25-09-1866: St John’s Anglican Church, Launceston, Tasmania.

St John’s Anglican Church in Launceston contains a three-light Ferguson & Urie stained glass window representing the ‘Ascension’.

This window was originally erected in the chancel of St John’s in 1866 and later moved to the nave in the 1930’s, but in its current configuration it is missing the upper portions of the window above the three main lights which are known as the tracery windows.

The figures or emblems that may have been in the missing pieces have been a mystery until recently. A report of the window in September 1866 described the main body of the windows in detail and “…At the top is the figure of a dove…”[1] As luck would have it I found a copy of Ferguson & Urie’s original design for this window in the State Library of Victoria’s collections. In the original design, the tracery above the three main lights contains three quatrefoil shaped windows with the descending dove in the one at the apex and the symbols Alpha and Omega in the ones below. There are only minor differences in the figurative designs in comparison to the entire window that was actually made and these can be seen in the slideshow of photographs.

Interestingly, the bottom of the original design for the window has the date 1864 which, at minimum, is about nineteen months prior to when it was finally erected in St John’s!

Photos taken: 11th October 2011.
(The copy of Ferguson & Urie’s original design for the window is dated 1864).

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Lieutenant George Arthur (1784-1854), Governor of Tasmania, laid the foundation stone of St John’s Anglican Church at Launceston on the 28th of December 1824[2]. On the 19th of February 1826, the church was opened[3] for the first time by Archdeacon Thomas Hobbes Scott (1773-1860) assisted by the first incumbent, Rev John Youl (1773-1827).

Governor Arthur had disapproved of the original plans for St John’s and controversially made an executive decision to have it changed:

“…Sir George ARTHUR, without asking the opinion of any professional man, executive or other council, glanced at the plan, saw that a church built upon it would accommodate as large a congregation as the Colonial Cathedral in his Southern Metropolis[4]. He was a man of action – not words. Assuming at once that Launceston would scarcely ever require so large and extent of Church accommodation as the Architect proposed to provide, he struck a red ink pen mark across the plan of the body of the Church, cutting two windows, or more than one third of the entire length off…”[5]

Some of the most significant and controversial changes to the church began in the mid 1860’s. In February of 1866, in the vestry of St John’s, a meeting was held to discuss the erection of a chancel at the east end with plans and specifications by architect Peter Mills. At the same meeting there was also mention of the new stained glass window to be donated by Mr John Cameron Esq that would be erected in this new chancel:

“The beautiful illuminated window to be presented by John Cameron, Esq., on the enlargement of the church, will be placed in the Chancel. We have seen a photograph of this window, which is richly ornamented. The centre piece is the Ascension of our Saviour.”[6]

The chancel didn’t quite go as expected. It was generally understood by the Rev Dr. Browne and the Wardens that the new chancel would be built up to the height of the original church roof, but miscommunication between the church wardens, the contractor (J. W. Lloyd) and the misinterpretation of the architects plans, caused much confusion between the parties[7].

On Wednesday the 15th August, 1866 John Cameron’s stained glass window arrived from Ferguson & Urie’s workshops in Melbourne aboard the ‘Black Swan’:

The Cornwall Chronicle, Launceston, TAS, Saturday 18th August 1866, page 4.

“The beautiful illustrated window, the munificent gift of the late John Cameron. Esq., arrived here by the Black Swan on Wednesday. The Rev Dr Browne requires the architect’s certificate that the new chancel to St John’s Church is in a fit state to receive this beautiful work of art, and then it can be placed there.”

John Cameron was a staunch supporter and liberal donor to St John’s Church in Launceston. In February 1865 he suffered a serious stroke[8] and although it was reported in the following June that he was recovering[9] he only enjoyed mediocre health for a further year and on the 28th June 1866 suffered another stroke and died at his home ‘Oakburn’ in Launceston, aged 60 years[10]. He never saw his magnificent stained glass window. His obituary was published three days later:

The Cornwall Chronicle, Launceston, TAS, Saturday 30th June 1866, page 4.

