No. 1463 - Inveresk - St Finn Barr's Catholic Church - Forster Street (1894-1925)

St Finn Barr’s Catholic church on Invermay Road opened in August 1954, almost 30 years after the original church burnt down in 1925. The focus of this article is on original church which stood on a site at the corner of Holbrook Street (then called Gunn Street) and Forster Street**. I have yet to come across a photograph of the church which was built to a similar plan as St Canice at Glengarry.

The foundation stone for Inveresk* Catholic church (and Launceston’s second Catholic Church#) was ceremonially laid by the Archbishop of Hobart on Sunday 29 January 1893. Land for the church was purchased at a cost of £300 while an additional piece of land for the construction of a convent was donated by Mr Patrick Dargan. The Launceston Examiner reported the event as follows:

“Yesterday afternoon the Archbishop of Hobart performed the important ceremony of laying the foundation stone of a new Roman Catholic Church on property recently purchased at the corner of Gunn and Foster streets, Inveresk. At three o'clock the Archbishop, accompanied by the Very Rev. Dean Beechinor and the Revs. J.O'Mahony and M'Carthy, arrived on the ground, and entered a tent which a had been erected on there. Having robed, a procession was formed, headed by the acolytes and cross-bearer, following whom were altar boys, the priests, the Archbishop, and a guard of honour, composed of the officers and members of the Hibernian and St. Patrick Benefit Societies in full regalia.

The procession walked around the ground pegs to the foundation stone, where the usual ceremony was performed. The Archbishop laid the stone, covering the coins which were placed on the top with mortar, a silver trowel being used for the purpose. Under the stone were placed copies of the Examiner, Morning Star, and Daily Telegraph, and the usual Latin document detailing the names of the reigning sovereign and Pope Leo XIII., the Administrator of the Government (Sir W. L. Dobson), the Archbishop of Hobart, the parish rector, and the architect (Mr Alex. North)”.

The building strongly resembled St Canice Catholic at Glengarry “but on a much larger scale” and “with the addition of a spire and porch”. The Glengarry church was also designed by Alexander North and was constructed at the same time as St Finn Barr’s.

St Finn Barr’s was officially opened on Sunday 14 January 1894 by Archbishop Murphy. A report published in the Daily Telegraph provides a detailed description of the church:

“…The inside is very commodious, and although the building has been erected on economical principles its interior deserves special reference. It is lined entirely with well-seasoned Tasmanian hardwood, thus using native timbers in a direction in which they have not hitherto been employed. The result is satisfactory in every respect, and is a sufficient proof of the adaptability of Tasmanian timbers for this class of work….The dado and roof are stained dark, and show off the timber against the lighter tints of the wall, whilst the subdued light coming through the stained glass windows completes a very pleasing interior. At the end of the chancel a sacristy is screened off, so that the building is provided with all the necessary conveniences, and as the size of the nave is 60ft by 26ft, the seating accommodation will amply meet all present requirements. The work was carried out by Mr James Wilson, the painting being done by Messrs. Deane and Son who, together with the builder, gave entire satisfaction….”.

A report in the Examiner provides some additional information about the church:

“The spire which has been erected over the porch gives a pleasing finish to the building, and can be seen from nearly every part of the city. A bell has been secured and erected, and appropriate furniture is also to be procured, the altar and seating accommodation used yesterday being of a temporary character. The building is to be used as a church on Sundays, and during the week it will be utilised as a school, which will be under the charge of members of the new Community of Teaching Nuns who are expected to arrive from an intercolonial diocese shortly”.

At the close of 1895 the Daily Telegraph published a report reviewing St Finn Barr’s first year school year:

“Yesterday closed the first academic year at St. Finn Barr's School, Inveresk, when a pleasing entertainment terminated a most successful year. Before the school was formed many of the children in the large district of Inveresk and Invermay had great difficulties to contend against in obtaining a sound education, which would embrace, not only the three “R’s," but first-rate classical instruction. The obstacles in the way were known to the Very Rev. Dean Beechinor, who promptly endeavoured to overcome them, and that he succeeded is patent from the fact that the seminary now conducted by the sisters of the Presentation Convent has been the means of disseminating knowledge to a numerous section of the juvenile population of the locality.…”.

In 1905 a hall was constructed alongside the church to accommodate the school as well as provide a meeting place for social events. The Daily Mail reported:

“Another notable addition to the buildings at Inveresk has been made, in the form of St. Finn-Barr's Hall, which was formally opened yesterday by the Right Rev.- .Monsignor Beechinor, who, according to Cardinal Moran, “is always opening something.” There was a large gathering at 10 o'clock mass, which was celebrated by Rev. Edward Walsh. Monsignor Beechinor was parish priest, addressed the congregation, and, after giving, a brief explanation of the gospel of the day, detailed what had been done in connection with the erection of the new hall. During the previous month he made a domiciliary, visit, particularly to the parents of children who attend the nun's school. The visit resulted in the collection of about £70. He bestowed a graceful compliment upon Mr W. V. Smith, the honorary architect, and the builder, Mr Wm.Byrne, a Victorian contractor and engineer. Mr Byrne carried out his work well and faithfully, giving complete satisfaction in every detail. The building is unique in design, and has the appearance of a Swiss chalet. The style has been largely adopted by the Queensland Government in the erection of State schools and other large buildings….The building is well lighted and lofty, affording every comfort to the children attending school in it, and satisfaction to their teachers, the Presentation nuns, who travel to the school daily from the Convent in Margaret-street.

