HERITAGE TREASURES

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HERITAGE TREASURES

It is difficult these days to comprehend the extraordinary vision and tenacity of our pioneering missionaries in laying the foundations of the Catholic faith across Tasmania. Fr John Joseph McKernan, who established the Church’s presence on the East Coast, is typical of that early band. Towards the close of 1863 he was requested to take charge of the Swansea mission. Setting out in December on horseback from Campbell Town alongside a mailman, he was ten hours in the saddle that first day. Arriving in Swansea, he took up temporary lodgings in the lean-to of a laboring man’s hut. The ceiling was too low to allow him to look out of the little window and there was a piggery at each side of the entrance. Yet such was the burning zeal of the young Irish missioner that within three years he had two churches open for divine worship, at Swansea and Spring Bay (now Triabunna).

The first was St Mary Star of the Sea, Swansea, long since replaced by the present Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. It was produced at minimal cost by Bishop Willson’s architect Henry Hunter from the former prison commissariat building. He raised the height of the walls, made openings for windows and doors, built up the gable ends, erected a neat bell turret and re-roofed the structure. The interior of the church was fully furnished by Hunter, including a beautiful painted and gilded wooden altar and tabernacle to his designs. Both were eventually transferred to the later church. The tabernacle alone survives and is an excellent example of how Hunter was inspired by the publications of Willson’s friend Pugin, the great English early-Victorian designer. Its form and stencilled decoration are clearly derived, but not copied, from illustrations in Pugin’s highly influential Glossary of Ecclesiastical Ornament and Costume, first published in 1844, and it has the bright heraldic colouration characteristic of the master’s own work.