St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Launceston

Located in Margaret, near/adjoining/behind the site of the present day Church of the Apostles.
Foundation stone laid 1839.
Opened 1842.
Closed 1866, replaced by Church of the Apostles

Detail from a drawing by Magaret Black, 1852 (from the QVMAG QVM:1988:P:0041) showing St Joseph’s to the left of the city.

Details from a painting by Frederick Strange (QVMAG collection):

Roman Catholic Church, Margaret Church, c.1856

Prior to the opening of St Joseph’s, a temporary chapel was built in Cameron Street.

It will be seen by on advertisement in another part of our columns, that it is the intention or the Roman Catholics to establish a Chapel in this town, in order that they may ” worship God according to the manner of their fore-fathers.” The Catholics have hitherto had no fixed place of worship, and have been obliged to resort for an occasional performance of their duties, to any building which might offer for the purpose. The establishment of a Chapel must therefore be looked upon by every friend to Catholicity as a very desirable object, for, although we do not coincide with the doctrines which that religion ?aches to be necessary for salvation, yet, we ?e ever anxious to give equal support to every religious denomination.

Cornwall Chronicle, 7 April 1838

Roman Catholics.— We are requested to state, that a temporary chapel has been erected in Cameron-street, for the accommodation of the Catholic portion of our community, at which place divine service is now regularly performed every Sunday morning, by the Rev. Mr. Cotham, according to the rites and ceremonies of that church.
Cornwall Chronicle, 25 August 1838

The Rev. John Joseph Therry, Catholic Vicar General, arrived in Launceston from Hobart Town on Friday evening. The Rev. Gentleman will preach at the Catholic chapel, in Cameron-street, to-morrow morning. Divine Service to commence at 11 o’clock.

Few ministers have better succeeded in obtaining the estimation and affections or their Hocks than the Rev. Mr. Therry, and none, we believe, have better deserved them. As a preacher, Mr. Therry is surpassed by few ; and the well known liberality which breathes through his discourses, affords a gratifying contrast to the narrow-minded bigotry which characterises some of our colonial ministers.

On Tuesday morning the Rev. Gentleman will lay the foundation stone of a new Catholic chapel, to be erected at the foot of the Cataract Hill, an event which has long been a desideratum and upon which we sincerely congratulate both minister nnd congregation.
Cornwall Chronicle, 16 March 1839

The Reverend John Joseph Therry, Catholic Vicar General, in the presence of a numerous assemblage of the inhabitants, adopted the usual ceremony in laying the foundation stone of the New Catholic Chapel, on the Cataract Hill, on Tuesday last.

Cornwall Chronicle, 23 March 1839

In addition to this intended [Independent] chapel, there is a handsome church being erected for the Catholics, on the square at the foot of the Cataract Hill. The Wesleyan Chapel, Patterson-street, the Independent Chapel, Tamar-street, and the Chapel in Frederick-street, the Baptist Chapel in York-Street, and the Catholic Chapel in Cameron-street, have all been built within the last four or five years, and principally by public subscription.
Launceston Advertiser, 15 April 1841

Launceston Advertiser 26 November 1840
Launceston Advertiser, 26 November 1840

Launceston Courier 29 August 1842
Launceston Courier, 28 August 1842

That relying on the good faith and honor of the Government, as pledged by that Act the petitioner commenced St. Joseph’s Church in Launceston, on the 19th March, 1839, St. Joseph’s Church in Macquarie-street, Hobart Town, on the 16th July, 1840, and the Church of St. Mary, Brisbane-street, Hobart Town, on the 21st November, 1841 ; that petitioner opened and celebrated Divine service in the Launceston church on the 8th instant, and in the Hobart Town church on the 25th of last December.
Colonial Times, 18 October 1842

Examiner 19 October 1842
Launceston Examiner, 19 October 1842

The first public. meeting of the above society was held on Tuesday evening, in the nave of the New Catholic Church, a temporary screen having been raised, dividing that portion of the building from the transept. The Rev. J. Cotham, president of the society, was in the chair.

Launceston Courier, 28 November 1842

We understand the Catholic members of the St Joseph’s Total Abstinence Society are engaged in laying a plan to defray, by weekly contributions, the interest of the debt on the new Church, and they hope ultimately, to be enabled to discharge the principal.

We have received communications respecting certain publicans, who endeavoured to exercise their influence in preventing the new Catholic Church from being used for teetotal meetings. We decline inserting them, because the efforts of the parties alluded to were unsuccessful, and their intentions can be fully appreciated without the aid of our commentary.
Launceston Courier, 12 December 1842

On Sunday morning this Sacrament was administered by the Right Reverend Bishop Willson, with all the solemnities observed in the Roman Catholic Church. A large concourse attended to witness the interesting ceremony, consisting of persons of all denominations. In addition to the usual congregation, there were many from the suburbs and country districts, as well as some of the most influential gentlemen and ladies of Launceston, for whose accommodation every care and attention was displayed by Mr. O’Halloran, and the other Wardens and Managers of the Church.

