St John the Baptist, Buckland – one of the first ecclesiologically correct churches in Tasmania
Buckland is situated approx. 60km north east of Hobart on the Tasman Highway (A3). The original inhabitants of the area were the Paredarerme. Europeans first settled in the 1820s in what was then known as Prosser’s Plains (after the nearby river). In 1841, a probation station for new convicts was established. Convicts also worked on the convict road, which ran on the north side of the Prosser River (an 8km walking track is left).[i] Its oldest house, Woodsden, was built in 1826. In 1846, the village was renamed Buckland, after William Buckland, professor of geology at Oxford and from 1845 Dean of Westminster.[ii] However, as contemporary newspaper articles show, both terms continued to be in use for quite some time.
In the early years, the settlement did not have a church. This changed quickly once the first chaplain, Frederick Holdship Cox[iii], was appointed to the area in 1846. Born on 21 April 1821, Cox was the son of Revd Frederick Cox, of Walton, Bucks, and had studied at Cambridge. Before coming to Tasmania, he had been appointed assistant curate of Iping-cum-Chithurst, Chichester, Sussex.
In 1843, the first bishop of Van Diemen’s Land (as Tasmania was called until 1856), Francis Nixon, arrived in Hobart. He soon realised that more chaplains, as well as money to build churches and schools, were needed. So he sent his archdeacon, Fitzherbert Marriott, back to Britain to drum up support. Cox was one of those who had been recruited by Marriott. He arrived in Hobart in February 1846 and became, a month later, chaplain at Prosser’s Plains.
It was Cox, who initiated the building of the Church of St John the Baptist. He was a member of the Ecclesiological Society, of which his father was also a member. I looked at the ideas of ecclesiology in my last post, here we will see how these principles have been put into practice.
As bishop Nixon was unfortunately otherwise engaged, the foundation stone was laid by archdeacon Marriott, on 12 August 1846. From the start it was made clear that the church would be in the style of a 14th English village church.
The inscription on the foundation stone explains that the church would be dedicated to St John the Baptist, because the quarry, where the stone for the church came from, had been opened on the eve of his feast day. [iv]
On 9 March 1847, Cox sent a letter to the Ecclesiological Society,[v] which was published in their journal. It gives an indication of what was planned and what had been achieved so far. By the time of the letter (7 months after the foundation stone had been laid), the walls were 3.6m above ground. He was optimistic that the church would be roofed before winter, in May or June 1847.
Cox was especially proud of the stonework of the windows, which he “considered a wonderful achievement in stone-cutting, being the first foliated windows in stone that have been seen in this country”. He claims that tradesmen, workmen, builders and amateurs had all told him that the windows could only be done in wood. However, he insisted on stone, and they were built in stone. A reader of the Hobart newspaper Colonial Times [vi], calling himself “An Observer”, was so incensed by Cox’s “twaddle” that he wrote a letter to his paper. He observed “that there were plenty of masons in the colony who could have executed the work years before Mr. Cox was ever heard of”.
Another point “An Observer” criticised was that Cox said that he could not find an architect. However, this seems to be more of a misunderstanding, as according to Cox there weren’t any ecclesiastical architects (obviously an important qualification for him), rather than “no competent architect“, as our Observer understands. We know that in January 1847, they were looking for an “EXPERIENCED BUILDER, to be foreman of the works at Prosser’s Plains Church”.[vii] The labourers were convicts, as later an argument erupted among other things about the money paid “for the rations supplied to the convict workmen”.[viii]
In his letter to the Ecclesiological Society, Cox explains that he was not only secretary and treasurer but actually master of the men. The plan for the church was adapted from one used at the same time for the Church of St John the Baptist at Cookham Dean, Berks.[ix] The plan was by Richard Cromwell Carpenter, who was held in highest esteem by the ecclesiologists. The plan had not been designed for any specific church, but as a blueprint for anyone who felt like building a rural church in the style of the 14th century. In addition to the churches at Cookham Dean and Buckland, the plan was also used for St James-the-Less, Stubbing, Berkshire (1849–50); St John the Evangelist, Bovey Tracey, Devon (1852–3 and Holy Innocents’, Rossmore, near Sydney, New South Wales (1848–50).[x] The effect would be, as Cox tells us “without self-gratulation, that the little church of S. John Baptist, Prosser’s Plains, will be by far the most church-like church in the island.”
So far that’s the good news, the final part of Cox’s letter contains some requests.
