Tasmanian Times

History

For whom the bells toll

Percy from the Pews

William Champion, a convict-turned-businessman, is credited with much of the effort to obtain the bells. He had been a bell-ringer in his hometown of Dursley, England. He supervised the installation of Holy Trinity’s bells and trained the colony’s youths in the skills of ringing.

THE continuing concern of Tasmanians over the uncertain fate of Hobart’s Holy Trinity Church will be slightly alleviated by the news that in time-honoured tradition its church bells will be allowed to ring again to mark Regatta Day.

Following representations, this is being permitted (unfortunately, just for this occasion it seems) at Holy Trinity where the bells were silenced from the enforced closure and deconsecration of the church by Bishop John Harrower last October.

The historic link between the bells and the Hobart Regatta is important to the city. The bells were first heard sounding out over then Hobart Town on December 1, 1847 – not for a church event (the building had still to be completed) but for the regatta. Ever since they have been a must visit for bell-ringers from many parts of the world because they have appreciated the bells’ significance.

It was Lady Denison, wife of Lieutenant-Governor Sir William Denison (1847-1855) who recorded in her Varieties of Vice-Regal Life: “December 1, 1847. The day (Regatta Day) was ushered in by the sound of the first peal of bells, I believe, that has ever been heard in the Southern Hemisphere, or at least in Australia; it has amused me to hear many of the young people who have been born here say that they never heard a peal of bells, and express their curiosity to hear these.”

The bells came from London’s Whitechapel Bellfoundry (makers of bells since 1540) and on their arrival it took a team of six bullocks to haul them to the church.

William Champion, a convict-turned-businessman, is credited with much of the effort to obtain the bells. He had been a bell-ringer in his hometown of Dursley, England. He supervised the installation of Holy Trinity’s bells and trained the colony’s youths in the skills of ringing.

But it was the church’s first rector, Philip Palmer, who arranged for the bells to be brought out. With a shortfall in funds needed to finish the church, he went to England in the mid-1840s on what became a successful money-raising mission. He not only obtained the necessary money for the church but in visiting the foundry to arrange the contract for the bells, asked for and was given a donation towards their cost. The power of ecclesiastical persuasion in the right hands.

I was recently shown a newspaper report, undated by seemingly from the Mercury of some 20-plus years ago, on the bells and the regatta. It began: “It seems a long way from the white sails of the Derwent to the perpendicular Gothic of Holy Trinity Church. Yet, the history of regatta day is inextricably entwined with that of Holy Trinity.”

It noted the link of the bells in ushering in “the oldest regatta in the country”.

It’s worth a visit to the Allport Library at the State Library where its latest excellent exhibition is on Tasmanian regattas. If you do see it, take note of what’s in one of the display cases. There are two broad panoramas – one of the Hobart Regatta, the other of the town. They were printed in the Illustrated London News of April 4, 1868, off wood engravings, to mark a visit by the then Duke of Edinburgh.

Of special interest is the depiction of Hobart, with Holy Trinity standing particularly dominant over the scene.

Frank Bowden and Max Crawford’s book The Story of Trinity, for the centenary of this parish (1833-1933), had this observation on the bells, that from the first peal in 1847 “Trinity bells have played an intimate part in echoing the joys and sorrows of the citizens of Hobart. Joy bells sounded on the cessation of transportation on August 10, 1853, and similar peals have rung out for national victories, coronations and Royal events, as well as on occasions for local rejoicing, and the solemn echoes of muffled peals have told of the passing of souls to the higher life beyond the veil. Perhaps, however, the most initimate memories of Hobart citizens, young and old, will gather round the joyous peals at Christmastide and New Year’s Eve, which have rung from the Tower on the Hill for eighty-five years.”

No longer, though. But here’s a final point. The Mercury article referred to earlier accurately summed-up: “The bells of Holy Trinity Church have played an intimate part of the ebbs and flows of Hobart citizens.” The need now for preservation of the bells – and church – is paramount.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. John Biggs

    February 12, 2008 at 8:49 pm

    Thanks Percy for that very interesting and important article. We need to know more about the history and local importance of what remains of our rich heritage and Trinity is an outstanding example of this. How many hundreds of thosuands of Hobartians have heard those bells and wondered what all that is about? Their sound seeps into our collective unconscious and it’s only when we are supplied pegs like this that we can stop and think about what they have been, what they are and what they might be in our future culture. It is so sad that the future of these pregnant symbols of what it is to be a Hobartian is being ignored by the very people who have stewardship over them. Thanks again, Percy, for an eloquent reminder of ourselves for ourselves.

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