We sincerely regret to announce the demise of John Cameron, Esq, J.P., an old colonist of high standing in this community. Mr Cameron had been attacked with paralytic and apoplectic fits last year, and for a time his recovery to health was doubtful. He soon became convalescent, however, and has enjoyed tolerable good health since. He drove into town almost daily from his residence, Oakburn, Elphin Road, and a short time back paid a visit to Hobart Town. He was in Launceston on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday last, and said he felt even in better health than usual, but about midnight on Wednesday night he had another fit of apoplexy, and though the usual means were promptly resorted to for his recovery, he sank and died at 10 o’clock on Thursday morning. Mr Cameron amassed a large fortune many years since in this colony by commerce, and since retiring from business he has paid several visits to England. He last returned to this colony some four or five years ago. He was respected and esteemed by all classes for his mild and charitable views and kindly disposition. He was attached to no political sector party; and considered that unanimity amongst the people would tend more to the prosperity of the country than division. Mr Cameron came to this colony about forty years ago at the age of twenty years, and has, therefore, spent nearly two-thirds of his lifetime in Tasmania. He was one of a class of sterling, hard working, successful men who by their energy and perseverance laid the foundations of prosperity in this colony. If the example set by Mr Cameron and other old colonists of his stamp was more closely followed, it would be well for the best interests of Tasmania. Mr Cameron was connected with some of the families of the highest standing in this colony, the present mayor of Hobart Town being his son-in-law, and few men had a wider circle of friends. His removal from amongst them will be felt throughout the colony as a serious loss.”

John Cameron’s funeral was held in St John’s on Tuesday the 3rd of July 1866, two months before his stained glass window was to be erected in the chancel of the church. In late September the Launceston Examiner reported that the window had been erected:

The Launceston Examiner, Tasmania, Tuesday 25th September 1866, page 2.

“The chancel in connection with St. John’s Church, Launceston, has been finished, and a portion of the service has been conducted in it. The Bishop, it is anticipated, will visit the north in a week or two, when the building will be consecrated. Two handsome stained-glass windows have been erected in the chancel. One is the gift of the late John Cameron, Esq., and represents the Ascension. A half figure of our Saviour is exhibited at the bottom of a centre light, and above that is the Ascension with the words beneath “I go to prepare a place for you.” On either side are the eleven Apostles, looking with wonder and adoration to their ascending Lord. At the top is the figure of a dove. The work does infinite credit to Messrs. Ferguson and Urie, of Melbourne, by whom it was designed and executed. The antique glass – which is a late discovery of the glass used by glass painters in the middle ages – has a very rich although subdued tone, and being heavy in substance gives great additional strength to the window. This contrasts favourably with the smaller window, the resurrection, the gift of the Rev. Dr. Browne, chaplain, in memory of the Venerable Archdeacon Hutchins, the first Archdeacon appointed to the diocese. This window is of common glass, by Headsland
[sic: ‘Hedgeland’]
, of London”.

Seven months after the erection of the window it was subjected to vandalism by boys with slingshots:

The Cornwall Chronicle, Launceston, TAS, Wednesday 8th May 1867, page 5.

“The use of the toy catapult has become a serious nuisance in Town. Schoolboys seem to consider that they have a prescriptive right to do damage to the full extent of the power of the catapult. Whether accidentally or on purpose, the beautiful memorial window in the chancel of St. John’s Church, the gift of the late John Cameron, Esq., has been injured in this way, and ladies and children are daily and hourly subjected to annoyance and danger from the juveniles armed with the catapult. The masters of schools have it in their power to check this nuisance by condemning the use of the catapult in the streets; and the police can also do much to out down this new species of entertainment, so dangerous to persons passing through the streets.”

The lower portions of the window show an extensive number of cracks in the small figure of Christ at the bottom of the window, but whether these were a result of the vandalism from more than a century ago is not known.

In September 2015, David Morris, from St John’s, Launceston, provided the following information in regards to the missing three quatrefoils from the window;

“I was reading your article on your website about a window designed and executed by Ferguson & Urie in 1866 for Mr John Cameron’s donation to St John’s Anglican Church in Launceston. In that article you refer to “the missing three quatrefoils depicting the Dove and Apha & Omega” that were part of the original window. I am happily able to report that those “missing” quatrefoils were saved, and are alive and well, and are on display in the same church, St John’s Church in Launceston, in a history display cabinet available to public view, properly labelled. Your article correctly records that these parts did not fit into the clerestory where the rest of the window has been for many years now.” [11]

Other related posts that mention this window:

13-08-1867: James Urie visits Tasmania on Ferguson and Urie business.
07-08-1867: Decorative Art. James Urie sojourning in Tasmania.


[1] The Launceston Examiner, Tasmania, Tuesday 25th September 1866, page 2.

[3] Hobart Town Gazette, TAS, Saturday 25th February 1826, page 2.

[4] In reference to St David’s Cathedral in Hobart.

[10] The Cornwall Chronicle, Launceston, TAS, Saturday 30th June 1866, page 4.

[11] David Morris, St John’s, Launceston, Email, 12 Sep 2015.


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