- He has £ 50 for stained glass for the three-light east window. As the church is dedicated to St John the Baptist, the three parts should depict the saint: 1 – as an ascetic in the wilderness, 2 – baptising Christ and 3 – in prison. Cox is asking for help in finding a “good artist”.
- A grant from the society’s funds for an ecclesiastical wood-carving (“an art unknown here”), either as a rood screen (measurements are included), carved work of the wooden porch or a font cover
- Encaustic tiles
He concludes by listing already promised donations. These are the £ 50 for stained glass, an altar cloth (from England) and a chalice and paten (also from England).
In between all his efforts with building the church, Cox also found time to get married. His wife was Sarah Browne, seventh daughter of the late Thomas Cruttenden of Hawkhurst in the borough of Tunbridge Wells in Kent. She was 11 years older than him and presumably had been married before. They were married on 13 April 1847 at Woodsden, the house of her brother, another Thomas Cruttenden, in Prosser’s Plains. This was the oldest house in the village, apparently named after the ancestral property in Kent. It seems likely that the family had a certain local standing. Thomas Cruttenden was also one of the main financial backers of the building of St James the Baptist.
Cox left Prosser’s Plains in June 1848 to take up the position of warden of Christ’s College in Hobart, which had been established by bishop Nixon in 1846. The idea had been that it would develop along the lines of an Oxbridge college and provide the basis for university education in Tasmania.[xi]
At Prosser’s Plains, Cox was succeeded by Revd Charles Dobson, who was to remain in office at the church for 30 years until his retirement in 1878.[xii]
It seems that the building work went on well. St John the Baptist was consecrated on 14 January 1849 by bishop Nixon[xiii]. Of course, Cox was also present. The Courier then gives a description of the church, which was later reprinted, with notes by Cox, in The Ecclesiologist.[xiv] Except in one instance, the church ticks all the ecclesiological boxes.
- The church consists of a nave and a chancel, with the chancel to the east. The church’s measurements are given: 19.5m long (13.5m nave + 6m chancel), 7m wide and 11.5m high.
- The church was built of “rough-dressed freestone”. The “excellent masonry of the walls” and the buttresses are mentioned.
- There is no tower, but like an English village church, St John the Baptist has a bell gable at the west and a gable cross at the east end.
- There is a vestry on the south of the chancel.
- The article explained that while on the northern hemisphere the entrance would normally be on the south side of the building. On the southern hemisphere it should therefore be on the north side, which is the case here.
- The church is entered through a massive door with scroll work “after an ancient pattern”, which was made by a local blacksmith.
- Just inside the door is an octagonal font, which was a gift by archdeacon Marriot. There is no font cover, so it seems his plea for funds from the Ecclesiological Society was not answered,
- The pulpit in the south-east corner of the nave is also octagonal, made of wood. The front panels have carved tracery at the top and are filled in with velvet on which Bible verses are embroidered with gold thread.
- Under the chancel arch, there is a prayer-desk and a desk for the Holy Bible. As prayer-desks were a big ecclesiological no-no, The Ecclesiologist is very disappointed to see something so improper included in “so good a church”. It is certainly surprising that Cox should have deviated from his ecclesiological principles, which he otherwise followed in every detail. However, possibly he had to bow to pressure from others.
- The pews, without doors, on either side of a central alley are made of “colonial lightwood”, which is actually dark. Revd Cox clarifies this in his comments as the report was published in The Ecclesiologist. The church still maintains its original outlay.
- The chancel is raised two steps from the nave.
- It is paved with “encaustic tiles from a celebrated Staffordshire manufactory”, i.e. Minton tiles, one of the earliest, if not the earliest, example in Australia.[xv] There is no rood screen.
- The altar is another step higher than the chancel. The article mentioned an “exceedingly rich velvet cloth, embroidered in needlework, with the sacred monogram, and other appropriate ornaments. When I visited, the altar cloth, as well as the other hangings, were purple for Advent.
- It is mentioned that the communion vessels were made of silver, “the work of Mr. Butterfield, an eminent church-architect”. We also read about altar books, “remarkable for their costliness and exquisite binding”. Understandably, all these items were not on display, when I visited.
The east window is probably the feature which attracts the most interest in the church. Unfortunately, a lot of nonsense has been written about it. Quite a number of present day websites and blogs repeat earlier stories[xvi] that this is an original 14th century window, hidden from the Tudors or Oliver Cromwell’s Republicans (take your pick), which was eventually shipped to Australia. If only they had done a bit of research and had made the effort to go back to contemporary reports. The article in both the Courier and The Ecclesiologist clearly states that it is “the work of Mr O’Connor, a London artist”. However, as all these misconceptions are widely floating around, it at least shows that Cox achieved his aim that the church would look like a 14th English village church.
