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Home > Media > News > HERITAGE TREASURES

Travellers on the Lyell Highway between New Norfolk and Queenstown catch a fleeting glimpse of a tiny gem of a church on their left as they are leaving the village of Ouse. It is the Church of the Immaculate Conception, designed by Henry Hunter, Tasmania’s most prolific nineteenth-century architect, and built in 1878–79. Hunter designed, supervised or modified a remarkable forty-four church buildings for Catholics, Anglicans and Protestants over a thirty year period, from cathedrals to small works such as the one at Ouse. These latter did not lack in grace and beauty of proportion simply because of their diminutive size. And all show a debt to his hero, the great English architect and designer Pugin, friend of Robert William Willson our first bishop.

Willson had placed in Hunter’s hands a series of articles by Pugin, published in 1841–42, in which he set out and explained ‘what is to be regarded as forming a complete Catholic parish church for the due celebration of the divine office and the administration of the sacraments, both as regards architectural arrangement and furniture’. Hunter’s designs were consistently faithful to these prescriptions, right from his first churches at Franklin and Campbell Town through to the buildings erected towards the end of his career.

In some ways, this expression of the English medieval parish church ideal propagated by Pugin was most succinctly and charmingly realized in Hunter’s tiniest churches at Bothwell, Dover and Ouse. In these, the requisites were reduced to bare essentials, comprising a single space for nave and chancel, a bellcote astride the front gable, a side entrance—the norm for English churches—and a sacristy diagonally opposite the porch. Regrettably, Bothwell was demolished and the stones re-used for a later church, and Dover, a wooden building, has lost its bellcote. But Ouse, a perfect essay in the English Gothic style which prevailed in England during the thirteenth century, stands as built. It is so small that the usual side entrance porch has been reduced to a mere doorway, but nothing can detract from its jewel-like perfection.

By Brian Andrews, Archdiocese of Hobart Heritage Officer.