Most Tasmanians are familiar with the name Henry Hunter, the renowned architect of colonial days. He is sometimes mistakenly called a convict architect, but he was never in fact a convict. His name is associated with many Hobart and Tasmanian iconic buildings, all of which are heritage listed. He was a very popular architect with the Catholic Church, which is why we see his hand in many ecclesial buildings.
The amazing point about the precinct bound by Harrington, Brisbane and Patrick Streets, is that there are not one, but three buildings in which Henry Hunter was part of the design team. The first is St Mary’s Cathedral, and of interest to us, the Sisters’ chapel, for which Hunter drew up the plans at the request of Archbishop Daniel Murphy. The second is of course the fabulous and typical Hunter building, the original Convent of St Mary’s College, facing on to Harrington Street. There is only one of Hunter’s drawings of the Convent still in existence, showing a back facet of the building, a copy of which is held in the school archive. And finally, St Peter’s Hall, which began its life as a Catholic centre in Wapping, was also designed by Henry Hunter. The Hall was removed from Wapping to its present situation in 1903.
Another Henry Hunter building also once stood in the grounds of the College, facing Brisbane Street, and this was St Columba’s School, the so-called ‘Poor School’, opened in 1876 and demolished in 1971. The school archive has a copy of the plans for St Columba’s, signed by Hunter.
In the humdrum of everyday life, we probably take the streetscape of our school for granted. Yet in fact, we are very much an integral part of the architectural fame of the city of Hobart, and a lasting monument to its history. In The Catholic Standard of 1868 it was reported regarding the St Mary’s Convent, that Henry Hunter’s fame ‘will certainly be sustained by this tasteful and elegant structure, which when completed will form one of the handsomest buildings in the colony’.