Michael O’Connor was born in Ireland and studied stained glass under Thomas Wilament in London. He collaborated with A. W. N. Pugin and William Butterfield (who was the ecclesiological architect, and also designed the communion vessels for the church in Buckland). By 1845, O’Connor had established his own studio in London.
The window consists of ten panels, with three large panels at the bottom and seven smaller ones above fitting into an arch shape. The small panel at the top depicts Christ on the cross. In the centre underneath are two panels, one of Mary, the other St John. On the sides are decorative patterns. The three large panels are dedicated to St John the Baptist. “Preaching in the Wilderness” on the left, baptising Jesus in the middle and his execution on the right. In the top of the centre panel is the lamb (Agnus Dei, which is the symbol for St John the Baptist) with the banner of St George and underneath the dove. St John’s execution is depicted in in quite graphic detail. I’m not quite convinced that this reflects the “spiritual glory”, demanded by ecclesiological principles. O’Connor also made the smaller two-panelled window in the northern wall of the chancel, depicting the symbols of the four evangelists.
In his letter to The Ecclesiologist, Cox stressed that these windows were very much admired, as they were something new in Tasmania. He thanked the secretaries of Ecclesiological Society for their supervision while the windows were being made. Cox said that the windows were appreciated by the congregation of St John the Baptist “as an outward expression of holy truths by those who habitually worship within the church, or who in a devout spirit visit it”.
The stained glass windows, Milton tiles, altar cloth, linen, service books, alms-chest and other items were financed by Cox, members of his family in England and personal friends. The communion-plate was a present from his former parishioners in Chichester. The construction of the church building (without the ornamental features) cost £ 900, of which half came from public funds and the other half from private donors, mainly local residents.
On 24 January 1849, the Treasurer’s Report (i.e. Cox’s report) was published in The Courier.[xvii] The government gave £442 1s. 4d. It also lists the major subscribers. The bishop donated from church funds £75, Cox and his brother-in-law Mr Cruttenden each gave £50 (the latter also donated services, like use of a horse etc.), friends of Cox in England £25, £22 were offerings collected during services and there are several other private donors. The expenditure balances the income. The gifts of items for the church from various friends was estimated to exceed £150.
St John the Baptist, Buckland, soon became quite famous. In 1849, Revd Cox senior was able to show his friends at the Buckinghamshire branch of the Ecclesiological Society a lithograph of the church “recently erected under the superintendence of his son”.[xviii]
A letter to The Courier by someone signing as “Pergrinus” is full of praise for “this exquisite Gothic temple, at once the ornament of Van Diemen’s Land, and a lasting monument of the zeal, and talent, and perseverance of the Rev. Mr Cox”.[xix]
The writer of a letter to The Ecclesiologist in 1853[xx] was rather scathing about churches in Tasmania in general, from an ecclesiological point of view. However, he found something positive to say about St John the Baptist, Buckland, although for him the east window was too pre-Raphaelite.
In 1930, extensive repairs to the church were necessary, including a new roof. W.J. Rowlands reported on this for The Mercury and describes the church.[xxi] Unfortunately, he also seemed to fall for the fanciful story of the east window actually being medieval. However, he answered one question for me. At present, all the windows are made of stained glass. However, the accounts from 1849 only mentioned the stained glass of two windows in the chancel, saying that the others were made of ground glass. Rowlands explained that these are memorial windows to local dignitaries, three of them from the Cruttenden family. One is for Thomas Cruttenden (Cox’ brother-in-law), who died in 1883; one for Rebecca Cruttenden (his wife?), who died in 1850 and another is for a George Cruttenden, who died in 1880 at the age of 78, probably a younger brother of Thomas. Both Thomas and George Cruttenden are buried in the cemetery of St John the Baptist, where we learn that Thomas was born in 1800.[xxii]
Like many other churches, St John the Baptist, Buckland, was recently faced with closure. The 1930 roof, containing asbestos, needed replacing, and general maintenance costs were going up. However, the local community did not want to see its church go and set up a community group which is fighting for its survival.[xxiii]
And what happened to Revd Cox, you might ask. After a year as Warden of Christ’s College, he became minister of a parish in Hobart. Here he was instrumental in building another church, also dedicated to St John the Baptist. Unlike the Buckland church, this one was deconsecrated in 1998 and serves now – under the name Pendragon Hall – as a holiday apartment.[xxiv]
Cox returned to England in 1857-58, but came back to Tasmania as incumbent of St David’s Cathedral to Hobart in January 1868, and became inaugural dean in 1872. Again he had a hand in church building, the foundation stone of the nave was laid during his incumbency (in January 1868). However, he resigned and returned to England, shortly before it was consecrated in February 1874.
