Welcome to St Matthias' Audio Tour Page.
This tour is designed for visitors to the historic church and graveyard. For those viewing the site from Rosevears, we invite you to visit, so you may experience a walk in this historic part of the district that once was a matter of course to access by river. To drive here, you need to take the East Tamar Highway from Launceston and travel through Dilston to Windermere Rd. at the Corner Cafe. The Church is 4.2 Km along this road.
A script of the tour and appropriate photos is available on this page below if you are unable to visit.
To hear the commentary for this tour which takes approximately 20 minutes, you will need a mobile phone connected to the internet and your browser directed to this page.
Click the link above to start the tour. The sound of the Church bell at the end of each section indicates a move to the next station. Pause the commentary until you locate the next appropriate station.
The Tour script and appropriate photographs are presented here for your further study.
St Matthias' Church Windermere.
Welcome to St Matthias’ Church Windermere.
So much of the pioneer history of this district can be viewed through this church and its graveyard. We invite you to take a 15 minute walk with us to experience some of the documented history of this church and its founders.
As is usual in a graveyard, the headstones face east, to the hope of a new dawning day. In the 1800s, only the wealthy could afford a headstone, with only a simple timber cross marking the resting place of the poor.
Those unfortunately have been lost over time.
There are 54 currently identified burial plots in this graveyard, the majority of which are family plots. There are 121 other unmarked graves, together with stories that tell of still more people that were buried unofficially here prior to the consecration of the graveyard in 1845.
The first burial within the cemetery was on August 26, 1846 It was that of Ann Hill 29 years wife of William Hill, farmer of Jane Bank West Tamar.
Let’s take a walk to the top corner where you will find the family gravesite of the Church’s founder, Dr Matthias Gaunt, suitably guarded by 2 magnificent Funereal Cypress pines.
When you here the Church bell, please pause this recording and proceed to the next numbered feature.
1.Family Gravesite of Dr. Matthias Gaunt
Dr. Matthias Gaunt had been a surgeon in the Royal Navy but disliked the English climate, so in 1831 at age 36 he migrated to Van Diemen’s Land with his wife Frances and family of four children. Dr Gaunt promised Frances that if there was not a church in the area they settled, he would build one for her. Upon taking up his claim of 2,560 acres of land here on the east bank of the Tamar River, he named the area Windermere after Lake Windermere in England.
True to his promise, he organised the construction of the church at Windermere.
The Church was designed by Robert de Little, a neighbour and well-recognised colonial architect of buildings in Launceston. Bricks used for the building were transported from Launceston.
Funding of the Church was from a number of sources. 60 Pounds was raised locally to help with the construction.
The Society for the promotion of Christian Knowledge gave 40Pounds and Dr.Gaunt donated the site and also contributed liberally towards the building.
An article in The Launceston Examiner in March 1843 reported that the Church was nearly completed at the time of publication and would be entirely finished in 3 weeks. In April 1843 however, a boat commissioned by Dr Gaunt to deliver bricks for the project, filled with water and went down in a deep part of the river abreast of the steam mills. This delayed the completion. The Church was eventually completed on November 7th 1843 with seating for 80 people.
Matthias Gaunt was a staunch opponent of the transportation of convicts to Tasmania and he was able to give the Lieutenant –Governor many examples of the evil ensuing from that practice which was ended in Tasmania in 1853.
Matthias Gaunt died in his 80th year and is buried here.
There is some contention about the spelling of our founder’s name. Historians suggest that the spelling here was an error of the stone mason. Several other interpretations, probably due to the link with the name of the Church and the founder, have led to confusion. The Church is named after St. Matthias, the apostle who replaced Judas Iscariot. The preferred spelling is as for the apostle. Also buried here is John, Gaunt’s fourth son who was accidentally drowned at age 37 in 1870, and his fifth daughter Ellen who died at age 6 months in 1844. Life in the colonies was fragile for children and many succumbed to diseases undefined at the time.
2.Family Gravesite Captain William Neilley
This is the family grave of Captain William Neilley who was an early leader in the Church at Windermere and like many others, his story begins in England. The tombstone was raised in block capitals and is extremely difficult to read.
William Neilley was a veteran of the Peninsular War, where he served with distinction. He also fought in the Battle of Waterloo. He first served as Ensign and then as Lieutenant in the 40th Regiment of the Imperial Army under Wellington. His regiment embarked for Australia in 1824, and arrived in the colony in the same year. He received a commission as Captain in 1828, but after transferring to the 63rd Regiment for a few years, he retired from the army in 1833 and settled on a grant of land on the East Tamar, where he built his home named Rostella on the next bend upstream from Windermere.
