Exploring Tasmania: Hobart

St George's Church, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

St George’s Church, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

My only visit to Tasmania so far was a whistle-stop affair.  The lecture-tour itinerary I was following meant that I flew into Hobart on Sunday night, lectured there on Monday night, travelled to Launceston on Tuesday to lecture, and left for Sydney on Wednesday morning.

Van Diemen’s Land was a bad place to be in the early nineteenth century.  British criminals feared it;  colonial administrators hated it, and the settlers’ activities ultimately exterminated the indigenous population.

It is a beautiful island, and a place to which I must return.

I stayed at Battery Point, on the hill above Sullivans Cove, at the comfortable Battery Point Boutique Accommodation [http://www.batterypointaccommodation.com.au/aboutus/index.htm], and my hosts, Jill and Bill Bale, made sure I saw as much of their city as possible in a short time.

Battery Point and the harbour-front below it, Salamanca Place, reminded me strongly of Whitby, which is plausible because Hobart dates from 1804 and its oldest streets are more Georgian than Victorian.

In the limited time available I needed to check out Hobart’s cathedrals for my ‘Antipodean Gothic’ lecture and publication. 

I’m glad that Bill, my host, insisted on pointing me towards St George’s Parish Church, a superb Greek-revival building of 1836-8, designed by the Irish-born Civil Engineer & Colonial Architect John Lee Archer (1791-1852).  The particularly elegant tower (1840s, based on the Tower of the Winds, Athens) and the imposing Doric porch (1888) were added by the convict-architect James Blackburn (1803-1854), who had been transported for forgery and who at the end of his life designed the first water-supply system for Melbourne.

St Mary’s Cathedral, seat of the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart, is Gothic, imperfectly constructed 1860-6 and re-erected 1876-81.  It has a memorial stained-glass window by John Hardman & Co and a statue of the Virgin and Child, designed by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin and carved by George Myers.  Three modern stained-glass windows are by the Hungarian-born designer Stephen Moor (1915-2003).  In contrast, the font – of unknown provenance – is thought to be Norman.

St David’s Cathedral, the centre of the Anglican diocese of Tasmania, is an early design of the late-Victorian English architect, George Frederick Bodley (1827-1907).  It replaced an earlier classical parish church of 1823.  St David’s Cathedral was begun in 1868 and the nave was consecrated in 1874.  It took until 1936 to complete:  the chancel, consecrated in 1894, proved unsafe and had to be reconstructed in 1908-9;  the tower, for which the foundation-stone had been laid in 1892, was eventually constructed 1931-6.

I keep finding similar stories in the origins of Australian cities – diligent, determined congregations building churches, designed either by people on the spot who’ve brought their skills across the seas, or by British architects sending out plans that they knew they’d never see built.

Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Gothic Down Under:  English architecture in the Antipodes explores the influence of British architects, and British-trained architects, on the design of churches and other buildings in the emerging communities of Australia and New Zealand.  For details, please click here.



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