No. 16 - The Former Balfour Street Trinity Uniting Church - "Where Memories Cling"

Trinity Uniting Church on Balfour Street was originally built in 1889 as a Sunday school for the adjoining Methodist Wesleyan Church situated on Margaret Street. In 1918 the Sunday school building was converted into a church and the Margaret Street church then became the Methodist Sunday school and later a church hall. 

In 1858 a Wesleyan Methodist church was built on Margaret street, replacing an earlier wooden chapel. By the late 1880’s the need for a Sunday school building had become urgent. In October 1888, the Daily Telegraph reported on progress made in resolving this issue: 

“Owing to the large increase during the last two years of scholars at the Margaret street Sunday School – the total number of children now attending the school numbering over 400, with a staff of 32 teachers and officers – the denomination has found it necessary to provide more commodious premises, and has purchased a site in Balfour-street on which they are now erecting a large building, which will connect with that in which Sunday School work has for over 50 years been carried on". 

The stone laying ceremony for the new Sunday school building took place on January 3 1889. The Daily Telegraph reported on the event:

“The foundation stone of the new Sunday-school, long needed in connection with the Margaret-street Wesleyan Church,… was laid yesterday afternoon by the hon. W. Hart, M.L.C., who has been superintendent of the school for over 30 years. The weather was favourable for the ceremony, and a large concourse of people assembled”. 

William Hart had been a scholar of the original Sunday school when it opened.  He literally had a lifelong association with the school:

 “He held the office of monitor to the infant class in 1839 [aged 14], and then graduated in the rank of teachers until the bible class in Patterson-street came under his case. He was elected superintendent of the Margaret-street Sunday-school in 1856…” 

As was the custom a bottle was placed under the foundation stone. This contained an inscription on parchment as well as “current coins of the realm and a jubilee medal, [a] Wesleyan Sunday school report for 1888, [a] copy of the hymns sung at the last school anniversary, [a] copy of programme of the day, circuit plan, and copies of the Launceston Examiner, Daily Telegraph, and Mercury newspapers”. 

The Launceston Examiner’s report on the foundation stone laying ceremony provides details about the ceremonial tools used and the information about building:

“The mallet was the workmanship of Messrs. J. and T. Gunn, and the trowel (of silver with ivory handle), suitably inscribed, was produced by Messrs. F. and W. Stewart, and both specimens of art were much admired. The hon. W. Hart, in addressing the audience, acknowledged the honour done him in taking the chief part on the occasion, and briefly narrated the necessities which had induced undertaking the erection of the new building. He hoped that it might like its predecessor be opened free of debt. Arrangements would be made for the accommodation of at least 600 scholars and teachers, and the building and land would cost £3000, half of which amount had already been promised. The stone was then placed, Mr. Hart declaring it to be well and truly laid, in the name of the Holy Trinity”. 

The building was completed and opened within six months of the stone-laying ceremony.  The Colonist provides further detail about the building in its report on the official opening in June 1889:

“The building …. is certainly the finest architectural ornament in that progressive part of the town, and puts the old church quite in the shade, … The school which is of brick with a slate roof, has a splendid front fronting Balfour Street, the columns and ornamental spires giving it a most classical appearance. An iron railing guards the front, and after passing through a small hall or porch the main hall, capable of seating 500 children, is reached: and a grand one it is, 50ft x 40 ft, with a gallery the same length, which is supported by iron columns and strengthened by a prettily designed iron balustrade in bronze and light blue.  For about 6ft in width along both sides of the main hall, and also in the gallery, iron rods are erected, on which are hung scarlet curtains so arranged that the classes can be held separately; and under each teacher’s seat is fixed a little cupboard with lock and key for the safe keeping of books and papers. Upstairs and also off the hall there are in each place a couple of excellent rooms where the higher classes will congregate, … In the front of the building, and also in the main hall, some pretty designs in cathedral glass are worked, which aid in giving the structure a bright and finished appearance.  The main hall is lit with two large sun lamps with china reflectors, but in addition to this it is intended to have some brackets of artistic design attached to the gallery pillars…”. 

