Matthias Gaunt was born in England in 1794. He was educated for the medical profession and practised in London. He spent some years in South America then returned to London and re-established his practice there.
By the end of the 1820s he had decided to emigrate to Van Diemen's Land with his wife, Frances, their four children, Frances’ brother Richard Green and a niece Hannah Jackson, who were later married. They sailed on the Eliza, arriving on May 2, 1831.
Frances Gaunt agreed to emigrate on the condition that they lived near a church.
Matthias applied for a grant and was given land on the east side of the Tamar River, about 15 miles from Launceston.
He called his land 'Windermere' and there he built a home for his family, a sawmill which he later converted to a steam-driven flour mill and established a vineyard.
To fulfil his promise to Frances, he built a small church overlooking the river bank. He named it to honour St Matthias, the apostle and martyr, who was chosen by the other apostles when Judas Iscariot killed himself after betraying Jesus.
According to The Examiner February 15, 1843, the church ‘will accommodate two hundred persons, and be entirely finished in about three weeks. Dr. Gaunt not only gave the site, but contributed liberally towards the erection of the building ...’
The building work by Robert de Little took place from 1842 to 1843 and the church was consecrated by Francis Russell Nixon, first Bishop of Tasmania, on April 18, 1845. The first service of worship was held in November 1843 by the Reverend Dr W.H. Browne of Launceston. The promise fulfilled, produced one of Tasmania’s built treasures. Dr Gaunt was elected first churchwarden in 1846.
In the late 1860s Dr and Mrs Gaunt moved to Launceston to live, leaving 'Windermere' to their children to manage, but Matthias Gaunt continued his active interest in the flour and grain industry and built a new mill in Launceston.
For some years he was a director of the Commercial Bank of Tasmania, the Cornwall Fire and Marine Insurance Co, the Launceston Gas Co and was a warden of the Marine Board. He was also made a Justice of the Peace. He was active in the fields of politics, education and literature but did not practice his profession in the colony.
He died at 9am on Sunday, May 10, 1874, at Launceston and was buried in the graveyard of St. Matthias'. Inside the church a brass plaque was erected by his children and members of the first families on the river: ‘A.M.D.G. In thankful memory of Matthius Gaunt M.D. who died May 10th 1874. He built this church St Matthias Windermere in 1842’.
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