By Brian Andrews, Archdiocese of Hobart Heritage Officer.
As travellers on the Midland Highway pass the historic township of Oatlands they get a brief glimpse across the fields of the little Church of St Paul, whose foundation stone was laid by our first Bishop, Robert William Willson, on April 9 1850. Writing to his friend and colleague Bishop Goold in Melbourne a few days after that event Willson said: ‘I had the consolation to lay the first stone of a little church in Oatlands—mine will be a very humble building. Still it will afford the means of accommodation to a flock for divine worship.’ It was indeed a consolation to him for it was the first church he had been able to start after six years on the island because of the poverty of his little flock and the financial situation he had inherited.
It must also have been very special because the design was by his close friend the famous architect English Pugin who had designed the great Church (later Cathedral) of St Barnabas in Nottingham for him nearly ten years earlier. The erection of St Paul’s was supervised by the Hobart architect Frederick Thomas who worked from plans measured off an exquisitely detailed scale model which Willson had brought out from England on the barque Bella Marina in 1844. A near-perfect example of Pugin’s ideal for the revival of a small English medieval village church, it had all the attributes regarded by Pugin as ‘forming a complete Catholic parish church for the due celebration of the divine office and administration of the sacraments, both as regards architectural arrangements and furniture’.
The furnishings included sedilia, or clergy seats, set into the sanctuary wall, holy water stoups and other stone fittings copied from full-size examples brought out on the ship, and a wooden rood screen topped by a crucifix separating the sanctuary from the body of the church. Miraculously, this latter has survived, along with another in St Patrick’s, Colebrook, two of only eight intact surviving screens by Pugin worldwide. Visitors to St Paul’s can still see and enjoy this marvellous and prayerful little church pretty much as its architect envisaged it when the design emerged from his remarkably fertile brain way back in 1843.