Cornwall Chronicle, 18 October 1845

Cornwall Chronicle 15 December 1866
Cornwall Chronicle, 15 December 1866

A brief history of the Catholic church in Launceston, from the “Centenary of the setting of the foundation stone of the first Roman Catholic Church in Launceston” published in the Mercury, 1939

Before 1838 Launceston Catholics were attended by priests from Hobart or Richmond, a long journey in those days. It is probable that the first Mass was celebrated in Launceston about 1828. At the end of 1838 the Rev. James Cotham was appointed first parish priest of Launceston. At this time the Catholic chapel was situated in Cameron St., near the present site of the Albert Hall. Soon after his appointment to Launceston, Father Cotham decided to erect a permanent church for the growing congregation. The site granted by the Government in Margaret St. was chosen, and the first stone was set in March of the following year. The building was of brick with a handsome tower, and was not completed until 1842. The church was opened officially with much ceremony. Up to 1842 Tasmania was in the diocese of Sydney, and the opening of St. Joseph’s Church was in the same year that Tasmania became a separate diocese. The first marriage in the new church took place on November 20, 1842, between John Patching and Mary Ann Miley.

Patriot’s Escape
Perhaps most notable of the incidents of the early days of St. Joseph’s Church, was the part it played in helping John Mitchel, famous Irish patriot, in his escape to America. It is said that when Mitchel had escaped from his patrol he was hidden in the tower of St. Joseph’s Church in Launceston. He later reached Hobart and made his way to America. A point of interest is that Mitchel, who was sent out to Australia for the part he played in Ireland’s fight for independence, was not a Catholic, but came of a Presbyterian family. He was an uncle of Sir WilliamIrvine, who is the father of Mr. W. M. Irvine, a member of the legal firm of Ogilvie, McKenna and Co., of Hobart.

Father Cotham returned to England in 1845, and was succeeded by the Rev. A. Butler, who afterwards became Dean Butler. He was parish priest at Launceston for 35 years, and died in 1880. St. Joseph’s Church began to show signs of decay, and about 1865 it was decided to erect a larger church. Shortly afterwards the Church of the Apostles was started, and still stands in Launceston.
The Mercury, 18 March 1839

9 thoughts on “St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Launceston

  1. Permalink  ⋅ Reply


    July 23, 2016 at 10:18am

    Thankyou Monissa for the interesting information about St. Joseph’s. My g.g. aunt and uncles were baptized there in 1848,49,& 50. Visiting Launceston, I looked at the Church of the Apostles today, but missed your comment about York St for the original church. Will try again tomorrow.

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    David Cuttle

    December 27, 2017 at 4:40am

    My great, great grandparents Magnus Manson and Mary Roach were married in this church on 10/10/1843 by the Catholic Vicar James Cotham

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    Nigel Gleeson

    December 6, 2018 at 7:54am

    Very interesting, my GGG Grandparents were also married there on 10/5/1843 – William Booth and Bridget Fitzpatrick.
    Not sure who did the service but quite likely the same person.

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    Nigel Gleeson

    December 6, 2018 at 8:28am

    Very interesting, my GGG Grandparents were also married there on 10/5/1843 – William Booth and Bridget Fitzpatrick.
    James Cotham was also their minister.

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    Karen Seckold

    January 23, 2020 at 11:18pm

    My ancestors were married here, Mary Ann Margaret Simpkins and Patrick Giles on 23 September 1858, their child Emmilina Frances Giles/Kirk moved to Melbourne and married Thomas Annear Smith.

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    Patricia McQueen

    January 26, 2020 at 5:52am

    Our Great Great Grandparents, William Atkinson of Tadcaster, England and Ann Kelly of Dublin, Ireland we believe were married in this Church in the 1840s, our Great Grandmother Catherine Atkinson and her siblings Edward and William possibly baptised also. Should anyone have any further information on them we would appreciate it, if possible.

    Patricia and Lauren
    Western Australia

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    Gail Campbell

    May 14, 2020 at 10:46am

    My GGG Uncle Myles John Farrelly married Eleanor Maud Gray Lambert in this church by the Rev D Butler 1861

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    Michael Howard

    August 15, 2021 at 1:24pm

    John Andrew Howard was baptised there in1863.

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    Delia Arnold

    April 7, 2022 at 9:59am

    Five members of of my family were married at St. Joseph’s. 1855 July 11 Margaret HOGAN and Robert TUCK; 1855 Sept 24 Maria HOGAN and John FINNIS; 1856 Aug 13 Thomas HOGAN and Anne SHEEHAN; 1856 Sept 1 Mary HOGAN and Thomas REDMOND — were all married by Rev Thomas Butler. 1860 Aug 27 Elizabeth HOGAN and George PYLE Jnr were married by Rev M O’Callaghan. Quite possibly quite a few of their children were baptised there as well and couples married at the Church of the Apostles.

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