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A Window in Tasmania

14th February 2021 @ 6:06am – by John Tilling
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Audlem and District History Society

History Shorts 45 by John Tilling

Photos of Buckland church by kind permission of Ray Brown (click here ) 6 Feb 2021

A window in Tasmania

Our youngest daughter (now with two small girls) has lived in Australia for a few years now and we are lucky enough to have been able to visit them from time to time. When we go, we try to spend a few weeks there and, on this occasion, we decided to give them a break in the middle of our stay and go to Tasmania for a week.

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Little (Fairy) Penguin (Eudyptula minor), Bruny Island, Tasmania. Photo: JJ Harrison (CC BY-SA 3.0)

So we spent a lovely weekend at Cradle Mountain and then watched the fairy penguins at Bicheno doing their nightly scamper up the beach to their nests, stopping every so often to gather in little groups for a chat. We couldn't visit Wineglass Bay, the near perfect semi-circular beach nearby, because of a sort of sandstorm, so we started out on a drive down Tasmania's eastern coast towards Port Arthur and Hobart.

Tasmania has a feel very like England in the 1960s. So we are bowling along the main road through a very English landscape, by-passing a whole series of little towns and villages – each little town has a sign as you come to the slip road leading to it, naming the town and stating its main local attraction. As we come to the slip-road for Buckland, the sign at the entrance says words to the effect of: 'Come and see our medieval stained glass window'.

Since Australia didn't really exist, in European eyes anyway, until the late eighteenth century, this seemed a slightly unlikely claim, so of course we had to break our journey to investigate. Doing a last moment exit into the pit lane which would not have disgraced Lewis Hamilton, we dived off into Buckland to investigate.

The parish church in Buckland looks just like any of the little churches dotted all over England, surrounded by its churchyard and trees and it is not until you get close that you realise that it is actually less than 200 years old. And inside is this wonderful stained glass window.

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The story as presented to us tourists is that the glass in the window was originally in Battle Abbey, the great abbey built by William the Conqueror on the spot near Hastings where Harold, last Anglo-Saxon king of England, was believed to have been killed. The abbey itself then disappeared when it was taken by Henry VIII, except for the church, still with the stained glass in it. When Cromwell's men (known to be violently against stained glass windows) were about to visit the place, a local family (possibly the Cecils) removed the glass for safe-keeping and hid it. And it remained hidden, more or less forgotten until a friend of the Cecils became Governor of Tasmania early in the nineteenth century and decided that what was needed on his new estate at Buckland was a parish church. He had plenty of spare, cheap, convict labour to call on, of course. So apparently, he remembered about this glass which, after a little persuasion, the Cecils gave him for his church and so he had the church built to fit the window rather than the other way round...
I'm no expert in stained glass and it all looked pretty authentically old to me – it would of course be some of the earliest English stained glass still in existence. It was a marvellous sunny day (not blistering Australian sun, more like an English summer day at its best) and the light shone into the little church through this glorious coloured glass – the story had to be true didn't it?

Well, no, actually. Apparently, the story about the Tasmanian Governor wanting a church is true enough, but the glass was in fact made to order by a bloke in the East End of London in the 1840s and then shipped out there. The rest of it is pure Tasmania Tourist Board stuff.

But who cares? It's a great tale and it ought to be true.

A couple of years later, in Canberra, we came across the Australian version of Magna Carta – but that's another story....

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