Meander Valley Gazette

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Prime Ministers, the Presbytery and secret tunnels

FeatureJoanne EisemannComment
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JUNE 2018 | Mark Butson

THIS IMPRESSIVE elevated heritage home at 29 West Goderich Street Deloraine, has an intriguing history when it was the Presbytery (Parish Priest’s residence) for the Catholic Church from 1899 until 2002.

Even today, there are stories about secret tunnels built between the Church, Presbytery and Convent. In the last 30 years, these tunnels have been exposed during road excavations, but their purpose is not known.

The original Georgian style house was built in 1888 by Mary Terry and bought from the Terry family by the Church in 1899, along with another acre of land around the house for gardens and stables.

The Church of the Holy Redeemer in West Goderich Street was built in 1886. A bluestone Gothic style building designed by Tasmanian architect Henry Hunter, with only the main hall built at this time.

Opposite the Church, Blakes Manor (originally Blakes Hotel, built in 1861) served as the first Presbytery from 1871 to 1895.

Archdeacon Michael Beechinor was the Priest from 1894. In 1895 he arranged for 4 nuns from Goulburn in NSW to establish a Convent School in Deloraine. The nuns moved into the first Presbytery (Blakes Manor) and started the school there.

Beechinor moved into a timber cottage behind the church and cemetery. He was uncomfortable living alongside a cemetery, and rented a house in town until 1899, when he persuaded the Church to buy the Terry family home for use as the Presbytery.

Archdeacon Beechinor started a highly regarded Church choir, which sang in the surrounding districts on a Sunday. The choir developed over many years and won the 1951 Commonwealth Jubilee School Choirs competition. The trophy was presented by Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies.

High Teas were held regularly at the Presbytery for the Church choir and parishioners.

After a pilgrimage to Lourdes in France, Beechinor presented lectures on the subject and had a grotto built behind the Presbytery (similar to the cave at Lourdes) where he regularly held prayer services. In 1906 he organised major fundraising to complete the 2 church wings.

From 1908, Father Peter O’Reilly was the Priest and he organised renovations to the Presbytery. Living in Deloraine from 1917 to 1918, the Tasmanian Opposition Leader and his wife, Joseph and Enid Lyons, were regular guests at the Presbytery after Sunday services (later becoming Prime Minister and Dame).

From 1920 until he died in 1944, Monsignor Monaghan was the Priest. In 1930 he engaged Mr Beer, a Melbourne architect with expertise in the Federation style, to design the superb elevated front to the Presbytery.

The Presbytery gardens were also improved with the planting of many magnificent roses and spring bulbs. Weddings and baptisms were regularly held in the grand front rooms from 1930.

Still in magnificent structural condition, the house has enormous elegant front rooms with sweeping bay windows overlooking the mountains. Original heritage features include black and white marble fireplace surrounds, towering decorative ceilings and Tasmanian Oak floors and cupboards.

Present owner Mark Butson is continuing the care shown by previous owners.

Thanks to Maureen Bennett for her assistance with historical information. Anyone who has any early photographs of the home, please contact the editor.

Photo | Mike Moores