No. 1455 - Bruny Island - Variety Bay - St Peter's Anglican Church (1846)

Variety Bay is located on North Bruny Island which lies off the southeastern coast of Tasmania. In 1831 a pilot station was established at Variety Bay to direct shipping into Hobart. Convict labour was used to build the station as well as a church that was constructed in 1846. The ruins of St Peter’s, which was the first Anglican church built south of Hobart, are situated about 1500 metres south of the station.

St Peter’s church has a strong link with Bishop Francis Russell Nixon, the first Anglican Bishop of Tasmania, and Captain William Laurence, the pilot at the Variety Bay station. The church was constructed as a consequence of a meeting between Lawrence and Nixon upon the Bishop’s arrival in Van Diemen’s Land in July 1843. Three years later, when Nixon was about to depart Van Diemen’s Land for England on official business, he recalled his encounter with Lawrence who had piloted the ship ‘Duke of Roxburgh’ into Hobart:

“…I must go to the first day of my arrival in the colony, and to the first colonist who greeted me with a hearty English welcome as I was coming up the river; it was Mr. Lawrence, the pilot. I found him to be a man whose heart was in the right place. He told me of the spiritual destitution of Brune Island where he lived. He spoke like a Christian upon the want of all religious instruction there, and like a parent upon the need of some suitable education for his children growing up around him; nor did be forget to speak to me of his neighbours, equally destitute with himself of the means of grace. He then undertook to give a subscription of twenty pounds to a Church, if I should be enabled to take further means for procuring this blessing among them. Time has passed, and be has more than fulfilled his engagement; he has now given ten acres as a 
glebe, and has engaged at his own expense to build a Church upon the land, the materials of which are already there; more than this, he has stipulated to furnish the inside of the Church as well, even to procuring the Communion plate; and l am truly happy to say, that my last act as I leave my Diocese will be to land from the vessel as she cast anchor off Brune Island, and thereto lay the foundation-stone of the Church of which you have now heard the history”.

Bishop Nixon’s return to Variety Bay in July 1846 to ceremonially lay the foundation stone of Lawrence’s church is recorded in detail by the Hobart Courier:

“We should do an injustice to our readers and to the friends of the Lord Bishop of Tasmania, were we not to give some short account of the circumstances of his final departure from his Diocese, which took place at 3 o’clock on Wednesday morning. The Arequipa left her moorings at half-past 8 A.M. on Tuesday, and proceeded with a fair light wind down the river until mid-day, when it fell calm, and His Lordship was invited by the pilot Mr. Lawrence, to proceed in boats with his party to the pilot station, a few miles lower down, for the purpose of laying the foundation stone of the Church on Bruni Island, to the history of which His Lordship alluded on a late public occasion.

Upon landing, His Lordship inquired for the Missionary Chaplain of the Bruni District, whose headquarters are usually fixed at this pilot station, but was disappointed to learn that he was absent in a part of the district too distant for timely notice. "My Lord," said the pilot, "I have asked him why he need be knocking about at this season of the year, when he might as well be quiet at home till the weather improves; but he asked me what I should think of a pilot who, when a ship was coming in, would not go out to bring her up till the weather mended."

The afternoon was far spent before all the preparations were completed, and the party assembled at the spot chosen as the site on the dividing range of Bruni Island, with the sea on both sides in full view. When the Bishop, accompanied by the Archdeacon, and three of the clergy in attendance, arrived at the site, the assembled people joined in singing the hundredth psalm, after which His Lordship read certain suitable sentences of Holy Writ and an exhortation. Prayer succeeded, in which all joined with much devotion, and then the foundation stone was laid by the Bishop himself, assisted by Mr. Lawrence, the founder of the Church, which is named St. Peter's.

At this part of the proceedings another hymn was sung, and an act of solemn thanksgiving made by the Bishop and all the people. A few words, more especially suggested by the occasion, were then added by His Lordship, who appeared to survey with peculiar interest and affection the little flock assembled for prayer and praise in a spot where these sounds were now first heard since the beginning of time. When he had delivered his address, he let them depart with his blessing, the last he pronounced upon these shores.…”.

Bishop Nixon did not attend the church’s official opening in April 1847 as he was not to return to Tasmania until 1848. He did however consecrate St Peter’s on 20th August 1850 when he also oversaw a confirmation service. The opening of the church was conducted by Archdeacon Marriott and is described in the Hobart Courier:

“On Thursday last, according to notice, the Church of St. Peter, at Brune, was opened by the Venerable the Archdeacon, who delivered an appropriate address on the occasion. In consequence of the inclemency of the two preceding days, the attendance was not so large as expected, but most of the inhabitants of the island were present. On the following morning there was Divine Service, when the Rev. R. R. Davies, Rural Dean, preached, and the Archdeacon administered the Holy Communion.

