By Brian Andrews, Archdiocese of Hobart Heritage Officer

St Joseph’s Church, Hobart, houses many treasures which serve to illuminate its rich history, dating back over 180 years.

One such is a particularly fine 1905 Gothic altar of alabaster, embellished with Irish columns of Galway green and Cork Victoria red marble, and designed by the Hobart architect Douglas Salier.

He was a partner in the architectural firm of Walker & Salier, descended from that of Henry Hunter, Tasmania’s most prolific architect from the second half of the nineteenth century.

The reredos, or back face, of the altar houses statues of Our Lady and St Joseph within canopied niches, as well as bas-relief panels depicting the Annunciation and the Nativity.

These high-quality statues and panels were carved by the celebrated London firm of Farmer and Brindley, being the sole representatives of its work in Tasmania.

Notable London examples of its prolific output are to be found in the Natural History Museum and in the famous Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens.

The firm was favoured by William Wilkinson Wardell, Australia’s greatest nineteenth-century architect, designer of the magnificent Catholic cathedrals in Sydney and Melbourne.

Its excellent products are to be seen in both buildings, as well as in a number of Wardell’s English churches, such as Our Ladye Star of the Sea Church, Greenwich (1851), which predated his 1858 migration to Australia for health reasons.

Our four statues and bas-reliefs in St Joseph’s are amongst just eight figurative stone sculptures in the Archdiocese. Two of the eight were designed by Bishop Willson’s close friend Augustus Pugin, the famous architect and designer, and carved in the Ordnance Wharf, Lambeth, workshops of George Myers, his favoured builder.

They are an 1847 statue of the Virgin Mary, intended for a Pugin church in Harrington Street, Hobart, which was never constructed, and a splendid headstone depicting in bas-relief a Calvary group, St Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor, and St Elizabeth of Hungary.

In addition to these, there are two bas-relief kneeling angels on the face of the Sacred Heart altar in St Mary’s Cathedral. They date from 1880 and were sculpted by Bernard Molloy (1821–1913).

A talented stone carver, he arrived in Hobart from Ireland as a free settler in 1854 and established himself in Harrington Street premises, executing Henry Hunter’s designs for the High altar, Lady and Sacred Heart altars in the Cathedral.

Molloy’s non-figurative work is of the highest order, as is evident in his canopy atop the Cathedral’s Sacrament House, part of the original High altar.

However, his kneeling angels, in their composition and detail, are well below the quality of Farmer & Brindley’s, and George Myers’ abovementioned works.

Tags: Heritage Conservation