Richmond Bicentenary celebrations reveal unique look into history

By Josh Low

Some 600 people visited Richmond’s St John’s Catholic Church, Presbytery and Old School House for ‘Open House Richmond’ exhibitions over 24 and 25 February, part of the wider Richmond Bicentenary celebrations.

Dubbed ‘The St John’s Precinct’, the three buildings opened their doors to display various items from the past, provided by the Archdiocesan Archives and Heritage Collection.

Richmond parishioner and member of the Richmond Bicentenary Planning Committee, Sue Harmsen, explained that Richmond’s 200-year history was celebrated over five weekends from December to March.

“Richmond has the oldest continually used Catholic church, the oldest continually used Catholic school, and the oldest stone bridge.

The Pugin designed chalice and paten on display. Photo: Supplied

“We wanted to ignite the history – and awareness of the history – of the place.

“Richmond itself is still unique in the number of buildings we have that have been maintained to a high quality.

“Through the bicentenary events, we hoped to ignite that passion not just of architecture, but of history.

“The old schoolhouse for example, is a room sort of the size of today’s modern kitchen, housed four nuns and five novices, who taught there in the initial years.

“That was the first form of Catholic education in Tasmania – then they spread out all over Tasmania from Richmond,” she explained.

The Baptism Register from the 1800’s. Photo: Supplied

She added that hearing the multitude of stories from various people over the weekend, of connections made, or how the school has touched families had been amazing.

“I feel privileged to have been the conduit between the school, the church, and the wider church community,” she said.

Among the objects on display at the parish were a chalice and paten designed by Augustus Pugin, and photographs, books, printing out and pressed paper, as well as a Baptism and Marriage Register from the 1800’s.

Archivist, Eloise Armstrong, from the Archdiocese’s Archives and Heritage Collection, said the Sacramental Registers in particular, hold information that does not exist anywhere else in the world.

“Richmond is our oldest church, so the information held in those registers really tells the stories of our earliest Catholic parishioners and priests of Van Diemens Land,” she explained.

“From an archival point of view as well, that information doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, because the colonial government weren’t keeping those records at the time – it was the Churches that were.

“It’s actually an internationally significant collection,” she concluded.

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