The hall is 45ft long by 38ft wide, with a stage measuring 28ft by 13ft. The floor space gives accommodation for 285 persons. The space underneath the stage has been utilised as a refreshment-room, which is provided with a gas stove. Adjacent are two changing rooms for performers at entertainments, with separate stairs leading to the stage. The hall has been connected with the church by folding doors, and thus it may be used as a church hall, or school, as occasion requires. Two fire places provide the necessary warmth in cold weather. The foundation is built of hard clinker bricks, on concrete…The building is covered with galvanised iron. Ventilation is provided by 14 vents and a large louvre in the gable…Six Gothic-headed windows, with coloured glass, are provided, and there are two double and one single ledge doors, in accordance with the regulation of the Board of Health. The whole of the outside is painted and picked out in four coats of paint, and the inside is stained and varnished. A Grecian cross, which surmounts the west gable, gives a handsome finish to the building. The total cost of the structure was over £250”.

In the early hours of the morning of Wednesday 25 March 1925 both the church and hall were destroyed in a deliberately lit fire. A report in the Daily Telegraph paints a vivid picture of the destruction and outlined the challenges facing the Catholic community:

“Two solitary chimneys, standing out like sentinels, and a mass of charred timber scattered over the solid bluestone foundations, are all that remain of what was St. Finn Barr’sChurch and school, in Forster-street, Invermay. The fire fiend has left its telling trail, and throughout yesterday, curious sightseers visited the scene of the conflagration to view this untoward piece of destruction.

Parts of the ruin were still smouldering when a “Daily Telegraph” reporter joined the silent crowd yesterday afternoon. Portions of the fence had been burned, but, together with a uniformed constable, it prevented unscrupulous persons from searching among the debris for goods of any value that the fire had not utterly destroyed.

The church and schoolroom were completely demolished, and also the altar equipment of the former, with valuable statuary, which, apart from the building, was valued at £1000. In the church and school there were four pianos, and the school desks alone were estimated to be worth £80….It was at first feared that some of the valuable chalices in the church might have attracted the cupidity of some desecrator for the sate of unlawful gain. Further investigation of the debris yesterday, however, placed this matter beyond doubt. There were four chalices in the church, including the valuable gold one presented recently by Mr Thomas Traynor, in memory of his late father, Mr John Traynor. The remains of all the chalices were found amongst the ruins. The insurances affected over the building and effects will not nearly cover the loss sustained. The buildings were valued at between £2000 and £3000, and only a very small proportion of the internal effects were saved from destruction. The church building was insured for £500, andthe school hall for £300….”.

Following the fire a Drill Hall in Holbrook Street was made available for use as a temporary school and church. However, this building too became the target of an arsonist in the early hours of Thursday 29 July 1926:

“At 1.45 this morning Mr. Thompson, a baker at Invermay, telephoned to the fire brigade station that the Drill-hall in Holbrook-street was on fire. This building, which is the property of the Federal Government,…was leased to the Roman Catholic Church trustees at Launceston 15 months ago for use as a church and school when St. Finn Barr’s Church was destroyed by fire. When the brigade arrived on the scene the south-west corner facing the street was ablaze, and, fanned by a strong westerly wind, the flames were making good headway, but a good supply of water was available .and after an hour's work the outbreak was subdued. The fire started in a room in the south corner of the building…and that part of the hall was completely gutted, the fire extending into the main building, reaching the altar and partly destroying it….Incendiarism is suspected, and the detectives are making investigations….The frequency of fires in Invermay is causing some uneasiness among the residents, especially those who have untenanted; property, in view of the fact that so many unoccupied houses in that suburb have been "fired" in the last 15 months, and it has given rise to the belief that a "fire maniac" is at large….”.

After the second fire worship moved to a small hall in the new Catholic school which opened on Invermay Road in 1927. In 1933 the Holbrook Street Drill was removed to Mona Vale where military camps were held. It served the dual purpose of a recreation room and store for camp equipment.

* The area is now officially falls within the boundaries of Invermay.
** The original spelling was "Foster Street".
# St Joseph's and its replacement the Church of the Apostles were the first Catholic church(es) built in Launceston.

A view of Inveresk/Invermay from Windmill Hill (1897). St Finn Barr's is just visible in the centre--right of the photograph. PhotO: Henry Lewis - Libraries Tasmania - Item number: LPIC22/1/66

St Canice at Glengarry. St Finn Barr's was built to the same plan of Alexander North but on a larger scale and with a porch and tower. both churches were built in 1894.

Launceston Examiner 10 January 1893

The Catholic Convent School (on the right) at Beaconsfield was built in 1905 to the same plan as St Finn Barr's Hall. Source: Archdiocese of Hobart


Launceston Examiner, Friday 10 January 1893, page 1
Launceston Examiner, Wednesday 18 January 1893, page 8
Daily Telegraph, Monday 30 January 1893, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Monday 30 January 1893, page 6
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 2 November 1893, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 13 December 1893, page 2
Launceston Examiner, Monday 15 January 1894, page 5
Daily Telegraph, Saturday 21 December 1895, page 5
Daily Telegraph, Monday 22 May 1905
Examiner, Monday 22 May 1905, page 6
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 26 March 1925, page 4
Mercury, Friday 30 July 1926, page 12
Mercury, Saturday 10 June 1933, page 7

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



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