St John the Baptist, Buckland – disagreement

St John the Baptist, Buckland –

a disagreement between gentlemen

The church of St John the Baptist, Buckland, was consecrated on 15 January 1849.  Unfortunately, this did not mean that everyone lived happily ever after.  On the contrary, it seems to have just been the last drop for some long-simmering animosities.  The whole affair eventually ended in the Supreme Court of Tasmania.

The main characters in the ensuing quarrels were also the main contributors to the church building fund (as listed in the Treasurer’s Report of 24 January 1849[i]) and are therefore worth taking a closer look at.

  • Revd Frederick H. Cox’s career has been dealt with in my previous post on St John the Baptist. He contributed £50 and also received another £50 from his friends and family in England.

The main characters in the quarrel, which ended before the Supreme Court, were Thomas Cruttenden and William Smith .

  • Thomas Cruttenden was born on 7 July 1800 in Hawkhurst, Kent. He came to Tasmania and settled in Prosser’s Plains as a sheep farmer.  He owned the oldest house in the village, Woodsden.  Several of his siblings seem to have accompanied him to Tasmania.  One of his sisters, Sarah Browne, married on 13 April 1847 Revd Cox. Thomas Cruttenden died on 29 November 1883 in Buckland.  His younger brother George died on 5 October 1880 also at Buckland.[ii] Thomas was the largest individual contributor to the church building fund with £50, added to that were £10 for the value of a horse, work of his servants to the value of £2 7s. 6d.  and £2 for a recovered fine.  The parish has to thank both Revd Cox and Thomas Cruttenden for a rectory on the opposite side of the road.  I don’t think it exists any more, but you can see a picture here ( The land was bought by Cox from the Crown and Cruttenden built the house on it as a present for his sister. It was later gifted to the parish.[iii]  Since at least 1842, Cruttenden seems to have had the habit of going for walks with a thistle-spud instead of a walking stick. (A thistle-spud is a tool with a long handle and a small blade at the end used for cutting thistles.)
  • William James Villeneuve Smith was born in 1824, probably in Lindfield, Sussex, England. Villeneuve was his mother’s maiden name.  In 1826 the family had emigrated to Tasmania and settled in 1829 on the Campania Estate in the Coal River Valley. Their two sons, Francis and William, returned to England for their education.  William studied medicine at University College London, but did not graduate.  He returned to Australia, got married and tried his hand at sheep farming in Tasmania (it is during this period that the events of this tale took place) and Victoria.  He later returned to London and was called to the bar in 1857.  If his later career is anything to go by, he seems to have been someone who created trouble wherever he went. He was famous for “libelling important figures” and his hopes of being elected to parliament were dashed when he was accused of “profligacy, treachery and brutality”. He died in 1902 in a horse-tram accident.  His contribution was £10.
  • William had an older brother Francis.  Francis studied law at the University of London and returned to Tasmania after being called to the bar.  There he would later become a barrister, judge, premier of Tasmania.  He was solicitor general in 1849, when he represented his brother William in court.  Francis was also known for his “abrasive temper”. He retired to London and Tunbridge Wells and died in 1909.[iv]  Maybe he did meet up with Revd Cox when in Tunbridge Wells?
St John the Baptist, Buckland - disagreement

Francis Smith (via Wikimedia Commons)

The following were bit players in the story and/or witnesses.

