Some special features  in St. John's Church   


Gordon Cumming at work carving the pillar capitals in the new nave about 1938. Two of his carving tools were recently donated to the church.

Some of Cumming's completed work nearly 80 years later



The magnificent pipe organ - its earliest components date from the 1860s, but it was extensively rebuilt and extended in the decades following its relocation in 1912



 The Side Chapel

The chapel south of the transept was added around 1910.  The Launceston Church Grammar School used the Church for its regular school chapel services from 1846-1923 while Grammar operated from neighbouring sites.  Most of the chapel’s memorials and fittings were donated by members of the Grammar School community to honour that close association.  Notice the double-facing pulpit with its two entrances.


The Baptistery

This is adjacent to the north door of the Church and contains the stone baptismal font with carved wooden cover.  While the font is still used today, baptisms are usually carried out on the platform in the crossing before the congregation.  The Westminster Gallery above the baptistery is accessed by a metal spiral staircase installed in the early 1980s. 


The North Ambulatory

This area houses a history display including the workings of the first clock assembled by a convict worker and installed in the tower in 1829.  It was replaced in 1835 by the present multi-faced clock.  A carillon stands next to the entrance to the Westminster Gallery staircase, between the history display and the baptistery. A tall but modest box of tubular bells, the carillon was made by Boosey and Hawkes of London, and includes amplification equipment in both the tower and the nave. It was installed in November 1946 as a thank-offering for peace following the end of World War II.


The Dome

The unique architectural feature of the dome is that the walls supporting the dome form a rectangle.  Additional vaulting, unparalleled in style, was required to carry the circular base.  The blue and gold mosaic, designed by Alexander North, is incomplete; it was planned to face the entire dome.


The Carvings[1]

Two master craftsmen were responsible for the Church’s carvings, following Mr North’s designs in the Arts and Crafts style.  Mr Hugh Cunningham worked on the Church up to his retirement around 1920.  He was assisted and followed by his student, Mr W. Gordon Cumming who worked during the later years up to 1945.

The beautiful workmanship depicts Tasmanian flora and fauna. Mr Cumming’s foliated cement column capitals in the archways of the nave were modelled in situ, 1934-1937.  Each of the carved pews is different, some pews have yet to be carved.


 Earliest Memorials[2]

The oldest mural monument is in the south ambulatory to Mrs Charlotte Balfour, wife of the Commandant of Port Dalrymple in 1825-1826, Lt-Colonel William Balfour.  She died in August 1825 and was buried in a bricked vault outside the east end of the Church during its construction.  Her grave was built over by the 1866 chancel and also when the domed crossing replaced the old chancel.  Her vault was discovered beneath the floor of the Church in 1938 when the floor was rebuilt.


The earliest memorial window was donated by the rector, Dr Browne, in 1837.  It is by John Pike Hedgeland of London and depicts the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It was dedicated to Archdeacon William Hutchins.  This vesical window is high above the organ console, under the dome.


The Organ

The current organ, installed in 1862, was designed by St John’s Church Organist Thomas Sharp in 1861 and built by Charles Brindley of Sheffield, England.  With subsequent alterations as listed below, the Sharp-Brindley organ’s quality as an English Romantic instrument has given it a national reputation. Two panels of original organ-front pipes from this organ are displayed on the wall above the west gallery. These are the rebuilds and major additions to it:

·         1912, rebuild and relocation by J. E. Dodd of Melbourne;

·         1915-1929, rebuild by St John’s Church Organist G. F. Hopkins;

·         1934, new console and front row of metal pipes added by George Fincham and Sons of Melbourne;

·         1959-1960 rebuild by J. W. Walker and Sons of England, including the current console; 

·         1974, additions by Laurie Pipe Organs of Melbourne;

·         2007, Simon Pierce, of Pierce Pipe Organs, Brisbane and son of former St John’s Church Organist William Pierce, completed Mr Hopkins’ original design for the organ’s Great and Swell divisions with added flue work.  This brought the total number of organ pipes to 3125 pipes in 49 ranks.


For further information about the organ, please refer to the separate brochure on the pipe organs of our Church.

The Rectory


The rector’s house lies to the south of the church.  Built in 1878, it was first occupied by Canon Brownrigg in 1879.  Built under Henry (Harry) Conway’s architectural oversight reputedly to Canon Brownrigg’s design, it is typical of English rectories of the day, but with a verandah.  The servants’ bells were removed in 1980 and the servants’ stairs are now blocked. It contains some beautiful Huon pine fittings.  In 2005 the upper floor was made into a self-contained flat for the rector. The rooms on the ground floor are currently used for meetings and offices for church staff.


The Parish Centre


The first building used by the Sunday School was built in 1841 and is now leased to the neighbouring motel.  An extension was built in 1890 adding a function hall and kitchen, and then a smaller hall was added in the early 1900s.  All the extensions were removed in the 1970s and a new Parish Centre was erected in 1975 on the south side of the Church.  This building was built through a generous bequest of Mr Laurence Denham.


Further Reading


The early parochial records of births, marriages and deaths are held in the State Archives Office in Hobart, and on microfilm at the State Library’s local LINC.


Blake, Philip C., John Youl: the Forgotten Chaplain, Philip Blake, Launceston, 1999.

Browne, William H., edited by Gill Morris, His record is on high: the journal of Reverend William Henry Browne, LL.D., of St John’s Church, Launceston, Van Diemen’s Land, 23 May 1830 - 19 February 1845, Gill Morris, Launceston, 2013.

Gill, Jenny, Engraved in Memory, Jenny Gill, Launceston, 1988.

Miley, Caroline, Beautiful & Useful: the Arts and Crafts Movement in Tasmania, Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery, Launceston, 1987.

Ratcliff, Eric, A Far Microcosm: Building and Architecture in Van Diemen’s Land and Tasmania 1803-1914, (4 vols.), Fullers, Hobart, 2015.

Webb, Peter G., “The building of St John’s Church, Launceston” in Tasmanian Historical Research Association, Papers & Proceedings, vol. 24 no. 4, 1977, pp. 141-150. 

Alexander North Australian Dictionary of Biography (website)

[1] See C. Miley, Beautiful & Useful: the Arts and Crafts Movement in Tasmania, QVMAG, Launceston, 1987.

[2] See E. Ratcliff, op.cit., vol. 1.  For notes on other memorials in the Church, see also J. Gill, Engraved in Memory, Jenny Gill, Launceston, 1988.