No. 1457 - Franklin - St Mary's Catholic Church (1856-2013)

Franklin is a small town on the Huon Highway approximately 45 kilometres south of Hobart. It was established in 1804 and was the first settlement in the Huon district. It was named after the Governor of Tasmania, Sir John Franklin. Until the 1930s Franklin was a major town in the Huon Valley with its own court house, several hotels, a public hall and four churches.

St Mary’s church is one of the oldest Catholic churches in the Huon Valley and served a sizeable population of Irish Catholics in the district. Many were of convict descent and the Catholic Church saw it as its mission to bring about “moral improvement” in a desperately poor community plagued by crime and drunkenness. Catholic church historian, Fr Terry Southerwood, recounts a letter written by Jane Therry, to her priest-brother, describing the opening of St Mary’s church in November 1856:

“Jane first reported that the day was not propitious when Bishop Willson, Father Hall, Father Hunter and “several other clergyman and members of the laity, including the convert, Mr Charles Wilmot” boarded the little steamer for the Huon. With incessant rain, “all on board were drenched excessively”, when they had to “leave the steamer and go in an open boat to Franklin”. Miss Therry’s masterful description of the fracas that broke out at the church’s opening supplies an intriguing contemporary evaluation of the depraved social condition of Huon Valley Catholicism in the Fifties: “The people of that district are half savage, and most of them were quite drunk and quarrelled in the presence of the Bishop and clergy. They carried it so far as to break each others heads. It must not have been very edifying to Mr Wilmot.”

A report of the church’s opening published in the Hobarton Mercury gives no hint of the chaos described by Therry:

“On the 19th inst. the above church, which is a credit to the District, and to the architect, Mr. Hunter, was opened by the Bishop of Hobart Town, assisted by the Very Reverend the Vicar General, and the Reverend Fathers McGuire, Hunter, Shea, Dunn, Murphy, and Fitzgerald. A. Wilmot, Esq., P.M, and several visitors from Hobart Town, and other localities were present.

The church, which is situated in the centre of the Township, is 52 feet by 24, and capable of accommodating 300 people. A beautiful rood screen is attached to the altar. The style of the building is gothic. It cost upwards of £600, which has been raised by public subscription. High Mass was celebrated by the Reverend P. McGuire, and an appropriate and highly impressive sermon was preached by his Lordship on this interesting occasion.

The sum of £30 was collected during the evening in money, and by the sale of tickets. Happily, this district is free from religious dissension, and men of all classes and shades of opinion, contributed to the erection of this beautiful edifice. The Reverend F. Murphy is the Catholic pastor of this extensive District, and to his zeal and exertions, and the liberal donations of his Lordship, and the Very Reverend the Vicar General, are the Catholics, in a great measure, indebted for the erection of this church. Father Murphy is indefatigable in the discharge of his clerical duties, and by his zeal, piety, and Christian conduct, has ensured the good will, respect, and esteem of all classes”.

In his first year at Franklin, Father Murphy baptised forty two Catholics and by 1865 a total of 805 had been baptised in the Huon. In the early years Murphy’s house was an abandoned shed where he lived frugally and he soon established a reputation for outstanding sanctity. Murphy served the vast parish by boat until his death in August 1898.

In December 1898 Father Patrick Hennessy became parish priest of Franklin. Almost immediately after his arrival Hennessy built St Mary’s School and invited the sisters of St Joseph to staff it. In the 1920s Hennessy replaced the old school room with a new school and convent. St Mary’s school closed in 1973 and most of the students were transferred to St Joseph’s school at Geeveston.

Exactly 40 years later the church was also closed bringing to an end to 160 years of Catholic activity in Franklin. The building was sold in 2013 and subsequently converted into a house.

Photographs of St Mary's taken at the time of the church's sale in 2013. (

Detail of a postcard showing St Mary's and the convent school. Photographer: H.H. Baily 

Public notice announcing the church's opening - Hobarton Mercury


Hobarton Mercury, Monday 17 November 1856, page 1
Hobarton Mercury, Monday 24 November 1856, page 3
People's Advocate or True Friend of Tasmania, Thursday 27 November 1856

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


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