He served in various parishes, visiting Tasmania again in 1888-89. In their later years, he and his wife seem to have moved back to the area where she came from (Hawkhurst in Kent), because both died in Tunbridge Wells. He died in 1906, his wife Sarah survived him for another two years and died aged 98.
Revd Cox must be remembered for his efforts and energy in church building in the at that time young colony of Tasmania. St John the Baptist, Buckland, certainly serves as a memorial to him.
While building the church went relatively smoothly and ended in a success, not everyone was happy. Maybe that’s just human nature – and another tale to tell next time.
Further posts on St John the Baptist, Buckland:
[i] D’Emden, R., Prosser Catchment Management Plan, Draft, June 2002. URL: http://www.gsbc.tas.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/draft%20Prosser%20Catchment%20Management%20Plan%202002.pdf [last accessed 11 Jan. 2016]
[ii] ‘Buckland’, The Age (8 Feb. 2004). URL: http://www.theage.com.au/news/Tasmania/Buckland/2005/02/17/1108500205675.html [last accessed 1 Jan. 2016].
[iii] Unless otherwise stated, biographical details for Revd F.H. Cox are based on: Barrett, W.R., ‘Cox, Frederick Holdship (1821–1906)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University (published first in hardcopy 1966). URL: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cox-frederick-holdship-1930/text2303 [last accessed 9 Jan. 2016]
[iv] The Ecclesiologist, Vol.VIII, No. LXII (Oct. 1847), p.87
[v] The Ecclesiologist, Vol.VIII, No. LXII (Oct.1847), pp.86-8
[x] Elliott, J., ‘Carpenter, Richard Cromwell (1812–1855)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [last accessed online 26 Jan. 2016]
[xi] ‘Christ College History’, University of Tasmania. URL: http://www.utas.edu.au/accommodation/current/christ/history.htm [last accessed 16 Jan. 2016]
[xii] Rowlands, W.J., ‘Tasmanian Churches: St John’s, Buckland – Interesting History’, The Mercury (27 Oct. 1930). Available at URL: http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/29818657 [last accessed 1 Jan. 2016]
[xiv] The Ecclesiologist, Vol. XI, No. LXXIX (August 1850), pp.89-91
[xv] Moore, G.M., Antipodean Gothic, Masters Research thesis, Dept. of Fine Arts, The University of Melbourne (1984), p.185
[xvi] For more information on the window and the controversy in dating it, see Ray Brown, ‘23-01-1850: St John the Baptist, Buckland, Tasmania’, Stained Glass Australia (7 July 2012). URL: https://stainedglassaustralia.wordpress.com/2012/07/07/23-01-1850-st-john-the-baptist-buckland-tasmania/ [last accessed 1 Jan. 2016]
[xviii] The Ecclesiologist, Vol. X, No. LXXIII (Aug. 1849), p.58
[xx] The Ecclesiologist, Vol. XIV, No. XCV (April 1853), pp.113-115
[xxi] Rowlands, W.J.
[xxii] Julie N., ‘Buckland Cemetery’, Australian Cemeteries. URL: http://www.australiancemeteries.com/tas/glamogan/bucklanddata.htm [last accessed 10 Jan. 2016]
[xxiii] Ward, A., ‘Historic Tasmanian church saved by local community as others struggle to fight off closure’, ABC (6 June 2015). URL: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-06-06/historic-tasmanian-church-saved-by-local-community-as-others-st/6527064 [last accessed 1 Jan. 2015]
[xxiv] ‘(former) St John the Baptist Anglican Church, West Hobart’, Cemeteries & Churches & Things (3 May 2015). URL: http://monissa.com/ccphotos/?p=1040 [last accessed 2 Jan. 2016]; ‘Pendragon Hall Hobart Studio Apartment’, Direct Rooms. URL: http://en.directrooms.com/hotels/info/5-43-275-58672 [last accessed 20 Jan. 2016]