Exploring Tasmania: Launceston

St John's Anglican Church, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

St John’s Anglican Church, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

My only chance to see the scale of Tasmania was a bus-journey from Hobart north to Launceston (pronounced Laun-ces-ton with three syllables) – an enjoyable journey following by road an entirely serviceable railway track that hasn’t seen a passenger train since 1978.

My curiosity was aroused by odd places I’d have stopped at if I’d been in a car – Oatlands, its early-nineteenth-century sandstone buildings constructed by convicts, Callington Mill (1837) the only functioning Lincolnshire windmill in the southern hemisphere [http://www.callingtonmill.com.au/mill], Perth, which has a dignified octagonal Baptist church and a rather sad locomotive “plinthed”, as the website describes it, in a park:  http://www.australiansteam.com/H6.htm.

The Launceston Decorative & Fine Arts Society booked me into the splendidly named Clarion City Park Grand Hotel [http://www.clarionhotel.com/hotel-launceston-australia-AU738] and made sure I didn’t starve:  I like to sample southern-hemisphere fish, so at lunch I ordered gummy and potato salad at Silt @ Seaport [now apparently closed – http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g255344-d1652423-Reviews-Silt_Seaport-Launceston_Tasmania.html] and after the lecture I was taken for dinner at a carnivore’s nirvana, the Black Cow Bistrohttp://blackcowbistro.com.au.

I liked Launceston, where I had a free morning before flying back to Sydney.  The shopping streets are particularly rich in Art Deco buildings.  My particular favourite building, however, was St John’s Anglican Church, a weird pot-pourri of different building phases – a “Regency Gothic” tower dating back to 1830, the chancel and transepts added according to an unfinished plan by the Huddersfield-born architect Alexander North (1848-1945) between 1901 and 1911, with the nave enlarged, again by Alexander North, in 1937-8.  North’s splendid crossing is spanned by a concrete dome, but the massive central tower remains unbuilt.

At the time I visited St John’s I didn’t realise – there’s no reason why I should – that the organ was first installed by Charles Brindley, organ-builder of my native Sheffield, in 1861:  http://www.ohta.org.au/organs/organs/LauncestonStJohns.html.   It seems that Brindley, together with his eventual business-partner, Albert Healey Foster, exported organs to the southern hemisphere on a regular basis.

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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