  • Stephen Henry Grueber came from Belfast, Ireland, and emigrated to Tasmania in August 1839. Initially he managed the property of someone else, but then bought his own property, Brockly, at Prosser’s Plains. He was elected district commissioner for Spring Bay in 1844.[v] He donated £16 to the church building fund, and also provided servants to the value of £3 10s.
  • George Birch was the son of Thomas William Birch, who had arrived in Hobart in 1808. His father had been a surgeon, merchant and shipowner. George was born in 1820 in Hobart. He married on 8 February 1845 Susanna Clara, second daughter of Captain Sir H.E. Atkinson, in Prosser’s Plains. He died in 1854 in Hobart.[vi] He contributed £10.
  • John Forster was born in Plymouth on 5 February 1814. He arrived in Tasmania in 1841.  Initially he was assistant police magistrate in Hamilton, before being transferred in 1845 to Prosser’s Plains and Sorrell.  In 1848, he was promoted to police magistrate in Sorrell.  He seems to have been popular, as the local population was very sad to see him leave in 1853. Eventually he was appointed inspector of police and sheriff. He retired on 1 January 1875 and died on 17 July 1887 at Battery Point, Hobart.[vii] His contribution was £15.
  • Revd Charles Dobson did not contribute financially, as he only arrived once the church was being built, but as he is a witness to the later incident, he is also introduced here. Before becoming a minister, he had been employed in the chemical industry to manufacture manure by a new process.  His first posting as a minister was in 1844 to Darlington, Maria Island, a convict probation station. When Revd Cox took up his position as warden of Christ’s College in June 1848, Dobson succeeded him as chaplain at Prosser’s Plains on 10 July 1848.  He and Frances Eleanor Lapham from County Kildare, Ireland, were married on 3 March 1846 in St. George’s Church, Battery Point, Hobart, by the bishop.  They had four sons and a daughter.  Their daughter, Lucy, married a nephew of Thomas Cruttenden, Henry Cruttenden Mace, on 29 February 1876 at St John the Baptist, Buckland.  The marriage was performed by the bride’s father.  After 30 years of service at St John the Baptist, Revd Dobson retired in 1878.  He died on 17 June 1888, his wife a month later on 24 July.[viii]
  • The last person was not directly involved in the affair, though he is mentioned.  As he seems to have been a remarkable character, he is included here as well: J. Turvey is described as a “Government Contractor of the district”,  We know that he was living within walking distance of Thomas Cruttenden. This was probably John West Turvey, who was at the right time at the right place. He had been born in Kent in 1806 and was transported in 1823 (at the age of 17) for stealing sheep. In 1833 he received a ticket of leave and settled as a sheep farmer in Prosser’s Plains.  He has a claim to fame for being “the first man to drive a team of bullocks over the mountains”.  He associated with Thomas Cruttenden in many projects, was for many years a churchwarden of St John the Baptist and supported the church generously.  He and his wife Maria Lyons had a number of children and their descendants still live in the area.  Incidentally, a Lona Turvey is one of the driving forces behind the community group fighting for the preservation of St John the Baptist. After Turvey died on 25 July 1888 in Richmond, he was buried in Buckland in a grand ceremony and the newspaper published an obituary.[ix] Turvey donated £5 to the building of the church.

Following is an attempt to chronicle the events which followed the consecration of St John the Baptist.

Just over a week after the consecration, the Treasurer’s Report by Revd Cox was published in The Courier of 24 January 1849, containing a list of the contributors and some information on expenses.

William Villeneuve Smith queried the report in a letter to the editor of The Courier, which was published a week later.[x]  He alleged that some surplus materials had been sold privately, rather than for public sale by tender.  He also requested more details on certain figures.

If Mr Smith’s questions were answered, this does not seem to have been to this gentleman’s satisfaction.  On 1 March 1849, there was a meeting of several churchwardens.[xi]  This meeting of the committee “appointed to superintend the erection of the Church of St. John the Baptist, Prosser’s Plains” was convened by Stephen Grueber and George Birch.   They claimed that the group had planned to meet at the vestry, but they were denied the key by Revd Dobson, allegedly on advice of Mr Cruttenden, who said that he had not been invited to the meeting. (Of course, there is also the little ecclesiological stipulation that a vestry should never be used for meetings like this. Considering how acrimonious such meetings can be, maybe not a bad rule.)

