Thursday, January 19, 2012

Jericho, Colebrook and some wonderful old churches

2012 has started well for us.  Our first job has been a beauty.  A really interesting task.  A Queenslander asked us to find information supporting family folklore that his ancestors had lobbed at Tasmania as early as 1842.  And we’re pleased to report that the folklore has become fact, for we were able to trace the people he was looking for and validate our research with photos of their burial places.

It’s interesting how many Tasmanian pioneers’ births, deaths and marriages are not on the Pioneer Index and this was the case in this instance.  Fortunately, however, this gentleman’s predecessors had done a few things worthy of mention in early Tasmanian papers, and from there, with a bit of effort mind you, we were able to trace them to two specific areas – Jericho and Colebrook districts.  So, with our camera, we went to Jericho first.

For those of you who don’t know Jericho, now days it is a beautiful peaceful spot that time forgot, but, in fact, after being settled.in1816,  it became a key stop-over for coaches on their way from Hobart to Launceston.  It is one of Australia’s oldest settlements and was originally known as Jericho Plains.  No prizes for deducing where the name came from. Yes, you are absolutely right, it came from the Bible. History has it that right back in the early 1800’s, when food was pretty scarce in Hobart Town, parties of Royal Marines were sent out in search of game such as emu and kangaroo.  It is said that during these expeditions, a well-educated Marine Private named Hugh Germain, with the Bible in his pack, started giving places religious and Middle Eastern names.  Hence, in an area not too far from Hobart Town, we have Jericho, Jerusalem (now Colebrook), Bagdad, Lake Tiberius, and of course, the Jordan River.

Even today, excellent examples of colonial sandstone architecture are to be seen in the Jericho area; culverts, bridges and walls for instance, that date back to the early 1930’s.  St. James Church of England dominates the tiny town.  It was first built in 1838 and served the community well until, 50 years later, cracks appeared in the building and it was decided to build a new church on the same site.  In 1888, the new and present church was consecrated.  We had our lunch in the shade of the 1838 church’s remaining derelict wall. 

St. James’s adjoining cemetery is a treasure trove for people with an interest in colonial history and of course, genealogists.  Alas, though, like so many of our old burial grounds, many of the headstones are crumbling and broken now and reading inscriptions is not an easy undertaking.  It is worth noting that Australia’s first VC recipient is buried in this cemetery; a man named John Hutton Bisdee, who was a member of a well-known family of the district.  He received the medal for bravery in the Transvaal War and went on to serve in WW1.

As well, Jericho was home to the Probation Station of 1840, which was built to house the 200 convicts who constructed the Hobart to Launceston road and the Commandant’s Cottage (1842).  The Probation Station has all but disappeared, although the site which contains some of its sandstone walls is there to seen and, we are pleased to report, is well protected now.  The Commandant’s Cottage still stands.

We really enjoyed our visit to Jericho and of course, the sense of achievement we experienced when, with painstaking patience, we pieced together the badly smashed headstone that belonged to our client’s Jericho ancestors.

Next day, we tootled off to Colebrook, once known as Jerusalem, on behalf of our Queensland client, looking for other ancestors he hoped to find. And, once again he did.  It was the same old story, people who came here very early in the island’s settlement and stayed, yet for some reason their births, deaths and marriages don’t appear on the Pioneer Index.

Now, like Jericho, Colebrook is an historic settlement.  It was first called Jerusalem Plains, as we previously explained, thanks to Private Germain, but by 1834 it was called Colebrook Dale and in 1894 the name Colebrook was officially gazetted.

In 1834, Jerusalem was used as a convict probation and hiring station. Convicts stationed there built a sandstone courthouse and gaol which still stands today and they worked in the coalmines and quarries in the area.  The probation and hiring station ceased to operate in 1848.

St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and its cemetery overlook the town.  The church is truly a little-known jewel.  It was designed by Augustus Pugin, the man considered the instigator of the Gothic Revival Movement in England, the man who designed the British House of Parliament, including the world renowned Big Ben.  Pugin designed the church in 1843 and it was the last of his works to be built.  It was, in fact, built after his death in 1857, at the cost of 1,000 pounds.  Fortunately for the church, and for us, it comes under the control of the Pugin Foundation, a foundation established to help in the conservation and maintenance of the designer’s Australian buildings.  Ah, if only there were more foundations and organisations about that cared for our rapidly disappearing historic buildings and burial grounds.

Anyway, we were surely blessed with good fortune on this visit for not only did we find a once again crumbling headstone (not a jigsaw puzzle effort this time) that marked the resting place of our client’s ancestors, but we gained access to the church even though we hadn’t taken the time to prearrange it.  An oversight on our part at Jericho and Colebrook, for normally when planning a tour, one of the first things we do if we know the church involved in the baptism, death or marriage, is to find the person able to admit us to the church and organize to be admitted.  This time, however, fools that we are, I guess neither of us saw the need.  Well, like they say in the classics, we won’t make that mistake again.  At any rate, getting into St. Patrick’s was a real bonus for us and believe me, we felt privileged.

St. James Anglican Church too is a delight to the eye and its cemetery is a treasure trove for historians and genealogists.  This stone church, with its beautiful stained glass windows, was consecrated in 1884.

Sadly, the town was almost completely destroyed by 1967 bushfires but it has since been rebuilt.  People told us that many buildings were lost, in fact we were told that one side of the road was all but wiped out while the other side lost buildings randomly – one here and one there.  It was hard for us to imagine this terrible time as we poked around in the cemeteries of both St. Patrick’s and St. James’s, almost, it seemed, in a place whose serenity had been undisturbed for centuries.

Today, Colebrook is a lovely rural community that still contains a number of buildings listed on the register of the National Estate and like Jericho, it’s well worth a visit.

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St Mary's Gretna

St Mary's Gretna
Visiting the relies at the historic St Mary's Church at Gretna