St Matthias Church, Windermere
The Story of
The island of Tasmania is studded with attractive little churches which stand as a witness to the keen desire of the early pioneers to perpetuate the Faith of their Fathers in their new homeland. Cullenswood, Hagley and Carrick are three which spring to mind at once. But equally so is the Church of St Matthias, Windermere, which owes its foundation to Dr. Mattheus Gaunt, who arrived in Tasmania ( then known as Van Diemen’s Land) by the ship ‘Eliza’, from London on May 2nd 1831. He was accompanied by his wife and five sons. Dr. Gaunt received a grant of 2,560 acres on the east bank of the River Tamar, and this property he named ‘Windermere’. The property was later extended by a further grant of 1,280 acres.
There is no evidence that Dr. Gaunt practised his profession after his arrival, but he planted a vineyard which produced good wine and he was also the owner of sawmills, which won a first prize in the Great Exhibition held under the aegis of the Prince Consort in London in 1851.
The Minute Book of the Churchwardens shows that, at the first official meeting of the parishioners held early in 1846, Dr. Gaunt was appointed the Chaplain’s Church warden, while Captain Neilley and Mr. William Brown were elected People’s Churchwardens. Dr. Gaunt, of whom mention was made earlier, was s staunch opponent of the transportation of convicts to Tasmania, and he was able to give the Lieutenant- Governor many examples of the evils ensuing on that evil practice. On his death at the age of 74, he was buried in Windermere Churchyard in the north-east corner close to the road. Of his home little trace remains today apart from the foundations and the avenue of trees leading up to them.
Captain Neilley was a veteran of the Peninsular War, where he served with distinction. He also fought in the Battle of Waterloo. He served first as an Ensign and then as a Lieutenant in the 40th Regiment of the Imperial Army under Wellington. His regiment embarked for Australia in 1842, 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 1853 and settled on a grant of land on the East Tamar, where he built his home, named Rostella.
In 1851, Mr Brown expressed the desire to retire from the Office of Churchwarden, and was succeeded by Mr. William Rosevear, the first representative of a family which has had close connections with Windermere Church for four generations. Three of his descendants, Mr. T Rosevear, Mr. F Rosevear and Mr. V. Rosevear have been Church wardens in their time. A son of Mr. William Rosevear, William Henry was the bridegroom at the first wedding ever held in the Windermere Church. On August 11th 1845, he married Sarah Plummer. The officiating minister was Rev. T.H. Forster. Thus two pioneer families of the Tamar were united.
With the transfer of the centre of the parish to West Tamar, the services at S. Mathias’ Church became less regular and the condition of the building was allowed to deteriorate. However, owing mainly to the efforts of Mr. David Medwin of Woodlawn, help was sought from the congregation on both sides of the River and sufficient money was raised to replace the leaking shingle roof with an iron one, to renovate the interior walls which has suffered through rain coming in, and to repair the many broken window panes. After this work had been completed in 1920, regular services were once more held in the Church. But again in 1937, the question of repairs to the Church was raised at the Annual General Meeting of Parishioners. It was decided to make an appeal to the public to preserve this historic church. The Launceston ‘Examiner’ agreed to publicize the appeal and acknowledge donations. A well-known Launceston architect, Mr Frank Heyward, the leader of a group of people who were very interested in the preservation of historic buildings, supported the appeal and gave freely of his advice. The response was such that the tender of W. Purse and Sons for £457/7/0 was accepted and the work duly carried out.
Today motor transport makes it easy to pay a visit to the Church, but in the days past it was otherwise. Just before time for church service, the congregation would arrive by horseback, and carriage and also by boat, for many parishioners lived on the opposite bank of the river. Others came by boat from up or down the River. In the minutes of the Annual Meeting held in 1921, a vote of thanks is recorded as passed unanimously to Mr. E. Young of Hillwood for ‘his great help with his motor boat and his skill and care in bringing worshippers to Church’. The Neilleys and the Rosevears were also among those who came by boat. The latter family, during all their long connection with Windermere church not only came themselves, by boat, but made themselves responsible for bringing other members of the congregation, Mr. E.Young and Mr. F. Rosevear used to call at Gravelly Beach, Blackwall, and Hillwood as well as Rosvears landing to collect the worshippers. Mr. Frank Rosevear and his wife came quite regularly until a few years ago when old age made it unwise to cross the River this way. Today there are churches at several places along the western bank of the River so the need for this mode of transport has passed.
No account of the history of S. Matthias’ Church would be complete without a reference to the Medwin Family who served the Church faithfully over a long period. Mr. David Medwin of Woodlawn was a Churchwarden for some years and was mainly responsible for restoration work carried out in 1920. His sons Gordon and Cecil, have both been wardens for many years. Their sisters, Miss Catherine and Miss Vera Medwin, played the organ for many years. Both Mrs. Gordon and Mrs Cecil Medwin have served for many years on the Altar Guild, and when Mr. and Mrs. C Medwin lived at Windermere, they and their sons looked after the Church very well for many years. Their departure from the district recently was a big loss to the Church.
A walk around the churchyard and an inspection of the Church will show the visitor many likes with these stalwarts. In addition to the gifts already mentioned, the altar cross was given in memory of William and Louisa Coulson. Mr. Coulson was one of the earliest churchwardens and purchased the Neilley home, Rostella when that family moved to Victoria. The altar-missal stand and the alms-dish are a memorial to Mr. David Medwin, whose grave is quite close to the Church door. The brass ewer in the font was given in memory of Arthur Ransom, a relative by marriage of the Gaunts. At the churchyard are the graves of Rosevears, Gaunts, Neilleys, Barnards and the Plummers. The Barnards married into the Gaunt family. The Plummers were a family noted for shipbuilding on the west bank of the Tamar years ago. A commemorative plaque by the side of the West Tamar Highway marks the site of their shipyard, from which many vessels were launched, including the ‘Rebecca’, which carried John Batman over the Bass Strait to found the city of Melbourne.