New book a treasure trove of Tasmanian gems

By Catherine Sheehan

Tasmania is a treasure trove of significant items of Catholic and cultural heritage, according to the Archdiocese of Hobart’s Heritage Officer, Brian Andrews, with most Tasmanians unaware of the wealth of treasure they possess.

“They are blissfully unaware of the fact that they have those magnificent, wonderful things down here as their Catholic heritage,” Brian said.

“They have every right to know about them and appreciate them and be proud of them,” he added.

Brian hopes that his latest book, Heritage Treasures: The Cultural Heritage of the Catholic Church in Tasmania, will go a long way to helping Tasmanians understand and appreciate their impressive cultural heritage.

Recently published, the book is a compilation of 50 of Brian’s 93 columns written for the Catholic Standard over the past nine years.

Items covered in the book include churches, paintings, chalices, missals, stained-glass windows and liturgical vestments. Several of the historic items date back hundreds of years.

The oldest item in his book is the baptismal font in St Mary’s Cathedral Hobart which was carved in the late 12th century.

During his 25 years as Heritage Officer, Brian has created an inventory of over 750 items, many of which had been forgotten or neglected before he rediscovered them.

Out of all the items he has rediscovered, Brian said the Cathedral’s baptismal font gives him the most satisfaction, given its longevity, significance, and fascinating history.

“It’s been a baptismal font for 850 years,” he said. “And I imagine little children back in the beginning of the Middle Ages being baptised in it… it’s just a wonderful story.”

The font was discovered by renowned English architect and designer Augustus Pugin and transported to Tasmania by the first bishop of Hobart, William Willson, in 1844.

It was the friendship between Bishop Willson and Pugin that led to Tasmania acquiring so many magnificent items designed by Pugin.

“It was absolutely the result of this extraordinary friendship.

“We got boatloads of material coming down here… medieval baptismal fonts, medieval chalices.

“It was only Pugin who did it. And so, we’ve got this remarkable collection down here, and there’s nothing like it anywhere else in Australia.”

Originally from South Australia, Brian visited Tasmania in 1997 to conduct research which involved visiting all then 99 Catholic churches in the state. This was the beginning of his Cultural Heritage Inventory. Through his research, Brian realised Tasmania’s “extraordinary heritage” which he claims is better than that of any other Australian diocese.

“It was recognised that we had something precious and internationally significant,” he said.

He moved to Tasmania with his wife Judy in 1999 to take up the position of Heritage Officer, a role created for him by Archbishop Eric D’Arcy. Even today, Hobart is the only diocese to have a Heritage Officer.

Over the years, Brian has rediscovered and brought to light numerous cultural gems, many designed by Pugin, that had been forgotten in the Catholic consciousness of several generations of Tasmanians.

“A really good example is St Patrick’s Church in Colebrook, which is now perceived… as a globally significant aspect of Pugin’s work as England’s greatest early Victorian architect, designer, and theorist… it’s an absolutely unique gem.”

Largely due to Brian’s research, Pugin, who designed Big Ben in London, has begun to emerge from obscurity in Australia.

A convert to Catholicism, Pugin was “convinced of the Catholic faith”, Brian said, and attempted to “recreate” the Catholicism of Europe in the Middle Ages in the 19th century through his designs.

“Every time his pen touched the paper, something new and original came out… that kind of genius is unfathomable.”

Brian said he hoped readers of his new book would derive pleasure from learning about these beautiful items of Tasmanian Catholic heritage, and also feel pride in the significance of the collection.

“I think it is something we can be proud of down here. We have a treasure that nobody else has in Australia.”

Heritage Treasures: The Cultural Heritage of the Catholic Church in Tasmania can be purchased online for $20 at **

Tags: Heritage Conservation, News