Ramsgate’s Australian connections: Pugin in the Antipodes by Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett, Director of the Pugin Foundation

Australia is a little-known part of Pugin’s history, but St Augustine’s was very pleased to host the Right Reverend Geoffrey Jarrett, Bishop of Lismore, New South Wales – a Director of the Pugin Foundation – on 15th October for his talk Pugin in the Antipodes.

Pugin’s Australian legacy is mostly in Tasmania, after Pugin’s close friend William Willson was made Bishop of Hobart. Since Bishop Willson was appointed before the restoration of the English hierarchy, he was the first person to be consecrated bishop of his own see in British territory since the Reformation: Pugin really was at the heart of revival.

Bishop Polding, of Sydney, was another important commissioner of Pugin’s work – and the cause of a rare Pugin organ case. Through him, Pugin extended and substantially rebuilt St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, including housing a large organ case that Pugin designed. Very few organ cases are known to have been designed by Pugin, but sadly St Mary’s burnt down in 1868 and that part of Pugin’s legacy was lost.

The works of Pugin in Australia were just as diverse as those found in the UK. He made buildings, copes, chasubles, other vestments, bowls, jugs, chalices, ciboria, stained glass, gravestones, fonts, statues, monstrances, pyxes, crosses, crucifixes – the whole range of things a church could need. Astonishingly many of these items were put away and forgotten about by the end of the nineteenth century. The episcopal regalia that Pugin designed for Bishop Willson was mostly last seen in the early twentieth century. That such beautiful objects were cast aside seems so strange to our eyes!

Bishop Willson had known Pugin in England, both of them having built St Barnabas church in Nottingham. This is where Bishop Willson is buried, and his tomb supports a metal cross that Pugin gave him in 1835. Willson left many possessions in Australia when he returned to the UK, but Pugin’s cross remained with him all his life.

Such was Willson’s admiration for Pugin’s work that in May 1847 Willson was given a chalice by the pope, but Willson had it melted down and remade by Pugin to a more gothic design. He also had Pugin create a new base for a 14th century bowl in his possession, and when his clergy wanted to make a gift to their bishop they turned to Pugin for a design.

Scale models of churches were made by Pugin and sent out to Australia, as Pugin could not travel there himself. He made three principle designs – small, medium, and large – and made particular changes for individual buildings. Much of this work was done in 1842, even though numerous churches to Pugin’s designs were not built until some years after Pugin’s death.

Of particular note are the Pugin gravestones. These are distinctive “head and shoulder” designs and are found all over Tasmania. A visiting American even had one copied for a family member’s grave in New Orleans.

Bishop Jarrett also showed us photos of numerous Pugin buildings that survive in Australia. St John’s in Richmond, Tasmania, is Australia’s oldest in-use Catholic church and is a Pugin building. Pugin’s legacy continued with the likes of William Wardell and Henry Hunter – great followers of Pugin – continuing to build gothic buildings throughout Australia into the later nineteenth century.

Pugin wrote how good he thought it that “solemn chancels and cross-crowned spires will arise on the shores of the Pacific” – just as his vision was for the shores of England at Ramsgate.

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