He was active in the parish as a Church warden until his death in 1864 at age 74. His wife, Jeanette, his son Henry Frederick and his daughter Emma Louise are buried here also.
3. Gravesite William Atkinson
This is the grave of William Atkinson. There are 13 burials in these grounds with the name Atkinson , but there is no record of what relationship this young man was to others in the family. As is depicted in the epitaph, his last words were “ Simply trusting in Jesus.” This sincere statement so moved Howard Kuhl, a visitor to the graveyard in 1997 that he wrote a poem to convey his feelings, entitled Just Four Plain Words.
Just Four Plain Words
Just four plain words on a headstone
Now mossy and fading with age
A young life, long past and forgotten
The world such a different stage
YET here in a quiet church graveyard
Where the river flows near, deep and wide
In the dappled clean light of an autumn day
I pause by a grassy grave’s side
I COULD not have known the one laid here
I can’t tell what caused him to die
There are only faint hints of his suffering
And a family’s quest to know why
BUT those words: Simply trusting in Jesus
Leap over the passage of time
And I know that the God of all ages
The one that was his, is now mine
I THINK of my own tears and triumphs
Of joy mixed with pain at life’s ways
And I think of the things that will matter
When I come to the end of my days
THE wind stirs a rich golden carpet
As leaves reflect that life is gone
And I move from this place with four
words in my heart
And discover the strength to go on.
4. Wing Family Gravesite
This beautifully conserved gravesite is the resting place of 3 members of the Wing family headed by George Augustus Wing, a farmer who lived across the river at Rosevears in the late 1800’s and travelled by boat regularly to services at the Church. His first wife Elizabeth is buried here along with Theresa, her first child and an infant child, Hilda. The surround of this gravesite is significant as a lasting remnant of the style of many early plots, and is one of only two remaining in Tasmania.
This one was constructed of Huon Pine, well known for its ability to withstand the weather and thus time. It’s preservation in 2015 demanded a little replacement of the most weathered timber and inversion of the original horizontal spars so the weathered surface was no longer exposed to the elements. The family has, through our Heritage Fund, contributed to the ongoing preservation of this site.
This family history demonstrates the conditions of pioneer families and their relatively uncertain lifespans. There are 20 members of this extended family recorded as being interred here in 4 family graves, 11 of whom were children who died before the age of 15. Life was certainly harsh during those times and no doubt somewhat explains the reliance of families on their faith, and the devotion they showed to their Church.
5.The Coulson Gravesites
The founding father of this family Captain George Coulson, was born around 1778 at Dilston in England which explains the derivation of the East Tamar settlement , adjacent to Windermere.
As his title suggests, he captained the small vessel Lord Liverpool, owned by passenger W.E.Lawrence Esq. It arrived here from England via Rio de Janerio in February 1823 and was the first ship to sail direct to the island.
George Coulson chose to stay in the district He was appointed Harbour Master and over the next 16 years he was granted a total of 865 acres of land in four blocks.
He died in 1862 after successful local business ventures, and is buried here.
His son, William earned his heritage in the district through purchase by auction of his father’s estate and was noted as one of the early wardens of St Matthias’ Church. William is buried in the next site to the north of this headstone.
The last burial in this graveyard was that of Gladys Coulson , wife of Eric William Coulson in 2002, even though the Graveyard was closed for burials in 1960. This plot was family reserved and the Church allowed the later burial in 2002 although the Columbarium wall had been opened by this stage.
6. The Rosevear Gravesite
The name Rosevear is synonymous with the West Tamar. William Henry Rosevear (died 1860) was the original licensee of The Rose Inn, built in 1831, now known as the Rosevears Hotel, visible across the river. We wonder what he would think of the present vast extensions and accommodation units recently built for the expansion of the current hotel.
The early Rosevear family often ferried others from the West Tamar across the river to church, from Gravelly Beach, Blackwall and Rosevears, as well as from Hillwood, further north on the eastern bank, as it was then the only church in the district.
13 members of the family are recorded as being buried here, the most recent being Frank Rosevear (1958) and Ida (1963), the parents of current parishioner Jack Rosevear. Jack, now in his 80’s, remembers having to hop out of the boat on arrival to clean the tidal silt off the steps before the adults alighted from the boat to proceed up to the church.
