only the organ and a few fittings were saved. The fire started about half-a-mile from the church, but a 60 m.p.h. wind swept it down to the wooden building. Residents put up an heroic fight, but it was a hopeless task. The parish priest, Father O'Loughlin, said last night that it would cost £2000 to re-build the church, which was insured for only £500”.

Following the fire the Launceston Examiner reported:

“Special dispensation has been granted by the Roman Catholic authorities for Mass to be said in a private home at Southport, until the Roman Catholic Church, which was destroyed by bush fires …can be rebuilt. The Vicar-General (Monsignor J. Cullen) said at Hobart last night it was unusual for Mass to be held in private homes. No plans for rebuilding were in hand, he said, but the church would be rebuilt and would be larger than the one which was destroyed”.

There is no record of the church being rebuilt and it is probable that Mass was held in the Southport Congregational church until 1967 when this building was also destroyed in bushfires. I have yet to locate an image of the church however it appears in a general photograph of Southport beach taken around the turn of the 20th century.

Notice of the opening of the church published in The Tasmanian Tribune

A view of Southport beach with the Catholic Church below the horizon on the extreme left. (c.1900) Source of scan of the photograph: Southport Community Centre. The original photograph belonged to the Hay family. 

Sources:

The Mercury, Friday 11 February 1876, page 2
The Tasmanian Tribune, Friday 11 February 1876, page 3
The Tasmanian Tribune, Monday 21 February 1876, page 2
The Mercury, Tuesday 22 February 1876, page 2
Examiner, Wednesday 20 December 1950, page 1
Examiner, Thursday 21 December 1950, page 7

 


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