Thursday, May 24, 2012

Special Collections Fossickings 3: Tiny cathedral’s link to disastrous shipwreck

North Queensland Photographic Collection ID 1074
This photograph, from the Reverend Frederic Charles Hall Photographic Collection, shows the interior of what was then known as the Quetta Memorial Cathedral on Thursday Island.

The church was built in 1893 as a memorial to those lost in Queensland’s worst maritime disaster. In February 1890 the SS Quetta struck an uncharted reef in the Adolphus Channel, off the tip of Cape York, with the loss of 134 lives. The church contains a number of items salvaged from the wreck: a life-belt bearing the Quetta’s name and registered port of Glasgow, and the ship’s lantern hanging before the altar, can be seen in the photograph. Rev Hall’s grandson believes the elaborate foliage decorations were erected for Harvest Festival.

From 1900-1996 the church served as the cathedral for the vast former Anglican Diocese of Carpentaria, becoming Australia’s smallest cathedral in its largest diocese. Today the church falls within the Diocese of North Queensland and bears the name “All Souls and St Bartholomew’s Quetta Memorial Church” – the first part of the name honouring the Quetta victims. The Queensland Heritage List citation for the Quetta Memorial Precinct notes that “the Cathedral illustrates the late 19th century colonial fashion for erecting Gothic Revival style church buildings in exotic locations.”

Rev. Frederic Charles Hall (1878-1926) was ordained in this church in 1906. Also a keen amateur photographer, his important collection of photographs was donated to the University in 1982 by his son, the late Ken Hall. The story of SS Quetta can be found in John Foley’s The Quetta (1990) held in the North Queensland collection.

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