THE MASTER BELLRINGER
By Lou Daniels
THE link with Tasmania began on 2 April 1823 when William Champion was convicted at Gloucester for receiving stolen goods and sentenced to 14 years transportation. William came from a good family with relatives in Cam and Dursley.
He was transported on the Asia II, which left the Downs on 9 August 1823 and took 163 days to sail to Hobart via the Cape—a long voyage in a small ship, but the 150 male convicts all arrived safely at Hobart on 19 January 1824. William’s gaol report states his former character was good, he was respectably connected, and very orderly. It notes he had a wife and one child living at Dursley.
In the colony he committed a few minor offences. On 7 September 1824 he was out after bell ringing the previous night and was reprimanded. On 10 March 1825 he was absent from Church muster the previous Sunday and again reprimanded, and on 6 December 1826, after repeatedly being absent without leave and neglecting his duty, he was sentenced to work 14 days in irons.
He submitted a memorial to the Lieutenant Governor, Sir George Arthur, on 18 January 1832 seeking a Conditional Pardon.1 and this was granted on 30 March 1833, 2 Number 469, and a Free Pardon was granted on 7 April 18373.
Long before his pardon came, William was assigned to, and making hats for, his master of that time, Mr Munro, who had a hat manufactory in Bathurst Street and later in Liverpool Street
By 1826 William’s wife Maria and daughter Esther had arrived from England, and in 1834 Peter and Hester Champion, his parents, emigrated to Hobart. They came as free settlers, with two of their younger daughters, Mahala and Thirza. By then William had served his sentence and established himself as an up and coming businessman in Hobart.
William established his own hat-making business by 1829, and his ability and reliability as a businessman, coupled with an ability to attract the trust of his peers and customers led to a very prosperous life. He quickly expanded into the hotel trade, as licensee of the Jolly Hatters Inn and brewery in Melville Street.
William had been a bellringer in his native town, and when the new Trinity Church, complete with a bell tower, was built on the hill above his pub, William was encouraged to offer his skills in training the first team of bellringers.
In 1847 a full peal of eight bells arrived from England to be installed in Holy Trinity Church. They were cast by Messrs Mears and Co. of Whitechapel, London, and were placed in the tower when it was completed. The Rev’d Philip Palmer, Rector of Trinity, was fortunate in securing the bells during a visit to England. The Dowager Queen Charlotte was a contributor to the cost of the bells. They arrived on the barque Navarino and were transported to Trinity Hill by six bullocks.
This notice appeared in the Hobart Town Courier and Gazette, 7 August 1847:
THE undersigned, having promised to do all in his power to form a company of ringers for the new bells in Trinity Church Belfry, will feel obliged by the attendance at his home, on Tuesday Evening, the 10th August, at seven o’clock, of those who are desirous of assisting in such an object, as ringers.
W. CHAMPION, Jolly Hatters.
William was not only the first Master Bellringer, with his team ringing for the first time on Regatta Day, 1 December 1847, but contributed £125 to strengthen the tower of the Church when the bells were suspended. He had a set of hand bells, brought out from England, on which he taught the new bellringers. They are still at Trinity today.
The first team of bellringers were
2. William Champion, junior,
4. Cresswell, junior,
(tenor) W. G. Beaumont.4
Young William was then aged 19, and most of the team were only youths. The Mitson was probably William, aged 20. He, Beaumont and young Basstian all came from publicans’ families, which suggests that Champion drew his bellringers from the circle of his acquaintance.
Lady Denison, wife of the Governor of Tasmania, noted the first peal of Trinity bells in her memoirs.
The day [Regatta Day] was ushered in by the sound of the first peal of bells I believe that have ever been heard in the southern hemisphere, or at least in Australia. It has amused me to hear so many of the young people who have been born here say that they never heard a peal of bells and express their curiosity to hear these. The bells have recently been purchased by subscription, and brought out from England for the new Church which is now nearly finished here. Great exertions have been made to get them up in time to ring the first peal today. I thought that they should have reserved this honour for Christmas Day, but it seems that this, the birthday, [annivers-ary of Tasman’s landing] as one may call it, of the island into the civilized world, is the great day of the year here.5
The Courier also recorded the occasion:
We have casually noticed in our regatta report the public opening of the bells at an early hour in the morning. After that the bells were rung thrice, at 8.30 am and again at 4.15 pm with a marked improvement in the performances. When we consider that with two exceptions the ringers are native youths who have had no experience but by practise with Mr. Champion’s handbells, and a very brief period of ringing with the muffled bells since they were placed in the tower, much more has been achieved than might have been anticipated, giving promise of future excellence.6
Twenty years later, when the bell-ropes were replaced for the first time, Champion was acknowledged by The Mercury as the originator of the bells.
At that time, through the energy of a respected colonist and experienced ringer, still residing in Hobart Town, Mr William Champion, not only was the public induced to contribute towards the expense of hanging the bells, but the first troupe of ringers was organised.7
The bellringers didn’t forget him as the years passed by.8 In 1869, on his sixty-eighth birthday, at eight o’clock in the morning, the Trinity Amateur Ringing Association rang a peal in his honour. His interest in developing the art of change-ringing had remained, and the compliment was a mark of the bellringers’ respect.9
William Champion, gentleman, died at his home at 3 Burnett Street on 25 September 1871, from congestion of the brain and asthma, aged 70, and was buried in St Andrew’s Cemetery, on Wednesday 27 September, after a funeral beginning at 2.30 pm.
His funeral was reported two days later:
The funeral of the old colonist took place yesterday and as might have been expected, the attendance at the grave side was numerous. The Rev’d Mr. Storie performed the burial rites and his address to the assemblage was both eloquent and impressive. Before and after the service the Trinity bells tolled a muffled peel, and then the fine old man was silently left in his resting place.10
William and Maria Champion had two children—Esther, born in England and William junior born in Hobart. Young William married Helen Wiseman but died in March 1853, three days before the death of his only child. Esther married Frederick William Lewis in 1839 and following his death in 1852 married William Johnston. She became mother of ten children who have produced many descendants of the Master Bellringer
1. CON 45/1 p.35
2. CON 31/6
3. CON 22/1
4. The Story of Trinity 1833–1933, compiled by Frank Bowden and Max Crawford, Hobart, 1933.
5. Lady Denison, Varieties of Vice Regal Life, Volume 1, page 65. It was certainly not the first peal in the southern hemisphere, or in Australia.
6. Courier, 4 December 1847.
7. The Mercury, 13 May 1867.
8. Nor have they today. The Hobart Guild of Bellringers still celebrate William’s birthday with an annual dinner.
9. The Mercury, 13 September 1869.
10. The Mercury, 28 September 1871
The Hobart Guild of Bellringers wish to preserve the headstones of William Champion and his family as they are of considerable heritage value. The stones are currently against the wall of St Andrew’s Park with William Champion Junior’s being in very poor condition. It is hoped the stones can be restored and placed in the bell tower at Holy Trinity Church, a heritage listed building, to ensure their preservation. Any Champion descendants are asked to contact the Captain of the Hobart Bellringers to register their thoughts on this. Captain John Smith 444 Churchill Avenue, Sandy Bay, Hobart, Tasmania 7005 Telephone (03) 6225 3792
This article is reproduced by kind permission of The Tasmanian Family History Society Inc. It was originally published in their Journal Vol 19, No. 3, December 1998