By Brian Andrews, Archdiocese of Hobart Heritage Officer

The Archdiocese of Hobart is the custodian of a world-significant collection of treasures which were the outcome of a close friendship between William Willson, our first bishop, and Augustus Pugin, England’s greatest early-Victorian architect and designer.

Pugin’s extraordinary creativity gave us church metalwork, textiles, stained glass, carved wood and stonework, and much more. Many of the items are unique to Tasmania.

When Bishop Willson arrived in Hobart Town aboard the Bella Marina on 14 May 1844, he brought a collection of Pugin-designed objects with him to furnish his embryonic diocese.

Some of these were for his use as bishop. However, funds at his disposal had not been sufficient at that time for him to acquire some minor items proper to his office.

One such requisite was a bugia, or episcopal candlestick, placed on the altar during a pontifical high mass and then held by an assistant priest when the bishop read.

Toward the end of his return visit to England between September 1846 and April 1848, he purchased a bugia from Hardmans, the Birmingham company which made all Pugin’s metalwork.

Their records noted: ‘December 6 [1847] Rt Revd Bishop Willson Hobart Town A German Silver Episcopal Candlestick £2  18  0’. (German silver was the name for a silver-white alloy of copper, zinc and nickel.)

The edge of the bugia’s dished drip pan and its handle are engraved with stylized leaf forms, so typical of Pugin’s flat decoration repertoire, a practice which he explained in the introduction to his 1849 book Floriated Ornament where he wrote: ‘It is impossible to improve on the works of God; and the natural outlines of leaves, flowers, &c. must be more prefect and beautiful than any invention of man.’

The trefoil tail of the handle is engraved with a mitre and the initials ‘W W’ for William Willson. Except for this latter detail, the bugia is near-identical with the one designed by Pugin less than six months later for Charles Henry Davis OSB, first Bishop of Maitland, New South Wales, and co-adjutor to Sydney’s Archbishop Polding OSB. Its trefoil tail is engraved with a shield bearing Davis’ coat of arms set within a trail of foliated ornament.

Tags: Heritage Conservation