Many families attended church here from the West Tamar. The Plummer family is one of note. George Plummer was a shipbuilder in the Rosevears district and constructed the Rebecca, the tiny vessel in which John Batman and others set out in 1835 to settle the Port Phillip district in Melbourne,Victoria.
To your left is a path which leads to the river level. This path was originally constructed to allow access to the Church from a landing in the lee of the Tamar tidal flows. The current fence is a replacement and has not retained the two gateways that once provided access.
Considerable voluntary work has been done in recent years to present uninterrupted views of the Church from the River and from the Western shore. The Church is now lit at night both for display of its architecture and for security.
Vandalism of some headstones has occurred most notably in 1991-92.
8. St Matthias' Church
The Church is listed by The Tasmanian Heritage Council which has registered a statement of cultural significance .
Photographs of the Church interior are available on our website.
If you are fortunate to take this tour when the Church is open, it is well worth spending time within the Church to view the splendid integrity with which the Church has been maintained since it was built in 1843. The Church is the oldest existing Anglican Church in Northern Tasmania and is the oldest rural Anglican Church in Tasmania. It was the first church in Northern Tasmania consecrated by the first Anglican Bishop of Tasmania. It remains unaltered or extended in a rural setting.
The works which have been undertaken in terms of underpinning and repairs to the roof and bell tower have not notably altered the essential design of the Church .
Within the Bell tower, the bell is original (1850) although work to replace support timbers and the rope was completed in 2009.
The diamond pattern lead-light windows are original although they were originally painted with a lime wash.
The pews within the nave are generation 2. The originals were simple timber forms which were later given back supports. The Current pews were consecrated in January 1948.
The central memorial window was dedicated in December 1951, and the surrounding stained glass windows were installed and consecrated by Bishop Cranswick in 1976.
The subject of the stained glass windows behind the alter was chosen by members of the Medwin family, in discussion with the rectorat the time, the Rev.J.A.Senior.
The story relates to St Matthias who was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot as one of the twelve apostles. The right hand window depicts Judas with the devil on his shoulder and a rope to signify the way he hung himself.
The left hand window of St Matthias includes an axe which signifies the fact that he was later beheaded.
The Pulpit and lectern are original fittings to the Church.
The Columbarium wall was consecrated in 1970 and still serves as a burial site for the ashes of those who desire to be remembered in the context of this community.
Services are still regularly held at St Matthias’ on the 2nd and 4th Sunday of each month at 9:00am.
St Matthias Church is now an outreach of The Parish of Holy Trinity, Launceston, a magnificent structure in itself designed by Alexander North and consecrated in 1902. It is situated on the corner of Cameron and George Streets in Launceston and is open for visitation on weekdays from 10am.
Ongoing Conservation and Management of this historic building and graveyard are continuing. Provision for donating to the tax deductible Heritage appeal is made available on our website, and we ask you to consider this so that our efforts to maintain the heritage of this outstanding example of colonial architecture and construction are continued for the benefit of those who follow.
We are grateful to the research undertaken by C.D.A. Architects of Hobart in 2011, for our Conservation Management Plan.
This concludes our audio tour of St Matthias’ Church.
Windermere, Tasmania, was named by an early settler, Dr Matthias Gaunt, who arrived in Van Diemen's Land with his family in 1831. Gaunt was granted 2 560 acres (1 000 hectares) of land on the East Tamar.
He chose not to practise medicine in the colony; instead he planted a vineyard and converted a sawmill to a flour mill. The mill was successful and its flour won a first place at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. Gaunt's success as a miller prompted a visit from Governor Sir John Franklin in 1842, who suffered the indignity of being covered in flour let loose by two of Gaunt's sons from a loft above.
Gaunt is said to have promised his wife Frances before leaving England that, if there were no church where they settled in the colony, he would build one and name it St Matthias. The result, completed in 1843, is the charming white stone church that overlooks the Tamar at Windermere. Gaunt's gravestone is prominent in the cemetery, along with those of other early East Tamar pioneers. For many years, parishioners living along the Tamar used boats to travel to services at St Matthias Church.
St Matthias is one of Australia's oldest continually used churches and currently is an outreach of the Parish of Holy Trinity Launceston under the Anglican Church. Services are held at 9:00 am on the 2nd & 4th Sunday of each month.
Postal Address: PO Box 671 Launceston, Tasmania 7250
Parish Office: 6331 4460
Where is Holy Trinity?
The Venerable Dane Courtney Phone: 0408 622 182