The meeting was attended by three members only:  Mr Grueber, Mr Birch and Mr William Smith.  Grueber was elected Chairman and Smith Secretary.  Grueber explained that after having waited for details of the expenditure, the now provided information was insufficient. (To be honest, to judge by the report in the Courier this might very well have been the case.) The committee felt “convinced Mr. Cox [as treasurer] has misappropriated a considerable portion of the funds”.  It was also alleged that as Cox allowed “himself to be guided solely by an interested individual, he has involved the Church in much needless and unwarrantable expenditure.”  The “interested individual’ is Thomas Cruttenden, Cox’s brother-in-law.  This expenditure was the “extravagant … sum [that] had been paid by Mr. Cox for the rations supplied to the convict workmen” by Cruttenden, although another member had offered to supply the same rations for less.  Smith suggested to approach the Bishop to get Revd Cox to repay the difference, accusing him of misappropriation of funds, but the other two rather wanted to talk to Cox first and prevailed.

It seems all communication in this matter was carried out via the newspaper, which might indicate that there was not a lot of trust between the parties. Cox replied to the article about the committee meeting in a letter to the editor of The Courier the following day.[xii] He reminded the committee members that when they started the church building project, he accepted “the whole risk and responsibility of the work” and agreed that “if any loss occurred, it was mine”.  He also pointed out that it was not the whole committee but only these three gentlemen who were present at the meeting. According to him the provisions had been supplied by the “Government Contractor of the district, not Mr. Cruttenden, but Mr. J. Turvey”, and even at a lower than normal rate.  However, as Cruttenden and Turvey seem to have been close, maybe the difference was not as clear cut as Cox portrays it here. He also reminded readers that Mr Cruttenden had, among all the local subscribers, contributed the largest sum.

However, in light of later events, it seems that Revd Cox was just caught up in an ongoing animosity between Smith and Cruttenden, which would explain Cruttenden being singled out in the church committee meeting, even though he wasn’t the one who had supplied the rations. Cox, as Cruttenden’s brother-in-law, was just a handy target.

The animosity between Smith and Cruttenden eventually erupted into a brawl between the two and the case was heard by the Hobart Supreme Court.[xiii]  The court proceedings give us an insight into the history of their relationship.  Unfortunately, we do not find out why they did not get on.

By early 1849, when these events took place, they had not been on speaking terms for three years or so (at least not since Good Friday, 10 April 1846). It might be worth remembering that Revd Cox had arrived in Prosser’s Plains in March 1846 and the foundation stone of St John the Baptist had been laid on 12 August 1846.  They only spoke to each other when absolutely necessary.  Francis Smith, William’s brother who later represented him in the Supreme Court, also had some history with Cruttenden. He had once come to Cruttenden’s house, accusing Cruttenden of saying that he, Francis Smith, had sworn falsely in another trial.

Apparently there was a previous fight between Cruttenden and William Smith in November 1848 in front of the police station when Smith “took offence at nothing”.  On that occasion, Smith spat into Cruttenden’s face, Cruttenden then hit him several times with his thistle-spud.   They were separated by the police officer.  As a result, Smith had been ordered that, if he wanted to make any communications with Cruttenden, he should do so through a third party.

They resorted to some public slander of each other.  Cruttenden said in public that the churchwardens were “disreputable blackguards”.  Smith meanwhile went around telling everyone that Cruttenden had robbed the church and appropriated church property for his own use (this fits in well with him “libelling important figures” later on in life).  Clearly the feelings voiced at the meeting on 1 March 1849 had been around for some time.

On Saturday 10 March 1849, Birch met Cruttenden at the pub and told him how Smith felt about Cox’s handling of the church finances.  This had made Cruttenden angry and he had used “strong terms” about Smith.

The following Monday, 12 March, sometime between 11 and 12 o’clock, Cruttenden was walking home after a meeting with Turvey, along a road which leads to his house but has no connection with Smith. There he met Smith, who was on horse-back. The conversation started innocently enough with a few words about a boundary fence, which Smith wanted to extend and Cruttenden agreed. However, it quickly turned ugly.  Cruttenden had walked on, when Smith demanded an apology for “many insults”.  When no apology was forthcoming, Smith hit Cruttenden with a horse-whip.  Cruttenden retaliated with his trusted thistle-spud.  He pulled Smith off his horse and they ended up fighting on the ground, with Smith “gouging” Cruttenden’s eye, while Cruttenden had his hands around Smith’s neck.