This Church has been erected at the sole expense of Mr. Lawrence, the worthy pilot of Brune. It is a neat Gothic building, situated on the summit of the hill immediately over Adventure Bay, the first spot ever visited by an Englishman, Captain Cook having landed there more than seventy years ago. His name is still visible, carved on a tree in the neighbourhood of the Church, and a short time since a bottle containing the account of his landing was found at the foot of the tree.

The Church is neatly fitted up inside with font, pulpit, reading desk, &c, all the gift of the good pilot, and on either side of the chancel are the commandments, worked in tapestry by Mrs. Lawrence, in yellow silk on black broadcloth. The bell, weighing more than 110 lbs., was cast in Hobart Town, and is also the gift of Mr. Lawrence”.

The church was built for Captain Lawrence by Mr K.M. Stewart. It is believed that the building was designed by Bishop Nixon. It was a simple Georgian style gable roofed building with brick corbelling to the eaves.

The closure of the pilot station in 1854 was the likely cause of the church’s demise. In 1885 a visitor to Variety Bay described the abandoned building which it appeared to have been closed for some time:

“Mr Davis took me for a jaunt over to Great Bay, and thence across to the pilot station, at Variety Bay, on the east. On a hill, the second tier from the shore, and near the old station, there is a well built brick church now unused. Shame to say the vandal coasters, hunters, and larrikin element upon the island sacrilegiuosly have defaced the edifice by scrawling their names all over the walls, and by wanton destruction of parts of the fittings. The Creed, Lord’s prayer and Commandments, needlework in large frames near the pulpit, have escaped, but the wind that blows as it lists through the building, has separated the cloth from the framework. It would serve these Goths as they deserve, to publish all their names; but I forebear. The would be artist in charcoal crayins has ornamented (?) the walls too”.

With time the building continued to deteriorate and further damage was likely caused by bushfires in the 1890s.

In the 1950s, with the advent of a ferry service, the island became accessible to tourists and the church’s potential as an attraction to visitors was considered. The Mercury reported:

“…built by convict labour 108 years ago, which could become a great asset when tourists flock to the island with the advent soon of the vehicular ferry service. However, although the ruins could remain as such and have an appeal similar to those which attract thousands of tourists to Port Arthur, residents claim that the work of restoring the old building would be worthwhile. The old shell, on rising ground surrounded by bush and scrub….Beautifully designed and sturdily built by convicts, thousands of whose handmade bricks are stacked at a nearby kiln, most of the framework of the old church remains intact, but the roof and part of one wall are heaps of rubble. The church was built by K. M. Stewart for Capt. Lawrence, and the stone bearing this inscription is among the mass of collapsed brick work within the interior, of the building….”.

The church is located on private property but has been restored with Commonwealth and local government funding and maintained by the Bruny Island Historical Society and the Bruny Island Community Association.

Libraries Tasmania - Margaret Bryant Photographs (NS3373)

Libraries Tasmania - Ruined church at Variety Bay (1966) Jack Thwaites and Family (NG1155)

Libraries Tasmania - Margaret Bryant Photographs (NS3373)

Libraries Tasmania - Margaret Bryant Photographs (NS3373)

Libraries Tasmania - Ruined church at Variety Bay (1966) Jack Thwaites and Family (NG1155)

Libraries Tasmania - Ruined church at Variety Bay (1966) Jack Thwaites and Family (NG1155)

Libraries Tasmania - Foundation stone of the ruined church at Variety Bay (1966) Jack Thwaites and Family (NG1155)

Bishop Nixon - Libraries Tasmania Item Number  NS407/1/7

Oil Painting of Captain William Lawrence - Libraries Tasmania Item Number PH30/1/4633

The Weekly Courier, Thursday 23 December 1915. Photo: J.A. Fletcher


The Hobart Town Advertiser, Tuesday 16 June 1846, page 4
The Courier, Saturday 18 July 1846, page 2
Cornwall Chronicle, Wednesday 22 July 1846
The Courier, Wednesday 31 March 1847, page 2
The Courier, Wednesday 21 April 1847, page 3
The Courier, Saturday 27 July 1850, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Friday 27 June 1884, page 2
The Mercury, Saturday 13 June 1885, page 2
The Weekly Courier, Thursday 23 December 1915, page 22
Mercury, Wednesday 31 March 1954, page 20


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