The building was indeed a ‘fine architectural ornament’ which cast a shadow over the old Margaret Street Church.  At the time of the Sunday School’s opening the reporter for the Colonist speculated that it was “not improbable that before very long a handsome edifice for Divine worship will take the place of the present church, the architectural proportions of which will be more in keeping with the large school just erected”.

The prediction made in 1889 was realised in 1918.  But instead of a new church, the Sunday school was appropriated and remodelled to become the new “Holy Trinity” church. Consideration had been given to building a new church alongside the Sunday school on the corner of Margaret and Balfour Street where the original timber Sunday school building had stood.  Plans were drawn up for a church designed by Alexander North for this site but this never eventuated. [Link to article HERE] The decision to remodel the Balfour Street Sunday school was explained in a report published in the Examiner in January 1918:

“For some time past the trustees of the Margaret-street Methodist Church, …have had under consideration the alternative question of erecting a new church or re-modelling and adding to existing buildings so as to meet the requirements of the recently created separate circuit for South Launceston, which also includes Lawrence Vale and Hadspen, of which the Margaret-street church is now the headquarters… After carefully considering several schemes, … the trustees decided upon one of reconstruction and alteration, which it was thought would best satisfy all existing requirements, and give ample accommodation for the work of the church and Sunday school for many years to
come.  One essential condition was the housing of the organ, removed sometime ago from the Patterson-street church, and which was the gift of the late Mr. John H. Hart, who, following in his father's footsteps, and always took a great interest in the Margaret-street church, and was anxious to see this organ put to good use. It is regrettable that he did not live to see his wishes in this matter materialise. As now altered, the old church building in Margaret-street (erected in 1858, and for many years known as the Wesleyan chapel) will be used for all Sunday school purposes, and also for concerts and other meetings of a social nature. A new porch has been added to the Margaret-street entrance. The hall itself has been thoroughly renovated and refitted with the school seating and other furniture removed from the Balfour-street building”

The report went on to describe the remodelled church:

"The Balfour-street building will in future be used exclusively for church purposes. A brick extension has been built on the west side of the church, containing a large choir and organ chamber, vestry, choir assembly room, and two entrance lobbies. The new organ chamber opens into the church by a large cement concrete arch, the pilasters, cornice, and other mouldings of which are finished in cement and left all white. The body of the church has been re-seated on the circular principle and the central pulpit, choir front, communion rail, baptismal font, communion table, and all seats have been carried out to special designs in Tasmanian hardwood, ammonia fumed and beeswax polished. The seat ends have carved armrests and a carved panel. The organ has been built in its new position with some improvements".

The church officially opened on Sunday 27 January 1918 by Reverend Scholes (President of the Victoria and Tasmania Methodist Conference).  The Examiner reported:

“There were dozens of old “boys” and “girls” at the reopening services of the Margaret Street Methodist Church yesterday. They had come from many different centres to the old spot where memories cling, and there were many happy reunions… and now with a new and up-to-date church building, a wonderfully well-fitted up Sunday school, the future buds with promise, and should blossom as a rose”. 

Unfortunately, one hundred years later, the rose is no more.  The last service at Trinity Uniting Church took place in October 2017.  After 180 years of worship on this site, the church was closed and has been sold to a developer. 

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018
The old Wesleyan Church - Photograph Duncan Grant 2018

Real Estate Photos with thanks to Harrison Humphries Real Estate

William Hart - Source Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001125880682

The Alexander North church proposed for the site where the old wooden Sunday school stood but was never built. Source Libraries Tasmania LPIC147-2-00202


Daily Telegraph Monday 1 October 1888, page 3
Launceston Examiner, Friday 4 January 1889, page 3
Colonist Saturday 8 June 1889, page 24
Daily Telegraph, Monday 24 June 1889, page 3
Colonist, Saturday 29 June 1889, page 4
Daily Telegraph, Thursday 24 January 1918, page 2
Examiner, Thursday 24 January 1918, page 7
Examiner Monday 28 January 1918, page 3
Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 29 January 1918, page 3
Examiner, Wednesday 3 August 1938, page 5

Stansall, M. E. J and Methodist Church of Australasia Tasmanian Methodism, 1820-1975 : compiled at the time of last Meeting of Methodism prior to union. Methodist Church of Australasia, Launceston, Tas, 1975.


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