At this stage, Revd Dobson happened to come past.  Smith was on top and basically told Dobson to get lost, because as a clergyman he “had no right to interfere in such scenes as these”. Dobson, however, felt it his duty to prevent a fight and tried to separate them.  He asked them politely, but when they carried on, he pulled Smith’s hair. He did not pull Cruttenden’s, apparently he did not have that much hair to pull. (After all, Cruttenden was at the time 48 years old, while Smith was only 25.)  When Dobson did not succeed in separating the two, he went to get two of Cruttenden’s employees to help.

William Smith threatened The Courier with an action for slander for them reporting on the November incident as well as this “unmannerly brawl”.[xiv]  However, this never seems to have come to anything, probably influenced by the decision of the Hobart Supreme Court.

The court heard the matter on 23 and 24 April 1849.  William Smith was charged on two counts, the first of aggravated assault on Mr Cruttenden, the second of common assault.  William Smith was represented by his brother, Francis Smith, who was solicitor-general at the time.

Francis Smith’s address to the jury must have been a rhetorical masterpiece. His main argument was that Cruttenden’s defence had been disproportionate, making him the actual aggressor.  In his description of events, his brother’s actions were little more than a gentle tap on the shoulder.  On the other hand, the thistle-spud became a battle axe, which nearly cut off Smith’s thumb (confirmed by a doctor). Francis Smith also had a go at the witness Revd Dobson.  He said that Dobson’s testimony was biased and given “with a sanctimonious appearance, as if he were preaching a sermon”, which he thought was unsuitable for someone so new to a clerical career after “manure making”.  Smith’s final flourish was claiming that “the finger of God, marked upon his brother’s hand, spoke in the language of unmistakable proof” that Cruttenden was actually the aggressor.

Among the witnesses for the defence were Grueber and Birch who claimed that everyone knew that Cruttenden’s word was not to be believed.  Forster said the same thing, but his testimony became unstuck, when it was revealed that Forster had regularly asked Cruttenden to act as police magistrate in his place.

Another witness, David Sturgess, who had claimed to be an eye witness to the whole incident, later ended up in court for perjury, but was found not guilty.[xv]

The prosecution brought several witnesses who spoke of Cruttenden’s good character and his truthfulness.  The counsel for the prosecution made a lengthy speech (3 hours).  He compared Francis Smith’s arguments to those of a school boy and accused him of lack of feeling in his treatment of Revd Dobson.

The jury needed just 45 minutes to return a verdict of guilty on the second count, convicting Smith of common assault, though not of aggravated assault.

The judge found that the enmity between the two had been going on for a long time.  If on 12 March, Smith had send someone else to talk to Cruttenden instead of going himself, the whole situation would have been avoided.  Therefore Smith “had brought [the injury to his thumb] upon himself” by hitting Cruttenden first.

Smith was sentenced to “pay a fine of £100 to Her Majesty the Queen, to find two sureties of £250 each to keep the peace for two years, and to be imprisoned until the fine be paid and the sureties entered into.”  Considering that it had cost £900 to build the whole church of St John the Baptist, his fine must have been a considerable amount of money.

Shortly afterwards, Smith lost his interest in farming in Buckland and sold his estate by public auction on 20 June 1849.[xvi]  Either he felt uncomfortable in the local community or he needed the money to pay his fine.

