THE mystery of where Nowra’s first Catholic Church chapel was located is still no closer to being solved.
However author of a recently published book, The Shoalhaven Catholic Quarter, Bill Hancock believed he may have found the site.
His book tells story of the early part of the development of the Nowra township including the creation of a Catholic church in the area.
In a scene almost out of an Indiana Jones movie, Mr Hancock was joined by fellow members of the Shoalhaven Historical Society, St Michael’s Parish Priest Father Pat Faherty and a heritage geology consultant for a trek into Ben’s Walk to a location that he believed may have been the chapel’s site.
Mr Hancock has been on the case since unearthing some interesting facts for his book.
Prior to the local Catholic church on North Street, which was officially opened in September 1877, there were two chapels, the first a wooden structure, constructed in 1846 opposite the present site, also on North Street, where the playground and car park is located.
But Mr Hancock believes an earlier Catholic chapel was established in the Shoalhaven, down on the banks of the Shoalhaven River near Ben’s Walk between 1839 and the building of the wooden chapel in 1846.
With the Catholic Parish of Nowra celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, Mr Hancock is more determined than ever to possibly locate that original site.
During his research for The Shoalhaven Catholic Quarter, Mr Hancock noted that the first inhabitants who came to the Shoalhaven River were cedar cutters, many of them former convicts, of which a high percentage were Catholic.
“While taking the cedar out of the river they lived in and around Nowra Creek or the area today known as Ben’s Walk because it was the only supply of fresh water along the river,” he said.
Mr Hancock said records show that at one stage there were up to 100 people living at the location in various caves in the area.
He believes the site of that original place of worship was located somewhere along Nowra Creek and last Saturday he undertook a tour of what he believes may be one location.
He took the group to one of the many cave areas along Ben’s Walk, which featured an overhang and what he believed to be a cross carved into the adjacent sandstone rock.
“The surveying for Nowra was undertaken by John Mann in 1852. Looking at the way the streets are laid out in a sort of cross hatch style, it shows that Junction Street travelled directly to the junction of the Shoalhaven River and Nowra Creek. Worrigee Street pointed straight to the Worrigee Swamp.
“The only ones we can’t find any meaning for are Journal Street and St Anns Street.
“We looked up ‘journal’ in the dictionary and that indicated a record of event. Was Mr Mann trying to tell us something?
“As for St Anns Street, I think it has Irish heritage, and when you look at that street on the map, St Anns leads directly to the area where this cave is located.
“I believe this mark on the sandstone could well have been made by a timber cutter’s axe indicating the chapel site.”