No. 1490 - The Steppes - St Luke's Mission Hall (1911)

The Steppes is a rural area in the Central Highlands of Tasmania. It is located about 80 kilometres north of the town of Hamilton and lies south of Arthur’s Lake.

The Steppes is closely associated with the Wilson family. In the early 1860s James Wilson was appointed Chief Constable of the Steppes district. In 1863 a police station was constructed which became the home of Wilson and wife Jessie and five children. James was made redundant when the station closed in 1894 but the Wilsons were allowed to stay on as tenants. When James died in 1922, aged 85, Mrs Jessie Wilson and her three daughters continued to live at the Steppes. The last of the family was Miss ‘Madge’ Wilson who lived her entire life at the Steppes, passing away in 1975 at the age of 92 years. The Wilson’s daughters were closely associated with the establishment of St Luke’s Mission Hall, and Madge, a talented artist, carved the the church’s altar furniture.

The origins of the Mission Hall is spelt out in considerable detail in a letter written by Reverend S.P.H. Martin, Rector of St Michael and All Angels’ at Bothwell. A portion of the letter, which was published in the Hobart Mercury, is reproduced as follows:

“Early in 1908 I accepted the position of rector of the Bothwell parish, extending from Apsley to the north end of the Great Luke, a distance of 70 miles with an average of nearly 20 miles east to west. While attempting to visit all the residents within this area, it soon became apparent that if the scattered population residing in the highland, from Interlaken, the Steppes, by Arthur’s Lakes, and round the Great Lake, were to be ministered to, it could only be by procuring help for the work. With this idea an appeal was made to all the pastoralists owning stock and employing labour is within that district for funds towards supporting an assistant, at any rate, during the summer months, when it would be possible to travel from Bothwell to the Great Lake for regular services. As the result of this appeal enough money was subscribed to support a stipendiary render for three months, and Mr. T. A. Stephenson accepted the position, and did good work during the summer 1908-9 in visiting the people and holding regular Sundayservices at The Steppes (25 miles from Bothwell), Interlaken (12 miles to the east of that centre), and Wiharija [Shannon] (eight miles to the north of it). During this time confirmation classes were held, and a Sunday-school started”.

“Bishop Mercer and I also travelled to the Great Lake while visiting the parish that year, and held confirmations at The Steppes. Mr. Wilson very kindly lending his sitting-room for the purpose, and also at the Shannon. Those who attended the services began to contribute to the mission fund, and the pastoralists were invited to continue their contributions, so that the work might be continued during the summer of 1909-10, with the result that one of the students from St. Wilfrid's College, Cressy, the Rev. J H. S. Harrison; took up the work during December and January….”.

“…The opportunity arose in September, 1910, of securing, the Rev. S. Woolley as assistant curate for Bothwell parish… Rev. S. Woolley began his curacy by piloting the Ven. Archdeacon Whitington on a tour through the Lakes district, when he kindly visited the people, holding services, and giving lectures at various places. in November, the Rev. F. Morgan Payler, as Diocesan Mission chaplain, visited the district, and very kindly held mission services at the three chief centres, endearing, himself to the people wherever he went…. I was able to coral some of the men as members of the Church of England Men's Society during the winter of 1910, and by their efforts, well supported by Mrs. and the Misses Wilson, of The Steppes, and Mrs F. Bunbury, of Oatlands, a Mutual Improvement and Debating Society was started, and well worked all through the winter, and as a further result of these things it became almost possible to put into operation a plan I had long contemplated in the erection of a parish hall for The Steppes. I need only say that, when once, the plan was unfolded, everyone took up the idea with enthusiasm”.

“Mr. Geo. Tilley was appointed secretary of a strong committee, and did yeoman service in collecting money for the work, with the result that nearly £60 has been collected. A loan of £56 from the diocesan church sites and loans fund, and another of £30 from three of our best helpers, has enabled us to buy half-acre of land and erect thereon a really good building, 47 x 20 over all, of wood, of good design, and a credit to the builder, at a cost of only £130 for the main building. The Rev. F. Morgan Payler kindly travelled from Hobart to be present at the first religious service held within the building, and a largely attended social gathering, held little later, emphasised the fact that the purpose of the building is that both religious services and social gatherings, in connection with the mission may be held within its walls….”

