HERITAGE TREASURES

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HERITAGE TREASURES

This superbly proportioned chalice with its restrained and scholarly decoration and exquisite craftsmanship is a doubly significant piece. Firstly, it was donated for the opening of St Mary’s Cathedral, Hobart, in 1866, being therefore a tangible connection with that significant event in the life of the Catholic Church in Tasmania. Secondly, it is a rare and highly important work of the major South Australian colonial silversmith Charles Edward Firnhaber and the only example of his ecclesiastical work known to exist outside South Australia. Some experts claim that he may yet come to be regarded as Australia’s greatest Colonial silversmith.

The chalice travelled north probably in 1880 with the newly appointed Dean of Launceston, Father (later Monsignor) Daniel Beechinor, who had been Cathedral Administrator until then. Beechinor took a number of redundant items from the Cathedral and they found their way into churches he established in that part of the State. In due course the Firnhaber chalice came into the care of the Beaconsfield Catholic community.

The original donation was due to the generosity of Patrick Kelly, a layman living on a property close to Gawler, an early settlement just to the north of Adelaide. He had spent some time on the Victorian goldfields in the early 1850s and perhaps good fortune there may have placed him in a position where he was able to make a number of gifts to the Church. His own Church of Ss Peter and Paul at Gawler received a Firnhaber chalice in the 1860s, quite similar to the Tasmanian one, as did the neighbouring Church of St Augustine at Salisbury. Firnhaber’s works are of national significance, as shown by the fact that a monstrance he made for St Augustine’s, Salisbury, probably the only one he ever produced, is placed on loan at the Art Gallery of South Australia.

By Brian Andrews, Archdiocese of Hobart Heritage Officer.