No. 22 - Birralee Methodist Chapel

Driving around the back roads of Tasmania I sometimes stumble across near forgotten churches. When I passed this building in Birralee I at first assumed it was a shed. But the pitch of the roof, the narrowness of the windows and the small entrance porch was enough for me to do a u-turn and take a a couple of photographs so that I could investigate further. At first I had no luck on the internet but then I stumbled across some old real estate photos which sure enough confirmed that it was a church! Armed with a little more information, I discovered it was in fact a Methodist Chapel dating back to 1890 which had been established in the village of Black Sugar Loaf, now known as Birralee. The name Birralee was adopted in 1915 and is an Aboriginal name meaning baby girl or child. I have not established when the church was closed and would welcome any information. It is not listed on the 'Australian Heritage Places Inventory', which is a pity because of both its age and that, despite its shabby appearance, it still resembles how a Primitive Methodist Chapel would have looked in 19th century Tasmania. 

The main historical source about the church which I have used for this entry was found in The Examiner of 1940 which reported on its 50th anniversary. I have included a substantial portion of the report (below) because of its rich historical detail and a personal recount. The dedication of the early ministers travelling on horseback and the perseverance and sacrifices of the faithful towards establishing a place of worship, is poignant, given the ease of life today.  Despite its decay and neglect it reminds us that these churches were once the centre of rural communities.



JUBILEE OF CHURCH AT BIRRALEE 

Services for the jubilee of the Birralee Methodist Church were conducted by Rev. A. R. Gardner, of Launceston. Primitive Methodism began with the arrival of a large number of immigrants from England who settled in the north of the state. In 1858 they collected and sent home to the British Primitive Methodist Conference a sufficient sum of money to enable a minister to be sent out to Launceston. In the following year Rev. J. Langham arrived and held services in Wyclyffe Chapel. In 1860 Rev. E. C. Pritchard, also from England, began work in Hobart. Rev. J. Sharpe succeeded Mr. Langham in 1861 and built the fine church in Frederick Street. From there work was extended down the Tamar, ultimately establishing a daughter circuit at Beaconsfield, the first minister being Rev J. Rice in 1882. In 1890 the late Rev. David Provan, ... was resident in Beaconsfield. In a letter received two years ago he wrote: "I visited the people of Black Sugar Loaf (the former name for Birralee) early in 1890 and arranged with Mr. A. C. Sturzaker to hold services in his a home on Sunday mornings... He and his family kindly made this possible so that I had many rides on horseback from Beaconsfield on indescribable roads, opening about a dozen slip-panels on the way".  

The Reverend Provan continued:

"The first service was held on January 12, 1890... On May 31 at a meeting at Sugar Loaf we decided to erect a church. Some suggested that the place should be called Sylvania . On October 13, 12 huge trees were felled by 14 men and three teams of bullocks drew the logs away, leaving the church site ready for the carpenters.... I think there must have been an opening tea, for I have a memo ''provisions for 150 people have been promised.' The church was opened on November 23 at 11 am... The opening public meeting was held two days later on the 25th....Mrs Baleen frequently walked over from Frankford to play the organ". 

He concluded:

"...Before he left in 1938; Rev Delbridge saw commenced renovations which ultimately developed into a "three-year plan."  Exterior boarding had been renewed where needed and painted. The interior pine boarding, which extended to the height of the walls has been sold and the church completely relined with plaster sheet and a ceiling added. The sanctuary has been enlarged, pulpit rebuilt, a communion table and rail added, the porch lined and a larger organ purchased. The past and present families have each presented a copy of the New Hymn Book for the use of worshipers..."

The reported ended with details about the Jubilee celebrations:

"On Wednesday night In the Memorial Hall Birralee, the Jubilee public meeting will be held. A programme of music and other items will he given by the Launceston Salvation Army under the leadership of Major Drew. The Jubilee cake will be cut by thee oldest worshiper. Mr. T. Fawkner".

The Examiner 18 November 1940


Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018
The first photo I took in order to follow up if the building was in fact a church.

An image screen-shot from Google Street View in my efforts to find more.

The first real evidence that it was a chapel. (Ray White Real Estate)



The final piece of evidence and the basis of the story for this blog article

More recent photographs of the chapel:

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Photograph: Duncan Grant 2018

Sources:

The Examiner 18 November 1940



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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