It is impossible for us today to take sides and as with all quarrels, it is highly likely that both parties are to blame.  Therefore I would like to close with the very apt words of an editorial in The Courier: “But the animosity will in time pass away, yet the building will remain.”[xvii]

St John the Baptist, Buckland - disagreement

Church of St John the Baptist, Buckland Tasmania

Further posts on St John the Baptist, Buckland:

St John the Baptist, Buckland, and Ecclesiology

St John the Baptist, Buckland – the Church


[i] The Courier (24 Jan. 1849). p.3.  Available from URL: [last accessed 18 Jan. 2016]

[ii] The Mercury (30 Nov. 1883), p.1. Available at URL: [last accessed 29 Jan. 2016]; The Mercury (11 Oct. 1880), p.1. Available at URL: [last accessed 29 Jan. 2016]; W. R. Barrett, ‘Cox, Frederick Holdship (1821–1906)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University (published first in hardcopy 1966).  URL: [last accessed 9 Jan. 2016]

[iii] Rowlands, W.J., ‘Tasmanian Churches:  St John’s, Buckland – Interesting History’, The Mercury (27 Oct. 1930).  Available at URL: [last accessed 1 Jan. 2016]

[iv] Mildren, D., ‘Sketches on Territory Legal History – William James Villeneuve Smith, Lawyer Extraordinaire’, Balance: Journal of the Northern Territory Law Society (August 1998).  Available at URL: [last accessed 28 Jan. 2016]; Bennett, J.M. and Green, F.C., ‘Smith, Sir Francis Villeneuve (1819–1909)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University (published first in hardcopy 1976).  URL: [last accessed online 28 Jan. 2016]; ‘Campania’, Southern Midlands Community.  URL: [last accessed 28 Jan. 2016]

[v] ‘Grueber and Elliston Families’, Tasmanian Archives.  URL: [last accessed 28 Jan. 2016]; The Courier (14 May 1844), p.3.  Available at URL: [last accessed 28 Jan. 2016]

[vi] The Courier (20 Feb. 1845), p.2.  Available at URL: [last accessed 28 Jan. 2016]; Stancombe, G.H., ‘Birch, Thomas William (1774–1821)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University (published first in hardcopy 1966). URL: [last accessed online 28 Jan.  2016]; ‘Descendants of George Guest – Third Generation’, Australian English Genealogy.  URL: [last accessed 28 Jan. 2016]

[vii] ‘Magistrates & Justices of the Peace in Van Diemen’s Land’, Female Convicts Research Group (Tasmania) (22 May 2013), p.8.  URL: [last accessed 28 Jan. 2016]; Launceston Examiner (19 July 1887), p.3.  Available at URL: [last accessed 29 Jan. 2016

[viii] Rush, J., ‘Baptism – Maria Island’, AUS-Tasmania-L Archives.  URL: [last accessed 29 Jan. 2016]; ‘Samuel Lapham and Susan Butler’, Ancestors of Don and Doug Maclaine.  URL: [last accessed 29 Jan. 2016]; The Mercury (4 March 1876), p.1. Available at URL: [last accessed 29 Jan. 2016]

[ix] Launceston Examiner (1 Aug. 1888). P.2.  Available at URL: [last accessed 30 Jan. 2016]; Turvey,  A., ‘About Us’, Twamley Farm.  URL: [last accessed 30 Jan. 2016]; Ward, A., ‘Historic Tasmanian church saved by local community as others struggle to fight off closure’, ABC (6 June 2015).  URL: [last accessed 1 Jan. 2015]

[x] The Courier (31 Jan. 1849), p.2 Available at URL: [last accessed 18 Jan. 2016]

[xi] Colonial Times, Hobart, Tas. (16 March 1849), p.4.  Available at URL: [last accessed 2 Jan. 2016]

[xii] The Courier (21 March 1849), p.3.  Available at URL: [last accessed 18 Jan. 2016]

[xiii] An extensive report of the proceedings can be found in The Courier (28 April 1849). pp.2-3.  Available at URL: [last accessed 13 Jan. 2016]

[xiv] The Courier, p.2 (21 March 1849). Available at URL: [last accessed 18 Jan. 2016]

[xv] The Courier (28 July 1849), pp.3-4.  Available at URL: [last accessed 9 Feb. 2016]

[xvi] The Courier (2 June 1849), p.3.  Available at URL: [last accessed 7 Feb. 2016]

[xvii] The Courier, p.2 (21 March 1849).

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