“…Having now placed my resignation of the rectory of Bothwell In the Bishop’s hands, and being about to take charge of Ulverstone parish, I have secured the consent of the diocesan authorities, to the separation of the Lake district into a separate mission district, for I feel sure that the time has come when a resident missioner should be appointed to take charge of the work, and I am glad to state that the Rev. S. Woolley is willing to continue and extend the good work, he has been doing by going to the live in the district. He will have charge of a district comprising about 700 square miles of country, and will have plenty to do in striving to minister to the scattered residents. He goes to the work without any guarantee of regular stipend, but I am confident that those to whom he ministers will respond and do their part towards supporting their missioner while those who having interest in the district, have so well contributed to the funds hitherto, will doubtless do as much in the future, when they know what their help has enabled us to do in the past and made possible at the present.…”.

The official opening of St Luke’s Mission Hall took place on Wednesday 25 September 1911. The event is described in a report in the Hobart Mercury:

“On Wednesday morning over 200 residents of this [Great Lake District] and surrounding districts gathered to meet the Ven. Archdeacon Whitington, of Hobart, the rector of Bothwell (Rev. Mr. Cutts and the vicar of the Lake District (Rev. S. Woolley) for the purpose of of dedication of gifts and the sanctuary of the new Church of England Social-hall - St. Luke's. A surpliced choir assisted, and Mrs. G. Tilley presided at the organ. The Archdeacon, after the dedication service gave an address. Directly after the ceremony dinner was partaken of. Guests, visitors, and residents gave great praise to Mesdames Brazendale, Wilson, Tilley, and a staff of young lady assistants for the good things provided and their kindly attention. The afternoon was devoted to sports, handicap trot, trial of hunters, foot-racing, etc. Tea was provided, and a social followed, and it passed off pleasantly….. Great praise is due to Mr. James Brazendale, Tasman Hayes, and the committee for the initial success of the proceedings. A dance concluded a very delightful function”.

St Luke's Mission Hall was sold in the late 1980s and the building is now owned and managed by a local community group. The Steppes Hall recently featured in an episode of the ABC’s “Backroads” and a link to this is <HERE>. Further information about this history of The Steppes and the artistic work of Marjorie Wilson can be found on the link <HERE>.

St Luke's Mission Hall (1967) Source: Libraries Tasmania Item Number NS3195/1/3797 - Jack Thwaites and Family (NG1155)

St Luke's Mission Hall (1967) Source: Libraries Tasmania Item Number NS3195/1/3798 -  Jack Thwaites and Family (NG1155)

A recent photograph of the hall - Source:

Miss Madge Wilson, the Steppes, Tasmania, 92 years of age admires a painting presented to her by Bureau of Meteorology to mark her 50 years service as a rainfall observer. Source: National Library of Australia -

Altar Furniture carved by Madge Wilson Source: Libraries Tasmania Item Number NS3195/1/4140 -  Jack Thwaites and Family (NG1155)

Altar Furniture carved by Madge Wilson Source: Libraries Tasmania Item Number NS3195/1/4141 -  Jack Thwaites and Family (NG1155)

Altar Furniture carved by Madge Wilson Source: Libraries Tasmania Item Number NS3195/1/4144 -  Jack Thwaites and Family (NG1155)

Sources and further information:

Mercury, Tuesday 1 August 1911, page 3
Mercury, Tuesday 31 October 1911, page 3
Mercury, Tuesday 16 January 1912, page 3

Stephens, Geoffrey & Anglican Church of Australia. Diocese of Tasmania, (issuing body.) The Anglican Church in Tasmania : a Diocesan history to mark the sesquicentenary, 1992. Trustees of the Diocese, Hobart, 1991.


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