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By Brian Andrews, Archdiocese of Hobart Heritage Officer.

Tasmania’s Catholics have a wonderful cultural heritage which is, in some ways, unrivalled throughout Australia; and that accolade extends even to our cemeteries. Amongst the treasure trove of buildings and objects created by the great English architect and designer Pugin for his close friend William Willson, our first Bishop, we have not less than sixty-eight carved headstones, not to mention local variants derived from them, considerably more than in the whole of England. Our illustration depicts three such headstones in the historic cemetery behind St John’s Church, Richmond, but they are to be found and appreciated from Campbell Town in the Northern Midlands, to Triabunna on the East Coast and Franklin in the Huon Valley.

Sixteen full-size pattern headstones in English limestone were carved by craftsmen in the employ of George Myers, Pugin’s favoured builder. Four were brought out to Tasmania in 1844 on the Bella Marina, the barque on which Bishop Willson travelled to take up the new See of Hobart Town, then a further twelve were sent out in 1848. They varied in size and complexity, from the simple little headstone erected over the grave in Colebrook Cemetery of little James Dolan who died on 11 August 1857 aged just one week, through to the tour de force in Cornelian Bay Cemetery with its carved Calvary scene, the Holy Roman Emperor St Henry II, St Elizabeth of Hungary, and two small children.

It would appear that the first four pattern headstones were entrusted by Bishop Willson to John Gillon who had a mason’s yard in Macquarie Street, Hobart, and described himself variously as grave-stone cutter, stonemason, letter-cutter and builder. Headstones bearing his name are to be found throughout southern Tasmania. Later headstones were carved by Bryan Molloy who had arrived from Ireland as a free settler in 1854 and quickly gained a reputation as a skilled stone-carver. He was responsible for the execution of Hobart architect Henry Hunter’s three stone altars in St Mary’s Cathedral as well as the splendid tomb in Avoca Cemetery of Bishop Willson’s convert Roderick O’Connor whose 1860 gift of £10,000 enabled a start to be made on the construction of the Cathedral.